The Free Rangers

by Joseph A. Altsheler

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Chapter IX. Paul and the Spaniard

Francisco Alvarez never suffered from the vice of humility. While he was planning to make himself Governor General of Louisiana he thought also that the selection was a most admirable one. Nor would he have condescended now to cross a blade with this boy from the backwoods, but his pride had been bitterly hurt by the deeds of Paul and his comrades. Such presumption must be punished, and the punishment must be of a humiliating kind.

The Spaniard took the point of his sword between his thumb and forefinger and bent the blade a little. The steel was flexible and true. Then he put himself on guard, and physically he was a splendid figure of a man, tall, compact, and obviously skilled with his weapon.

Long Jim Hart writhed again in his bonds. His heart yearned over Paul, his young comrade.

Stop it! stop it! he cried. "It's murder, I say, fur a man used to them weepins to set upon a boy."

"Shall we gag this fellow, Captain?" asked Braxton Wyatt, who enjoyed the scene.

"No," replied Alvarez, scornfully. "Let him make as much noise as he pleases."

Paul heard Long Jim's second protest, but now he did not answer. He was intently watching Alvarez. He had read the look in the eye of the Spanish leader, and he knew that Alvarez not only intended to punish him, but also to make that process as mortifying as possible. But Paul was yet unafraid. Although not as large and powerful as Henry, he was nevertheless a very strong youth, used to the open air and exercise, and wonderfully flexible and alert. He held the sword lightly but firmly with the point well forward, ready for any movement by his antagonist.

Alvarez came a step nearer. His sword flashed, but Paul dexterously caught the stroke upon his own weapon, and the blade glanced off, ringing. Alvarez was surprised. He had seen from Paul's position and the manner in which he held his weapon that he knew something about the sword, but he was not prepared for such a skillful parry.

"Good, Paul! Good!" cried Long Jim, a sudden hope bounding up in his heart. "Go in! Trim him! Slice off his mustache for him!"

Alvarez was stung by the taunt. Braxton Wyatt made an angry movement toward Long Jim, but the Spaniard again waved him back. His own pride would not permit him to silence the taunter in such a way. No, he would silence him in another manner. But the cry of Long Jim had its effect upon Paul, too. It aroused him to a supreme effort. He leaped forward suddenly, thrust quick as lightning, and then leaped away. The Spaniard had parried, but the blade nevertheless cut the cloth of his brilliant coat, making a long gash. The cut was not in the flesh, only in the cloth, but Alvarez was stung by it and the sting became the more bitter when Long Jim cried out:

"Hooray, Paul! That wuz somethin' like! He thought he wuz goin' to murder you, but he ain't!"

Alvarez, furious, rushed in and Paul, keen of eye and alert of muscle, fought on the defensive. Lucky for him now that he remembered all the lessons taught to him by the old soldier of the great French and Indian war, and lucky for him, too, that he had lived such a temperate life! Steel met steel and the ringing sound filled the little glade. The others were silent, leaning a little forward, lips slightly apart. A new element of uncertainty had come into the combat, and even Braxton Wyatt shared in the excitement that had been aroused by it.

Alvarez uttered a cry of satisfaction and then stepped back. Paul stood still while the blood came slowly from a cut across his left arm and dyed his sleeve. He had thrown out the arm just in time to ward off a thrust at his heart, but he received a slash in its place. The pain was considerable but Paul scarcely felt it; his mind was too intent on the crisis, and his head was yet clear and cool.

"Never you mind, Paul! Never you mind!" cried Long Jim. "'Twas only a lucky sweep uv his! you'll git him yet."

Paul gave his informal second a smile of confidence, for second he was with his encouraging tongue, even though bound and helpless otherwise.

Paul suddenly rushed in, struck swiftly, and, although the blow was parried, he thrust again so quickly that his blade passed inside the guard of Alvarez, pierced through his doublet, and wounded him in the side. Mad with pain and rage Alvarez struck furiously, but Paul caught the blow so skillfully that the Spaniard's sword broke in his hand.

Long Jim shouted with delight.

"You've beat him, Paul! you've beat him!" he cried. "Go in now and trim his mustache right off his face!

Braxton Wyatt struck him a blow on the cheek.

"Shut up, will you! " he cried.

Paul, sword in hand, turned away. He would not cut down an unarmed man, and some strain of chivalry hidden beneath the Spaniard's ambition and cruelty recognized the boy's nobility. He stepped aside and rebuked Braxton Wyatt for striking Long Jim. Then he took off his doublet and one of the men bound up his wound, which was painful but not at all dangerous. His heart was full of rage and chagrin, but he did not show either.

"You have done well with the sword," he said to Paul, "I admit it, and I am in a position to know. But you must surrender it, and come as my prisoner. Your sword can be no defense against the bullets of my soldiers."

Paul yielded his weapon. It would have been folly to resist when the soldiers stood close by, loaded guns in hand, but he felt, nevertheless, a deep satisfaction. He had performed a deed of valor, worthy of Shif'less Sol or Henry, and he proudly took his place by the side of the other prisoner, Long Jim. The wound in his arm had already stopped bleeding.

"I didn't know it was in you, Paul," whispered Long Jim, "but I never had anything in my life do me more good. A lot uv wicked hopes wuz disapp'inted when you give him that slash in the side, an' then broke his sword."

"I did better than I expected," replied Paul briefly, "but the result is not likely to endear us to Captain Alvarez."

"Ef I'd been keepin' the right kind uv a watch," said Long Jim, "this wouldn't have happened. We could a' got 'The Gall-yun' out in the stream an' away."

"No, Jim," replied Paul, "it was no fault of yours. Cunning was at work. They had located us in some manner and they prepared a surprise."

Alvarez and Braxton Wyatt went on ahead. Paul and Jim followed in the midst of a strong guard of soldiers. The road led again through corn and grain fields where cultivation was making a struggle against the luxuriance of a semi-tropical wilderness, although with small success, as yet.

A stooping figure with a hideous, feline face shambled up by the side of Paul, and purposely struck his elbow against the wound upon his arm. It was The Cat, but Paul, whose arms had been left unbound, whirled, without hesitation, and struck the Natchez in the face.

The Cat staggered but he promptly drew a knife and Paul might have been slain, but a soldier knocked the knife from the Indian's hand and rebuked him severely. The soldier was Luiz, a Spaniard of height and strength. He had fared badly at the hands of the five, but his life had also been saved by one of them, and he was not ungrateful. He did not mean that these two prisoners should be treated any worse than the captain ordered. He compelled The Cat to fall back, and he smiled pleasantly at Paul and Long Jim.

"I take it that we've got one friend in this crowd," said Long Jim.

"Yes," said Paul, "and we'll need all we can get. Alvarez seems to have a big place here, a sort of feudal estate."

It seemed to Paul that he had come into another world; the difference between this and Kentucky was so enormous. There, in the little settlements, every man spoke his mind and the life was all freedom. Here, fear and suspicion abounded, there were degrees of importance, and Alvarez was an autocrat who could make or mar as he pleased. It was an atmosphere heavy to Paul's lungs, and, like Long Jim, he longed for the great forests of the Ohio River country. Behind the chateau were some low, heavy out buildings of logs, and Paul and Long Jim were thrust into one of these, the door being fastened behind them with a huge padlock. Alvarez detailed Luis, who seemed to rank a little above his fellows, and three others to keep watch and then, feeling that he held his prisoners securely, the commander went into the chateau. But he stopped at the door and ordered that a gold coin and as much rum as he could drink should be given to The Cat.

"It was due to his wonderful instinct and cunning," he said, "that we captured these fellows and recovered my boat. It was an important achievement."

Braxton Wyatt looked with intense interest at the chateau, which was unlike anything that he had ever seen before. It was a strange compound of luxury and roughness. The walls were of wood, often ill-hewn, but several pieces of beautifully-woven tapestry hung upon them. Some of the floors were entirely bare, others were covered partly by Eastern rugs. Carved and curved weapons of many lands adorned the walls, and in one room were a mandolin and guitar.

Alvarez led the way to an inner court or patio, waving back all except Braxton Wyatt. The patio was large, with little beds of flowers in the corners, and a pool of pure, fresh water in the center. The pool was fed by a little stream that ran from a brook near the chateau, and it was drained by a similar stream. The patio was enclosed by a narrow, interior veranda, and the veranda held deep cane chairs, one of which Alvarez took, waving Braxton Wyatt to another.

The Spanish commander with a great air of relief and luxury leaned back in his cane chair. He loved the south and the sunshine to which he was born, and, although bold and hardy, he had little liking for the great, cold forests of the North. He clapped his hand and a servant brought glasses and wine. Alvarez filled the glasses himself and handed the first courteously to Wyatt.

"Drink," he said, "I am glad that expedition is over. The Governor General wished me to go, to explore, to make treaties, and to secure our title, but the wilderness, though interesting, grows monotonous."

"It is comfortable here," said Braxton Wyatt, stretching himself in the great cane chair. He was entirely recovered from his own wound and he appreciated the luxury of the place.

"Yes, it is indeed grateful to the tired body and limbs. I could feel a complete sense of rest and victory, if it were not for the sting of the wound that boy gave me. Who could have thought that I should be defeated with the sword by a boy from the woods of Kaintock?"

The Spaniard frowned and narrowed his cruel blue eyes. Braxton Wyatt murmured some words of sympathy, but in his heart he was not sorry because of the incident. He thought that Alvarez at times had patronized him too much, had assumed too lofty an air, and he was willing to see him suffer mortification. Moreover, he could use the hurt pride of Alvarez as an additional incitement against the five whom he hated.

"You told me once," said Alvarez "that the three comrades of the two, the three whom we have not captured, are much to be dreaded, and we have had proof of it?"

"It is so."

"But what can they do now?"

"But little," answered the renegade. "It was farther north in the great wilderness, where they are so much at home, that they could do us harm. Here within the fringe of the French and Spanish settlements, they will be hampered too much."

"Yes, I should think so," said Alvarez thoughtfully. "As you perhaps surmise, I am going to stay here indefinitely, Wyatt. This place of mine, Beaulieu, I call it, is at a suitable distance from New Orleans and I am an absolute monarch while I remain. Here, on the border, I am as a military commander, practically lord of life and death, and on one excuse or another I can hold the troops as long as I please."

"Which seems to me to be very convenient for all our plans," said Braxton Wyatt.

The Spaniard smiled, but speedily contracted his brows again. The cut that Paul had given him was hurting.

"I should like to punish that boy in some spectacular manner," he said. "I should want him to be humiliated in the presence of others as I was."

Suddenly he raised his head, which he had bent in thought, and his lips curled in laughter under his yellow mustache.

"I have it!" he exclaimed. "An idea! Since young Kaintock can use the sword I shall give him a chance to do it again! Oh, I shall give him every opportunity!"

Then he leaned over and spoke in lower tones to Braxton Wyatt. The renegade's eyes lighted up with delight.

"The very thing! " he exclaimed. "I'd have it done at once!"

Paul and Long Jim Hart meanwhile were resting in their log prison. Jim's arms had been unbound and, after rubbing them freely, he said that the circulation was restored. Then the two turned their attention to their prison. Paul surmised that it had been built as a tool house or store house, but at present it was empty save for himself and his comrade, Long Jim.

The only light came from two little windows made merely by cutting out a section of log and quite too small to admit a human body. They tried the door but it was so strong that they could not shake it. Then Long Jim lay calmly down on the floor.

"Paul," he said, "I don't believe I wuz ever fastened up in sech a little place ez this afore. Ef I stretch out my legs my feet will hit the wall over thar, an' the place is so close an' hot I don't breathe good."

"We'll have to stand it for a while," said Paul philosophically.

"That's so," said Long Jim, "I don't s'pose they mean to murder us ez we're not at real war with the Spaniards, so I wonder what they mean to do."

Paul shook his head. But he understood better than Long Jim the dangers of their situation. He knew the temper and character of Alvarez, and he knew, too, that at this distant chateau he was omnipotent. Alvarez was bent on making war upon the settlers in Kentucky, and nothing would stop him.

"Henry an' Sol an' Tom are free," said Long Jim. "They'll git us out, shore."

They remained a long time undisturbed, and the air in the room was so close and hot that both became languorous and sleepy. Nor was there any sound except the droning of some flies overhead and this added to the heaviness. Paul finally rose and gazed through the little windows, but he saw only an empty field and the edge of the forest. Save for this glimpse of green they were completely cut off from the world. He sat down again on the floor and composed his figure as comfortably as he could.

"How long do you think we hev been in here, Paul?" asked Long Jim.

"About four hours."

"Four hours! why, I thought it wuz four months. Paul, I don't believe I could stand this more'n a week, no matter ef they fed me upon the finest things in the land. At the end uv a week I'd turn right over an' die, an' when they examined me to see the cause uv my death, they'd find that my heart wuz broke in two, right squar' down the middle."

"They say that some wild animals die in captivity, and you might call it of a broken heart."

"I'm one of them kind. I like lots uv room. I want it to be clean woods an' prairie runnin' a thousan' miles from me in every direction. An' I don't want too many people trampin' 'roun' in them woods either, save Injuns to keep you lookin' lively, an' mebbe twenty or thirty white men purty well scattered. I reckon I'd call that my estate, Paul, an' I'd want it swarmin' with b'ars an' buff aler an' deer, an' all kinds uv big an' little game. Then I'd want a couple uv good rifles, one to take the place uv tother when it went bad, an' a couple uv huts p'raps three or four hundred miles apart to sleep in, when the weather wuz too tarnation bad, lots uv ammunition an', Paul, I'd be happy on that thar estate uv mine."

"Aren't you a little bit grasping, Jim?" asked Paul.

"Me, graspin'," replied Long Jim in a surprise. "What makes you ask sech a foolish question, Paul? Why, all I ask is to range ez fur an' ez long ez I like an' not to be bothered by no interlopers. I don't want to crowd nobody, an' I don't want nobody to crowd me. But, Paul, ef a feller could do that fur about a thousand years wouldn't it be a life wuth livin'? Just think uv all the deer hunts an' buffaler hunts an' b'ar hunts you could hey! An' the long beaver trappin' trips, you could go on? An' the new rivers an' new mountings you could find! the Injuns has the right idea about Heaven, Paul. They make it the happy huntin' grounds. Them huntin' grounds o' theirs run ten million miles in every direction. You couldn't ever come to any end. No matter how fur you went you'd see oceans uv green trees ahead uv you, an' on one side uv you prairies covered with buffaler herds so big that they'd be a week passin' you, an' then they'd still be passin'."

Long Jim heaved a deep sigh and was silent for a while. Paul, too, was silent. At last Long Jim said:

"I s'pose it don't pay; Paul, to be drawin' sech splendiferous pictures uv what ain't. Now I've gone an' made myself onhappy, talkin' uv them glorious huntin' grounds that stretch away without end, when here we are in this hot box so narrer I can't straighten out my legs. Besides, I'm gittin' pow'ful hungry. I wonder ef they mean to starve us to death. Strikes me that's an awful mean way uv killin' a man. He not only dies but he's so terrible hungry sech a long time.

But Long Jim's forebodings were not fulfilled. When the light that came through the little windows began to grow dusky, the door was thrown open and Luiz and another man entered with food and water. Luiz could not speak English, but he could make pantomime, and in that dumb but suggestive way he invited them to partake freely. Long Jim's good humor returned.

"Don't keer ef I do, Mr. Spaniard," he said jovially. "It's a failin' uv mine to want to eat whenever I'm hungry, an' since you' re invitin', why, I'll jest accept."

The door was left open while Luiz and the soldier were inside, but several other soldiers were on guard at the opening, and there was no chance for a dash. But fresh air came in, the cooler air of the evening, and Paul and Long Jim were greatly relieved. Yet Jim Hart cast many a longing glance at the open door. Outside was the wide world, and his place was there. Darkness was coming, but darkness would have no terrors for Long Jim, if only there were no walls about him.

When hunger and thirst were satisfied, Luiz and his comrade fell back respectfully. A tall figure, followed by a man bearing a torch, entered the doorway.

The man was Francisco Alvarez, but neither Paul nor Long Jim rose, Paul because he disliked the Spaniard and considered him a bitter enemy of his people, Long Jim because he saw no reason why he should rise for anybody.

Alvarez looked down at them and the sight of the two caused him a mixture of anger and triumph. His wound still stung, but at the bottom of his heart was a feeling that he had deserved it. In the presence of his own retainers, and with all the circumstances in his favor, he had sought to humiliate a boy. But this faint feeling was not enough to induce corresponding action. He was also something of a statesman, and he saw the power behind these two who had come out of the woods. They were foresters, they wore the tanned skin of the deer, but they belonged to the soil; they were natives, while he, in all his brilliant uniform and gold lace, was a foreigner, merely the long, extended arm of a power four thousand miles away. The two were but a vanguard, others would come and yet others in a volume, always increasing. The only possibility of saving Louisiana was to cut off the stream at the fountain head, while it was yet a thin and trickling rill and he, Francisco Alvarez, was the man for the deed.

It was because such thoughts as these were passing through his head that he did not speak for at least a minute, but stood steadily regarding Paul and Long Jim. He knew instinctively that it was Paul to whom he must speak, the boy with the thoughtful, dreamy eye, who, like himself, would gaze far into the future.

"Where are your comrades?" he asked, "the other three who helped you to steal my boat?"

"Captured it, you mean," replied Paul, calmly. "So long as you use the words 'steal' and 'thief,' you can talk to the air. I've nothing to say."

"Nor me either, Paul," said Long Jim, "I can't remember another time in my life when I felt so little like talkin'."

Long Jim leaned his head against the wall and half closed his eyes. His manner expressed the utmost indifference. Alvarez frowned, but he remembered that they were wholly in his power and he had plans.

"I'll change the words," he said, "but I repeat the question. Where are your comrades?"

"I don't know," replied Paul, and feeling a sudden happy thrill of defiance he added: "They are probably somewhere arranging the details of our rescue."

Alvarez frowned again.

"That is impossible," he said. "Perhaps you do not know your position. You are not at New Orleans. Here I am both the civil and military chief and this is my own place. I can put you to death as brigands or guerrillas, caught red-handed upon Spanish soil."

"Both charges, you know, are false," said Paul, "you know, too, that we have come to defeat, if we can, a conspiracy between you and Braxton Wyatt, a renegade whose life is doubly forfeit to his people. He carries plans, maps, and full information of our settlements in Kentucky, and he expects that you will go with many soldiers and cannon to help him and the tribes destroy us. What plans you and he have beyond this I do not know, but these, my friends and I hope to defeat, and we feel we could not be engaged in a greater or holier task."

Paul spoke with great fire and eloquence. His soul was revealed in his eyes, and Alvarez felt that he was in touch with a mind of no common order.

"Imagination!" said the Spaniard trying to laugh the impression away. "I find in Senior Wyatt a pleasant and intelligent assistant. He understands the rights of the King of Spain in these vast regions, and has a due regard for, them. You and your comrades are outlaws, subject to the penalty of death and I hold you in my hand. Yet I am disposed to be generous. Give me your oath that you and your comrade here and the three in the woods will go back to Kaintock at once and remain there, and I will release you."

Paul regarded him steadily. Bold man as he was, the Spaniard's eyes fell at last.

"We can give no such promise," said Paul. "I think that the reasons why we should go on to New Orleans are exceedingly strong."

"Ez fur me," said Long Jim, "I ain't ever been fond uv goin' back on my own tracks until I git good an' ready."

"I merely came here to give you a chance," said Alvarez, still addressing himself to Paul. "Do you think that a few woodsmen can stand in the path of Spain? Do you think that a great ancient monarchy can be held back by stray settlers?"

"You seem to be afraid of it yourself," said Paul who was regarding him closely.

A flush, despite himself, came into the Spaniard's cheeks, and it was partly of anger because a boy had read his mind so well. It was not a thing to be endured.

"I repeat that I came merely to give you a chance," he said. "Whatever you may suffer you can now bear in mind that you are the cause of it. Come, Luiz, I have wasted too much time.

He walked out followed by the soldier, but Francisco Alvarez had known before entering the prison that his offer would be declined. He merely wished to clear away any light burden that might rest" on his conscience, before proceeding with another plan that he had in mind.

Paul and Jim did not say a word until the door was fastened and they were left to the darkness. Then it was Jim who unburdened himself.

"Paul," he said, "did you ever see a panther gittin' ready to jump? Notice how his eyes turn a yellery-green, 'cause he thinks he's goin' to git what he wants right away? Notice how his mouth is slobberin' 'cause he thinks he's goin' to hey his dinner on the spot. Notice how his body is drawed up, an' his tail is slowly movin' side to side, 'cause he thinks he's goin' to sink his claws in tender flesh the next second! Wa'al that panther makes me think uv this here Spaniard, Alvarez. I think we kin look fur jest about ez much kindness an' gentlin' from him ez a fawn could expect from a hungry panther."

"You are certainly right, Jim," said Paul.

"Uv course! Ef I didn't know thar wuz so many soldiers about, I'd send a whoop through one uv them little winders thar, an' bring Henry, Tom, an' Sol here to let us out."

"As we can't do that, Jim," said Paul, "I think I'll go to sleep."

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