The Free Rangers

by Joseph A. Altsheler

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Chapter XVI. In Prison

Their fortress prison was built of brick, but it was not a particularly somber place. They were all put in one large room which had two windows barred with iron; but plenty of air came in at the windows, and the place, though bare, was clean.

"Well," said Lieutenant Bernal, when they were inside, "tell me all that occurred before Bernardo Galvez."

Paul was again the spokesman telling everything that was said as literally as he could.

"I have an impression," said Lieutenant Bernal, "although my impressions are usually wrong and my memory is always weak, that you have scored, at least partially. You have sowed the fertile crop of suspicion in the mind of Bernardo Galvez. He has shown that by making Francisco Alvarez virtually a prisoner, also, and you have a powerful advocate in the Senior Pollock, the great merchant, and I may add the great diplomat, also."

"How long do you think we will be kept in here?" asked Shif'less Sol, looking around at the room, which, though wide, was by no means so wide as the forests of Kentucky.

"I do not know," replied the lieutenant, smiling-he understood the look of the shiftless one, "but you shall not be ill-treated, and do not feel that any disgrace lies upon you. This is a military prison. Good men have been confined here; I myself, for instance, because of some little breach of military discipline magnified by my officers into a fault. Oh, you shall not suffer!"

He bustled about cheerily. He had food and drink brought to them, and then he departed, volunteering to see that their private property on "The Galleon" was saved and brought to them. No one spoke for a little while after his going, and then the silence was broken by a long, dismal sigh. It was drawn up from the depths of Long Jim's chest.

"Are you sick, Jim?" asked Henry.

"Yes, Henry," replied Jim in a melancholy tone, "I'm sick; sick uv all this jawin', sick uv seen' things pulled here, an' then pulled yonder, sick uv hearin' people lyin', knowin' that they're lyin', and knowin' that other people know that they're lyin'."

"Why, Jim," said Paul, who had a twinkle in his eye, "that's diplomacy, and the man who practises it is called a diplomatist or diplomat. It's considered a great accomplishment."

"It ain't so considered by me, an' I'm bein' heard from," said Long Jim with great emphasis. "Them dy-plo-may-tists or dy-plo-maws may reckon their-selves pow'ful big boys, but I've got another an' better name fur 'em, and it's spelled with jest four letters of which the furst is L an' the last is R, an them that comes in between are I an' A, with the I first. Why, Paul, it makes me plum' sick, all these goin's on. In a big town like this, full uv Spaniards an' Frenchmen an' Injuns an' niggers an' mixed breeds, an' the Lord knows what, you can never tell nuthin' 'bout nobody, 'cept that he says what he don't believe, an' that he ain't what he is.

"I guess I'm in love more with the big woods than ever. Thar things is what they is. A buffaler don't pretend to be a b'ar. He'd be ashamed to be caught tryin' to play sech a trick, an' a b'ar has the same respect fur hisself; he'd never dream uv sayin' in his b'ar language, 'Look at me, admire me, see what a fine big buflaler I am!' An' I've a lot uv respeck fur the Injun, too. He's an Injun an' he don't say he ain't. He don't come sneakin' along claimin' that he's an old friend uv the family, he jest up an' lets drive his tomahawk at your head, ef he gits the chance, an' makes no bones 'bout it. I'd a heap ruther be killed by a good honest Injun who wuz pantin' fur my blood an' didn't pretend that he wuzn't pantin', than be done to death down here, in some cur'sud unbeknown, hole-in-the-dark way, by a, furrin' man who couldn't speak a real word of the decent English language, but who wuz tryin' to let on all the time that he hated to do it."

Long Jim stopped, breathing hard with his long speech and anger. Shif'less Sol rose, walked across the room, and solemnly held out his hand to his comrade.

"Jim," he said, "you don't often talk you're talkin' a heap o' it now. Shake."

Long Jim shook and added with a grin:

"When me an' you agree, Sol, 'bout anythin', it's shorely right."

Then they fell silent for a while, each thinking in his own way of what had occurred. Henry Ware walked to one of the windows and looked out for a long while. He relished little the idea of being a prisoner for the second time, even if the second imprisonment were a sort of courtesy affair. He saw from the windows the roofs of houses amid green foliage and he knew that only a few hundred yards beyond lay the great forest, which, now in the freshest and tenderest tints of spring, rolled away unbroken, save for the few scratches that the French or Spanish had made, for thousands of miles, and for all he knew to the Arctic Circle itself.

The words of Long Jim stirred the youth deeply. He did not like intrigue and double-dealing and the ways of foreign men. Like Long Jim he longed for the great honest forest, and he, too, had his respect for the Indian who would tomahawk him without claiming to be a friend. He was glad, very glad, that he had come upon so great an errand, but he would like to cleave through the whole web of intrigue with one sturdy blow and then be off into the forest which was calling to him with such a dearly loved voice.

Paul saw Henry's face and he understood its expression. He knew that it was harder for his comrade than for himself to endure the confinement within four walls, but he said nothing. Words would be wasted.

Later in the day their door was opened, and Mr. Pollock came in bringing with him a cheery breeze.

"I've come to tell you what news there may be," he said, "and also to ask questions. Now, sit down and make yourselves comfortable. That's right. The cunning and ambitious Don Francisco Alvarez is in a rage. He is also somewhat frightened. He knows that Bernardo Galvez will be busy the next few days trying to secure the proof of the charges that you make against him. In my opinion, Galvez believes thit they are true, but, as you will agree, he cannot act without proof."

"But that is exactly what we lack at this time," said Henry, "and how can we get it while we are locked up here?"

"Just so! Just so! That is a point to which I am coming. Now, about this renegade, this Braxton Wyatt. You say he is the man who drew the maps and who has been the intermediary in this whole nefarious scheme. Maps could be drawn, of course, for a purpose not wicked, but if they could be produced, and above all if Alvarez had made any notes upon them in his own handwriting, they would go far to help. If not proof, they would at least be a strong indication. Now, where do you think these maps are kept?"

"On the person of Braxton Wyatt," replied Henry promptly.

The merchant smiled with pleasure.

"Of course! Of course!" he said. "They belong to Wyatt and naturally he would keep them. Naturally, also, Alvarez would want him to keep them. He would take care that such things were not found on his own person. We must get possession of those maps. But we must go further. This renegade has lived among both the Shawnees and Miamis and is high in their confidence, is it not so?"

"Yes, both the great head-chiefs, Yellow Panther and Red Eagle, trust him."

"And to carry out this nefarious alliance some promise must have passed between Alvarez and the two head chiefs. That promise had to take a concrete form to be binding."

"War belts," suggested Henry.

"But a white man does not send war belts. He has another kind of token, and he makes that token with paper, ink, and a goose quill. Yes, Alvarez is cunning, I know, but the most cunning of all men when he enters a great conspiracy must leave a loose end hanging about somewhere. Or, to change my simile, there is no armor of deception so complete that there is not a crack in it. We must find that loose end, we must find that crack, and when we do, we can see victory just ahead of us."

"Do you mean," said Henry, "that Alvarez has probably sent a letter to the Northern chiefs, promising that as Governor General of Louisiana he will help them with soldiers and cannon against us in Kentucky?"

"I think it likely, quite likely," returned Oliver Pollock, nodding his head to give emphasis to his words. "He had to give them something that would bind. A conspirator must take a risk and in this case it seemed small. The villages of those chiefs are beyond the Ohio, fifteen hundred miles at least from here. The chance that such a letter would reappear in New Orleans was most remote, and Alvarez might have expected to provide against that, too, by being Governor General within a few months. I feel confident that there is such a letter and we must find it."

"It's a pretty problem," said Paul.

"I admit it," said Oliver Pollock, "but a new continent teaches one to achieve the impossible. That is what are we to do; how, I do not yet know, but we must do it."

"It's important," said Henry, "that it be done soon."

"It certainly is," said Mr. Pollock with great emphasis, "because I wish to start North soon with a great fleet of canoes and other boats loaded with rifles, powder, lead, blankets, medicines, and other absolutely necessary things for our suffering brethren in the east. They are hard pressed there, and it takes a long time to pull up the Mississippi and the Ohio and then carry these things across four or five hundred miles of country to our army."

"It's shorely a wonderful thing," said Shif'less Sol, "that you kin take boats up a big river hundreds an' hundreds o' miles into the heart o' a continent, then bend off into another river runnin' into it that takes you nearly over to the Atlantic. An' mebbe ef you took one o' the rivers that runs in it on the other side you might follow it up 'till you got purty near to the western ocean. It says to me plain ez print that we must hev this here Mississippi all the way to its mouth. We can't stay bottled up."

"Sh-sh," said Mr. Pollock, warningly. "Leave that to the future. It will adjust itself, and I think it will adjust itself in the way that we wish, but we cannot talk of it now, while Bernardo Galvez is our good friend and Spain inclines to our side. Of course Louisiana may be passed back to France, but France is a better and more powerful friend than Spain can be."

"Do you think you can get hold of Braxton Wyatt?" asked Henry of Mr. Pollock.

"I shall try," replied the merchant. "Our association has agents here, and in such times as these and in such a great emergency much may be excused. If we can get hands upon him at a convenient moment and place we'll see whether he has those maps about him."

"He'll surely have them," said Henry. "But he'll stick close to Alvarez."

"Yes, there lies the trouble," said Mr. Pollock, "but we'll do our best."

He took his departure, and they were left again to loneliness. Several days passed thus and they chafed terribly. Food and drink they had in plenty, and even some English books were sent to them. But the narrow space and the four enclosing walls were always there. Outside the spring was deepening. All the great forest throbbed with the life of bird and beast, but they, the highest of creation, could not walk ten paces in any direction.

"Jim," said Shif'less Sol to Long Jim, "there's a spring 'bout twenty miles north o' Wareville that you an' me hev sat by many a time. Thar are hundreds o' springs through that country, yes, thousands o' 'em, but this one is the finest o' 'em all. It comes right out o' the side o' a rock hill, a stream so pure that you kin see right through it same ez ef it wuzn't thar, then it falls into a most bee-yu-ti-ful rock pool scooped out by Natur, an' ez the pool overflows, it runs away through the grass an' the woods in a stream 'bout two feet wide an' four inches deep. I think that's 'bout the nicest, coldest, an' most life-givin' water in all Kentucky. You an' me, Jim, hev gone thar many a time, hot an' tired from the hunt, an' hev felt ez ef we had landed right on the steps o' Heaven itself. An' the game, Jim! The game, big an' little, knowed 'bout that spring, too. Remember that tre-men-je-ous big elk you an' me killed 'bout two hundred yards north o' the spring. He stood most ez high ez a horse. An' remember, Jim, when we climbed up on top o' the hill out o' which the spring runs, we could see a long distance every way, north, south, east an' west, over the most bee-yu-ti-ful country, an' we could go whar we pleased. We could follow the buffaler clean to the western ocean ef we felt like it."

Long Jim had been sitting on the floor. Now he rose and advanced in a threatening manner upon Shif'less Sol.

"See here, Sol Hyde!" he exclaimed, "me an' you hev had words many a time, but they hey always ended in smoke! They hev never gone ez fur ez this! An' I want to tell you right here, Sol Hyde, that I kin stand a lot uv things but I can't stand this! 'Ef you say another word about that bee-yu-ti-ful spring, an' them bee-yu-ti-ful woods, an' that beeyu-ti-ful game, thar'll be a heap uv trouble, an' it'll all be fur you!"

"Hit him anyway, Jim," said Tom Ross. "He's done filled me clean up with discontent, and he ought to be punished."

Shif'less Sol laughed.

"I won't do it again, Jim," he said. "It wuz 'cause I feel ez bad about it ez you do, an' I jest had to let off some meanness."

Lieutenant Diego Bernal reappeared at last. He bestowed shrewd looks upon the five and said:

"I have an impression, though my impressions are usually false and my memory always weak, that you are pining. You wish the liberty and the open air of Kaintock. Your legs are long and you would stretch them."

"You hey shore hit it, leftenant," said Tom Ross. "Sometimes I think uv startin' off walkin' ez straight an' hard ez I kin, goin' right through the wall thar, an' then through any house that might git in the way, an' never to stop goin' 'till I got to Kentucky, whar a man may breathe free an' easy."

Lieutenant Diego Bernal laughed and daintily stroked his little mustache.

"I understand you and you have my sympathy," he said. "We Catalans are at heart republicans, and I am interested in this new place of yours that you call Kaintock. But you will have to endure this fort a while longer. The good Senior Pollock does not make progress. He cannot produce the proof of what you charge. Yet Bernardo Galvez waits. He believes in you, and he holds Alvarez and Wyatt in the city. He is strengthened in his opinion, too, by gossip that has come down from Beaulieu, but that is not proof and he cannot act upon it. But be patient. I have an impression, although my impressions are usually false, that time is fighting for you."

He stayed with them an hour, precise and affected, but they believed him to be brave and true. A few days later Oliver Pollock himself came again.

"I have not been able to get hold of Wyatt," he said. "He stays too closely with Alvarez. I don't think that my agents are skillful enough. Hence I decided to procure a new one and fortunately I have succeeded."

"Who is that?" asked Henry.


"Myself!" exclaimed Henry in astonishment.

"No one but you," replied the merchant. "I have been able, by the use of great influence, to secure from Bernardo Galvez your temporary release. It is to his interest to have this plot exposed if it really exists, and accordingly he has allowed me to borrow you. You can go forth with me if you give your word of honor that you will not leave New Orleans or its vicinity and will report again here."

"Why, of course I'll go! I'll"- exclaimed Henry joyfully, and then he stopped suddenly, looking around at his comrades. Then he added: "I don't feel right, Mr. Pollock, to go away and leave the boys in this place."

Up rose Tom Ross.

"Don't you fret about us, Henry," he said. "You're goin' on a good work an' you'll do it, too. We need to hev one uv our gang outside. Remember up at Boo-ly, when Alvarez had us, how much better we felt 'cause he didn't hev Sol. 'Twas a comfort to think that Sol wuz out thar in the woods."

It was a long speech for Tom Ross, but it expressed the sentiments of them all. Henry left with Mr. Pollock and they went to a handsome brick house in the city. This house was store, office, and residence combined, and several clerks were about. But these clerks did not have pale faces and bent backs. They were mostly strong-limbed, broad-shouldered men with tanned faces.

"They work out of doors," said Mr. Pollock briefly. "Some are to go with the fleet up the rivers, others have been as far as the West Indies accumulating supplies. It is necessary for them all to be able to write and shoot."

Henry liked their looks, but he did not have a chance to speak to any of them as Mr. Pollock quickly led the way into a small inner office, where he motioned Henry to a chair and took one himself. Henry was now within narrower walls than those that confined him in the prison, but he felt a huge sense of relief. He was free. If he wanted to open the door and walk out he could do so. He expanded his great chest and took a mighty breath. Mr. Pollock heard the aspiration, looked up, and laughed. He understood perfectly.

"I'd feel that way, too, if I had been in your place," he said. "Now what we want to do is to devise some plan of trapping your friend and enemy, Mr. Wyatt. What do you think?"

"Once," replied Henry, "when he was carrying war belts between the Shawnees and Miamis we simply seized him and took them away from him. We must do something of this kind. Where is he staying?"

"Alvarez has a house near the river. He is there. I know that the two are plotting all the while, but I cannot get the proof."

"Do Wyatt and Alvarez know that I'm out?"

"No, neither of them."

"That's good. I think I can surprise Braxton Wyatt. If I can get my hands on him I'm sure that we'll find those maps. What kind of a house has Alvarez?"

"You can see it from that window. A pretty place, standing among the trees."

Henry looked, and the longer he looked the more pleased he felt. The trees were thick around the house of Alvarez and the fact gave him an idea.

"I think I know how to do it," he said.

Oliver Pollock leaned forward, his shrewd face eager, and for a few minutes the two talked low and earnestly.

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