The Free Rangers

by Joseph A. Altsheler

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Chapter XIV. New Orleans

They sailed and rowed steadily on for several days. Once or twice they saw canoes or boats containing white men, who regarded them curiously, but none approached. They inferred that they were now very near New Orleans, and all the five were alert with anticipation. Besides the accomplishment of their great task, they were about to visit a metropolis, a seat of government, a city of eight or ten thousand people, commanding the road to the heart of the North American continent, swarming with many races, and destined, as all the world then believed, to be the largest place in either America. It is no wonder that the bosoms of the five throbbed with curiosity, and that they looked forward to strange and varied sights.

"Now, Jim," said Shif'less Sol in a warning tone to Long Jim, "I've got advice to give you. I wuz in a big town once. I told you about that time I went to Baltimore when I wuz a little boy, an' so I'm fit to tell you how to behave. New Or-lee-yuns ain't like the woods, Jim. Don't you be too handy with your gun. Ef you see a man follerin' along behind you ez ef he wuz trailin' you, don't you up an' take a shot at him. Like ez not he's about his business, only it happens to be in the same direction that you're goin'. An', Jim, don't you go to gittin' dizzy, through seem' so many people about. Mebbe you don't think thar will be sech a crowd, but you'll believe it when you see it.

"Sol Hyde," rejoined Long Jim indignantly, "I'm sorry New Or-lee-yuns ain't right at the sea, 'cause the sea is salt, so I've heard, an' then ef I wuz to dip you in it three or four times it would do you a pow'ful lot uv good. Salt is shorely mighty helpful in the curin' up uv fresh things."

"There goes another of those canoes," said Paul, "but I can't tell whether it's a white man or an Indian in it."

"It's a white man," said Henry, "but I fancy it's a West Indian Frenchman or Spaniard. I've heard that some of them are as dark as Indians."

"Time to think 'bout tyin' up for the dark," said Tom Ross. "We might go on all night, but we need to save our strength fur to-morrow. What do you say to that little cove over thar on the west bank,, Henry?"

"Looks as if it would be the right place," replied Henry, "and it is certainly time to stop. The sun seems to go down faster here than it does in Kentucky."

The twilight was spreading swiftly over the arch from west to east as they entered the cove and tied "The Galleon" to a live oak. Paul leaped joyfully ashore, glad to stretch his limbs again. The others quickly followed, and they set about gathering wood to build a fire. They were out of the Indian country now and they had no need to be cautious.

Paul bestirred himself looking for brushwood. Presently he found at the edge of the water a dead bough which was long enough to be broken into several sticks of convenient length. He picked it up, and for the purpose of breaking it brought it down heavily on a large brown log lying in the mud near the water.

To Paul's amazement and horror, the big brown log got into action at either end. One end, in the shape of a tail, whipped around at him, barely missing him, and the other end, splitting itself horizontally in half, revealed huge jaws lined with terrible teeth. Paul sprang back with a cry, and Henry, who was near, rifle in hand, fired a ball into the monster's brain. The big brown log, that was no log, turned partially over and died.

"An alligator," said Henry, "I've heard of them, but this is the first that I've ever seen."

"I've heard of them, too," said Paul, "but I never thought I'd walk almost into the mouth of one without knowing it."

Shif'less Sol had his grievance, too.

"Now that's another o' the ways o' this here southern country!" he exclaimed in a pained tone. "A big, hungry, wild animal, tryin' to pass itself off ez an old dead log. Up in Kentucky, a good honest bear, or even a sneakin' panther, would be ashamed to look you in the face alter tryin' to play sech a low-down trick on a man."

"It is certainly a hideous brute," said Paul.

"I'm thinkin' that we'd better build our fire big," said Long Jim. "I don't want to wake up in the mornin' an' find myself devoured by an alligator, jest when I wuz about to reach the great town uv New Or-lee-yuns."

But they were not molested that night by either man or animal, and the next day, watchful and surcharged with interest, they approached New Orleans, which was bulking so large to them. The river looped out into a crescent and narrowed greatly. As they came to the city, the Mississippi did not seem to them to be more than a third of a mile wide, but they knew that it was extremely deep.

But there, snugly within the crescent, lay New Orleans, a town enclosed within palisaded fortifications that faced the levee for about a thousand yards, and that ran back perhaps half as far. The levee was lined with vessels. Already New Orleans was famous for shipping, and they saw the flags of many nations. Schooners there were and brigs and brigantines, and barks and barkentines, and other craft from Europe and the West Indies and South America. Near the shore was a great, high ship, from which the red and yellow flag of Spain fluttered in more than one place, while the muzzles of cannon protruded from her wooden sides.

"That's an armed galleon," said Paul.

"She's a big ship an' she's got lots o' men on her," said Shif'less Sol, "but I wouldn't trade our gall-yun fur her."

"No, our boat suits us best," said Henry.

They saw about them on the river many small craft like their own, ships, boats, canoes, barges, dug-outs, and other kinds, manned by white men, red men, yellow men, and brown men. They heard strange cries in foreign tongues, and now and then the sound of a trumpet blown at one of the forts in the palisaded wall. Officers in brilliant uniforms appeared on the levee.

The eyes of Long Jim Hart opened wider and wider.

"It shorely is a big town," he said. "Sol, I'd been thinkin' that you an' Paul wuz tellin' a good deal that ain't, but I reckon it's the truth. The world has a lot more people than I thought it had. I'm pow'ful glad I came."

They turned "The Galleon" toward the levee, and an officer in a boat pulled by four uniformed oarsmen hailed them in Spanish, which none of them understood.

"Must be a harbor master or something of that kind," said Henry.

They brought "The Galleon" to a stop, and the other boat came alongside. The officer in the bow was a Catalan, richly dressed, and small, but with a thin, alert face. He looked at the five with as much curiosity as they looked at him. Secretly he admired their splendid shoulders and chests, and their obvious strength. He was acute enough, too, to guess whence they came. Lieutenant Diego Bernal had not been two years in New Orleans for nothing.

"You come from Kaintock?" he said in fair and not unfriendly English.

"Yes," replied Henry, "we are all the way from Kentucky, and we have an important message for the Governor General, Bernardo Galvez. Can you tell us how to reach him?"

Lieutenant Diego Bernal glanced at "The Galleon," which was obviously of Spanish build, but he was a shrewd officer who would make his way in the world and he knew that many strange things passed inspection in this great Franco-Spanish metropolis of New Orleans.

"His Excellency, the Governor General," he replied, "is now at his house at the corner of Toulouse street and Rue de La Levee, but it is too late for you to see him to-day. To-morrow morning you may secure audience with him if you have the important message that you say."

The five disregarded the ironical tone in his voice. They were good enough judges of character to surmise that Lieutenant Diego Bernal, whose name and career were unknown to them, did not care a particle how they had come into possession of the boat which was so obviously of Spanish build. There was no advantage to him in asking too many questions, and he calmly waved them to a landing.

They pulled in and tied their boat to the levee, while men and women, white, yellow, brown, and black, and all the colors between, stood about and looked at the giants from Kaintock, where people were reported to be of such extraordinary size and ferocity, and where they certainly were, as their own eyes could tell them, of uncommon height and strength, even boys such as they saw Henry and Paul to be.

While the five were engaged in this task, rabbais, or peddling merchants, some Provencals and some Catalans came to sell them goods, which they carried in coffin-shaped vehicles pushed before them. They had wares, mostly small articles from Spain and France and the West Indies. Colored women carrying immense cans of milk or coffee on their heads passed by or lingered in hope of a sale. Others were calling for sale callas and cakes tous chauds in monotonous, drawling voices. Negresses, also, were trying to sell belles chandelles, which were dirty candles made from green myrtle wax, the chief light then sold in the city.

The five understood the gestures of this rabble, although not their words, and waved them away, not caring to buy anything.

"Keep cool, Jim! keep cool!" said Shif'less Sol. "Don't shoot. They don't want to kill you; they jest want to rob you."

"Depends on what they want to rob me uv," replied Long Jim with a grin. "I never had more'n ten shillin's at one time in my life, an' I've got a purty strong grip on my rifle an' the clothes that I hev on."

" I think we'd better go ashore an' do a little scoutin'," said Tom Ross. "It's always well to know the groun' on which you're goin' to act."

"No doubt of it, Tom," said Henry, "and we'll all go together."

They had a little money of English coinage which was taken readily in cosmopolitan New Orleans, and with two shillings they hired a levee watchman, whom they judged they could trust, to look after "The Galleon." Then, rifle on shoulder, they entered the fortified city by the gate called Chemin des Tehaupitoulas. Spain, officially at least, was the friend of the colonies and the enemy of England, and the sentinels at the gate readily passed them after a few questions.

Here they asked again for the Governor General, Bernardo Galvez, and the statement of Lieutenant Diego Bernal that he could not be seen was confirmed. He had arrived only a few hours before from a two days' expedition down the river, and was now immersed in important papers that had awaited his coming.

They saw the Governor General's house, a one story building fronting the river with a gallery on one side, gardens on the other, and kitchen and outbuildings behind. They looked longingly at it, as they desired very much to see Bernardo Galvez at once. But presently they passed on into the Place d'Armes, a wide open space used as a review ground. At the very moment they entered it a company of Spanish soldiers were going through their evolutions, and, after the fashion of to-day, children and their dark-faced nurses were watching them. The five did not think much of the soldiers, who seemed to them to be dwarfed and without zeal.

"Ef ever Kentucky comes down the long river," said Shif'less Sol, "it will take bigger men than these to hold her back."

Paul's gaze wandered from the soldiers, and he saw in a corner of the Place d'Armes a great wooden gallows that made him shudder. It was a gallows very often used, too, and any one could have pointed out to Paul the spot in the middle of the Place d'Armes where five gallant French gentlemen, among the best citizens of New Orleans, had been shot not long before for planning to throw off the rule of Spain and make Louisiana a free republic.

They strolled on, still filled with curiosity and gratifying it. They saw many buildings that surpassed anything hitherto in their experience, the brick parish church, on the site of which the Cathedral of St. Louis was afterwards built, the arsenal, the jail, and the house of the Capuchins, who had lately triumphed over the Jesuits. The largest building of all that they saw was the convent of the Ursuline Nuns, standing in the city square on the river front, and this was, in fact, the largest building in New Orleans.

While there were many houses of brick, the cheaper were of cypress wood, and the sidewalks were only four or five feet wide, with a wooden drain for a gutter. There was no paving of the streets, which, now deep in dust, would turn to quag'mires when the rain came. At long intervals were wooden posts with projecting arms from which hung oil lamps, to be lighted when nightfall came.

Long Jim uttered an exclamation of disgust, and gripped his nose firmly between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand.

"I never smelt sech smells afore in all my life," he said, pointing to the heaps of garbage scattered about. "A big town like this here is pow'ful interestin', but it ain't clean. Paul, remember them great forests up thar in Kentucky an' across the Ohio! Remember how clean an' nice the ground is! Remember all them big, fine, friendly trees, millions an' millions uv 'em! Remember all them nice little springs uv clean, cold water, clear enough to be lookin' glasses, one, an' sometimes more, every three or four hundred yards! Remember all them nice smells uv the wild flowers, an' the trees, an' the grass, an' me settin' at the foot uv the biggest tree uv 'em all, cookin' on a roarin' fire, fat, juicy buffaler an' deer steaks fur you fellers!"

"I remember," replied Paul smiling. "I remember it all, and I do believe, Jim, that you are homesick for the woods."

"Not homesick eggzackly, but I jest want to say that a big town like this kin be mighty interestin', but after I've seed it, give me back our own clean woods."

"I believe I agree with you, Jim," said Paul thoughtfully.

They strolled back into the Place d'Armes, where the review was still in progress, and where more people were gathering. The women were bare-headed, and generally wore a short round skirt, and long basque like overgarments, the two invariably of different, but bright, colors. All of them wore much ribbon and jewelry, but, as a rule, they were too dark of countenance to suit the ideas of the five concerning feminine beauty. At rare intervals, however, they saw a girl with light hair and light eyes and light complexion, and all these were really handsome.

"Those, I imagine, are French," said Paul. "We've got into the habit of thinking of the French as always dark, but many of them are fair. I've heard our school teacher, Mr. Pennypacker, say so often, and he ought to know. For the matter of that, some of the Spaniards are light, too."

"Yes, thar's Alvarez," said Shif'less Sol. "He's light, an' that's one reason why I mistrusted him the first time I saw him. It looks more nateral fur a Spaniard to be dark."

As they stood in the Place d'Armes looking at the sights, the five themselves began to attract much attention. Their height and strength, their long, slender barreled rifles, and their deerskin attire made them highly picturesque figures. The motley population of New Orleans was used to all kinds of people, armed or unarmed, but generally armed. These, however, were different. They bore themselves with dignity, there was about them an air of absolute simplicity and honesty, and they kept close together in a manner that indicated a faithful brotherhood, closer even than the brotherhood of blood. They seemed to come from another world than that which furnished so many desperate adventurers and former galley slaves to New Orleans.

Henry noticed the attention that they were attracting, and he did not like it.

"Perhaps, boys, we'd better go back to our boat," he said.

But before any one could answer he was tapped lightly on the arm and, turning about, he saw the small, trim figure of Lieutenant Diego Bernal, who had been the first man to greet them as they entered New Orleans.

"We met on the water, as you know," said the little lieutenant, smiling in a friendly manner. "My name is Bernal, Diego Bernal, and I am a lieutenant in the service of our most excellent Governor General, Bernardo Galvez."

His manner was polite, and Henry met him half way. He had nothing to conceal, and he gave him the names of his comrades and himself. Lieutenant Bernal all the time was regarding them shrewdly.

"It is evident that you are mighty men despite the youth of some of you," he said, "and I begin to suspect it from other facts also."

"What other facts?" asked Henry.

"Now, there is the matter of your boat," replied the lieutenant jauntily. "I had a belief, wrong no doubt, that she was of Spanish build. I also seemed to have a recollection, wrong, too, no doubt, that I had once seen Francisco Alvarez, the chief of our captains, aboard that boat and bearing himself in a manner that indicated ownership. I am wrong, no doubt. My impressions are often false and my memory always weak. Gladly would I stand correction. Gladly would I be convinced that I am misled by some fancied resemblance."

"Them's pow'ful big words," said Long Jim.

Henry, who was always the leader of the five when they were together, looked into the eyes of Diego Bernal, and he seemed to see there the curious contraction that is called a wink. He gave judgment at once concerning Diego Bernal.

"I take it," he said by way of reply, "that you are no great friend of the captain, Francisco Alvarez?"

"If a higher officer rebukes you unjustly and sneers at a commander whom you respect and like, is it calculated to promote friendship?"

The gaze of the two met again, and Henry understood.

"I see what your choice would be if you were compelled to choose between Bernardo Galvez and Francisco Alvarez," he said. "It may be that you will have to make such a choice, and I will tell you, too, that the boat did belong to the Captain Alvarez. We took it from him because, first, he made an outrageous attack upon us; secondly, he is plotting to set all the Indian tribes upon us in Kentucky, aided with Spanish soldiers and Spanish guns, and, thirdly, he hopes to become Governor General of Louisiana, and commit Spain to an alliance with England in the war upon the Americans."

Henry spoke boldly and earnestly, and the others nodded assent. Lieutenant Diego Bernal, a trim, dandified little man, drew forth from the pocket of his waistcoat a small gold snuff box and delicately took a pinch of snuff, a habit to which the five were unaccustomed.

"Speak it low, my friend," he said deliberately. "All this, if it be true, is great news, and you do right in coming to New Orleans to see Bernardo Galvez. Can you prove it when you see the Governor General?"

"We can give proofs," replied Henry guardedly.

"It is well, and I am pleased that I have met you. Know then that I am the enemy of Francisco Alvarez, and that I may aid you. Who can tell? It is well for strangers to have friends in New Orleans. I have an impression that I have some influence. I am usually wrong and my memory is always weak, but this particular impression persists, nevertheless."

Long Jim opened his mouth in wonder.

"'Pears strange to me," he said, "that a furrin man kin pick more big words out uv our language, an' rope 'em together than we kin."

Lieutenant Diego Bernal smiled. He was pleased.

"I learned English when I was a boy," he said, "and now it serves me well. I would hear more of your news, gentlemen, but for the present I wish to offer you refreshments. Come with me, if 'you please."

He led the way into a low building of brick, an inn fashioned after the manner of those in France. They entered the public room, which was large and square, with a fairly clean, sanded floor, and many men about drinking liquors unknown to the five. They took seats at a table in a rather retired corner, and gazed with interest at the variegated crowd. Many of the men wore great, gold rings in their ears, something entirely new to the five, and others were tattooed in strange designs. They drank deep and swore much and loudly in strange tongues. Also, they smoked cigarros, cigarritos, and pipes, and there was scarcely one present who did not have either knife or pistol or both at belt.

"Undoubtedly there is more than one pirate from the Gulf or the Caribbean among them," said Lieutenant Bernal, "but the pirates perhaps are not the worst. Louisiana and New Orleans can supply many a desperate villain of their own."

"Sent by Europe!" said Paul.

"Truly so. An old country always seeks to disgorge such people upon a new one. But Monsieur Gilibert, the proprietor of this inn, on the whole, maintains good order among his customers. As you can now see, Monsieur Gilibert is a man of parts."

The proprietor, wearing a cook's cap and white apron, emerged that moment from his kitchen. He was not above supervising, and even doing his own cooking, and, because of it, his inn had acquired a great reputation for excellence of food, as well as drink.

Many of the French in New Orleans were Provencals, but Monsieur Gilibert was from the North of France, a huge, flaxen-haired man with a large square chin, and a fearless countenance. His blue eye roved around the room and lighted upon the five and their host, Lieutenant Diego Bernal, at the secluded table. He noted that every one of the five had a long rifle leaning by his chair, and he shrewdly surmised that they were from the wilderness of the far North.

Monsieur Francois Eugene Gilibert did not love the Spanish, although he did like Lieutenant Diego Bernal, who was a Catalan and therefore, in the opinion of Monsieur Gilibert, almost a Frenchman. Neither did he like the passing of New Orleans from the French into the hands of the Spanish, although trade was as good as ever at his Inn of Henri Quatre, despite the narrow Spanish rule, which was not to his taste. It was perhaps one half his love of freedom and one-half his objection to the rule of Spain that made him look with friendly eyes upon any far wanderers from Kaintock.

He strolled to the table and greeted Lieutenant Bernal, who returned his greeting pleasantly and gave the names of the five.

"They come from Kaintock," said the lieutenant, significantly, "and they do not like Francisco Alvarez."

"Ah," said Monsieur Gilibert, who also spoke English. "I do not love that man Alvarez. He is the enemy of the French."

"Not more than he is of Kaintock," said the lieutenant. Then he turned to the five and said:

"I did not bring you here merely to hear words. I wish something to drink for my friends, kind Monsieur Gilibert. The inn has rum of both New England and Barbadoes, Spanish and French wines. Now what shall it be?"

He turned to the five, and as they answered, one by one, the eyes of the young Spanish lieutenant opened wider and wider in astonishment. They had never tasted rum and were quite sure they would not care for it. Wine they knew almost as little about, using what they had found on "The Galleon" chiefly as a medicine, and they ended, one and all, by choosing a mild West Indian drink, a kind of orange water. Lieutenant Bernal reached over and with his two hands felt gingerly of Henry's mighty right arm.

"Do you mean to tell me," he said, "that such a muscle and such a body have been built up and nourished by things as mild as orange water?"

"Not orange water, but plain water," replied Henry laughing. "But in Maryland where I was born, and in Kentucky, where I've been growing up, the water is very good, clear, pure, and cold."

"Will you kindly stand up a moment?" said the lieutenant.

Henry promptly stood up and then Lieutenant Diego Bernal, standing by the side of him, was about a head the shorter. Then the young lieutenant made a wry face.

"And I have drunk wine all my life," he said plaintively, "and he has drunk only water!"

The two sat down again, and the others laughed. Their talk and actions had attracted the attention of a number in the room, and a large man with great gold bands in his ears, rose and sauntered over toward them. He was a dark fellow, evidently a West Indian Spaniard with a dash of Carib.

"I have drunk rum and wine and all other liquors all my life," he said, "but I am neither little nor weak."

His tone was truculent, and his flushed face indicated that he had already taken too much.

"Go away, Menocal," said Monsieur Gilibert, in a voice half soothing, half warning. "I do not wish my guests to be annoyed."

But Menocal would not turn away. He put his hand upon Henry's shoulder.

"This is a great youth," he said. "They grow large in the new country to the north that they call Kaintock, but I, Alonzo Menocal of Santo Domingo, am the stronger. Stand up, thou youth of Kaintock, by the side of me!"

Henry promptly stood up again, and the young giant towered above Alonzo Menocal of Santo Domingo, tall though the West Indian was. Moreover he had greater breadth of shoulder and a deeper chest.

"Ha, thou Kaintock!" exclaimed Menocal, "thou art the taller and the larger, but I am the stronger, as I shall quickly prove!"

The size of Henry acted as an irritant upon Menocal, already flushed with intoxicants, and he seized the youth by the waist in an attempt to hurl him to the floor and thus prove his superior strength. Henry, with an instant, powerful effort, threw off the encircling arms, seized the West Indian by both shoulders, and made use of a trick that Shif'less Sol had taught him.

He thrust the man backward with a mighty shove, put out his foot, and Menocal went over it. But the West Indian did not touch the floor. Henry caught him by the neck and waist, and, with a great heave, lifted him high above his head. He held him there a moment, and then said gravely to Monsieur Francois Eugene Gilibert:

"Shall I cast him through yonder window, or put him back in the chair in which he was sitting before he came to us uninvited?"

Monsieur Gilibert looked longingly at the window - he was a man of strength and dexterity himself - and he admired great strength and great dexterity in others - but motives of prudence and humanity prevailed.

"Put him back in his chair," he said.

Henry walked all the way across the room and gently put the half-stunned man in a sitting position in his chair. A roar of applause shook the room at this remarkable performance, and Monsieur Gilibert was not the slackest among those who cheered. Never before had the Inn of Henri Quatre witnessed such an extraordinary feat of strength. Lieutenant Diego Bernal sprang to his feet and again seized Henry's right hand in both of his.

"Senior," he exclaimed, "it is an honor to me to deem myself your friend!"

Alonzo Menocal arose from his chair and came across the room. Paul's hand moved to the butt of the pistol in his belt, but the intentions of the West Indian were not hostile.

"Thou hast conquered," he said to Henry in his queer thee and thou-English. "Thou art not only the taller and the larger, but also the stronger and the more skillful. It is the first time that Alonzo Menocal was ever picked up, carried across a room, and put down in his chair, as a mother puts her baby to bed."

He put out his hand in quite an American fashion, and Henry shook it, glad that the man was good-natured. More applause greeted this act of friendship by the two and, taking advantage of it, the five went out, accompanied by Lieutenant Bernal, all in great good humor.

Night was coming on, and they felt that it was time to return to " The Galleon." A man was already lighting the smoking oil lamps that hung from the wooden arms of the posts, and from one of the forts a sentinel was calling the hour.

New Orleans looked better under the softening hue of the twilight. Many of the asperities that go as a matter of course with newness were hidden, but the smells remained.

"Wish I could sleep in the woods to-night, with nuthin' but trees runnin' away at least ten miles in every direction," said Long Jim.

"It will be all right in our boat on the river," said Paul.

"I think I shall go with you as far as your boat," said Lieutenant Bernal.

"You're welcome. Come on," said Henry, confident of his friendship.

The five and the lieutenant walked swiftly toward the Mississippi.

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It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.