The Free Rangers

by Joseph A. Altsheler

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Chapter XVII. The Flaw in the Armor

Don Francisco Alvarez was in a fairly happy frame of mind. It is true that he could have been happier, but a revulsion from a great state of suspense had come to him. When he had been so boldly accused in the presence of the Governor General, cold fear had struck at his heart, despite his courage and cunning. He knew that the seeds of suspicion had been sowed deep in the heart of Bernardo Galvez and that the plant would grow fast in the warm, moist air of intrigue that overhung New Orleans.

But days had passed and nothing had happened. Moreover the five whom he feared so much were hard and fast in the military prison within the walls, and no proof their charges had been brought forth. Time, too, worked steadily for him. It not only weakened the accusation against him, but it also gave his powerful friends at the court of Madrid time to help him and his ambition. That little strain of royal blood in his veins was well worth having. He would certainly succeed to Bernardo Galvez, whether the wait be long or short.

He kept Braxton Wyatt with him all the time. He had learned to appreciate the value of the renegade's unscrupulous cunning, and he was necessary, too, in order to carry out the great alliance with the tribes which Alvarez meant should become an accomplished fact.

It was a pleasant house that Alvarez had within the walls, one story of brick covered with red tiles, surrounded by piazzas, and standing in grounds thick with magnolias, cypresses, and orange trees. In truth, the foliage was so dense that by daylight the house was almost entirely hidden from the city, and by night it was quite invisible unless lights chanced to twinkle through the leaves.

The Spaniard and Braxton Wyatt were sitting now upon the piazza drinking a cool concoction of West Indian origin, and Alvarez was commenting upon what he called his good fortune.

"All things favor us, Wyatt," he said. "No proof reaches the ears of Bernardo Galvez and the galleon, Dona Isabel, will certainly arrive next week from Spain. If I mistake not, she will bring news welcome to me and unwelcome to Bernardo Galvez."

"If you become Governor General what will you do with the Kentuckians in the fort?" asked Wyatt.

Alvarez laughed, and it was a very unpleasant laugh to hear.

"I do not know what I shall do with them," he said, "but I am sure of one fact. They will never see Kaintock again. The powers a Governor General are very great."

Braxton Wyatt was satisfied with the answer.

His wicked heart throbbed at the thought that the five would never more roam their beloved forests. He, too, looked forward to the arrival of the galleon, Dona Isabel, with welcome news. He saw how useful he was to Alvarez, and if the Spaniard rose, he must rise with him.

The two, after these few words, sat in silence, each occupied with his own thoughts, which, however, were largely the same. Alvarez rose presently and went into the house. If all things went as he wished, there were certain letters that he would send to powerful friends in Spain, and now was a good time to make rough drafts of them.

Braxton Wyatt remained on the piazza. It was wonderfully cool and pleasant there, after the heat of the day. The wind blew musically among the orange trees, and the air was spiced with pleasant odors. Braxton Wyatt's thoughts were pleasant, too. He liked this luxurious southern life. Though born to the forest, and a good woodsman, he had sybaritic tastes, which needed only opportunity to bud and bloom.

Now, like the Arab who had the glass for sale, he was building his great future. Alvarez would be Governor General of Louisiana, and he, Braxton Wyatt, would be his trusted and necessary lieutenant. The five whom he hated would be removed under the new rule from the military prison to dungeons, where they would gradually be lost to the sight of man, never to be heard of again. The, Indians and the Spaniards with their cannon would destroy the settlements in Kentucky, and he would become, if not the first, at least the second man in His Most Catholic Majesty's huge province of Louisiana. And it was not' absolutely necessary to be Spanish-born to become in time a Governor General himself.

Time passed. It was very quiet within the belt of magnolias and cypresses and orange trees and but little noise came from the town, the stray shout of a reveler, a snatch of a song, and then nothing more.

Braxton Wyatt, still filled with his dreams, arose and stepped down from the piazza. The happy future promoted in him a certain physical activity, and he wanted to walk among the trees. He stepped into their shadow, strolled a rod or so, and then stopped. His acute, forest-bred ear had brought to him a sound which was not that of the wind nor any echo of a gay reveler's song.

The renegade stopped. It was very dark among the trees. He could see neither the house behind, nor the city before him. He did not hear the sound again, but he was troubled. His pleasant thoughts were disturbed. It was like waking from a happy dream. He turned to go back to the house and then he saw a flitting shadow. The wicked heart of Braxton Wyatt stood still. If he had not known that Henry Ware was safely in the military prison he would have taken the terrible shadow for him. He knew too well the great height, the broad shoulders, and the fierce accusing countenance. Once he had laughed at the Shawnees and Miamis because they had believed in ghosts. But could it be true?

Braxton Wyatt turned back toward the house, where he might renew his interrupted and pleasant dream, but the next instant the terrible shadow turned itself into a reality more terrible. A powerful form hurled itself upon him, and he was thrown to the ground. He looked up and met the eyes of Henry Ware, who knelt upon him. No, it was certainly not a shadow but the most unpleasant of all facts!

Braxton Wyatt was at first paralyzed by terror and the suddenness of the attack. When he recovered, one hand of Henry pressed heavily upon his mouth, while the other felt rapidly through his clothing. "Look for any unusual thickness in his waistcoat; that is probably the place," Oliver Pollock had said. Henry's hand in a few moments ran upon something folded between the cloth and lining of the waistcoat. He snatched out his knife, cut them apart and out fell several folds of fine, thin deerskin. He knew that the prize had been secured, and he meant to keep it.

Henry thrust the folds of deerskin in his pocket and sprang to his feet.

"Now, you scoundrel!" he exclaimed, "tell what tale you please and we will prove another!"

Then the terrible reality resolved itself back into a shadow, and was gone. Braxton Wyatt sprang to his feet, clapped his hand to his mangled waistcoat where the precious package had been, and uttered a strangled cry. Then he ran through the trees to the house of Alvarez.

     *    *    *    *    *

A quarter of an hour later Oliver Pollock was sitting at his own window in the little office and his thoughts were not happy. He wished his fleet of supply canoes to start on the great river journey at once, but it could not depart while such storms were threatening. Alvarez was too serious a danger, and he must be removed. But the merchant realized that he had made little progress. Alvarez seemed to be secure in his plot.

There came a knock at his door, and in reply to his request to enter, a clerk said that the young man Mr. Ware, had returned. Mr. Pollock rose to his feet as Henry came in. Henry carefully closed the door behind him, advanced, and put a small package in Mr. Pollock's hand.

"There they are!" he said, "the maps drawn up by Braxton Wyatt, and with notes on them in handwriting, which I take to be that 'of Francisco Alvarez."

The merchant stared at first in astonishment and delight. Then he ran to the lamp and spread out the sheets of fine, thin deerskin. He looked at them, one by one, and laughed with delight.

"Yes," he said, "the notes are in the handwriting Francisco Alvarez! I know it - I have seen it often enough - and Bernardo Galvez will know it, too! Oh, it is a great find! a great find! It is not conclusive proof, but it will go far toward swaying belief! How did you get them?"

Henry had recovered from all signs of his struggle with the renegade, and was now sitting placidly in a chair.

"I took them," he said. "I found Braxton Wyatt in the grove around the house of Alvarez, and I seized him. I found these in the lining of his waistcoat."

"You did not kill him?"

"Oh, no. He is not hurt."

"It is well. I did not wish any unnecessary violence, but we had a right to seize these documents which mean so much to us and Bernardo Galvez. You will leave them with me."

"Of course," said Henry. "And now that this task is finished, I'll go back to prison with my comrades."

"It's unnecessary for you to join them there," said the merchant still laughing in his pleasure. "I'll have them out to join you, and that speedily, too. Go into the next room and sleep. You've earned the right to it."

The five, reduced to four, were sittin in their prison the next afternoon chafing more than ever. It seemed to every one of them that those walls, already so narrow, were still contracting. They did not even like to look out of the window. The contrast was too painful, and they did not wish to increase their sorrow.

"Jim," said Shif 'less Sol in plaintive tones to Long Jim Hart, "won't you please come here, an' hold up my head?"

"Now, Sol Hyde," said Long Jim, "what do you want me to come thar an' hold up your head fur? Are you too lazy to hold it up fur yourself?"

"No, Jim, I ain't too lazy to hold it up fur myself, I'm jest too weak. Lack o' exercise an' fresh air, an' elbow room hey done fur poor Sol Hyde at last. I'm pinin' away. Tell Henry when he comes back, ef he ever does, that I fell into a decline. I done my best to b'ar up, but my best wuzn't good enough."

"Now you'shut up, Sol Hyde," said Jim Hart, "or you'll hev me down real sick with your foolish talk, ez I jest can't stand it."

They stopped because at that moment there came unto them Lieutenant Diego Bernal, fresh, chipper, with a few, additional flounces and ruffles added to his jaunty uniform, and a smile upon his dark, pleasant face.

"Ah, my gallant four, who were once my gallant five," he said as he stroked his little mustache, "I have news for you, important news. You are even to be summoned again to the presence of His Excellency, Bernardo Galvez, the Governor General of Louisiana, and that summons is immediate. I have the impression, though my impressions are usually false and my memory always weak, that the large youth, the strong youth, the splendid youth, surnamed the Ware, who was released for the time at the intercession of Senior Pollock, has been achieving something. This, I think, is the reason of the sudden call to the audience with His Excellency."

Paul was all life at once. He sprang up, his eyes sparkling and the flush of anticipation coming into his face.

"Henry has succeeded! " he cried. "He has done something big! I knew he would! He has defeated Alvarez and that wretch Wyatt!"

The Catalan regarded Paul with admiration. He liked this enthusiasm, this infinite trust in a comrade. The five and their faith in one another continued to make the strongest of appeals to him.

"I think it is even so," he said. "The young giant surnamed the Ware, must have done a great deed, because Don Francisco Alvarez is summoned, at the same time, to the presence of His Excellency, the Governor General, Bernardo Galvez, and I hear that he is in no pleasant frame of mind because of it. Come!"

The four went forth joyfully. Shif'less Sol was the first to put foot on Mother Earth, and he stopped, raised his head, and opened his mouth to its widest extent.

"Jim," he said to Long Jim Hart, "I want to breathe it in, this outdoors an' fresh air an' freedom, everywhar I kin, at my mouth, nose, ears, an' eyes, too, ef they're any good at that sort o' business."

"An' at the pores, too, Sol," said Paul.

What's pores?

"Millions and millions of fine little holes all over you."

"Wa'll, I ain't ever seed any o' them holes, or felt 'em, but ef they're in me I hope they're all work-in' right now, drawin' the good fresh air."

Lieutenant Diego Bernal led the way rapidly to the house of the Governor General, and four soldiers closed up by the side of them as an escort and guard. But the four had no thought of attempting escape. Their minds were wholly occupied with what might occur when they were a second time in the presence of the Governor General.

They were taken through the anteroom and then into the large hall of audience where the Governor General sat, as before, in the great chair with his secretary at the little table at his right. At one side of the room were Francisco Alvarez and Braxton Wyatt, both frowning, and at the other side were Oliver Pollock and Henry Ware, neither frowning at all. Henry came forward and shook hands warmly with his comrades.

"What is it, Henry?" whispered Paul. "What has happened?"

"Wait," replied Henry in a similar whisper. "We must see what Bernardo Galvez is going to do."

The Governor General motioned the four, now the five once more, to seats, and they noticed that the audience was marked by unusual state. Two soldiers as a guard, stood near one of the windows, and the secretary was ready with his ink and goose quills to write down whatever he might be ordered to write. Alvarez and Braxton Wyatt were visibly uneasy.

Bernardo Galvez sat upright, his face stern, his look commanding. He was every inch of him a Governor General.

"Gentlemen," he said speaking in precise English, "a charge was made in this chamber some days since, a charge involving the integrity and loyalty of a high officer in the service of Spain, Don Francisco Alvarez. This charge was made by five men and youths from the new region called by themselves Kentucky and known here as Kaintock, but they brought little proof to support it."

Francisco Alvarez moved his chair, and a look of relief came over his face. The opening promised well. The expressions of Henry Ware and Oliver Pollock did not change, and Bernardo Galvez continued:

"I could not hold an officer of Spain, one high in the service, upon such charges, when they were without sufficient support, and hence, as these five men and boys had committed acts of violence upon Spanish soil and against Spanish subjects, I sent them to a military prison, pending further disclosures if there should be any, and I have held Don Francisco Alvarez in New Orleans in order that he might clear his good name of these charges and of certain talk that has been afloat concerning him."

Alvarez stirred again and his expression changed slightly. The continuation was not quite as good as the beginning. Did he not detect a slight undertone of irony or satire in the voice of Bernardo Galvez? But neither Henry Ware nor Oliver Pollock moved a particle. The four looked curiously from one to another of the actors in this tense scene.

"It was my object," resumed Bernardo Galvez, and now his tone had a curious hard quality like steel, "to find the truth. Only in that way could justice be done. Now I have to say that proof of these charges, not conclusive, but incriminating nevertheless, has been found, and is in my possession."

Alvarez leaped from his chair. He felt as if he had received a blow of a hammer on his temple, but he cried out:

"It is not true! there can be no such proof!"

"It is true," said Bernardo Galvez sternly and accusingly, "because I hold this evidence here in my hand. The war-maps which you are charged with having, drawn by the one Wyatt, the friend of the Indians, and annotated in your hand, are here."

He opened his palm and laid the strips of deerskin upon the table. Alvarez staggered back and looked savagely at Braxton Wyatt.

"It is true," stammered the renegade in a whisper. "I was set upon last night by Ware! He took me by surprise and robbed me of them! I could not help it, but I was afraid to tell you then."

"I knew that Henry would find a way! I knew it!" Paul was murmuring to himself.

"What of these maps, Don Francisco Alvarez?" said the Governor General.

The bold and flexible Spaniard quickly recovered himself.

"Maps do not mean anything," he said. "Any military officer provides himself with them whenever he can. He need not be at war with a country to secure them."

"No, not in the case of ordinary maps, but here we have plans for an attack upon the settlements in Kaintock. I find noted by the side of one station in your handwriting: 'Could be destroyed easily with two cannon.' It is obvious that you have exceeded your authority. How much further you have gone is to be seen."

"Your Excellency, I protest against"- began Alvarez, but at that moment the door was opened and Lieutenant Diego Bernal appeared upon the threshold.

"What is this interruption? How dare you?" exclaimed the Governor General.

But the little Catalan was never more thoroughly master of himself. His uniform was never more resplendent, and the lace at throat and sleeves never fuller. He bore himself, too, with the utmost dignity because he knew that he was about to make an announcement of the utmost importance. Moreover, he was a favorite with Bernardo Galvez.

"Your Excellency," he said, with dramatic effect, "a man has come craving immediate audience with you. He says that his news cannot wait, and, in order to secure entrance at once to your presence, he has given me the purport of it. He is here now."

A tall figure in a black robe, the face thin and austere, walked boldly into the room. Mighty was the power of Holy Church in the colonies of France and Spain and this priest who expected torture and death some day feared neither Bernardo Galvez nor anybody else.

"Father Montigny!" exclaimed every one of the five and, "Father Montigny!" repeated Francisco Alvarez and Braxton Wyatt. Bernardo Galvez rose from his chair and saluted the priest courteously. He knew him well.

"What is this business, so urgent in its nature, Father," said the Governor General.

"I came to Beaulieu when Captain Alvarez had set the bully upon this youth," said Father Montigny, pointing to Paul.

"I have already acknowledged my fault there," exclaimed Alvarez. "It was an impulse! Need I be accused of it again?"

Father Montigny turned his gaze upon Alvarez, and the Captain, bold as he was, feared it more than that of Bernardo Galvez.

"That is but a preamble," continued the priest, the Governor General not noticing the interruption, "but it caused me to take especial notice of what might be occurring in Louisiana at the furthest limits of settlement. I went thence among the Cherokees and Creeks and kindred tribes and I found them stirred by a great emotion. They were preparing for the war trail. Messengers had come from tribes in the far north, Shawnees, Miamis, Wyandots, and others, whom they have fought for generations in the region, lying between them, known to them as the Dark and Bloody Ground, and to us as Kaintock."

Francisco Alvarez suddenly paled, and looked away from the priest.

"What was the purport of these messages?" asked Bernardo Galvez. "That there must be peace for the time being between the northern and southern tribes. The northern tribes would march south and the southern would march north. When they met they would be joined also by Spanish soldiers with cannon, and the three forces would destroy forever the new white settlements in Kaintock."

The pallor of Alvarez deepened, but Oliver Pollock still sat immovable, his expression not changing. Bernardo Galvez looked straight at Alvarez, and there was lightning in his gaze.

"How was this alliance formed?" asked the Governor General. "Some powerful connection, some strong intermediary, must have drawn these warring northern and southern tribes together. And above all why did they expect Spanish troops and Spanish cannon?"

"There was a letter," replied the priest in a grave, sad tone, "a letter written by a Spanish officer, high in position and distinction. It was sent to Red Eagle, head chief of the Shawnees, and Yellow Panther, head chief of the Miamis. The writer said that he would soon be Governor General of Louisiana and that Spain would then help the Indians to destroy Kaintock."

"It is a lie!" continued Alvarez. "There is no such letter."

"It is no lie," continued the priest calmly. "There is such a letter. The great chiefs, Red Eagle and Yellow Panther, as proof of the promise, sent it south to the Cherokees and Creeks, among whom I have been. I have seen it, I have read it, I have it, and to you, Bernardo Galvez, I now give it. It is signed by Don Francisco Alvarez."

Father Montigny drew a letter from his robe and handed it to the Governor General. Francisco Alvarez fell back in his chair as if he had been struck by a thunder-bolt. And it was little less. The letter that he had sent into the vast Northern wilderness, and which he considered as obscure as one leaf among millions, had come back to convict him. The one flaw in the armor of his wild ambition had been found. He cast a baleful look at the priest and was silent. It was not worth while now to deny anything.

Bernardo Galvez read the letter and read it again. Then he folded it and put it in his pocket.

"It is enough," he said, "Francisco Alvarez, you are guilty of attempting to usurp to yourself the powers that belong only to his Majesty, the King of Spain. I can conceive of a man of your knowledge and craft writing such a letter as this upon only one possibility, and that possibility has passed. The galleon, Dona Isabel, from Spain came this morning up the Mississippi and she brings letters from Madrid. Your friends at the court, powerful as they are, have failed. You are not to be the Governor General of Louisiana. I am confirmed in my appointment and you remain under my authority."

"What do you intend to do,?" asked Alvarez. The words came from a dry throat, and they had a harsh, rasping sound.

"The galleon, Dona Isabel, returns to Spain next week. You will remain a prisoner in one of the forts until then, when you are to go to Spain on the galleon to answer there for your acts here. The man, Wyatt, is not a Spanish subject, but he must leave New Orleans within an hour. The five who have been held in the fort are released from this moment. Lieutenant Bernal, take away the prisoner."

It was the cause of intense gratification to Lieutenant Diego Bernal that he had been permitted to see the last and most striking part of this drama. Francisco Alvarez had treated him with scorn more than once, and it was not his part or that of Bernardo Galvez to insult a fallen enemy. He merely put his hand lightly on the sleeve of Alvarez, and the prisoner, without a word, followed him.

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

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.