Read Novel 1974 - The Californios (v5.0) Online

Authors: Louis L'Amour

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Novel 1974 - The Californios (v5.0) (3 page)

BOOK: Novel 1974 - The Californios (v5.0)
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He had always felt this way in seaport towns, always looked at the lights reflecting upon the dark water and wondered who awaited him there, what loves, what adventures, what dreams…or perhaps death and a bloody dagger. A man never knew, and that was the thing. A man never knew.

Whichever way he turned there might be some haunting mystery, some enchantment. This way might lie love and fortune, and that way shame and death.

He straightened up, stretched, and turned away. He was starting for his cabin when a movement caught his attention.

Someone was running across the sand toward the water…it looked like…it was…a woman. As she reached the water’s edge she threw off her outer garment and plunged into the sea, swimming strongly.

Startled, he turned back to the rail, but could see nothing on the dark water. Once he thought he saw the flash of a white arm, and then ashore a door slammed and someone called out.

There was a shouted question, a reply, then a babble of excited yells, with men rushing back and forth.

Suddenly there was a faint splash right under the taffrail and a low voice called up to him. “Unless you wish me to drown, throw me a rope.”

It was a woman’s voice, and for an instant he was startled into stillness. Then he turned swiftly to the rope ladder that hung over the side amidships and shook it against the hull so she would hear. “This way!” he called softly, and she swam along the hull to the ladder.

She caught hold, began to climb clumsily, and a moment later he helped her over the rail. She shook her long hair, then started to wring the water from it. Her dress had been left behind and she stood in a soaking chemise and pantalets.

“Don’t stand there staring!” she said impatiently. “Get me a coat, or something, and then you’d better get away from here.”

“We aren’t sailing until morning,” Sean said, still stunned by the rapid movement of events.

“Take my advice and go now or you’ll find yourself in jail. My being here will take a lot of explaining.” She nodded toward the shore. “That pack of fools will find my dress and they will search every ship in the harbor.”

“That’s all I’d need!” he said, and turning sharply he called down the companionway. “Ten! Pedro! Congo! On deck!”

Ten Tennison was first on deck.

“Get the anchor in and enough canvas to move her. No lights. I want to move out as quietly as possible.”

He ran forward and shook out the jib and by the time he reached the fo’c’s’le two men were beside him and the schooner was already moving.

Tennison had taken the wheel. “Keep her stern to the town. The longer it takes them to realize we’re moving, the better.”

Pedro was sharp and quick and not the kind to waste time with questions. He could hear the tumult and shouting ashore and had no wish to be caught up in what was happening.

The breeze was slight, but the schooner was an easy sailer and took the wind nicely, gliding smoothly through the water. From the shore no perceptible movement could be seen unless someone watched the mastheads against a star.

“La Boca Chica,” Sean said, indicating the smaller of the two entrances.

The girl had disappeared and he was just as pleased, for he had no wish to answer the crew’s questions now. He swore softly, bitterly. The last thing they needed now was to have the schooner seized and her crew in prison.

Creating scarcely a ripple, the schooner slid through the three-hundred-yard gap between Point Pilar and Point Grifo and into the sea.

Outside there was a good bit of breeze. “Get everything we’ve got on her, Ten. We’ve got to run for it.”

When the canvas was aloft Ten came aft. “Thought you weren’t sailing until daybreak?” he said, quizzically.

With as few words as possible, Sean explained. Tennison was his mate, a fine sailorman who had begun his life on the coast of Maine, had fished the Grand Banks until he longed for broader, warmer seas, and had sailed out to China on the big tea ships.

“Who is she? Some jailbird?”

“Looks and talks like a lady, but I wouldn’t know. I just wish I’d never seen her and she hadn’t seen our schooner!”

The wind filled the sails, and the
Lady Luck
dipped her bows deeper, then rode up out of the water like the dainty ship she was, shaking the water from her. The wind was fair and she laid over a bit.

She was an easy craft to handle, and a fast one. Nothing on the coast could touch her unless it was that new schooner. It had more canvas.

“Keep her west by northwest, Ten. I’ll go below and see if I can find out what this is all about.”

He went down the companionway to the small cabin. She had crawled into a bunk, his bunk, and was fast asleep. Her wet clothing lay on the deck.

He stared at her and swore under his breath. Of all the damned fool…she was pretty, though. Too damned pretty!

No wonder they had chased her.

He turned the light low and returned to the deck.

Tennison grinned at him. “You didn’t stay long.”

“She’s asleep. What could I do, Ten? She swam out to the schooner and came up the ladder. They were hunting her ashore, and they’d never believe we weren’t involved somehow.”

“You done right. You’d no choice.”

“She’s got no wedding ring on her finger. I saw that much.”

He walked forward, trying to think the situation through. He could find no alternative to what he had done. Of course, he could immediately have called ashore and let them come and take her, which would have been neither gallant nor right. She was obviously not a thief. At least, he smiled wryly, dressed as she was she could not have carried much with her.

He had no choice but to do as he had done. But what if this brought more trouble to his family? I there was some place he could take her—.

There was no place.

The sea was picking up and
Lady Luck
was making good time. California was a long way from Acapulco, and even if they guessed that she had come aboard the
Lady Luck
there was small chance of them chasing her all that distance.

He had not planned to sail until daybreak, but who knew that? And he had no connection with her nor she with him, so it might be some time before anyone tied them together.

He walked aft again. “You’d better turn in,” Tennison said. “Use my bunk.”

tired. At four o’clock he must take over the watch from Tennison. Sean Mulkerin went below and dropped on Tennison’s bunk. He was asleep almost at once.

At four when he came on deck there was a strong sea running but the
was taking it gracefully, as always. The sky was overcast and the deck was wet from a recent shower.

Congo was at the wheel and Tennison was standing in the stern, looking back at the horizon.

“See anything?”

Tennison shrugged. “Thought I glimpsed a mast-head back there but I was probably mistaken. Even so it might have been some ship headed up the Gulf for Mazatlán.”

It was not yet light although the sky was gray along the eastern horizon. With a glance at the canvas, all taut and shipshape, Sean walked to the wheel and glanced at the compass.

The run from Acapulco to Paradise Cove was something over fifteen hundred miles, two to three weeks sailing if all went well. If the wind held it could be somewhat less, but the sea had a way of making its own rules. Wind and wave could be understood but not predicted beyond a point. There was always the unexpected calm or the unexpected storm.

It was daylight when he took the wheel and he was still there when the girl came on deck.

She had contrived a dress from his serape and some pins, and looked incredibly lovely. Her skin was clear and olive-toned, and her hair black.

“I am Mariana de la Cruz,” she said, “and I wish to thank you.”

“I am Sean Mulkerin.”

“You are the captain? And Irish?”

“Yes. My mother is Irish, my father was Irish and Mexican.”


“He was killed about a year ago.”

“Have you seen anything?” Her eyes searched his. “I mean is anyone following us?”

“I doubt it. Were you expecting to be followed?”

She thought for a moment, her eyes wide and dark. Then she nodded, “Yes, I believe he will follow. Andres is a very determined man, and not at all a forgiving one.”


“Andres Machado. I was to have married him today.”

Andres Machado!
It would have to be him, of all people. A man fiercely proud, and a noted duelist and fighting man. Yes, he would certainly follow. Whether he wanted this girl or not he would never allow her to leave him.

“It was not my choice…the marriage, I mean. My father is dead, and Andres arranged it with my uncle. I refused him once, and he did not like that.

“We were to be married in Acapulco. Andres’ aunt and her maid were with us, and my uncle was to come down from our ranch. I hate Andres and I could not bear the thought of marrying him. Then I saw you in the plaza. Somebody mentioned who you were, and that you were going to be sailing back to California.

“When the maid turned down my bed, she left and I did not think she would be back. It was the only chance I had to escape so I ran out…and then she came back, probably to spy on me.”

Sean glanced at the compass and moved the wheel a spoke, scowling thoughtfully. He knew a good deal about Machado, and had even been friendly with him at one time. Their friendship ended abruptly when he had beaten Machado in a horse race, but he knew Machado well.

Andres came from a good family, but he was a spoiled and arrogant young man who would not be frustrated in anything and who could not accept defeat.

Would he follow them? Of course he would. No doubt about it, and doubly so since he, Sean Mulkerin, was the one involved. Machado would never believe that he had not known Mariana de la Cruz before, that this had not been contrived to make him look ridiculous.

The worst of it was that Machado could afford his whims, for he was as wealthy as he was politically powerful.

This was trouble, serious trouble, and at such a time when his family needed no more trouble than it already had.

Sean glanced astern. The horizon was clear, but at this height above the sea the visibility was only a few miles. People unaccustomed to the sea always imagined they could see very far indeed, but the distance to the horizon was simply calculated. One took the square root of the eye above the sea, multiplied it by 1.15 and had the approximate distance. If the height of the eye above the sea was nine feet one could see about three and one-half miles.

“Hilo,” he shouted to one of the men suddenly, “run aloft and take a look astern.”

Hilo, a Hawaiian, scrambled aloft, hesitated only a moment, then called, “A schooner, sir! Ten or twelve miles off!”

“A two-master?”

“Three, sir.”

“Thanks, Hilo.” He glanced at the sea ahead, calculating their chances. Machado had wasted no time. He swore to himself. Then, recalling that Mariana was standing there, he said, “Oh, I beg your pardon!”

“Captain, do not apologize. I am sorry. I had no idea—”

“No, you didn’t,” he agreed bluntly. “That schooner is undoubtedly the one that lay at anchor in the harbor at Acapulco, and she looked like a good sailer.”

“I have gotten you into trouble!” she said.

“I do not mind trouble,” he said, “but at this time trouble for me is trouble for my family. This schooner may soon be all we have. Nothing must happen to it.”

If his family were not waiting for him, he would have been tempted to run west for Hawaii, to lose them at sea. He knew many a trick, and if time was no object—

“I am sorry,” Mariana repeated.

“What’s done is done. Now we must see how we can get out of it.”

“Machado is a good friend to Micheltorena, the governor of California.”

“He would be.” Sean was in no mood for politeness. “Have you any more tidbits like that?”

“Only that he is no friend to Pio Pico or Alvarado.”

“They are friends of my mother and were friends of my father, but that does us no good now. Neither has the power of Micheltorena, nor of Machado, for that matter.”

BOOK: Novel 1974 - The Californios (v5.0)
2.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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