The Free Rangers by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter XV. Before Bernardo Galvez
It took only a few minutes to reach the banks of the stream, and they saw at once that an event was occurring. New Orleans could rejoice, if she choose, in honor of an important arrival. A fleet of a dozen large boats swung from the middle of the stream and made for the levee. In the boats were men in uniform.
"I have an impression, though my impressions are often wrong and my memory always weak, that yonder cavalier who sits haughtily in the boat as if he were sole proprietor of the Mississippi, is your good friend, Don Francisco Alvarez," said Lieutenant Bemal in his mincing way.
They had all recognized Alvarez, and they expected quick trouble. As it was bound to come they had no objection to its coming at once. The boat of Alvarez made the landing and as he sprang out he was followed by Braxton Wyatt, also in the uniform of a Spanish officer. The eyes of the Captain instantly caught sight of "The Galleon," then of the five, and then of Lieutenant Diego Bernal standing near the Americans.
"Men," he cried to some of his soldiers who had landed. "Seize this boat at once! It is my property, taken from me by these American thieves!"
The soldiers moved to obey, but the little Catalan, Lieutenant Diego Bernal stepped forward. Never was he more mincing, and it is likely that he never felt more satisfaction than he did now at the role that he was about to play.
"Gently! Gently! my good captain," he said. "I am a port officer and boats cannot be seized at will in His Most Catholic Majesty's city of New Orleans."
His manner stung Alvarez, who replied hotly:
"I repeat, it is my boat! It was stolen from me by these thieves from Kaintock!"
"But that must be proved," and the lieutenant's voice was very soft and silky. "The law is still administered in the City of New Orleans. And let me assure you, my good captain, that the matter of the boat is a trifle. What really concerns is your delay in coming to New Orleans with your American captives, whom you held at your place of Beaulieu. His Excellency, the Governor General, Don Bernardo Galvez, is very much afraid that you have involved Spain in serious difficulties with a friendly people."
Alvarez looked fiercely at Bernal. How much did this man know? But the little lieutenant merely stroked his mustache, and his face was expressionless.
"If explanations are due," said Alvarez, "I shall make them to Don Bernardo."
"Very good! very good!" murmured the lieutenant. "I am quite sure that Don Bernardo will be greatly pleased."
Alvarez turned angrily, gave some orders to his men, and then stalked away followed by Wyatt and two others. The renegade had never spoken a word, but he and the five had exchanged some threatening glances.
Alvarez and Bernal had spoken in Spanish, but Henry and the others surmised the import of their words. They knew, too, by the manner of Alvarez that the little triumph had been with Bernal.
"He wanted the boat, did he not?" said Henry. "Yes," replied the lieutenant, "but you can sleep in it to-night. I warn you, however, to see Bernardo Galvez in the morning as soon as you can. After all, you are Americans and foreigners, while Alvarez is a Spaniard and one of us. You will have much to overcome."
They perceived the truth of his suggestion and thanked him. He gave them a friendly good night and went away. The five went on board "The Galleon" and prepared for sleep, having dismissed their watchman with ample pay.
As the boat was securely tied there was no need to keep a watch and all prepared for the night. But they did not go to sleep yet, although they did not talk, every one being occupied with his own thoughts.
Paul sat at the stern of the boat leaning against the side, and his eyes were on New Orleans, where he saw the formless shapes of buildings and twinkling lights here and there. The city, in a way, attracted him and, in another way, it repelled him. It interested him, but he had no desire to live there. It was a port, a gate, as it were, opening into the vast old world, to which belonged the centuries, and of which he had read and thought so much, but the single taste of it turned Paul's heart with a stronger affection than ever toward the New World to which he belonged. The great forests of the north seemed clean and fresh to him as they had seemed to Jim. There, at least, a man could know who were his friends and who were his enemies.
He saw boats passing on the turbid, brown current of the Mississippi and he heard snatches of strange, foreign songs. The night had fully come and heavy darkness hung over land and water, but New Orleans did not sleep. The smugglers, the adventurers, the former galley slaves, the riff-raff of Europe, and the mixed bloods of the West Indies were abroad in pursuit of either business or pleasure, each equally favored by the dusk.
Shif'less Sol and Long Jim were already asleep, but Paul was restless and slumber would not come. Henry, too, was wakeful, and Paul at last suggested that they walk in the city. Henry accepted, and with a word to Tom Ross they sprang ashore.
New Orleans was even more interesting to them by night than by day, as it had now a peculiarly uncanny look added to its other qualities. The night was close, heavy, and warm, and the brown current of the river showed but dismally through it. Lights were still moving on the Mississippi, but the boats that bore them were invisible. From the side of the river pleasant odors came to their nostrils, the clean, sweet scents of vast, undefiled woods and prairies, the flavor of a wind blowing over wild flowers, but from the side of the city the smells were as variegated and repellent as ever.
Nevertheless the two youths turned into the city, lit faintly by the flaring oil lanterns, and walked along through one street and another seeing what they could see. The night life was active and much of it was sodden. Oaths played a great part in the, talk they heard and intoxication was a prevalent note. Sounds of strife, either without or within, arose now and then, but Henry and Paul, wishing to keep clear of all trouble, never stayed to see the result. They more than suspected that knives shone too often in these orgies.
They stopped a few moments by the old church in front of the Place d'Armes. The church was flanked on one side by a low brick building, very white with roof of red and yellow tiles, while to the left of the church stood a villa-like house half hidden among the trees. They admired the effect of the moonlight on the tiles, and then, passing through the wooden fence that enclosed it, they entered the deserted Place d'Armes.
"I can breathe better here," said Henry. "I know that I shall never be fond of towns."
But the imaginative Paul shuddered.
"Look," he said, "the gallows!"
He pointed to the huge gallows that stood in the Place d'Armes, ready for frequent use. The moonlight had now grown dim. In its wavering beams the gallows rose to immense proportions and seemed also to take on the semblance of life. It reached out its long wooden arm as if to grasp Paul and with another shudder he turned his back to it.
The two continued down one side of the Place d'Armes in the shade of magnolias and cypresses that drooped over the wooden fence. As they passed they heard the sound of a shot.
"Somebody in the city fighting with a rifle or pistol instead of a knife," said Paul.
But Henry stood motionless and silent for a moment or two. He had distinctly felt the rush of air on his face as a bullet passed by. He was seeking to see whence the shot had come and he thought he caught a glimpse of a figure among the cypresses.
"No, Paul," he exclaimed, "that shot was aimed at me!"
He sprang over the wooden fence and was followed by Paul. They searched diligently among the trees but found nothing. Then they looked at each other, and each read the same opinion in the other's eyes.
"It was either Braxton Wyatt or somebody else in the service of Alvarez," said Henry.
"Yes," said Paul, nodding assent, "and I think that 'The Galleon' is a much safer place for us at night than the City of New Orleans."
"That is true," said Henry, "and it is not worth while for us to make a complaint about being shot at. We cannot prove anything, and New Orleans is too turbulent a place to pay attention to a stray rifle or pistol shot at night."
They were back at the boat in a few minutes. Shif'less Sol and Long Jim still slept soundly, but Tom Ross was awake. They told him briefly what had occurred, and Tom shook his head sagely.
"Better stay on the boat ez long ez we kin keep it," he said. "Ez fur me, I'd rather be shot at by Injuns in the woods uv Kentucky than be hevin' white men drawin' beads on me here in a town. It looks more nateral. Uv course it wuz Braxton Wyatt or some other tool uv that wicked Spaniard, Alvarez."
Early the next morning the five, after hiring the same watchman to care again for their boat, went to the house of the Governor General, the large, low building at the corner of Toulouse Street and Rue de Ia Levee. Early as they were they were not the first to arrive.
A tall man, neatly dressed in a fine brown suit with fine, snow-white, puffed linen, silver-buckled shoes, and hair, tied in a powdered queue, stood on the veranda. He had a frank, open face, and the five knew at once that he was an American. Had not his appearance proclaimed his nationality, his speech would have done it for him.
"Good morning," he exclaimed, cheerily, "you are the gentlemen from Kentucky who arrived yesterday? Yes, you must be! All New Orleans has heard of the feat of strength and dexterity, performed by one of you last night in Monsieur Gilibert's Inn of Henri Quatre! And he who did it could be none other than you, my friend!"
He looked fixedly and admiringly at Henry, and the youth blushed under his tan.
"It was merely done to stop an annoyance," he said. "I did not mean to make any display."
The prepossessing stranger laughed.
"Doubtless," he said, "but you have received a great advertisement, nevertheless. Some rumor concerning the cause of your visit has also spread in New Orleans, and for this reason I am here to meet you at the door of the Governor General."
The five looked at him inquiringly. He smiled, and they liked him better than ever.
"I don't mean to make a mystery of anything," he said. "My name is Pollock, Oliver Pollock."
"Ah," exclaimed Paul, his face alight, "you are the head of the company of Philadelphia, New York and Boston merchants that is sending arms from New Orleans up the Mississippi and Ohio to Pittsburg, where they are landed and taken across the country for the use of our hard-pressed brethren in the east!"
The shrewd merchant's eyes twinkled.
"I see, my young friend," he said to Paul, "that you are alert, even if you have just come out of the wilderness. Yes, I am that man, and I am proud to be the head of such a company. I tell you, too, that you have come at the right time. The English, as you know, are forbidden for the present to trade at New Orleans, while we are unrestricted. But England is powerful, far more powerful than Spain, and she is pushing hard for the privilege. If she gets it we shall be hit in a vital spot. Moreover, an exceedingly strong faction here, one with great influence, is striving continually to help England and to crush us."
"Alvarez!" exclaimed Henry and Paul together. "Yes, Alvarez! We must not underrate his strength and cunning, but if he is engaged in plotting, in actual treason, or what is very near it, your coming may help us to prove it and thus strengthen the hand of Bernardo Galvez, who is our friend."
"There is no doubt of the fact!" said Henry earnestly. "He is planning to make himself Governor General in place of Galvez!"
"Ah, but to prove it! To prove it! You are strangers and foreigners, and Alvarez is before you here. No, don't blame yourselves, you could not help it. But he is the commander of the Spanish forces in Northern Louisiana. He came, summoned urgently on the King's business, and he gained access to Bernardo Galvez last night. Oh, he's a shrewd man, and a cunning one, and we know not what plausible tale he may have poured out to the Governor General. But come, the sentinel here wishes to know our business and I shall go in with you, if I may."
"Of course," said Henry. "We thank you for your aid."
They saw in a moment how valuable this help could be as Mr. Pollock spoke rapidly in Spanish to one of the sentinels, who seemed impressed, and who quickly disappeared within the house. They spent some anxious minutes in waiting, but the sentinel returned in a few minutes with word that they would be received.
"That is good," said Mr. Pollock to the five. "It is well to strike before the blow of Alvarez sinks in too deeply."
They entered an ante-chamber furnished with a splendor that the Kentuckians had never seen before. There were pictures and the arms of Spain upon the walls, and rich heavy rugs upon the floor. The sentinel said something in Spanish to Mr. Pollock and the merchant laughed.
"He makes the polite request," said Mr. Pollock, "that you leave your rifles here. Ah, you see that the fame of the Kentucky rifle has already reached New Orleans. They will be perfectly safe, I assure you."
The five leaned their rifles in a row against the wall, long, slender-barreled weapons, which were destined to make one day an unparalleled record before this very city of New Orleans.
A wide door was thrown open and an attendant dressed in gorgeous Spanish livery announced their names as they entered a large room furnished with as great a degree of state as could be reproduced at that time in New Orleans. An armed soldier stood on either side of the door, and, at the far end of the room, waiting in a great chair on a slightly raised platform, was a handsome, youngish man in the uniform of a Spanish colonel. He had a strong, open countenance, and the five knew that it was Bernardo Galvez, the Governor General of Louisiana. The favorable impression of him that they had received from reports was confirmed by his appearance.
Bernardo Galvez rose with punctilious courtesy and saluted Oliver Pollock, who introduced in turn the five, to every one of whom the Governor General gave a bow and a friendly word. Like all others in New Orleans who had seen them, he bestowed an admiring look upon their size, their straightness, and above all, the extraordinary air of independence and resolution that characterized every one of them, indicated, not by the words they said or the things they did, but by an atmosphere they created, something that cannot be described. They had never been in such a room before, one containing so much of the splendor of old Europe, but they were not awed in the least by it, and Bernardo Galvez knew it.
Oliver Pollock, the shrewd merchant and patriot, man of affairs, and judge of his kind, observed them closely and, observing, he felt a great thrill of satisfaction. The five, boys though two of them were, had felt the vast importance of their mission and, now that they had come, he too felt it was a most critical and delicate moment for the struggling young nation. He knew much of Francisco Alvarez, and he surmised more.
"I have heard of you," said the Governor General to the five, and his tones became judicial and severe, as became the ruler of a million square miles of fertile territory belonging to His Most Catholic Majesty, the King of Spain. "You are the subject of formal complaint made by the captain of our forces in the North, Don Francisco Alvarez."
It was now Paul, the scholar, youth of imagination, and future statesman, who responded and it seemed fitting to all that he should do so.
"Will Your Excellency state the complaint against us?" he asked in a grave and manly way.
"I will leave it to Don Francisco to state it," replied Bernardo Galvez. "I expected that you would be here this morning, so I have chosen to confront you with him. Each side shall tell its story."
This seemed fair, and the five, who had been waved to seats by a great window with Mr. Pollock, made no protest. There they sat in silence for a few minutes, while the Governor General dictated to a secretary who sat at a little table by his side and who wrote with a goose-quill.
The wide door was at length thrown open again, and the usher announced Don Francisco and his aide, Senior Braxton Wyatt. The five were amazed and indignant at the assurance of the renegade, but the said nothing.
Alvarez walked into the room, cool, dignified, and austere, his manner was not calculated to ruffle his superior officer. It seemed rather to indicate a confidence that the Governor General would punish as was fitting the impertinence of the intruders from Kaintock. He bestowed only a single glance upon them, as if his victory over such insignificant opponents were already assured. The blood slowly rose to the fates of Paul and Henry, but they were about to witness an extraordinary exhibition of Spanish pliancy and dexterity.
Braxton Wyatt was as thoroughly the Spaniard as clothes could make him, which was not thorough at all, and he imitated his leader even to the supercilious glance at the Kentuckians and the following look of assured victory. The five took no notice of him.
Alvarez gave to the Governor General a military salute, which Galvez returned in like fashion. Then the captain sat down in a chair near the Governor General, and the latter said, maintaining his judicial tone:
"Those against whom you made the complaint last night are here, Don Francisco. Will you state again the charges? It is but fair that they should hear and make reply, if they can."
He spoke in English that the five might under-and Alvarez replied in the same language.
"Your Excellency," he said, and his tone seemed frank, open, and convincing - the five were amazed that he could have such a truthful look and manner of injured innocence - "you know that I have been a most faithful guardian of the interests of our master, the King. I have done long and hard service in the far north, in a wilderness infested by hostile savages."
"No one doubts your courage and endurance, Don Francisco," said Bernardo Galvez.
"My devotion to Spain is the great passion of my life," continued Alvarez in a gratified tone.
"You know how jealously I have sought to guard against incursions from Kaintock. The settlements of the Americans there are but two or three year old, yet these people press already upon the Mississippi and threaten His Majesty's territory of Louisiana."
"I think that we wander a little from the subject," said Galvez. "It would be better to state the core of your complaint."
Alvarez made a deprecating gesture.
"I deemed the preamble necessary to a full understanding of what has followed," he said. "When I tell of Kaintock I tell what these men are. Suffice it now to say that, of their own accord and by their own hands, they have made war upon Spain. They have stolen away a boat of mine, loaded with arms and stores, they have fired upon His Majesty's subjects, and one of them has slain a Natchez trailer, a faithful, valuable man in my service."
When Alvarez spoke of The Cat, he pointed at Shif'less Sol - he was acting on a hint of Wyatt's. The look of Alvarez followed the accusing finger, but the shiftless one rose undaunted.
"That part of what he tells is true," said Shif'less Sol. "I slew that Injun - an' a meaner face I never saw in fa'r fight. He slipped upon me in the dark to murder me, an' thar wuzn't nothin' else left 'fur me to do."
Freed of his speech and his wrath, the shiftless one sat down again. Alvarez and the renegade gave him looks of sneering incredulity, but the look of Bernardo Galvez was one of interest and surprise.
"What of the other charges? " he asked, turning to Paul, the spokesman.
The gift of imagination often implies the orator's tongue and Paul had an inspired moment. He stood up, his cheeks flushing and his eyes alight, as they always were when he was deeply moved.
"It is true," he said, "that we took a boat belonging to Captain Alvarez, but it was because he forced us to do it. It is he who first made war upon Kentucky, not we upon Spain. I went into his camp upon a peaceful mission. He seized and held me a prisoner. I was rescued by my comrades, although they inflicted no harm upon any of the men of Captain Alvarez. He has sought in every way to destroy us, and because he was the beginner of violence and because he is planning a great treason and war upon Kentucky, we took his boat and have come to New Orleans for the sole purpose of appearing before you."
Alvarez burst into a sneering laugh and Braxton Wyatt, as a matter of course, imitated him, but Bernardo Galvez asked in a grave tone:
"What do you mean by a great treason? No, Don Francisco, wait! Let him speak! It is their right."
"I mean," said Paul boldly, "that he expects to become Governor General of Louisiana in your place. It is not the policy of Spain to attack us. Yet Red Eagle and Yellow Panther, the head chiefs of the powerful Shawnee and Miami nations were in his camp, and he has agreed to help them with Spanish soldiers and Spanish cannon in a raid upon Kentucky."
"This is an extraordinary statement," said Bernardo Galvez. "Your proof?"
"Yes, your proof!" sneered Alvarez, and Braxton Wyatt sneered, too.
"This man," said Paul, pointing to the renegade, "is from Kentucky. We were boys together but he deserted the white people, his own people, to go with the red. He has continually urged the Indian attack upon us and he has brought to Captain Alvarez complete maps of every settlement in Kentucky, Wareville, Marlowe, Lexington, Harrodsburg, and all the others. Why is he here! Why has he come to New Orleans, if not to bind the red chiefs and Captain Alvarez together in such an enterprise?"
Alvarez again burst into a laugh, ironical and taunting. Paul flushed deeply.
"I know," he exclaimed, "that we cannot bring you absolute proofs, but it is true, nevertheless. The Indian chiefs, Yellow Panther and Red Eagle, have his agreement made without any authority from you, and there are the maps."
"A map does not necessarily mean war," said Alvarez, "even if they should exist, and they do not exist. I took these people, arms in hand, upon His Majesty's soil, and it was my intention to bring them to New Orleans for examination and punishment by you."
"Doubtless it is so," said Bernardo Galvez, "but you were in no hurry to perform the mission. I was forced to send a message to you at Beaulieu to come to New Orleans with your prisoners, but it seems they have escaped and come of their own accord."
"And I may state, your Excellency," said Henry Ware rising, "that while my comrade, Paul Cotter, was a prisoner at Beaulieu, he was forced into a ring and a professional swordsman was set upon him. That, Captain Alvarez cannot deny. It was witnessed by too many people."
Bernardo Galvez gave Alvarez a surprised and stern look. The captain winced, but it was only for a moment.
"Is this true, Don Francisco?" asked the Governor General gravely. "Did you do this thing?"
Alvarez made a gesture as if it were true, but yet a trifle. "I confess, Your Excellency," he said. "I had forgotten the circumstance, but, since I am reminded of it, I will not deny. The thing seems much worse in the telling than it was in the happening. The young man had shown great skill with the sword-he had disarmed me in a little encounter; I admit that, too-and we wished to test his agility and courage against a master, who was instructed not to hurt him seriously under any circumstances."
He spoke rapidly and lightly, almost convincingly. But Henry Ware interrupted.
"His object," he said, "was to have Paul Cotter killed."
Benard Galvez looked from one to the other and back again. It was the word of a stranger and a foreigner against that of a Spanish captain in his service, a man of noble lineage, and with powerful friends at the Court of Madrid. But the seeds of doubt had been sown nevertheless. The youth, Paul, and his comrade Henry, also, had spoken with singular earnestness. Moreover, Francisco Alvarez was an ambitious man, and Bernardo Galvez also believed him to be unscrupulous. If he aimed at the place of Governor General and the commitment of Spain to an alliance with England, it was a daring thing to do.
Bernardo Galvez was sorely troubled and he looked from Alvarez to the five and then back again. Alvarez sat smiling. His look was that of one who was right, who knew that he was right, and who knew that others knew it. Oliver Pollock sitting by the big window, close to the five, was also watching shrewdly in order that he might draw from all this coil some capital for the patriot cause.
"In any event," said Bernardo Galvez at last, speaking slowly, as if he carefully considered each word, "you were wrong, Don Francisco, to expose this youth to such an encounter. If, as you say, it was merely a little sport, then the sport was ill-chosen and ill-timed. Whether that or another was your purpose, it reflects upon your judgment and sense of humanity."
He paused, and Alvarez flushed darkly, but he was still master of his supple self.
"Your words are none too severe, Your Excellency," he said. "I did indeed do a foolish thing. It was a thoughtless impulse."
"But," resumed Galvez, as if Alvarez had not spoken, "you are an officer high in the service of His Majesty, and these who accuse you are strangers belonging to another race. They do not bring the proof of their charges, and the fact that they have violently seized and put to their own use the property of Spain cannot be denied, as the boat is now anchored at the levee."
Francisco Alvarez and Braxton Wyatt lifted their chins in triumph and the five were downcast. But the face of Oliver Pollock, the shrewd merchant and far-seeing judge of affairs and men, showed nothing.
"Therefore," continued the Governor General, "the boat must be returned at once to Don Francisco, and for the present those who seized it must be the prisoners of Spain."
Paul was about to spring up in protest, but Henry's hand on his arm held him down. Oliver Pollock, too, gave him a warning glance. Yet the triumphant looks of the Spanish captain and the renegade were hard to bear.
"On the other hand," continued the Governor General, still weighing his words, "the actions of Don Francisco have not been beyond rebuke. He seems to have regarded those from Kaintock as the prisoners of himself and not of Spain. He made no report of these matters to me, his superior officer, and he has lingered at his place of Beaulieu as if he were subject to no orders save those of his own will."
Alvarez again flushed and raised his hand in protest, but Bernardo Galvez went on, disregarding him:
"Because these offenses give some color to the charges against him, it is my order that he be relieved for the present of his command, and that he do not depart, under any circumstance, from the City of New Orleans until he receive further instructions."
Alvarez sprang up in anger, but a commanding gesture from the Governor General waved him down in silence.
"I do not wish to hear any protests, Don Francisco," he said, "but I do intend to look further into these matters."
"If we have not won, neither has the Spaniard," whispered Henry in Paul's ear.
Oliver Pollock glanced out of the big window and the turning of his head hid the twinkle in his eye. Yes, these were very delicate matters, and two great nations and another that hoped to be great, too, were involved, but one might make progress nevertheless.
Bernardo Galvez spoke to his secretary, who left the room, but returned in a few minutes with no less a personage than Lieutenant Diego Bernal, mincing, scrupulously dressed, but very alert of eye.
"You will take six soldiers," said the Governor General to him, "and escort these five to the fortress. Treat them well, but hold them until further orders."
Oliver Pollock gave a nod to Henry. It said plainly, "go without protest." Henry and his comrades rose and followed Lieutenant Bernal from the Governor General's house. Thence they went to one of the forts in the wall that surrounded the town.