The Free Rangers

by Joseph A. Altsheler

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Chapter XI. The Spaniard's Offer

The afternoon passed without incident in the log prison save another and very welcome visit from Luiz, who brought water and some cloth bandages to be used on Paul's shoulder. Henry and Long Jim, familiar with hurts, dressed it carefully and skillfully. Paul's healthy blood would quickly do the rest.

"It will be stiff a little for three or four days," said Henry, "but you'll forget in a week that you ever had it."

Then he turned to Luiz.

"We'd like to thank you," he said, "I know you don't understand our words, but maybe you take our meaning."

Luiz nodded violently, smiled at the boy, and then held out his hand in quite an American fashion. His face expressed not only understanding but gratitude as well. Henry, of the acute eye and retentive mind, took a second look. Then he remembered.

"The man whom the buffalo was about to gore and run over!" he exclaimed. "Well, I am glad I was there to help you, and it seems that a lucky chance has made us a friend."

He took the proffered hand and shook it heartily. When Luiz had gone he explained to the others.

"He is surely a friend," he said, "and we have certainly had a piece of good fortune."

But Long Jim instantly demurred.

"Henry," he said, "you're a smart fellow, but you're talkin' real foolish. It wuz your good heart that done it. Ef it hadn't told you to help him when that mad bull wuz about to run over him and gore him an' trample him clean out uv sight in the earth, he wouldn't a-been here now, grinnin' at you an' with the gratitude oozin' out uv him all over."

Just before the sunset the door was opened again and Braxton Wyatt thrust in his hateful face. Behind him stood four Spanish soldiers.

"I hope you are enjoying yourselves," he said with irony. "We'd rather be here, as we are, than be in your place, having done what you have done," exclaimed Paul passionately.

Wyatt paled a little, but instantly recovered himself.

"A bear can growl a lot when it's in a trap but growling doesn't help it out," he said airily.

" We kin do more than growl. We've got sharp teeth, too, ez you ought to know," said Tom Ross, the man of few words.

"I'll admit that you have had some successes in the past," said Wyatt, smiling maliciously, "but your time is done. We are the victors, and you'll never get out of this."

The four as if by common consent turned their backs upon him and did not utter another word. The renegade understood the contempt expressed by those four silent backs, and the willful flush broke through the tan of his face. He had never hated them more bitterly.

"Come you, Henry Ware," he said roughly, "Captain Alvarez wishes to ask you some questions.

"I wouldn't go, Henry," said Long Jim. "I wouldn't hev a word to say to that Spaniard or to this white Injun either."

"He will go, whether willingly or unwillingly," said Braxton Wyatt. "I've men enough here to drag him."

"I will go willingly, Jim," said Henry addressing himself to his comrade rather than to the renegade. "It cannot do any harm, and it may help."

"Yes, it is wiser," said Paul.

"So long, boys," said Henry. "I'll be back pretty soon."

He stepped out, calmly ignoring the existence of Braxton Wyatt, and placed himself in the center of the little group of soldiers. His manner indicated clearly that he would make no attempt to escape. And, armed though the four soldiers were, and unarmed though their captive was, they breathed four simultaneous sighs of relief. Henry Ware, boy though he was, with his great height and powerful shoulders, chest, and limbs, was a truly formidable figure.

Braxton Wyatt turned the key noisily in the huge padlock that held the door.

"There," he said, "I think we've got that cattle securely fastened in the pen!"

Henry knew that the insulting words were intended for his ear, but he gave no sign of hearing them. He stood expressionless awaiting the word to the soldiers to march. Braxton Wyatt quickly gave it. He was angrier than because he could not stir Henry Ware, whom he hated most of all, to open anger.

The march led straight to the Chateau of Beaulieu, across well-trimmed sward, and Henry's alert eye took in everything, the pretentious house, so unlike anything erected by his own people in Kentucky, the low outbuildings, and the occasional gleam of a uniform.

But Henry did not observe at this moment with any eye to the escape of himself and his comrades. His condition of mind was spiritual and he felt a satisfaction for which he could not have accounted if he had tried. He felt sure that his friends and he would escape. He did not doubt it even now, when only one of the five was free in the woods out there. The spring sun was setting in great clouds of red and gold fire, a pleasant coolness was coming over the heated landscape, and every building, fence, and tree was touched by a soft but vivid light.

Braxton led the way into the house and into a great room, where Francisco Alvarez sat in a high chair, keeping state like a feudal lord. He waved his hand and the soldiers withdrew. Then he said to Braxton Wyatt:

"I wish to speak alone, absolutely alone, to Senior Ware, and I must ask you to leave us for a little while."

Braxton turned on his heel, his anger but half concealed, and the Spaniard smiled to himself. Francisco Alvarez was a wily man, a reader of the minds of others, and he did not object to the present displeasure of Wyatt.

But he said nothing until the renegade was gone. Henry, meanwhile, had quietly taken his seat in a cane chair. He was not of any mind to stand in the presence of this man who bore himself as if he were master of everything by right divine.

Francisco Alvarez observed the act and understood its meaning. He smiled again to himself. He had not misjudged the youth, and it confirmed him in the plan that had come suddenly into his cunning mind.

"Senior Ware," he said, veiling his voice and speaking with a velvety courtesy that was unusual in him, "I have brought you here to tell you first that I repent my act to-day, by which I placed your comrade's life in seeming danger. I was hasty, but I had been goaded greatly, and it may be, too, that I was influenced by the sinister advice of one who hates you and your friends in a manner almost beyond belief. Besides, the swordsman had orders not to slay."

Henry Ware looked at him in great surprise.

Five minutes ago he would not have dreamed it possible that he could hear such a speech in such a tone from Francisco Alvarez. He waited to see what it meant. Alvarez regarded him in a sort of kindly contemplation, as a man would look upon a youth for whom he had benevolent plans.

"We have been enemies so far," he resumed in his winning tone, "you and your comrades against myself and my people. But I have learned one thing, and I am confirmed in it by the opinion of others; boy as you are, you are the strongest and most dangerous of the five who oppose me; you are the leader."

The words, although true, were those of compliment and flattery, and Henry felt the touch of poison in the silky tone. He stiffened himself slightly as if he would resist a danger, unknown as yet, but all the more to be dreaded on that account. He still remained silent.

"Yes, you are the strongest and the one most to be feared," continued Alvarez musingly, "I am not saying it to flatter you, but because it is a matter that I have weighed well for reasons pertaining to statecraft. There sentiment or personal liking cannot count. I have plans, large plans, in regard to this country. I suppose that every ambitious man who comes here has them. How can he help it when he sees so vast and fertile a land, inhabited only by savages? My plan, I believe, is right, in accordance with probability and justice. You, Senior Ware, are a representative of a race that has crossed the mountains into a new region. You have there, in Kaintock, thin and feeble settlements that must soon be crushed."

Henry spoke for the first time, but he showed no excitement, although his heart had begun to beat faster.

"I think you are wrong, Captain Alvarez," Henry said. "The settlements in Kentucky have already driven back some formidable forays, and they grow stronger every day."

"Forays of savages only. What could they do if a force of white men, a powerful force, armed with cannon came?"

"But will they come?" asked Henry pointedly.

"Ah, I see you are clever," said Alvarez, still smiling. "You and the other youth, Cotter, are educated, and you must realize the truth of what I say. Yes, that force will come. Your Eastern colonies are about to be defeated by the King of England. You are rebels, and there is no place for defeated rebels but the depths of the wilderness. Spain has been coquetting with these colonies, but she will come back to the side of the English monarchy where she belongs. The monarchies must stand together against all rebels."

"How do you know that Spain will help England to fight us?" asked Henry.

Alvarez smiled once more, but the smile now, instead of being merely winning, was superior.

"It is a long distance from here to Europe," he replied, "but news may come even into the depths of the woods. I have many friends in Spain, friends near the court, who inform me whenever the wind changes."

Henry did not like, that superior smile. It was a mistake of Francisco Alvarez, a mistake that many strong men make, to assume a patronizing manner even for a moment in the presence of another who was also strong. Henry's intuition at once put him on guard at all points.

"I have heard," he said, "that Bernardo Galvez, the Spanish Governor General at New Orleans, is no friend of the British power. But why do you discuss these things with me or tell me of them?"

"It is because I have considered you and recognize your worth," replied Alvarez slowly. "Why rush on to destruction with the foolish rebels? No, do not speak! Pay good heed to what I say. There is more passing on this Continent than you think. Great events are about to occur. I do not speak merely of the war between the rebels - or, if you prefer it, the Americans - and the English, but of another change.

"Spain is seated at New Orleans near the mouth of the Mississippi, which flows through a larger area of fertile and temperate country than any other river in the world. The waters of hundreds of navigable streams converge there, and it must become the rival of London and Paris. What can Quebec, Boston, New York, or Charleston be to New Orleans? Can Spain give up such a site and such a vast and fertile territory as Louisiana? Never! And here is the greatest opportunity in the world for strong men! Come with me! Bring your friends with you. We need such as you! I offer you a career that could not even enter your dreams in the woods of Kaintock!"

A deep, red flush overspread Henry's face.

"Do you think that we could fight against our own people," he exclaimed. "Do you think that we are made of such stuff as that miserable renegade, Braxton Wyatt?"

Alvarez did not flinch. His words had been delivered with extraordinary emphasis, and they carried the ring of his own conviction. His great plan possessed him, and he saw before him an instrument of which he could make good use.

"I do not ask you to go against your own people," he replied. "Remain in Louisiana. Great work can be found here for you and your friends. And where Kaintock is concerned another way could be made. It is far from the Eastern colonies, divided by mountains, the forest, and Indians. Where could they find a better friend to whom to turn than the King of Spain? And they will surely need a powerful friend!"

Henry gazed at him in amazement, and yet he felt a certain respect for the scope and largeness of the man's plan, repellent though the plan was to him. He saw that Alvarez was not an ordinary man, that he was one with whom the people for whom he cared would have to reckon. But he was not afraid, nor was he tempted for a moment by the promise of a glittering future that Alvarez held Out to him. He felt an immense indignation, but he was still master of himself, and he replied quietly.

"I could not leave my own people, nor would any of my comrades. The air of Louisiana does not suit us. We are accustomed to a colder climate. We feel, too, that Kaintock can take care of herself. Nor is it sure that the Eastern colonies will be crushed by the King. But, should they be, Kentucky would never desert them to join Spain."

Alvarez frowned, and his temper began to rise. Henry was showing more finesse and more knowledge of the world and its events than he had thought possible in one just come out of the woods.

"By entering my service, by becoming a lieutenant of mine, you have all to gain and nothing to lose," he said, resuming his customary tone of superiority.

Henry instantly felt the change of manner and resented it. "I could not dream of accepting such an offer," he said, "but, if I should, I'd merely take the place that you've already given to Braxton Wyatt, a renegade. He thinks it is his, and you have made him think it is his. If you do not keep faith with him how could I believe that you would keep faith with me?"

The dark blood of anger flushed the Spaniard's face. He half rose from his seat and then sat down again.

"I have made you an offer," he said, "one that any youth or young man should be proud to accept, and you insult me by saying that you doubt my faith. You are a child, a backwoodsman, and an ignorant fellow!"

"I am not ignorant about some things of importance," replied Henry calmly, "but, if I were low enough to be tempted by your offer, I should still be wise enough to know that a man who plots against his own superior officer could not be trusted by me."

"What do you mean?" asked Alvarez, paling for a moment.

"Is it not true that by fair or foul means you expect shortly to succeed Bernardo Galvez as Governor General of Louisiana?"

The Spaniard's hand flew to his sword hilt. Such things as these were not to be known by everybody. But Henry met his gaze steadily, and the hand fell away from the sword-hilt. He had gone too far already. He was sorry that he had turned the professional swordsman loose on Paul - it had been an unwise deed - and another act of violence in a single day was unworthy a man of his self-control. No, a new and better plan came suddenly into his mind.

The two sat for a few moments gazing steadily at each other. Alvarez was in the higher chair, and that gave him the physical advantage, but the look of the fearless youth was like the sharp sword that cuts scornfully through the maze and web of intrigue and trickery. Alvarez was forced to turn his gaze aside, and his soul was full of tumult and anger because he had to yield. The new plan that he had conceived in regard to this daring boy now seemed a peculiarly happy thought. Henry's pride and spirit must be broken, and he, Francisco Alvarez, was the man for the task. He clapped his hands and a soldier entered. He sent a message by him and several more came, accompanied by Braxton Wyatt. Alvarez motioned Wyatt to a seat.

"Senior Wyatt," he said in his slow, precise English, "I have been having a talk with your friend, your former friend here, and I find him to be as unworthy as you have described him to be. I offered only kindness to himself and his friends. I chose to believe that they had been merely foolish, misled by ignorance, but his reply has been only to insult me and to blacken you."

The renegade did not seek to conceal the joy that shone in his eyes. He had been in fear when he was sent out of the hall, in fear lest Alvarez had some plan by which he would suffer, and now it was obvious that nothing had been changed.

"It is his character," said Wyatt. "He is vicious and the truth has never been in him."

Henry did not know what all this talk meant, but he refused to notice Braxton Wyatt. His manner indicated that the renegade had ceased to exist, and it made Wyatt furious.

"You tell the truth," continued Alvarez, "but he is dangerous, too, as you told me, a strong, wily fellow, and I shall not take any chances on his escape. See, I am providing against it."

A soldier entered, bearing balls and chain, and Alvarez pointed to Henry. The youth sprang to his feet. He knew that this was intended as an indignity, and his mind rebelled.

"Put them on him," said Alvarez, and the soldiers approached. Henry hurled the first back and then the second, but the others were about to fling themselves upon him in a heap, when a voice from the door cried:


It was not a loud voice, but one full of dignity and command, and the soldiers instantly fell back.

A tall man, robed in black, and with a thin face, smoothly shaven and austere, stood in the doorway. The eyes, usually benevolent and kindly, sparkled with indignation, and one hand was uplifted in rebuke.

"Father Montigny!" said Henry, under his breath.

"Who says 'stop!' here, where I command?" Alvarez exclaimed, and then he paled at sight of the priest. The Spaniard was a bold man, but he wished no conflict with Holy Church.

"I said 'stop,'" replied the priest with calm dignity, advancing into the room. "Francisco Alvarez, you were about to perform a deed unworthy of yourself, one that you would have cause to regret. There is no war between Louisiana and Kaintock. What right have you to put this youth in chains?"

He took a step further, and the rebuking hand was still uplifted. The soldiers shrank back and more than one crossed himself. Yet they were relieved, as Father Montigny had interfered with a task that they did not like.

"I have the utmost respect for Holy Church," replied Alvarez, though it cost him an effort to utter the words, "but I am in command here and all military affairs fall under my jurisdiction. This young man is a dangerous spy and plotter from Kaintock, one who has used force against us. He and his comrades seized one of our boats and that was an act of war."

"He is a good youth," said Father Montigny. "He and his comrades did me a great service. I know that his motives are good, and I will not see him treated in such barbarous fashion."

The face of Alvarez darkened. This was more than he could stand.

"I am the judge in these matters," he replied, "and I tell you, Father Montigny, that you must not interfere. Your order, the Capuchins, are in power now at New Orleans, as I know, but the Jesuits may come back. I should favor their returning."

"It is not a question of Capuchin or Jesuit," replied Father Montigny sternly, "and you, Francisco Alvarez, should know it. It is a question of you and what you are doing here. You need not make any threats against me, I care for none of them, but Bernardo Galvez, the Governor General at New Orleans, shall know of what is passing at Beaulieu."

The face of Alvarez contracted into a terrible frown. Nevertheless he feared the unarmed priest.

He was helpless against him and he feared, too, that if he persisted Father Montigny would quickly learn of other and deeper matters. He broke into a short and by no means hearty laugh.

"Perhaps I was going rather far," he said, "but this youth has provoked me beyond endurance. Take away those things, Gaspar."

The Spaniard whom he indicated took the irons, and Henry sat down again in his chair. The threatened ignominy had stung him deeply and he said under his breath: "I thank you, Father Montigny." Then Alvarez ordered Henry to be taken away, also.

Henry arose without resistance, and walked from the hall with the soldiers. As he passed, Father Montigny put his hand on his shoulder and said:

"I am your friend, my son."

Henry said nothing but gave him a look of deep gratitude as he walked proudly out.

Return to the The Free Rangers Summary Return to the Joseph A. Altsheler Library

Anton Chekhov
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Susan Glaspell
Mark Twain
Edgar Allan Poe
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Herman Melville
Stephen Leacock
Kate Chopin
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson