A steady tread came echoing down the corridor, and the Great Chief stepped into the court-yard.
"M'sieu' Jean!" cried Piff-Paff, running to meet him.
Lafitte pressed the old man's hands in his, and turned to Marcel.
"Aha, my little game-cock, there you are!" he said, catching the boy in his arms. "My faith, but you paddled well for Louisiana that time we know of! And the arm? Is it all there?" A winning tenderness softened the fierce eyes. "But I am pressed for time, my friends,"
he continued, stepping back.
As he spoke he unbuckled his belt, to which hung a short sword with jeweled cross-hilt. "Keep this lad, in memory of Lafitte--and the alligator," he laughed, handing sword and belt to Marcel, who stood open-mouthed, unable for sheer ecstasy to utter a word.
"And look you, Marcel," his tones became grave, "I charge you henceforth to forget the road to Barataria. It leads to riches, yes, but it is a crooked and dishonest road. I would I had never myself set foot in such ways!" He paused a moment, his eyes bent on the ground." Learn your father's honest trade. Live by it, an honest man and a good citizen."
"Yes, my captain," stammered Marcel.
"Swear!" said Lafitte, imperiously.
"I swear!" breathed Marcel, his hand on the cross-hilt of the sword.
"By God's help!"
"Amen!" said Lafitte, reverently. He turned away.
"But where are you going, M'sieu' Jean?" cried Piff-Paff. "Do you not know that a reward of five hundred dollars is offered for your arrest?"
"I know." Lafitte shrugged his shoulders disdainfully. "I go to offer my services to General Jackson."
_"Gen-e-ral Jackson!_" echoed Piff-Paff. His jaws dropped. He stood like one suddenly turned to stone while the chief's retreating footsteps rang down the alleyway. "General Jack-_son!_" he repeated, mechanically. "But he shall not!"
With a roar of rage he leaped for the saber--his old saber which hung by the forge. "Myself, I will slay the traitor Jack-_son_ before M'sieu' Jean dishonors himself! I, Blaise Lefort, will save him."
He dashed out. Marcel followed, buckling on his cross-hilted sword as he ran.
"Nevertheless it is I who will destroy the traitor!" he muttered.
"I have already said it."
The narrow streets of the old town presented a unique spectacle.
The tall dormer-window houses with their latticed balconies looked down upon hurrying crowds almost as motley as those of the carnival.
But the faces of these men and women were earnest, grimly determined.
And soldiers, soldiers everywhere! United States soldiers in trim uniforms; Coffee's Tennesseeans in brown shirts and slouched hats; Planche's gaily clad Creole infantry; D'Aquin's freemen of color; Indians in blankets and leggings--all carrying guns, all stepping briskly to drumbeat and fife-call.
Pennons, guidons and banners tossed about in the orderly confusion; American and French flags waved together from balconies and windows.
"But, look!" exclaimed Marcel in pained astonishment, "our Creoles are drilling with the Americans!"
"They are mad!" growled Piff-Paff. "This General Jack-_son_ has poisoned their hearts."
In truth, the threatened attack on New Orleans by the British had united Creoles and Americans. A few only of the former held aloof--like old Lefort himself; these, honest in their convictions, were uncompromising.
Marcel set his teeth, gripping his sword. At the entrance to General Jackson's headquarters in Royal Street they were questioned by a sentry, who looked from the swarthy old man to the pale lad, and let them pass.
They hurried down the long, dim corridor, which opened upon a sunny courtyard hung with blossoming rose vines. Huge water-jars were ranged against the wall. A fountain played in the center, and round the pool beneath, some soldiers in uniform were lounging and gossiping. Marcel glanced curiously at these as he followed his father up the winding stair. The arched hall above, with its Spanish windows, opened into an anteroom.
Father and son paused instinctively here among the shadows. The large room beyond the folding doors, which were thrown open, was filled with the afternoon sunshine; a table strewn with maps and papers was placed near one of the long windows. Beyond it, in an armchair, was seated a man in an attitude of rigid attention.
Several staff-officers were gathered about him.
The Great Chief stood directly in front of the seated figure. He had doubtless been speaking for some minutes. Now, holding out his sword, he concluded:
"And I offer my services and those of my Baratarians in this hour of my country's peril to General Jackson."
He spoke in English. Marcel, who was acquainted with the forbidden tongue, glanced sidewise at his father. He saw that the old man had also understood. Both father arid son, as if moved by the same spring, made a step forward.
But both paused. General Jackson had risen from his seat. The light fell full upon his face as he reached out without a word and grasped Lafitte's hand.
At sight of the tall, martial figure, erect and commanding in the simple uniform of the United States army, the compelling face, with its crown of bristling silvered hair, the eyes that shone with a curious, soft fire, the firm mouth and masterful chin, Marcel Lefort's soul seemed drawn from his bosom as by an invisible hand.
A mist gathered before his eyes, his throat clicked, a mysterious longing suddenly swept over him from head to foot.
Before he knew what he was about he had traversed the antechamber and entered the larger room, his footfalls on the bare polished floor disturbing the dramatic silence.
"My captain!" he cried, stopping short and lifting his eager, boyish face to the Great Chief. "My general!" He turned with outstretched sword to the greater chief beyond. He wished to say more, but the throbbing of his heart was too loud in his ears.
Suddenly Marcel heard a footstep sound behind him. His father! He had quite forgotten his father.
"He will slay me where I stand!" he groaned inwardly.
A hand whose touch thrilled him was slipped under his arm. He felt himself drawn to his father's side.
"General An-drrew Jack-_son_,"--the old gunner jpoke with great dignity and feeling although his English was queer,--"we haf come, my son an' me, to hoffer ou' swo'de to dose United State'. Yes, my general. If dose United State' will make us the honah to haccep'."
"By the Eternal," cried General Jackson, surprised into his favorite oath, "with such a spirit in the air, I would storm all the powers of the world!"
In less than a month the memorable Battle of New Orleans was fought--January 8, 1815. The Baratarians, under command of Jean Lafitte, rendered distinguished service in the short but bloody and decisive engagement. The two batteries directed by Beluche and Dominique You were especially commended in the general's official reports. Piff-Paff and his son served side by side in Dominique You's battery.
When the battle was over, Marcel stood with his fellow gunners on the parapet of Rodriguez Canal and looked out across the field--smoke-hung under the cloudless morning sky. The British dead, in their scarlet uniforms, were lying row on row, one behind the other, like grain cut down by the mower's scythe. The boy's heart sickened. But a prolonged cheer came ringing along the parapet.
General Jackson was walking slowly down the line, stopping in front of each command to salute the men and to praise their coolness and courage. As he came up, the Baratarians broke into wild shouts.
The great commander shook hands with Lafitte and his brother, who stood a little apart.
"Well done, Baratarians!" he said, stepping into the midst of the powder-grimed crew. His swift glance fell upon a lad whose luminous eyes were fixed upon him.
"Well done, my little creole!" he added, a rare smile flashing across his worn face.
"My general," said Marcel, saluting proudly, "me, I am an American!"
HUMPHRY DAVY AND THE SAFETY-LAMP
By George C. Towle