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´╗┐Title: The Bandolero - A Marriage among the Mountains
Author: Reid, Mayne, 1818-1883
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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The Bandolero
A Marriage among the Mountains
By Captain Mayne Reid
Published by Richard Bentley, New Burlington Street, London.
This edition dated 1866.

The Bandolero, by Captain Mayne Reid.

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________
THE BANDOLERO, BY CAPTAIN MAYNE REID.



CHAPTER ONE.

A CITY OF ANGELS.

La Puebla de los Angeles is peculiar, even among the cities of modern
Mexico; peculiar in the fact, that two-thirds of its population are
composed of priests, _pelados, poblanas_, pickpockets, and _incarones_
of a bolder type.

Perhaps I have been too liberal in allowing a third to the "gente de
bueno," or respectable people.  There are travellers who have altogether
denied their existence; but this may be an exaggeration on the other
side.

Trusting to my own souvenirs, I think I can remember having met with
honest men--and women too--in the City of the Angels.  But I shall not
be positive about their proportion to the rest of the population.  It
may be less than a third--certainly it is not _more_!

Equally certain is it: that every tenth man you meet in the streets of
Puebla is either a priest, or in some way connected with the holy
fraternity--and that every tenth woman is far from being an angel!

_Curas_ in robes of black silk serge, stockings of the finest texture,
and "coal-scuttle" hats, full three feet in length; friars of all orders
and colours--black and white, blue, brown, and grey--with shaven crowns
and sandalled feet, are encountered, not only at every corner, but
almost at every step you take.

If monks were immaculate, Puebla might deserve the sanctified
appellation it has received--the _City of the Angels_.  As it is, the
_City of the Devils_ would be a more appropriate title for it!

"The nearer the church, the farther from God."

The adage is strikingly illustrated in Puebla, where the Church is not
only present--in all its outward symbols--but paramount.  It governs the
place.  It owns it.  Almost every house in the city, as almost every
acre of land in the vast plain that surrounds it, is the property of the
Church, in fee simple, or by mortgage deed!

As you pass through the streets you see painted over the door-heads--
three out of every four of them--the phrases, "Casa de San Augustin,"
"Casa de San Francisco," "Casa de Jesus," and the like.

If a stranger inquire the object of this black lettering, he is told
that the houses so designated are the property of the respective
convents whose names appear above the doors.  In short, you see the
Church above, before, and around you, all-powerful over the bodies as
well as the souls of the Poblanos; and you have not ceased to be a
stranger, ere you discover its all-pervading villainy and corruptness.

Otherwise, Puebla might be termed a terrestrial paradise.  Situated in
the centre of an immense plain--whose fertility suggested to Cortez and
his _conquistadores_ the title "La vega" (the farm)--surrounded by an
amphitheatre of magnificent mountains, in grandeur unsurpassed upon
earth--with a climate of ever-spring, truly might it be deemed an
abiding place for _angels_; as truly as it is the home of a host of
infamous men, and not less infamous women.

Despite its moral character, there is a grand picturesqueness about _La
Puebla de los Angeles_--both in its present aspect and its past history.
Both are redolent of romance.

Standing upon the site of an ancient Aztecan town, within view of
Cholula, the Indian Athens--with Tlascala, their Sparta, on the other
side of the mountain Malinche--what heart would not be touched by the
historic souvenirs of such a spot?  And though the sages of Cholula and
the warriors of Tlascala are no longer to be recognised in their
degenerate descendants, there, still, are the grand objects from which
they must have drawn their inspirations.  On all sides tower up the
Cordilleras of the Andes.  Sublime, against the eastern sky, rises the
"Star mountain;" matched upon the west by the rival cone of Popocatepec.
Still in solemn silence reclines the "White Sister" under her cold
coverlet of snow.

Well do I remember the impression produced on my own mind when, after
passing through the _mal pais_ of Perote, I first came within view of
the domes and spires of La Puebla.  It was an impression, grand,
mystical, romantic; in interest exceeding even that I afterwards
experienced, when gazing for the first time on the valley of
Tenochtitlan.  It was a _coup de coeur_ never to be forgotten!

As my entry into the "City of the Angels" was not of an ordinary kind,--
and, moreover, had much to do with the events about to be related--it
will be necessary to give some account of it.  I transcribe from the
tablets of my memory, where it is recorded with a vividness that makes
the transcript easy.  I can answer for its being truthful.

I was one of three thousand invaders; all travel stained; many footsore,
from long marches over the lava rocks of Las Vigas, and the desert
plains of Perote; some scathed in the skirmish with Santa Anna's lancers
along the foot hills of the mountain Malinche; but all aweary unto
death.

Fatigue was forgotten, dust and scars disregarded, as we came within
sight of the sanctified city, and with beating drums and braying bugles
marched on to take possession of it.

It needed no warlike ardour on our part.  Outside the gates we were met
by the _Alcalde Mayor_ and his magistrates; who, with fair speech on
their lips, but foul thought in their hearts, reluctantly bestowed upon
us the "freedom of the city!"

Who could wonder at the reluctance?  We only wondered at the soft
speeches, instead of the hard blows we had been led to expect from them.
All along the route, Puebla had been proclaimed as the point where we
were to be brought to bay.  There we should have to encounter the sons
of the _tierra templada_; and our laurels, cheaply gathered at Vera Cruz
and Cerro Gordo, from the enervated children of the _tierra caliente_,
would be snatched from our brows by the "_valientes_" of La Puebla.  The
saints of the "holy city" had been promised a hecatomb; and we expected,
at least something in the shape of a fight.

We were disappointed--I will not say disagreeably: for, after all,
fighting is not the most desirable duty to be performed in a campaign--
especially on the eve of entering into some grand town of the enemy.  In
my opinion, it is far pleasanter to find the streets clear of
obstructions, the pavement without blood spots--although they may be
those of the foe--the shops and restaurants open, especially the
latter--and the windows filled with fair forms and smiling faces.

After this fashion were we received in the _City of the Angels_.  There
were no barricades--no street fighting--no obstructions of any kind.
The fair forms were there, seen in shadow behind the iron _rejas_, or
standing in full light in the _balcons_ above.  Many of the faces, too,
were fair; though I shall not go so far as to assert, that any of them
were _smiling_.  It would be nearer the truth to say that most, if not
all of them, looked frowningly upon us.

It was a cold reception: but the wonder was that we were received at
all, or not more warmly welcomed--in a different sense.  Horse and foot
all told, we counted scarce three thousand weary warriors--stirred for
the moment into a spasmodic activity by the sound of our drums, the
thought of being conquerors, and perhaps a little by the battery of
bright eyes before which we were paraded.  We were marching through the
streets of a city of more than sixty thousand inhabitants, with houses
enough to hold twice the number; grand massive dwellings with frescoed
fronts, that rose frowningly above us--each capable of being converted
into a fortress.  A city lately guarded by choice troops, and whose own
fighting men outnumbered us ten to one!

Its women alone might have overwhelmed us, had each but pitched a
projectile--her cigarito or slipper--upon our heads.  They looked as if
they _would_ have annihilated us!

And yet we did not run the gauntlet altogether unscathed--not all of us.
Some received wounds in the course of that triumphal entry, that
rankled long after.

They were wounds of the heart, inflicted by those soft love-speaking
eyes, for which the Poblana is peculiar.

I can testify to one heart thus sweetly scathed.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

The fatigued Foot grounded arms in the _Piazza Grande_.  The detached
squadrons of cavalry scoured the deserted streets in search of soldiers'
quarters.

Guided by the displaced authorities, the _cuartels_ were soon
discovered; and, before night, a new _regime_ ruled the City of the
Angels.  The priest had given place to the soldier!



CHAPTER TWO.

A CITY OF DEVILS.

Our conquering army thus easily admitted into the City of the Angels,
soon discovered it to be deserving of a far different appellation; and
before we were a week within its walls there were few of our fellows who
would not have preferred taking the chance of "quarters in Timbuctoo."
Notwithstanding our antipathy to the place, we were forced to remain in
it for a period of several months, as it was not deemed prudent to
advance directly upon the capital.

Between the "Vega" of Puebla and the "Valle" of Mexico extends a vast
wall--the main "cordillera" of the Mexican Andes.  It affords several
points capable of easy defence, against a force far superior to that of
the defenders.  It was reported that one or other of these points would
be fortified and sustained.

Moreover, the city of Mexico was not to be considered in the same light
as the many others in that Imperial Republic, already surrendered to us
with such facile freedom--Puebla among the number.  The latter was but
an outlying post; the former the heart and centre of a nation--up to
this time unvisited by foreign foe--for three centuries untainted by the
stranger's footstep.

Around it would be gathered the chivalry of the land, ready to lay down
its life in the defence of the modern city; as its Aztec owners freely
did, when it was the ancient Tenochtitlan.

Labouring under this romantic delusion, our timid commander-in-chief
decreed that we should stay for a time in the City of the Angels.

It was a stay that cost us several thousands of brave men; for, as it
afterwards proved, we might have continued our triumphant march into the
capital without hostile obstruction.

Fate, or Scott, ruling it, we remained in La Puebla.

If a city inhabited by _real_ angels be not a pleasanter place of abode
than that of the sham sort at Puebla, I fancy there are few of my old
comrades would care to be quartered in it.

It is true we were in an enemy's town, with no great claim to
hospitality.  The people from the first stayed strictly within doors--
that is, those of them who could afford to live without exposing their
persons upon the street.  Of the tradesmen we had enough; and, at their
prices, something more.

But the women--those windows full of dark-eyed _doncellas_ we had seen
upon our first entry, and but rarely afterwards--appeared to have been
suddenly spirited away; and, with some exceptions, we never set eyes on
them again!

We fancied that they had their eyes upon us, from behind the deep
shadowy _rejas_: and we had reason to believe they were only restrained
from shewing their fair faces by the jealous interference of their men.

As for the latter, we were not long in discovering _their_ proclivity.
In a town of sixty thousand inhabitants--with house-room (as already
stated) for twice or three times the number--a small _corps d'armee_,
such as ours was, could scarce be discovered in the crowd.  On days of
general drill, or grand parade, we looked formidable enough--at least to
overawe the ruffianism around us.

But when the troops were distributed into their respective _cuartels_,
widely separated from one another, the thing was quite different; and a
sky-blue soldier tramping it through the streets might have been likened
to a single honest man, moving in the midst of a thousand thieves!

The consequence was that the Poblanos became "muy valiente," and began
to believe, that they had too easily surrendered their city.

And the consequence of this belief, or hallucination on their part, was
an attitude of hostility towards our soldiers--resulting in rude
badinage, broils, and, not unfrequently, in blood.

The mere mob of "leperos" was not alone guilty of this misconception.
The "swells" of the place took part in it--directing their hostility
against our subaltern officers--among them some good-natured fellows,
who, quite unconscious of the intent, had for a time misconstrued it.

It resulted in a rumour--a repute I should rather call it--which became
current throughout the country.  The people themselves said, and
affected to believe it, that the _Americanos_, though brave in battle--
or, at all events, hitherto successful--were _individually_ afraid of
their foes, and shirked the _personal_ encounter!

This idea the _jeunesse dore_ propagated among their female
acquaintances; and for a time it obtained credit.

Well do I remember the night when it was first made known to those who
were sufferers by the slander.

There were twelve of us busied over a basket of champagne--better I
never drank than that we discovered in the cellars of La Puebla.

There is always good wine in the proximity of a convent.

Some one joining our party reported: that he had been jostled while
passing through the streets; not by a mob of _pelados_, but by men who
were known as the "young bloods" of the place.

Several others had like experiences to relate--if not of that night, as
having occurred within the week.

The Monroe doctrine was touched; and along with it the Yankee "dander."

We rose to a man; and sallied forth into the street.

It was still early.  The pavement was crowded with pedestrians.

I can only justify what followed, by stating that there had been
terrible provocation.  I had been myself more than once the victim of
verbal insult--incredulous that it could have been so meant.

One and all of us were ripe for retaliation.

We proceeded to take it.

Scores of citizens--including the swells, that had hitherto disputed the
path--went rapidly to the wall: many of them to the gutter; and next day
the _banquette_ was left clear to any one wearing the uniform of "Uncle
Sam."

The lesson, followed by good results, had also some evil ones.  Our
"rank and file," taking the hint from their officers, began to knock the
Poblanos about like "old boots;" while the _leperos_ finding them alone,
and in solitary places, freely retaliated--on several occasions
shortening the count of their messes.

The game continuing, soon became perilous to an extreme degree.  In
daylight we might go where we pleased; but after nightfall--especially
if it chanced to be a dark night--it was dangerous to set foot upon the
streets.  If a single officer--or even two or three--had to dine at the
quarters of any remote regiment, he must needs stay all night with his
hosts, or take the chance of being waylaid on his way home!

In time the _lex talionis_ became thoroughly established; and a
stringent order had to be issued from head-quarters: that neither
soldier nor officer should go out upon the streets, without special
permission from the commander of the regiment, troop, or detachment.

A revolt of the "angels," whom we had by this time discovered to be very
"devils," was anticipated.  Hence the motive for the precautionary
measure.

From that time we were prohibited all out-door exercise, except such as
was connected with our drill duties and parade.  We were in reality
undergoing a sort of mild siege!

Safe sorties could only be made during the day; then only through
streets proximate to the respective _cuartels_.  Stragglers to remote
suburbs were assaulted _sub Jove_; while after night it was not safe
anywhere, beyond hail of our own sentries!

A pretty pass had things come to in the City of the Angels!



CHAPTER THREE.

THE LADY IN THE BALCON.

Notwithstanding the disagreeables above enumerated, and some others, I
was not among those who would have preferred quarters in Timbuctoo.

One's liking for a place often depends upon a trivial circumstance; and
just such a circumstance had given me a _penchant_ for Puebla.

The human heart is capable of a sentiment that can turn dirt into
diamonds, or darkness to light,--at least in imagination.  Under its
influence the peasant's hut becomes transformed into a princely palace;
and the cottage girl assumes the semblance of a queen.

Possessed by this sentiment, I thought Puebla a paradise; for I knew
that it contained, if not an angel, one "fair as the first that fell of
womankind."  As yet only on one occasion had I seen her; then only at a
distance, and for a time scarce counting threescore seconds.

It was during the ceremonial of our entry into the place, already
described.  As the van of our columns debouched into the Piazza Grande a
halt had been ordered, necessarily extending to the regiments in the
rear.  The spot where my own troop had need to pull up was overlooked by
a large two-story house, of somewhat imposing appearance, with frescoed
front, _balcons_, and _portales_.  Of course there were windows; and it
was not likely that so situated I should feel shy about looking at, or
even _into_ them.  There are times and circumstances when a man may be
permitted to dispense with the strictest observance of etiquette; and,
though it may be quite unchivalric, the conqueror claims, on the
occasion of making entry into a conquered city, the right to peep into
the windows.

No better than the rest of my fellows, I availed myself of the saucy
privilege, by glancing toward the windows of the house, before which we
had halted.

In those below there was nobody or nothing--only the red iron bars and
the black emptiness behind them.

On turning my eyes upwards, I saw something very different--something
that rivetted my gaze, in spite of every effort to avert it.  There was
a window with balcony in front, and green Venetians inside.  Half
standing on the sill, and holding the _jalousies_ back, was a woman--I
had almost said an _angel_!

Certainly was she the fairest thing I had ever seen, or in fancy
conceived; and my reflection at the time was--I well remember making
it--if there be _two_ of her sort in Puebla, the place is appropriately
named--_La Puebla de los Angeles_!

She was not of the fair-haired kind, so fashionable in late days; but
dark, with deep dreamy eyes; a mass of black hair, surmounted by a large
tortoise-shell comb; eyebrows so pretty as to appear painted; with a
corresponding tracery upon the upper lip--the _bigotite_ that tells of
Andalusian stock, and descent from the children of the Cid.

While gazing upon her--no doubt rudely enough--I saw that she returned
the glance.  At first I thought _kindly_; but then with a serious air,
as if resenting my rudeness.  I would have given anything I possessed to
appease her--the horse I was riding, or aught else.  I would have given
much for a flower to fling at her feet--knowing the effect of such
little flatteries on the Mexican "muchacha;" but, unfortunately, there
was no flower near.

In default of one, I bethought me of a substitute--my sword-knot!

The gold tassel was instantly detached from the guard, and fell into the
balcony at her feet.

I did not see her take it up.  The bugle at that moment sounded the
advance; and I was forced to ride forward at the head of my troop.

On glancing back, as we turned out of the street, I saw that she was
still outside; and fancied there was something glittering between her
fingers in addition to the jewelled rings that encircled them.

I noted the name of the street.  It was the Calle del Obispo.

In my heart I registered a vow: that, ere long, I should be back in the
Calle del Obispo.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

I was not slow in the fulfilment of that vow.  The very next day, after
being released from morning parade, I repaired to the place in which the
fair apparition had made itself manifest.

I had no difficulty in recognising the house.  It was one of the largest
in the street, easily distinguished by its frescoed front, windows with
"balcons," and jalousies inside.  A grand gate entrance piercing the
centre told that carriages were kept.  In short, everything betokened
the residence of a "rico."

I remembered the very window--so carefully had I made my mental
memoranda.

It looked different now.  There was but the frame; the picture was no
longer in it.

I glanced to the other windows of the dwelling.  They were all alike
empty.  The blinds were drawn down.  No one inside appeared to take any
interest in what was passing in the street.

I had my walk for nothing.  A score of turns, up and down; three cigars
smoked while making them; some sober reflections that admonished me I
was doing a very ridiculous thing; and I strolled back to my quarters
with a humiliating sense of having made a fool of myself, and a resolve
not to repeat the performance.



CHAPTER FOUR.

A PAIR OF COUNTERPARTS.

It was but a half-heart resolve, and failed me on the following day.

Again did I traverse the Calle del Obispo; again scrutinise the windows
of the stuccoed mansion.

As on the day before, the _jalousies_ were down, and my surveillance was
once more doomed to disappointment.  There was no face, no form, not
even so much as a finger, to be seen through the screening lattice.

Shall I go again?

This was the question I asked myself on the third day.

I had almost answered it in the negative: for I was by this time getting
tired of the profitless _role_ I had been playing.

It was perilous too.  There was a chance of becoming involved in a maze,
from which escape might not be so easy.  I felt sure I could _love_ the
woman I had seen in the window.  The powerful impression her eyes had
made upon me, in twenty seconds of time, was earnest of what might
follow from a prolonged observation of them.  I could not calculate on
escaping without becoming inspired by a passion.

And what if it should not be reciprocated?  It was sheer vanity, to have
even the slightest hope that it might be!

Better to give it up--to go no more through the street where the fair
vision had shewn itself--to try and forget that I had seen it.

Such were my reflections on the morning of the third day, after my
arrival in the Angelic city.

Only in the morning.  Before twilight there was a change.  The twilight
had something to do in producing it.  On the two previous occasions I
had mistaken the hour when beauty is accustomed to display itself in the
balconies of La Puebla.  Hence, perhaps, my failing to obtain a view of
her who had so interested me.

I determined to try again.

Just as the sun's rays were turning rose-coloured upon the snow-crowned
summit of Orizava, I was once more wending my way towards the Calle del
Obispo.

A third disappointment; but this time of a kind entirely different from
the other two.

I had hit the hour.  The _doncella_--of whom for three days I had been
thinking--three nights dreaming--was in the window where I had first
seen her.

One glance and I was completely disenchanted!

Not that she could be called plain, or otherwise than pretty.  She was
more than passably so, but still only _pretty_.

Where was the resplendent beauty that had so strangely, suddenly,
impressed me?

She might have deemed me ill-mannered, as I stood scanning her features
to discover it; for I was no longer in awe--such as I expected her
presence would have produced.  I could now look upon her, without fear
of that possibly perilous future I had been picturing to myself.

After all, the thing was easy of explanation.  For six weeks we had been
among the hills--in cantonment--so far from Jalapa, that it was only
upon rare occasions we had an opportunity of refreshing our eyes with a
sight of the fair Jalapenas.  We had been accustomed to see only the
peasant girls of Banderilla and San Miguel Soldado, with here and there
along the route the coarse unkempt squaws of Azteca.  Compared with
these, she of the Calle del Obispo was indeed an angel.  It was the
contrast that had misled me?

Well, it would be a lesson of caution not to be too quick at falling in
love.  I had often listened to the allegement, that circumstances have
much to do in producing the tender passion.  This seemed to confirm it.

I was not without regret, on discovering that the angel of my
imagination was no more than a pretty woman,--a regret strengthened by
the remembrance of three distinct promenades made for the express
purpose of seeing her--to say nothing of the innumerable vagaries of
pleasant conjecture, all exerted in vain.

I felt a little vexed at having thrown away my sword-knot!

I was scarce consoled by the reflection, that my peace of mind was no
longer in peril; for I was now almost indifferent to the opinion which
the lady might entertain of me.  I no longer cared a straw about the
reciprocity of a passion the possibility of which had been troubling me.
There would be none to reciprocate.

Thus chagrined, and a little by the same thought consoled, I had ceased
to stare at the senorita; who certainly stared at me in surprise, and as
I fancied, with some degree of indignation.

My rudeness had given her reason; and I could not help perceiving it.

I was about to make the best apology in my power, by hastening away from
the spot--my eyes turned to the ground in a look of humiliation--when
curiosity, more than aught else, prompted me to raise them once more to
the window.  I was desirous to know whether my repentance had been
understood and acknowledged.

I intended it only for a transitory glance.  It became fixed.

Fixed and fascinated!  The woman that but six seconds before appeared
only pretty--that three days before I had supposed supremely beautiful--
was again the _angel_ I had deemed her,--certainly the most beautiful
woman I ever beheld!

What could have caused this change?  Was it an illusion--some deception
my senses were practising upon me?

If the lady saw reason to think me rude before, she had double cause
now.  I stood transfixed to the spot, gazing upon her with my eyes, my
soul--my every thought concentrated in the glance.

And yet she seemed less frowning than before: for I was sure that she
had frowned.  I could not explain this, any more than I could account
for the other transformation.  Enough that I was gratified with the
thought of having, not idly, bestowed my sword-knot.

For some time I remained under the spell of a speechless surprise.

It was broken--not by words, but by a new _tableau_ suddenly presented
to my view.  Two women were at the window!  One was the pretty prude who
had well nigh chased me out of the street; the other, the lovely being
who had attracted me into it!

At a glance I saw that they were sisters.

They were remarkably alike, both in form and features.  Even the
expression upon their countenances was similar--that similarity that may
be seen between two individuals in the same family, known as a "family
likeness."

Both were of a clear olive complexion--the tint of the
Moriseo-Spaniard--with large imperious eyes, and masses of black hair
clustering around their necks.  Both were tall, of full form, and shaped
as if from the same mould; while in age--so far as appearance went--they
might have been twins.

And yet, despite these many points of personal similarity, in the degree
of loveliness they were vastly different.  She who had been offended by
my behaviour was a handsome woman, and only that--a thing of Earth;
while her sister had the seeming of some divine creature whose home
might be in Heaven!



CHAPTER FIVE.

A NOCTURNAL SORTIE.

From that day, each return of twilight's gentle hour saw me in the Calle
del Obispo.  The sun was not more certain to set behind the snow-crowned
Cordilleras, than I to traverse the street where dwelt Mercedes
Villa-Senor.

Her name and condition had been easily ascertained.  Any stray passenger
encountered in the street could tell, who lived in the grand _casa_ with
the frescoed front.

"Don Eusebio Villa-Senor--_un rico_--with two daughters, _muchachas muy
lindas_!" was the reply of him, to whom I addressed the inquiry.

I was further informed, that Don Eusebio was of Spanish descent, though
a Mexican by birth; that in the veins of his daughters flowed only the
Andalusian blood--the pure _sangre azul_.  His was one of the _familias
principales_ of Puebla.

There was nothing in this knowledge to check my incipient admiration of
Don Eusebio's daughter.  Quite the contrary.

As I had predicted, I was soon in the vortex of an impetuous passion;
and without ever having spoken to her who inspired it!

There was no chance to hold converse with her.  We were permitted no
correspondence with the _familias principales_, beyond the dry
formalities which occasionally occurred in official intercourse.  But
this was confined to the men.  The senoritas were closely kept within
doors, and as jealously concealed from us as if every house had been a
harem.

My admiration was too earnest to be restrained by such trifling
obstructions; and I succeeded in obtaining an occasional, though
distant, view of her who had so interested me.

My glances--given with all the fervour of a persistent passion--with all
its audacity--could scarce be misconstrued.

I had the vanity to think they were not; and that they were returned
with looks that meant more than kindness.

I was full of hope and joy.  My love affair appeared to be progressing
towards a favourable issue; when that change, already recorded, came
over the inhabitants of Puebla--causing them to assume towards us the
attitude of hostility.

It is scarce necessary to say that the new state of things was not to my
individual liking.  My twilight saunterings had, of necessity, to be
discontinued; and upon rare occasions, when I found a chance of resuming
them, I no longer saw aught of Mercedes Villa-Senor!

She, too, had no doubt been terrified into that hermitical retirement--
among the senoritas now universal.

Before this terrible time came about, my passion had proceeded too far
to be restrained by any ideas of danger.  My hopes had grown in
proportion; and stimulated by these, I lost no opportunity of stealing
out of quarters, and seeking the Calle del Obispo.

I was alike indifferent to danger in the streets, and the standing order
to keep out of them.  For a stray glance at her to whom I had
surrendered my sword-knot, I would have given up my commission; and to
obtain the former, almost daily did I risk losing the latter!

It was all to no purpose.  Mercedes was no more to be seen.

Uncertainty about her soon became a torture; I could endure it no
longer.  I resolved to seek some mode of communication.

How fortunate for lovers that their thoughts can be symbolised upon
paper!  I thought so as I indited a letter, and addressed it to the
"Dona Mercedes Villa-Senor."

How to get it conveyed to her, was a more difficult problem.

There were men servants who came and went through the great gateway of
the mansion.  Which of them was the one least likely to betray me?

I soon fixed my reflections upon the _cochero_--a tall fellow in
velveteens, whom I had seen taking out the sleek carriage horses.  There
was enough of the "picaro" in his countenance, to inspire me with
confidence that he could be _suborned_ for my purpose.

I determined on making trial of him.  If a doubloon should prove
sufficient bribe, my letter would be delivered.

In my twilight strolls, often prolonged to a late hour, I had noticed
that this domestic sallied forth: as if, having done his day's duty, he
had permission to spend his evenings at the _pulqueria_.  The plan would
be to waylay him, on one of his nocturnal sorties; and this was what I
determined on doing.

On the night of that same day on which I indited the epistle, the
Officer of the Guard chanced to be my particular friend.  It was not
chance either: since I had chosen the occasion.  I had no difficulty,
therefore, in giving the countersign; and, wrapped in a cloth cloak--
intended less as a protection against the cold than to conceal my
uniform--I proceeded onward upon my errand of intrigue.

I was favoured by the _complexion_ of the night.  It was dark as coal
tar--the sky shrouded with a thick stratum of thunder clouds.

It was not yet late enough for the citizens to have forsaken the
streets.  There were hundreds of them, strolling to and fro, all natives
of the place--most of them men of the lower classes--with a large
proportion of "leperos."

There was not a soldier to be seen--except here and there the solitary
sentry, whose presence betokened the entrance to some military cuartel.

The troops were all inside--in obedience to the standing order.  There
were not even the usual squads of drunken stragglers in uniform.  The
fear of assault and assassination was stronger than the propensity for
"raking"--even among regiments whose rank and file was almost entirely
composed of the countrymen of Saint Patrick.

A stranger passing through the place could scarce have suspected that
the city was under American occupation.  There was but slight sign of
such control.  The Poblanos appeared to have the place to themselves.

They were gay and noisy--some half intoxicated with _pulque_, and
inclined to be quarrelsome.  The leperos, no longer in awe of their own
national authorities, were demeaning themselves with a degree of licence
allowed by the abnormal character of the times.

In my progress along the pavement I was several times accosted in a
coarse bantering mariner; not on account of my American uniform--for my
cloak concealed this--but because _I wore a cloak_!  I was taken for a
native "aristocrat."

Better that it was so: since the insults were only verbal, and offered
in a spirit of rude badinage.  Had my real character been known, they
might have been accompanied by personal violence.

I had not gone far before becoming aware of this; and that I had started
upon a rash, not to say perilous, enterprise.

It was of that nature, however, that I could not give it up; even had I
been threatened with ten times the danger.

I continued on, holding my cloak in such a fashion, that it might not
flap open.

By good luck I had taken the precaution to cover my head with a Mexican
sombrero, instead of the military cap; and as for the gold stripes on my
trowsers, they were but the fashion of the Mexican _majo_.

A walk of twenty minutes brought me into the Calle del Obispo.

Compared with some of the streets, through which I had been passing, it
seemed deserted.  Only two or three solitary pedestrians could be seen
traversing it, under the dim light of half a dozen oil lamps set at long
distances apart.

One of these was in front of the Casa Villa-Senor.  More than once it
had been my beacon before, and it guided me now.

On the opposite side of the street there was another grand house with a
portico.  Under the shadow of this I took my stand, to await the coming
forth of the cochero.



CHAPTER SIX.

"VA CON DIOS!"

Though I had already made myself acquainted with his usual hour of
repairing to the pulqueria, I had not timed it neatly.

For twenty minutes I stood with the _billetita_ in my hand, and the
doubloon in my pocket, both ready to be entrusted to him.  No cochero
came forth.

The house rose three stories from the street--its massive mason work
giving it a look of solemn grandeur.  The great gaol-like gate--knobbed
all over like the hide of an Indian rhinoceros--was shut and secured by
strong locks and double bolting.  There was no light in the _sagnan_
behind it; and not a ray shone through the jalousies above.

Not remembering that in Mexican mansions there are many spacious
apartments without street windows, I might have imagined that the Casa
Villa-Senor was either uninhabited, or that the inmates had retired to
rest.  The latter was not likely: it wanted twenty minutes to ten.

What had become of my cochero?  Half-past nine was the hour I had
usually observed him strolling forth; and I had now been upon the spot
since a quarter past eight.  Something must be keeping him indoors--an
extra scouring of his plated harness or grooming of his _frisones_?

This thought kept me patient, as I paced to and fro under the portico of
Don Eusebio's "opposite neighbour."

Ten o'clock!  The sonorous campana of the Cathedral was striking the
noted hour--erst celebrated in song.  A score of clocks in
church-steeples, that tower thickly over the City of the Angels, had
taken up the cue; and the air of the night vibrated melodiously under
the music of bell metal.

To kill time--and another bird with the same stone--I took out my
repeater, with the intention of regulating it.  I knew it was not the
most correct of chronometers.  The oil lamp on the opposite side enabled
me to note the position of the hands upon the dial.  Its dimness,
however, caused delay; and I may have been engaged some minutes in the
act.

After returning the watch to its fob, I once more glanced towards the
entrance of Don Eusebio's dwelling--at a wicket in the great gate,
through which I expected the cochero to come.

The gate was still close shut; but, to my surprise, the man was standing
outside of it!  Either he, or some one else?

I had heard no noise--no shooting of bolts, nor creaking of hinges.
Surely it could not be the cochero?

I soon perceived that it was not; nor anything that in the least degree
resembled him.

My _vis-a-vis_ on the opposite side of the street was, like myself,
enveloped in a cloak, and wearing a black sombrero.

Despite the disguise, and the dim light afforded by the _lard_, there
was no mistaking him for either domestic, tradesman, or lepero.  His air
and attitude--his well-knit figure, gracefully outlined underneath the
loose folds of the broadcloth--above all, the lineaments of a handsome
face--at once proclaimed the "cavallero."

In appearance he was a man of about my own age: twenty-five, not more.
Otherwise he may have had the advantage of me; for, as I gazed on his
features--ill lit as they were by the feebly glimmering lamp--I fancied
I had never looked on finer.

A pair of black moustaches curled away from the corners of a mouth, that
exhibited twin rows of white regular teeth.  They were set in a pleasing
smile.

Why that pain shooting through my heart, as I beheld it?

I was disappointed that he was not the cochero for whom I had been
keeping watch.  But it was not this.  Far different was the sentiment
with which I regarded him.  Instead of the "go-between" I had expected
to employ, I felt a suspicion, that I was looking upon a _rival_!

A successful one, too, I could not doubt.  His splendid appearance gave
earnest of that.

He had not paused in front of the Casa Villa-Senor without a purpose--as
was evident from the way in which he paced the banquette beneath, while
glancing at the balcon above.  I could see that his eyes were fixed on
that very window--by my own oft passionately explored!

His look and bearing--both full of confidence--told that he had been
there before--often before; and that he was now at the spot--not like
myself on an errand of doubtful speculation, but by _appointment_!

I could tell, that he had not come to avail himself of the services of
the cochero.  His eyes did not turn towards the grand entrance-gate, but
remained fixed upon the balcony above--where he evidently expected some
one to make appearance.

Shadowed by the portal, I was not seen by him; though I cared not a
straw about that.  My remaining in concealment was a mere mechanical
act--an instinct, if you prefer the phrase.  From the first I felt
satisfied, that my own "game was up," and that I had no longer any
business with the domestic of Don Eusebio Villa-Senor.  His daughter was
already engaged!

Of course I thought only of Mercedes.  It would have been absurd to
suppose that the man I saw before me could be _after_ the other.  The
idea did not enter my brain--reeling at the sight of my successful
rival.

Unlike me, he was not kept long in suspense.  Ten o'clock had evidently
been the hour of appointment.  The cathedral was to give the time; and,
as the tolling commenced, the cloaked cavalier had entered the street,
and hastened forward to the place.

As the last strokes were reverberating upon the still night air, I saw
the blind silently drawn aside; while a face--too often outlined in my
dreams--now, in dim but dread reality, appeared within the embayment of
the window.

The instant after, and a form, robed in dark habiliments, stepped
silently out into the balcony; a white arm was stretched over the
balusters; something still whiter, appearing at the tips of tapering
fingers, fell noiselessly into the street, accompanied by the softly
whispered words:

"_Querido Francisco; va con Dios_!"  (God be with you, dear Francis!)

Before the _billet-doux_ could be picked up from the pavement, the fair
whisperer disappeared within the window; the jalousie was once more
drawn: and both house and street relapsed into sombre silence.

No one passing the mansion of Don Eusebio Villa-Senor could have told,
that his daughter had been committing an _indiscretion_.  That secret
was in the keeping of two individuals; one to whom it had, no doubt,
imparted supreme happiness; the other to whom it had certainly given a
moment of misery!



CHAPTER SEVEN.

BRIGANDAGE IN NEW SPAIN.

Accustomed to live under a strong government, with its well-organised
system of police, we in England have a difficulty in comprehending how a
regular band of robbers can maintain itself in the midst of a civilised
nation.

We know that we have gangs of burglars, and fraternities of thieves,
whose sole profession is to plunder.  The _footpad_ is not quite
extinct; and although he occasionally enacts the _role_ of the
highwayman, and demands "your money or your life," neither in dress nor
personal appearance is he to be distinguished from the ordinary
tradesman, or labourer.  More often is he like the latter.

Moreover, he does not bid open defiance to the law.  He breaks it in a
sneaking, surreptitious fashion; and if by chance he resists its
execution, his resistance is inspired by the fear of capture and its
consequences--the scaffold, or penitentiary.

This defiance rarely goes further than an attempt to escape from the
policeman, with a bull's-eye in one hand and a truncheon in the other.

The idea of a band of brigands showing fight, not only to a posse of
sheriffs' officers, but to a detachment, perhaps half a regiment, of
soldiers--a band armed with swords, carbines, and pistols; costumed and
equipped in a style characteristic of their calling--is one, to
comprehend which we must fancy ourselves transported to the mountains of
Italy, or the rugged ravines of the Spanish sierras.  We even wonder at
the existence of such a state of things there; and, until very lately,
were loth to believe in it.  Your London shopkeeper would not credit the
stories of travellers being captured, and retained in captivity until
ransomed by their friends--or if they had no friends, shot!

Surely the government of the country could rescue them?  This was the
query usually put by the incredulous.

There is now a clearer understanding of such things.  The experience of
an humble English artist has established the fact: that the whole power
of Italy--backed by that of England--has been compelled to make terms
with a robber-chief, and pay him the sum of _four thousand pounds_ for
the surrender of his painter-prisoner!

The shopkeeper, as he sits in the theatre pit, or gazes down from the
second tier of boxes, will now take a stronger interest in "Fra Diavolo"
than he ever did before.  He knows that the devil's brother is a
reality, and Mazzaroni something more than a romantic conceit of the
author's imagination.

But there is a robber of still more picturesque style to which the
Englishman cannot give his credibility--a bandit not only armed,
costumed, and equipped like the Fra Diavolos and Mazzaronis, but who
follows his profession _on horseback_!

And not _alone_--like the Turpins and Claude Duvals of our own past
times--but trooped along with twenty, fifty, and often a hundred of his
fellows!

For this equestrian freebooter--the true type of the highwayman--you
must seek, in modern times, among the mountains, and upon the plains, of
Mexico.  There you will find him in full _fanfar_; plying his craft with
as much earnestness, and industry, as if it were the most respectable of
professions!

In the city and its suburbs, brigandage exists in the shape of the
_picaron-a-pied_--or "robber on foot"--in short, the _footpad_.  In the
country it assumes a far more exalted standard--being there elevated to
the rank of a regular calling; its practitioners not going in little
groups, and afoot--after the fashion of our thieves and garotters--but
acting in large organised bands, mounted on magnificent horses, with a
discipline almost military!

These are the true "bandoleros," sometimes styled _salteadores del
camino grande_--"robbers of the great road"--in other words,
_highwaymen_.

You may meet them on the _camino grande_ leading from Vera Cruz to the
capital--by either of the routes of Jalapa or Orizava; on that between
the capital and the Pacific port of Acapulco; on the northern routes to
Queretaro, Guanaxuato, and San Luis Potosi; on the western, to
Guadalaxara and Michoacan; in short, everywhere that offers them the
chance of stripping a traveller.

Not only _may_ you meet them, but _will_, if you make but three
successive excursions over any one of the above named highways.  You
will see the "salteador" on a horse much finer than that you are
yourself riding; in a suit of clothes thrice the value of your own--
sparkling with silver studs, and buttons of pearl or gold; his shoulders
covered with a _serape_, or perhaps a splendid _manga_ of finest
broadcloth--blue, purple, or scarlet.

You will see him, and feel him too--if you don't fall upon your face at
his stern summons "_A tierra_!" and afterwards deliver up to him every
article of value you have been so imprudent as to transport upon your
person.

Refuse the demand, and you will get the contents of carbine, _escopeta_,
or blunderbuss in your body, or it may be a lance-blade intruded into
your chest!

Yield graceful compliance, and he will as gracefully give you permission
to continue your journey--with, perhaps, an apology for having
interrupted it!

I know it is difficult to believe in such a state of things, in a
country called civilised--difficult to you.  To me they are but
remembrances of many an actual experience.

Their existence is easily explained.  You will have a clue to it, if you
can imagine a land, where, for a period of over fifty years, peace has
scarcely ever been known to continue for as many days; where all this
time anarchy has been the chronic condition; a land full of disappointed
spirits--unsatisfied aspirants to military fame, also _unpaid_; a land
of vast lonely plains and stupendous hills, whose shaggy sides form
impenetrable fastnesses--where the feeble pursued may bid defiance to
the strong pursuer.

And such is the land of Anahuac.  Even within sight of its grandest
cities there are places of concealment--harbours of refuge--alike free
to the political patriot, and the outlawed _picaro_.

Like other strangers to New Spain, before setting foot upon its shores,
I was incredulous about this peculiarity of its social condition.  It
was too abnormal to be true.  I had read and heard tales of its
brigandage, and believed them to be tinged with exaggeration.  A
_diligencia_ stopped every other day, often when accompanied by an
escort of dragoons--twenty to fifty in number; the passengers
maltreated, at times murdered--and these not always common people, but
often officers of rank in the army, representatives of the _Congresa_,
senators of the State, and even high dignitaries of the Church!

Afterwards I had reason to believe in the wholesale despoliation.  I was
witness to more than one living illustration of it.

But, in truth, it is not so very different from what is daily, hourly,
occurring among ourselves.  It is dishonesty under a different garb and
guise--a little bolder than that of our burglar--a little more
picturesque than that practised by the fustian-clad garotter of our
streets.

And let it be remembered, in favour of Mexican morality--that, for one
daring bandolero upon the road, we have a hundred sneaking thieves of
the attorney type--stock-jobbers--promoters of swindling speculations--
trade and skittle sharpers--to say nothing of our grand Government
swindle of over-taxation--all of which are known only exceptionally in
the land of Moctezuma.

In point of immorality--on one side stripping it of its picturesqueness,
on the other of its abominable plebbishness--I very much doubt, whether
the much-abused people of Mexico need fear comparison with the
much-bepraised people of England.

For my part, I most decidedly prefer the robber of the _road_, to him of
the _robe_; and I have had some experience of both.

This digression has been caused by my recalling an encounter with the
former, that occurred to me in La Puebla--on that same night when I
found myself forestalled.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

A RIVAL TRACKED TO HIS ROOF-TREE.

That I _was_ forestalled, there could be no mistake.

There was no ambiguity about the meaning of the phrase: "God be with
you, dear Francis!"  The coldest heart could not fail to interpret it--
coupled with the act to which it had been an accompaniment.

My heart was on fire.  There was jealousy in it; and, more: there was
anger.

I believed, or fancied, that I had cause.  If ever woman had given me
encouragement--by looks and smiles--that woman was Mercedes Villa-Senor.

All done to delude me--perhaps but to gratify the slightest whim of her
woman's vanity?  She had shown unmistakeable signs of having noted my
glances of admiration.  They were too earnest to have been
misunderstood.  Perhaps she may have been a little flattered by them?
But, whether or no, I was confident of having received encouragement.

Once, indeed, a flower had been dropped from the _balcon_.  It had the
air of an accident--with just enough design to make the act difficult of
interpretation.  With the wish father to the thought, I accepted it as a
challenge; and, hastening along the pavement, I stooped, and picked the
flower up.

What I then saw was surely an approving smile--one that seemed to say:
"in return for your sword-knot."  I thought so at the time; and fancied
I could see the tassel, protruding from a plait in the bodice of the
lady's dress--shown for an instant, and then adroitly concealed.

This sweet chapter of incidents occurred upon the occasion of my tenth
stroll through the Calle del Obispo.  It was the last time I had the
chance of seeing Mercedes by twilight.  After that came the irksome
interval of seclusiveness,--now to be succeeded by a prolonged period of
chagrin: for the dropping of the _billet-doux_, and the endearing
speech, had put an end to my hopes--as effectually as if I had seen
Mercedes enfolded in Francisco's arms.

Along with my chagrin I felt spite.  I was under the impression that I
had been _played with_.

Upon whom should I expend it?  On the Senorita?

There was no chance.  She had retired from the balcony.  I might never
see her again--there, or elsewhere?  Who then?  The man who had been
before me in her affections?

Should I cross over the street--confront--pick a quarrel with him, and
finish it at my sword's point?  An individual whom I had never seen, and
who, in all probability, had never set eyes upon me!

Absurd as it may appear--absolutely unjust as it would have been--this
was actually my impulse!

It was succeeded by a gentler thought.  Francisco's face was favourable
to him.  I saw it more distinctly, as he leant forward under the lamp to
decipher the contents of the note.  It was such a countenance as one
could not take offence at, without good cause; and a moment's reflection
convinced me that mine was not sufficient.  He was not only innocent of
the grief his rivalry had given me, but in all likelihood ignorant of my
existence.

From that time forward he was likely to remain so.

Such was my reflection, as I turned to take my departure from the place.
There was no longer any reason for my remaining there.  The cochero
might now come and go, without danger of being accosted by me.  His
tardiness had lost him the chance of obtaining an _onza_; and the letter
I had been hitherto holding in my hand went crumpled back into my
pocket.  Its warm words and soft sentiments--contrived with all the
skill of which I was capable--should never be read by her for whom they
had been indited!

So far as the offering of any further overtures on my part, I had done
with the daughter of Don Eusebio Villa-Senor; though I knew I had not
done with her in my heart, and that it would be long--long--before I
should get quit of her there.

I turned to go back to my quarters--in secret to resign myself to my
humiliation.  I did not start instantly.  Something whispered me to stay
a little longer.  Perhaps there might be a second act to the episode I
had so unwillingly witnessed?

It could hardly be this that induced me to linger.  It was evident she
did not intend reappearing.  Her visit to the balcon had the air of
being made by stealth.  I noted that once or twice she cast a quick
glance over her shoulder--as if watchful eyes were behind her, and she
had chosen a chance moment when they were averted.

The manoeuvre had been executed with more than ordinary caution.  It was
easy to see they were lovers _without leave_.  Ah! too well could I
comprehend the clandestine act!

Still standing concealed within the shadow of the portal, I watched
Francisco deciphering, or rather devouring, the note.  How I envied him
those moments of bliss!  The words traced upon the tiny sheet must be
sweet to him, as the sight was bitter to me.

His face was directly under the lamplight.  I could see it was one that
woman might well love, and man be jealous of.  No wonder he had won the
heart of Don Eusebio's daughter!

He was not long in making himself acquainted with the contents of the
epistle.  Of course they caused him joy.  I could trace it in the
pleased expression that made itself manifest in every line of his
countenance.  Could I have seen my own, I might have looked upon a sad
contrast!

The reading came to a close.  He folded the note, and with care--as
though intending it to be tenderly kept.  It disappeared under his
cloak; the cloak was drawn closer around him; a fond parting look cast
up to the place from which he had received the sweet missive; and then,
turning along the pavement, he passed smilingly away.

I followed him.

I can scarce tell why I did so.  My first steps were altogether
mechanical--without thought or motive.

It might have been an instinct--a fascination--such as often attracts
the victim to the very danger it should avoid.

Prudence--experience, had I consulted it--would both have said to me:

"Go the other way.  Go, and forget her!  Him too--all that has happened.
'Tis not yet too late.  You are but upon the edge of the Scylla of
passion.  You may still shun it.  Retire, and save yourself from its
Charybdis!"

Prudence and experience--what is either--what are both in the balance
against beauty?  What were they when weighed against the charms of that
Mexican maiden?

Even the slight I had experienced could not turn the scale in their
favour!  It only maddened me to know more; and perhaps it was this that
carried me along the pavement, on the footsteps of Francisco.

If not entertained at first, a design soon shaped itself--a sort of
morbid motive.  I became curious to ascertain the condition of the man
who had supplanted me; or whom I had been myself endeavouring to
supplant with such slight success.

He had the air of a gentleman, and the bearing of a true _militario_--a
type I had more than once met with in the land of Anahuac--so long a
prey to the rule of the sabre.

There was nothing particularly martial about his habiliments.

As he passed lamp after lamp in his progress along the street, I could
note their style and character.  A pair of dark grey trousers without
stripes; a cloak; a glazed hat--all after a fashion worn by the ordinary
_commerciantes_ of the place.  I fancied I could perceive a certain
shabbiness about them--perhaps not so much that, as a threadbareness--
the evidence of long wear: for the materials were of a costly kind.  The
cloak was of best broadcloth--the fabric of Spain; while the hat was
encircled by a bullion band, that, before getting tarnished by the touch
of time, must have shone splendidly enough.

These observations were not made without motive.  I drew from them a
series of deductions.  One, that could not be avoided: that my rival,
instead of being rich, was in the opposite condition of life--perhaps
penniless?

I was confirmed in this conjecture, as I saw him stop before the door of
an humble one-storied dwelling, in a street of corresponding
pretensions; thoroughly convinced of it as he lifted the latch with a
readiness that betokened it to be his home, and, without speaking to any
one, stepped inside.

The circumstances were conclusive; he was not one of the "ricos" of the
place.  It explained the clandestine correspondence, and the caution
observed by her who flung down the _billetita_.

Instead of being solaced by the thought, it only increased my bitterness
of spirit.  I should have been better pleased to have seen my rival
surrounded by splendour.  A love unattracted by this must be indeed
disinterested--without the possibility of being displaced.  No chance to
supplant the lover who is loved for himself.  I did not harbour a hope.

A slight incident had given me the clue to a romantic tale.  Mercedes
Villa-Senor, daughter of one of the richest men in the place--inhabiting
one of its grandest mansions--in secret correspondence with a man
wearing a threadbare coat, having his home in one of the lowliest
dwellings to be found in the City of the Angels!

I was not much surprised at the discovery.  I knew it to be one of the
"Cosas de Mexico."  But the knowledge did not lessen my chagrin.



CHAPTER NINE.

MUERA EL AMERICANO!

Like a thief skulking after the unsuspecting pedestrian, on whom he
intends to practise his professional skill, so did I follow Francisco.

Absorbed in the earnestness of my purpose, I did not observe three
genuine thieves, who were skulking after me.

I am scarce exact in my nomenclature.  They were not thieves, but
_picarones-a-pied_--footpads.

My first acquaintance with these gentry was now to be made.

As already said, I was not aware that any one was imitating me, in the
somewhat disreputable _role_ I was playing.

After watching my rival disappear within his doorway, I remained for
some seconds in the street--undecided which way to go.  I had done with
"querido Francisco;" and intended to return to my quarters.

But where were they?  Engrossed by my espionage I had made no note of
the direction, and was now lost in the streets of La Puebla!

What was to be done?  I stood considering.

All of a sudden I felt myself grappled from behind!

Both my arms were seized simultaneously, at the same time that a
_garota_ was extended across my throat!

They were strong men who had taken hold of me; but not strong enough to
retain it.

I was then in the very vigour of my manhood; and, though it may seem
vanity to say so, it was a vigour not easily overcome.

With a quick wrench, I threw off the two flankers; and turning
suddenly--so that the _garota_ was diverted from its purpose--I got a
blow at the ruffian who held it that sent him face foremost upon the
pavement.

Before any of the three could renew their attempt, I had my revolver in
hand--ready to deal death to the first who re-assailed me.

The footpads stood aghast.  They had not expected such a determined
resistance; and, if left to themselves, in all probability, I should
have seen no more of them that night.

If left to themselves, I could have dealt with them conveniently enough.
In truth, I could have taken the lives of all three, as they stood in
their speechless bewilderment.

I held in my hand a Colt's six-shooter, Number 2; another in my belt;
twelve shots in all--sure as the best percussion caps and careful
loading could make them.  A fourth of the shots would have sufficed: for
I had no thought of taking uncertain aim.

Despite the cause given me for excitement, I never felt cooler in my
life--that is for a combat.  For an hour before, my nerves had been
undergoing a strain, that served only to strengthen them.

I had been in want of something upon which to pour out my gathering
wrath; and here was the thing itself.  God, or the devil, seemed to have
sent the three thieves as a safety-valve to my swollen passion--a sort
of target on which to expend it!

Jesting apart, I thought so at the time; and so sure was I of being able
to immolate the trio at my leisure, that I only hesitated as to which of
them I should shoot down first!

You may be incredulous.  I can assure you that the scene I am describing
is no mere romance, but the transcript of a real occurrence.  So also
are the thoughts associated with it.

I stood eyeing my assailants, undecided about the selection.

I had my finger on the trigger; but, before pressing it, a quick
reflection came into my mind that restrained me from shooting.

It was still early--not quite ten o'clock--and the pavement was alive
with passengers.  I had passed several on entering the little street;
and, from the place where I stood, I could see a dozen dark forms
flitting about, or loitering by the doors of the houses.

They were all _leperos_ of the low quarter.

The report of my pistol would bring a crowd of them around me; and,
although I might disembarrass myself of the footpads, I should be in as
much, or more, danger from the _patriotas_!

I was quite sensible of the perilous situation in which I had placed
myself by my imprudent promenade.

As the robbers appeared to have given up their design upon my purse, and
were making their best speed to get out of reach of my pistol, I thought
the wisest way would be to let them go off.

With this design I was about to content myself--only staying to pick up
my cloak, that in the struggle had fallen from my shoulders.

Having recovered it, I commenced taking my departure from the place.

I had not gone six paces, when I became half convinced that I had made a
mistake, and that it would have been better to have killed the three
thieves.  After doing so, I might have found time to steal off
unobserved.

Allowing them to escape, I had given them the opportunity to return in
greater strength, and under a different pretence from that of their
former profession.

A cry that all three raised as they ran down the street, was answered by
a score of other voices; and, before I had time to make out its meaning,
I was surrounded by a circle of faces, scowling upon me with an
expression of unmistakeable hostility.

Were they all robbers--associates of the three who had assaulted me?

Had I chanced into one of those streets entirely abandoned to the
thieving fraternity--such as may be found in European cities--where the
guardians of the night do not dare to shew their faces?

This was my first impression, as I noted the angry looks and hostile
attitude of those who came clustering around me.

It became quickly changed, as I listened to the phrase, fiercely
vociferated in my ears:

"_Dios y Libertad!  Muera el Americano_!"

The discomfited footpads had returned upon a new tack.  They had seen my
uniform, as it became uncloaked in the struggle; and, under a pretence
of patriotism, were now about to take satisfaction for their
discomfiture and disappointment.

By good fortune I was standing upon a spot where there was a tolerable
light--thrown upon the street by a couple of lamps suspended near.

Had it been darker, I might have been set upon at once, and cut down,
before I could distinguish my antagonists.  But the light benefited me
in a different way.  It exposed to my new assailants a brace of Colt's
revolvers--one held in hand and ready to be discharged; the other ready
to be drawn.

The knife was their weapon.  I could see a dozen blades bared
simultaneously around me; but to get to such close quarters would cost
some of them their lives.

They had the sharpness to perceive it; and halting at several paces
distance--formed a sort of irregular ring around me.

It was not a complete circle, but only the half: for I had taken my
stand against the front of a house, close to its doorway.

It was a lucky thought, or instinct: since it prevented my being
assailed from the rear.

"What do you want?"  I asked, addressing my antagonists in their own
tongue--which by good fortune I spoke with sufficient purity.

"Your life!" was the laconic reply, spoken by a man of sinister aspect,
"your life, _filibustero_!  And we mean to have it.  So you may as well
put up your pistol.  If not, we'll take it from you.  Yield, Yankee, if
you don't want to be killed on the spot!"

"You may kill me," I responded, looking the ruffian full in the face,
"but not till after I've killed you, worthy sir.  You hear me,
cavallero!  The first that stirs a step towards me, will go down in his
tracks.  It will be yourself--if you have the courage to come first."

I cannot describe how I felt at that queer crisis.  I only remember that
I was as cool, as if rehearsing the scene for amusement--instead of
being engaged in a real and true tragedy that must speedily terminate in
death!

My coolness, perhaps, sprang from despair, or an instinct that nought
else could avail me.

My words, with the gestures that accompanied them, were not without
effect.  The tall man, who appeared to lead the party, saw that I had
selected him for my first shot, and cowered back into the thick of the
crowd.

But among his associates there were some of more courage, or greater
determination; and the cry, "Muera el Americano!" once more shouted on
all sides, gave a fresh stimulus to the passions of the _patriotas_.

Besides, the crowd was constantly growing greater, through fresh
arrivals in the street.  I could see that the six-shooter would not much
longer keep my assailants at a distance.

There appeared not the slightest chance of escape.  A death, certain as
cruel--sudden, terrible to contemplate--stared me in the face.  I saw no
way of avoiding it.  I had no thought of there being a possibility to do
so--no thought of anything, save selling my life as dearly as I could.

Before falling, I should make a hecatomb of my cowardly assassins.

I saw no pistols or other firearms in their hands--nothing but knives
and _machetes_.  They could only reach me from the front; and, before
they could close upon me, I felt certain of being able to discharge
every chamber of my two revolvers.  At least half a dozen of my enemies
were doomed to die before me.

I was in a splendid position for defence.  The house against which I had
been brought to bay was built of _adobes_, with walls full three feet
thick.  The door was indented to a depth of at least two.  I stood with
my back against it, the jambs on both sides protecting me.  My position
was that of the badger in the barrel attacked by terriers.

How long I might have been permitted to hold it is a question I will not
undertake to answer.  No doubt it would have depended upon the courage
of my assailants, and the stimulus supplied by that patriotic cry still
shouted out, "_Muera el Americano_!"

But none of those who were shouting had reached that climax of
recklessness, to rush upon the certain death which I stood ready to deal
out.

They obstructed the doorway in front, and in a close threatening
phalanx--like a pack of angry hounds holding a stag at bay, the boldest
fearing to spring forward.

Despite the knowledge that it was a terrible tragedy, I could not help
fancying it a farce: so long and carefully did my assailants keep at
arm's length.

Still more like a burlesque might it have appeared to a spectator, as I
fell upon the broad of my back--kicking up my heels upon the door-stoup!

It was neither shot, nor stab, that had caused this sudden change in my
attitude; but simply the opening of the door, against which I had been
supporting myself.

Some one inside had drawn the bolt, and, by doing so, removed the
support from behind me!



CHAPTER TEN.

THE STREET OF THE SPARROWS.

As I tottered upon my back, I felt my head and shoulders in contact with
the legs of a man.  They broke the fall, that might otherwise have
stunned me: for the floor was of stone flags.

I lost no time in disentangling myself; but, before I could regain my
feet, the man bounded over my body, and stood upon the threshold.

As he passed between me and the light outside, I could see something
shining by his side.  It was a sword blade.  I could see that the hilt
was in his hand.

My first impression was that he had sprung into the doorway to intercept
my retreat.  Of course I classed him among my enemies.  How could I
expect to find friend, or protector, in such a place?

It could make but little difference.  I believed that retreat by the
front door was out of the question.  Double barring it would make things
no worse.

Just then I bethought me of a chance of escape, not before possible.
Was there a back door?  Or a stair up to the _azotea_?

My reflections were quick as thought itself; but while making them they
lost part of their importance.  The man was standing with his back
towards me and his face to the crowd upon the street.  Their cries had
followed me in; and no doubt so would some of themselves, had they been
left to their predilections.

But they were not, as I now perceived.  He who had opened his door to
admit, perhaps, the most unwelcome guest who had ever entered it, seemed
not the less determined upon asserting the sacred rights of hospitality.

As he placed himself between the posts, I saw the glint of steel
shooting out in front--while he commanded the people to keep back.

The command delivered in a loud authoritative voice, backed by a long
toledo, whose blade glittered deathlike under the pale glimmer of the
lamp, had the effect of awing the outsiders into a momentary silence.
There was an interval in which I heard neither shout nor reply.

He himself broke the stillness, that succeeded his first salutation.

"Leperos!" he cried, in the tone of one who feels himself speaking to
inferiors; "What is this disturbance?  What are you after?"

"An enemy!  A Yankee!"

"_Carrambo_!  I suppose they are synonymous terms.  To all appearance
you are right," continued he, catching sight of my uniform, as he turned
half round in the doorway.  "But what's the use?" he continued.  "What
advantage can our country derive from killing a poor devil like this?"

I felt half indignant at the speech.  I recognised in the speaker the
handsome youth who had been before me with Mercedes Villa-Senor!

A bitter chance that should have made _him_ my protector!

"Let them come on!"  I cried, driven to desperation at the thought; "I
need no protection from you, sir--thanks all the same!  I hold the lives
of at least twelve of these gentlemen in my hands.  After that, they
shall be welcome to mine.  Stand aside, and see how I shall scatter the
cowardly rabble.  Aside, sir!"

If I was not mad, my protector must have thought me so.

"_Carrambo_, senor!" he responded, without showing himself in the least
chafed by my ungrateful answer.  "You are perhaps not aware of the
danger you are in.  If I but say the word, you are a dead man."

"You'll say it, _capitano_!" shouted one on the outside.  "Why not?  The
Yankee has insulted you.  Let's punish him, if it be only for that!"

"_Muera!  Muera el Americano_!"

My assailants, freshly excited by these cries, came surging towards the
door.

"_Al atras, leperos_!" shouted my protector.  "The first that sets foot
over my threshold--humble as it is--I shall spit upon my sword, like a
piece of _tasajo_.  You are very brave here in the Callecito de los
Pajaros!  I doubt whether there's one among you who has met the enemy--
either at Vera Cruz, or Cerro Gordo!"

"You're mistaken there, capitan Moreno!" answered a tall dark man who
stood out in front of his fellows, and whom I recognised as the chief of
the trio who had first attacked me, "Here's one who has been in both the
battles you are pleased to speak of; and who has come out of them, not
like your noble self--a prisoner upon parole!"

"Captain Carrasco, if I mistake not?" sneeringly retorted my protector.
"I can believe that of you.  Not likely to be a prisoner of any kind.
No doubt you took care to get well out of the way before the time when
prisoners were being taken?"

"_Carajo_!" screamed the swarthy disputant, his face turning livid with
rage.  "You say that?  You have heard it, _camarados_?  Capitan Moreno
sets himself up, not only as our judge, but the protector of our
accursed invaders!  And we must submit to his sublime dictation--we the
citizens of Puebla!"

"No--no, we won't stand it.  _Muera el Americano_!  The Yankee must be
delivered up!"

"You must take him, then," coolly responded Moreno, "at the point of my
sword."

"And at the muzzle of my pistol," I added, springing to the side of my
generous host--determined to share with him the defence of his doorway.

This unexpected resistance caused a change in the attitude of Carrasco
and his cowardly associates.  Though they hailed it with a vengeful
shout, it was plain that their impetuosity had received a check; and,
instead of advancing to the attack, one and all stood cowed-like and
silent.

They seemed to know the temper of my protector as well as his sword; and
this no doubt for the time restrained them.

But the true secret of their backwardness was to be sought for in the
six-shooters, one of which I now held in each hand.  The Mexicans had
just become acquainted with the character of this splendid weapon--first
used in battle in that same campaign--and its destructive powers, by
report exaggerated tenfold, inspired them, as it had done the Prairie
Indians, with a fear almost supernatural.

Perhaps to this sentiment was I indebted for my salvation.  Brave as my
protector was, and skilled as he might be with his toledo--quick and
sure as I could have delivered my twelve shots--what would all have
availed against a mob of infuriated men, already a hundred strong, and
every moment augmenting?  One, perhaps both, of us must have fallen
before their fury.

It may seem strange to talk of sentiment, in such a crisis as that in
which I was placed.  You will be incredulous of its existence.  And yet,
by my honour, it _did_ exist.  I felt it, as certainly as I ever did in
my life.

I need scarcely say what the sentiment was.  It could only be that of
profound gratitude--first to Francisco Moreno; and then to God for
making such a noble man!

The thought that followed was but a consequence of this reflection.  It
was to save him who was risking his life to save me.

I was about to appeal to him to stand aside, and leave me to my fate.
What good would it do for both to die? for I verily believed that death
was at hand.

My purpose was not carried out; though its frustration came not from a
craven fear.  Very different was the cause that stayed my tongue.

As we stood silent--both defenders and those threatening to attack--a
sound was borne upon the breeze, which caused the silence to be
prolonged.

There could be no doubt as to the signification of this sound.  Any one
who has ever witnessed the spectacle of a troop of horse passing along a
paved street, will recognise the noises that accompany it:--the
continuous tramping of hoofs, the tinkling of curbs, and the occasional
clank of a scabbard, as it strikes against spur or stirrup.

Such noises I recognised, as did every individual in the "Street of the
Sparrows."

"_La guardia_!  _La patrulla Americana_!"  (The guard!  The American
patrol!) was the muttered exclamations that came from the crowd.

My heart bounded with joy, and I was about to spring forth--thinking my
assailants would now make way for me.

But no.  They stood firm and close as a wall, maintaining their
semicircle around the doorway.

Though evidently resolved on keeping their ground they made no noise--
with their knives and _machetes_ only demonstrating in silence!

I saw their design.  The patrol was passing along one of the principal
streets.  They knew that the least disturbance would attract it into the
Callecito.

If silent, but for ten seconds, they would be safe to renew the attack;
and I should then be lost--surely sacrificed!

What was to be done?  Fire into their midst, commence the _fracas_, and,
by so doing, summon the patrol to my rescue?  Perhaps it would arrive in
time to be too late--to take up my mangled corpse, and carry it to the
cuartel?

I hesitated to tempt the attack.

Was there no other way, by which I could give warning to my countrymen?

O God! the hoof-trampling seemed gradually growing less distinct!  No
sound of bit, or spur, stirrup, or steel scabbard.  They had passed the
end of the Callecito.  Ten seconds more, and they would be beyond
hearing!

Ha! a happy thought!  That night--I now remembered it--my own corps--the
Rifle Rangers--constituted the street patrol.  My first Serjeant would
be at its head.  Between him and me had long been established a code of
signals--independent of those set for the bugler.  By the favour of
fortune, I had upon my person the means of making them--a common
dog-call, that more than once, during the campaign, had stood me in good
stead.

In another instant its shrill echoes resounded through the street, and
were heard half-way across the City of the Angels.

If the devil himself had directed the signal, it could not have more
effectually paralysed our opponents.  They stood speechless--astounded!

Only for a short while did they thus remain.  Then, as if some wild
panic had suddenly seized upon them, both footpads and citizens ran
scattering away!

In the place they had occupied I could see two score of horses, with the
same number of men upon their backs--whose dark green uniforms were
joyfully recognised.

With a shout I rushed forth to receive them!

After an interlude of confused congratulations I turned to give thanks--
far more than thanks--to Francisco Moreno.

My gratitude was doomed to disappointment.  He who so well deserved it
was no longer to be seen.

The door, through which I had so fortunately fallen, was closed upon my
generous protector!



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

THE RED HATS.

For more than a month after the incidents related, were we of the
invading army compelled to endure a semi-seclusion, within _cuartels_
neither very clean nor comfortable.

We should have far preferred the _billet_; and there were scores of
grand "casas" whose owners richly deserved it.

But the thing was out of the question.  To have scattered our small
force would have been to court the rising we had reason to apprehend.

Our division-general had the good sense to perceive this; and, against
the grumbling of both officers and men, insisted upon his injunction--to
stay within doors--being rigorously observed.

To me the situation was irksome in the extreme.  It gave too much
leisure to brood over my bitterness.  An active life might have offered
some chance of distraction; but inside a barrack--where one grows
ennuyed with always seeing the same faces, and tired of the everlasting
small talk--even the ordinary routine is sufficiently afflicting.  What
was it in the heart of a hostile city?  What to me, suffering from the
humiliation I had experienced?

Only for the sake of excitement did I desire to go out on the streets.
The Calle del Obispo had lost its attractions for me; or, rather should
I say, they were lost to me.  As for visiting the Callecito de los
Pajaros, I am sorry to record: that my wounded _amour propre_ was more
powerful than my sense of gratitude.  I felt more inclined to shun, than
seek it.

A month, and there came a change.  The streets of La Puebla were once
more free to us--by night as by day.

It was caused by the arrival of three or four fresh brigades of the
American army: now concentrating to advance upon the capital.

The tables were turned, and the hostile Poblanos were reduced--if not to
a state of friendship, at least to one of fear.

They had cause.  Along with our troops came a regiment of "Texas
Rangers"--the dread of all modern Mexicans--with scores of nondescript
camp-followers, by our enemies equally to be dreaded.

Still more to be feared, and shunned, by the citizens of Puebla, was a
band of _regular robbers_, whom General Scott--for some sapient purpose
of his own--had incorporated with the American army, under the title of
the "Spy Company"--the name taken from the service they were intended to
perform.

They were the band of captain--usually styled "colonel"--Dominguez; an
ex-officer of Santa Anna's army, who for years had sustained himself in
the mountains around Perote, and the _mal pais_ of El Pinol--a terror to
all travellers not rich enough to command a strong escort of Government
"dragones."

They were true highwaymen--_salteadores del camino grande_--each mounted
on his own horse, and armed with carbine, pistol, lance, or long sword!

They were dressed in various fashions; but generally in the picturesque
_ranchero_ costume of _jaqueta, calzoneros_, and broad-brimmed
high-crowned hats; booted, spurred, sashed, laced, and tassel led.

On the shoulders of some might be seen the _serape_; while not a few
were draped with the magnificent _manga_.

On joining us they were a hundred and twenty strong, with recognised
officers--a captain and a couple of "tenientes," with the usual number
of "sarjentes" and "cabos."

So close was their resemblance to the _guerilleros_ of the enemy, that,
to prevent our men from shooting them by mistake, they had been
compelled to adopt a distinguishing badge.

It consisted of a strip of scarlet stuff, worn, bandlike, round their
sombreros--with the loose ends dangling down to the shoulder.

The symbol naturally led to a name.  They were known to our soldiers as
the "Red Hats"--the phrase not unfrequently coupled with a rude
adjunctive.

Outlawed in their own land--now associated with its invaders--it is
scarce necessary to say that the Red Hats were an object of terror
wherever they had a chance of showing their not very cheerful faces.

And in no place more than La Puebla; that had given birth to at least
one-half of them, and to all of them, at one time or another, shelter
within its gaols!

Now returned to it under the _aegis_ of the American eagle, there was a
fine opportunity for the Red Hats to settle old scores with _alcaldes,
reyidores_, and the like; and they were not backward in availing
themselves of it.

The consequence was, that the Poblanos soon laid aside their bullying
tone; and were only too well pleased when allowed to pass tranquilly
through their own streets.

I was one among many other officers of the American army who felt
disgust at this association with _salteadores_--solely an idea of our
superannuated commander-in-chief, since celebrated as the "hero" of
Bull's Run.

Endowed with a wonderful conceit in his "strategical combinations," the
employment of the Spy company was one in which he felt no little pride;
while we regarded it as a positive disgrace.

The act might have been allowable under the pressure of a severe
necessity.  But none such existed.  In the anarchical land invaded by us
we could have found spies enough--without appealing to its cut-throats.

It is not to be denied that Dominguez and his robbers did us good
service.  Faithfulness to our cause was a necessity of their existence.
Outlawed before--now doubly estranged by their treason--they were hated
by their countrymen with an intensity beyond bounds; and, wherever
caught straying beyond our lines, death was their certain doom.

In several skirmishes, into which they were drawn with their own
guerilleros, they fought like very tigers--well knowing that, if taken,
they had no mercy to expect.

On their side the _lex talionis_ was practised with a loose hand; so
loose that it soon became necessary to restrain it; and they were no
longer allowed to go scouting on their own account.  Whenever their
services were required, they had to be performed under the eye of an
officer of mounted rifles or dragoons, with a troop of these acting in
concert.

But the terror originally inspired by them continued till the end of the
campaign; and the sight of a Red Hat coming along the street was
sufficient to terrify the women, and send the children screaming within
doors.

In no place were our red-handed allies held in greater detestation than
in the city of La Puebla--partly from the striking resemblance borne to
them by a large number of its population, and an antipathy on this
account; partly from old hostilities; and, perhaps, not a little from
the fact of our having there, more than elsewhere, permitted them to
carry out their proclivities.

There was a sort of tacit consent to their swaggering among the
Poblanos; as a punishment to the latter for the trouble, which _their_
swaggering had caused to us.

It was only for a time, however; and, when things appeared to be going
too far, the good old Anglo-American morality--inculcated by the
_township school_--resumed its sway over the minds of our soldiers; and
the Red Hats were coerced into better behaviour.



CHAPTER TWELVE.

"UN CLAVO SACA OTRO CLAVO."

Now that its streets were no longer obstructed by the fear of mob
violence, or midnight assassination, we had an opportunity of exploring
the "City of the Angels."

A fine old town we found it--with its grand cathedral, of which,
according to monkish legend, _real_ angels were the architects; its
scores of _capillas_ and _parroquias_; its hundreds of massive stone and
stuccoed houses; and its thousands of _adobe_ dwellings.

Besides those standing, we discovered whole streets that had fallen to
decay; _barrios_ of uninhabited ruins, covered with a weed-tangle of
convolvuli, cowage, and other creepers, growing in green luxuriousness
over the chaos of crumbling walls.

No other evidence is needed to prove that La Puebla, still the third
city of Anahuac, was once much grander than it is to-day.

I sought distraction in wandering through its streets; though there was
one into which I never went--the Calle del Obispo.

I shunned it with as much zeal as if there had been a plague in it;
though I knew it contained _una cosa muy linda_--the fairest thing in
the city of Puebla.

And it was for this that I shunned it.  Since I had no longer the
slightest hope of possessing Mercedes Villa-Senor, I was acting in
accordance with the counsel of a friend, sager than myself, to whom I
had communicated the story of my illusion.  The course advised by him
was to forget her,--if I could.

"Don't go near again, nor see her on any account," were the words of my
wise counsellor.  "It's the only plan with a passion like yours--
suddenly conceived, and, perhaps, founded on a mistaken fancy.  She may
not be such perfection, after all.  You've had but a poor chance of
judging.  Beauty in the balcony is sometimes wonderfully changed when it
descends into the street.  No doubt this damsel at close quarters would
turn out very different from what you describe her.  It's only
imagination."

"No imagination could create such a form--such a face--such--"

"Such fiddlesticks!  Come, old fellow!  Don't give way to this
confounded romancing.  I venture to say, that, if you could see her at
six feet distance, and under a good strong light, you'd be completely
disenchanted.  The same tripe-coloured skin all these Spanish women
have--that won't bear the sun upon it.  I wouldn't give one of our
fair-haired Saxon girls for a whole shipload of them."

"Take my advice," continued my mentor, whose leaning was towards light
hair; "don't see her again.  If she should prove plain, it would only
cause you a chagrin to discover it; and, if she really be the angel you
think she is, better you should never more meet her--except in heaven!
From what you've told me, she's either engaged to this young fellow, or
in the fair way of being made a fool of--a thing not so uncommon among
the damsels of this good city.  In either case there's no chance for
you.  Give up fretting about her.  It will be easy as falling off a log.
Don't go into the street where she lives; though I don't suppose
there'd be much danger of seeing her if you did--now that those rascally
Red Hats are about.  In a month more we'll be on the march for the Halls
of the Moctezumas; and there you'll either get a bullet in your abdomen,
or another shot through the heart, from a pair of eyes perhaps as
sparkling as those of the Villa-Senor."

The word "never" was upon my lips, and the thought was in my mind.  I
did not utter it, knowing that my friend would only laugh at me.

"_Un clavo saca otro clavo_," (one nail drives out another), continued
my Job's comforter; "A proverb of their own exactly applicable to your
case.  Ah! well do they understand the intricacies and tricks of love.
These same Spaniards understood them three hundred years ago; while we
simple Saxons only knew them as instincts.  No doubt Miss Mercedes has
often heard the proverb--perhaps often practised it.  So take my advice,
old boy, and do you the same.  Take for your motto, `_un clavo saca otro
clavo_!'"

"All very well for you, who have no love to be expelled.  That is a
thing not so easy, as you imagine."

"Bah!  Easy enough.  Look around you.  I'll warrant you'll see plenty of
beautiful women--according to your style--among these dark-complexioned
senoritas.  Go out upon the streets--into the Alameda--to church--
anywhere, excepting into the `street of the bishop.'"

I followed my friend's advice, and sought for the "un clavo" that should
force out the "otro clavo."  I did not succeed in finding it.  The first
nail held its place in my heart, despite every endeavour to draw it.

Still did I persevere in the resolution to see Mercedes no more--stern
struggle though it cost me.

It was not necessary I should shut my eyes, while passing through the
streets.  There was little likelihood of my encountering her by chance.
More than ever did the ladies keep to their seclusion.  And no wonder,
during the reign of the Red Hats.

The few who sallied forth in carriages, for a drive round the Alameda,
were either the wives of foreign merchants, or belonging to one of the
half dozen families, who, from interested motives, had become, for the
time, "Ayankeado."

With these exceptions, we saw only the little brown-skinned _leperas_,
in their hideous slate-coloured rebosos; and now and then, when chance
conducted us to a fandango, a few flaunting specimens of the class
"poblana," whose patriotism was not proof against our purses.

Among the _elite_ our epaulettes were not specially attractive; and our
company was altogether tabooed.  The gown appeared to take the shine out
of the sword.  The soldier might rule in the streets; but within doors
the sleek _curas_ had it all their own way.

It was these last to whom we were chiefly indebted for the taboo; and of
course we hated them accordingly.

For my part, I cared but little.  If the _doncellas_ of Puebla had made
me ever so welcome, I could not have responded to their smiles.  The
wound I had received from one of them was sufficient for the time; and,
so long as it remained uncicatrised, I had no zest for a second _amour_.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

For weeks I adhered to the programme traced out by my friend; but
without finding the relief he had so confidently prognosticated.

The society of woman was absolutely distasteful to me.  I had become
almost a _gynothrope_.

I sought distraction in the company of men; and, I regret to add, men
who played _monte_.

Play is but a sorry resource--though one of the commonest resorted to--
for soothing the pangs of an unrequited passion.  The coquette makes
many a recruit for the gaming table.  Homburg has seen its scores of
frequenters--sent there by her arts--hanging over its tables with broken
hearts--even when fortune seems smiling upon them!

I had no difficulty in discovering a place to practise the
soul-absorbing passion.  Professional gamblers travelled along with us--
as if part of the regular staff of the army.  Every division had its
"dealer" of "faro" or "_monte_;" and almost the first canvas spread in
an encampment was that which covered the _tapis vert_ of a card table!

In the country it was a tent; in the city a grand saloon, with
chandeliers and a set supper.

Our army gamblers usually superintended such places--having established
temporary partnerships with the indigenous vultures who owned them.

The game usually played was that universal in Mexico--_monte_.  It was
the most convenient--permitting players of all kinds and classes, and
equally favourable to the novice as to the skilled gambler.  There is no
skill required--not much knowledge of any sort.  A "banquier," a
"croupier," a piece of green baize, and a pack of Spanish cards--_voila
tout_!

There were two or three of these gambling saloons, or "_monte_ banks,"
in La Puebla.  More likely there were twenty; but two or three were
grand establishments--frequented by the Poblanos of the better class;
where gold _doblones_ might be seen upon the green cloth as common as
silver dollars.  They were attachments to the grand Cafes, or Exchanges,
that in Mexican cities take the place of our clubs--serving as places of
rendezvous for the _haciendados_, and higher class of _commerciantes_.

One was much frequented by the officers of our army; though not
exclusively by them.  The Mexican gentlemen did not deny us their
company over the _monte_ table; and around it might be seen
representatives of the Teutonic and Latinic races, in nearly equal
proportions--with many a type between.

Though the natives were all in civilian costume, we knew that there were
among them men who had once worn uniforms.  In fact, some of them were
our prisoners _on parole_; whom we had encountered, and captured, at the
siege of Vera Cruz, or on the ensanguined summit of Cerro Gordo.

The poverty of these men was too conspicuous to escape observation.
Their pay--scant at all times and often in arrears--was now stopped
altogether; and how they contrived to live _on parole_, they and God
alone can tell.

It was painful to note their contrivances for keeping up the appearance
of gentility.  A close inspection of their coats would show where the
shoulder-straps and facings had been stripped off--to convert them into
civilian garments; and the unfaded stripe, down the seams of their
pantaloons, told where the gold lace had once gaily glittered.

They were usually provided with an ample cloth cloak; which in the
streets effectually concealed the transformation.  But in the hot
saloons this could not well be worn; and a man standing behind, as they
sat around the _monte_ table, might look upon a pair of shoulders--now
plain--that had been lately decorated with the epaulettes of a colonel,
or even general!

Their ventures were usually of the most modest kind: beginning with a
_peseta_, and graduating upwards, in proportion to the propitiousness of
Fortune.  When their luck was good, they gambled with _doblones_.

Otherwise, the _peseta_ ended their play for the night; but, instead of
retiring in despair, they would continue at the table; as though they
took a pleasure in contemplating the gains of the more fortunate
players, and the losses of the banker!



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

A PLEASANT MISCONCEPTION.

There was one of these frequenters of the saloon in whom I felt a
peculiar interest.  Our acquaintance did not commence at the _monte_
table.  I first saw him in the Calle del Obispo, and, on the same night,
in the Callecito de los Pajaros.  His name was Francisco Moreno: the man
who had crossed me in love and saved my life!

I had ample opportunity of studying his character, without referring to
either incident of that night.  I had the advantage of him: for,
although I remembered _him_ well, and with strange emotions, he had no
recollection of _me_!

I had reasons for keeping my incognito.

Though we had become otherwise acquainted--and were upon such terms of
comity, as two strangers who meet over a gaming table--I could learn
very little about him--beyond the fact that he was, or had been, an
officer in the Mexican army.  My own observation told me as much as
this.  His bearing, with an occasional speech that escaped him,
proclaimed the military man: for in this, as in other callings, there is
a freemasonry: and the _rajpoot_ of one land will easily recognise his
_caste_ in another.

He was one of the Mexican officers _on parole_; but we had reason to
believe that there were many others among us--during our long interval
of inaction--who had no business to be there.  We were not very
particular about _spies_; and, in truth, they might have come and gone--
and they did come and go--with as much freedom as if no guard had been
kept.  Successes unexpected--almost astounding--a series of them--had
taught us to despise even the secret machinations of our enemy.  His
scouts might have entered our camp, partaken of hospitality in our
tents--even in the marquee of the commander-in-chief--and departed again
with as much facility as a man might obtain an interview with his hatter
or tailor!

No one thought of suspecting Francisco Moreno.  No one gave heed to him,
any more than to remark what a fine, noble-looking young fellow he was.

I alone made a particular study of him.  I knew that he was more than
noble-looking--that he was noble.

It maddened me to think he was the first; though I could scarce he
grieved at his being the last.  Had it not been so, I should not have
lived to take note of it.  I had strange fancies--sometimes not very
creditable ones--about captain Moreno.

It was plain that he was poor; though not one of those who had converted
the military tunic into a civilian's coat.  His dress, if threadbare,
would pass muster as a correct costume.  Nor did he put down _pesetas_
upon the _tapis vert_.  His stake was usually a _peso_--sometimes two--
but never rising to the _onza_.  The dollar lost, he would retire from
the table.  Winning, he would remain.

One night I observed a reversion of the rule.  His stakes were being
doubled at each draw of the cards; and yet he rose from his seat, and
hastily took his departure from the place!

Many wondered at this.  A man must be mad to leave such luck?  It was
like flinging the favours of Fortune back into her face.

I had a clearer comprehension of what had caused his defection from the
gaming circle.  I divined, that he was going to worship the goddess
elsewhere, and under another title.

I had heard the cathedral clock strike ten--the hour when I had first
seen him in the Calle del Obispo.  It suggested the conjecture that he
was going thither.

Had my own luck at the game been ten times greater than it was--and I
was winning--I could not have stayed to take advantage of it.

I clutched at my stake, as soon as it was covered by the coin of the
croupier; and, starting up from the table, followed Francisco Moreno
from the saloon.

Whether my abrupt departure created as much surprise, as that of the
Mexican, I never knew.

It may have done; but at that moment I was absolutely indifferent,
either to the thing itself, or the conjectures that might arise
respecting it.

I had but one thought in my mind; and that was to witness a second of
those interviews--the first of which had lacerated my heart to its core!

I felt as the bird may feel, fluttering into the jaws of the envenomed
reptile; as the moth that goes voluntarily to have its wings scorched by
the candle!

There was a fascination in the thought of thus rushing upon ruin!
Perhaps it was the knowledge, that my heart could not be reduced to a
greater desolation than it already knew.

For the first time in four weeks I entered the Calle del Obispo.

Francisco was before me.  I had correctly divined his intent.  He had
forsaken the smiles of Fortune to bask in those of Mercedes!

We took different sides of the street; he going silently along the
_facade_ of the Casa Villa-Senor; I skulking, thief-like, under the
portal of the opposite house.

We were not kept waiting for as much as an instant.  Scarce had we taken
our respective stands, when the blind was drawn back, and a woman
appeared in the window.  Of course it was Mercedes.

"You are late, Francisco!" said she, in an undertone, and with the
slightest accent of reproach.  "The cathedral has tolled ten minutes
ago!  It is very cruel.  You know how I am watched, and that every
moment is so precious!"

Francisco stammered out some excuse, which appeared to satisfy her.  I
could see she was not exacting--by the easy grace with which she forgave
him.  Even this increased my anguish.

"Do you know, dearest, papa is more suspicious than ever!  Even now I am
afraid he will be coming this way.  He has not yet retired to his bed;
and never does till both sister and I have gone to ours."

"Why don't you give him a sleeping draught?  Put poppy-seed in his
chocolate.  Do that, _nina_, and we might have a better chance of a
little conversation at this hour.  I never see you now, or only for a
moment.  It's very tiresome to be kept apart in this fashion.  I hope it
is the same to you?"

"Do you doubt it?  You do not?  But what help for it?  He is so much
against you.  I think some one has been telling him something bad about
you.  When we go to _matins_ he always sends _Tia_ Josefa along with us,
and I'm sure she has instructions to watch us.  I know it's only _me_.
He's not half so careful about sister.  He allows her to drive out
alone--to the Alameda--anywhere.  If I go, I must be accompanied by Tia
Josefa."

"The deuce take Tia Josefa!"

"And do you know, Francisco, there's something worse yet?  I've only
heard it this very day.  Josefa told it me.  I believe papa put it in
her head to tell me.  If I don't consent to marry _him_--you know whom I
mean--I'm to be shut up in a convent!  Only think of it!  Imprisoned for
life in a dark cloister, or marry a man I can't love--old enough to be
my uncle!  _Ay Dios_!  What am I to do about it?"

"Neither one nor the other of those two things--if I can hinder it.
Don't be uneasy, love!  I'll find some way to save you from such a
fate--which would be equally ruinous to myself.  Your father can have
nothing against me, except that I'm poor.  Who knows but that I may
become rich during this war.  I have hopes of promotion, and--listen
dearest!"

Here the voice of Francisco sank into a whisper, as if the communication
he was making required peculiar secrecy.

The words were not audible across the street; neither were those
murmured in response.  I only heard some phrases that fell from the
lady's lips as she turned to go inside.

"_Adios querido!  Hasta la manana_!"

Far sweeter to _my_ ear were some words spoken by Francisco himself.

"Stay!  A moment, _dear Dolores_! one moment--"

I did not hear the conclusion of his passionate appeal, nor the reply--
if there was one.

Dolores might have stayed in the _balcon_, and chatted with her dear
Francis for an hour by the cathedral clock, without giving me the
slightest chagrin.  I was too happy to listen to another word of their
conversation.

Mercedes--_my_ Mercedes--was not she who had dropped that little note,
and said to him who received it, "Va con Dios!"

There was still a hope that her heart was free; that no "querido
Francisco" had yet taken possession of it!

"God grant but that," was my mental prayer, as I turned to take my
departure, "and Mercedes may yet be mine!"



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

QUE COSA?

Giving way to sweet imaginings, I stood for some seconds under the
shadow of the portal.

Meanwhile the Mexican had passed out of the street.

As I believed that he had gone back to the saloon we had both lately
forsaken, I started in the same direction.

I now longed to have a conversation with him; determined in my own mind
that it should be more cordial than any that had yet taken place between
us.  I could at that moment have embraced him: for my gratitude,
hitherto restrained by the thought of his being my rival, was suddenly
exalted to a feeling of fervour.

I should seek an interview with the noble youth; make known who it was
he had befriended; and ask if there was any way in which I could
reciprocate his generosity?

My heart was overflowing towards Francisco Moreno!  As he had been the
cause of my late misery, I now looked upon him as the instrument of my
regeneration.

"Oh!  I shall make an ample return to him!  But what is it to be?"

Just as I gave thought to the interrogatory, a harsh sound struck upon
my ears--as if some one, suddenly stopped in the street, had uttered a
cry of mixed anger and surprise.  It was followed by the words:

"_Que cosa caballeros?  Que cosa comigo_?"  (What is it, gentlemen?
What do you want with me?)

"_Vuestra bolsa, senor; nada mas_" (Your purse, sir; nothing more.)

"_Carrambo_!  A modest demand!  For all that, I'm not inclined to comply
with it.  You may have my purse; but not till after you've taken my
life.  Out of the way, scoundrels!  Let me pass!"

"Upon him, _camarados_!  He is loaded with doblones.  _Al tierra_!  Down
with him!"

These words--not very loudly spoken--were succeeded by the sounds of a
struggle, in which several men appeared to take part; five or six, as I
could tell by the shuffling of their shoes upon the flagged pavement.

I no longer heard words; or only a few, that seemed spoken under
restraint, and scarce louder than whispers!

Even he who had first called out appeared to have become suddenly
silent!

For all that the struggle was continuing!

The street in which it was taking place was a sort of narrow passage--
leading from one of the main thoroughfares towards the Piazza Grande--
and not far from the entrance to the Calle del Obispo.

It was dimly illumined by a solitary lard lamp, whose feeble flickering
only served to make the path more uncertain.

I had myself entered the lane--which chanced to be a near cut between
the cafe to which I was returning, and the "calle" I had left behind.
It was just as I had got into it that the cry fell upon my ears,
followed by the challenge "_Que cosa caballeros_?"

The rest of the dialogue did not occupy ten seconds of time, before the
conflict commenced; and, as the scene of strife was not more than ten
paces from where I had paused, another half-score of seconds carried me
up to the spot.

I had been thus prompt in rushing to the rescue, because I fancied that
I knew the voice of the man who was being assaulted.

I was right.  It was Francisco Moreno!

I found him in the midst of five men, forming a sort of quincunx around
him; against all five of whom he was industriously defending himself;
while they were as busy in the endeavour to get him down.

They were all armed with _machetes_; while he wielded a sword, which he
had drawn from under his cloak.

I could see that the attacking party carried pistols, but did not
attempt to use them--perhaps from fear of causing an alarm, and thus
defeating their purpose: to all appearance plunder!

I was not so chary about the discharging of mine.  The moment I caught
sight of the _Red Hats_--for the assailants were so distinguished--I had
a clear comprehension of the sort of gentry with whom the Mexican had to
deal, as well as the character of the attack.

The blood ran scalding within my veins.  But that very day I had been
sickened at hearing the details of an atrocity, committed by these
precious pets of our commander-in-chief; and I had mentally vowed, if I
should ever chance to catch one of them at their tricks, to make short
work with him.

The chance had come sooner than I expected; and I remembered my vow.

The shout with which I interrupted their pastime was almost loud enough
to hinder them from hearing the report of my pistol; but one of them
caught the bullet that came out of it, and went groaning into the
gutter.

I might have shot down a second, or even a third, before they could get
out of the way; though they were anything but slow in making
disappearance.

I was satisfied with having put an end to one: for this had I done, as
was evident from the silent lump of humanity that lay doubled up along
the stones.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

LIFE FOR LIFE.

"_Gracias_!" cried the young Mexican, "_mil gracias, caballero_!  That's
all I can say till I get back my breath."

He stopped.  I could hear his respiration, quick and heavy, as that of a
horse halted after a rapid run.

"I hope you have not received any serious injury?"  I said, on becoming
assured that the only Red Hat remaining in the street was the one lying
along the kerb-stone.  "Are you wounded?"

"Nothing to signify, I think.  A cut or two, perhaps.  They're only
scratches."

"You're sure?"

"Not quite, caballero; though I fancy I'm all right.  I don't feel
disabled--only a little fatigued.  It was rather quick play, keeping
guard against all five at once.  I had no chance to get a thrust at
them, else I might have reduced the number.  You've done that, I
perceive.  Once more let me thank you for my life."

"There is no need.  It is simply a debt paid in kind; and we are now
quits."

"Senor, your speech mystifies me.  I cannot tell whether I have the
honour of knowing the brave man who has done me such signal service.
Your voice sounds like one I've heard before.  You'll excuse me.  It's
so dark here--"

"You and I are so much in the habit of having encounters in dark places,
I begin to think there's a fatality in it."

"_Carrambo_!" exclaimed the Mexican, still further mystified by my
remark.  "Where have we had these encounters?  Pray tell me, senor?"

"You don't remember capitan Moreno?"

"It is my name!  You know me?"

"I have good reason."

"You astonish me.  If I mistake not, you are in uniform--an American
officer?"

"I am."

"May I ask where we have met?  At the _monte_ table?"

"We have met at _monte_ more than once.  It was not there, however, that
I had my first introduction to you, but--"

"Where?"

"In your house."

"_Una burla, senor_!  No matter; you are welcome."

"No jest, I assure you.  Our first exchange of speech was under your own
roof."

"_Caspita_!  You confound me."

"'Tis true, I did not go inside--only just over the doorstep.  There we
met and parted--both a little unmannerly.  For the first I was to blame.
The last, I think, you ought to share with me.  By your abrupt closing
of the door, you gave me no chance of showing politeness; else I should
have stayed to thank you for doing, what you say I have just done for
you.  I intended to seek an opportunity some day.  It seems I have found
it without seeking."

"_Santissima Virgen_! you, then, are the gentleman--"

"Who on a certain night so unceremoniously made entrance into the house
of Don Francisco Moreno, in the Callecito de los Pajaros; who went in
head-foremost, and no doubt would have been carried out feet foremost,
but for the fortune that gave him such a generous host.  Ah! captain
Moreno," I continued, in the ardour of my gratitude grasping the young
soldier's hand, "I said we were quits.  Far, far from it; you owe me
perhaps your life.  To you I am indebted for mine; and--and much more."

"_Por Dios, caballero_! you continue to mystify me.  What more?"

Under the dominion of a sweet excitement, I was on the point of
confessing my _amourette_ with Mercedes, and telling him how he had
interrupted it--in short, telling him all.  No longer rivals, but
fellow-suitors for two fair sisters, we were journeying along the same
road.  A common motive--each having a different object--instead of
estranging, ought rather to unite us?

And yet there was a doubt.  Something counselled me to reticence.  My
secret remained unspoken; not even mention being made of the Calle del
Obispo.

"Oh!"  I answered, taming down my tone of enthusiasm, "Much more
depended on my life.  Had I lost it--"

"Had you lost it," interrupted the young Mexican, relieving me from the
necessity of further explanation, "it would have been a sad misfortune
for me: since this night I should have lost mine.  Five minutes more,
and these footpads would have overpowered me.  As for my having saved
_your_ life, that is scarcely correct.  Your own comrades did it.  But
for their timely arrival, we might not have been able to withstand the
assault of the angry _patriotas_; who were led by a man of no common
kind."

"So much the greater reason for my gratitude to you."

"Well, you have amply acquitted the debt.  But for your interference
here--the more generous that you did not know for whom it was exerted--I
might now be lying in the place of that red-hatted, red-handed wretch;
who has been alike a traitor to his country and his God!"

The last words were pronounced with a scornful emphasis, as if the
speaker's patriotism had become fired at the sight of the renegade
robber.

"But, caballero!" he continued, changing to a more tranquil tone, "you
say we have also met at the _monte_ table.  Lately?"

"Our latest meeting has been to-night."

"To-night!"

"About an hour ago.  Perhaps a little less."

"_Carrambo_!  You must have been there at the time I left the saloon.
You saw me go out?"

"Every one saw you.  More than one remarked it as strange."

"Why strange, senor?"

"It is not usual for a player to run away from such luck as you had--
without a very powerful motive.  Something of the kind carried you off,
I presume?"

"_Par Dios_!  Not much of that.  Only a little errand that required
punctuality.  I executed it; and was on my way back, when these
_picarones_ attacked me.  Thanks to you, sir, it may still be in my
power to gain another _onza_ or two; which I intend doing, if the luck
has not been drawn out of me along with these drops of blood.  But come,
caballero! are you going back yourself?  'Tis not too late to have
another _albur_."

"I shall go with you, to see whether you've received any wounds that
require looking after."

"Thanks, thanks!  They're nothing; else I should have thought of them
before now.  No doubt they're scarce worth dressing.  A little soap and
water will set them all right.  Are we to leave _him_ here?"

"If dead, yes.  He don't deserve even the scant honour of being carried
upon a stretcher."

"You are not partial to your red-hatted associates?"

"I detest them; and so does every officer in our army who cares for its
escutcheon.  They were regular professional robbers, these renegades--
were they not?"

"Were, are, and will be.  _Salteadores del camino grande_!"

"Many of us consider it a scandal.  So the world will esteem it.  A band
of brigands taken into the service of a civilised nation, and treated as
its own soldiers!  Who ever heard of such a thing?"

"Ah, senor!  I see you are a true soldier of civilisation.  I am sorry
to say that in my poor country such travesties are but too common.  In
our army--that is, the army of his most Illustrious Excellency, General
Don Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna--you may discover captains, colonels--
nay, even generals, who--.  But no.  It is not for me to pour these sad
revelations into the ears of an enemy.  Perhaps in time you may find out
for yourself some strange things; which we of the country are accustomed
to call--_Cosas de Mexico_!"



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

EARLY BIRDS.

I supped with Francisco.  The goddess Fortuna did not show any grudge
against him, for his short flirtation with the sister divinity; but, on
his return to the _monte_ table, again smiled upon him--as she did upon
myself.

By way of a change we paid our addresses to Coena and Bacchus--to the
latter more especially--keeping up our devotions to a late hour of the
night.

It did not hinder me from being early abroad on the morning after.  I
saw the rose-tints upon the "White Sister," as Phoebus imprinted his
first kiss upon her snowy brow.  I saw this as I entered the Calle del
Obispo--the magnificent mountain appearing like a white wall stretched
across at the termination of the street!

You will scarce ask why I was there?  Only, why at such an early hour?

I could but gaze at the house--trace the frescoes on its _facade_--feast
my eyes upon inanimate objects; or, if animate, only nest-building
birds, or domestics of the mansion.

You are thinking of Park-lane--not Puebla, where the angels rise early.
In Park-lane they sleep till a late hour, having "retired" at a late
hour.  In Puebla they are up with the sun, having gone to bed with the
same.

The explanation is easy.  Puebla is Catholic--a city of _orisons_.
Park-lane is Protestant, and more given to midnight revels!

Had I not known the peculiarity of Mexican customs in this respect, I
should not have been traversing the "Street of the Bishop" before seven
o'clock in the morning.

But I did know them; and that the lady who, at that hour, or before it,
is not on her way to church--_capilla, parroquia_, or cathedral--is
either too old to take an interest in the _confessional_, or too humble
to care for the Church at all!

Few there are of this sort in the City of the Angels.  It was not likely
that Mercedes Villa-Senor would be among the number.  Her sister,
Dolores, had let me into a secret--without knowing, or intending it.

In Mexico there are two twilights--equally interesting to those who make
love by stealth.  One precedes the rising, the other follows the
setting, of the sun.

It seems like reversing the order of nature to say that the former is
more favourable to the _culte_ of the god Cupid--but in Mexico it is
even so.  While the Belgravian beauty lies asleep on her soft couch,
dreaming of fresh conquests, the fair Poblana is abroad upon the
streets, or kneeling before the shrine of the Virgin--in the act of
_making them_!

Early as I had sallied out, I was a little behind time.  _Oracion_ bells
had commenced tolling all over the town.  As I entered the Calle del
Obispo, I saw three female forms passing out at its opposite end.  Two
walked side by side: the third a little behind them.

I might have permitted them to pass on without further remark, had it
not been that the great gate of the Casa Villa-Senor stood open.

The _portero_ was closing it, as if a party had just passed out; and it
could only be they who were going along the street.

The two in advance?  Who should they be but the daughters of Don Eusebio
Villa-Senor?

The third I scarce spent a thought upon; or only to conjecture, that she
was _Tia Josefa_.

The Calle del Obispo had no further attractions for me.  Folding my
cloak around me, I followed the trio of senoras.

A spurt of quick walking brought me close upon the heels of Tia Josefa,
and within good viewing distance of the two damsels--over whom she was
playing _duena_.

I had no longer any doubt of their being the daughters of Don Eusebio,
though both were veiled to the eyes.  Over the eyes in fact: since their
shawls were carried _tapado_.  Instead of hanging from the shoulder,
they were drawn across the crown of the head, and held under the chin--
so as completely to conceal the countenance!

The black Spanish eye sparkling in shadow was all that could have been
seen; though I saw it not: as I was at some distance behind them.

I saw that of Tia Josefa--as she turned, on perceiving my shadow
projected before her on the pavement.

There was a sudden glance, accompanied by the bristling of a fan, as the
maternal hen ruffles her feathers when the shadow of the hawk is seen
sailing towards her chicks.

Only for an instant was I the object of _aunt_ Josefa's suspicion.  My
meek look, directed towards the "White Sister," at once reassured her.
I was not the bird of prey she had been cautioned to keep guard against:
and, after a cursory glance at me, she went on after her pair of
proteges.

I did likewise.

Though they were dressed exactly in the same style--wearing black lace
shawls, with high combs holding them above their heads--though their
figures were scarce to be distinguished in height, shape, or
_tournure_--though the backs of both were toward me--I could tell my
chosen at a glance.

There is something in the physical form--less in its muscular
development than its motion--in the play of the arms and limbs--that
proclaims the spirit within.  It is that unmistakeable, and yet
undefinable essence we term _grace_; which Nature alone can give, and
Art cannot acquire.  It is a quality of the soul; and not belonging to
the body--to the adornment of which it but lends itself.

It proclaimed itself in every movement of Mercedes Villa-Senor--in her
step, her carriage, the raising of her hand, the serpentine undulation
perceptible throughout her whole frame.  Every gesture made was a living
illustration of Hogarth's line.

Grace was not denied to Dolores; though to her given in a lesser degree.
There was a sprightliness about her movements that many might have
admired; but which in my mind but poorly compared with the grand,
queen-like, air that characterised the step of her sister.

I soon became aware that they were on their way to the Cathedral--whose
matin bells were filling the streets with their clangour.  Other
intended devotees--most of them women, in shawls and _rebosos_--were
hastening across the Piazza Mayor, in the same direction.

Dolores alone looked round.  Several times she did so--turning again
towards the Cathedral with an air of evident dissatisfaction.

Her seeing me made not the slightest difference--a stranger accidentally
walking the same way.

I felt no chagrin at her indifference.  I divined the cause of it.  I
was not "Querido Francisco."

Mercedes appeared to be uninterested in aught that was passing around.
Her air was that of one a little "out of sorts"--as was shown by the
cold salutations she exchanged with the "caballeros" encountered upon
the way, and who one and all seemed to court a more cordial "buenas
dias."

Only once did she show sign of being interested:--when an American
officer in the uniform of the Mounted Rifles came galloping along the
street.  Then only during the six seconds spent in scrutinising him, as
he swept past; after which her eyes once more turned towards the
Cathedral.

Its massive door stood open to admit the early devotees, who were by
this time swarming up the steps.

The sisters became part of the throng, and passed on inside--Tia Josefa
closely following, and keeping up her espionage with as much strictness,
as while passing along the streets!

I did the same--with a different intent.



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

AT MATINS.

It was the first time I had made my devotions in a Roman Catholic
Cathedral; and I shall not say that I then worshipped as I should have
done.

Santa Gaudalupe--beautiful as the sensuous Mexican priesthood have had
the cunning to conceive her--glorious as she appeared in her golden
shrine--was scarce regarded by me.

More attractive were the black lace shawl and high comb of Mercedes
Villa-Senor--not for themselves, but for the lovely countenance I knew
to be underneath them.

I watched them with eyes that wandered not.  In my heart I anathematised
them as the most detestable screens ever interposed between a lover's
eye and its idol.

While engaged in her devotions a Mexican _senorita_ assumes three
distinct attitudes.  She stands, she kneels, she _squats_.  I regret my
inability to express in more elegant phrase, that peculiar species of
genuflexion, which may be described as the dropping down from the
kneeling attitude to one a degree lower.  It is a feat of feminine
gymnastics that has long mystified me; and I am not anatomist enough
either to comprehend or explain it.

Mercedes Villa-Senor appeared perfect in every _pose_.  Even her
_squatting_ was graceful!

I watched her changing attitudes as the ceremony proceeded--the chant,
the prayer, the lesson.  During all these she never once looked round.
I thought she must be a _saint_--a thought scarce in keeping with the
conjectures I had hitherto shaped concerning her.

It gave me but slight pleasure to think she was so holy.  I should have
preferred finding her human--that angel of angels!

Dolores appeared less devout.  At all events, she was less attentive to
her prayers.  Twenty times I perceived her eyes averted from the altar--
turned toward the doorway--peering into shadowy aisles--looking
everywhere but upon the officiating priest.

His shaven crown had no attraction for her.  She searched for the
shining curls of "querido Francisco!"

He was not in the Cathedral--at least, I could not see him.  I had my
own thoughts about the cause of his absence.

Less accustomed to "sparkling wine," he had not borne its effects like
the boon companion who shared the revel along with him; or had not so
readily recovered from it.

Certainly he was not there.  So much the less trouble for Tia Josefa!

I could have told Dolores a tale that would have given her
gratification.  I wanted to do as much for Mercedes.

The time passed--chant and psalm, lesson and prayer, rapidly succeeding
one another.  Bells were tinkled, incense burnt, and wax candles carried
about.

Still kept Mercedes her eyes upon the altar; still seemed she absorbed
by a ceremonial, which to me appeared more than absurd--idolatrous.

In my heart I hated it worse than ever in my life.  I could scarce
restrain myself from scowling upon the priest.  I envied him the
position that could make his paltry performance so attractive--to eyes
like those then looking upon him.

Thank heaven they are mine at last--at last!

Yes: at last they were mine.  I was seen, and recognised.

I had entered the Cathedral without thought of worshipping at its altar.
The love I carried in my heart was different from that inculcated
within those sacred walls--far different from that inscribed upon the
tablet: "God is love."  My love was human; and, perhaps, impure!  I
shall not say that it was what it should have been--a love, such as we
read of among troubadours and knights-errant of the olden time.  I can
lay claim to belong to no other class than that of the simple
_adventurer_; who, with tongue, pen, or sword--as the chances turned
up--has been able, in some sort, to make his way through the world!

In my designs there may have been selfishness; but not one iota in the
passion I felt for Mercedes Villa-Senor.  It was too romantic to be
mean.

In her first glance I read recognition.  Only that and nothing more,--at
least nothing to gratify me.

But it was soon followed by another, on which I was pleased to place a
different interpretation.  It was the warm look that had won, and once
more seemed to _welcome_ me!

There was a third, and a fourth, timidly stolen through the fringe of
the _chale_.  The very stealth flattered my vanity, and gave a new
impulse to my hopes.  There was more than one reason for it: the
sacredness of the place; the reticence of maiden modesty; and perhaps
more than either: the presence of Tia Josefa.

Again our glances met--mine given with all the ardour of a love long
restrained.

Once more they met in sweet exchanging--once more, and once more.  I had
won Mercedes from her worship!

No doubt it was wicked of me to feel joy at the thought; and, no doubt,
I deserved the punishment that was in store for me.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

A CHALLENGE IN A CHURCH.

While carrying on my eye-courtship with the kneeling devotee, I stood
somewhat in shadow.  A column, with the statue of some canonised
churchman, afforded me a niche where I was concealed from the other
worshippers.

But there was a darker shadow behind me--occupied by a darker substance.

Tia Josefa was not the only spy present in the Cathedral.

I was made aware of it, by hearing a voice--of course spoken in a
whisper, but so close to my ear, that I had no difficulty in
distinguishing every word.

The voice said:--

"_Por Dios, caballero_!  You appear greatly interested in the _oracion!
You_ cannot be a _heretico_, like the rest of your countrymen?"

The sting of a wasp could not have caused me a more unpleasant
sensation.  The double meaning of the speech was not to be mistaken.
The speaker had observed the eye signals passing between Mercedes and
myself!

I glanced into the gloom behind me.

It was some seconds before I could see any one.  My eyes dazzled with
the splendour of the church adornments, refused to do their office.

Before I could trace out either his shape, or countenance, the
whispering stranger again addressed me:--

"I hope, senor, you will not be offended by my free speech?  It
gratifies us _Catolicos_ to perceive that our Holy Church is making
converts among the Americanos.  I've been told there is a good deal of
this sort of thing.  Our _padres_ will be delighted to know that _their_
conquest by the Word is likely to compensate for _our_ defeat by the
sword."

Despite the impertinence, there was something so ingenious in the
_argument_ thus introduced, that I was prevented from making immediate
reply.  Stark surprise had also to do with my silence.

I waited upon my eyes, in order that I might first see what sort of
personage was speaking to me.

Gradually my sight overcame the obscurity, and disclosed what the corner
contained: a man several degrees darker than the shadow itself, up to
his ears in a _serape_, with a black sombrero above them, and between
hat and "blanket" a countenance that could only belong to a scoundrel!

I could see a bearded chin and lip, and a face lit up by a pair of eyes
sparkling with sinister light.  I could see, moreover, that despite the
_badinage_ of the speeches addressed to me there was _real anger_ in
them!

The sarcasm was all pretence.  He, who had given utterance to it, was
too much in earnest to deal long in irony; and I did not for a moment
doubt that I was standing in the presence of one who, like myself, was a
candidate for the smiles of Mercedes Villa-Senor.

The thought was not one to make me more tolerant of the slight that had
been put upon me.  On the contrary, it but increased my indignation--
already at a white heat.

"Senor!"  I said, in a voice with great difficulty toned down to a
whisper, "you may thank your stars you are inside a church.  If you'd
spoken those words upon the street, they'd have been the last of your
life."

"The street's not far off.  Come out; and I shall there repeat them."

"Agreed!"

My challenger was nearest to the door, and started first.  I followed
three steps after.

In the vestibule I paused--only for a second--to see whether my exit was
being noted by the kneeling Mercedes.

It was.  She was gazing after me--no longer by stealth; but in surprise;
I fancied in chagrin!

Had she divined the cause of my abrupt departure?

That was scarcely probable.

In the position lately occupied by my unknown challenger, she could not
have seen him.  The statue interposed; and the column covered him, as he
stepped towards the door.

I returned her glance by one intended to reassure her.  With my eyes I
said:--

"A moment, sweet saint, and you shall see me again!"



CHAPTER NINETEEN.

A QUIET STREET.

I was not so confident of being able to keep my promise, as I stepped
out into the sunlight, and saw a little before me the man who was to be
my antagonist.

He stood six feet in his russet boots, with a frame that seemed as
sinewy, as herculean.  He had all the look of a _vieux sabreur_; and I
knew he would insist upon the sword for his weapon.

A Mexican makes but a poor fight with firearms.  They are too noisy for
taking life--in the way he oft wishes to take it.  I was certain my
challenger would choose the sword.

By the etiquette of the _duello_, I might have insisted upon having the
choice; but I was too angry to stand upon punctilios.

The Cathedral of Puebla stands upon a raised _dais_--with a stone
stairway along its _facade_, and around three sides.  Down this the
stranger preceded me--having already descended several of the steps
before I came out.

At the bottom he paused to await me; and there, for the first time, I
had a fair chance of scrutinising him.

Forty, but with that tough, terse figure that betokens a man who has
passed his life in energetic action, and whose nerves have never been a
day out of training.

The face was not a whit improved by the light of the sun.  It looked as
foul as I had fancied it, when seen under the shadow of the Saint.  It
told of an ill-spent past, and prognosticated an evil future.

What could the man want with me?

Under other circumstances I might have asked the question; but I did not
then.  I had a tolerably clear comprehension, of what had stimulated him
to seek the _desafio_.

Like myself, he was in love with Mercedes Villa-Senor; like myself,
ready to defy to the death whoever might present himself as a rival!

He had recognised me as such; a successful one--if his interpretation of
her glances corresponded with my own.

I had no doubt about this being the reason for his having so
deliberately provoked me.

"It's rather public just here," said he, on receiving me at the bottom
of the stair.  "The Piazza is not the best place for a purpose like
ours."

"Why not?"  I asked, impatient to put an end to an episode that was
causing me annoyance.

"Oh! only that we are likely to be interrupted by policemen, or patrols.
Perhaps _you_ would prefer it that way?"

"Lepero!"  I cried, losing all temper.  "Take me where you will--only be
quick about it!  Once on the ground, there won't be much chance for
either policeman or patrol, to save you from the sword you are tempting
from its scabbard.  Lead on!"

"There's a quiet street close by," said he, with a coolness that
surprised, and, but for my rage, might have disconcerted me; "There we
can have our game out, without risk of interruption.  You consent to our
going there?"

"Certainly.  The place is all one to me.  As to the time, it won't take
long to teach you a lesson, that will last you for your life."

"_Nos veremos, senor!  Nos vamos_!" was the singular response of my
challenger, as he started to conduct me to the "quiet street."

Mechanically I walked after him, though not without misgivings.  Had I
been in a proper state of mind, I might have reflected more seriously on
the step I was called upon to take.

It could scarce have appeared other than it really was--imprudent.

After passing through several streets, we came to the entrance of that
we were in search of.

On turning into it, some vague remembrance flitted across my brain.  I
fancied I had been there before.

I glanced up to the coign of the corner house.  In black lettering I
read the inscription:--

"Callecito de los Pajaros!"

I next looked at my man.  I had also some vague memory about _him_--
associated with the "Little Street of the Sparrows."

The locality quickened my recollection; and before proceeding farther, I
stopped short, and demanded his name.

"_Carrambo_!  Why do you ask that?" he inquired, in a taunting tone.
"Do you intend to report me in the other world, for despatching you
prematurely out of this?  Ha! ha! ha!"

"Well," he continued, "I won't disappoint you.  Tell the devil, when you
see him, that he is indebted to Captain Torreano Carrasco for sending
him a subject.  Now, senor! are you ready to die?"

There needed no further proof to tell me I was entrapped.  If there had,
it was furnished by sight of a half-score savage-looking _pelados_, who,
issuing from the adjacent doors, came running towards us--evidently
intending to take part in the combat.

No longer to be a duel.  I saw that my challenger had no thought of such
a thing.  He had changed his chivalric tone, and his voice was once more
heard leading the contemptible cry--

"_Muera el Americano_!"



CHAPTER TWENTY.

RESCUED BY RED HATS.

The Street of the Sparrows appeared to be my doomed spot.  For the
second time there seemed no chance of my getting out of it alive; and
for the second time I made up my mind to die hard in it.

Despite the suddenness with which Carrasco had surprised me, I was upon
my guard--before he or any of his comrades could come to close quarters.

But this time, alas!  I was without revolver, or pistol of any kind.
Not dreaming of danger at that early hour of the day, I had sallied
forth, wearing only my parade sword.  With this fickle weapon I could
not possibly defend myself against half a score of men armed with thin
long-bladed _machetes_.

Grasping its hilt was like leaning upon a reed.

I thought of Francisco of again throwing myself upon his protection.

But which of the fifty dwellings was his?

Even could I have told the right one, would I have time to reach it, or
would he be at home?

There was a chance that he might be--that he might hear my cries, and
come out.  It was so slight as to seem hopeless; and yet I clutched at
it, as a drowning man at a straw!

Shouting, I retreated along the street--in what I believed to be the
direction of his dwelling.

I am not ashamed to acknowledge, that I called loudly for help--coupling
my calls with the name of Francisco Moreno.  A man, with death staring
him in the teeth, may be excused for dropping a trifle of his dignity.
I shouted like a respectable shopkeeper attacked by a gang of garotters.

The Street of the Sparrows was fatal to me only in promise; and for the
second time fortune favoured my escape from it.

Help came; though not from the quarter so loudly solicited.  Francisco's
door remained shut; at least it was not opened by him.  It was thrown
open by a score of Red Hats, who at that moment appeared entering the
street.

At any other time the sight of these sanguinary allies would have caused
me a thrill of antagonism.  Now they seemed saints--as they proved
saviours!

They had shown themselves in the nick of time.  Carrasco and his
compeers were close behind me--so close that the points of their
_machetes_ were within six inches of my spine.

On espying the Red Hats they retreated in the opposite direction--going
off even faster than they had been following me!

Seeing myself disembarrassed of the danger, I advanced to meet my
preservers.  I had no idea of what they could be doing there; until I
saw them stop in front of a house--where they demanded admittance.

The demand was made in a rude manner, and in terms of an unmistakeable
determination to enter.

As no one opened the door, they commenced hammering upon it with the
butts of their _escopetas_; for several of them were armed with this
weapon.

The door finally gave way--having yielded at the hinges--and, swinging
round, stood partially ajar.

Not till then had I the slightest suspicion of what the Red Hats were
after.  Some "bit of burglary," I supposed, done in open day; for there
was no reason to think the contrary.  I could see they were a straggling
lot--out on their own account, and without authority.

I was not enlightened about their object, till I saw the face of
Francisco Moreno behind the half-opened door, scowlingly confronting
them!

It was his house; though I had not before recognised it.

The conclusion came quick as electricity.  They were there to arrest
him, for killing one of their comrades on the night before, or being an
accomplice in the act!

I heard them make the declaration to the young soldier himself.

They had sufficient respect for the law to treat with him for a quiet
surrender.  More probably they feared his resistance--as he stood sword
in hand in the doorway--looking like anything but a man who was going to
give himself up!

Had he yielded, they would scarce have kept faith with him.  I had no
doubt of their intention to slay him upon the spot, instead of taking
him to their quarters.

It was a crisis that called for my interference; and I interfered.

It only needed the throwing open my cloak, and pointing out the "spread
eagle" on my button.

The slightest disobedience to me would have cost them a score of lashes
each--"on the bare back, well laid on."  Such was the phrasing of our
military courts.

Nothing of the kind was attempted.  I had full control of my rescuers--
who were altogether unconscious of the service they had done me--
ignorant also of the fact that it was I, not the Mexican, who had sent
their _camarado_ to his long account!

For myself I had no fear of them.  I only feared for my friend: who, if
left to their tender mercies, would never have paid another visit to the
Street of the Bishop.

I did not leave him to be judged by the Red Tribunal.  I made a
compromise with their self-esteem--by taking a lead in his arrest!

To this the accused man, with some show of reluctance, submitted; and,
in ten minutes after, he was transported to the _Cuartel_, occupied by
the Rifle Rangers--though not to suffer the degradation of being shut up
in its guard-house.



CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

SIX O'CLOCK--IN THE ALAMEDA!

I had little difficulty in clearing the paroled officer from the charge
of assassinating "a member of the Spy Company."

As soon as his accusers discovered what I knew of that affair, they not
only withdrew their accusation, but their own precious persons, beyond
the reach of court-martial inquiry.

When "wanted," to give testimony in the investigation that ensued, not
one, but five, of Dominguez's followers were reported "missing!"  The
four coadjutors of him who had been killed thought it more prudent not
to press the charge; and when sent for, could not be found either in the
"Spy" quarters, or elsewhere in the City of the Angels!

They had taken their departure _a los Montes_; and I was left alone to
tell the story of that nocturnal encounter.

For their testimony I cared not a straw; though the episode was not
without some beneficial effects.  It taught our renegade allies a little
lesion; which was no doubt afterwards profitable--if not to themselves--
to those who were so unfortunate as to have dealings with them.

I was not so indifferent to the escape of the scoundrels who had
attacked me in the "Street of the Sparrows;" and who appeared to have
their head-quarters there.

In half an hour after leaving it with my escort of Red Hats, I was back
again--accompanied by a score of Rifle Rangers, who assisted me in
making an exploration of that interesting locality.

But the birds we went in search of had flown; and during the remainder
of my stay in La Puebla de los Angeles, I never more set eyes upon my
quaint challenger.

I learnt something more of him from Francisco--some chapters of his
history that did not fail to astonish me.  He had been a captain in the
Mexican army; and would be so again, should the tyrant Santa Anna get
restored to his dictatorial power.  Whenever the star of the latter was
in the ascendant, the former was sure of a commission.

But as the light of Santa Anna's star had been of late only
intermittent, so also was the holding of his commission by Captain
Torreano Carrasco.

During the intervals which Francisco jocosely styled "his leaves of
absence," the gallant captain was in the habit of spending a portion of
his time among the mountains.

"What does he do there?"  I innocently inquired of my informant.

"_Carrambo, senor_!  It is strange you should ask that.  I thought
everybody knew," was the answer.

"Knew what?"

"That El Capitan Carrasco is _un pocito de salteador_."

I was less astonished at the declaration, than the manner in which it
was made.

The young Mexican appeared to treat the thing as of no great
consequence, but rather a matter of course.  He seemed to look upon it
in the light of a levity--scarcely a crime--one of the _Cosas de
Mexico_!

He was more serious when replying to my next question: "Has this Captain
Carrasco any acquaintance with the daughters of Don Eusebio
Villa-Senor?"

"Why do you ask, caballero?" he said, turning pale at the mention of the
name; "You know them?"

"I have not the honour of knowing them, except by sight.  I saw them
this morning at matins.  I saw Carrasco there too.  He appeared to take
an interest in their devotions."

"If I thought so I'd--.  Bah! it is not possible.  He dare not--.  Tell
me, caballero; _what_ did you observe?"

"Oh, nothing more than I've said.  What do you know about it yourself?"

"_En verdad_, nothing either!  It was only a thought I had--from
something I once saw.  I may have been mistaken.  'Tis of no
consequence."

We spoke no more upon the subject.  It was evidently painful to
Francisco Moreno--as it was to myself.

At a later period--when our acquaintance became better established--
further confidence was exchanged between us; and I was told the story of
Francisco's courtship--to a portion of which, without his knowing it, I
had listened before.

It was as I had supposed.  There was an objection to his being united to
his _dear Dolores_--her father being chief objector.  The young soldier
was but a "poor gentleman"--with no other prospect, save that at the
point of his sword--not much in Mexico, to a man with an _honest_ heart.
There was a rival who was rich; and to this "party" Don Eusebio had
promised his daughter--with the threat of a convent in the case of her
refusal.

Notwithstanding this menace, Francisco was full of hope--based upon the
promises of Dolores.  She had expressed her determination to share
penury with him rather than wed the _rico_, who was not of her choice--
to die, or do anything rather than go into a convent!

I was not so communicative as my new acquaintance--at least as regarded
my relationship with the family of Villa-Senor.  To have spoken of
Mercedes to another would have spoiled the romance of my passion.  Not a
word said I to Francisco of that hopeful affair.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

From that day I became noted, as one of the earliest risers on the
muster-roll of the American army.  Not a morning did I outsleep the
_reveille_; nor once missed matins in the Cathedral.

Several times I again saw Mercedes.  Each time there was an exchange of
glances--each day becoming better understood between us.

And still not a word had we exchanged!  I feared to risk speech--the
humiliation that would follow, if perchance I was mistaken.

I was again on the eve of resorting to the epistolary mode of
communication--and had actually written the letter, intending to deliver
it--not second-hand through the _cochero_, but, in _propria persona_, to
the lady herself.

At each succeeding _oracion_ I watched for an opportunity; when the fair
worshipper, passing out along with the crowd, might come within
delivering distance.

Twice had I been disappointed.  On the third time I had the chance,
without taking advantage of it!

It was not needed.  The wish I had expressed in my epistle was better
worded by Mercedes herself.  As she descended the steps on her way to
the street, her lips came so close to my ear, that I was enabled to
catch every syllable of that sweet whisper:

"_En la Alameda.  A seis horas_!"  (At six o'clock, in the Alameda!)



CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

APPOINTMENT AND DISAPPOINTMENT.

In most Mexican cities of the first and second class, there is both a
"Paseo" and an "Alameda;" the former a public drive--riding included;
the latter more especially set apart for pedestrians, though there is
also a carriage way around it.

In the capital itself there are two Paseos--_Bucareli_ and _La Vega_.
The latter extending along the famed _chinampas_, or "floating gardens,"
is only fashionable at a certain season of the year--during the week of
Carnival.  At all other times it is neglected for the more magnificent
drive of Bucareli.

The Paseo of Puebla is poor by comparison; but its Alameda is not
without merits.  It is a large quadrangle lying on the western edge of
the city; with trees, walks, statues, flowers, fountains, and all the
usual adornments of a public garden.  Around it is a road for carriages
and equestrians, as well as a path for promenaders--with benches at
intervals on which they may rest themselves.

Its view includes the _teocalli_ of Cholula, with the church of the
virgin "Remedios" on its top; beyond, the snow-cone of Popocatepec, and
the twin _nevada_ of the "White Sister."

It was not to look upon these that I was "in the Alameda at six
o'clock;" or, perhaps, a half-hour earlier.

With such an appointment as mine, no living man could have restrained
himself from anticipating the time.

As the place is devoted to the three several kinds of recreation--
walking, riding, driving--it was a question in which way Mercedes would
present herself.

The last was the most likely; though the first would have been the more
convenient--keeping in view the supposed purpose.

It was the mode I had myself adopted: having entered the enclosure as a
simple pedestrian, and in civilian dress--to avoid observation.

I sauntered along the walks--apparently admiring the flowers, and
criticising the statues.  It was sheer pretence--to deceive the
promenaders, who were moving before and behind me.  At that moment I had
no thought, either of the elegancies of Art, or the beauties of Nature;
not even for its sublimities, displayed within sight on the snow-clad
slopes of the great "Cordillera."

I was thinking only of the beauty of woman--impatient to behold it in
its most perfect type.

Was it to appear on foot, on horseback, or between wheels?

Considering the character of the times--and that Red Hats were in the
Alameda--the last was the most likely.

Notwithstanding this conjecture, I scrutinised every female pedestrian
who came inside the enclosure--even those coifed by the cheapest
_reboso_.

Though her sister had said otherwise, Mercedes might not always be free
to go forth?  She might have to take her recreation by stealth, and
disguised?

My surmises soon came to an end; and, to my joy, proved erroneous.
Dolores had been right.  The _cochero_ in black glaze hat and _jaqueta_
of blue camlet cloth, driving a pair of _frisones_, could be no other
than he who had once lost a doubloon by staying too late over his stable
duties?

I took no further note of him.  Thenceforth my eyes were occupied with a
countenance seen through the windows of the carriage.  It was a
_carretela_ of elegant construction--all glass in front--best plate, and
clear as crystal.

The face inside was but improved by its interposition--toned to the
softness of tinted wax.

It needed no scrutiny to identify it.  There was no mistaking the
countenance of Mercedes.

I had done this before; but that was under the uncertain glimmer of a
street lamp.

I now saw it in the full light of day; and well did it bear the
exposure.  If possible it was more perfect than ever; and the jetty
eyes, the carmine tinted checks, the lips--but I had no time to observe
them in detail before the carriage came close up.

I saw that she was its sole occupant--unaccompanied either by sister, or
_chaperone_.  Even Tia Josefa was not with her!

It was true, then, what Dolores had said.  Poor Dolores!  I could not
help feeling sympathy for her; the more so that I was now the friend of
her Francisco.

The carriage was coming on at a slow pace.  The _frisones_ scarce
trotted.  I had time to take some steps, which simple prudence
suggested.  Even love has its instincts of caution; especially when full
of confidence.

Mine was to seek some solitary nook of the Alameda, where I might
observe without being observed--except by the occupant of the
_carretela_.

Fortune favoured me.  A clump of Peruvian pepper-trees stood close by--
their pendant fronds drooping over the drive.  Under their shadow was a
recess--quiet, cornered, apparently unoccupied.  It was the very spot I
was in search of.

In ten seconds I had placed myself under the _pimentos_.

In ten more the carriage came abreast of me--still slowly moving on.

My eyes met those of Mercedes!

Half blinded by the blaze of her beauty, I stood gazing upon it.  My
glance must have betrayed my admiration; but not less the faltering fear
that had hold of me.  It was in my heart, and must have been symbolled
in my countenance.  It was the humility of a man who feels that he is
not worthy of the woman he would worship; for I could have worshipped
Mercedes!

In five minutes afterwards I was _cursing_ her!  She passed, with her
eyes full upon me, but without showing any sign of recognition, either
by speech or gesture!

It was only after they were averted that I thought of interpreting their
glance; and then I was prevented by a surprise that stupified me--a rage
that almost rendered me frantic.

Instead of the smile--the something more which I had been fondly
expecting--the look vouchsafed to me was such as might have been given
to a complete stranger!

And yet it was not like this.  There was salutation in it, distant,
disguised under some strange reserve--to me unreadable.

Was it caution?  Was it coquetry?

It stung me to think it was the latter.

I gazed after the _carretela_ for an explanation.  I was not likely to
get it--now that the blind back of the vehicle was towards me, and its
occupant no longer to be seen.

But I had it the instant after.

A little farther along the drive I saw a man pass out from among the
pepper-trees; who, like myself, appeared to have been there "in
waiting."

Unlike me, he was on horseback--bestriding a well caparisoned steed.
The man was no stranger to me.  At a glance I saw who it was.

Yielding to a touch of the spur, his horse launched himself out into the
road; and was pulled up close to the _carretela_--through the opened
window of which a white arm was at the same time protruded.

I saw the flashing of a jewelled wrist, with a _billetita_ held at the
tips of tapering fingers!

Stodare could not have taken that note more adroitly, or concealed it
with quicker sleight, than did my friend Francisco Moreno--_never more
to be friend of mine_!



CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.

HER NAME IS DOLORES.

There is one subject upon which there can be no question--nothing to
admit of discussion.  It is, that jealousy is the most painful thought
that can torture the soul of man.

In painfulness it has its degrees--greater or less, according to its
kind: for of this dread passion, conceit, or whatever you may call it,
there is more than one _species_.

There is the jealousy that springs after possession; and that which
arises from anticipation.  Mine, of course, belonged to the latter.

I shall not stay to inquire which is the more disagreeable of the two--
as a general rule.  I can only say, that, standing there under the
Peruvian pepper-trees, I felt as if the shades of death and the furies
of hell were above and around me.

I was angry at the man who had made me feel so;--but mad--absolutely
mad--with the woman!

What could she have meant in leading me such a measure?  What profit did
she expect by practising upon me such a damnable delusion?

"_En la Alameda--a seis Horas_!"

I was there, true to the time,--and she, too.  Six o'clock could be
heard striking from a score of church towers--every stroke as if the
hammer were driving a nail into my heart!

For some seconds I listened to the tolling--tolling--tolling.  Were they
funeral bells?

Oh! what a woman--in beauty an angel--in behaviour a devil!

I had no longer a doubt that such was a true description of Mercedes
Villa-Senor.

To excuse my thus quickly coming to conclusions, you should know
something of Mexican society--its highest and best.

But it is not for me to expose it.  My _souvenirs_ are too sweet to
permit of my turning traitor.

That was one of the most bitter--although it was also one of the most
transient.

Perhaps I should not say transient; since, after a very short interval
of relief, it came back bitter as before--with a bitterness long, long,
to continue.

The illusion was due to a process of reasoning that passed through my
mind as I stood looking after the _carretela_, after the incident
described.

I had conceived a half hope.

Mercedes might be only a messenger?  The note might have been from
Dolores--the guarded Dolores, who dared not go out alone?

The sisters might be _confidantes_--a thing not uncommon in Mexico, or
even in England?  Dolores, threatened with a cloister, might have no
other means of corresponding with her "querido Francisco?"

This view of the case was more pleasing than probable.

It might have been both, but for my knowledge of "society" as it exists
in the City of the Angels.  From the insight I had obtained, I could too
readily believe, that the handsome Captain Moreno was _playing false
with a pair of sisters_!

Only for an instant was I permitted to indulge in the unworthy
suspicion.

But the certainty that succeeded it, was equally painful to reflect
upon: for I left the Alameda with the knowledge that Francisco Moreno
had one love; and she the lady who had driven past in her _carretela_!

I obtained the information through a dialogue heard accidentally behind
me.

Two men, whom I had not noticed before, had been sharing with me the
shade of the pepper-tree.  One was plainly a Poblano; the other, by his
dress, might have passed for a haciendado of the _tierra caliente_--
perhaps a "Yucateco" on his way to the capital.  Small as was the note
surreptitiously delivered, and rapid its transition from hand to hand--
both these men had observed the little episode.

The Poblano seemed to treat it as a thing of course.  It caused surprise
to the stranger; whose habiliments, though not without some richness,
scarce concealed an air of rusticity.

"Who is she?" inquired the astonished provincial.

"The daughter of one of our _ricos_" replied the Poblano.  "His name is
Don Eusebio Villa-Senor.  No doubt you have heard of him?"

"Oh, yes.  We know him in Yucatan.  He's got a sugar estate near Sisal;
though he don't come much among us.  But who's the fortunate individual
so likely to become proprietor of that pretty plantation?  Such an
intelligent fellow would make it pay; which, _por Dios_! is more than I
can do with mine."

"Doubtful enough whether captain Moreno could do so either--if he had
the chance of becoming its owner.  By all accounts he's not much given
to accumulating cash--unless over the _monte_ table.  Independently of
that, he's not likely to come in for any property belonging to Don
Eusebio Villa-Senor."

"Well, without knowing much of your city habits," remarked the Yucateco,
"I'd say he has a fair chance of becoming the owner of Don Eusebio's
daughter.  A Campeachy girl who'd do, what she has just done, would be
considered as marked for matrimony."

"Ah!" rejoined the denizen of the angelic city, "you Yucatecos are a
simple people: you leave your _muchachas_ free to do as they choose.  In
Puebla, if they don't obey the paternal mandate, they are inclosed
within convents--of which we have no less than a dozen in our sainted
city.  I've heard say, that such is to be the fate of Dolores
Villa-Senor--if she insist on marrying the man to whom you have just
seen her handing that pretty epistle."

"Dolores Villa-Senor?"  I asked, springing forward, and rudely taking
part in a conversation that so fearfully interested me.

"_Dolores_ Villa-Senor?  Do I understand you to say that _Dolores_ is
the name of the lady just gone past in the carretela?"

"_Si senor--ciertamente_!" responded the Poblano, who must have supposed
me insane, "Dolores Villa-Senor; or Lola, if you prefer it short: that
is the lady's name.  _Carrambo_! what is there strange about it?  Every
_chiquitito_ in the streets of Puebla knows _her_."

My tongue was stopped.  I made no further inquiry.  I had heard enough
to tell me I had been chicaned.

She who had passed was the woman I loved--the same who had invited me to
the Alameda.  There could be no mistake about that, nor aught else--only
that her name was _Dolores_, and _not Mercedes_!

I had been made the catspaw of a heartless coquette!



CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.

A PARTING GLANCE AT PUEBLA.

From that hour I felt that Puebla was no place for me.  Any _metier_ but
that of the singed moth.  I determined thenceforth to shun the candle
that had cruelly scorched, and might only scorch me more.

Attractive as was the light that had lured me, I resolved never more to
let my eyes look upon it.  It had proved too resplendent.  It would not
be with my own will, if I should ever again see _Dolores_ Villa-Senor.

How easy thus to talk--thus to resolve--during the first throes of a
wounded vanity--when the spirit is strengthened by its discomfiture.
But ah! how difficult to maintain the determination!  Hercules had no
such task.

I endeavoured to fortify myself with reflection: by conjuring up every
thought that might restore my indifference, or enable me to forget her.

It was all to no purpose.  Such memories could only be chastened by
time.

They were not universally painful.  It was something to think that I had
interested, even in the slightest degree, one so grand, so famed, so
incomparable; and there were moments when the remembrance soothed me.
It was but a poor recompense for the sacrifice I had made, and the
suffering I endured.

In vain I invoked my pride--my vanity, if you prefer so to call it.  It
no longer availed me.  Crushed in the encounter, it made one last
spasmodic attempt, and then sank under a sense of humiliation.

Untrue what I had been told by other tongues.  They must have been sheer
flatterers, those friends who had called me _handsome_.  Compared with
Francisco Moreno, I was as Satyr to Hyperion.  So must Dolores have
thought?  At times, reflecting thus, I could not help feeling vengeful,
and dwelling on schemes of retaliation,--of which both were the object.
By good fortune none appeared feasible, or even possible.  I was
helpless as Chatelar, when the sated queen no longer looked lovingly
upon him.

There was no hope except in absence--that grand balsam of the broken
heart.  I knew it by a past experience.  Fortune favoured me with the
chance of trying it the second time; and soon.  Three days after that
sweet encounter in the Cathedral--and the bitter one in the Alameda--our
bugles summoned us to get ready; and, on the fourth, we commenced moving
towards the capital of Mexico.

The counsel I had received from my sage comrade, along with the
excitement of opening a new chapter in our campaign, gave temporary
relief to my wounded spirit.  An untrodden track was before us--new
fields of fame--to end in that long anticipated, much talked-of,
pleasure: a revel in the "Halls of the Moctezumas!"

To me the prospect had but little attraction: and even this was gone,
before we had passed the _Piedmont_ of the Cordillera that overlooks the
classic town of Cholula.

On entering the "Black Forest," whose trees were to screen it from my
sight, I turned to take a parting look at the City of the Angels.

The chances were nearly equal I might never see it again.  We were about
to enter a valley close as that of Cabool; and from which retreat would
be even more difficult.  Our troops, all told, mustered scarce ten
thousand; while the _trained_ regiments of our enemy were of themselves
three times the number.  Besides, we were about to penetrate a capital
city--the very heart's core of an ancient nation.  Would it not rouse
our adversaries to a gigantic effort--a throe sufficient to overwhelm
us?

So supposed many of my comrades.

For myself I had no reflections about the future--either of its
conquests or defeats.

My thoughts were with my eyes--wandering over the vast _vega_--resting
on the spires of a city, where I had experienced one of the sweetest
sensations of my life.

Alas! it had proved a deception, and I had no pleasure in recalling it.
On the contrary, I looked back upon the place with a cold pain at my
heart, and a consciousness, that I had there sacrificed some of its
warmest affections without an iota of return!

I remained for some minutes on the edge of the _Bosque Negra_--the
_ancillae_ of the long-leaved pines sweeping the crown of my forage cap.
Under my eyes, as on a chart, was spread the fertile plain of Puebla,
with the city projected in clear outline.  Besides the Cathedral, many a
spire could I distinguish, and that "public walk" where I had suffered
such humiliation.  My eyes traced the lines of the streets--running
parallel, as in all Spanish-American cities--and sought that of the
Calle del Obispo.

I fancied that I could distinguish it; and along with the fancy a score
of souvenirs came sweeping over my soul.

They were not pleasant--not one of them.  Though all bright below--
turrets rising gaily against the turquoise sky--domes that sparkled
silver-like in the sun--Orizava snow-white in the distance--around me
upon the mountain side all seemed dark as death!

It was not the _lava_ that laced the slope, nor the sombre foliage of
the pine-trees, under whose shade I was standing.

The shadow came from within--from the cloud covering my soul.

It was not dread of the Black Forest behind me--the terror of
stage-coach travellers--nor apprehension of the fate that might be
awaiting me in the capital of the Moctezumas, yet to be conquered.

It could not be worse than that, which had befallen me in the City of
the Angels!



CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.

AN ANTIPATHY TO ROBBERS.

After the storming of Chapultepec--the "summer palace of the
Moctezumas;" in which I had the honour of leading the forlorn hope--do
not mistake a plain statement of fact for a baseless boast--after a
seclusion of three months within the walls of a sick chamber, caused by
wounds in that action received; I stepped forth upon the streets of the
Mexican capital fully restored to health.

Three months more were spent in partaking of those joys--the reward of
the victorious soldier, who has completed a campaign.

As in the "City of the Angels," so was it in that of the Moctezumas.
The officers of the invading army were excluded from the "interiors"--
such of them as were worth entering.

But as it was no longer an army of invaders, but _conquerors_, the
exclusion was neither so strict nor general.  There were exceptions on
both sides--extending to a limited number of courageous hosts and
welcome guests.

It was my fortune to be among the favoured few.  One or two incidents
had occurred along the route--one more especially during the march upon
Mexico--in which I had the opportunity of bestowing favour and
protection.  They were reciprocated tenfold by _proteges_--who chanced
to be of the _familias principales_ of Mexico.

During the three months that I lay upon the couch of convalescence, I
was surrounded by luxuries brought me by grateful brothers.  In the
three months that followed I was overwhelmed by the caresses of their
sweet sisters; all, of course, in an honest way.

It was a pleasant time; and, if anything could have made me forget
Dolores Villa-Senor, this should have done it.

It did not.  The sweetest smile I received in the Valley of Tenochtitlan
did not, and could not, stifle within my breast the bitter souvenir I
had brought with me from the other side of the Cordillera.

Six months after the capture of the Summer Palace, my life in the city
of the Moctezumas became dull indeed.

The theatres, slimly attended by the feminine _elite_ of the place; the
balls not attended at all, or only by questionable _poblanas_, and the
plain wives and daughters of the foreign residents (why are they always
plain in such places?) soon became unbearable.

Even dissipation could not redeem the dulness of the times.

For me the _monte_ table had no longer an attraction.  The green cloth
was spread out in vain; and I could stand by and hear, without the
slightest emotion, "_Cavallo mozo_!" "_Soto en la puerta_!"

In truth my interest in all things appeared gone--all upon earth, with
the exception of Dolores Villa-Senor; and she I could scarce think a
thing of earth.

Just at this crisis there came a chance of distraction.  I hailed it
with a feeling of gladness.

The stray troops of the enemy had forsaken the roads that surrounded the
capital--as had also their guerilleros.  But still the ways were not
safe.  Partisans had disappeared, to be succeeded by _salteadores_!

From all sides came rumours of robbers--from Puebla on the east, Toluca
on the west, Cuernavaca on the south, and the Llanos de Apam, that
extend northward from the Valley of Tenochtitlan.  Scarce passed a day
without "novedades" of the bandits, and their devilish audacity:
stage-coaches stopped; travellers commanded to lie flat along the earth,
while their pockets were being turned inside out; and some stretched
upon the ground never more to stand in an erect attitude!

An escort of our dragoons could have prevented this--that is, upon any
particular occasion.  But to have sent an escort with every traveller,
who had need to go forth out of the capital, would have required a score
of squadrons of well-appointed cavalry.  At the time we chanced to be
short in this arm; and the distribution of our troops to Cuernavaca and
Toluca, the strong force necessary to garrison Puebla--and the numerous
detachments required to accompany the commissariat trains, left no
cavalry disposable for eccentric service.

Till we should receive from Uncle Sam a reinforcement of dragoons, the
robbers must be allowed to stop travellers and capture stage-coaches at
discretion.

This was the condition of things, six months after the _second conquest_
of Mexico.

I, for one, did not like it.  It was but a Christian instinct to hate
robbers, wherever found; but in the town of Puebla I had imbibed for
this class of mankind a peculiar antipathy.

Experience and suspicion both formed its basis.  I remembered Captain
Carrasco, and I could not help remembering _Captain Moreno_!

A young artist who had accompanied our army throughout the campaign--and
whose life-like pictures were the admiration of all who looked upon
them--had been imprudent enough to risk travelling by _diligencia_ from
Mexico to La Puebla.  It was not his destiny to arrive at the City of
the Angels--on earth; though it is to be hoped he has reached the abode
of truer angels in heaven!  He was murdered among the mountains of the
_mal pais_--between the "venta" of Rio Frio and that of Cordova.

I had formed a strong attachment to this unfortunate youth.  He had oft
partaken of the hospitality of my tent; and, in return I suppose for
such slight acts of kindness, in his great picture of the storming of
Chapultepec, he had fixed my face upon the canvas, foremost--far
foremost--of those who on that day dared to look over the well-defended
walls.

The consciousness of having performed the feat did not render me less
sensible of the kindness of its being recorded.  I, a homeless,
nameless, adventurer, with no one to sing my praise--save those who had
witnessed my deeds--could not feel otherwise than grateful.

He saw, and sang them; in that verse in which he was a master--the
poetry of the pencil.

I was half mad, when I heard that he had been murdered.

In twenty minutes after, I stood in the presence of the
commander-in-chief.



CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.

THE GREAT STRATEGIST.

"What is it, captain?  One of my aides-de-camp tells me you have asked
for an interview.  Be brief with your business; I'm full of affairs just
now."  I was not a favourite at head-quarters.  I had no flattery for
the conceited septuagenarian who at this crisis commanded the American
army.

Still his consent was necessary for my purpose.  Without it I could do
nought to avenge the death of my friend.  That granted, I had conceived
a scheme.

"What is it?" asked the general, with an air of impatience that augured
ill for my success.  "What is it you want?"

"Leave of absence, general."

"Why, you've been off duty for six months.  How much more do you
require?"

"Only six days."

"Six days!  And for what purpose?"

"To punish these brigands who infest the road between here and Puebla.
I presume, general, you've been informed of their atrocities?"

"Of course I have.  But what can I do?  If I send a troop, they see the
soldiers miles off, and won't stand to be attacked.  It's like chasing a
wild goose."

"I think I have a plan by which they can be brought to close quarters,
and some of them chastised.  With your permission, I should like to make
trial of it."

"But I have no cavalry just now to spare--not a single sabre.  The
Government is so stingy, they won't give me men enough to fill up the
regular regiments.  They think I can hold a great country like Mexico
without horses--where the enemy are nearly all mounted too!  No, Sir, I
can't spare a single dragoon--much less your own company; and I suppose
you would want to take that with you."

"On the contrary, general, I don't desire a single soldier from the
ranks; at least only three or four of my own, whom I know to be men of
courage.  There are some dare-devils among our camp-followers--just the
sort for such a purpose as mine.  With a dozen of them, I fancy we can
hold our own with the biggest band of brigands to be found among the
mountains of Mexico."

"You are a brave man, captain; but I fear not much of a strategist."

Strategy was the god of this poor military simpleton, as it was of his
favourite pupil, McClellan.  It was the same sort of strategy that
caused the rout at Bull's Run, and the consequent prolongation of the
American civil war.  But for it the army of the North might have stacked
arms in the streets of Richmond in three weeks after leaving Washington,
and the long sanguinary strife have been shunned.

Well do I remember both preceptor and pupil.  There was bad management
in Virginia; exactly what I should have expected from my experience of
their tactics in Mexico.  In our campaign through the country of the
Aztecs the latter was scarcely known, or only as a smart drill master.
Nor would he ever after have been heard of, but for the patronage of his
superannuated Chief--the "Grand Strategist," as he was desirous of being
deemed.

The last remark of the general gave me the cue to flatter him.

In hopes of obtaining my end, I availed myself of the opportunity.

"General!"  I said, with a look of real reverence, "I am aware there
will not appear much strategy in what I propose--at least to you, who
are capable of grand combinations.  My idea is of the simplest."

"Well, let us hear it, captain.  Perhaps it may show better in detail.
A great deal depends upon that.  An army brought into the field _en
masse_--as Napoleon would say--with its infantry here and its artillery
there, and the cavalry scattered over the ground, is like a machine
without screws.  It must soon fall to pieces.  I never move my
battalions in that way.  If I had--"

"If you had, general," I meekly interposed, seeing that he had made a
pause, "you wouldn't have been here now, as you are--conqueror of the
capital of Mexico."

"You are right, captain; quite right!" rejoined he, evidently beginning
to like me, "Quite right, sir.  And don't you think that Cortez's
campaign was inferior to that which _I_--_I_--have had the honour of
planning; and of conducting, Sir--conducting?"

"A mere skirmish to it."

"A skirmish, sir--a skirmish!  His enemies a crowd of naked savages--
that's what they were--nothing but slings and bows with which to defend
themselves.  Not a gun among them; while _I_--_I_, sir, have defeated a
grand disciplined army, under the greatest general these Mexicans have
ever produced; for, say what you like of Santa Anna, the rascal is a
thorough soldier--a regular, sir, a regular--not a volunteer.  I detest
volunteers; and it's a great shame for the Government to have sent me so
many of them.  They've fought well, I admit; but they couldn't help it.
They were properly handled, sir; and they had my old regulars alongside
of them.  How could they hang back, when they saw who was at their head?
My presence inspired them; and the consequence is, that they fought and
conquered this great country in less than half the time it took Cortez
to do it.  Therefore I say, sir, that the conquest of Winfield Scott
will shine upon the page of history far brighter than that of Fernando
Cortez."

"No doubt of it," was my insincere response, scarce able to conceal my
contempt for the huge military _bavard_.

"Well, sir," said he, after he had paced once or twice across the floor
in swelling grandeur, "you haven't stated your plans?  Let's hear the
detail.  My giving you permission may depend upon that."

"What I had intended, general, was to charter the _diligencia_; and use
it, as if it were going on its regular trip between here and Puebla.
The robbers are also troublesome upon the Toluca route; so I don't care
which we try first.  I should dress my twelve men in Mexican costumes;
have a monk or two along with them, and at least a couple of ladies.
The _reboso_ would disguise them sufficiently for our purpose.  A
Mexican uniform or two might aid the decoy: since just before our coming
into the country no less than thirteen officers of their army,
travelling in the stage-coach, were stopped by a band of only six
robbers, and stripped even of their uniforms!  I should have liked two
or three Mexican _militarios_ among my men; but just now it would scarce
look natural, and the bandits might suspect a _ruse_."

"Well, sir," said the general, evidently amused by my ideas, "What would
you do with these twelve masqueraders?"

"Arm each of them with a small battery of revolvers; give him a good
bowie knife to fall back upon; and, when the robbers make halt around
the stage-coach, let all spring out at once, and go at them with a will.
I know of twelve men I can muster, who are just the sort for such an
enterprise.  All of them, one time or another, have done a little bit of
street fighting; and I'm much mistaken if there's one of their number
who would shy from an encounter with Mexican brigands anything under ten
to one.  Our only fear would be that too many of the bandits should be
able to get off before we had time to give them a good thrashing.
They're wonderfully quick on their little horses."

"By the word of Winfield Scott, sir, there's something in what you
propose.  For my part, I shouldn't care to trouble about these robber
gentry--who are perhaps only a little less honest than the rest of their
countrymen--but it don't look just the thing that we haven't put a stop
to their depredations--especially as they've committed some outrages on
our own people.  Well, sir!" he added, after a pause, "I'll consider
your proposal, and give you an answer by to-morrow morning.  Meanwhile
you may hold yourself in readiness--in case I should think proper to
approve of it."

"Shall I retain the _diligencia_, general?"

"No, no; not this trip--not for to-morrow.  There will be time enough.
I must think the matter over.  It won't do to be charged with silly
things; and, as you ought to know, sir, I have enemies at Washington--
foes in the rear, sir, as well as in the front.  Besides, you wouldn't
have time to get your fellows ready before to-morrow morning?"

"In an hour, general; if your permission be given.  I have sounded them
already.  They would all be _en masque_ before midnight."

"I'll think of it; I'll think of it, as soon as I'm disengaged.  But
there's somebody waiting outside.  A Mexican gentleman, my
_aide-de-camp_ tells me.  I wonder what _he_ wants.  Safeguard, I
suppose, or some other favour.  These people pester the life out of me.
They think I've nothing to do but to look after every little affair that
troubles them.  If one of our scamps only steals a chicken, they must
see _me_ about it.  God knows I've given them protection enough--more
than they've been accustomed to at the hands of their own officers!"

And God did know it: for the statement was strictly true.  However
contemptible I might esteem General Scott's military talents, I can bear
testimony to the fact, that his enemies had no cause to complain of his
inhumanity.  Never was conquered foe treated with such leniency as were
the Mexicans during that memorable campaign; which I do not hesitate to
pronounce the most _civilised_ that has found place upon the page of
history.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

I had made my salute, and was about stepping out of the "presence," when
I heard the command, "Stay, sir!"

In obedience to it, I once more faced towards the commander-in-chief.

"By the way," he said, "I may want you for a minute.  I'm told you speak
Spanish perfectly?"

"Not perfectly, general.  I speak it, as the Spaniards say, _un
pocito_."

"Never mind how--so long as you can hold a conversation in it.  Now that
I think of it, my interpreter is out of the way; and there's none of my
_aides_ knows anything of their lingo.  The Mexican who's coming in is
not likely to understand a syllable I might say to him.  So stay, and
translate for us."

"At your command, general, I'll do the best I can."

"You may prepare yourself, I suppose, to hear of a hen roost having been
robbed; and a claim for compensation.  Ah! the claimant is there."

The door at that moment was opened from the outside; and one of the
_aides_ entered, ushering a stranger, who stepped briskly in after him.



CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.

A BEREAVED PARENT.

The individual thus introduced had all the air of one who had sustained
a loss--but of a much graver kind than the stealing of his chicks.

At a glance I could see that he was a Spanish-American of the pure
Iberian blood--the boasted _sangre azul_ of Andalusia--without any trace
of the Aztecan.  Perhaps a Spaniard resident in Mexico--in other words,
a _Gachupino_?  He had, at all events, the distinguished bearing of the
hidalgo; which was further confirmed by the fineness of his habiliments,
that differed very little from what might be seen on a well-dressed
English gentleman of the old school: for the stranger was a man of
advanced age.

He was clean shaven, without moustache or whisker; the hair upon his
head short-cut and snow-white; while that upon his arched eyebrows was
as black as it might have been at the age of twenty!

A piercing eye still showed the capability of flashing fire, when
occasion required it.  Just then it was filled with a sombre light; and
his whole demeanour betokened a man who suffered from some overwhelming
sorrow.

Under its influence his habitual serenity had forsaken him; and, without
pausing inside the door, he walked hurriedly up to the general, and
commenced to unburden himself.

Between the two of us there was no possibility of mistaking which was
the commander-in-chief--so that the stranger had addressed himself to
the proper personage.

As his talk was Cherokee to the general--perhaps not so well
understood--he was motioned to make his communication to me.

I had already gathered from his introductory remarks, that he had been
travelling in a stage-coach, _en route_ for the capital on a special
errand to the general himself; and that a great misfortune had befallen
him on the road.  I had by this time noticed a slight _delabrement_ in
his dress--to say nothing of some scratches on his hands and face--that
went towards confirming his hurried statement.

"A misfortune?"  I asked, in my capacity of interpreter.  "Of what
nature, senor?"

"_O cavallero; una cosa horrible; un robo!  Por los bandoleros_!"

"A horrible business--a robbery by brigands!"  I said, translating
literally to the general.

"How very singular!" remarked the commander-in-chief.  "Quite a
coincidence!  I think, captain, I shall have to grant your request."

"Of what have they robbed you, senor?"  I inquired, in the continuation
of my new _role_.  "Not your watch--else they would scarce have left you
those splendid appendages?"

I spoke of a massive chain and bunch of gold seals, with turquoise,
topaz, and other sparkling stones, that hung conspicuously from his
waistcoat.

"_Por Dios_, no!  They did not take that!"

"Your purse, perhaps?"

"No, senor; they did not touch it either.  They would have been welcome
to it, and the watch as well.  Ah! they might have had everything else
but what they did take."

"What was it?"

"_Mias ninas! mias ninas_!"

"Ninyas!" interrupted the general, without waiting for the translation,
"that means young girls, don't it, captain?"

"In its general signification it does.  As he has used it, it means his
own daughters."

"What!  Have the brigands robbed him of them?"

"That's what he has just stated."

"Poor old gentleman--for he's evidently a gentleman!  It's a hard case,
no doubt, to have his daughters carried off by brigands--worse than if
Indians had got them.  Go on, and question him.  Let him give the whole
story; and then ask him what he wants me to do.  I'll wait till you've
finished.  You can translate it all in a lump."

As the general said this he turned away, and speaking to his
aide-de-camp, dispatched the latter on some errand that carried him out
of the room.

He himself became engaged upon some charts--no doubt covered with "grand
strategic plans:" for although we were in the enemy's capital, it was
not certain that our campaign had come to a close, and more fighting
might be before us.

Left free to take my own course, I motioned the Mexican to a seat.

He declined it on the score of haste; and standing, I went on with his
confession.

"How did it happen?  When?  Where?" was the series of questions I
addressed to him in continuation.

"On the road, senor--as we came from La Puebla."

"From Puebla!"  The words startled me into a strange interest.

"Si, senor; but much nearer to this city.  It occurred within sight of
it, I may say--this side Rio Frio, and not far from the _venta_ of
Cordova."

"You were travelling?"

"We were travelling--myself, my two daughters, and our family confessor,
the good Padre Cornaga."

"In your carriage?"

"No, senor; in the _diligencia_.  We were stopped by a band of
_ladrones_, all wearing crape over their faces."

"Well?"

"They ordered us out of the coach.  Then to lie flat along the ground--
with a threat, that if we looked up till they gave the word, we should
be shot without ceremony."

"You obeyed, I presume?"

"_Carrai, senor_!  Why need you ask the question?  Not to do so would
have been certain death; and, of course, I did as the _ladrones_
commanded.  My daughters, I am happy to think, were spared the
indignity.  But what matters it, since they were carried off?"

"Whither?"

"_A los montes_!" "_Ay de mi_!  Holy Virgin, protect them!"

"It is to be hoped she will.  But why, may I ask, did you risk
travelling in the _diligencia_ between this place and Puebla?  You had
no escort, I take it; and must have known that the road is unsafe?"

"True, cavallero, we had no escort.  It was very imprudent on my part,
but I trusted to the counsels of our confessor--_un hombre muy sabio_--
who believed there was no danger.  The good _padre_ assured us the roads
were safe--made so by you valiant _Americanos_--that there was not a
robber to be encountered between Puebla and the capital.  Even then I
might not have listened to him, but that I had a good reason for coming
hither with my daughters; and as they--neither of them--were at all
afraid, but rather inclined to it, I ventured to travel by _diligencia_.
Alas! too easily did I yield consent to their wishes--as I have now
reason to know.  _Dios de mi alma_!  Despoiled of my children!  Robbed!
Ruined!"

"I presume you had money upon your person, as well as these other
valuables?"

I pointed to the chain and seals hanging from the watch-pocket of the
petitioner.  "They left you these!  How do you account for it?"

"_Ay Dios, cavallero_!  That is the strangest thing of all.  I had both
money--gold money--and this watch.  It is one of considerable value, as
you may judge for yourself."

The old gentleman drew out a grand chronometer-like timepiece, with
jewelled holes and strong gold cases--evidently worth a couple of
hundred dollars.

"They left me this," he continued, "and my money too!  But what
signifies that, since they have taken away the _muchachas?  Pobres
ninas_!"

"And they took _only_ them?"  I asked, becoming interested in the story
of a robber episode so little in keeping with the ordinary experience.

"_Nada mas_."

"Nothing more!  And your fellow-passengers in the _diligencia_? were
they alike sparing of their purses?"

"Fellow-passengers!  We had none, senor capitan.  There were but the
four of us, as I've said--all members of my own family: for of course we
count the good _padre_ as one of ourselves.  True, there were two or
three other gentlemen who wished to get in with us at Puebla.  They were
strangers to me; and, not liking their looks, I chartered the
_diligencia_ for myself.  I believe they came in another coach after us.
I am sorry, now, we did not have them along with us.  It might have
been better.  It could not have been worse!"

"But the _padre_ of whom you speak--this _hombre muy sabio_--what has
become of him?"

"_Carrambo, senor_!  That is the strangest thing of all: they kept him
too!  After a time the robbers permitted my unworthy self to proceed on
the journey.  But the monk they compelled to remain.  What a scandal to
our Holy Church!  I hope it will cause the excommunication of every
_ladron_ in Mexico, and have them devoted to the perdition they so
richly deserve.  This comes of having changed our government into a
republic.  It was not so in the old times, when Spain sent us a viceroy.
Then there were no robbers, such as these audacious _salteadores_, that
have this day deprived me of my dear daughters!  _Ay de mi_!  _Ay de
mi_!"

"What do you wish the general to do?"  I inquired, as the old gentleman
became a little tranquillised, after a spasmodic outburst of grief.

"Senor," he replied, "we have all heard of the humanity of the American
`Gefe.'  Though he is our country's enemy, we respect him for the
compassion he has shown to a conquered people.  Entreat him to take my
unhappiness to heart.  I know you will do so.  Ask him to send out a
troop of his valiant dragoons, and recover my lost children.  At sight
of your brave soldiers the robbers would take to flight, and leave the
poor _muchachas_ to be restored to their sorrowing father.  O kind
capitan; do not deny me!  My only hope is in you!"

Although the story of a father thus brutally bereft of his children was
of itself calculated to excite commiseration, I should, perhaps, not
have felt it very keenly, but for a souvenir it had stirred up within
me.

There was nothing at all strange in what he had told me.  It was only
one of the "Cosas de Mexico," though, perhaps, not among the commonest.
Still it would have given me little more concern than one might feel on
reading the account of a lady in London streets--Bloomsbury-square, for
instance--having been stopped by a fustian-coated garotter, and relieved
of her pocket handkerchief, her card case, and vinaigrette.

Any chagrin the story caused me was but a resuscitation of that already
in my mind--the remembrance of my murdered friend, and my antipathy to
the whole fraternity of _salteadores_.

Both might have been freshly excited by his narrative, and nothing more;
but for the aroused remembrance, of which I have spoken; and which
secured him a sympathy I could scarcely explain.  Besides, there was
something touching in the appeal of the old Don--not the less that it
was made with all the elegance and in the diction of an educated
gentleman.

I had no desire to resist it.  On the contrary, I at once determined to
lay his case before the general, and strengthen it with my own
influence--so far as that went.

There was not much generosity in my motive.  Without knowing it, the
Mexican had done me a service.  I felt certain I should now have the
chance of chastising--if not the same brigands who had assassinated my
artist acquaintance--some who would have behaved quite as badly, had the
opportunity occurred to them.

Before turning to translate what had been communicated to me, I thought
it might be as well to make myself acquainted with the patronymic of the
petitioner.

"Your name?"  I inquired, looking him full in the face, and with a vague
impression that I had somewhere seen him before, "You have not told me
that?  The general may wish to know it."

"_Eusebio Villa-Senor.  Al servicio de V_."

I started as if a shot had struck me.  Oh! the memories that rolled up
at the mention of that name!

I was carried back to the City of the Angels--to the Calle del Obispo--
to the sorrow from which I had vainly imagined myself to have escaped!

Again was it upon me, full and fell as ever.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

With an effort I succeeded in controlling my emotions, or at least the
exhibition of them.

Absorbed in his own grief, Don Eusebio did not suspect the existence of
mine; and the general was still engrossed with his strategical
combinations.

I was now too deeply interested in the suit of the petitioner, to lose a
moment's time in placing it before him petitioned.

I endorsed it with all the eloquence I could command: since it was
almost identical with my own--already preferred.

Our joint prayer was heard, and granted upon the spot.

I obtained a commission to chastise any band of brigands, I might choose
to go out against.

Need I say, that I had not much difficulty in making the selection?



CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.

A DISOBEDIENT DAUGHTER.

I shall not attempt to describe the blackness in my breast as I sallied
forth from the President's palace--Don Eusebio by my side.

Directed by the general, he had placed his affair in my hands, and
himself at my disposal.

The announcement of his name had caused me an acute pain--the agony of a
reopened wound.

And the pain came not from the story I had heard.  It was not the
thought that Dolores--for it was no more Mercedes--that Dolores
Villa-Senor was in the keeping of brutal brigands!  It had pained me as
much--perhaps more--to think of her in the keeping of Francisco Moreno!

Truth compels me to the sad, disgraceful confession: that I listened to
the tale with a sort of satisfaction!  Jealousy was still alive--anger
not dead--within my heart!

Though remembered with reluctance, too keenly did I feel the slight that
had been put upon me.

The ungentle thought did not for long control me.  Soon was it succeeded
by one purer and holier--sprung from such chivalry as I possessed.  A
weak woman in the power of wild, wanton men--two of them, for that
matter; though I thought but of one--borne off by brigands to some
hideous haunt--some scene of lascivious revel!

They were horrid fancies that came crowding upon me.  They drove
jealousy out of my heart, and along with it my senseless anger.

These gone, I became inspired by a slight, scarcely definable,
pleasure--like the distant re-dawning of a hope that has been for a time
extinguished.

What if I should be the means of rescuing Dolores Villa-Senor from the
hands of her worse than savage captors--of saving her from a life-long
shame?

Might not the gratitude, called forth by such a deed, become changed to
that other feeling, I had once fondly fancied to have been entertained
in my favour?

I could have risked everything--life itself--to bring about such a
revolution!

After all, had I not been too precipitate in my conclusions?  Was it
certain she had surrendered her heart--her _whole_ heart--to Francisco
Moreno?

The episode in the Alameda--of which I had been a spectator--might it
not have been but a bit of flirtation, deftly practised by Spanish
dames, and oft without serious intent, or termination?

Or might it have been only a chapter of coquetry--myself the object
aimed at?

Consoling thoughts--well calculated to stir me to energetic action!  Don
Eusebio might have been surprised at my ardent espousal of his cause!

He was at least affected by it.  Entirely unsuspicious of my motive for
questioning him, he not only gave me an unreserved account of the
robbery upon the road, but made me the confidant of more than one family
secret.

One gave me something more than a surprise.  It caused the renewal of my
chagrin.

"In your interview with the general," I said, "you spoke of some
important matter that was bringing you to the capital.  May I be told
it?  Excuse me for asking: but in the performance of my duty it may be
necessary for me to know what was the object of your journey."

"Say no more, senor capitan," he rejoined, interrupting me; "you have
taken such a friendly interest in my misfortunes--far beyond what your
duty requires--that I have no hesitation in telling you all.  Indeed, it
is essential I should do so.  Hear me, then."

Without repeating Don Eusebio's words--with all the circumlocution
rendered appropriate by paternal affection, and the sorrow from which he
suffered--I learnt from him what might have caused me greater surprise,
but for the chance conversation to which I had listened in the Alameda.

The Poblano had spoken the truth to his friend from Yucatan.

Not only had Don Eusebio threatened to immure his daughter in a nunnery;
but was actually on his way to carry the threat into execution, when
stopped by the _salteadores_!

Although accompanied by both his daughters, but one of them was to be
consigned to her living tomb--the aristocratic convent of _La
Conception_, in the city of Mexico--the abode of some of Mexico's
fairest _muchachas_.

"Which of your daughters?"  I asked with such eager _empressement_ as to
startle Don Eusebio, and call forth an interrogative exclamation.

"Oh!"  I answered, with an effort to gloss over my confusion, "I
understood you to say you had _two_ daughters.  Of course one is older
than the other--that is, if they be not twins?"

"No senor; they are not twins.  One is two years the elder.  It was she
who intended to devote herself to the service of God.  _Por dios_!" he
continued, his brow shadowing as he spoke, "Both must do so now.  There
is no other future for them--_pobres ninas_!"

I understood the significance of the sad speech, and remained silent.

After a pause, he proceeded, "It was _Dolores_, my eldest girl, who
intended to take the veil."

"Was it of her own free will?"  I asked.

I could see that the question caused embarrassment.  My emotions at the
moment were not less powerful--not less painful--than his.

"Pardon me," I continued, "for making so free with your family affairs;
which, of course, cannot in any way concern me.  It was a mere
inadvertence--quite unintentional--I assure you."

"O, sir! have I not promised to tell you all--you who have so nobly
espoused our cause; you who are about to imperil your precious life for
the safety of my children!  Why should I conceal from you aught that
appertains to their welfare?"

"It is true," he continued, after a short interval of silence, "true,
that my daughter was not altogether reconciled to the step.  I myself
was inciting her to take it.  I had my reasons, senor; and I am sure,
that on hearing them, you will approve of what I intended doing.  It was
for her happiness; for the honour of our family name and the glory of
God--which last should be the chief end and act of every true
Christian."

The solemn speech awed me into silence.  I made no reply, but stood
awaiting the revelation.

"Only of late," continued Don Eusebio, "in fact within the last few
days, was I made acquainted with a circumstance, that caused me both
anger and alarm.  I learnt that some intimate relations had become
established between my elder daughter, Dolores, and a young man in no
way worthy of forming an alliance with our family.  Know, sir, that the
name _Villa-Senor_ is one.  But why dwell upon that?  I could not look
upon my child, and think of her disgrace.  For that reason I determined
that she should pass the rest of her days in expiating the crime she had
committed."

"Crime!  What crime?"

It would be difficult to describe the sensation I felt while putting
this question, or the agony with which I awaited the answer.

"That of consenting to unite herself--for it had come to giving her
consent--to one of low birth; of listening to vows of love from the lips
of a peasant--a _lepero_!"

"Was he this?"

"Si, senor; was, and is.  Through the state of anarchy and revolution
from which this unfortunate country has long suffered, like many others
of his class, he has risen to the paltry distinction of being an officer
in our army--a captain, I believe.  Among you, I am aware, the title is
one of distinction--not so easily earned, and substantial when obtained.
In the army of our so-called Republic, a swineherd to-day may be a
captain to-morrow; and the captain of to-morrow a _salteador_ the day
following!"

"Of course you know the name of this captain--whom you deem so unworthy
of your daughter?"

The question was put mechanically, and without care for the answer.  I
knew that the name would be "Francisco Moreno."

It was.



CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.

DON SAMUEL BRUNO.

Before separating from Don Eusebio I received from him a detailed
account of the coach robbery, with all the allied incidents.  It was
necessary I should know everything; and everything was made known to me.

In addition to what he had already communicated, there was one fact of a
curious, if not comical, character.  Before permitting him to depart in
the _diligencia_, the brigands had taken his bond for ten thousand
dollars--as collateral security against the ransom of his daughters!

They had even gone so far as to require it in the shape of a written
_acceptance_--to be cancelled and sent back along with the senoritas,
whenever the cash should be forthcoming!

Such were the quaint stipulations of the _salteadores_!

Though sounding strange to English ears, no Mexican would be at all
surprised at them.  Oft and again have similar bargains been made--and
kept--among the mountains of Mexico!

There was something that still perplexed me.  How was this queer
contract to be carried out?

I had been told that the usual mode is by a messenger; some one
acquainted with the neutral ground--if there be such--lying between
robber-land and the precincts of the police.  This messenger meets an
envoy--deputed by the brigands; the acceptance is honoured; the captives
given up, and permitted to depart without further molestation!

In some cases even a _cheque_ has been taken in exchange; afterwards
presented at the bank by one of the robbers themselves--and _paid_!

Who was to be Don Eusebio's deputy?  This was a question that interested
me.

The answer gave me great satisfaction.  It was the driver of the
_diligencia_ that had been stopped--known to his passengers by the name
of "Don Samuel Bruno."

When it is said, that the stage-coaches of Mexico are a modern
importation from the United States, I need scarcely add that their
drivers have been imported along with them.  They are all, or nearly
all, _States'_ men; and "Don Samuel," despite his _sobriquet_, was not
an exception.  He was simply Sam Brown.

Though the intended envoy of Don Eusebio, he had been nominated by the
bandits themselves; no doubt for the reason that he knew where to carry
the cash, and that it could be safely entrusted in his keeping.  Any
treachery on his part would put an end to his stage driving--at least,
upon the roads of Mexico--and ten chances to one whether he should
survive to handle the "ribbons" elsewhere.

Sam knew all this, on consenting to become a "go-between;" though it was
scarcely by his own consent: since the office had been assigned to him,
not by request, but command.

It was a fortunate circumstance for me--the very thing I would have
wished for.  My chief difficulty--I had seen it from the first--would be
to obtain an _interview_ with the knights of the road.  With the
stage-driver as a guide, the difficulty seemed more than half removed.

As good luck would have it, I knew something of Don Samuel.  I knew him
to be intelligent--and notwithstanding the ambiguous _role_ he was oft
compelled to play--honest.

I was not long in placing myself _en rapport_ with him.  As I had
expected, I found him ready and right willing to "co-operate."

There was at this time much talk of our permanently occupying the
country.  In that case he would have nothing to fear for his future; but
in any case he was too gallant to regard consequences where a _senorita_
was concerned.

There was yet another difficulty.  Sam's appointment with the robbers
had been made for an early hour of the next morning--the place of
rendezvous a treeless plain lying under the shadow of forest-clad
hills--not far from the noted inn of Cordova.

Alone he might easily meet the _parlamentarios_ of the other party; but
it would be quite a different thing if he should go accompanied by a
score of mounted men.

How was the difficulty to be got over?

I put the question to himself.

The intelligent Yankee soon bethought him of a scheme; and one that
appeared feasible.

My party should make approach in the night; go into covert under the
pine-forest that shrouded the slopes above the place of rendezvous; and
leave Sam himself to come on in the morning--carrying the ransom-money
along with him.  That night he could go with us to a certain distance--
as a guide all the way--returning, to return again, at the hour of
daybreak.

The plan seemed excellent.  There was but one drawback.  Our ambuscade
could only affect the envoy of the robbers, not the robbers themselves--
whose den might be at a distance, among the passes of the mountains.

"Don Samuel" did not see it in this light.  With the bandit emissary in
our power, and the dollars of Don Eusebio at our disposal, he did not
apprehend any difficulty.  If there were a _salteador_ in all Mexico
proof against gold, Sam Brown did not believe it.

I was satisfied with his reasoning; and consented to act under his
guidance.

But little time was required for preparation.  The commander-in-chief--
not so ungenerous after all, and always liberal in the cause of
humanity--had given me _carte, blanche_.  I only drew a score of my own
men--Mounted Rifles--with a small supplementary force of the dare-devils
already alluded to.



CHAPTER THIRTY.

A YANKEE JEHU.

Along the lone causeway, three hundred years ago traversed by Cortez--
and now, instead of open water, with a _zanca_ on each side of it--we
journeyed in solemn silence.

I had waited for that hour of the night when wayfarers, who might turn
informers, were not likely to be encountered on the road.

We passed the isolated hill of El Penon without meeting any one; and
commenced skirting the saline shores of Tezcoco.

The ride, though long, was far from appearing tedious.  How could it be
in the company of a stage-coach driver--especially one from the
"States?"

Who does not know him?  Who that has journeyed upon the "corduroy roads"
of Kentucky, Mississippi, or Tennessee--who thus dreadfully jolted--does
not remember the compensation he has had, in the cheerful conversation
of the man who conducted him over these accursed causeways?

In Mexico he is met, just as in the States; mounted on the box of a
"Troy" coach; dressed in jacket, or tailed-coat with short skirts; the
universal white hat upon his head; and perchance a cigar sticking
slantwise between his teeth.  Thus he may be seen--and never seen
without being liked--almost beloved--by those whose luck it is to have a
seat upon the box beside him.

Light, tight, intelligent, and cheery--civil to the humblest outsider--
daring to a degree of recklessness--he is as different from the unwieldy
six-caped carcase of English stage-coach celebrity, as a butterfly to a
buffalo.  Who ever sate on the box beside him, without longing to sit
there again?

Where is the guide-book that can tell you half so much of the road--
every turn and winding--every incident that has occurred upon it for the
last ten years--murders, suicides, runaway matches, struggles with black
bears, and chases of red deer--in short, everything worthy of being
recorded?

And all this with a thorough disinterestedness--his sole design being to
entertain you.  No thought of the "tip" which your Old World Jehu
expects to receive at parting company.  Offer it to _him_, and in all
likelihood he will fling it back at your feet!  He has not yet been
corrupted by the customs of king-loving communities.

Meet him in Mexico: for he is there.  He had to go with the coaches
imported from "Troy"--not the Troy of the Dardanelles, that "Ammon's
sons ran proudly round"--but its modern, and more peaceful, namesake in
the state of New York.

Although under a different name, the _diligencia_ of Mexico is the
stage-coach of the States--its driver the same light-hearted happy
fellow, with a good word for everybody, and a kindly smile for all the
_muchachas_, plain or pretty, he may pass upon his route.

Interesting as this man is--and has been for a century in the United
States--he is still more interesting upon the stage roads of Mexico.
Scarcely a day of his life passes without his being in peril.  I do not
allude to the reckless pace at which he urges his half-tamed mustangs--
three abreast--down the declivities of the Mexican mountains.  These are
occurrences of every hour.  I speak of the perils that threaten him from
the behaviour of the _bandoleros_--by whom he is repeatedly surrounded.

Sam Brown's dealings with these gentry were of almost daily occurrence.
At all events, there was scarcely a week without his being witness to a
scene--not unfrequently having a tragical termination.  More than once
had he been present at the spilling of blood!

The _diligencia_ is usually accompanied by an _escolta_--a troop of
_dragones_, or _lanzeros_, ill-armed and equipped; whose tattered
uniforms, and feet set shoeless in their stirrups, render them more
grotesque than terrible.

At times the escort is itself attacked; and a sharp skirmish comes off
between troops and bandits--the former not unfrequently fleeing the
field, and leaving their _proteges_, the passengers, to be plundered at
the discretion of the triumphant _salteadores_.

At other times the _escolta_ declines "coming to the scratch"--having
taken the precaution just at the critical moment to be riding far in the
rear; then galloping up with swaggering demonstration, after the robbers
have completed their pillage, and gone away from the ground!

Either a strong escort, or none at all, was Sam Brown's sentiment; but
his preference was, decidedly, for none at all!

In the latter case the _diligencia_ is often permitted to continue its
route uninterrupted: the bandits believing, that it carries no
passengers worth protecting, and therefore not worth pillaging!

It is no rare thing for the "escolta" itself to be suspected; or at
least the officer commanding it.  More than once has the connivance been
established, by evidence, in a court of law!

Still rarer does punishment follow in any proportion to the diabolical
crime--the criminal usually getting clear by turning _salteador_
himself!

On the other hand, there are times when an honest officer--one of action
and courage--makes his appearance upon the scene; and by the energetic
performance of his duty becomes a terror to the bandits--rendering the
roads comparatively safe.

Unluckily this improved state of things continues but for a short
period.  Some new _grito_--followed by the usual spasmodic revolution--
brings about a change, both in rulers and robbers; who sometimes also
_exchange_ situations!  The energetic officer is snatched away from the
scene--either by death, or promotion to a better post; and the passage
of the roads becomes perilous as ever.

Such were a few of the revelations I had from the lips of Don Samuel
Bruno, as we journeyed along the lone causeway leading by the lake
Tezcoco.

There were two things still unexplained, and which no little puzzled me:
how my guide had contrived to come safe out of so many hair-breadth
perils?  And how he managed to keep his peace with the _salteadores_?

The explanation was asked for, and freely given.

The secret lay in a nutshell.

_No matter what happened, Sam always remained neutral_!

"Ye see, cap'n," said he--by way of explanation rather than apology, "as
I'm only the driver, they hain't no ill-will agin me.  They know I'm but
doin' my duty.  Besides, if thar was no driver, there ked be no
_diligencia_; an' if _it_ war off the road, all the wuss for them, I
reck'n.  They look upon me as bein' nootral; otherwise I needn't go that
way agin.  I keep on my box, an' leave 'em do as they've a mind--knowin'
that I ked be of no sarvice to the poor passengers that's bein'
plundered.  I kin do _them_ more good, arter it's all over--by drivin'
them on to thar destinashun."

For a time my companion was silent, and I too.  I became absorbed in
thoughts, cheerless, if not absolutely sad.

The sight of Tezcoco, along whose shores we were now proceeding, was not
calculated to cheer me.  The lake looked still, and dark as Acheron
itself--its sombre silence relieved only at intervals by sounds yet more
lugubrious--the scream of the great curlew, or the screech-like call of
the American ibis!

Giving way to a string of unpleasant fancies, I rode on without speaking
to any of my comrades.

I was roused from my reverie by the voice of Sam Brown; who appeared
desirous of once more entering into conversation.

"Cap'n!" said he, spurring alongside of me, and dragging the pack-mule
after him.  "'Scuse me for intrudin' upon you; but I've got somethin'
more to say about this business we're on.  What air ye goin' to do?"

"No excuse, Mr Brown.  On the contrary, I was about to put the same
interrogatory to you.  I confess that I feel a little perplexed.  Now
that we've started on this expedition, I begin to see the difficulty--if
not the absolute idleness of it.  It seems absurd to suppose that the
robbers would send one of their number to meet any messenger, who may be
deputed to them,--without taking precautions against a surprise?"

"They never do, cap'n.  They ain't sech consarned fools."

"Well, I thought as much; or do now--now that I've had time to reflect
upon it.  It isn't the scheme I had intended to have carried out.  After
all, there's no alternative, but to go through with it.  What's your
advice?"

"Well, cap'n; my advice might be no better than anybody else's; only
that I've took notice to a thing or two."

"Where?  When?"

"I kin answer both yer questions at the same time: whar and when the
coach was stopped."

"You noticed something strange?"

"More'n one thing; several o' 'em."

"What were they?"

"First, then, the skunks were _craped_."

"I've heard the same from Don Eusebio.  But what signification is there
in that?"

"Not much, I admit; only that it ain't common for reg'lar robbers to
wear crape.  They don't care who sees _their_ faces: bein' as they make
thar home among the mountings; and never put themselves in the power of
the sojers, or _alguazils_.  These bein' craped, shows they're a lot
from the town."

"What town?"

"Puebla, in coorse.  It's the biggest nest in all the Mexikin
domeenyuns.  They wore that kiver to keep from bein' recognised--shed
they be met afterwards in the streets.  It don't follow that they were
any the less brigands on that account.  Them of the town air jest as bad
as them that keep out in the country.  They all belong to the same
school; only the outsiders don't care whether they're known by them as
they plunder; while the town chaps sometimes do--for sartin reasons."

"There were some other circumstances that appeared odd to you?"  I asked
of my intelligent guide.

"One other as looked darnationed odd.  It puzzled me at the time, an' do
still.  I had my eyes on them two saynoritas as travelled with the old
Don, thar father.  There's one o' them especially I'd like to know who
ked keep his eyes off o'.  Well, what surprised me was, that instead o'
seemin' scared-like, and squealin' out--as I've heerd other Mexikin
sheemales do when tuk by the robbers--they both flirted off among the
trees, with two or three o' the brigands attending on 'em, jest as if
they were startin' out a huckleberryin'!

"All the while the old Don war down upon his belly--flat as a pancake--
from which seetuation he warn't allowed to stir, till the gurls had gone
clean out o' sight.

"Then one o' the band bargained wi' him about the ransom-money--tellin'
him it was to be trusted to me, an' whar it was to be brought.  They
then bundled him back into the coach, an ordered me to drive on--the
which, I reckon, I war riddy enough to do."

"But there was a priest along with them.  What became of him?"

"Oh! the monk.  That 'ere is also kewrious.  The robbers usooaly let
_them_ go--after makin' 'em give each o' the band a blessin'!  _Him_
they kep along wi' 'em; for what purpose the Lord only knows.  Maybe to
make sport o' him, by way o' divarshin.  Seein' that I war no longer
wanted, I gave the whup to the hosses; and fetched the old gentleman
away, all by himself."

"Do you think his daughters in danger of being ill-treated?"

"Well, that depends on whose hands they've fallen into.  Some are worse
than others.  Some times they're only a set o' idle fellows from the
towns, who put on robber for the time--just to raise the wind in that
way.  When they've got up a stake, they go back to their gamblin' at
_monte_; the which pays them better, and ain't so much risk o' their
gettin' shot, or shet up.  There are officers of the army who've been
known to take a turn at the business--after they've spent their pay, or
don't get it to spend--which last happens beout half the time.

"Then there's the reg'lar _bandoleros_--or _salteadores_, as they
sometimes call 'em--who live by it for constant.  Of them there's
several seprit bands along this road.  One in partickler, called
_Carrasco's_, who used to be a officer in Santa Anna's army.  There's
_Dominguez_, too, who was a colonel; but he's now along wi' you at the
head o' the Spies.  I don't think it was Carrasco's fellows that stopped
us this time."

"Why not?"

"_They_ wouldn't a' cared to wear crape.  I hope it wan't them."

I had a painful suspicion why this hope was expressed; and anxiously
enquired the reason.

"Because," answered the guide, "if it hez been Carrasco, I shed say a
pity o' them two young critters.  Kewrious thar showin' so little
skeeart!

"Maybe they didn't more'n half know thar danger.  As the robbers don't
allers ill-treat the weemen--'ceptin' to strip 'em of thar gimcracks and
the like--the Mexican sheemales ain't so much 'fraid o' 'em as ye might
suppose they'd be."

"Arter all," continued he, "it may be that I war mistaken.  They were so
quick bore off into the bushes, I hadn't much time to take notice o'
'em--the more so as I had enough to do in keepin' my hosses from goin'
over the edge o' a precipice--by the side o' which we were brought to
the stand."

"In any case," pursued Sam Brown, riding a little closer to me, and
speaking so as not to be overheard by my followers, "It air time ye made
up your mind what to do, cap'n.  We're now come to the place, whar we
must take leave o' the main road.  The rendezvoos gin me by the robbers
lies up one o' these side gullies, whar there's nothin' but a bridle
path.  Another half-hour's ridin' 'll fetch us to the place o'
appointment."

"Have you thought of any other plan than that already spoken of?"

I put the question, fancying from his manner that something else had
suggested itself to him.

"I hev, cap'n.  There's jest a chance that I know whar them craped
gentlemen air at this very minute--jest a chance of thar bein' thar."

The last words were spoken slowly, and in a sort of meditative
soliloquy.

"Where?  Of what place are you speaking?"

"A queery place; and ye wouldn't know whar it is if I war to tell ye.
To understan the lie o' that shanty, ye'd hev to see it for yourself;
which not many ever do, ceptin' them as have got bizness thar--an' they
ain't sech as air honest."

"A shanty--there's a house?  Some solitary dwelling, I suppose?"

"Ye may well call it that, cap'n.  It sartinly are the most solitariest
dwellin' I ever seed; an' what any man ked iver a built it for, beats my
recknin'--as I b'lieve it do that o' most others as hev specklated upon
it.  Lies up thar."

I looked in the direction indicated by his gesture.  Several dark lists
seamed the side of the mountain--at the foot of which we had come to a
halt.  One of them looked deeper and more cavernous than the rest;
though all seemed to trend towards the summit of the slope.

The mountain itself went up with a gradual acclivity; its sides
forest-covered--except here and there, where the naked porphyry peeped
out through the dark green drapery of the pines.

Though the sky was moonless, there were stars.  By their light I could
distinguish something white above and beyond the pine-covered track.  It
looked like a patch of fleecy cloud.

"That ere's the buzzum o' the White Woman," remarked the guide, seeing
what my eyes were fixed upon.  "She lies jest beyont the big black
mountain.  There's only a sort o' a ridge atween 'em."

"_Ixticihuatl_!"  I said, now recognising the snowy summit.  "You don't
mean that the robbers are gone up there?"

"Not so fur as that.  If they war, we _shed_ have a climb for it.  The
place I'm speakin' o' is in that dark gulley ye see straight afore you.
It's this side the lower end o' it whar I'm to meet thar messenger, and
deliver up the dollars.  That's jest why I think we might find them at
the shanty I've told ye about."

"There can be no harm in our going there?"

"I reckon not," answered the guide, reflectingly.  "If we don't find 'em
thar, we kin get back to the bottom afore daylight, an' then carry out
the other plan.  Thar's one thing we've got to do, afore we reach that
ere shanty.  We've got to hev a climb for it; and the last quarter o' a
mile 'll hev to be made upon Shanks's mare."

"No matter for that," I said, impatient to proceed.  "You lead the way.
I'll answer for myself and men being able to follow you."

"I ain't afeerd beout that," rejoined Don Samuel Bruno.  "But mind,
cap'n!" added he, in the exercise of his Yankee caution, "I haint said
we'll find them thar--only thet it air likely.  All events it air worth
while tryin'--considerin' sech a sweet gurl as she air in the hands o'
sech ruffins.  She oughter be tuk from 'em anyhow--an' at any price!"

I needed not to ask him which was meant by the "sweet gurl."  Too well
did I divine that it was Dolores.

"Lead on!"  I exclaimed, giving the spur to my horse, and the "Forward"
to my followers.



CHAPTER THIRTY ONE.

DEMONTE.

It had not yet reached the hour of midnight, as we left the Great
National Road, and commenced moving up the mountain,--in a lateral
though somewhat parallel course to that we had been following.

For a mile we marched along a path, where wheels might have passed at a
pinch.

We could see by the starlight that there were some small settlements on
each side, and one more conspicuous above, which we knew to be the
hacienda of Buena Vista--famed as the spot where the best view can be
had of the valley of Mexico.  From this circumstance does the dwelling
derive its name; and he who from its _azotea_ can look downward, without
having his soul stirred within him, must be incapable of romantic
emotion.

On approaching from the coast--I mean Vera Cruz--it is here the
traveller first obtains a good view (_buena vista_) of the
world-renowned "Valle of Tenochtitlan;" here that he first comes within
sight of the City of the Moctezumas.

Story-telling tourists can see it from the summit of the Sierra--looking
through the long-leaved pines!  Almost every one who has written a book
about Mexico has made this plausible assertion.

But it must be remembered that these books have been mostly compiled
after the travellers had returned home; and, in some instances to my
knowledge, before they started out--not having started at all!

One and all have followed the first teller of the fictitious talc; who
must have been sharper sighted than I.  With tolerably good eyes--
strengthened by a capital field glass--I could see no city of Mexico
from the summit of the Sierra, nor from any part of its sloping
declivity, through the dearest break the pine-forest afforded.

Considering the distance, it is not likely that I should.  What I saw
was the "Valle" itself--not a valley in our sense, but a wide plain;
inclosing within its limits several isolated hills, that might almost be
termed mountains; mottled with broad expanses of swamp, and sheets of
clear water--the largest of these being Lakes Tezcoco and Chalco; here
and there a white dot, showing the lime-washed walls of a hacienda, the
keener sparkle of a church spire, or the glistening of an enamelled dome
amidst the scattered huts of a _pueblita_.

All this you may see from the summit of the Cordillera; but not the
towers of Tenochtitlan.  Before you can distinguish these, you must
descend--nearer and lower.  You must look from the terrace where stands
Buena Vista; or the plateau occupied by the "Venta" of Cordova.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

When nearly abreast of the latter place, the road we were pursuing ran
out, or rather into a bridle path; and my little troop had to stretch
out into "twos."

A mile farther on, and even this slender formation had to be changed to
one still more extended.  The path was only possible for "single file;"
and into this we fell.

Another mile of marching, and it was not possible for cavalry, or
horsemen of any kind.  Only a pedestrian could pursue it, and he, too,
one accustomed to climbing.

I muttered the command to halt, which had become indispensable.  It was
earned in _sotto voce_ to the rear; and the horses, strung out for a
hundred yards, came to a stand--one behind the other.

"There is no road beyond?"  I said, interrogating the guide, who had
squeezed up alongside of me.

"For horses, no.  Only a footpath; an' scace that eyther.  Thar air a
horse track further up; but it comes in from t'other side o' the ridge--
on the left.  It strikes off o' the National Road, close to the place
whar the coach got stopped.  Thet's why I hev the suspicion the fellurs
may be found at the house as lies up hyar."

"But why have we not gone along the main road, and then taken that you
speak of?  We could have ridden on to the house?"

"No--not to the house.  Thar's a bit o' it too--the last hundred yards
or so--impossible for bosses."

"Still it would have been better than to leave them here?  I don't like
separating the men from their saddles--especially as we know nothing of
the ground."

"Thar's another reezun for our not goin' the other way," pursued the
guide, without replying to my remarks.  "If I'd taken you by the road we
might a made a mess o' it."

"How?"

"If they're up at the big house there'll be one o' 'em on the watch down
below--near the joinin' o' the roads.  They allers keep a sentry there.
He'd be sartin to a seen us--whereas, by comin' this way, we may have a
chance o' stealin' close to the shanty afore any o' 'em sets eyes on
us."

"You propose that we dismount, then, and go forward afoot?"

"Thar's no other way, cap'n."

"How far is it to the house?"

"As to distance, nothin'; not over six hundred yards, I shed say.  I've
only been there once.  It's the steepness o' the track that takes up the
time."

I did not much like the idea of dismounting my men, and leading them
away from their horses.  Not but that the individuals I had selected
were equal to good fighting afoot; but it occurred to me that it was
possible for us to have been seen, as we marched along the lower road--
seen, too, by those who might have a fancy to follow us.

There were guerilleros along the mountain foot, as well as robbers in
its ravines.  In short, every peasant and small proprietor was at this
time a _partisan_.

What if a band should get together, and come on after us?  The capture
of twenty American horses--without a blow struck to retain them--would
have been a blow to me I should not easily have got over.  It would have
been the ruin of a military reputation, I had but just commenced making.

I dared not risk such a discomfiture; and I determined upon the men
remaining by their horses.

I had no idea of abandoning the enterprise.  That would have been a
still greater disgrace.  I but stayed to consider some plan of approach,
involving less risk of a failure.

A few minutes spent in reflection, and a few more words exchanged with
the stage-driver, helped me to what I conceived a better: the men to
remain where they were; myself and the guide to go up the ravine alone,
reconnoitre the house, and then take such measures as circumstances
might suggest.

If we should find that the brigands were "abroad," my troopers would be
spared a toilsome ascent, and the chagrin of a disappointment.  If "at
home," it might then be worth while to pay them a visit in full force.

The guide thought there would be no danger in our going alone--so long
as we made our reconnoissance with proper caution.  There was no
scarcity of cover, both underwood and tall timber.  In the event of our
being perceived while making approach, we could fall back upon our
friends, before much harm could be done to us.  Should we be close
pressed, the men could meet us half-way.  I had the means of making them
hear me at three times the distance.

I had no lieutenant with me--only my first sergeant, who had seen
service in three out of the four quarters of the globe.  Above all, he
had "fit Injun, both in forest and prairie;" and could be trusted on an
enterprise like that we had in hand.

Having arranged the signal in a whisper, and communicated to him such
other instructions as occurred to me, I dismounted from my horse; and
followed "Don Samuel Bruno" in the direction of the "shanty."

------------------------------------------------------------------------

The night was far from being a dark one.  These are rare under the skies
of Southern Mexico.  There was no moon, but myriads of stars; and at a
later hour the moon might be expected.

The atmosphere was tranquil--scarce a breath of air stirring the
suspended leaves of the pines.  The slightest sound could have been
heard at a remarkable distance.  We could distinguish the bleating of
sheep on the plain below, and the screaming of wildfowl on the sedgy
shores of Lake Chalco!

Less light, and more noise, would have answered our purpose better.

We ourselves made but little of the last.  Though the path was steep, it
was not so difficult of ascent--only here and there, as it extended from
terrace to terrace by a more precipitous escarpment--and up these we
were assisted by the shrubbery.

We had agreed to proceed by signs; or, when near enough, by whispers.
We knew that the slightest sound might betray us.

At short intervals we stopped to obtain breath--less from actual
exhaustion, than to keep down the noise of our heightened respiration.

At one place we made a more lengthened pause.  It was upon a shelf-like
terrace of some extent--where there were hoof-prints of horses, and
other indications of a trodden path.  My guide pointed them out--
whispering to me, that it was the road of which he had spoken.

I bent down over the tracks.  They were of recent date--made that very
day.  My prairie experience enabled me to tell this, despite the
obscurity through which I scrutinised them.  The "sign" promised well
for the success of our enterprise.

Beyond, the road became opener and easier.  For two or three hundred
yards it trended along a horizontal level, and we could walk without
strain.

The stage-driver silently preceded me--still going slowly, and without
any abatement of caution.

I had time to reflect, as I followed him.

My thoughts were anything but cheerful.  The gloomy canopy of the pines
appeared to give a tinge to my spirit, and it became attuned to the sad
sighing heard high up among their _ancillae_.  The moaning of the great
Mexican owl, as it glided past on soft silent wing, seemed meant only to
mock me!

I had been under a half belief that I had forgotten Dolores Villa-Senor,
or become indifferent to her existence.  Vain hallucination!  Idle, and
I knew it now.

Long weary marches; sieges protracted; battles, and wounds therein
received; even the coquetry of other eyes--wicked as hers--had not
chased her image from my heart, or my memory.  It was there still.

I could see her countenance before me--under the sombre shadow of the
trees--plain as I saw the white-winged owls--soft as the weird wafting
of their wings!

I had not forgotten her.  In that hour I knew that I never should.

And while hastening to effect her rescue, I felt as if I could have
gloated over her ruin--so steeped was my soul in chagrin--so brimful of
black vengeance!

It was no chivalrous thought that was carrying me up the slopes of
Ixticihuatl--only the hope of humiliating her, who had humiliated me!

I was aroused from my unworthy imaginings by the voice of Sam Brown,
whispering close to my ear.  His words were:--

"Don't ye hear it, cap'n?"

"Hear what?"

"The music."

"If you call the hooting of that horrid owl--"

I stopped at a gesture from my guide.  In the obscurity I could see his
hand uplifted, his finger pointing upwards.

"Don't ye hear somethin' up that way?" he continued, "Thar's the twang
o' a guitar, or one o' them thar Mexikin bandoleens--as they call 'em.
Hear that?  Somebody laughin'!  Hear that, too?  If my ears haven't lost
thar hearin', that ere's the voice o' a sheemale!"

The last remark secured my attention.  I listened--as if expecting to
hear a summons of life or death!

There _was_ the twang of a stringed instrument--harp or guitar, bandolon
or _jarana_.  There _was_ a voice--a man's voice--and the instant after
a series soft tones, with that metallic ring that can only proceed from
the feminine throat.

"Yes," I assented, mechanically, "there's music there!"

"Moren' that, cap'n!  Thar's dancin'."

Again I listened.

Certainly there was the pattering of feet over a floor--with motion
timed to the music--now and then a pause--a laugh or an exclamation--all
betokening a scene of enjoyment!

"It's the exact direckshin o' the shanty," whispered Sam.  "They must be
_in_ it.  Thar's somethin' goin' on, hear that?  There's a bust!  Darn
me, if they hain't got a _fandango_!"

It was an increased swelling in the sound that had called forth this
exclamatory language.  A violin had joined its continuous strain to the
throbbing of the _jarana_; and several voices appeared to take part in
the conversation, which was carried on during the intervals of the
music.

There appeared to be nothing boisterous--no riot or roystering--only
such sounds as might be made by a party of pleasure-seekers engaged in a
picnic, or _dia de campo_--the chief difference being that it was _in
the night_!

Certainly the sounds were not such, as I should have expected to proceed
from a band of brigands engaged in an interlude of festivity.

"It's _them_!" whispered the driver of the diligencia--a better judge of
brigand music than myself.  "The very chaps we're in search o'.  They're
doin' a little bit o' divartin; an', cuss me, cap'n, ef I don't b'lieve
that them two gurls is joinin' willinly in the spree!"

I answered his speech only in thought.  And a fell, fearful thought it
was.

"Dolores Villa-Senor not forced by cruel circumstances, but voluntarily
assisting at a carnival of _salteadores_!"

All thoughts of strategy were chased out of my mind.  Even prudence for
the time forsook me.  The remembrance of the past--the morbid imaginings
of the present--alike maddened me.

She upon whom I had fixed my affections--high and holy--the toy of a
robber-chief!  Worse still; herself wanton and willing!

"Go on!"  I said, grasping my guide by the arm; "on to the house!  Let
us see what it means.  On, on!  There's no danger.  In ten minutes I can
call my men around me; and if need be, we can run back to them.  On! on!
I must see with my own eyes, if she can be so degraded!"

Without altogether comprehending why, Sam Brown saw that I was
determined on advancing; and, yielding to my impulsive command, once
more led the way.



CHAPTER THIRTY TWO.

PARADISE FROM THE PILLORY.

Another terrace was ascended; and before us stood the house--a massive
structure of quadrangular shape only one story in height, but surmounted
by an _azotea_ with a parapet running around it.

It was placed upon a platform of limited extent; backed by a precipitous
slope, of which the platform was the base; and flanked by two cliffs
that scarped off in the opposite direction--downward.

What might be called the gables of the dwelling were flush with the
flanking cliffs; but between its rear and the ascending slope was an
inclosed space--forming a _corral_, or courtyard.

Its _facade_ lay towards the smooth space in front; that declined gently
from the walls, like the glacis of a fortification.

A better site for defence could scarcely have been chosen.  No foe could
advance by either flank; and an attacking party from the front would be
exposed while crossing the open ground.  The place might be more
successfully assailed from the rear--by an enemy coming over the top of
the sierra.

The idea of defence could not have been entertained.  On the Indian
frontier, yes; but in the valley of Mexico--tranquil since the time of
Moctezuma--there had been no fighting.  The structure could have nothing
to do with the revolutionary era.  It was too ancient for that.

It was difficult to understand why such a dwelling had been erected in
such a place.  It could not be an agricultural establishment: there was
no arable land within reach.  Nor yet a _hacienda de ganados_: since
there was no pasture upon the pine-covered slopes that surrounded it.

Had it been built by the monks?  Perhaps by some eccentric recluse, who
had chosen the site, for the purpose of contemplating civilisation,
without being disturbed by it?

These thoughts were things of an after-time; when, upon an excursion of
curiosity, I made myself better acquainted with the topography of the
place.

All that I saw then--as we were making our stealthy approach--was a
block of dark mason work, with a still darker disc in the centre
indicating the entrance door; and on each side of this a large window,
from which a stream of light was escaping.

The ground in front had the look of a ruined garden--overgrown with rank
grass, and here and there some clumps of shrubbery run wild.

Among these we made our approach--taking care to keep clear of the two
bands of yellow light diverging from the windows.  Both were mere
apertures without glass; defended, as in all Mexican houses, by strong
iron bars rising vertically from the sill.

There was neither blind nor curtain, to obstruct the passage of the
light outward, or the view inward.

After a few seconds spent in skulking across the lawn, we succeeded in
placing ourselves within good viewing distance of one of the windows.

Inside we could see a table set with the paraphernalia of a feast.  It
appeared a rude piece of furniture; as did also the chairs that stood
around it.  So, also, were the plates, dishes, and drinking vessels that
covered it: though in these we could perceive a grotesque commingling of
the cheap and costly.

Common earthenware _ollas_, and carved bowls of calabash, stood side by
side with goblets of silver, and bottles, whose tapering necks told of
claret and champagne!

Tall wax candles, that looked as if they had been moulded for the
service of the Church, were suspended in chandeliers of the _pitahaya_
cactus, or held in cleft sticks--themselves stuck into the interstices
of the slab table!

Only the drink had been as yet brought upon the board; though the meats
could be scented from the _cocina_; while several brown-skinned,
leathern-clad, "muchachos" were moving to and fro, with a hurried
_empressement_ that showed they were setting the supper.

It was evident that the two windows were in different apartments; the
one opposite us being the _sala de comida_, or dining-room.

It was the _sala grande_, or drawing-room, I most desired to look into.

Not to listen to the music, or become a spectator to the dancing.  Both
had ceased some time before; and in their place we could now hear only a
single voice--that of a man, who seemed to be speaking in a tone
measured and solemn!

It required some strategy to get into position for looking through the
second window.  But it was worth the effort.

From the grand preparations in the dining-room, there should be
corresponding company in the drawing-room?  Was its quality alike
heterogeneous?

As yet we could not tell.  A ruined pile, that had once been a sort of
portico, extended between the two windows--overshadowing the doorway.
It hindered us from obtaining a view of the second.

We had been kneeling among rhododendrons--a clump of which grew near the
dining-room window.  There were none in front of the drawing-room; but
instead, an enormous aloe--the _maguey_ of Mexico.  Once to rearward of
it, and screened by its broad blades, we should be in an excellent place
for observation.

The question was how to get there, without being ourselves observed.
The ground between the rhododendrons and the "pulque plant" was a smooth
piece of turf, without shrub or tree.  On this the two bands of light--
widening as they went out from the windows--became commingled.

To have crossed from one side to the other would have been to expose
ourselves under a light, clear almost as day.

We did not so much fear being seen by those within the _sala grande_.
Their preoccupation--sport, or whatever was going on--would hinder them
from looking forth.

But while crouching among the "rose trees" we had noticed that the great
gate was open; and in the faint light that fell straggling across the
_saguan_--a little brighter in the _patio_ behind--we could see the
dark-skinned domestics flitting to and fro with the supper dishes--like
spectres engaged in the preparation of some infernal feast!

Some of these standing in the _saguan_, or loitering by the outside
entrance, might observe us while crossing?

We dared not risk it.  The exposure would be too great.  Should we
attempt to cross there would be scarce a chance to escape detection.

There was only one other course: to steal back down the lawn, cross over
through the fainter light, and return along the edge of the other cliff.
What a pity we had not taken this route at first!

I was loth to lose the time, but there was no help for it.  To have
saved it, by going direct, might have resulted in the loss of our lives;
or, at all events, in disaster to our expedition.

Ten minutes more, and we stood behind the _maguey_.

Parting its spinous leaves, and passing in between them, we obtained the
desired standpoint.

As I have said, the music had ceased, as also the conversation and
laughter.  All three had been hushed for some time--having come to a
stop while we were skulking among the rhododendrons.

We supposed at first, that supper had been announced to the company in
the _sala grande_, and we might soon see them in the _sala de comida_.

Although the preparations did not appear complete, we should have stayed
to await the going in of the guests--but for what we heard from the
other apartment.

The sounds of merriment, abruptly brought to an end, had been succeeded
by the solitary voice.  It was that of a man, who appeared to speak in
slow measured tones--as if addressing himself to an audience.

We could hear him all the time we were changing place; and his harangue
was still going on, as we came into cover among the fronds of the pulque
plant.

The first glance through these explained everything--why the music had
ceased, and the laughter been restrained.

Inside the sala a ceremony was progressing, that, under the
circumstances, might well be termed solemn.  It was the ceremonial of a
marriage!

A monk, whose robe of bluish grey proclaimed him of the order of San
Francisco, was standing near the middle of the floor.  I mention him
first, as he was the first to come under my eye.

He held a book in his hand; and was reading from it the ritual of
marriage--according to the Romish Church.

My eyes did not dwell upon him for a single second.  They went in search
of the bride, and bridegroom.

A little shifting among the leaves brought me face to face with the
latter.  Imagine my astonishment on beholding Francisco Moreno!

It was scarcely increased when I obtained a view of the bride.  A
presentiment--sad, almost stifling--had prepared me for seeing Dolores
Villa-Senor.  It was she!

I could not see her face.  She was standing with her back towards the
window.  Besides, a white scarf, thrown loosely over her crown, and
draping down to her waist, hindered even a side view of it.

There could be no doubt about its being Dolores.  There was no mistaking
that magnificent form--even when seen _en detras_.  She it was, standing
at the altar!

A wide space separated the bridegroom from the bride.  I could not tell
who, or what, was between.  It appeared a little odd; but I supposed it
might be the fashion of the country.

Behind _him_ were other figures--all men--all in costumes that
proclaimed a peculiar calling.  They were _brigands_.  Francisco only
differed from the rest in being more splendidly attired.  But then he
was their chief!

I had been puzzled--a little pained--by some speeches he had let fall
during our intercourse in the City of the Angels.  How gentle had been
his reproaches, and tolerant his condemnation, of Carrasco!  As a rival,
not as a robber, he had shown indignation against the _ci-devant_
captain of Santa Anna!

What I now saw explained all.  Don Eusebio had spoken only of
probabilities, when he said that Moreno might be a bandit.  Had he known
the real truth regarding this aspirant to his daughter's hand, he might
have been excused for his design to shut her up in a convent.

The bride was willing; there could be no doubt of it.  I remembered what
the stage-driver had told me, of her tripping off so lightly among the
trees, her present behaviour confirmed it.  Even in that solemn hour, I
fancied that she was gay.  I could not see the face; but there was a
free, _nonchalant_ carriage of the head, and a coy vibration of the
scarf that covered it, very different from the staid, drooping attitude
that denotes compulsion.  On the contrary, she appeared contented--
trembling only with joy!

It would be vain to attempt a description of my own feelings.  For the
time, a statue set among the shrubbery could not have been more
motionless than I.  I stood rigid as the fronds of the aloe around me,--
my gaze steadfastly fixed upon the spectacle passing inside.  I began to
fancy it a dream!

But, no!  There was the bride and the bridegroom; and the monk, in dull
monotone still reciting from his book!

And now I could hear the promise to "love, honour, and cherish," and the
responsive vow to "love, honour, and obey"--all after the formula of the
Catholic faith.

Oh! it was no dream, but a hellish, heart-rending reality!

The woman who had won my heart--whom for six months I had been vainly
endeavouring to forget--was before my eyes, surrounded by a band of
brigands--not their captive, but the bride of their chief--freely
consenting to the sacrifice!

"_Otra cosa de Mexico_!"



CHAPTER THIRTY THREE.

A RUDE INTERRUPTION.

"Otra cosa de Mexico!"

Another strange occurrence of Mexico; if not the most incomprehensible,
certainly the most painful, that had yet come under my cognisance: for
it related to myself--the black, bitter part of it.

Words will not convey the state of my mind, as I stood regarding the
group inside.  I could not move--either to advance, or go back.  I could
scarce get breath.  My heart felt as if compressed under a heavy weight,
never more to be removed.  It was undergoing its maximum of misery.

My feelings can only be understood by one, who has had the misfortune to
pass through a like ordeal.  He who has bestowed his affections upon
some high-born beauty may feel chagrin, on discovering that they are not
returned.  It will be deepened by the knowledge, that another has won
the wished-for prize.  Still is there solace, however slight, in the
reflection: that the preference has been given to one worthy, whose
fortune has been more favourable.

When otherwise--when the preferred rival is worthless, socially or
morally, then is the humiliation complete--overwhelming.  It is
self-love stung to the quick.

Such a humiliation was I called upon to suffer.

With all my pretensions of pride--a conceit in the possession of certain
superiorities, mental as well as physical; courage, talent, strength,
activity; a position not humble; a reputation each day increasing; with,
and in spite of all these, I saw that my suit had been slighted, and the
favour I coveted more than aught upon earth, bestowed upon another.

And who that other?  A _bandolero_!  A robber!

It was the very wantonness of woe that swept over my heart, whelming it
with terrible desolation!

I stood like a stranded ship with the huge seas breaking over her.
Waves of passion rushed impetuously through my breast, black as the
billows of the storm-contorted ocean.

The spectacle, while stirring me to anger, at the same time kept me
fixed to the spot.  I made no movement--either forward or backward.  I
felt paralysed with a passion, such as I hope I may never feel again.
The world seemed full of woe!

For a time I was unable to reflect.  My thoughts were but instincts, now
woeful, now wicked--now despairing, now tending to resolves.

One a little nobler at length took possession of me.  My own fate was
sealed; but not that of Dolores Villa-Senor--which to me seemed equally
dark, and drear.  Was it possible to save her?

I had not heard those mystic words that rivet the golden chain of
wedlock, "With this ring I thee wed."  The shining symbol had not yet
appeared upon her finger.

There was still time to interrupt the ceremony.  A single breath into
the silver tube, that hung suspended over my breast, would stay it; and,
before it could be resumed, the green jackets would be around me.

It was no thought of danger that withheld me from sounding that signal.
I was too unhappy to have a feeling of fear; too reckless to care a
straw for any consequences to myself.  At that moment I could have
rushed into the presence of the bridal group, and defied one and all to
the death!

It was neither caution, nor a craven spirit, that restrained me; but an
instinct more ignoble than either--an instinct of revenge.

Dolores had adopted her destiny.  However dark it might prove, it was
not for me to attempt turning it aside.  She would not thank me for
saving her.  Sweeter would be my triumph to show her the man she had
chosen for husband, in my power--a scorned captive at my feet.

So ran my ungenerous reflections.

"Let the marriage go on!"  I muttered to him by my side.  "She shall be
wed, and--widowed!"

In all my life I never felt so spitefully cruel--so desirous of
retaliation.  Every spark of chivalric thought had departed from my
soul.

The imperturbable Yankee made no reply.  The scene inside seemed to be
absorbing all his attention--as it was my own.  Far different his
interpretation of it.  With him it was simple conjecture.  He little
suspected the knowledge I possessed, or the dread interest stirring
within me.

We remained in the maguey, to await the conclusion of the ceremony.

We saw the ring glancing between the fingers of the bridegroom.  But it
came not in contact with those of the bride.  Before that critical
moment arrived, a change--quick as the transformation in a pantomime--
terrible as the passage from calm to tropic storm--from life to death--
went sweeping over the scene!

A phalanx of dark forms rushed past the spot where we were crouching.
They were human--but so silent in their movements--so weird-like under
the wan light--as to appear spectral!

They could not be phantoms.  One or two of them touched the tips of the
plant in passing, causing its elastic blades to rebound backwards.  They
were forms of flesh, blood, and humanity; animated by the spirit of
fiends--as in another instant they proved themselves.

We saw them by a rapid rush precipitate themselves into the open
doorway--a few scattering along the facade, and taking stand by the
windows.

We saw the glittering of armour.  We saw spears and _machetes_ thrust
through the iron bars.  We heard the cocking of carbines, and the rude
summons to surrender--followed by menaces of murder!

There was a short scuffle in the _saguan_, and the courtyard behind it;
and then there were death groans, proceeding from the domestics, who
fell stabbed upon the stones!

The two apartments appeared to be simultaneously entered.  Dark shadowy
forms flitted through the dining-room; but in the other the shadows were
darker.

There was a rushing to and fro--a changing of places--not as in a
kaleidoscope, but in crowded confusion.  There was screaming of women--
shouting of men--threats and curses--followed by pistol reports; and,
what made the _fracas_ still more infernal, an occasional peal of
diabolical laughter!

Only for a short while did this continue; so short, that I scarce
believed in its reality till it was all over!

Almost at its commencement the lights in both rooms had been
extinguished; but whether by chance, or design, it was impossible for us
to tell.

What occurred afterwards we knew only by hearing, or from glimpses
afforded by the occasional flashing of firearms.

Though there was loud talking all the while that the strife continued--
with exclamations, every other one an oath--we heard nothing to give a
clue to it.

Nor did we find any explanation in what followed.  We could only tell,
that the conflict had come to an end; that it was succeeded by the
shuffling of footsteps across the paved _patio_, gradually retiring to
the rear, and at length heard ascending the precipitous pine-covered
slope that soared darkly above the dwelling!

As they rose higher, they grew fainter; until the only sounds
distinguishable were the moanings of the Mexican owl, the hissing of the
cascade below, and the sighing of the mountain breeze among the tops of
the tall pine-trees.



CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR.

PADRE CORNAGA.

Astonishment still held me speechless, as it did my companion--
motionless, too, as the maguey leaves, radiating around us.

Had I known the real signification of what had just transpired, I might
have acted with more promptitude, and ten times the energy.

As it was, I felt like one slowly recovering from a state of torpidity--
from an ill-digested dream!

"What does it all mean?"  I inquired of the stage-driver, without
stirring from my place.

"Darn'd if I know, cap'n; 'cept it air one band o' robbers that's
attackted the t'other, and stripped 'em of their spoils.  The conq'rors
'pear to be clean gone away, an' hev took the weemen too!  They've
sloped off on t'other side o' the shanty.  I kin hear 'em yet, making
their way up the mountain!  Thar's a path there; tho' it ain't so easy
to climb.  I reck'n they've gone up it, toatin up the gurls along wi'
'em.  The reezun _they_ ain't still screechin' is, they've got 'em
eyther gagged, or _tapado_."

"_Tapado_?"

"Yes; muffled up--thar faces covered wi' something--to hinder them from
seeing their way, or singin' out.  They only do it, when the weemen show
refactory."

What mattered it to me?  What mattered, whether Dolores Villa-Senor was
the wife of one robber, or the mistress of another?  Why should I care
now?  She could never be mine!

I stepped out from among the leaves--leisurely, as one who has no motive
for making haste.  There was a cold pain at my heart; a callous
indifference to the fate of her who had caused it.  She was welcome to
go higher--to the summit of the mountain she had selected as the scene
of her nuptials.

It was Ixticihuatl on whose slope we stood.  The "White Sister" could be
seen through the clear starlight above, reposing in spotless vestments.
How different from the robe of Dolores!

"Let her go!" was my unchivalric reflection.  "She has made her own bed:
let her lie upon it!"

------------------------------------------------------------------------

It was not for the purpose of pursuing--at all events not with any
thought of rescuing her--that I placed the call to my lips, and sounded
the signal for my men.

In less than five minutes the "Rifles" were around me--their green
jackets distinguishable under the brilliant beams of the moon--that on
the instant sailed suddenly into sight.

On hearing the shots, and other sounds of strife, they had commenced
moving up the mountain-path.  Hence the promptness of their appearance.

Selecting half a dozen of them, I stepped straight into the doorway of
the house.  We entered without opposition--groping our way through the
saguan.

Inside all was darkness; though we could tell that the place was still
tenanted,--by the groans that proceeded from the adjacent chamber.

A light was struck; and we commenced exploring the apartments.  In the
dining-room there was no one--a banquet spread--but without guest to
partake of it!

We turned into the _sala grande_--from whence proceeded the lugubrious
sounds.

The scene--so late one of merriment--was now a spectacle of death!

Two men were lying along the floor.  One might have been supposed
asleep: as he lay quite silent.  But a red rivulet, trickling from its
source underneath him, and terminating on the tiles in a pool of blood--
told that it was the silence of death.

The other, also surrounded by seams of smoking gore, still lived and
moved.  It was he who was making moan.

On stooping over him, I recognised the features of Francisco Moreno.
They were still handsome, though terribly distorted by his struggle, as
I supposed, with death.

It was no use asking an explanation from him.  I saw that he did not
know me!

There was a thought in my mind at the moment--an unsanctified thought.
A rival had been removed from my path.  Francisco Moreno was no longer
in my way!

But it could not matter now.  The relief had come too late!

"Hilloa, what's this?" exclaimed one of the men, poking his rifle under
the _banquette_, and pressing it against what appeared a large bundle
done up in Kentucky jeans.  "By the Almighty, it's a monk!"

"You're right, caballero," answered a voice, from under the envelope of
grey-blue serge, which, on closer inspection, proved to be the gown of a
Franciscan friar.

"A monk I am--at your service, caballeros.  _Sangre de Crista_!  It's
the merest, accident that I'm a living one.  O, senores; I perceive that
you are _hombres buenos_; and that the _ladrones_ have retreated at your
approach.  Say that they are gone; and that I need have no further
fear?"

"Two on 'em haint gone fur," replied the stage-driver; "thar they lie--
right afore yur eyes, Padre Cornaga."

"Ah! you know me, good sir?  _Santissima_, it's the driver of the
_diligencia_--the worthy Don Samuel Bruno!  What! _these_ robbers?  _Por
Dios_, no!  They are gentlemen!"

"A queery kind o' gentlemen, I reckin'."

"'Tis true as I say it, Senor Don Samuel.  _Caballeros--hombres
honestos_--both these unfortunate young men.  _Ay de mi_!" added the
monk, stooping down over one of the prostrate forms.  "This is the son
of our _Juez de Letras_ (judge of the Criminal court).  Many a robber
have I shrived after sentence passed by his honoured father.  And this,"
he continued, turning to Francisco, "Ah! senores, this is the bridegroom
himself--_asesinado_--in the presence of his bride, and under the sacred
shadow of the altar, that should have protected him from anything!
_Pobre Dolores!  Pobre Dolores_!"

"It is the name of a lady.  How came _she_ to be here?  You say these
men are not robbers--what are they?"

"Oh, senor capitan!--for I perceive you are the chief--it is a strange
story.  Shall I tell it to you?"

"As you please about that.  I came here to capture a gang of _ladrones_;
or kill them, if need be.  I only want to know which are the thieves,
and which the honest men.  There does not appear to be any great
difference between them?"

"O caballero! why should you say that?  Surely you do not mistake the
honourable capitan Moreno for a _salteador_?  A worthy young gentleman
who but ten minutes ago was standing up to be wedded to one of the
fairest and most Christian ladies in our good city of Puebla--the
daughter of Don Eusebio--"

"Villa-Senor.  I know all that.  But how came it to pass?  Why was the
ceremony here?  Why not in her father's house?"

"You astonish me, senor!  What can you know?"

"Never mind what.  Tell me, I entreat--I command you--how it is that
this marriage--interrupted as I perceive it has been--was taking place
here--among the mountains?"

"Senor capitan; you are welcome to know all.  Alas! there is now no
reason for keeping the scheme concealed."

"A scheme!  There was a scheme?"

"Si, senor!  It was contrived between the young people themselves.  Don
Eusebio was against their being united--so much, that to prevent it he
was taking his daughter to a convent--that of La Concepcion, in the
capital; which I may be permitted to say to you, a stranger, is the most
fashionable of our nunneries.  Pobre Dolores!  Can you blame her for
using means to escape from such a fate?  Even I, a _religio_, do not
scruple to say it was wrong.  To think of immuring such a fair creature
within the dull walls of a cloister!"

"I acknowledge to having been in the confidence of the _amantes_; and
even assisted them to contrive their little scheme; which, alas! has
proved so unsuccessful.  Ah, worse than that: since it has brought ruin
to all engaged in it!"

"What was it?"  I asked, impatiently, having but slight sympathy with
the regrets of the priest.

"Well, senor, it was this.  The gallant youth whom you see there--alas,
I fear the victim of his gallantry--with half a dozen of his friends,
disguised as _salteadores_, were to capture the _diligencia_, and gain
possession of the Senorita Dolores,--as also of her sister who
accompanied her; another lady as fair--some say fairer--than she; and,
with all respect to the gentle Dolores, I am myself of this opinion.

"Need I say that the plan so far was eminently successful?

"_Pues, senor_!  It had been arranged that I was to be one of the
travelling party; which, from my office of _sacristan_ to the family of
the Senor Don Eusebio, was easily brought about.  I too was to be taken
prisoner by the sham bandits!

"_Pues senor_!  There was to be a marriage--without Don Eusebio's
consent.  It was in the act of being solemnised.  _Jesu Cristo_! what a
termination!  There lies the bridegroom.  Where is the bride?  Where her
sister Mercedes?  Ah, senor! you should see Mercedes--_una cosa muy
linda_--the fairest thing in all the city of Puebla!"

"Excepting Dolores."

The words went forth with a purely mechanical effort.  I was in no mood
for playing champion to charms never to be enjoyed by me.

"The robbery of the _diligencia_ was a ruse, then?"

"_Si, senor.  Una engana_.  A little stratagem of Don Francisco and his
friends."

"I thort thar was somethin' queery beout it," remarked the stage-driver.

"But what meant the ransom--the ten thousand dollars?"  I asked.

"Ay Dios, senor capitan, that was part of the plot.  Don Eusebio is _muy
rico_--very rich indeed.  For all that he is perhaps a little
parsimonious.  The young people knew that they would need money to
commence housekeeping; and as it might be a long time, before the worthy
parent would relent and grant them forgiveness, they thought it might be
as well to _borrow_ it from him in that way.  _Santissima_! it has been
a mistake--all, all!  Oh, senores! _you_ will not betray me?  If it
becomes known that I was a willing actor in this sad affair, I would not
only lose the lucrative situation I hold in Don Eusebio's family, but
perhaps also my gown.  _Dios de mi alma_!"

"My good padre," I answered somewhat unmannerly, "we have no time to
trouble ourselves about your future.  We wish you to give some further
explanation of the present.  The marriage ceremony you speak of was
interrupted.  We know that.  But why, and by whom?"

"Robbers, senor--real robbers!  _Salteadores del camino grande_!"

This was an answer to both my questions.  The monk on perceiving it,
offered no further explanation.

"Their sole motive was plunder, I suppose?"

"Ah, senor, I wish I could think so!"

"You believe they had some other object?"

"Alas! yes.  Look there, caballero!"

The priest pointed to the dead body of the young man, whom he had
represented as the son of the _Juez de Letras_.  He was lying with face
upwards.  I could see upon his breast the sparkle of gold--the
guard-chain of a watch--and inside the vest a shape showing that the
watch was itself there!

"This is strange," I said.  "Are you sure they were regular robbers who
did this?"

"Sure--sure!" replied the padre, with a melancholy shake of the head.
"Too sure, caballero.  'Tis true they wore masks, and I could not see
their faces.  But I heard a name that told me all.  I heard it as they
passed out, carrying the _muchachas_ along with them."

"What name?"  I asked, with a painful presentiment.

"Ah, senor capitan; one too well known upon these roads."

"_Carrasco_?"  I half shouted, without waiting for the padre to
pronounce it.

"Ay Dios, senor!  You know everything!  That is the name.  I heard it
from one of his followers, who spoke to him as they hurried off in the
darkness.  The robber-chief who has done this foul deed is the noted
captain _Carrasco!  Pobres ninas_!"



CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE.

SAD BUT SWEET.

I waited for no further explanation on the part of the Franciscan.

I fancied I now understood the _situation_, as well as he--perhaps
better.

With the thought of Dolores in the keeping of common brigands, I should
have been, if not content, certainly less tortured.  It was a different
thing to think of her in the keeping of _Torreano Carrasco_!

Vividly flashed before me the taunting in the Cathedral--the scenes in
the "Street of the Sparrows."

"Make ready, men!  Look to your rifles and revolvers!  Sergeant! form in
single file, for a march up the mountain-path!"

As he of the triple chevron hastened to execute the order, I turned
towards Francisco Moreno.

With an indescribable emotion, I bent down over the wounded man.

At a glance I could see that he had been badly abused.

In addition to several stabs from sword or poignard, the bullet of an
_escopette_ had traversed his left thigh--the purple spot appearing
right over the femoral artery!

I had myself received just such a shot at the storming of Chapultepec--
creasing, but, fortunately, without cutting the vein; and I knew, that
if this had been opened in the thigh of Francisco Moreno it was his
life-blood I saw upon the floor.

Its quantity, and the deathlike paleness of his face, were points for a
sad prognosis.

In a double sense the spectacle gave me pain.  In the finely-chiselled
features--more perfect in their pallor--I saw that which had deprived me
of Dolores Villa-Senor.  No wonder she loved him!

But he was going from this world, and my jealousy should go with him.

It went at once, hastened by thoughts of Carrasco; and my first
friendship for Francisco Moreno was restored in all its strength.

I looked around the room.  There was no furniture, except such as
appeared to have been transported thither for the occasion.  I stepped
into a small chamber adjoining.  In this I discovered a _catre_, or
camp-bedstead of leather, stretched upon trestles.  Some shawls, scarfs,
and other articles of female apparel thrown over it, told of its
intended occupancy.  It was to have been the _bridal bed_!

I had the bridegroom placed upon it; to receive the embrace, not of
Dolores, but Death!

After a cursory examination of his wounds, I conceived a more hopeful
opinion of them.  The haemorrhage had been profuse.  Still the main
artery did not appear to be touched.

He was feeble as a child; and stood in need of some restorative.

I could think only of that which, under circumstances strangely
analogous, had given support to myself--a draught of _Catalan_.  My
flask was full of _refino_--the best that could be obtained in the
Capital.

I placed it between his lips; and poured down a portion of its contents.

The effect was such as I anticipated--drawing from my own remembrance.
The spirit passed immediately through his frame--filling his veins as
with fresh blood.

He soon became conscious: he recognised me.

"Ah, senor!" said he, looking gratefully in my face, "It is you--you who
are doing me this kindness!  Oh! tell me, where is she--Dolores--my own
Dolores--my bride--my wife?  Ah--no--she was not yet that?  But where--
where--"

"Do not disquiet yourself about her," I said, with a bitterness that
even his sufferings could not hinder me from showing.  "No doubt she can
take care of herself."

"But where is she?  O senor! tell me where!"

"Compose yourself, Don Francisco.  The lady cannot yet be far off.  I
fancy I shall be able to overtake the scoundrels who have carried her
away."

"They have carried her away?  O God! carried away, by him--by him!"

"By whom?"

It was an idle interrogatory.  I knew without asking.  There was a voice
still ringing in my ears--a voice I had distinguished through the din of
the strife, and which even then I fancied having heard before.  I now
knew it was no fancy.  The friar had convinced me of that.

"That wretch, Carrasco!" replied the wounded man; "I am sure it was he.
I recognised him despite the crape mask.  Lola, Lola! you are lost!  And
still more _Mercedes! pobre Mercedes_!"

I did not press for an explanation of this speech, that sounded so
ambiguously strange.  I only said in reply:

"Senor Moreno, do not excite yourself.  Leave the matter in my hands.
My duty compels me to use every effort in recovering these ladies, and
punishing the vile caitiffs who have carried them off.  Have no fear
about my doing what I can.  If fate wills it, _your_ Dolores shall be
restored to you."

"Thanks, thanks, senor!  I feel assured you will do what can be done.
If not for _Dolores, you should for the sake of her sister_."

"Her sister!  What mean you by that speech, captain Moreno?"

"Ah, caballero! if you but knew how she loves you!"

"Loves _me_!"

"Ay.  It was in the hope of seeing you, that she consented to assist in
a stratagem, of which I need not tell you now.  It was to end by our
going on to the Capital; where, since the storming of Chapultepec, she
knew you have been residing.  She heard of your gallant behaviour in
that sanguinary action, and of the dangerous wounds you received.  You
cannot guess how she grieved for you--despite her chagrin.  _Pobre
Mercedes_!"

"Mercedes--grieved--chagrin!  You mystify me."

"Ah, senor--your conduct mystified her.  Ay more: it half broke her
heart."

"Francisco Moreno! for heaven's sake explain yourself!  What does all
this mean--about _Mercedes_?  Pray tell me!"

"I can tell you little, but what should be known to yourself.  _Pobre
nina_!  She had made me her _confidant_,--having long been mine in my
correspondence with Lola.  O, senor! you have been kind to me.  You are
doubly so now.  But why have you behaved so to Mercedes?  Though I may
never rise from this couch, I cannot help telling you it was
dishonourable,--ay _cruel_!"

"On what occasion, may I ask, has this cruelty occurred?"

"You are mocking me, _amigo_?  You must remember it.  She gave you an
appointment in the Alameda; and though you came, and she saw you, you
went away without waiting to speak to her.  After that slight she never
saw you again!  To win a woman's heart, and thus trifle with it!  Was it
not cruel?  I ask, was it not cruel?"

An overpowering surprise hindered me from making reply.  There was
something more to account for my remaining silent.  Through the darkness
long shrouding my soul, I discerned the dawning of day.

"You cannot have forgotten the occasion?" continued the wounded man,
still speaking reproachfully, "I myself have reason to remember it:
since it brought me a message from Lola--the sweetest ever received from
my _querida_.  It was a written promise to be mine; a vow registered _en
papel_: that sooner than enter the convent she would consent--_huyar--
huyar_.  You know what that means?"

Though I well understood the significance of the phrase, I was not in a
state of mind to answer the interrogatory.  I had one of my own to put--
to me of far more importance.

"You received your letter through the window of a carriage?  Was it not
the writer herself who delivered it?"

"_Por Dios_, no!  The _billetita_ you speak of was from _Dolores_.  She
who gave it me was _Mercedes_!"

I felt like folding Francisco Moreno in my friendliest embrace.  I could
have stayed by his bedside to nurse him, or, what was then more likely,
to close his eyelids in death!

I could have canonised him for the words he had spoken.  To me they had
imparted new life--along with a determination, that soon absorbed every
impulse of my soul.

I need not tell what it was.  In less time than it would take to declare
it, I was scaling the steeps of Ixticihuatl in search of my lost love--
once more, _Mercedes_!



CHAPTER THIRTY SIX.

THE BANDITS AT BAY.

I went not without a guide, else I might have climbed Ixticihuatl in
vain.

The stage-driver still acted in this capacity.  By good fortune he had
made the ascent before--on some speculative expedition during a recess,
when the ribbons were out of his hands; and he knew of a second
"robbers' nest" still higher up than that chosen as the scene of the
nuptials.

It was a lone log hut, the residence of a reputed charcoal burner; but
the situation was too high to be convenient for charcoal burning; and,
in Sam Brown's opinion, the "carbonero" was in reality a _bandolero_.

There was just a chance we might find Carrasco at this hut; if not,
somewhere else among the mountains.

How different were the feelings with which I now prosecuted the search.
No longer indifferent about the escape of the robbers, I was determined
on tracking them up, if I should have to traverse every defile in the
Cordillera, or climb to the summit of Popocatepec!

Like a second Ordaz, I could have plunged into its fiery crater to
rescue the captive, who but a short hour before might have leaped into
it, without my stretching forth a hand to restrain her!

It was all changed now.  The wound, that had been bleeding for six long
months, had become suddenly cicatrised.  A load seemed lifted from my
heart.

I felt light and lithe as I sprang up the acclivity.  No Alpine climber
could have equalled me in energy: for never went one with such a purpose
to stimulate his strength.  It were a trite triumph to scale the summit
of the Matterhorn, compared with that of rescuing Mercedes Villa-Senor!

The path was not only difficult, but perilous.  It would have been so in
the day.  At night both the danger and difficulty were doubled.  It was
all up hill--steep as the side of a cairn, and with footing not much
surer.  The surface was corrugated with lava runs, that had been liquid
some centuries before--now congealed into scoriae that resembled the
slag cast forth from a furnace.

It was not treeless; but sparsely covered with cactus, grass-like tufts
of _zamia_, and stunted fir-trees.  Here and there were patches bare and
coal-black--as if the lava had but recently cooled, after being vomited
forth from the _volcan_ above.

Two things greatly delayed us: the darkness, and the necessity of making
a noiseless advance.  The slightest sound--a word spoken aloud--might
frustrate the purpose of our pursuit.

I had given strict orders for no one to speak--even in whispers.  In
these alone the guide conversed, as he gave his directions.  We knew
that our voices would be carried upward to the ears of the brigands,
while there was not much likelihood of our hearing theirs.

That they were above us we had little doubt; though we neither heard nor
saw them.  We were assured by the nature of the ground.  The path
carried us along the combing of a ridge--on either side flanked by a
stupendous precipice.  It was but the continuation of the twin cliffs
that hemmed in the hacienda below.  We saw no side track, that the
robbers could have taken.  We were certain we had them before us.

Our search promised fair for success.  The robbers could have no
suspicion that they were being followed--least of all by a score of
American riflemen.  The only enemy they might deem near had been left
helpless below.

Silently we toiled on, stepping as lightly as possible over the loose
lava.

At intervals we stopped to listen.  We fancied we could hear footsteps
and the murmuring of men.  We were not sure about either.  The torrent
tearing along the bottom of the "barranca" sent its "sough" into our
ears--filling them to the exclusion of almost every other sound.

Still the ravishers could not be far ahead of us.  Not suspecting
pursuit, they would have no motive for moving in a hurry; though
Carrasco might have one--Mercedes!

The horrid thought chilled the blood within my veins, causing me to
stride on with nervous impatience.

Though the place we were making for was scarce a mile from that we had
left, nearly two hours elapsed before we came in sight of it.

We did so at length.

What we saw was a rude parallelopipedon projected in dark silhouette
against the moonlit sky.  It was a cabin constructed of hewn tree
trunks; very similar to that of the "States," only with a flat terraced
roof instead of the slanting cover of "clap-boards."

It stood upon the very edge of the abyss, its back being flush with the
escarpment of the cliff!  Only one aperture appeared on the side towards
us--a narrow doorway, with a door upon it; which, as we came within
sight, appeared to be shut.

Presently it was opened from the inside--letting out a stream of light
that scattered over the cleared track in front.  On this we could
distinguish the figures of several men, hitherto unseen under the shadow
of the walls.  The logs were in juxta-position, as if carefully
"chinked" to keep out the cold: for the dwelling was situated on the
extreme limits of the _tierra fria_.

While the door remained open we could see a number of men moving inside,
and in their midst the loosely dressed form of a woman.  A white scarf
floated among the darker drapery of cloaks and _jaquetas_.

The robbers appeared to have just arrived.  We knew they could not have
been there long.  Those inside the hut were hurrying to and fro--some
carrying torches that appeared recently ignited.

The party without had commenced kindling a fire, that soon blazed up,
throwing its red glare athwart the grey pine-trees; a grove of which
growing near the edge of the cliff flung its sable shadow over the
dwelling.

The bivouackers were the inferior men of the band; for whom there was no
accommodation inside.

We could bear voices, both inside and out; but the harsh hissing of the
cascade, both above and below, hindered us from making anything of what
was said.

We needed no words to give us an explanation of what we saw.  It was
intelligible without this.  We had tracked the bandits to their den.
They were in it--their victims along with them!

------------------------------------------------------------------------

For the first time since starting on the uphill pursuit, we felt puzzled
as to how we should act.  My own impulses prompted me to spring forward,
and bring the affair to an instant termination.

As far as regarded victory or defeat, I had no fear about the issue.
Although Carrasco's party and ours were nearly equal in numbers, I knew
that in real strength--as in courage and equipment--we were as two to
their one.

But even reversing the order, my men would not have shied from the
contest; not if the enemy had been ten to our one.

For myself--with the motive I had, to move, and madden me,--odds never
entered my thoughts.

As it was, we simply considered ourselves in the presence of _vermin_,
that we could crush beneath the heels of our boots.

With such feeling of contempt for our antagonists, the impulse was to
set upon them at once.  My men only waited for the word.

I was prevented from giving it by a reflection.  In destroying the
vermin the game might be injured along with it?  Mercedes and her
sister--I thought only of Mercedes--might be wounded, perhaps killed in
the conflict?

This fear was sufficient to restrain us.  My comrades intuitively shared
it with me; and I had no difficulty in keeping them in check.

For some time we stayed, crouching behind the trees, where we had first
come within sight of the cabin.

Who could say what was best to be done?  This was the inquiry that
passed mechanically among us.

The sergeant had conceived an idea.  He was an old veteran of the Texan
wars--had served in the campaigns of Houston--and obtained a thorough
knowledge of the Mexican character.

"Best way, capten," said he, whispering close to my ear, "would be to
besiege 'em, and make 'em come to tarms."

"How?"

"Surround the place.  It's half surrounded already.  We've only got to
`filade' the other half, and they'll be complete caged."

There was sense in the sergeant's suggestion.  I should at once have
acceded to it, but for the thought--I need not say what.  Time was the
enemy I most dreaded.  Just then an hour seemed eternity!

"No," I rejoined, "we must attack them at once.  If we leave them
undisturbed till the morning, then our pursuit would be to no purpose.
These ladies--"

"I kin understan you, capten.  I didn't mean to leave it till the
mornin'.  Let's pounce upon 'em now--them that's outside yonder!  Lick
that lot up first, and then summon the others to surrender.  Seein'
their comrades taken, and theirselves surrounded--with ne'er a chance of
escapin'--they'll be only too glad to give up the weemen--ay, without
rufflin' a hair o' their heads.  Besides," continued he, pointing to the
summit of Ixticihuatl, seen distinctly from the spot, "talkin' o'
mornin', look yonder, capten!"

I directed my glance upwards.  A roseate tint appeared upon the snow.
It was the first kiss of the Aurora.  Though still night where we lay,
there were signs of morn upon the summit of the mountain.  In less than
twenty minutes there would be daylight around us!

The thought decided me to act according to the suggestion of the
sergeant.

My commands, imparted in a low tone to the comrades that crouched behind
me, were followed by a quick rush across the open ground, and the almost
instantaneous capture of the fellows around the fire.

It might have been done without alarming their comrades inside, but for
one of them discharging his carbine as we came up.

For him it proved an imprudent act.  It was the last shot he ever fired.
It hurt no one; but he himself dropped dead the instant after, riddled
by the bullets of our revolvers.

The rest surrendered without further show of fight; and in a minute more
were our prisoners.

The shots, of course, carried the surprise inside; but instead of the
door being thrown open, we saw that it was quickly barricaded!

We discovered this on attempting to force it open, and also that it had
been contrived with an eye to such contingency!

While occupied in front of it we were saluted with a volley from above;
while the besieged brigands were seen over the parapet of the azotea.

Before we could answer the fire, their heads were "ducked;" and we were
compelled to stand with guns undischarged, or send our shots idly into
the air.

I felt that we were foiled.  My comrades shared the thought.  A rifleman
lay, wounded, among our feet.  A second had dropped upon his knees;
while three or four others had been scathed by scattering shots.

We stood in a position completely exposed.  To hack down the door would
take time.  Before it could be done, we might look for a second
discharge from the housetop, with an uneven chance of returning it: for
we now saw that the parapet was _crenelled_; rudely, it is true, but
sufficient for the protection of its defenders.

We felt loth to retreat.  There seemed a chance to shelter ourselves
close to the wall; and some, yielding to instinct, had done so.  But
several heavy blocks of stone were hurled down from above--proving the
position untenable.

There was no help for it but retreat to the cover of the trees; and this
we did, taking our crippled comrades along with us.

We had lost but little time.  The interval of indecision occupied only a
few seconds; and, before the bandits had got their carbines ready for a
fresh fusilade, we were safely sheltered against such "sharpshooters" as
they.



CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN.

A SCOUNDREL SAFELY SCREENED.

Though for the time disconcerted, we had no thought of retreating.  The
unsuccessful assault but rendered my men more determined--besides still
further embittering them against the despised foe.

Fortunately the wounds received by their comrades were not mortal,
though it needed not this to provoke their vengeance.  The situation of
the two captives--now thoroughly comprehended by every one--was
sufficient to check all thoughts of retiring from the strife--even had
the enemy far outnumbered us.

As it was, we still believed that we had them in the trap, and it was
only a question of time and strategy to bring the affair to a
termination.

By withdrawing to the trees we had obtained a more advantageous
position.  It gave us a better chance of aiming at any object on the
azotea; and as the sky was each instant becoming clearer, we could
distinguish the loopholes along the parapet.

They were but rude holes--the ragged interstices between the logs--but
good enough for the purpose for which they had evidently been left in
the fabrication of the dwelling.

We expected to see faces behind them, or something we might fire at.  We
saw nothing--not so much as a hand!

The brigands had by this time discovered who were their assailants, and
no doubt knew something of the skill of the American rifleman.
Mistrusting it, they were keeping close--not even daring to look through
the loopholes.

They were not far astray in their tactics--if such they were.  Not a
clear spot on the parapet that was not watched with eager eyes, and
fingers ready to press upon the trigger.

For full five minutes did the inaction continue--five minutes that
seemed fifty!

To me the delay was intolerable as some slow subtle torture.  I was
scheming how to put an end to it, when, to my astonishment, I saw a form
rising above the parapet.  It was that of a tall man, whose dark
_silhouette_ became outlined against the lighter background of the sky.

At a glance I recognised _Carrasco_!

I can scarcely tell what restrained me from sending a bullet through his
body.  Perhaps surprise at the unexpected apparition?

And my followers seemed to be influenced by a like feeling; since, along
their whole line, not a trigger was touched!

The robber-chief must have calculated upon something of the kind, else
he would not have so audaciously exposed himself.

He had also made a nice reckoning of the limits to which our surprise
could be trusted.  The time was short enough; but before we had
recovered from it, we saw a white curtain drawn hastily before him, that
concealed from our sight more than half of his person!

"A flag of truce!" thought we, as we lowered the muzzles of our guns.

In another instant we were undeceived--so far as to its being a flag.
It was the white drapery of a woman's dress--with a woman inside it!
Despite the ambiguous light of the struggling dawn, I could see who the
woman was.

Her appearance--quick and instantaneous--was evidently an act of
compulsion--as if Carrasco had forced her into the position.  I fancied
I had seen his arm outstretched, as he hastily drew her in front of him.

Our rifles were instantly dropped to the "trail," and my comrades
uttered a simultaneous cry of "Shame!"

It was enough to challenge their indignation.  A young and beautiful
woman thus basely used for the shielding of a bandit's body!

Many of them shivered at the thought of the murder they had been so near
committing.

I experienced an emotion peculiar to myself--unknown to them--more
painful than that they had been called upon to feel! since I knew the
white shield to be Mercedes!

There was now enough of light to enable me to distinguish her features.
It needed not this.  The undulating outlines of her head, neck, and
shoulders, like a cameo cut against the sky--were easily identified.

It was an image too firmly fixed in my memory, and too deeply engraven
upon my heart, to be ever more mistaken.

I had just time to see that her dress was torn, her hair tossed, and
hanging like a cloud about her shoulders--just time to note that she
looked wan and woe-stricken--when the voice of Carrasco, rising above
the sibillation of the torrent, summoned us to a parley.

"Caballeros!" he cried out, "in the darkness I have no chance to know
who you are; but, from your mode of making approach, I take it you are
our enemies.  Furthermore, from the fact of your being armed with
rifles, you should be _Americanos_!  Am I right?"

I had not sufficiently recovered coolness to make reply.  My eyes, my
thoughts, were still fixed upon Mercedes.

"What else should we be?" answered the stage-driver by my side, "That
same we air, an' no mistake about it."

"Why have you come here?"

"To capter the cussdest cut-throat in all Mexiko: for that same ye air,
Mister Capting Carrasco."

"_Hola, amigo_!  You've made a mistake this time?  You appear to take me
for the noted Carrasco; and my people, no doubt, for a cuadrilla of
salteadores?  We're nothing of the sort, I assure you.  Only a band of
honest _patriotas_; who, loving our country, have continued to fight for
it--as you know, after our grand army has seen fit to forsake the field.
_Por Dios; senores Americanos_!  You're not the men to blame us for
that?  Just now we acknowledge ourselves vanquished; though still only
besieged.  But as we have no supplies in our castle here--you will give
me credit for some candour in confessing it?--moreover, as we believe it
hopeless to hold out against you, we have made up our minds to
capitulate.  All we ask for ourselves is an honourable _cartel_ of
surrender."

Surrender!  The word fell sweet upon my ears--and for a particular
reason.  It promised safety for Mercedes.

"Come then, caballeros!" pursued the robber-chief; "state your terms;
and let me entreat you not to be too exacting!"

For some seconds I refrained from making reply--partly astounded by the
audacity of the robber--partly considering the answer that should be
returned to him.

Had it been any other man I might have talked about terms.  But it was
the wretch Carrasco; and just then I remembered the deception practised
upon me in Puebla.  I thought of Francisco Moreno lying on his death-bed
below, and of my artist friend, who, in all probability, had fallen by
the same hand.

With the remembrance there sprang up in my mind, not only suspicion, but
a fresh feeling of revenge; and by these, not prudence, was my answer
inspired.

"Terms!"  I shouted back, in a tone of undisguised scornfulness; "We
make no terms with such as you.  Surrender; and then trust to such mercy
as may be shown you!"

"_Mil demonios_!" screamed the bandit, now for the first time
recognising me.  "_Carajo! you_, it is!  You, my saintly friend, whose
devotions I had the pleasure of witnessing, and the pain of disturbing,
in the Cathedral of La Puebla!  May I ask why I am honoured by this
early call--in a mansion so remote from the ordinary walks of life?"

"Come, Captain Carrasco," I replied, "if such be your title.  I don't
intend to lose time in talking to you.  I call upon you to surrender,
and at once!"

"And suppose I don't choose to take it in that way, what then?"

"You need expect no mercy."

"From you, caballero, I have no idea of asking it?"

"You have need, then, unless you desire to die.  You have no chance of
escape--not the slightest.  I tell it you in all seriousness, and
without thought of triumph.  My men are stationed, so as to command
every path that leads from the place.  They are all armed with rifles
and revolvers."

"Listen to reason!"  I went on almost entreatingly, having now become
convinced of the mistake I had made, in doing what might drive the
brigand to desperation.  "Give up your captives, and I promise to spare
the lives both of yourself and your comrades."

"_Ay, Dios_! how generous you are!  Ha!  Ha!  Ha!  Is that all you can
promise, noble captain?"

"No--not all," I answered, stung by the taunting speech.  "Something
more.  If you reject the terms offered, I promise that in ten minutes
from this time your soul will be in eternity, and your body hanging from
the branch of yonder tree!"

I pointed to one of the pines that stood conspicuous on the cliff.

"What, so soon?" was the cool rejoinder.  "It will take you more than
ten minutes to force an entrance into this citadel of ours.  Don't
mistake it for a _jacale_.  Though our fortress be of wood, it is
stronger than you suppose, senor captain."

"We can set fire to it!"

"Ah! you won't do that.  I've no fear of being burnt up, or smoked out,
so long as I am in such goodly company."

The sneer with which the speech was accompanied goaded me to frantic
rage--at the same time that it made me feel my impotence to carry out
the threat I had so boastingly pronounced.

"We shall not need to set the house on fire," was my reply; "we shall
get at you without that.  My men are provided with axes.  They are
backwoodsmen, and know how to use them.  It won't take us ten minutes to
break open your door."

"Open it!" interrupted the robber, "and one half of you will never live
to stride across the threshold.  Those who do, will be witnesses to a
scene which I know, noble captain, _you_ won't love to look upon."

"What scene?"  I involuntarily asked, as a horrid fancy flashed across
my brain.

"A woman--a beautiful woman--with a poignard in her breast!  By the Holy
Virgin, you shall see _that_!"

I felt as if a dagger had been plunged into my own.  I knew it was no
idle vaunt.  There was a terrible firmness in the tone of the brigand's
voice that told of his being in earnest.

"Let me take a shot at him," whispered the sergeant by my side.  "I
think I can fetch him 'ithout touchin' the gurl."

"No--no!"  I hastily answered, "Leave it to me.  For your life, don't
fire--not yet!"

I stood trembling--uncertain what course to pursue.  I had my own rifle
in hand, and was considering whether I should not risk taking a shot at
the ruffian.  Under other circumstances I should have been confident
enough of making a sure one; but just then I felt my nerves shaking
through the throes of my excited heart.  It was a terrible crisis.  The
sinews of Tell could not have been more severely tried, as he adjusted
his arrow to the string.

The bandit seemed thoroughly to comprehend my hesitation.

There was something fiendishly exultant in the laugh with which he
followed up his last speech.

"Now, senor Yankee!" he went on, without waiting for a reply.  "I hope
you are ready to accede to my request.  If so, state your terms for our
release; and remember! make them easy, or it will be impossible for us
to accept them.  I don't wish to hurry you.  As it's a matter of some
importance to both of us, and to _her_ as well,"--I could see him nod
towards Mercedes--"I beg you will take time to consider.  Meanwhile, we
shall retire, and patiently await your answer."

Saying this, he receded from the parapet--as I supposed, still staying
on the azotea.

The white shield was drawn back along with him: and once more Mercedes
was out of sight--leaving me to fell fancies, more torturing than the
sting of the _tarantula_.



CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT.

THE SWING BRIDGE.

I stood for some time chafing, irresolute.

There seemed no help for it, but complying with the brigand's request.
The log cabin could not be successfully stormed without a fearful
sacrifice of the lives of my men--which I was unwilling to make.

Not but that _they_ were willing--one and all of them.  Stung by the
insulting tone of the robber-chief, they were ready to rush forward,
defiant of death, and die in the act of obtaining vengeance.

The vile threat still ringing in their ears alone restrained them--as it
did myself.  No one doubted that the monster meant what he had said; and
we knew that, if driven to desperation, he would carry out his atrocious
design.

There was no alternative but to make terms with him--the best we could
obtain.

Stepping back behind the trees, and summoning around me half a dozen of
my most experienced men, we proceeded to discuss the points of
capitulation.

No words were wasted.  Tortured by the thought of that loved form still
trembling in the loathsome embrace of the brigand, I lost no time in
taking the opinions of my comrades.

As my voice ruled the council, they coincided with my own; which was:
that the robbers should be permitted to leave the place without further
molestation--their captives to remain with us.

To let these scoundrels escape, after having them so completely in our
power, was a source of the bitterest chagrin to every one of our party
It was like abandoning the object of our expedition.  But, from the high
tone taken by Carrasco, I could tell that less liberal terms would be
rejected; and I was far from being confident of his compliance with
these.  I had a thought--shared by my comrades--that there was still
something behind, and that another trick was intended to be played upon
us.  In the speeches addressed to us, there was an ambiguity we could
ill understand.  Despite his professed fearlessness, the robber-chief
could not but be sensible of the danger he was in; and the _sang froid_
displayed by him was scarcely reconcilable with the situation.

Perhaps at this moment he was in the act of perpetrating some piece of
strategy--some villainous _ruse_?

We could not think what it might be, nor even that any was possible; and
therefore no one gave speech to the vague suspicion, though all felt it.
It was only as a presentiment--and for this reason remained unspoken.

It had the effect, however, of urging us to hasten our deliberations,
and bring them to a more speedy conclusion.

The terms settled, I stepped once more to the front--with the intention
of making them known to the enemy.

There was no one in sight; but I supposed that the bandit was still upon
the housetop--crouching below the level of the parapet.

I shouted to attract his attention.

There was no response, save the echoes of my own voice, that
reverberated in duplicate along the twin cliffs of the chasm.

I shouted a second time, louder than before.

Still only echoes--mingling with the cries of a _caracara_ eagle, that
soared scared-like into the air.

Again I put forth my voice--calling the robber by his name, and
summoning him to listen to our proposal.

But there was no answer--not even a responding exclamation!

Outside the hut there was heard the hoarse roaring of the torrent, that
rose continuously from below--above, the _caracara_ still repeating its
shrill screech; but inside there was only silence--ominous, deathlike,
appalling!

I could bear the suspense no longer.

Directing one half of the men to keep their places--and cover our
approach with their rifles--with the other half I started towards the
dwelling.

With a rapid rush we reached it--coming to a stop in front of the
doorway.

There was no need for such haste.  We were permitted to make approach
unmolested.  No shout heard--not a shot fired--not a missile hurled from
above!

We stayed not to give expression to our surprise.  The door was
instantly assailed; and, before the strokes of the Collin's axe, soon
gave way--going inside with a crash.

We entered in a confused crowd--unopposed, not caring for opposition.
We did not expect it.  Despite its improbability, we were more than half
prepared to find the fortress forsaken.

And so did we find it.  The bandits had gone off; and, O God, they had
again carried _their captives along with them_!

There was no mystery about their disappearance.  The mode by which they
had made escape--as well as the way taken--was before our eyes the
instant we entered the hut.

There was another doorway at the back--with a door upon it, standing
slightly ajar.

Hastening across the floor, and drawing it wide open, I looked out.

At a glance everything was accounted for.

A swing bridge (_puente-hamaca_), constructed of _llianas_, with sticks
laid across, extended over the chasm.  One end was attached to the door
post; the other to a tree standing out from the opposite cliff.

At its farther extremity were two men, engaged as if hammering upon an
anvil.  But instead of hammers their tools were _machetes_; and I saw
they were hacking at the suspenders of the bridge.

They succeeded in completing their task--in spite of the shots fired to
prevent them.

It was the last act of their lives.  Both went headlong into the abyss
below; but along with their bodies, went the bridge they had been so
eager in destroying!

Mingling with their last cries came a peal of laughter from the opposite
side of the chasm.  It would have sounded fiendish enough without this.
It was from the throat of Torreano Carrasco!

I saw him standing upon the cliff--near the point of a projecting rock.
He was not using it as a screen.  He was sheltered as before.  Mercedes
was still in front of him.  His arm was around her waist.  He was
holding her in a hug!

Near at hand was her sister Dolores--shielding a second of the ruffians
in a similar manner!

"_Hola_!" cried the robber-chief, intentionally restraining his
laughter, and speaking in a tone of loud exultation.  "_Hola! mio
amigo_!  Very clever of you to have made your way into my mountain
mansion?  And so quick you've been about opening the door?  For all
that, you see you are too late.  Never mind.  You can make your morning
call upon some other occasion; when perhaps you may find me at home.
Meanwhile I have some business with this lady--the Dona Mercedes
Villa-Senor--that will carry us a little further up the mountain.
Should you want to see her again, you may come after--_if you can_!"

Another peal of coarse laughter--in which his comrades, hidden behind
the rocks, were heard to join--interrupted his taunting speech.

"_Hasta luego_!" he again cried out.  "Good morning, noble captain!  I
leave you to your matins; while I go to enjoy a little stroll in company
with the sweet Mercedes.  _Va con Dios--o' si gusta V. al Demonio_!"
(Go with God, or to the Devil, if you like it better!)

At the close of this profane speech, he commenced making approach to the
rock, taking Mercedes along with him.

Rifle in hand I watched his movements, with an earnestness I cannot
describe.  The feverish anxiety, with which the stalker regards the
shifting of the stag, can give but a faint idea of that stirring within
me.

I had hopes that the coward might become separated from the fair form he
was using as a shield.  Six inches would have satisfied me: for his last
brutal innuendo proclaimed a terrible emergency; and with six inches of
his carcase clear I should have risked the shot.

But, no!  He did not allow me even this trifling chance.  He seemed to
divine my intent; and inch by inch, keeping her body straight between
us--O God, to see her in that swarth embrace!--he sidled behind the
stone!

The other followed his example, taking Dolores; and before another word
could be spoken, both robbers and captives had passed out of sight!

The instant after, half a score of hats started suddenly out of the
bushes, that skirted the edge of the cliff; and we were saluted by a
volley from a like number of _escopetas_.

A rifleman, standing in the door by my side, threw up his arms with a
shriek, and fell forward upon the stoup.

As I caught hold, to hinder him from going over the cliff, something hot
came spurting against my cheek.

It was the life-blood of my comrade, who had been killed by the bullet
of an escopeta.

I saw that I was dealing with a dead body; and desisted from the
struggle to sustain it.

It glided from my grasp, and fell with a heavy plash upon the swift
water below!

My men were by this time more than half mad.  It needed not the death of
their comrade to excite them to frantic action.  The sight of the
captive ladies; the disappointment caused by our being unable to rescue
them--after supposing ourselves sure of it--and perhaps, as much as
anything else, the trick that had been played upon them--rendered one
and all thirsty for vengeance.

I need not say that I shared this thirst--so much that I no longer cared
for consequences, and had lost even the perception of danger.

I stood upon the projecting doorstep; not looking after the body which
had gone below, but across the chasm, in hopes of getting sight of a
brigand.  Any one now: since I knew there was not much chance of again
seeing their chief.

I heeded not the stray shots that came hurtling around my head; and, in
all likelihood, one would have consigned me to a fate, similar to what
had befallen my comrade, had I been left to a much longer indulgence in
my reckless mood.

But I was not.  A strong arm seizing me from behind--it was that of my
sergeant--drew me back within the cabin; whose thick wooden walls were
proof against the bullets of either carbine, or _escopeta_.



CHAPTER THIRTY NINE.

GUIDED BY A RENEGADE.

For some seconds there was silence in our midst.  It was the silence of
men who have nothing to say to one another.

There was no need for any one to explain what had passed.  All saw, and
too clearly, that we had been chicaned; and that the wretched curs who
had "sold" us, were as completely beyond our reach, as if twenty miles
lay between us and them!

To be convinced of this, we had only to look down to the bottom of the
_barranca_--sheer fifty feet, before the eye rested on the white froth
flakes gliding below!

It was superfluous in Sam Brown to tell us, there was no crossing for a
mile above or below.  A glance at the twin cliffs, as they faced
frowningly towards each other, seemed to say: that they had parted in
anger, not soon to come together again!

A mile in either direction meant as much as ten--ay, twenty, upon an
ordinary road.  It meant the ruin of Mercedes!

"O God!"  I exclaimed in my anguish, "is there no chance of our getting
across?"

I was answered by the groaning of the torrent beneath my feet, and the
maniac laugh of the eagle that soared majestically over my head--both
seeming to mock the impuissance of man.

"A thousand dollars!"  I shouted out, loud enough to be heard by the
remotest of my followers, "a thousand dollars to the man who can show a
way by which this chasm may be crossed!"

"_Por dios, caballero_!" replied a voice, coming from a quarter where it
was not expected.  "For the tenth part of that pretty sum I'd be willing
to pledge my soul: more especially, if by so doing I can redeem my
body."

The words were in Spanish.  I turned in the direction whence came the
voice.  I could see that it had proceeded from one of the prisoners, we
had taken in the first attack.

The speaker declared himself by endeavouring to struggle to his feet,
and making other gestures to attract our attention.

I hastened towards him, and gave an order for his limbs to be set free
of their fastenings.

This was done.

"You know--?"  I was about to ask.

"A way to get across the _quebrada_," said the brigand, interrupting me,
"if you'll let me show it to you.  I only stipulate--"

"Hang your stipulations!" interposed one of my men.  "We'll shoot you,
if you don't show it!  Like a dog we'll shoot you!"

The rude rebuke, with which I punished the interference of my over
zealous follower, had its effect upon the bandolero.  It secured me his
confidence--while strengthening his treasonous intention.

"Senor capitan," he said, "I perceive that you are a true caballero, and
can be trusted with a secret.  How much, then, for taking you across?  I
know you're not in earnest about the thousand _pesos_.  Say a hundred,
and the thing's done.  I don't bargain for my life.  That, of course,
will be part of the price I should claim for my services."

"Your life, and a thousand dollars, if within ten minutes you take us to
the other side!"

"Ten minutes!" answered the robber, reflectingly.  "Ten!  It's but short
time to do it in.  Say twenty, senor capitan?"

"Twenty, then--if it must be."

"Agreed!  And don't suppose that I'm going to earn the reward without
some risk.  _Carrambo_!  I'm staking my life against it!  _Silencio,
senores_!" he continued in a commanding tone, "_Hay Moros en la costa_!
I must listen a bit before it will be safe to proceed."

We had released the brigand from his ropes, and conducted him inside the
hut.

As soon as he had entered it, he stole cautiously to the back door; and,
placing himself behind one of the jambs, remained for some seconds
listening.

I had given orders that no one should make a noise.  There was none
heard except the hoarse cataract and the shrill _caracara_.

"_Esta bue no_!" he at length ejaculated.  "The Moors are gone--the
coast is clear."

"It is?"  I mechanically asked.

"_Sin duda, senor_.  My _camarados_ have taken their departure.  If you
wish to cross to the other side there will be no danger now."

"We wish it!  Quick!  Show us the way!"

"_Nos vamos_!"

The bandit, stepping out upon the ledge--that served as a sort of sill
to the back door of the cabin--knelt down upon it.

Misled by a former experience, I fancied he was going to offer up a
prayer for the success of his treasonable enterprise!

I was undeceived, on seeing him glide gently over the edge.

I craned my head outward, and looked below.

He was already half-way down the cliff, suspended on the llianas that
had formed the swing bridge.

He was still rapidly descending.

In another score of seconds he had reached the base of the barranca;
where a narrow shelf of rock afforded him footing by the stream.

On touching it, he stopped, looked upwards, and called out:--

"Hola! _senor capitan_!  I've forgotten to tell you, that I require
assistance.  I shall not be able to raise the _puente-hamaca_ myself.
You must give me one of your men; or else one of my old _camarados_!"

"I know what he means," said the stage-driver, stepping forth as a
volunteer, and stooping to take hold of the llianas.  "Thar may be
treezun in the skunk.  I don't think thar is.  But if there shed be,
cap'n, jest keep a look out acrosst the gulley, an' give 'em plenty o'
lead.  I know enough o' your fellows, to feel sure they won't make a
meal-sieve o' my carcass.  Here goes for a bit o' gymnasticks!"

Before I could make reply to this extraordinary speech, Sam Brown had
disappeared below the level of the doorstep.  When I next saw him, he
was standing on the ledge below, with the froth of the cataract clouting
up around his ankles!



CHAPTER FORTY.

THE CONSUMMATION.

Though by this time the sun was in the sky, it was still sombre darkness
at the bottom of the barranca.  I could barely distinguish the forms of
Sam Brown and the brigand.

I was now convinced that the latter had no thought of treachery,--at
least as regarded us; and with his treason to his old comrades we had
nothing to do.  That was an affair between him, and such conscience as
he possessed.

For a second or two, both stage-driver and salteador were out of sight.

When I next set eyes upon them, they were upon the opposite side of the
stream--climbing up the escarpment of the cliff, by a zigzag path that
appeared to conduct to its summit.

A few minutes sufficed them for making the ascent; and then they
appeared at the place where the two men had stood, while cutting down
the bridge.

Shortly after I could see them hauling hand over hand--as if upon a
rope; and looking below, I observed the _puente-hamaca_ slowly ascending
above the surface of the water.

Gently and gradually was it drawn up, till it hung like a hammock across
the chasm--just as we had seen it on first looking out of the hut.

A short interval elapsed; and then the voice of the bandit was heard
calling to us to come over.

"_Vengan ustedes_!" he cried, encouragingly.  "You need have no fear.
The _puente_ is perfectly safe.  If you cross quickly you may yet
overtake--"

I waited to hear no more.  Whether the man meant treason or not, I was
determined to be on the other side; and, seizing hold of the _sipo_,
which served as a sort of hand-rail, I scrambled across the chasm.

My comrades, agile as I, swarmed after me--two or three staying to keep
guard over the captives already secured.

"Now, sir!"  I said to the brigand, as soon as we had secured footing
upon the opposite side, "You've earned your thousand dollars by showing
us the way to get across.  On the word of an American officer I promise
it shall be paid you; and another like sum if you guide us to the spot
where I can find Torreano Carrasco."

I spoke with a serious air, and in a confidential tone--my confidence
designed to tempt the cupidity of the brigand.

It was not misplaced.  It produced the effect intended.

"_Bueno_!" replied he, with an assenting movement of the head; "It's
only a step from here," he continued in a stage whisper.  "Our captain
thinks himself safe, because nobody--except one of ourselves--could have
brought you over the quebrada.  _Nos vamos_!  In twenty minutes time you
will see your Mercedes."

My impatience to be off hindered me from questioning the guide about his
last speech; though it struck me as singular, he should know aught of my
relations with the captive of Carrasco.  I had forgotten that the
robber-chief had shouted across the chasm, loud enough to be heard by
our prisoner.

"Forward!" was my hurried response, "Guide me to _her_, and you may make
your own terms about money!"

What cared I for the vile dross, of which I had ten thousand dollars in
my keeping?  True, it was not my own.  It belonged to Don Eusebio
Villa-Senor.  But had I not been intrusted with it for the ransom of his
daughters?  And was this not the way in which I was employing it?

The Mexican seemed to comprehend me, and with a clearness that left
nothing misunderstood.  Willingly he led the way; and with equal
willingness was he followed by myself and comrades.

Our journey proved but a short one.  After climbing a rocky ridge, we
came within sight of a forest-covered tract--lying just under the line
of the snow.

The guide pointed to it--saying that there we should find the man we
were in search of.  There was a _rancho_ among the pines.  On reaching
it, we might make sure of seeing Carrasco!

This _rancho_ was the "head-quarters" of the _cuadrilla_--the cabin on
the cliff serving as a sort of outlying post, to be used only in cases
of close pursuit.  The _salteadores_ had but halted there, to wait for
the morning light--the more safely to make the passage of the swing
bridge.

Their real rendezvous was the _rancho_--a large house in the heart of
the pine-forest, where the renegade assured us we would find his chief,
his comrades, and their captives.

"Lead on!"  I cried, roused to renewed energy at thought of the last.
"A hundred _pesos_ for every minute spared.  On! on!"

Without another word the Mexican struck off among the trees, the
sergeant treading close upon his tracks.

It was now broad daylight; but in five minutes after we were again in
twilight darkness.

We had entered the pine-forest, and were travelling among trees whose
stems stood thickly around us, and whose leafy boughs, interlocking
overhead, formed an umbrageous canopy scarcely penetrable by the sun.

The path led labyrinthine through the close-standing trunks, and still
more deviously among those that had fallen.

Properly speaking there was no path; for our guide was conducting us by
a route different from that usually taken by the _salteadores_.  This
was to secure us against the chance of an ambuscade.

Unless the robbers had taken the precaution to throw out sentinels,
there was not much danger of our approach being perceived; and this
their _ci-devant_ comrade assured us was never done.  He was confident
that no picket would be placed: the _salteadores_ considering themselves
safe, after having crossed the _quebrada_.

Notwithstanding his assurance, we advanced with caution.  It was not due
to me--too excited to care--but to the sergeant.

The latter kept close to the traitor, holding a cocked pistol to his
ear--with the determination to shoot him down, should he show the
slightest sign of a second treason!

The stage-driver betrayed no such concern.  Better acquainted with
Mexican morals, he had full confidence in the fidelity of our guide; who
had but one motive for being false, and two thousand for proving true.

"Let him alone!" he muttered to the suspicious sergeant.  "Leave him to
take his own way.  I'll go his bail for bringin' us out in the right
place.  If thar be any fluke, it won't be his fault.  So long as he
meets nobody to promise _more_ than two thousand he'll be true; an' that
bid ain't like to be riz 'mong these here mountings.  Leave the skunk to
himself.  He'll take us whar we kin trap Carrasco."

------------------------------------------------------------------------

The conjecture of Sam Brown proved but partially true; though the
renegade was not responsible for any part of its failure.

He did all in his power to earn the reward promised him, and in the end
was paid it.  He had only stipulated to take me into the presence of the
robber-chief; and to the letter was this stipulation carried out.

Through his agency I was brought face to face with Torreano Carrasco,
and my comrades hand to hand with his _cuadrilla_ of _salteadores_.

Reader!  I forbear to harrow your heart with a description of the
conflict that followed.  It was too sanguinary to be told to your gentle
ear, as it is too sad a _souvenir_, even for my remembrance.

Suffice it to say, that one-third of the faithful followers who
accompanied me in that expedition, slept their last sleep on the cold
sides of Ixticihuatl--the dark pines singing over them their eternal
requiem--that more than two-thirds of our outlawed antagonists were
slain at the same time; and that the rest--including their chief,--
contrived to make their escape across the mountain.

I cared not so much for that, so long as Mercedes remained safe--and to
me.  She did so, and I was satisfied.

The _bandoleros_, taken by surprise, had no time either to conceal their
captives, or hurry them out of the way.  Each had enough to do in
providing for his own safety; and at the very first rush into the
_rancho_ Mercedes became mine!

As she lay panting upon my breast, I felt like one who has long been in
chase of some beautiful bird--fearing by a too close contact to ruffle
its rich plumage--at length, enfolding it in his embrace, in the full
faith of having a treasure from which he will never more be called upon
to part!

It was the first time I had holden her in my arms--the first of our
exchanging speech--and yet it seemed to both of us like the renewal of
an old love, by some sinister chance long interrupted!

We talked, as if years had sanctified our affection; though a love like
ours needs scarce an hour to carry it to the spring-tide of passion.

On the spot I called her Mercedes--_my_ Mercedes; while she in return
gave me the endearing title of "querido!"

It was no longer "Querido Francisco!"

It cast no shadow over my joy, that Francisco survived that terrible
night; and, along with his Dolores, lived to complete the _marriage
commenced among the mountains_, and so ruthlessly interrupted.

I had the pleasure of being present at the crowning scene of the
ceremony.  It came off in the Capital--in the quiet little church of the
Capuchins--where Don Eusebio, instead of insisting upon his daughter
becoming _una novia del Cristo_, gave his consent to her being the bride
of Francisco Moreno.

THE END.





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This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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