Prepared by Don Lainson
A CHARMED LIFE
She loved him so, that when he went away to a little war in which
his country was interested she could not understand, nor quite
As the correspondent of a newspaper, Chesterton had looked on at
other wars; when the yellow races met, when the infidel Turk
spanked the Christian Greek; and one he had watched from inside a
British square, where he was greatly alarmed lest he should be
trampled upon by terrified camels. This had happened before he and
she had met. After they met, she told him that what chances he had
chosen to take before he came into her life fell outside of her
jurisdiction. But now that his life belonged to her, this talk of
his standing up to be shot at was wicked. It was worse than
wicked; it was absurd.
When the Maine sank in Havana harbor and the word "war" was
appearing hourly in hysterical extras, Miss Armitage explained her
"You mustn't think," she said, "that I am one of those silly girls
who would beg you not to go to war."
At the moment of speaking her cheek happened to be resting against
his, and his arm was about her, so he humbly bent his head and
kissed her, and whispered very proudly and softly, "No, dearest."
At which she withdrew from him frowning.
"No! I'm not a bit like those girls," she proclaimed. "I merely
tell you YOU CAN'T GO! My gracious!" she cried, helplessly. She
knew the words fell short of expressing her distress, but her
education had not supplied her with exclamations of greater
"My goodness!" she cried. "How can you frighten me so? It's not
like you," she reproached him. "You are so unselfish, so noble.
You are always thinking of other people. How can you talk of going
to war--to be killed--to me? And now, now that you have made me
love you so?"
The hands, that when she talked seemed to him like swallows darting
and flashing in the sunlight, clutched his sleeve. The fingers,
that he would rather kiss than the lips of any other woman that
ever lived, clung to his arm. Their clasp reminded him of that of
a drowning child he had once lifted from the surf.
"If you should die," whispered Miss Armitage. "What would I do.
What would I do!"
"But my dearest," cried the young man. "My dearest ONE! I've GOT
to go. It's our own war. Everybody else will go," he pleaded.
"Every man you know, and they're going to fight, too. I'm going
only to look on. That's bad enough, isn't it, without sitting at
home? You should be sorry I'm not going to fight."
"Sorry!" exclaimed the girl. "If you love me--"
"If I love you," shouted the young man. His voice suggested that
he was about to shake her. "How dare you?"
She abandoned that position and attacked from one more logical.
"But why punish me?" she protested. "Do I want the war? Do I want
to free Cuba? No! I want YOU, and if you go, you are the one who
is sure to be killed. You are so big--and so brave, and you will
be rushing in wherever the fighting is, and then--then you will
die." She raised her eyes and looked at him as though seeing him
from a great distance. "And," she added fatefully, "I will die,
too, or maybe I will have to live, to live without you for years,
for many miserable years."
Fearfully, with great caution, as though in his joy in her he might
crush her in his hands, the young man drew her to him and held her
close. After a silence he whispered. "But, you know that nothing
can happen to me. Not now, that God has let me love you. He could
not be so cruel. He would not have given me such happiness to take
it from me. A man who loves you, as I love you, cannot come to any
harm. And the man YOU love is immortal, immune. He holds a
charmed life. So long as you love him, he must live."
The eyes of the girl smiled up at him through her tears. She
lifted her lips to his. "Then you will never die!" she said.
She held him away from her. "Listen!" she whispered. "What you
say is true. It must be true, because you are always right. I
love you so that nothing can harm you. My love will be a charm.
It will hang around your neck and protect you, and keep you, and
bring you back to me. When you are in danger my love will save
you. For, while it lives, I live. When it dies--"
Chesterton kissed her quickly.
"What happens then," he said, "doesn't matter."
The war game had run its happy-go-lucky course briefly and
brilliantly, with "glory enough for all," even for Chesterton.
For, in no previous campaign had good fortune so persistently stood
smiling at his elbow. At each moment of the war that was critical,
picturesque, dramatic, by some lucky accident he found himself
among those present. He could not lose. Even when his press boat
broke down at Cardenas, a Yankee cruiser and two Spanish gun-boats,
apparently for his sole benefit, engaged in an impromptu duel
within range of his megaphone. When his horse went lame, the
column with which he had wished to advance, passed forward to the
front unmolested, while the rear guard, to which he had been forced
to join his fortune, fought its way through the stifling
Between his news despatches, when he was not singing the praises of
his fellow-countrymen, or copying lists of their killed and
wounded, he wrote to Miss Armitage. His letters were scrawled on
yellow copy paper and consisted of repetitions of the three words,
"I love you," rearranged, illuminated, and intensified.
Each letter began much in the same way. "The war is still going
on. You can read about it in the papers. What I want you to know
is that I love you as no man ever--" And so on for many pages.
From her only one of the letters she wrote reached him. It was
picked up in the sand at Siboney after the medical corps, in an
effort to wipe out the yellow-fever, had set fire to the post-
She had written it some weeks before from her summer home at
Newport, and in it she said: "When you went to the front, I thought
no woman could love more than I did then. But, now I know. At
least I know one girl who can. She cannot write it. She can never
tell you. You must just believe.
"Each day I hear from you, for as soon as the paper comes, I take
it down to the rocks and read your cables, and I look south across
the ocean to Cuba, and try to see you in all that fighting and heat
and fever. But I am not afraid. For each morning I wake to find I
love you more; that it has grown stronger, more wonderful, more
hard to bear. And I know the charm I gave you grows with it, and
is more powerful, and that it will bring you back to me wearing new
honors, 'bearing your sheaves with you.'
"As though I cared for your new honors. I want YOU, YOU, YOU--only
When Santiago surrendered and the invading army settled down to
arrange terms of peace, and imbibe fever, and General Miles moved
to Porto Rico, Chesterton moved with him.
In that pretty little island a command of regulars under a general
of the regular army had, in a night attack, driven back the
Spaniards from Adhuntas. The next afternoon as the column was in
line of march, and the men were shaking themselves into their
accoutrements, a dusty, sweating volunteer staff officer rode down
the main street of Adhuntas, and with the authority of a field
marshal, held up his hand.
"General Miles's compliments, sir," he panted, "and peace is
Different men received the news each in a different fashion. Some
whirled their hats in the air and cheered. Those who saw promotion
and the new insignia on their straps vanish, swore deeply.
Chesterton fell upon his saddle-bags and began to distribute his
possessions among the enlisted men. After he had remobilized, his
effects consisted of a change of clothes, his camera, water-bottle,
and his medicine case. In his present state of health and spirits
he could not believe he stood in need of the medicine case, but it
was a gift from Miss Armitage, and carried with it a promise from
him that he always would carry it. He had "packed" it throughout
the campaign, and for others it had proved of value.
"I take it you are leaving us," said an officer enviously.
"I am leaving you so quick," cried Chesterton laughing, "that you
won't even see the dust. There's a transport starts from Mayaguez
at six to-morrow morning, and, if I don't catch it, this pony will
die on the wharf."
"The road to Mayaguez is not healthy for Americans," said the
general in command. "I don't think I ought to let you go. The
enemy does not know peace is on yet, and there are a lot of
Chesterton shook his head in pitying wonder.
"Not let me go!" he exclaimed. "Why, General, you haven't enough
men in your command to stop me, and as for the Spaniards and
guerillas--! I'm homesick," cried the young man. "I'm so damned
homesick that I am liable to die of it before the transport gets me
to Sandy Hook."
"If you are shot up by an outpost," growled the general, "you will
be worse off than homesick. It's forty miles to Mayaguez. Better
wait till daylight. Where's the sense of dying, after the
"If I don't catch that transport I sure WILL die," laughed
Chesterton. His head was bent and he was tugging at his saddle
girths. Apparently the effort brought a deeper shadow to his tan,
"but nothing else can kill me! I have a charm, General," he
"We hadn't noticed it," said the general.
The staff officers, according to regulations, laughed.
"It's not that kind of a charm," said Chesterton. "Good-by,
The road was hardly more than a trail, but the moon made it as
light as day, and cast across it black tracings of the swinging
vines and creepers; while high in the air it turned the polished
surface of the palms into glittering silver. As he plunged into
the cool depths of the forest Chesterton threw up his arms and
thanked God that he was moving toward her. The luck that had
accompanied him throughout the campaign had held until the end.
Had he been forced to wait for a transport, each hour would have
meant a month of torment, an arid, wasted place in his life. As it
was, with each eager stride of El Capitan, his little Porto Rican
pony, he was brought closer to her. He was so happy that as he
galloped through the dark shadows of the jungle or out into the
brilliant moonlight he shouted aloud and sang; and again as he
urged El Capitan to greater bursts of speed, he explained in
joyous, breathless phrases why it was that he urged him on.
"For she is wonderful and most beautiful," he cried, "the most
glorious girl in all the world! And, if I kept her waiting, even
for a moment, El Capitan, I would be unworthy--and I might lose
her! So you see we ride for a great prize!"
The Spanish column that, the night before, had been driven from
Adhuntas, now in ignorance of peace, occupied both sides of the
valley through which ran the road to Mayaguez, and in ambush by the
road itself had placed an outpost of two men. One was a sharp-
shooter of the picked corps of the Guardia Civile, and one a
sergeant of the regiment that lay hidden in the heights. If the
Americans advanced toward Mayaguez, these men were to wait until
the head of the column drew abreast of them, when they were to
fire. The report of their rifles would be the signal for those in
the hill above to wipe out the memory of Adhuntas.
Chesterton had been riding at a gallop, but, as he reached the
place where the men lay in ambush, he pulled El Capitan to a walk,
and took advantage of his first breathing spell to light his pipe.
He had already filled it, and was now fumbling in his pocket for
his match-box. The match-box was of wood such as one can buy,
filled to the brim with matches, for one penny. But it was a most
precious possession. In the early days of his interest in Miss
Armitage, as they were once setting forth upon a motor trip, she
had handed it to him.
"Why," he asked.
"You always forget to bring any," she said simply, "and have to
The other men in the car, knowing this to be a just reproof,
laughed sardonically, and at the laugh the girl had looked up in
surprise. Chesterton, seeing the look, understood that her act,
trifling as it was, had been sincere, had been inspired simply by
thought of his comfort. And he asked himself why young Miss
Armitage should consider his comfort, and why the fact that she did
consider it should make him so extremely happy. And he decided it
must be because she loved him and he loved her.
Having arrived at that conclusion, he had asked her to marry him,
and upon the match-box had marked the date and the hour. Since
then she had given him many pretty presents, marked with her
initials, marked with his crest, with strange cabalistic mottoes
that meant nothing to any one save themselves. But the wooden
matchbox was still the most valued of his possessions.
As he rode into the valley the rays of the moon fell fully upon
him, and exposed him to the outpost as pitilessly as though he had
been held in the circle of a search-light.
The bronzed Mausers pushed cautiously through the screen of vines.
There was a pause, and the rifle of the sergeant wavered. When he
spoke his tone was one of disappointment.
"He is a scout, riding alone," he said.
"He is an officer," returned the sharp-shooter, excitedly. "The
others follow. We should fire now and give the signal."
"He is no officer, he is a scout," repeated the sergeant. "They
have sent him ahead to study the trail and to seek us. He may be a
league in advance. If we shoot HIM, we only warn the others."
Chesterton was within fifty yards. After an excited and anxious
search he had found the match-box in the wrong pocket. The eyes of
the sharp-shooter frowned along the barrel of his rifle. With his
chin pressed against the stock he whispered swiftly from the corner
of his lips, "He is an officer! I am aiming where the strap
crosses his heart. You aim at his belt. We fire together."
The heat of the tropic night and the strenuous gallop had covered
El Capitan with a lather of sweat. The reins upon his neck dripped
with it. The gauntlets with which Chesterton held them were wet.
As he raised the matchbox it slipped from his fingers and fell
noiselessly in the trail. With an exclamation he dropped to the
road and to his knees, and groping in the dust began an eager
The sergeant caught at the rifle of the sharpshooter, and pressed
"Look!" he whispered. "He IS a scout. He is searching the trail
for the tracks of our ponies. If you fire they will hear it a
"But if he finds our trail and returns--"
The sergeant shook his head. "I let him pass forward," he said
grimly. "He will never return."
Chesterton pounced upon the half-buried matchbox, and in a panic
lest he might again lose it, thrust it inside his tunic.
"Little do you know, El Capitan," he exclaimed breathlessly, as he
scrambled back into the saddle and lifted the pony into a gallop,
"what a narrow escape I had. I almost lost it."
Toward midnight they came to a wooden bridge swinging above a
ravine in which a mountain stream, forty feet below, splashed over
half-hidden rocks, and the stepping stones of the ford. Even
before the campaign began the bridge had outlived its usefulness,
and the unwonted burden of artillery, and the vibrations of
marching men had so shaken it that it swayed like a house of cards.
Threatened by its own weight, at the mercy of the first tropic
storm, it hung a death trap for the one who first added to its
No sooner had El Capitan struck it squarely with his four hoofs,
than he reared and, whirling, sprang back to the solid earth. The
suddenness of his retreat had all but thrown Chesterton, but he
regained his seat, and digging the pony roughly with his spurs,
pulled his head again toward the bridge.
"What are you shying at, now?" he panted. "That's a perfectly good
For a minute horse and man struggled for the mastery, the horse
spinning in short circles, the man pulling, tugging, urging him
with knees and spurs. The first round ended in a draw. There were
two more rounds with the advantage slightly in favor of El Capitan,
for he did not approach the bridge.
The night was warm and the exertion violent. Chesterton, puzzled
and annoyed, paused to regain his breath and his temper. Below
him, in the ravine, the shallow waters of the ford called to him,
suggesting a pleasant compromise. He turned his eyes downward and
saw hanging over the water what appeared to be a white bird upon
the lower limb of a dead tree. He knew it to be an orchid, an
especially rare orchid, and he knew, also, that the orchid was the
favorite flower of Miss Armitage. In a moment he was on his feet,
and with the reins over his arm, was slipping down the bank,
dragging El Capitan behind him. He ripped from the dead tree the
bark to which the orchid was clinging, and with wet moss and grass
packed it in his leather camera case. The camera he abandoned on
the path. He always could buy another camera; he could not again
carry a white orchid, plucked in the heart of the tropics on the
night peace was declared, to the girl he left behind him. Followed
by El Capitan, nosing and snuffing gratefully at the cool waters,
he waded the ford, and with his camera case swinging from his
shoulder, galloped up the opposite bank and back into the trail.
A minute later, the bridge, unable to recover from the death blow
struck by El Capitan, went whirling into the ravine and was broken
upon the rocks below. Hearing the crash behind him, Chesterton
guessed that in the jungle a tree had fallen.
They had started at six in the afternoon and had covered twenty of
the forty miles that lay between Adhuntas and Mayaguez, when, just
at the outskirts of the tiny village of Caguan, El Capitan
stumbled, and when he arose painfully, he again fell forward.
Caguan was a little church, a little vine-covered inn, a dozen one-
story adobe houses shining in the moonlight like whitewashed
sepulchres. They faced a grass-grown plaza, in the centre of which
stood a great wooden cross. At one corner of the village was a
corral, and in it many ponies. At the sight Chesterton gave a cry
of relief. A light showed through the closed shutters of the inn,
and when he beat with his whip upon the door, from the adobe houses
other lights shone, and white-clad figures appeared in the
moonlight. The landlord of the inn was a Spaniard, fat and
prosperous-looking, but for the moment his face was eloquent with
such distress and misery that the heart of the young man, who was
at peace with all the world, went instantly out to him. The
Spaniard was less sympathetic. When he saw the khaki suit and the
campaign hat he scowled, and ungraciously would have closed the
door. Chesterton, apologizing, pushed it open. His pony, he
explained, had gone lame, and he must have another, and at once.
The landlord shrugged his shoulders. These were war times, he
said, and the American officer could take what he liked. They in
Caguan were noncombatants and could not protest. Chesterton
hastened to reassure him. The war, he announced, was over, and
were it not, he was no officer to issue requisitions. He intended
to pay for the pony. He unbuckled his belt and poured upon the
table a handful of Spanish doubloons. The landlord lowered the
candle and silently counted the gold pieces, and then calling to
him two of his fellow-villagers, crossed the tiny plaza and entered
"The American pig," he whispered, "wishes to buy a pony. He tells
me the war is over; that Spain has surrendered. We know that must
be a lie. It is more probable he is a deserter. He claims he is a
civilian, but that also is a lie, for he is in uniform. You, Paul,
sell him your pony, and then wait for him at the first turn in the
trail, and take it from him."
"He is armed," protested the one called Paul.
"You must not give him time to draw his revolver," ordered the
landlord. "You and Pedro will shoot him from the shadow. He is
our country's enemy, and it will be in a good cause. And he may
carry despatches. If we take them to the commandante at Mayaguez
he will reward us."
"And the gold pieces?" demanded the one called Paul.
"We will divide them in three parts," said the landlord.
In the front of the inn, surrounded by a ghostlike group that spoke
its suspicions, Chesterton was lifting his saddle from El Capitan
and rubbing the lame foreleg. It was not a serious sprain. A week
would set it right, but for that night the pony was useless.
Impatiently, Chesterton called across the plaza, begging the
landlord to make haste. He was eager to be gone, alarmed and
fearful lest even this slight delay should cause him to miss the
transport. The thought was intolerable. But he was also acutely
conscious that he was very hungry, and he was too old a campaigner
to scoff at hunger. With the hope that he could find something to
carry with him and eat as he rode forward, he entered the inn.
The main room of the house was now in darkness, but a smaller room
adjoining it was lit by candles, and by a tiny taper floating
before a crucifix. In the light of the candles Chesterton made out
a bed, a priest bending over it, a woman kneeling beside it, and
upon the bed the little figure of a boy who tossed and moaned. As
Chesterton halted and waited hesitating, the priest strode past
him, and in a voice dull and flat with grief and weariness, ordered
those at the door to bring the landlord quickly. As one of the
group leaped toward the corral, the priest said to the others:
"There is another attack. I have lost hope."
Chesterton advanced and asked if he could be of service. The
priest shook his head. The child, he said, was the only son of the
landlord, and much beloved by him, and by all the village. He was
now in the third week of typhoid fever and the period of
hemorrhages. Unless they could be checked, the boy would die, and
the priest, who for many miles of mountain and forest was also the
only doctor, had exhausted his store of simple medicines.
"Nothing can stop the hemorrhage," he protested wearily, "but the
strongest of drugs. And I have nothing!"
Chesterton bethought him of the medicine case Miss Armitage had
forced upon him. "I have given opium to the men for dysentery," he
said. "Would opium help you?"
The priest sprang at him and pushed him out of the door and toward
"My children," he cried, to the silent group in the plaza, "God has
sent a miracle!"
After an hour at the bedside the priest said, "He will live," and
knelt, and the mother of the boy and the villagers knelt with him.
When Chesterton raised his eyes, he found that the landlord, who
had been silently watching while the two men struggled with death
for the life of his son, had disappeared. But he heard, leaving
the village along the trail to Mayaguez, the sudden clatter of a
pony's hoofs. It moved like a thing driven with fear.
The priest strode out into the moonlight. In the recovery of the
child he saw only a demonstration of the efficacy of prayer, and he
could not too quickly bring home the lesson to his parishioners.
Amid their murmurs of wonder and gratitude Chesterton rode away.
To the kindly care of the priest he bequeathed El Capitan. With
him, also, he left the gold pieces which were to pay for the fresh
A quarter of a mile outside the village three white figures
confronted him. Two who stood apart in the shadow shrank from
observation, but the landlord, seated bareback upon a pony that
from some late exertion was breathing heavily, called to him to
"In the fashion of my country," he began grandiloquently, "we have
come this far to wish you God speed upon your journey." In the
fashion of the American he seized Chesterton by the hand. "I thank
you, senor," he murmured.
"Not me," returned Chesterton. "But the one who made me 'pack'
that medicine chest. Thank her, for to-night I think it saved a
The Spaniard regarded him curiously, fixing him with his eyes as
though deep in consideration. At last he smiled gravely.
"You are right," he said. "Let us both remember her in our
As Chesterton rode away the words remained gratefully in his memory
and filled him with pleasant thoughts. "The world," he mused, "is
full of just such kind and gentle souls."
After an interminable delay he reached Newport, and they escaped
from the others, and Miss Armitage and he ran down the lawn to the
rocks, and stood with the waves whispering at their feet.
It was the moment for which each had so often longed, with which
both had so often tortured themselves by living in imagination,
that now, that it was theirs, they were fearful it might not be
Finally, he said: "And the charm never failed! Indeed, it was
wonderful! It stood by me so obviously. For instance, the night
before San Juan, in the mill at El Poso, I slept on the same poncho
with another correspondent. I woke up with a raging appetite for
bacon and coffee, and he woke up out of his mind, and with a
temperature of one hundred and four. And again, I was standing by
Capron's gun at El Caney, when a shell took the three men who
served it, and only scared ME. And there was another time--" He
stopped. "Anyway," he laughed, "here I am."
"But there was one night, one awful night," began the girl. She
trembled, and he made this an added excuse for drawing her closer
to him. "When I felt you were in great peril, that you would
surely die. And all through the night I knelt by the window and
looked toward Cuba and prayed, and prayed to God to let you live."
Chesterton bent his head and kissed the tips of her fingers. After
a moment he said: "Would you know what night it was? It might be
curious if I had been--"
"Would I know!" cried the girl. "It was eight days ago. The night
of the twelfth. An awful night!"
"The twelfth!" exclaimed Chesterton, and laughed and then begged
her pardon humbly. "I laughed because the twelfth," he exclaimed,
"was the night peace was declared. The war was over. I'm sorry,
but THAT night I was riding toward you, thinking only of you. I
was never for a moment in danger."