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´╗┐Title: Wood Rangers - The Trappers of Sonora
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Wood Rangers - The Trappers of Sonora" ***

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Wood Rangers, by Captain Mayne Reid.



CHAPTER ONE.

PEPE, THE SLEEPER.

No landscape on the Biscayan coast, presents a more imposing and
picturesque aspect than the little village of Elanchovi.  Lying within
an amphitheatre of cliffs, whose crests rise above the roofs of the
houses, the port is protected from the surge of the sea by a handsome
little jetty of chiselled stone; while the single street of which the
village is composed, commencing at the inner end of the mole, sweeps
boldly up against the face of the precipice.  On both sides, the houses,
disposed in a sort of _echelon_, rise, terrace-like, one above the
other; so that viewed from a distance, the street presents the
appearance of a gigantic stairway.

In these the common dwellings, there is not much variety of
architecture; since the village is almost exclusively inhabited by poor
fishermen.  There is one building, however, that is conspicuous--so much
so as to form the principal feature of the landscape.  It is an old
chateau--perhaps the only building of this character in Spain--whose
slate roofs and gothic turrets and vanes, rising above the highest point
of the cliffs, overlook the houses of the village.

This mansion belonged to the noble family of Mediana, and formed part of
the grand estates of this ancient house.  For a long period, the Counts
of Mediana had not inhabited the chateau of Elanchovi, and it had fallen
into a state of neglect and partial decay, presenting a somewhat wild
and desolate aspect.  However, at the beginning of the year 1808, during
the troubles of the French invasion, the Count Don Juan, then head of
the family, had chosen it as a safe residence for his young wife Dona
Luisa, whom he passionately loved.

Here Don Juan passed the first months of his married life--a marriage
celebrated under circumstances of sad augury.  The younger brother of
Don Juan, Don Antonio de Mediana, had also fervently loved the Dona
Luisa; until finding her preference for his brother, he had given up his
suit in anger, and quitted the country.  He had gone, no one knew
whither; and though after a time there came back a rumour of his death,
it was neither confirmed nor contradicted.

The principal reason why the Count had chosen this wild spot as a
residence for his lady was this:--He held a high command in the Spanish
army, and he knew that duty would soon call him into the field.  The
_alcalde_ of Elanchovi had been an old servant of the Mediana family,
and had been raised to his present rank by their influence.  Don Juan,
therefore, believed he could rely upon the devotion of this functionary
to the interests of his house, and that during his absence Dona Luisa
would find security under the magisterial protection.  Don Ramon Cohecho
was the name of the chief magistrate of Elanchovi.

The Count was not permitted long to enjoy the happiness of his married
life.  Just as he had anticipated, he soon received orders to join his
regiment; and parted from the chateau, leaving his young wife under the
special care of an old and respectable domestic--the steward Juan de
Dios Canelo.  He parted from his home never more to return to it; for in
the battle of Burgos, a French bullet suddenly terminated his existence.

It was sad tidings for the Dona Luisa; and thus to the joys of the first
days of her married life succeeded the sorrows of a premature widowhood.

It was near the close of the year 1808, when the chateau was the sombre
witness of Dona Luisa's grief, that our story commences, and though its
scene lies in another land--thousands of leagues from, the Biscayan
coast--its history is intimately woven with that of the chateau of
Elanchovi.

Under ordinary circumstances, the village of Elanchovi presents a severe
and dreary aspect.  The silence and solitude that reigns along the
summit of the cliffs, contrasted with the continuous roaring of the
breakers against their base, inspires the beholder with a sentiment of
melancholy.  Moreover, the villagers, as already said, being almost
exclusively fishermen, and absent during the whole of the day, the place
at first sight would appear as if uninhabited.  Occasionally when some
cloud is to be observed in the sky, the wives of the fishermen may be
seen at the door, in their skirts of bright colours, and their hair in
long double plaits hanging below their waists.  These, after remaining a
while to cast anxious glances upon the far horizon, again recross the
thresholds of their cottages, leaving the street deserted as before.

At the time of which we are writing--the month of November, 1808--
Elanchovi presented a still more desolate aspect than was its wont.  The
proximity of the French army had produced a panic among its inhabitants
and many of these poor people--forgetting in their terror that they had
nothing to lose--had taken to their boats, and sought safety in places
more distant from the invaders of whom they were in dread.

Isolated as this little village was on the Biscayan coasts, there was
all the more reason why it should have its garrison of _coast-guards_;
and such in reality it had.  These at the time consisted of a company of
soldiers--carabiniers, under the command of a captain Don Lucas
Despierto--but the condition of these warriors was not one to be envied,
for the Spanish government, although nominally keeping them in its pay,
had for a long time neglected to pay them.  The consequence was, that
these poor fellows had absolutely nothing upon which to live.  The
seizure of smuggled goods--with which they might have contrived to
indemnify themselves--was no longer possible.  The contraband trade,
under this system, was completely annihilated.  The smugglers knew
better than to come in contact with _coast-guards_ whose performance of
their duty was stimulated by such a keen necessity!  From the captain
himself down to the lowest official, an incessant vigilance was kept
up--the result of which was that the fiscal department of the Spanish
government was, perhaps, never so faithfully or economically served.

There was one of these coast-guards who affected a complete scepticism
in regard to smuggling--he even went so far as to deny that it had ever
existed!  He was distinguished among his companions by a singular
habit--that of always going to sleep upon his post; and this habit,
whether feigned or real, had won for him the name of _the Sleeper_.  On
this account it may be supposed, that he was never placed upon guard
where the post was one of importance.

Jose, or as he was more familiarly styled, _Pepe_, was a young fellow of
some twenty-five years--tall, thin, and muscular.  His black eyes,
deeply set under bushy eyebrows, had all the appearance of eyes that
_could_ sparkle; besides, his whole countenance possessed the
configuration of one who had been born for a life of activity.  On the
contrary, however--whether from a malady or some other cause--the man
appeared as somnolent and immobile as if both his visage and body were
carved out of marble.  In a word, with all the exterior marks that
denote the possession of an active and ardent soul, Pepe _the Sleeper_
appeared the most inactive and apathetic of men.

His chagrin was great--or appeared to be so--when, upon the evening of
the day in which this narrative commences the captain of the coast-guard
sent a messenger to summon him to headquarters.

On receiving the unexpected order, Pepe rose from his habitual attitude
of recumbence, stretched himself at his leisure, yawned several times,
and then obeyed the summons, saying as he went out: "What the devil
fancy has the captain got into his head to send for _me_?"

Once, however, on the way and alone, it might have been observed that
the somnolent coast-guard walked with an energetic and active step, very
unlike his usual gait!

On entering the apartment where the captain awaited him, his apathetic
habit returned; and, while rolling a cigarette between his fingers, he
appeared to be half asleep.  The captain was buried in a profound
meditation, and did not at first perceive him.

"_Bueno_! my captain," said the coast-guard, respectfully saluting his
superior, and calling attention to his presence.  "I am here."

"Ah! good! my fine fellow," began the captain, in a winning voice.
"Well, Pepe!" added he more slowly and significantly, "the times are
pretty hard with us--are they not?"

"Rather hard, captain."

"But you, _hombre_!" rejoined Don Lucas, with a laugh, "you don't appear
to suffer much of the misery--you are always asleep I understand?"

"When I sleep, captain, I am not hungry," replied the coast-guard,
endeavouring to stifle a yawn; "then I dream that the government has
paid me."

"Well--at all events you are not its creditor for many hours of the day,
since you sleep most of them.  But, my fine fellow, it is not about this
I desire to talk to you.  I wish to give you a proof of my confidence."

"Ah!" muttered Pepe.

"And a proof of my regard for you," continued the officer.  "The
government has its eye open upon all of us; your reputation for apathy
begins to be talked about, and you might be discharged one of these days
as a useless official.  It would be a sad affair if you were to lose
your place?"

"Frightful! captain," replied Pepe, with perfect simplicity of manner;
"for if I can scarce keep from dying of hunger in my place, what would
be the result were I deprived of it?  Frightful!"

"To prevent this misfortune, then," continued the captain, "I have
resolved to furnish to those who calumniate you, a proof of the
confidence which may be placed in you, by giving you the post of
_Ensenada_--and this very night."

Pepe involuntarily opened his eyes to their fullest extent.

"That surprises you?" said Don Lucas.

"No," laconically replied the coast-guard.

The captain was unable to conceal from his inferior a slight confusion,
and his voice trembled as he pronounced the interrogation:--

"What!  It does not surprise you?"

"No," repeated Pepe, and then added in a tone of flattery: "The captain
Despierto is so well-known for his vigilance and energy, that he may
confide the most important post to the very poorest of his sentinels.
That is why I am not astonished at the confidence he is good enough to
place in me: and now I await the instructions your Honour may be pleased
to give."

Don Lucas, without further parley, proceeded to instruct his sentinel in
his duty for the night.  The orders were somewhat diffuse--so much so
that Pepe had a difficulty in comprehending them--but they were wound up
by the captain saying to the coast-guard, as he dismissed him from his
presence--

"And above all, my fine fellow, _don't go to sleep upon your post_!"

"I shall _try_ not to do so, captain," replied Pepe, at the same time
saluting his superior, and taking his leave.

"This fellow is worth his weight in gold," muttered Don Lucas, rubbing
his hands together with an air of satisfaction; "he could not have
suited my purpose better, if he had been expressly made for it!"



CHAPTER TWO.

THE SENTINEL OF LA ENSENADA.

The little bay of Ensenada, thus confided to the vigilance of Pepe the
sleeper, was mysteriously shut in among the cliffs, as if nature had
designed it expressly for smugglers--especially those Spanish
_contrabandistas_ who carry on the trade with a cutlass in one hand and
a carbine in the other.

On account of its isolation, the post was not without danger, especially
on a foggy November night, when the thick vapour suspended in the air
not only rendered the sight useless, but hindered the voice that might
call for assistance from being heard to any distance.

In the soldier who arrived upon this post, advancing with head erect and
light elastic tread, no one could have recognised Pepe the sleeper--
Pepe, habitually plunged in a profound state of somnolence--Pepe, of
downcast mien and slow dragging gait--and yet it was he.  His eyes,
habitually half shut, were now sparkling in their sockets, as if even
the slightest object could not escape him even in the darkness.

After having carefully examined the ground around his post, and
convinced himself that he was entirely alone, he placed his lantern in
such a position that its light was thrown along the road leading to the
village.  Then advancing some ten or twelve paces in the direction of
the water, he spread his cloak upon the ground, and lay down upon it--in
such an attitude that he could command a view both of the road and the
bay.

"Ah, my captain!" soliloquised the coast-guard, as he arranged his cloak
around him to the best advantage, "you are a very cunning man, but you
have too much faith in people who are always asleep; and devil take me!
if I don't believe that you are interested in my sleeping most soundly
on this particular night.  Well, _quien sabe_? we shall see."

For about the period of half an hour Pepe remained alone--delivering
himself up to his reflections, and in turns interrogating with his
glance the road and the bay.  At the end of that time a footstep was
heard in the loose sand; and looking along the pathway, the sentinel
perceived a dark form approaching the spot.  In another moment the form
came under the light of the lantern, and was easily recognised as that
of Don Lucas, the captain of the coast-guard.

The officer appeared to be searching for something, but presently
perceiving the recumbent sentinel, he paused in his steps.

"Pepe!" cried he, in a low mincing voice.

No reply came from Pepe.

"Pepe!" repeated the captain, in a tone a little more elevated.

Still no reply from the sentinel, who remained obstinately silent.

The captain, appearing to be satisfied, ceased calling the name, and
shortly after retraced his steps towards the village.  In a few seconds
his form was lost in the distance.

"Good!" said Pepe, as his superior officer passed out of sight; "just as
I expected.  A moment ago I was fool enough to doubt it.  Now I am sure
of it.  Some smuggler is going to risk it to-night.  Well, I shall
manage badly if I don't come in for a windfall--though it be at the
expense of my captain."

Saying this, the sentinel with one bound rose erect upon his feet.

"Here I am no more Pepe the Sleeper," continued he stretching himself to
his full height.

From this time his eyes were bent continually upon the ocean; but
another half hour passed without anything strange showing itself upon
the bosom of the water--nothing to break the white line of the horizon
where sea and sky appeared to be almost confounded together.  Some dark
clouds were floating in the heavens, now veiling and now suddenly
uncovering the moon, that had just risen.  The effect was fine; the
horizon was one moment shining like silver, and the next dark as funeral
crape; but through all these changes no object appeared upon the water,
to denote the presence of a human being.

For a long while the coast-guard looked so intently through the
darkness, that he began to see the sparks flying before his eyes.
Fatigued with this sustained attention, he at length shut his eyes
altogether, and concentrated all his powers upon the organs of hearing.
Just then a sound came sweeping over the water--so slight that it scarce
reached him--but the next moment the land-breeze carried it away, and it
was heard no more.

Fancying it had only been an illusion, he once more opened his eyes, but
in the obscurity he could see nothing.  Again he shut them closely and
listened as before.  This time he listened with more success.  A sound
regularly cadenced was heard.  It was such as would be made by a pair of
oars cautiously dipped, and was accompanied by a dull knocking as of the
oars working in their thole-pins.

"At last we shall see!" muttered Pepe, with a gasp of satisfaction.

A small black point, almost imperceptible, appeared upon the horizon.
Rapidly it increased in size, until it assumed the form and dimensions
of a boat with rowers in it, followed by a bright strip of foam.

Pepe threw himself suddenly _a plat ventre_, in fear that he might be
seen by those on the water; but from the elevated position which he
occupied, he was able to keep his eye upon the boat without losing sight
of it for a single instant.

Just then the noises ceased, and the oars were held out of water,
motionless, like some sea-bird, with wings extended, choosing a spot
upon which to alight.  In the next instant the rowing was resumed, and
the boat headed directly for the shore of the bay.

"Don't be afraid!" muttered the coast-guard, affecting to apostrophise
the rowers.  "Don't be afraid, my good fellows--come along at your
pleasure!"

The rowers, in truth did not appear to be at all apprehensive of danger;
and the next moment the keel of the boat was heard grinding upon the
sand of the beach.

"_Por Dios_!" muttered the sentinel in a low voice; "not a bale of
goods!  It is possible after all, they are not smugglers!"

Three men were in the boat, who did not appear to take those precautions
which smugglers would have done.  They made no particular noise, but, on
the other hand, they did not observe any exact silence.  Moreover their
costume was not that ordinarily worn by the regular _contrabandista_.

"Who the devil can they be?" asked Pepe of himself.

The coast-guard lay concealed behind some tufts of withered grass that
formed a border along the crest of the slope.  Through these he could
observe the movements of the three men in the boat.

At an order from the one who sat in the stern sheets, the other two
leaped ashore, as if with the design of reconnoitring the ground.  He
who issued the order, and who appeared to be the chief of the party,
remained seated in the boat.

Pepe was for a moment undecided whether he should permit the two to pass
him on the road; but the view of the boat, left in charge of a single
man, soon fixed his resolution.

He kept his place, therefore, motionless as ever, scarce allowing
himself to breathe, until the two men arrived below him, and only a few
feet from the spot where he was lying.

Each was armed with a long Catalonian knife, and Pepe could see that the
costume which both wore was that of the Spanish privateers of the time--
a sort of mixture of the uniform of the royal navy of Spain, and that of
the merchant service; but he could not see their faces, hid as they were
under the slouched Basque bonnet.

All at once the two men halted.  A piece of rock, detached by the knees
of the coast-guard, had glided down the slope and fallen near their
feet.

"Did you hear anything?" hastily asked one.

"No; did you?"

"I thought I heard something falling from above there," replied the
first speaker; pointing upward to the spot where Pepe was concealed.

"Bah! it was some mouse running into its hole."

"If this slope wasn't so infernally steep, I'd climb up and see," said
the first.

"I tell you we have nothing to fear," rejoined the second; "the night is
as black as a pot of pitch, and besides--the _other_, hasn't he assured
us that he will answer for the man on guard, _who sleeps all day long_?"

"Just for that reason he may not sleep at night.  Remain here, I'll go
round and climb up.  _Carramba_! if I find this sleepy-head," he added,
holding out his long knife, the blade of which glittered through the
darkness, "so much the worse--or, perhaps, so much the better for him--
for I shall send him where he may sleep forever."

"_Mil diablos_!" thought Pepe, "this fellow is a philosopher!  By the
holy virgin I am long enough here."

And at this thought, he crept out of the folds of his cloak like a snake
out of his skin, and leaving the garment where it lay, crawled rapidly
away from the spot.

Until he had got to a considerable distance, he was so cautious not to
make any noise, that, to use a Spanish expression, _the very ground
itself did not know he was passing over it_.

In this way he advanced, carbine in hand, until he was opposite the
point where the boat rested against the beach.  There he stopped to
recover his breath,--at the same time fixing his eye upon the individual
that was alone.

The latter appeared to be buried in a sombre reverie, motionless as a
statue, and wrapped in an ample cloak, which served both to conceal his
person and protect him from the humidity of the atmosphere.  His eyes
were turned toward the sea; and for this reason he did not perceive the
dark form of the carabinier approaching in the opposite direction.

The latter advanced with stealthy tread--measuring the distance with his
eye--until at length he stood within a few paces of the boat.

Just then the stranger made a movement as if to turn his face towards
the shore, when Pepe, like a tiger hounding upon its prey, launched
himself forward to the side of the boat.

"It is I!" he exclaimed, bringing the muzzle of his carbine on a level
with the man's breast.  "Don't move or you are a dead man!"

"You, who?" asked the astonished stranger, his eyes sparkling with rage,
and not even lowering their glance before the threatening attitude of
his enemy.

"Why me!  Pepe--you know well enough?  Pepe, the Sleeper?"

"Curses upon him, if he has betrayed me?" muttered, the stranger, as if
speaking to himself.

"If you are speaking of Don Lucas Despierto," interrupted the
carabinier, "I can assure you he is incapable of such a thing; and if I
_am here_ it is because that he has been only too discreet, senor
smuggler."

"Smuggler!" exclaimed the unknown, in a tone of proud disdain.

"When I say smuggler," replied Pepe, chuckling at his own perspicuity,
"it is only meant as a compliment, for you haven't an ounce of
merchandise in your boat, unless indeed," continued he, pointing with
his foot to a rope ladder, rolled up, and lying in the bottom, "unless
that may be a sample!  _Santa Virgen_! a strange sample that!"

Face to face with the unknown, the coast-guard could now examine him at
his leisure.

He was a young man of about Pepe's own age, twenty-five.  His complexion
had the hale tint of one who followed the sea for a profession.  Thick
dark eyebrows were strongly delineated against a forehead bony and
broad, and from a pair of large black eyes shone a sombre fire that
denoted a man of implacable passions.  His arched mouth was expressive
of high disdain; and the wrinkles upon his cheeks, strongly marked
notwithstanding his youth, at the slightest movement, gave to his
countenance an expression of arrogance and scorn.  In his eyes--in his
whole bearing--you could read that ambition or vengeance were the ruling
passions of his soul.  His fine black curling hair alone tempered the
expression of severity that distinguished his physiognomy.  With regard
to his costume, it was simply that of an officer of the Spanish navy.

A look that would have frightened most men told the impatience with
which he endured the examination of the coast-guard.

"An end to this pleasantry!" he cried out, at length.  "What do you
want, fellow?  Speak!"

"Ah! talk of our affairs," answered Pepe, "that is just what I desire.
Well, in the first place, when those two fellows of yours return with my
cloak and lantern--which they are cunning enough to make a seizure of--
you will give them your commands to keep at a distance.  In this way we
can talk without being interrupted.  Otherwise, with a single shot of
this carbine, which will stretch you out dead, I shall also give the
alarm.  What say you?  Nothing?  Be it so.  That answer will do for want
of a better.  I go on.  You have given to my captain forty _onzas_?"
continued the carabinier, with a bold guess, making sure that he named
enough.

"Twenty," replied the stranger, without reflecting.

"I would rather it had been forty," said Pepe.  "Well, one does not pay
so high for the mere pleasure of a sentimental promenade along the shore
of the Ensenada.  My intervention need be no obstruction to it--provided
you pay for my neutrality."

"How?" asked the unknown, evidently desirous of putting an end to the
scene.

"Oh, a mere bagatelle--you have given the captain forty _onzas_."

"Twenty, I tell you."

"I would rather it had been forty," coolly repeated the carabinier, "but
say twenty, then.  Now I don't wish to be indiscreet--he is a captain, I
am nothing more than a poor private.  I think it reasonable therefore,
that I should have _double_ what he has received."

At this extortionate demand the stranger allowed a bitter oath to escape
him, but made no answer.

"I know well," continued Pepe, "that I am asking too little.  If my
captain has three times my pay, of course he has three times less need
of money than I, and therefore I have the right to _triple_ the sum he
has received; but as the times are hard, I hold to my original demand--
forty _onzas_."

A terrible struggle betwixt pride and apprehension appeared to be going
on in the bosom of the stranger.  Despite the coldness of the night the
perspiration streamed over his brow and down his cheeks.  Some imperious
necessity it was that had led him into this place--some strange mystery
there must be--since the necessity he was now under tamed down a spirit
that appeared untamable.  The tone of jeering intrepidity which Pepe
held toward him caused him to feel the urgency of a compromise; and at
length plunging his hand into his pocket he drew forth a purse, and
presented it to the carabinier.

"Take it and go!" he cried, with impatience.

Pepe took the purse, and for a moment held it in his hand as if he would
first count its contents.

"Bah!" he exclaimed, after a pause, "I'll risk it.  I accept it for
forty _onzas_.  And now, senor stranger, I am deaf, dumb, and blind."

"I count upon it," coldly rejoined the unknown.

"By the life of my mother!" replied Pepe, "since it's not an affair of
smuggling I don't mind to lend you a hand--for as a coast-guard, you
see, I could not take part in anything contraband--no, never!"

"Very well, then," rejoined the stranger, with a bitter smile, "you may
set your conscience at rest on that score.  Guard this boat till my
return.  I go to join my men.  Only whatever happens--whatever you may
see--whatever you may hear--be, as you have promised, deaf, dumb, and
blind."

As he uttered these words the stranger sprang out of the boat, and took
the road leading to the village.  A turning in the path soon bid him
from the sight of the coast-guard.

Once left to himself, Pepe, under the light of the moon, counted out the
glittering contents of the purse which he had extorted from the
stranger.

"If this jewel is not false," muttered he to himself, "then I don't care
if the government never pays me.  Meanwhile, I must begin to-morrow to
cry like a poor devil about the back pay.  That will have a good
effect."



CHAPTER THREE.

THE ALCALDE AND HIS CLERK.

It is not known how long Pepe remained at his post to await the return
of the stranger: when the cock was heard to crow, and the aurora
appeared in the eastern horizon, the little bay of Ensenada was
completely deserted.

Then life began to appear in the village.  The dark shadows of the
fishermen were seen upon the stair-like street, descending to the mole;
and the first beams of the morning lit up their departure.  In a few
minutes the little flotilla was out of sight; and at the doors of the
cottages the women and children only could be seen, appearing and
disappearing at intervals.

Among these wretched hovels of the village, there was one dwelling of
greater pretensions than the rest.  It was that of the alcalde, Don
Ramon Cohecho of whom we have already spoken.  It alone still kept its
doors and windows closed against the morning light.

It was full day, when a young man, wearing a high-crowned beaver hat,--
old, greasy and shining, like leather--walked up to the door of the
alcalde's mansion.  The limbs of this individual were scantily covered
with a pair of pantaloons, so tightly fitting as to appear like a second
skin to his legs, so short as scarce to touch his ankles, and of such
thin stuff as to ill protect the wearer from the sharp air of a November
morning.  The upper half of this individual was not visible.  A little
cloak, of coarse shaggy cloth, known as an _esclavina_, covered him up
to the very eyes.  In the manner in which he so carefully guarded the
upper part of his person with this pinched mantle, at the expense of his
thighs and legs, an observer might have supposed that he was perfectly
content with his pantaloons.  Appearances, however, are often deceptive;
for in truth the ambition of this youth; whose unsteady glance,
miserable aspect, and a certain smell of old papers about him,
proclaimed to be _un escribano_--his everyday dream was to have a pair
of pantaloons entirely different from his own--in other words, a pair
with long ample legs, of good wide waist, and made out of fine
broadcloth.  Such a pair would render him the most satisfied man in the
world.

This young man was the _right hand_ of the alcalde--his name Gregorio
Cagatinta.

On reaching the door, he gave a modest knock with his horn ink-bottle,
which he carried hanging to his button.  The door was opened by an old
housekeeper.

"Ah! it is you, _Don_ Gregorio?" cried the housekeeper, with that superb
courtesy so peculiar to the Spaniards--that even two shoeblacks on
meeting lavish upon each other the epithet _Don_, as if each were a
grand noble.

"Yes, it is I, Dona Nicolasa," replied Gregorio.

"_Santisima Virgen_!--since it is you, then I must be late, and my
master will be waiting for his pantaloons that are not yet aired.  Take
a seat, Don Gregorio: he will soon be down."

The chamber into which the notary's clerk had been introduced would have
been a large one, had it not been for the singular conglomeration of
objects with which it was more than half filled.  Nets of all sizes,
masts, yards, and rudders of boats, oars, sails of every kind--both
square and lateen--woollen shirts worn by sailors or fishermen, and a
variety of other marine objects, were placed pellmell in every corner of
the room.  Notwithstanding, there was space enough left to hold three or
four chairs around a large oaken table, upon which last stood a large
cork ink-stand, with several goose-quill pens; with some sheets of half
dirty paper placed ostentatiously around it to awe the visitors, who
might have business with the alcalde.

The presence of this odd assortment of objects, it would have been
difficult for a stranger to explain--though there was no mystery about
it.  The fact is, that besides his official character as first
magistrate, the alcalde had another _role_ which he played, of rather an
unofficial character.  He was the _pawnbroker_ of the place--that is, he
lent out money in small sums, charging a _real_ for every dollar by the
week--in other words, a simple interest of twenty per cent, by the
month, or two hundred and fifty per cent, per annum!  His clients being
all fishermen, will account for the nautical character of the "pledges"
that filled the chamber of audience.

Cagatinta scarce deigned to cast a look at this miscellaneous collection
of objects.  Had there been a pair of pantaloons among them, it might
have been different; for to say the truth, the probity of Don Gregorio
was scarce firm enough to have resisted so strong a temptation as this
would have been.  The notary's clerk was not exactly of that stuff of
which honest men are composed.  Nature, even in its crimes, does not
leap to grand villainies at once; it proceeds from less to greater; and
Cagatinta, though still but young, was yet capable of a little bit of
"cribbing."

Don Ramon was not long in coming out of his sleeping-room.  In a little
while he showed his jovial face at the door of the audience chamber.

He was a person of portly and robust figure; and it was easily seen that
one leg of his ample pantaloons would have been sufficient to have made
a pair for the thin limbs and meagre body of the escribano.

"_Por Dios_!  Senor alcalde," said the clerk, after having exchanged
with his superior a profusion of matinal salutations, "what a splendid
pair of pantaloons you have on!"

From the alcalde's answer, it was evident that this was not the first
time that Cagatinta had made the remark.

"Ah!  Gregorio, _amigo_!" replied he, in a tone of good-humour, "you are
growing tiresome with your repetitions.  Patience, patience, senor
escribano! you know that for the services you are to render me--I say
nothing of those already rendered--I have promised you my liver-coloured
breeches, which have been only a very little used: you have only to gain
them."

"But what services are to gain them, senor alcalde?" inquired the clerk,
in a despairing tone.

"Eh--Dios!--who knows what--patience, _amigo_!  Something may turn up
all at once, that will give you that advantage over me.  But come! let
us to business--make out the deed of appropriation of the boat of that
bad pay, Vicente Perez, who under pretence that he has six brats to
feed, can't reimburse me the twenty dollars I have advanced him."

Cagatinta drew out from his little portfolio a sheet of stamped paper,
and sitting down by the table proceeded to execute the order of the
magistrate.  He was interrupted by a hurried knocking at the outer
door--which had been closed to prevent intrusion.

"Who dare knock in that fashion?" sharply inquired the alcalde.

"_Ave Maria purisima_!" cried a voice from without.

"_Sin pecado concebida_!" replied at the same time the two acolytes
within.

And upon this formula, Gregorio hastened to the door, and opened it.

"What on earth can have brought you here at this hour, Don Juan de Dios
Canelo?" inquired the alcalde in a tone of surprise, as the old steward
of the Countess de Mediana appeared in the doorway, his bald forehead
clouded with some profound chagrin.

"Ah, senor alcalde," replied the old man, "a terrible misfortune has
happened last night--a great crime has been committed--the Countess has
disappeared, and the young Count along with her!"

"Are you sure of this?" shouted the alcalde.

"Alas--you will only have to go up into the balcony that overlooks the
sea, and there you will see in what state the assassins have left the
Countess's chamber."

"Justice! justice!  Senor alcalde!  Send out your alguazils over the
whole country; find the villains--hang them!"

This voice came from a woman still outside in the street.  It was the
_femme de chambre_ of the Countess, who, to show a devotion which she
very little felt, judged it apropos to make a great outcry as she
precipitated herself into the chamber of audience.

"Ta-ta-ta, woman! how you go on!" interrupted the alcalde.  "Do you
think I have a crowd of alguazils?  You know very well that in this
virtuous village there are only two; and as these would starve if they
didn't follow some trade beside their official one, they are both gone
fishing hours ago."

"Ah, me!" cried the _femme de chambre_, with a hypocritical whine, "my
poor mistress!--who then is to help her?"

"Patience, woman, patience!" said the alcalde.  "Don't fear but that
justice will be done."

The chamber-maid did not appear to draw much hope from the assurance,
but only redoubled her cries, her excited behaviour strongly contrasting
with the quiet manner in which the faithful old steward exhibited the
sincerity of his grief.

Meanwhile a crowd of women, old men, and children, had gathered around
the alcalde's door, and by little and little, were invading the
sanctuary of the audience chamber itself.

Don Ramon advanced towards Cagatinta, who was rubbing his hands under
his _esclavina_, charmed at the idea of the quantity of stamped paper he
would now have an opportunity to blacken.

"Now, friend Gregorio," said the alcalde, in a low voice, "the time has
come, when, if you are sharp, you may gain the liver-coloured breeches."

He said no more; but it was evident that the _escribano_ understood him,
at least, to a certain extent.  The latter turned pale with joy, and
kept his eye fixed upon every movement of his patron, determined to
seize the first opportunity that presented itself of winning the
breeches.

The alcalde reseated himself in his great leathern chair; and commanding
silence with a wave of his hand, addressed his auditory in a long and
pompous speech, with that profuse grandiloquence of which the Spanish
language is so capable.

The substance of his speech was as follows:

"My children!  We have just heard from this respectable individual, Don
Juan de Dios Canelo, that a great crime has last night been committed;
the full knowledge of this villainy cannot fail to arrive at the ears of
justice, from which nothing can be kept hid.  Not the less are we to
thank Don Juan for his official communication; it only remains for him
to complete the accusation by giving the names of the guilty persons."

"But, senor alcalde," interrupted the steward, "I do not know them,
although, as you say, my communication may be official--I can only say
that I will do all in my power to assist in finding them."

"You understand, my children," continued the alcalde, without taking
notice of what the steward had said, "the worthy Canelo by his official
communication asks for the punishment of the guilty persons.  Justice
will not be deaf to his appeal.  I may now be permitted, however, to
speak to you of my own little affairs, before abandoning myself to the
great grief which the disappearance of the Countess and the young Count
has caused me."

Here the alcalde made a sign to Cagatinta, whose whole faculties were
keenly bent to discover what service was expected from him, by which he
was to gain the object of his ambition--the liver-coloured breeches.

The alcalde continued:--

"You all know, my children, of my attachment to the family of Mediana.
You can judge, then, of the grief which this news has given me--news the
more incomprehensible, since one neither knows by whom, or for what
reason such a crime should be committed.  Alas, my children!  I lose a
powerful protector in the Countess de Mediana; and in me the heart of
the old and faithful servant is pierced with anguish, while as a man of
business I am equally a sufferer.  Yes, my children!  In the deceitful
security, which I felt no later than yesterday, I was up to the chateau,
and had an important interview with the Countess in regard to my rents."

"To ask time for their payment," Cagatinta would have added, for the
clerk was perfectly acquainted with the alcalde's affairs.  But Don
Ramon did not allow him an opportunity of committing this enormous
indiscretion, which would forever have deprived him of the promised
breeches.

"Patience, worthy Cagatinta!" he exclaimed hastily, so as to prevent the
other from speaking, "constrain this thirst for justice that consumes
you!--Yes, my children!" he continued, turning to his auditory, "in
consequence of this feeling of security, which I have now cause to
regret, I placed in the hands of the unfortunate Countess,"--here the
voice of Don Ramon quivered--"a sum equivalent to ten years of my rents
_in advance_."

At this unexpected declaration, Cagatinta bounded from his chair as if
stung by a wasp; and the blood ran cold in his veins when he perceived
the grand blunder he had been so near committing.

"You will understand, then, my children, the terrible situation in which
this disappearance of the Countess has placed me, when I tell you that I
_took no receipt from the lady_, but this very morning was to have gone
up for it."

This revelation produced a profound sensation among the auditory; and
though perhaps not one of them really believed the story, no one dared
to give utterance to his incredulity.

"Fortunately," continued the alcalde, "the word of persons worthy of
credit may yet repair the mistake I have committed--fortunately there
were witnesses of the payment."

Here Cagatinta--who like water that had been a long time dammed up and
had now found vent--stretched out both his arms, and in a loud voice
cried out:

"I can swear to it!"

"He can swear to it," said the alcalde.

"He can swear to it," mechanically repeated one or two of the
bystanders.

"Yes, my friends!" solemnly added Cagatinta.  "I swear to it now, and
should have mentioned the matter sooner, but I was prevented by a little
uncertainty.  I had an idea that it was _fifteen_ years of rent, instead
of _ten_, that I saw the alcalde hand over to the unfortunate Dona
Luisa."

"No, my worthy friend," interrupted the alcalde in a tone of moderation,
likely to produce an effect upon his auditory.  "It was only ten years
of rent, which your valuable testimony will hinder me from losing."

"Yes, senor alcalde," replied the wily scribe, determined at all hazards
to deserve the liver-coloured breeches, "I know it was ten years in
advance, but there were also the two years of back rent which you paid--
two years of arrears and ten in advance--twelve years in all.  _Por
Dios_! a large sum it would be to have lost!"

And with this reflection Cagatinta sat down again, fancying, no doubt,
that he had fairly won the breeches.

We shall not detail what further passed during the scene in the
alcalde's chamber of audience--where justice was practised as in the
times of Gil Blas--long before and long after Gil Blas--for it is not
very different in a Spanish law court at the hour in which we are
writing.

Enough to say that the scene concluded, most of the dramatis personae,
with the alcalde at their head, proceeded to the chateau, to inspect the
chamber, and if possible find out some clue to the mysterious
disappearance of the Countess.



CHAPTER FOUR.

THE FORSAKEN CHAMBER.

On arriving at the chateau, the alcalde ordered the door of the
Countess's chamber to be burst in--for it was still bolted inside.  On
entering the apartment a picture of confusion was presented.  Drawers
empty, others drawn out, but only half sacked of their contents.

All this did not indicate precisely that there had been any violence.  A
voluntary but hurried departure on the part of the Countess might have
left just such traces as were discovered.  The bed was still
undisturbed, as if she had not lain down upon it.  This fact appeared to
indicate a foreknowledge, on the part of the lady, of what was to
happen--as if she had had the intention of going off, but had made no
preparation until the moment of departure.  The furniture was all in its
place--the window curtains and those of the alcove had not been
disarranged, and no traces of a struggle were to be discerned within the
chamber, which contained many light fragile objects of furniture that
could not fail to have been destroyed by the slightest violence.

The fetid odour of an oil lamp filled the apartment despite the cold air
that came in through the open window.  It was evident, therefore, that
this lamp had been left alight, and had continued to burn until the oil
had become exhausted.

It could not be a robbery either.  A thousand articles of value, likely
enough to have tempted the cupidity of robbers, were left behind both on
the tables and in the drawers.

The conclusion then was that neither assassination nor burglary had
taken place.

Notwithstanding all these deceptive appearances, the old steward shook
his head doubtfully.  The signs were sufficient to baffle his reason,
which was none of the strongest, but the faithful servant could not
bring himself to believe that his noble mistress would take flight in a
manner so extraordinary--his good sense revolted at the thought.  In his
belief some crime had been committed, but how was it to be explained--
since the assassin had left no traces of his guilt?  The devoted Don
Juan looked with a sad eye upon that desolate chamber--upon the dresses
of his beloved mistress scattered over the floor; upon the cradle of the
young Count, where he had so lately slept, rosy and smiling, under the
vigil of his mother.

Suddenly struck with an idea, the steward advanced towards the iron
balcony that fronted upon the sea--that where the window had been found
open.  With inquiring eye he looked to the ground below, which was
neither more nor less than the beach of the sea itself.  It was at no
great depth below; and he could easily have seen from the balcony any
traces that might have been there.  But there were none.  The tide had
been in and out again.  No trace was left on the sand or pebbles that
had the slightest signification in regard to the mysterious event.  The
wind sighed, the waves murmured as always; but amid the voices of nature
none raised itself to proclaim the guilty.

On the fair horizon only were descried the white sails of a ship,
gradually passing outwards and fading away into the azure of the sea.

While the old steward watched the disappearance of the ship with a sort
of dreamy regard, he sent up a silent prayer that his mistress might
still be safe.  The others, with the exception of the alcalde and his
clerk, stood listening to the mournful howling of the wind against the
cliffs, which seemed alternately to weep and sigh as if lamenting the
sad event that had just transpired.

As regards the alcalde and his assistant, they were under the same
conviction as Don Juan--both believing that a crime had been committed--
though they did not care to avow their belief, for reasons known to
themselves.  The absence of any striking evidence that might lead to the
discovery of the delinquents, but more especially the difficulty of
finding some interested individual able to pay the expenses of justice
(the principal object of criminal prosecutions in Spain), damped the
zeal of Don Ramon and the scribe.  Both were satisfied to leave things
as they stood--the one contented with having gained the recompense so
much coveted--the other with the twelve years of rents which he felt
sure of gaining.

"_Valga me Dios_! my children," said the alcalde, turning toward the
witnesses, "I cannot explain what fancy the Countess may have had in
going out by the window--for the door of the chamber, bolted inside,
leaves no room to doubt that she went that way.  Some woman's caprice,
perhaps, which justice has no business to meddle with."

"Perhaps it was to escape from giving the alcalde his receipt,"
suggested one of the bystanders to another, in an undertone of voice.

"But how, Don Juan," continued the magistrate, addressing himself to the
old steward, "how did you know of the Countess's disappearance, since
you could not get into the room?"

"That is simple enough," replied the old man.  "At the hour in which the
chamber-maid is accustomed to present herself before the senora, she
knocked as usual at the door.  No answer was given.  She knocked louder,
and still received no answer.  Growing anxious, she came to me to tell
me.  I went to the door myself, first knocked and then called; and
receiving no reply, I ran round to the garden and got the ladder.  This
I placed against the balcony, and mounted up in order to see through the
window.  On reaching the window I found it open, and the chamber in the
condition you now see it."

When the steward had finished this declaration, Cagatinta whispered some
words in the ear of the alcalde; but the latter only replied by a shake
of the shoulders, and an expression of disdainful incredulity.

"Who knows?" answered the scribe in reply to this dumb show.

"It might be," muttered Don Ramon, "we shall see presently."

"I persist, gentlemen," continued the alcalde, "in my belief that the
Countess has gone out by the window; and however singular it may appear,
I believe the lady is free to her fancy to go out as she pleases--even
though it be by a window."

Cagatinta, and some others, complimented, with a laugh, this little bit
of magisterial facetiousness.

"But, senor alcalde," spoke out Don Juan, disgusted with this ill-timed
pleasantry, "a proof that there has been a forced entry into the chamber
is this broken glass of the window, of which you see some pieces still
lying on the balcony."

"This old fool," muttered the alcalde to himself, "is not going to let
me have any breakfast.  By this time everything will be cold, and
Nicolasa--What do these bits of glass prove?" he continued, raising his
voice; "don't you think that the breeze which was blowing roughly last
night might have caused this?  The window was hanging open, and the wind
clashing it violently against the frame, would readily cause the
breaking of a pane?"

"But why is it," answered Don Juan, "that the broken pane is precisely
the one adjacent to the fastening?  It must have been knocked out to get
the window open."

"_Carramba_!  Senor Don Juan de Dios!" cried the alcalde, in a peevish
tone--at the same time biting his gold-headed cane, the emblem of his
office--"Is it you or I who have here the right to ask questions?
_Carrai_! it appears to me that you make me cut a strange figure!"

Here Cagatinta interposed with a modest air--

"I shall answer our friend Canelo, if you permit me.  If the window was
open with the design he has stated, it must of course have been done
from the outside.  The pieces of glass then would have fallen _into_ the
chamber; but such is not the case--there they lie on the balcony!  It
has been the wind therefore, as his honour the alcalde has reasonably
stated, that has done this business.  Unless, indeed," added he, with a
feigned smile, "some trunk carried incautiously past the window might
have struck one of the squares.  This may have been--since it appears
the Countess intends a prolonged absence, judging from the effects--
taken with her, as testified by the empty drawers."

The old steward lowered his head at this proof which seemed completely
to falsify his assertion.  He did not hear the last observation of
Cagatinta, who was cogitating whether he ought not to exact from the
alcalde something more than the liver-coloured breeches, as a recompense
of this new service he had done him.

While the faithful Don Juan was busy with painful reflections that threw
their shadows upon his bald forehead, the alcalde approached and
addressed him in a voice so low as not to be heard by the others.

"I have been a little sharp with you, Don Juan--I have not sufficiently
taken into account the grief, which you as a loyal servant must feel
under such an unexpected stroke.  But tell me! independent of the
chagrin which this affair has caused you, are you not also affected by
some fears about your own future?  You are old--weak in consequence--and
without resources?"

"It is just because I am old, and know that I have not long to live,
that I am so little affected.  My grief, however," added he with an air
of pride, "is pure and free from all selfishness.  The generosity of
Count de Mediana has left me enough to pass the remainder of my days in
tranquillity.  But I should pass them all the more happily if I could
only see avenged the lady of my old master."

"I approve of your sentiments, Senor Don Juan! you are doubly estimable
on account of your sorrow, and as to your _savings_--Notary!  Senor
Cagatinta!" cried the alcalde, suddenly raising his voice so as to be
heard by all present, "Make out a _proces verbal_--that the Senor Don
Juan Dios Canelo, here present, will become prosecutor in this case.  It
cannot be doubted that a crime has been committed; and it is a duty we
owe to ourselves as well as to this respectable man, to seek out and
punish the authors of it."

"But, senor alcalde!" interposed the steward, perfectly stupefied with
this unexpected declaration, "I did not say--I have no intention to
become _prosecutor_."

"Take care, old man!" cried Don Ramon, in a solemn tone; "if you deny
what you have already confided to me, grievous charges may be brought
against you.  As friend Cagatinta has just this minute observed to me,
the ladder by which you scaled the balcony might prove sinister designs.
But I know you are incapable of such.  Rest contented, then, at being
the accuser in place of the accused.  Come, gentlemen! our duty calls us
outside.  Perhaps underneath the balcony we may find some traces of this
most mysterious matter."

So saying, the alcalde left the chamber, followed by the crowd.

Poor Don Juan found himself thus unexpectedly between two horns of a
dilemma, the result in either case being the same--that is, the
spoliation of the little _pecadillo_ he had put away against old age.
He shook his head, and with a sublime resignation accepted the voice of
iniquity for that of God--consoling himself with the reflection, that
this last sacrifice might be of some service to the family whose bread
he had so long eaten.

No trace was found under the balcony.  As already stated the waves must
have obliterated any footmarks or other vestiges that may have been
left.

It was believed for a while that an important capture had been made, in
the person of a man found lying in a crevice among the rocks.  This
proved to be Pepe the Sleeper.  Suddenly aroused, the coast-guard was
asked if he had seen or heard anything?  No, was the reply, nothing.
But Pepe remembered his full pockets; and fearing that the alcalde might
take a fancy to search him, saw that some _ruse_ was necessary to put an
end to the scene.  This he succeeded in doing, by begging the alcalde
for a _real_ to buy bread with!

What was to be done with this droll fellow?  The alcalde felt no
inclination to question him farther, but left him to go to sleep again
and sleep as long as he pleased.

Any further investigation appeared to Don Ramon to be useless--at least
until some order might be received from higher quarters--besides it
would be necessary to graduate the expenses of justice to the means of
the prosecutor; and with this reflection, the alcalde went home to his
breakfast.

In the evening of this eventful day for the village of Elanchovi--when
the twilight had fallen upon the water--two persons might have been seen
wandering along the beach, but evidently desirous of shunning one
another.  Both appeared in grief, though their sorrows sprang from a
very different cause.

One was a poor old steward, who, while heaving a sigh at the thought
that his worldly store was about to be absorbed in the inexorable gulf
of justice, at the same time searched for some trace of his lost
mistress, praying for her and her child, and calling upon God to take
them under his protection.

The other pensive wanderer was Cagatinta, of whom the alcalde had again
taken the advantage.  Profiting by the confidence of the scribe, Don
Ramon had induced the latter to commit his oath to stamped paper; and
then instead of the liver-coloured breeches had offered him an old hat
in remuneration.  This Cagatinta had indignantly refused.

He was now lamenting his vanished dreams of ambition, his silly
confidence, and the immorality of false oaths--_not paid for_.
Nevertheless, he was meditating whether it would not be more prudent to
accept the old hat in lieu of the liver-coloured breeches, alas! so well
earned!



CHAPTER FIVE.

PEPE'S REVANCHE.

When Pepe the Sleeper had made himself master of the secret of Captain
Despierto--which he had found of such profitable service--he was not
aware that the captain had held back another.  Nevertheless, the
coast-guard felt some kind of remorse of conscience--though he had as
yet no idea of the terrible consequences that had resulted.  His remorse
was simply that he had betrayed his post of sentinel; and he determined
that he would make up for it by a more zealous performance of duty
whenever an opportunity should offer.  To bring about this contingency,
he went on the very next night, and requested to be once more placed on
the post of Ensenada.

His wish was gratified; and while Don Lucas believed him asleep as
usual, Pepe kept wide awake, as on the preceding night.

We shall leave him at his post, while we recount what was taking place
off the coast not far from the Ensenada.

The night was as foggy as that which preceded it, when about the hour of
ten o'clock a _coaster_ was observed gliding in towards the cliffs, and
entering among a labyrinth of rocks that lay near the mouth of the bay.

This vessel appeared well guided and well _sailed_.  The shape of her
hull, her rigging, her sails, denoted her to be a ship-of-war, or at the
least a privateer.

The boldness with which she manoeuvred, in the middle of the darkness,
told that her pilot must be some one well acquainted with this dangerous
coast; and also that her commander had an understanding with some people
on the shore.

The sea dashed with fury against both sides of the rocky strait, through
which the coaster was making her way, but still she glided safely on.
The strait once cleared, a large bay opened before her, in which the sea
was more calm, and rippled gently up against a beach of sand and pebble.

The coaster at length succeeded in gaining this bay; and then by a
manoeuvre directed by the officer of the watch she hove-to with a
celerity that denoted a numerous crew.

Two boats were let down upon the water, and, being instantly filled with
men, were rowed off in the direction of the upper end of the bay, where
some houses, which could be distinguished by their whiteness, stood
scattered along the beach.

To end the mystery, let us say that the little coaster was a French
vessel--half-privateer half-smuggler--and had entered the bay with a
double design--the disposing of merchandise and the procuring of
provisions, of which the crew began to stand in need.  Further we shall
add, that the pilot was a skilful fisherman of Elanchovi, furnished by
Don Lucas Despierto, captain of the coast-guard!

The officer of the watch silently walked the deck--now listening to the
waves surging against the sides of the little vessel--now stooping a
moment over the light of the binnacle--anon watching the sails that
napped loosely upon the yards, now turned contrary to the direction of
the wind.

An hour had been passed in this manner, when a brisk fusillade was heard
from several points on the shore.  Other reports of musketry appeared to
respond and shortly after the two boats came hastening back to the
coaster.

It was Pepe who had caused all this; Pepe, who, to the great chagrin of
his captain, had given warning to the coast-guards.  He had been too
late, notwithstanding his zeal, for the boats came back laden with sheep
and other provisions of every soft.

The last of the men who climbed over the gangway--just as the boats were
being hoisted up--was a sailor of gigantic height, of colossal
proportions, and Herculean vigour.  He was a Canadian by birth.  He
carried in his arms a young child that was cold and motionless, as if
dead.  A slight trembling in its limbs, however, proclaimed that there
was still life in it.

"What the deuce have you got there, Bois-Rose?" demanded the officer of
the watch.

"With your leave, lieutenant, it's a young child that I found in a boat
adrift, half dead with hunger and cold.  A woman, quite dead, and bathed
in her own blood, still held it in her arms.  I had all the trouble in
the world to get the boat away from the place where I found it, for
those dogs of Spaniards espied it, and took it for one of ours.  There
was a terrible devil of a coast-guard kept all the while firing at me
with as much obstinacy as awkwardness.  I should have silenced him with
a single shot, had I not been hindered in looking after this poor little
creature.  But if ever I return--ah!"

"And what do you intend to do with the child?"

"Take care of it, lieutenant, until peace be proclaimed, then return
here and find out who it belongs to."

Unfortunately the only knowledge he was able to obtain about the infant
was its name, Fabian, and that the woman who had been assassinated was
its mother.

Two years passed during which the French privateer did not return to the
coast of Spain.  The tenderness of the sailor towards the child he had
picked up--which was no other than the young Count Fabian de Mediana--
did not cease for an instant, but seemed rather to increase with time.
It was a singular and touching spectacle to witness the care, almost
motherly, which this rude nurse lavished upon the child, and the
constant _ruses_ to which he had recourse to procure a supplement to his
rations for its nourishment.  The sailor had to fight for his own
living; but he often indulged in dreams that some day a rich prize would
be captured, his share of which would enable him to take better care of
his adopted son.  Unfortunately he did not take into his calculations
the perilous hazards of the life he was leading.

One morning the privateer was compelled to run from an English brig of
war of nearly twice her force; and although a swift sailer, the French
vessel soon found that she could not escape from her pursuer.  She
disdained to refuse the combat, and the two vessels commenced
cannonading each other.

For several hours a sanguinary conflict was kept up, when the Canadian
sailor, dashed with blood, and blackened with powder, ran towards the
child and lifting it in his arms, carried it to the gangway.  There, in
the midst of the tumult, with blood running over the decks, amidst the
confusion of cries and the crash of falling masts, he wished to engrave
on the child's memory the circumstance of a separation, of which he had
a strong presentiment.  In this moment, which should leave even upon the
memory of an infant, a souvenir that would never be effaced, he called
out to the child, while shielding it with his huge body, "Kneel, my
son!"

The child knelt, trembling with affright.

"You see what is going on?"

"I am afraid," murmured Fabian, "the blood--the noise--" and saying this
he hid himself in the arms of his protector.

"It is well," replied the Canadian, in a solemn tone.  "Never forget,
then, that in this moment, a sailor, a man who loved you as his own
life, said to you--_kneel and pray for your mother_!"

He was not permitted to finish the speech.  At that moment a bullet
struck him and his blood spouting over the child, caused it to utter a
lamentable cry.  The Canadian had just strength left to press the boy to
his breast, and to add some words; but in so low a tone that Fabian
could only comprehend a single phrase.  It was the continuation of what
he had been saying--"_Your mother_--_whom I found_--_dead beside you_."

With this speech ended the consciousness of the sailor.  He was not
dead, however; his wound did not prove fatal.

When he came to his senses again he found himself in the fetid hold of a
ship.  A terrible thirst devoured him.  He called out in a feeble voice,
but no one answered him.  He perceived that he was a prisoner, and he
wept for the loss of his liberty, but still more for that of the adopted
son that Providence had given him.

What became of Fabian?  That the history of the "Wood-Rangers" will tell
us; but before crossing from the prologue of our drama--before crossing
from Europe to America--a few events connected with the tragedy of
Elanchovi remain to be told.

It was several days after the disappearance of the Countess, before
anything was known of her fate.  Then some fishermen found the abandoned
boat driven up among the rocks and still containing the body of the
unfortunate lady.  This was some light thrown upon the horrid mystery;
but the cause of the assassination long remained unknown, and the author
of it long unpunished.

The old steward tied black crape upon the vanes of the chateau, and
erected a wooden cross on the spot where the body of his beloved
mistress had been found; but, as everything in this human world soon
wears out, the sea-breeze had not browned the black crape, nor the waves
turned green the wood of the cross, before the tragic event ceased to
cause the slightest emotion in the village--ay, even ceased to be talked
of.



CHAPTER SIX.

SONORA.

Sonora, naturally one of the richest provinces of Mexico, is also one of
the least known.  Vast tracts in this State have never been explored;
and others have been seen only by the passing traveller.  Nevertheless,
Nature has been especially bountiful to this remote territory.  In some
parts of it the soil, scarce scratched by the plough, will yield two
crops in the year; while in other places gold is scattered over the
surface, or mixed with the sands, in such quantity as to rival the
_placers_ of California.

It is true that these advantages are, to some extent neutralised by
certain inconveniences.  Vast deserts extend between the tracts of
fertile soil, which render travelling from one to the other both
difficult and dangerous; and, in many parts, of the province the savage
aborigines of the country are still masters of the ground.  This is
especially the case in those districts where the gold is found in
_placers_.

Those placers are not to be approached by white men, unless when in
strong force.  The Indians repel all such advances with warlike fury.
Not that they care to protect the gold--of whose value they have been
hitherto ignorant--but simply from their hereditary hatred of the white
race.  Nevertheless, attempts are frequently made to reach the desired
gold fields.  Some that result in complete failure, and some that are
more or less successful.

The natural riches of Sonora have given rise to very considerable
fortunes, and not a few very large ones, of which the origin was the
finding a "nugget" of virgin gold; while others again had for their
basis the cultivation of the rich crops which the fertile soil of Sonora
can produce.

There is a class of persons in Sonora, who follow no other business than
searching for gold _placers_ or silver mines, and whose only knowledge
consists of a little practical acquaintance with metallurgy.  These men
are called _gambusinos_.  From time to time they make long excursions
into the uninhabited portions of the State; where, under great
privations, and exposed to a thousand dangers, they hastily and very
superficially work some vein of silver, or wash the auriferous sands of
some desert-stream, until, tracked and pursued by the Indians, they are
compelled to return to their villages.  Here they find an audience
delighted to listen to their adventures, and to believe the exaggerated
accounts which they are certain to give of marvellous treasures lying
upon the surface of, the ground, but not to be approached on account of
some great danger, Indian or otherwise, by which they are guarded.

These _gambusinos_ are to mining industry, what the backwoodsmen are to
agriculture and commerce.  They are its pioneers.  Avarice stimulated by
their wonderful stories, and often too by the sight of real treasure
brought in from the desert--for the expeditions of the _gambusinos_ do
not always prove failures--avarice thus tempted, is ready to listen to
the voice of some adventurous leader, who preaches a crusade of conquest
and exploration.  In Sonora, as elsewhere, there are always an abundance
of idle men to form the material of an expedition--the sons of ruined
families--men who dislike hard work, or indeed any work--and others who
have somehow got outside the pale of justice.  These join the leader and
an expedition is organised.

In general, however, enterprises of this kind are too lightly entered
upon, as well as too loosely conducted; and the usual consequence is,
that before accomplishing its object the band falls to pieces; many
become victims to hunger, thirst, or Indian hostility; and of those who
went forth only a few individuals return to tell the tale of suffering
and disaster.

This example will, for a while, damp the ardour for such pursuits.  But
the disaster is soon forgotten; fresh stories of the _gambusinos_
produce new dreams of wealth; and another band of adventurers is easily
collected.

At the time of which I am writing--that is, in 1830--just twenty-two
years after the tragedy of Elanchovi, one of these expeditions was being
organised at Arispe--then the capital of the State of Sonora.  The man
who was to be the leader of the expedition was not a native of Mexico,
but a stranger.  He was a Spaniard who had arrived in Sonora but two
months before, and who was known by the name, Don Estevan de Arechiza.

No one in Arispe remembered ever to have seen him; and yet he appeared
to have been in the country before this time.  His knowledge of its
topography, as well as its affairs and political personages, was so
positive and complete, as to make it evident that Sonora was no stranger
to him; and the plan of his expedition appeared to have been conceived
and arranged beforehand--even previous to his arrival from Europe.

Beyond doubt, Don Estevan was master of considerable resources.  He had
his train of paid followers, kept open house, made large bets at the
_monte_ tables, lent money to friends without appearing to care whether
it should ever be returned, and played "grand Seigneur" to perfection.

No one knew from what source he drew the means to carry on such a "war."

Now and then he was known to absent himself from Arispe for a week or
ten days at a time.  He was absent on some journey; but no one could
tell to what part of the country these journeys were made--for his
well-trained servants never said a word about the movements of their
master.

Whoever he might be, his courteous manner _a l'Espagnol_, his
generosity, and his fine free table, soon gave him a powerful influence
in the social world of Arispe; and by this influence he was now
organising an expedition, to penetrate to a part of the country which it
was supposed no white man had ever yet visited.

As Don Estevan almost always lost at play, and as he also neglected to
reclaim the sums of money which he so liberally lent to his
acquaintances, it began to be conjectured that he possessed not far from
Arispe some rich _placer_ of gold from which he drew his resources.  The
periodical journeys which he made gave colour to this conjecture.

It was also suspected that he knew of some _placer_--still more rich--in
the country into which he was about to lead his expedition.  What truth
there was in the suspicion we shall presently see.

It will easily be understood that with such a reputation, Don Estevan
would have very little difficulty in collecting his band of adventurers.
Indeed it was said, that already more than fifty determined men from
all parts of Sonora had assembled at the _Presidio of Tubac_ on the
Indian frontier--the place appointed for the rendezvous of the
expedition.  It was further affirmed that in a few days Don Estevan
himself would leave Arispe to place himself at their head.

This rumour, hitherto only conjecture, proved to be correct; for at one
of the dinners given by the hospitable Spaniard, he announced to his
guests that in three days he intended to start for Tubac.

During the progress of this same dinner, a messenger was introduced into
the dining-room, who handed to Don Estevan a letter, an answer to which
he awaited.

The Spaniard, begging of his guests to excuse him for a moment, broke
the seal and read the letter.

As there was a certain mystery about the habits of their convivial host,
the guests were silent for a while--all watching his movements and the
play of his features; but the impassible countenance of Don Estevan did
not betray a single emotion that was passing his mind, even to the most
acute observer around the table.  In truth he was a man who well knew
how to dissemble his thoughts, and perhaps on that very occasion, more
than any other, he required all his self-command.

"It is well," he said, calmly addressing himself to the messenger.
"Take my answer to him who sent you, that I will be punctual to the
rendezvous in three days from the present."

With this answer the messenger took his departure.  Don Estevan, turning
to his guests, again apologised for his impoliteness; and the dinner for
an instant suspended once more progressed with renewed activity.

Nevertheless the Spaniard appeared more thoughtful than before; and his
guests did not doubt but that he had received some news of more than
ordinary interest.

We shall leave them to their conjectures, and precede Don Estevan to the
mysterious rendezvous which had been given him, and the scene of which
was to be a small village lying upon the route to the Presidio of Tubac.

The whole country between Arispe and the Presidio in question may be
said to be almost uninhabited.  Along the route only mean hovels are
encountered, with here and there a _hacienda_ of greater pretensions.
These houses are rarely solitary, but collected in groups at long
distances apart.  Usually a day's journey lies between them, and,
consequently, they are the stopping-places for travellers, who may be on
their way towards the frontier.  But the travellers are few, and the
inhabitants of these miserable hovels pass the greater part of their
lives in the middle of a profound solitude.  A little patch of Indian
corn which they cultivate,--a few head of cattle, which, fed upon the
perfumed pastures of the plains, produce beef of an exquisite flavour,--
a sky always clear,--and, above all, a wonderful sobriety of living,--
enable these dwellers of the desert steppes of Sonora to live, if not in
a state of luxury, at least free from all fear of want.  What desires
need trouble a man who sees a blue sky always over his head, and who
finds in the smoke of a cigarette of his own making, a resource against
all the cravings of hunger?

At one part of the year, however, these villages of hovels are
uninhabited--altogether abandoned by their occupants.  This is the _dry
season_, during the greater portion of which the cisterns that supply
the villages with water become dried up.  The cisterns are fed by the
rains of heaven, and no other water than this can be found throughout
most tracts of the country.  When these give out, the settlements have
to be abandoned, and remain until the return of the periodical rains.

In a morning of the year 1830, at the distance of about three days'
journey from Arispe, a man was seated, or rather half reclining, upon
his _serape_ in front of a rude hovel.  A few other huts of a similar
character were near, scattered here and there over the ground.  It was
evident, from the profound silence that reigned among these dwellings,
and the absence of human forms, or implements of household use, that the
_rancheria_ was abandoned by its half nomad population.  Such in reality
was the fact, for it was now the very height of the dry season.  Two or
three roads branched out from this miserable group of huts, leading off
into a thick forest which surrounded it on all sides.  They were rather
paths than roads, for the tracks which they followed were scarce cleared
of the timber that once grew upon them.  At the point of junction of
these roads the individual alluded to had placed himself; and his
attitude of perfect ease told that he was under no apprehension from the
profound and awe-inspiring loneliness of the place.  The croak of the
ravens flitting from tree to tree hoarsely uttered in their flight; the
cry of the _chaculucas_ as they welcomed the rising sun, were the only
sounds that broke the stillness of the scene.

Presently the white fog of the night began to rise upward and disappear
under the strength of the sunbeams.  Only a few flakes of it still hung
over the tops of the mezquite and iron-wood trees that grew thickly
around the huts.

Near where the man lay, there might be seen the remains of a large fire.
It had been kindled no doubt to protect him from the chill dews of the
night; and it now served him to prepare his breakfast.  Some small cakes
of wheaten meal, with few pieces of _tasajo_, were already placed upon
the red embers of the fire; but notwithstanding that these would made
but a meagre repast the man appeared eagerly to await the enjoyment of
it.

Near at hand, with a frugality equal to that of his master, a horse was
browsing upon the tufts of dry yellow grass, that grew thinly over the
ground.  This horse, with a saddle and bridle lying near, proved the
solitary individual to be a traveller.  Contrary to the usual custom of
the country, the horse had no _lazo_, or fastening of any kind upon him;
but was free to wander where he pleased.

The costume of the traveller consisted in a sort of jacket or vest of
brick-coloured leather, without buttons or any opening in front, but
drawn over the head after the manner of a shirt.  Wide pantaloons of the
same material, open from the knee downwards, and fastened at the waist
by a scarf of red China crape.  Under the pantaloons, and covering the
calf of the leg nearly up to the knee, could be seen the _botas_ of
strong stamped leather, in one of which was stuck a long knife with a
horn hilt--thus ready to the hand whether the owner was seated,
standing, or on horseback.  A large felt hat, banded with a _toquilla_
of Venetian pearls, completed a costume sufficiently picturesque, the
vivid colours of which were in harmony with that of the _serape_ on
which the traveller was reclining.  This costume denoted one of those
men accustomed to gallop among the thorny jungles that cover the desert
steppes of North Mexico; and who in their expeditions, whether against
Indian enemies, or for whatever purpose, sleep with indifference under
the shadow of a tree, or the open heaven itself,--in the forest, or upon
the naked plain.

There was in the features of this traveller a singular mixture of brutal
ferocity and careless good-humour.  A crooked nose, with thick bushy
eyebrows, and black eyes that sparkled from time to time with a
malicious fire, gave to his countenance a sinister aspect, and belied
the expression of his mouth and lips, that presented rather a pleasant
and smiling contour.  But the man's features, when viewed as a whole,
could not fail to inspire a certain feeling of repulsiveness mingled
with fear.  A short carbine that lay by his side, together with the long
knife, whose haft protruded above the top of his boots, did not in any
way tame down the ferocious aspect of his face.  On the contrary they
proclaimed him one whom it would not be desirable to have for a
companion in the desert.

Despite the _nonchalance_ of his attitude, it was evident that he
awaited some one; but as everything in these countries is on a large
scale, so also is the virtue of patience.  This outlaw--for everything
about him signified that he was one of some sort--this outlaw, we say,
having made three days' journey before arriving upon the ground where he
now was, thought nothing of a few hours, less or more, spent in
expectation.  In the desert, he who has travelled a hundred leagues,
will consider it a mere bagatelle to wait for a hundred hours: unlike to
him who keeps an appointment in the midst of a great city, where a delay
of a quarter of an hour will be endured with feverish impatience.

So it was with our solitary traveller; and when the hoof-strokes of a
horse were heard at some distance off in the forest, he did nothing more
than to make a slight change in the attitude in which he had been
reclining; while his steed, also hearing the same sounds, tossed up his
head and neighed joyously.  The hoof-strokes each moment were heard more
distinctly; and it was evident that a horseman was galloping rapidly in
the direction of the huts.  After a little the strokes became more
gentle, and the gallop appeared to be changed to a walk.  The rider was
approaching with caution.

A few seconds intervened, and then upon one of the roads--that leading
to Arispe--the horseman was perceived coming on at a slow and cautious
pace.

On perceiving the traveller, still half reclining upon his _serape_, the
horseman drew his rein still tighter and halted, and the two men
remained for some seconds regarding each other with a fixed and
interrogative glance.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

TWO HONEST GENTLEMEN.

The new-comer was a tall man with a dark complexion, and thick black
beard, costumed very similarly to the other--in vest and pantaloons of
brick-red leather, felt sombrero, sash, and boots.  He was mounted upon
a strong active horse.

It may appear strange that during the period of mutual examination, each
of these two men made a very similar reflection about the other; but it
was scarcely strange either, considering that both presented an equally
suspicious aspect.

"_Carramba_!" muttered the horseman as he eyed the man on the _serape_,
"if I wasn't sure that he is the gentleman I have been sent to meet, I
should believe that I had chanced upon a very unlucky acquaintance."

At the same instant he upon the ground said to himself--

"_Por Dios_! if that infernal Seven of Spades had left any dollars in my
purse, I should have considered them in danger of being taken out of it
just now."

Despite the nature of his reflection, the horseman did not hesitate any
longer, but spurring his horse forward to the edge of the fire, lifted
his hat courteously from his head, and saluted him on the ground, at the
same time saying interrogatively:--

"No doubt it is the Senor Don Pedro Cuchillo I have the honour to
address?"

"The same, cavallero!" replied the other, rising to his feet, and
returning the salute with no less politeness than it had been given.

"Cavallero!  I have been sent forward to meet you, and announce to you
the approach of the Senor Arechiza, who at this time cannot be many
leagues distant.  My name is Manuel Baraja, your very humble servant."

"Your honour will dismount?"

The horseman did not wait for the invitation to be repeated, but at once
flung himself from the saddle.  After unbuckling his enormous spurs, he
speedily unsaddled his horse, fastened a long lazo around his neck, and
then giving him a smart cut with the short whip which he carried,
despatched the animal without further ceremony to share the meagre
provender of his companion.

At this movement the _tasajo_, beginning to sputter over the coals, gave
out an odour that resembled the smell of a dying lamp.  Notwithstanding
this, Baraja cast towards it a look of longing.

"It appears to me Senor Cuchillo," said he, "that you are well provided
here.  Carramba!--_tortillas_, of wheaten meal! _tasajo_!--it is a
repast for a prince!"

"Oh, yes," replied Cuchillo, with a certain air of foppishness, "I treat
myself well.  It makes me happy to know that the dish is to your liking;
I beg to assure you, it is quite at your service."

"You are very good, and I accept your offer without ceremony.  The
morning air has sharpened my appetite."

And saying this, Baraja proceeded to the mastication of the tassajo and
tortillas.  After being thus engaged for some time, he once more
addressed himself to his host.

"Dare I tell you, Senor Cuchillo, the favourable impression I had of you
at first sight?"

"Oh! you shock my modesty, senor.  I would rather state the good opinion
your first appearance gave me of _you_!"

The two new friends here exchanged a salute, full of affability, and
then continued to eat, Baraja harpooning upon the point of his long
knife another piece of meat out of the ashes.

"If it please you, Senor Baraja," said Cuchillo, "we may talk over our
business while we are eating.  You will find me a host _sans
ceremonie_."

"Just what pleases me."

"Don Estevan, then, has received the message which I sent him?"

"He has, but what that message was is only known to you and him."

"No doubt of that," muttered Cuchillo to himself.

"The Senor Arechiza," continued the _envoy_, "started for Tubac shortly
after receiving your letter.  It was my duty to accompany him, but he
ordered me to proceed in advance of him with these commands: `In the
little village of Huerfano you will find a man, by name Cuchillo; you
shall say to him that the proposal he makes to me deserves serious
attention; and that since the place he has designated as a rendezvous is
on the way to Tubac, I will see him on my journey.'  This instruction
was given by Don Estevan an hour or so before his departure, but
although I have ridden a little faster to execute his orders, he cannot
be far behind me."

"Good!  Senor Baraja, good!" exclaimed Cuchillo, evidently pleased with
the communication just made, "and if the business which I have with Don
Estevan be satisfactorily concluded--which I am in hopes it will be--you
are likely to have me for a comrade in this distant expedition.  But,"
continued he, suddenly changing the subject, "you will, no doubt, be
astonished that I have given Don Estevan a rendezvous in such a singular
place as this?"

"No," coolly replied Baraja, "you may have reasons for being partial to
solitude.  Who does not love it at times?"

A most gracious smile playing upon the countenance of Cuchillo, denoted
that his new acquaintance had correctly divined the truth.

"Precisely," he replied, "the ill-behaviour of a friend towards me, and
the malevolent hostility of the alcalde of Arispe have caused me to seek
this tranquil retreat.  That is just why I have established my
headquarters in an abandoned village, where there is not a soul to keep
company with."

"Senor Don Pedro," replied Baraja, "I have already formed too good an
opinion of you not to believe that the fault is entirely upon the side
of the alcalde, and especially on the part of your friend."

"I thank you, Senor Baraja, for you good opinion," returned Cuchillo, at
the same time taking from the cinders a piece of the meat, half burnt,
half raw, and munching it down with the most perfect indifference; "I
thank you sincerely, and when I tell you the circumstances you may judge
for yourself."

"I shall be glad to hear them," said the other, easing himself down into
a horizontal position; "after a good repast, there is nothing I so much
enjoy as a good story."

After saying this, and lighting his cigarette, Baraja turned upon the
broad of his back, and with his eyes fixed upon the blue sky, appeared
to enjoy a perfect beatitude.

"The story is neither long nor interesting," responded Cuchillo; "what
happened to me might happen to all the world.  I was engaged with this
friend in a quiet game of cards, when he pretended that I had _tricked_
him.  The affair came to words--"

Here the narrator paused for an instant, to take a drink from his
leathern bottle, and then continued--

"My friend had the indelicacy to permit himself to drop down dead in my
presence."

"What at your words?"

"No, with the stab of a knife which I gave him," coolly replied the
outlaw.

"Ah! no doubt your friend was in the wrong, and you received great
provocation?"

"The alcalde did not think so.  He pestered me in the most absurd
manner.  I could have forgiven the bitterness of his persecution of me,
had it not been that I was myself bitterly roused at the ill-behaviour
of my friend, whom up to that time I had highly esteemed."

"Ah! one has always to suffer from one's friends," rejoined Baraja,
sending up a puff of smoke from his corn-husk cigarette.

"Well--one thing," said Cuchillo, "the result of it all is that I have
made a vow never to play another card; for the cards, as you see, were
the original cause of this ugly affair."

"A good resolution," said Baraja, "and just such as I have come to
myself.  I have promised never to touch another card; they have cost me
a fortune--in fact, altogether ruined me."

"Ruined you? you have been rich then?"

"Alas!  I had a splendid estate--a _hacienda de ganados_ (cattle farm)
with a numerous flock upon it.  I had a lawyer for my _intendant_, who
took care of the estate while I spent my time in town.  But when I came
to settle accounts with this fellow I found I had let them run too long.
I discovered that half my estate belonged to him!"

"What did you do then?"

"The only thing I could do," answered Baraja, with the air of a
cavalier, "was to stake my remaining half against his on a game, and let
the winner take the whole."

"Did he accept this proposal?"

"After a fashion."

"What fashion?"

"Why, you see I am too timid when I play in presence of company, and
certain to lose.  I prefer, therefore, to play in the open air, and in
some quiet corner of the woods.  There I feel more at my ease; and if I
should lose--considering that it was my whole fortune that was at
stake--I should not expose my chagrin to the whole world.  These were
the considerations that prompted me to propose the conditions of our
playing alone."

"And did the lawyer agree to your conditions?"

"Not a bit of it."

"What a droll fellow he must have been!"

"He would only play in the presence of witnesses."

"And you were forced to his terms?"

"To my great regret, I was."

"And of course you lost--being so nervous in presence of company?"

"I lost the second half of my fortune as I had done the first.  The only
thing I kept back was the horse you see, and even him my ex-intendant
insisted upon having as part of the bet.  To-day I have no other hope
than to make my fortune in this Tubac expedition, and if I should do so
I may get back, and settle accounts with the knave.  After that game,
however, I swore I should never play another card; and, carramba!  I
have kept my oath."

"How long since this happened?"

"Five days."

"The devil!--You deserve credit for keeping your word."

The two adventurers after having exchanged these confidences, began to
talk over their hopes founded on the approaching expedition--of the
marvellous sights that they would be likely to see--but more especially
of the dangers that might have to be encountered.

"Bah!" said Baraja, speaking of these; "better to die than live wearing
a coat out at elbows."

Cuchillo was of the same opinion.

Meanwhile the sun was growing hotter and hotter.  A burning wind began
to blow through the trees, and the horses of the two travellers,
suffering from thirst, uttered their plaintive neighings.  The men
themselves sought out the thickest shade to protect them from the fervid
rays of the sun, and for a while both observed a complete silence.

Baraja was the first to resume the conversation.

"You may laugh at me, Senor Cuchillo," said he, fanning himself with his
felt hat, "but to say the truth the time appears very long to me when I
am not playing."

"The same with myself," hastily responded Cuchillo.

"What do you say to our staking, on word of honour, a little of that
gold we are going to find?"

"Just what I was thinking myself, but I daren't propose it to you;--I am
quite agreeable."

Without further parley each of the two thrust a hand into his pocket,
and drew forth a pack of cards--with which, notwithstanding the oath
they had taken, both were provided.

The play was about to commence, when the sound of a bell, and the
clattering of hoofs at a distance, announced the approach, most
probably, of the important personage whom Cuchillo awaited.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

THE SENATOR TRAGADUROS.

The two players suspended operations, and turned their faces in the
direction whence came the sounds.

At some distance along the road, a cloud of dust suddenly rising,
indicated the approach of a troop of horses.

They were without riders.  One only was mounted; and that was ridden by
the driver of the troop.  In short, it was a _remuda_--such as rich
travellers in the north of Mexico usually take along with them for a
remount.  These horses, on account of the half-wild life they lead upon
the vast plains where they are pastured, after a gallop of twenty
leagues without carrying a rider, are almost as fresh as if just taken
out of the stable.  On long routes, each is saddled and mounted at
regular intervals; and in this way a journey is performed almost as
rapidly as by a mail express, with relays already established.

According to usual custom, a _bell-mare_ preceded this drove, which
appeared to consist of about thirty horses.  It was this bell that had
first attracted the attention of the players.

When within a hundred yards or so of the huts, the driver of the
_remuda_ galloped to the front, and catching the bell-mare, brought her
to a stop.  The other horses halted on the instant.

Shortly after, five cavaliers appeared through the dust, riding in the
direction of the huts.  Two were in advance of the other three, who,
following at a little distance, were acting as attendants or servants.

The most distinguished looking of the two who rode in advance, was a man
of somewhat over medium height.  He appeared to have passed the age of
forty.  A greyish-coloured _sombrero_, with broad brim, screened his
face from the fervent sunbeams.  He was habited in a pelisse, or
_dolman_, of dark blue, richly laced with gold, and almost concealed
under a large white kerchief, embroidered with sky-blue silk, and known
in Mexico as _pano de sol_.  Under the fiery atmosphere, the white
colour of this species of scarf, like the _burnous_ of the Arabs, serves
to moderate the rays of the sun, and for this purpose was it worn by the
cavalier in question.  Upon his feet were boots of yellow Cordovan
leather, and over these, large spurs, the straps of which were stitched
with gold and silver wire.  These spurs, with their huge five-pointed
rowels, and little bells, gave out a silvery clinking that kept time to
the march of the horse--sounds most agreeable to the ear of the Mexican
_cavallero_.

A _mango_, richly slashed with gold lace, hung over the pommel of the
saddle in front of the horseman, half covering with its folds a pair of
wide pantaloons, garnished throughout their whole length with buttons of
filigree gold.  In fine, the saddle, embroidered like the straps of the
spurs, completed a costume that, in the eyes of a European, would recall
the souvenirs of the middle ages.  For all that, the horseman in
question did not require a rich dress to give him an air of distinction.
There was that in his bearing and physiognomy that denoted a man
accustomed to command and perfectly _au fait_ to the world.

His companion, much younger, was dressed with far more pretension: but
his insignificant figure, though not wanting in a certain degree of
elegance, was far from having the aristocratic appearance of him with
the embroidered kerchief.

The three servants that followed--with faces blackened by dust and sun,
and half savage figures--carried long lances adorned with scarlet
pennons, and _lazos_ hung coiled from the pommels of their saddles.
These strange attendants gave to the group that singular appearance
peculiar to a cavalcade of Mexican travellers.  Several mules, pack
laden, and carrying enormous valises, followed in the rear.  These
valises contained provisions and the _menage_ necessary for a halt.

On seeing Cuchillo and Baraja, the foremost of the two cavaliers halted,
and the troop followed his example.

"'Tis the Senor Don Estevan," said Baraja, in a subdued voice.  "This is
the man, senor," he continued, presenting Cuchillo to the cavalier with
the _pano de sol_.

Don Estevan--for it was he--fixed upon Cuchillo a piercing glance, that
appeared to penetrate to the bottom of his soul, at the same time the
look denoted a slight expression of surprise.

"I have the honour to kiss the hands of your excellency," said Cuchillo.
"As you see, it is I who--"

But in spite of his habitual assurance, the outlaw paused, trembling as
vague souvenirs began to shape themselves in his memory; for these two
men had met before, though not for a very long time.

"Eh! if I don't deceive myself," interrupted the Spaniard, in an
ironical tone, "the Senor Cuchillo and I are old acquaintances--though
formerly I knew him by a different name?"

"So too your excellency, who was then called--"

Arechiza frowned till the hairs of his black moustache seemed to stand
on end.  The outlaw did not finish his speech.  He saw that it was not
the time to tell what he knew; but this species of complicity appeared
to restore him to his wonted assurance.

Cuchillo was, in truth, one of those gentlemen who have the ill luck to
give to whatever name they bear a prompt celebrity; and for this reason
he had changed his more than once.

"Senor Senator," said Arechiza, turning toward his _compagnon de
voyage_, "this place does not appear very suitable for our noon siesta?"

"The Senor Tragaduros y Despilfarro, will find the shade of one of these
cottages more agreeable," interposed Cuchillo, who knew the senator of
Arispe.  He knew, moreover, that the latter had attached himself to the
fortunes of Don Estevan, in default of better cause: and in hopes of
repairing his own fortune, long since dissipated.

Despite the low state of his finances, however, the Senator had not the
less a real influence in the congress of Sonora; and it was this
influence which Don Estevan intended using to his own advantage.  Hence
the companionship that now existed between them.

"I agree with all my heart to your proposal," answered Tragaduros, "the
more so that we have now been nearly five hours in the saddle."

Two of the servants dismounting, took their masters' horses by the
bridle, while the other two looked after the _cargas_ of the mules.  The
camp-beds were taken from the pack saddles, and carried into two of the
houses that appeared the most spacious and proper.

We shall leave the Senator reclining upon his mattress, to enjoy that
profound slumber which is the portion of just men and travellers; while
we accompany Don Estevan into the hut which he had chosen for himself,
and which stood at some distance from that occupied by the legislator.



CHAPTER NINE.

THE COMPACT.

After having followed Don Estevan, at the invitation of the latter,
inside the hovel, Cuchillo closed behind him the wattle of bamboos that
served as a door.  He did this with great care--as if he feared that the
least noise should be heard without--and then he stood waiting for the
Spaniard to initiate the conversation.

The latter had seated himself on the side of his camp-bedstead, and
Cuchillo also sat down, using for his seat the skull of a bullock,--
which chanced to be in the house.  It is the ordinary stool of this part
of the country, where the luxury of chairs is still unknown--at least in
the houses of the poor.

"I suppose," said Arechiza, breaking silence, "that you have a thousand
reasons why I should know you by no other than your present name.  I,
with motives very different from yours, no doubt, desire to be here
nothing more than _Don Estevan Arechiza_.  Now!  Senor Cuchillo,"
continued the speaker with a certain affectation of mockery; "let us
have this grand secret that is to make your fortune and mine!"

"A word first, Senor Don Estevan de Arechiza," replied Cuchillo, in the
same tone; "one word, and then you shall have it."

"I listen to you; but observe, sir, say nothing of the past--no more
perfidy.  We are here in a country where there are _trees_, and you know
how I punish traitors."

At this allusion to some past event--no doubt some mysterious souvenir--
the face of the outlaw became livid.

"Yes," replied he, "I remember that it is not your fault that I was not
hung to a tree.  It may be more prudent not to recall old wrongs--
especially as you are no longer in a conquered country, but in one of
forests--forests both sombre and dumb."

There was in this response of the outlaw such an evident air of menace,
that, joined with his character and sinister antecedents, it required a
firm heart on the part of Don Estevan not to regret having recalled the
souvenir.  With a cold smile he replied:

"Ha! another time I shall entrust the execution of a traitor in the
hands of no human being.  I shall perform that office myself," continued
he, fixing upon Cuchillo a glance which caused the latter to lower his
head.  "As to your threats, reserve them for people of your own kind;
and never forget, that between my breast and your dagger there is an
insurmountable barrier."

"Who knows?" muttered Cuchillo, dissembling the anger which was
devouring him.  Then in a different tone, he continued: "But I am no
traitor, Senor Don Estevan; and the proposal I am now about to make to
you is frank and loyal."

"We shall see, then."

"Know, then, Senor Arechiza, that for several years past I have followed
the profession of a _gambusino_, and have rambled over most of this
country in the exercise of my calling.  I have seen a deposit of gold
such as mortal eye perhaps never looked upon!"

"You have seen it, and not possessed yourself of it?"

"Do not mock me, Don Estevan; I am in earnest.  I have seen a _placer_
so rich that the man who gets it might for a whole year play the game of
hell with luck all the while against him, and not be impoverished!  So
rich as to satisfy the most insatiable avarice; so rich, in fact, as to
buy a kingdom!"

At these words, which responded to some hopes and desires already
conceived, Don Estevan could not hinder himself from the manifestation
of a certain emotion.

"So rich," continued the outlaw, in an exalted tone, "that I would not
hesitate for one instant to give my soul to the devil in exchange for
it."

"The devil is not such a fool as to value so highly a soul which he
knows he will get _gratis_.  But how did _you_ discover this _placer_?"

"Thus, senor.  There was a _gambusino_ called Marcos Arellanos, who was
celebrated throughout the whole province.  It was he who discovered this
_bonanza_ in company with another of the same calling as himself; but
just as they were about to gather some of the gold, they were attacked
by the Apache Indians.  The associate of Marcos Arellanos was killed,
and he himself had to run a thousand risks before he succeeded in making
his escape.

"It was after he came home again that by chance I met him at Tubac.
There he proposed to me to join him, and go back to the _placer_.  I
accepted his offer, and we started.  We arrived safely at the _Golden
Valley_, for by that name he called the place.  Powers of Heaven!"
exclaimed Cuchillo, "it only needed to see those blocks of gold shining
in the sun to bring before one's eyes a thousand dazzling visions!

"Alas! we were only permitted to feast our eyes.  The savages were upon
us.  We were compelled to fly in our turn, and I alone escaped.  Poor
Marcos! he fell under the horrible war clubs; and I--I have sorely
grieved for him!  Now, senor, this is the secret of the Golden Valley
which I desire to sell to you."

"To sell to me:--and who is to answer for your fidelity?"

"My own interest.  I sell you the secret, but I do not intend to
alienate my rights to the _placer_.  I have vainly endeavoured to get up
an expedition such as yours, for without a strong force it would be of
no use going there.  It would be certain death to a party of only two or
three.  With your band, however, it will be easy, and success would be
certain.  I only ask the tenth part of all the gold that may be
gathered, which I would deserve as guide of the expedition; and going as
guide I will be at the same time a hostage for my good faith."

"Is that what I am to understand; you estimate the price of your secret
and services a tenth part of the whole?"

"That and two hundred dollars paid down to enable me to equip myself for
the expedition."

"You are more reasonable than I expected, Cuchillo.  Very well, then let
it be so; the two hundred dollars you shall have, and I promise you the
tenth part."

"Agreed."

"Agreed, and you have my word upon it.  Now, answer me some questions
which I wish to put.  Is this Golden Valley in that part of the country
where I intended to have taken my expedition?"

"It is beyond the Presidio of Tubac; and since your men are to meet
there you will not need to make any change in the dispositions you have
already taken."

"Good.  And you have seen this Golden Valley you say with your own
eyes?"

"I have seen it without the power of touching it.  I have seen it
grinding my teeth as I looked upon it, like the damned in hell who get a
glimpse of Paradise."

As Cuchillo spoke, his countenance betrayed beyond doubt the anguish he
felt, at his cupidity having been balked.

Arechiza knew too well how to read the human physiognomy to doubt the
truth of Cuchillo's report.  Two hundred dollars were to him a mere
bagatelle; and taking an ebony case from his bed, small but heavy, he
drew from it a rouleau of gold pieces and handed them to the gambusino,
who immediately put them in his pocket.

There was a little more in the rouleau than had been bargained for.  The
Spaniard took no notice of this, but forming a cross with his thumb and
index finger of his right hand _a la mode Espagnole_, he held it before
Cuchillo, directing him to make an oath upon it.

"I swear by the cross," said the latter, "to speak the truth, the whole
truth, and nothing but the truth.  At the end of ten days' journey
beyond Tubac, going in a north-western direction, we shall arrive at the
foot of a range of mountains.  They are easy to recognise--for a thick
vapour hangs over them both night and day.  A little river traverses
this range of hills.  It is necessary to ascend it to a point where
another stream runs into it.  There in the angle where the two meet, is
a steep hill, the summit of which is crowned by the tomb of an Indian
chief.  I was not near enough to distinguish the strange ornaments that
surround this tomb; but at the foot of the hill there is a small lake by
the side of a narrow valley in which the water from rain torrents has
thrown to the surface immense treasures of gold, this is the _Golden
Valley_."

"The way will be easily found?" inquired Don Estevan.

"But difficult to travel," replied Cuchillo.  "The arid deserts will be
no obstacle compared with the danger from the hostility of Indians.
This tomb of one of their most celebrated chiefs they hold in
superstitious veneration.  It is the constant object of their
pilgrimages, and it was during one of these visits that we were
surprised.  Arellanos and myself."

"And this Arellanos--do you think, he has not revealed this secret to
any one besides yourself?"

"You must know," replied Cuchillo, "that it is a custom of the
gambusinos, before starting upon any expedition, to swear before the
Holy Evangelists not to reveal the _bonanzas_ they may find without the
consent of their associates.  This oath Arellanos took, and his death of
course prevented him from betraying it."

"You have said that after his return from his first expedition, you met
him in Tubac.  Was there no woman whom he may perchance have had in his
confidence?"

"His wife only--he may have told it to her.  But yesterday a vaquero
gave me the news that she has lately died.  For all that, she may have
revealed the secret to her son."

"Arellanos had a son then?"

"An adopted son--a young man whose father or mother no one knows
anything about."

Don Estevan could not repress an involuntary movement.

"This young fellow is, no doubt, the son of some poor devil of this
province?" said the Spaniard, in a careless way.

"No," replied Cuchillo, "he was born in Europe, and very likely in
Spain."

Arechiza appeared to fall into a reverie, his head bending towards his
breast.  Some souvenirs were disturbing his spirit.

"This much at least is known," continued Cuchillo.  "The commander of an
English brig-of-war brought him to Guaymas.  He stated that the child,
who spoke both French and Spanish, had been captured in an affair
between the brig and a French privateer.  A sailor who was either killed
in the fight or taken prisoner, was beyond doubt his father.  The
captain of the English brig, not knowing what to do with him, gave him
to Arellanos--who chanced to be in Guaymas at the time--and Arellanos
brought him up and has made a man of him--my faith! that he has.  Young
as the fellow is, there is not such a _rastreador_ nor horse-tamer in
the province."

The Spaniard, while apparently not listening to Cuchillo, did not lose a
word of what he was saying; but whether he had heard enough, or that the
subject was a painful one, he suddenly interrupted the gambusino:

"And don't you think, if this wonderful tracker and horse-breaker has
been told the secret of his adopted father he might not be a dangerous
rival to us?"

Cuchillo drew himself up proudly, and replied:--

"I know a man who will yield in nothing--neither at following a trail,
nor taming a wild horse--to Tiburcio Arellanos; and yet this secret has
been almost worthless in his keeping, since he has just sold it for the
tenth part of its value!"

This last argument of Cuchillo's was sufficiently strong to convince Don
Estevan that the Golden Valley was so guarded by these fierce Indians
that nothing but a strong party could reach it--in short, that he
himself was the only man who could set this force afoot.  For a while he
remained in his silent reverie.  The revelations of Cuchillo in regard
to the adopted son of Marcos Arellanos had opened his mind to a new set
of ideas which absorbed all others.  For certain motives, which we
cannot here explain, he was seeking to divine whether this Tiburcio
Arellanos was not the young Fabian de Mediana!

Cuchillo on his part was reflecting on certain antecedents relative to
the gambusino Arellanos and his adopted son; but for powerful reasons he
did not mention his reflections to Don Estevan.  There are reasons,
however, why the reader should now be informed of their nature.

The outlaw, as we have said, frequently changed his name.  It was by one
of these aliases used up so quickly, that he had been passing, when at
the Presidio Tubac he made the acquaintance of the unfortunate
Arellanos.  When the latter was about starting out on his second and
fatal journey--before parting with his wife and the young man whom he
loved as well as if he had been his own son--he confided to his wife the
object of his new expedition; and also the full particulars of the route
he intended to take.  Cuchillo was nevertheless ignorant of this
revelation.  But the knowledge which the outlaw carefully concealed, was
that he himself after having reached the Golden Valley guided by
Arellanos, murdered his companion, in hope of having all the treasure to
himself.  It was true enough that the Indians appeared afterwards, and
it was with difficulty that the assassin could save his own scalp.  We
shall now leave him to tell his own story as to how he made the
acquaintance of young Arellanos, and it will be seen that this story is
a mere deception practised upon Don Estevan.

"Nevertheless," resumed Cuchillo in breaking the silence, "I was
determined to free my mind from all doubt upon the subject.  On my
return to Arispe I repaired to the dwelling of the widow of Arellanos to
inform her of the death of poor Marcos.  But with the exception of the
great grief which the news caused her, I observed nothing particular--
nothing that could give me the least suspicion that I am not the sole
possessor of the secret of the Golden Valley."

"One easily believes what he wishes to believe," remarked Arechiza.

"Hear me, Senor Don Estevan!  There are two things on which I pride
myself.  One is, that I have a conscience easily alarmed; the other,
that I am gifted with a perspicuity not easily deluded."

The Spaniard made no further objections.  He was satisfied, not with the
outlaw's conscience, but his perspicuity.

With regard to Tiburcio Arellanos, we need hardly state what the reader
has no doubt already divined--that this young man was in reality no
other than Fabian, the last descendant of the Counts of Mediana.
Cuchillo has already related how the English brig brought him to
Guaymas.  Left without a guide to enable him to discover his family--
disinherited of his rich patrimonial estates--an orphan knowing nothing
of his parents, here he was in a strange land, the possessor of nothing
more than a horse and a hut of bamboos.



CHAPTER TEN.

THE AFTERNOON RIDE.

When Cuchillo, after the interview just described, came forth from the
hovel, the sun was no longer in the vertex of the heavens, but had
commenced his downward course to the western horizon.  The earth, burned
up and dry as tinder, gave forth a thin vapoury mist, that here and
there hung over the surface in condensed masses, giving that appearance
known as the _mirage_.  Limpid lakes presented themselves to the eye,
where not a drop of water was known to exist--as if nature, to preserve
a perfect harmony, offered these to the imagination in compensation for
the absence of the precious fluid itself.  Far off in the forest, could
be heard at intervals the crackling of branches under the burning rays
of the sun--just as if the woods were on fire.  But the trees were
beginning to open their leaves to the southern breeze that freshened as
the hours passed on, and they appeared impatiently to await the
twilight, when the night-dews would once more freshen their foliage.

Cuchillo gave a whistle, at which well-known signal his horse came
galloping up to him.  The poor beast appeared to suffer terribly from
the thirst.  His master, moved with pity, poured into a bowl a few drops
of water from his skin bottle; and although it was scarce enough to
moisten the animal's lips, it seemed to bring back the vigour of his
spirit.

Cuchillo having saddled and bridled his horse, and buckled on a pair of
huge spurs, called one of the attendants of Don Estevan.  To this man he
gave orders to have the pack of mules harnessed, as well as to collect
the _remuda_ to be sent on in advance--in order that the sleeping
quarters for the night should be ready upon their arrival.  The place
where the travellers were to rest that night--as Cuchillo informed the
domestic--was to be at the cistern known as _La Poza_.

"But _La Poza_ is not on the route to Tubac!" objected the servant; "it
lies out of the way and on the road leading to the _Hacienda del
Venado_."

"_You_ have nothing to do with the route," peremptorily answered
Cuchillo, "your master intends spending some days at the Hacienda del
Venado.  Therefore do as I have ordered you."

The Hacienda del Venado was the most important estate between Arispe and
the Indian frontier, and its proprietor had the reputation of being the
most hospitable man in the whole province.  It was, therefore, without
repugnance that the attendants of Don Estevan heard this news from
Cuchillo--since, although their route of march would be extended in
making the detour by the Hacienda del Venado, they knew they would enjoy
several days of pleasant repose at this hospitable mansion.

The man to whom Cuchillo had given his orders, immediately saddled his
horse and set off to collect the _remuda_.  He soon discovered the
horses browsing in the woods near at hand, and collected, as usual,
around the bell-mare.

As he approached, the troop bounded off in affright--just as wild horses
would have done; but the active horseman was too quick for them, for
already the running noose of his lazo was around the neck of one of
them.  The horse, perceiving that he was caught, and knowing well the
lazo--whose power he had often felt--yielded without resistance, and
permitted himself to be led quietly away.  The _capitansa_ (bell-mare)
knew the signal and followed the horse of the servant, with all the
others trooping at her heels.

Two of the freshest of the drove were left behind, for Don Estevan and
the Senator.  These would be enough to serve them as far as La Poza--the
place of their intended night halt--which was only a few hours distant.
The other horses, guided by the bell-mare, were taken on in advance, and
the drove soon disappeared behind the cloud of dust thrown up by their
hoofs.

Shortly after, the Senator made his appearance at the door of the hut
where he had taken his siesta--a necessity almost imperious in these hot
climates.  At the same time, Don Estevan presented himself in the open
air.  The atmosphere, though a little fresher than when they had gone
inside, was still sufficiently stifling to be disagreeable.

"Carramba!" cried the Senator, after inhaling a few mouthfuls of it, "it
is fire, _not_ air, one has to breathe here.  If these hovels were not a
complete nest of snakes and scorpions, I should prefer staying in them
until night, rather than launch myself into this dreadful furnace."

After this doleful speech the Senator climbed reluctantly into his
saddle, and he and Don Estevan took the route, riding side by side, as
in the morning.  Behind, at a few paces distance, followed Cuchillo and
Baraja, and after these the little _recua_ of mules with the other
domestics.

For the first hour of their march the shade of the trees rendered the
heat supportable, but soon the forest ended, and the road debouched upon
the open plains that appeared interminable.

It is hardly possible to conceive a more dreary prospect than that
presented by those arid plains of Northern Mexico--naked, white, and
almost destitute of vegetation.  Here and there at long distances on the
route, may be seen a tall pole which denotes the presence of some
artificial well-cistern; but as you draw near, the leathern buckets, by
which the water is to be raised, show by their stiff contracted outlines
that for a long time they have held no water, and that the well is dried
up--a sad fortune for the traveller whose evil star has guided him into
these deserts during the dry season, especially if at the end of his
day's journey he reckons on a supply from these treacherous
depositaries.  If his canteen is not well filled, or if he is by any
chance detained upon his route, his story is likely to be that of
hundreds who have perished of thirst upon these plains, between a heaven
and an earth that are equally unpitying.

"Is it true, then, Don Estevan," inquired the Senator, as he wiped the
perspiration from his brow, "that you have been through this country
before?"

"Certainly," replied Don Estevan; "and it is just because I have been
here before that I am here now.  But what brought me here formerly, and
why I now return, is a secret I shall tell you presently.  Let me say
that it is a secret sufficient to turn a man's brain, provided he is not
one with a bold, firm heart.  Are you that man, senor Senator?" added
the Spaniard, fixing his eyes upon his companion, with a calm regard.

The Senator made no reply, farther than by giving a slight shiver that
was perceptible through his frame, and which denoted that he felt some
apprehension as to the role he might be called upon to play.

The Spaniard did not fail to observe his uneasiness, as he resumed:

"Meanwhile, senor, let me ask you, are you decided to follow my advice,
and restore your fortunes by some rich matrimonial alliance which I
shall arrange for you?"

"Without doubt I am," replied the Senator, "though I can't see what
interest that can be to you, Senor Don Estevan."

"That is my affair and my secret.  I am not one of those who sell the
skin of the bear before the animal is caught.  It is enough for you to
know, Don Vicente Tragaduros y Despilfarro, that I have a hundred
thousand dollars at your disposal the moment you say the word--it only
remains for you to hear my conditions, and subscribe to them."

"I don't say no," replied the Senator, "but I candidly avow that for the
life of me I cannot think of any one possessing such an inheritance as
you mention--not one in the whole province."

"Do you know the daughter of the rich landowner Augusta Pena--at whose
hacienda, please God, we shall sleep to-morrow night?"

"Oh!" exclaimed the Senator, "the proprietor of the Hacienda del Venado?
I have heard of her--_her_ dowry should be a million if report speaks
true; but what folly it would be for me to pretend--"

"Bah!" interrupted the Spaniard.  "It is a fortress that well besieged
may capitulate like any other."

"It is said that the daughter of Pena is pretty."

"Beautiful."

"You know her, then?" said the Senator, regarding his companion with an
astonished look.  "Perhaps," he added, "it is to the hacienda of Venado
that you make those periodical and mysterious journeys, so much talked
about at Arispe?"

"Precisely so."

"Ah!  I understand you," said the Senator, turning a sly look upon his
companion, "it was the beautiful eyes of the daughter that attracted
you, the--?"

"You are mistaken.  It was the father, who was simply the banker from
whom, from time to time, I drew the funds necessary for my expenses at
Arispe."

"Is that also the object of our present journey?"

"Partly," replied the Spaniard, "but not altogether--there is another
object, which I will communicate to you hereafter."

"Well, senor," answered the Senator, "you are a mystery to me from head
to foot; but I abandon myself blindly to your guidance."

"You do well," said Don Estevan, "and in all likelihood your sun, for a
while eclipsed, will shine out again with more than its former
splendour."



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

AN UNFORTUNATE TRAVELLER.

It was now near sunset; the travellers were still about two leagues from
La Poza, and the desert plains were nearly passed.  Some _mezquite_
trees appeared in front thinly covering the calcareous soil, but the
twilight sun began to render less visible the objects here and there
scattered over the plain.

All at once the horse of Don Estevan came to a stand, and showed signs
of affright.  The steed of the Senator acted in a similar fashion,
though neither of the two horsemen could perceive the cause of this
strange behaviour.

"It is the body of some dead mule?" suggested the Mexican.

Don Estevan spurred his horse forward, despite the repugnance of the
animal to advance; and a few paces further on, behind a clump of wild
aloe plants, he perceived the body of a horse stretched out upon the
sand.  Such a sight in these dry plains is by no means uncommon; and the
travellers would not have given a moment's thought to it, but for the
fact that the horse in question appeared to be saddled and bridled.
This circumstance indicated some extraordinary occurrence.

Cuchillo had meanwhile ridden forward to the spot.

"Ah!" said he, after glancing a moment at the dead horse, "the poor
devil who has ridden him has met with a double accident: he has not only
lost his horse, but also his water-bottle.  See!"

The guide pointed to an object lying upon the ground by the shoulder of
the fallen horse, and still attached by a strap to the saddle.  It was a
leathern water-bottle apparently broken and empty.  In fact, its
position proved that the horse, enfeebled by the heat and thirst, had
fallen suddenly to the earth, and the bottle, hardened by the sun, and
coming in contact with the animal's shoulder, had got crushed either by
the fall, or in the struggle that succeeded it.  A large fracture was
visible in the side of the vessel, through which the water had escaped
to the very last drop.

"We are likely enough by and by to stumble upon his owner:" suggested
Cuchillo, while he examined the trappings of the dead horse, to see if
there might be anything worth picking up.  "_Por Dios_!" he continued,
"this reminds me that I have the very devil's thirst myself," and as he
said this, he raised his own bottle to his head, and swallowed some
gulps from it.

The tracks of a man upon the sandy surface, indicated that the traveller
had continued his route on foot; but the footmarks showed also, that he
must have tottered rather than walked.  They were unequally distant from
each other, and wanted that distinctness of shape, that would have been
exhibited by the footsteps of a man standing properly on his legs.

These points did not escape the keen eyes of Cuchillo, who was one of
those individuals who could read such dumb signs with an unfailing
certainty.

"Beyond a doubt," said he, taking another gulp from his bottle, "the
traveller cannot be far off."

His conjecture proved correct.  A few moments after, the body of a man
was seen by the side of the path, lying upon the ground, and perfectly
motionless.  As if this individual had intended that his countenance
should be hidden from the eyes of any one passing, a broad palm-leaf hat
covered the whole of his face.

The costume of this traveller in distress, betrayed a certain degree of
poverty.  Besides the hat already mentioned, which appeared old and
battered, a rusty-coloured Indian shirt, somewhat torn, and a pair of
pantaloons of nankeen, with common filigree buttons, appeared to be his
only garments.  At least they were all that could be noticed in the
obscure twilight.

"Benito," said Don Estevan, calling to one of his servants, "knock off
with the butt of your lance the hat that covers this man's face--perhaps
he is only asleep?"

Benito obeyed the order, and tossed aside the hat without dismounting;
but the man stretched on the ground did not appear to know what had been
done--at least he made not the slightest movement.

When the hat was removed, however, the darkness, which had suddenly
increased, rendered it impossible to distinguish his features.

"Although it is not exactly your speciality, Senor Cuchillo," said Don
Estevan, addressing himself to the outlaw, "if you will do an act of
humanity in trying to save the life of this poor devil, you shall have
half an ounce of gold if you succeed."

"Cospita!  Senor Don Estevan," cried Cuchillo, "you surely mistake my
character.  I am the most humane of mortals--that is," continued he in
an undertone, "when it is my interest to be so.  You may ride forward
then; and it will not be my fault, if I don't bring this poor fellow
safe to our halting-place at La Poza."

In saying these words Cuchillo dismounted, and laying his hands upon the
neck of his horse, cried out:

"Now, good Tordilla, don't budge an inch from this spot till I call for
you."

The animal, pawing the sand, and champing his bit, appeared to
comprehend the words of his master, and remained in the place where he
had been left.

"Shall we leave one of the servants to assist you?" inquired the
Senator, as they were riding off.

"No, thank you, Senor Don Vicente," responded Cuchillo, fearing that if
any one was left he might expect some share in the promised _demi-onza_;
"it will not be necessary."

And the cavalcade riding off, left the outlaw alone with the recumbent
body.



CHAPTER TWELVE.

TIBURCIO ARELLANOS.

Cuchillo approaching the body, bent down to examine the features, and
see if there were any signs of life.  At the first glance of that face
the outlaw trembled.

"Tiburcio Arellanos, as I live!" he involuntarily muttered.

It was, in truth, the adopted son of his victim whom he saw before him.

"Yes--there is no mistake--it is he!  _Santa Virgen_! if not dead he's
not far off it," continued he, observing the mortal paleness of the
young man's countenance.

A hellish thought at this moment arose in the mind of the outlaw.
Perhaps the only man in all the world who shared with him that secret,
which he himself had purchased by the crime of murder, was there before
him--completely in his power.  It only needed to finish him, if not
already dead, and to report that he could not be saved.  He was in the
middle of the desert, under the shadow of night, where no eye could see,
and no hand could hinder; why then should he not make his secret secure
against every contingency of the future?

All the ferocious instincts of the villain were re-awakened;
mechanically he drew the long knife from his boot, and held its point
over the heart of the unconscious Tiburcio.

At that moment, a slight quivering of the limbs told that the latter
still lived.  The outlaw raised his arm, but still hesitated to strike
the blow.

"It was just thus," reflected he, "that I stabbed the man he called his
father--just in the same way, as he slept beside me, in full confidence
of security.  I see him now contesting with me for the life of this
young fellow more than half gone.  I feel at this moment the weight of
his body upon my shoulders, just as I felt it when I carried him down to
the river."

And the murderer, at these thoughts, in the middle of the darkness and
solitude, cast around him a look that betrayed the terror with which the
souvenir still inspired him.

That terror saved the life of Tiburcio; for the knife was thrust back
into its singular scabbard, and the villain, seating himself beside the
recumbent form, thrust his hand under the vest of the young man, and
held it over his heart to try whether it was still beating.

In this attitude he remained for a short while--until satisfied that
Tiburcio was yet alive.  Then a bright thought seemed to startle him;
for a voice had spoken to him from within, stronger than the voice of
conscience.  It was that of personal interest.  Cuchillo knew the rare
qualities of Tiburcio--his talents as a _rastreador_, or tracker--his
daring prowess in Indian warfare; and after some consideration, he
resolved to enrol him in the expedition of Don Estevan, to which he
would no doubt prove of great value.

"That will be the best plan," said the outlaw, speaking in soliloquy.
"What would his life be worth to me now?--Nothing; and if I wish to have
it hereafter--why, then there will be no lack of opportunities.  He
cannot be otherwise than grateful for what I am going to do for him.
But let me see how matters stand--of course it is thirst that is killing
him--how lucky I have kept a little water in my canteen!"

He now opened the mouth of the dying man, and holding the neck of the
leathern bottle to his lips, poured some drops down his throat.  The
water produced an almost instantaneous reanimation, and the young man
opened his eyes, but soon closed them again.

"That shows he is coming round," muttered Cuchillo.

Twice or thrice he repeated the operation, each time doubling the dose
of water.  Finally, at the end of half an hour or so, Tiburcio was
sufficiently recovered to be able to raise himself up, and to answer the
questions put to him by the man who was, in reality, the preserver of
his life.

Tiburcio Arellanos was still but a young man; but the sort of life he
had led--solitary, and dependent on his own resources--had given to his
judgment a precocious maturity.  He therefore observed a degree of
prudence in recounting to Cuchillo the death of his adopted mother, to
which subject the outlaw had guided the conversation.

"During the twenty-four hours that I passed by the death-bed of my
mother," said Tiburcio, "I quite forgot to attend to my horse; and after
all was over I closed the door of the cottage, where I never wished to
return, and I set out upon this journey.  The poor animal, so long
neglected, became feeble on the second day, and fell dead under me: and,
to my misfortune, my water-bottle was broken in the fall, and the water
spilled upon the sand.  I remained on the spot till thirst brought on
fever, and then I strayed away; and after wandering about, I know not
how long, I fell, as my horse had done, expecting never more to rise."

"I comprehend all that," responded Cuchillo.  "Well! it is astonishing
how people will regret the death of parents, who do not leave them the
slightest inheritance!"

Tiburcio could have told him, that on her death-bed his adopted mother
had left him a royal, as well as a terrible legacy--the secret of the
Golden Valley, and the vengeance of the murder of Marcos Arellanos.
Both had been, confided to him--the golden secret upon the especial
conditions that Tiburcio would, if necessary, spend the whole of his
life in searching for the assassin.

Tiburcio appeared to take no notice of Cuchillo's last reflection, and
perhaps his discretion proved the saving of his life: for had the outlaw
been made sure that he was in possession of the secret of the Golden
Valley, it is not likely he would have made any further efforts to save
him, but the reverse.

"And is that a fact," continued Cuchillo, interrogatively, "that with
the exception of a hut which you have abandoned, a horse which has
dropped dead between your legs, and the garments you carry on your back,
that Arellanos and his widow have left you nothing?"

"Nothing but the memory of their goodness to me, and a reverence for
their name."

"Poor Arellanos!  I was very sorry for him," said Cuchillo, whose
hypocrisy had here committed him to an unguarded act of imprudence.

"You knew him then?" hastily inquired Tiburcio, with some show of
surprise.  "He never spoke to me of you!"

Cuchillo saw that he had made a mistake, and hastened to reply.

"No, I didn't know him personally.  I have only heard him much spoken of
as a most worthy man, and a famous gambusino.  That is why I was sorry
on hearing of his death.  Was it not I who first apprised his widow of
the unfortunate occurrence, having myself heard of it by chance?"

Notwithstanding the natural tone in which Cuchillo delivered this
speech, he was one of those persons of such a sinister countenance, that
Tiburcio could not help a certain feeling of suspicion while regarding
it.  But by little and little the feeling gave way, and the young man's
thoughts taking another turn, he remained for some moments buried in a
silent reverie.  It was merely the result of his feebleness, though
Cuchillo, ever ready to suspect evil, interpreted his silence as arising
from a different cause.

Just then the horse of Cuchillo began to show evident signs of terror,
and the instant after, with his hair standing on end, he came galloping
up to his master as if to seek protection.  It was the hour when the
desert appears in all its nocturnal majesty.  The howling of the jackals
could be heard in the distance; but all at once a voice rising far above
all the rest appeared to give them a signal to be silent.  It was the
voice of the American lion.

"Do you hear it?" inquired Cuchillo of his companion.

A howl equally loud, but of a different tone, was heard on the opposite
side.  "It is the puma and jaguar about to battle for the body of your
horse, friend Tiburcio, and whichever one is conquered may take a fancy
to revenge himself on us.  Suppose you mount behind me, and let us be
off?"

Tiburcio followed the advice; and notwithstanding the double load, the
horse of Cuchillo galloped off like an arrow, impelled to such swift
course by the growling of the fierce animals, that for a long time could
be heard, as if they were following in the rear.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

A STUMBLING HORSE.

Far along the route these sounds accompanied the two riders--that is,
the wailing of the jackals, mingled with the more fearful utterance of
the great feline denizens of the desert.  All at once, however, these
noises became stilled, as a sound of a far different nature indicated
the presence of some human being interfering in this scene of the
desert.  It was the crack of a gun, but with that quick sharp report
that distinguishes the detonation of the rifle.

"A shot!" exclaimed Tiburcio.  "But who can be amusing himself by
hunting at this time of night, and in the middle of such a desert?"

"Very likely one of those American trappers we see now and then at
Arispe, where they come to sell their beaver skins.  These fellows think
as little of a puma or a jaguar as they do of a jackal."

No other noise was afterwards heard to break the imposing silence of the
night.  The stars were shining brightly in the blue heaven, and the
breeze, that had now become much cooler, scarce made the slightest
rustling as it passed through the branches of the iron-wood trees.

"Where are you taking me?" asked Tiburcio, after an interval of silence.

"To La Poza, where I have some companions who are to pass the night
there.  To-morrow, if you like, on to the hacienda of Venado."

"To the hacienda of Venado! that is just where I was going."

Had it been daylight, Cuchillo might have seen a blush suddenly redden
the cheeks of the young man as he pronounced these words; for it was an
affair of the heart, that in spite of all the efforts he had made to
resist it, was attracting him to the hacienda de Venado.  The object of
his interest was no other than the daughter of the _haciendado_
himself--the young heiress already spoken of.

"For what purpose were you going there?" inquired Cuchillo, in a
careless tone.

This simple question was nevertheless difficult to be answered.  His
companion was not the man to whom the young gambusino could give his
confidence.  He hesitated before making reply.

"I am without resources," said he at length, "and I go to ask Don
Augustin Pena if he will accept me in the capacity of one of his
_vaqueros_."

"'Tis a poor business you wish to undertake, _amigo_.  To expose your
life forever for such paltry pay as you will get--to keep watch at night
and run about all the day; exposed to the burning heat of the sun, and
by night to the cold--for this is the lot of a vaquero."

"What can I do?" replied Tiburcio.  "Besides, it is just the sort of
life I have been accustomed to; have I not always been exposed to
privations and the solitude of the desert plains?  These torn calzoneras
and well-worn jacket are all that are left me--since I have now no
longer my poor horse.  Better turn vaquero than be a beggar!"

"He knows nothing of the secret then," reflected Cuchillo, "since he is
meditating on an employment of this nature."  Then raising his
voice:--"You are in truth, then, a complete orphan, amigo; and have no
one to mourn for you if you were to die--except myself.  Have you by
chance heard anything of this grand expedition that is being organised
at Tubac?"

"No."

"Become one of it then.  To an expedition of this kind a resolute young
fellow like you would be a valuable acquisition; and upon your part, an
expert gambusino, such as I fancy you must be--from the school in which
you have been taught--might make his fortune at a single stroke."

If he parry this thrust, muttered the outlaw to himself, it will be
proof positive that he knows nothing about it.

Cuchillo was thus pursuing his investigation with a twofold object,
sounding Tiburcio about the secret, while at the same time trying to
attach him to the expedition by the hope of gain.  But cunning as was
the outlaw, he had to do with a party that was no simpleton.  Tiburcio
prudently remained silent.

"Although between ourselves," continued Cuchillo, "I can tell you that I
have never been beyond Tubac, yet I am to be one of the guides of this
expedition.  Now what say you?"

"I have my reasons," replied Tiburcio, "not to engage in it without
reflection.  I therefore demand of you twenty-four hours to think it
over, and then you shall have my answer."

The expedition, of which this was the first news Tiburcio had heard,
might, in fact, ruin or favour his own projects--hence the uncertainty
he felt, and which he contrived so cleverly to conceal by his discreet
reserve.

"Very well," rejoined Cuchillo, "the thing will keep that long."

And with this the conversation was discontinued.

Cuchillo, joyed at being disembarrassed of his apprehension about the
secret, began carelessly whistling while he spurred forward his horse.
The greatest harmony continued between these two men, who, though they
knew it not, had each a motive of the deadliest hatred one against the
other.  Suddenly, as they were thus riding along, the horse that carried
them stumbled upon the left fore-leg, and almost came to the ground.  On
the instant Tiburcio leaped down, and with eyes flashing fire, cried out
in a threatening tone to his astonished companion.

"You say you have never been beyond Tubac? where did you get this horse,
Cuchillo?"

"What business of yours, where I got him?" answered the outlaw,
surprised by a question to which his conscience gave an alarming
significance, "and what has my horse to do with the interrogatory you
have so discourteously put to me?"

"By the soul of Arellanos!  I will know; or, if not--"

Cuchillo gave the spur to his horse, causing him to bound to one side--
while at the same time he attempted to unbuckle the straps that fastened
his carbine to the saddle; but Tiburcio sprang after, seized his hand,
and held it while he repeated the question:--

"How long have you owned this horse?"

"There, now! what curiosity!" answered Cuchillo, with a forced smile,
"still, since you are so eager to know--it is--it is about six weeks
since I became his master; you may have seen me with him, perhaps?"

In truth it was the first time Tiburcio had seen Cuchillo with this
horse--that, notwithstanding his bad habits of stumbling, was otherwise
an excellent animal, and was only used by his master on grand occasions.
For this very reason Tiburcio had not seen him before.

The ready lie of the outlaw dissipated, no doubt, certain suspicions
that had arisen in the mind of the young man, for the latter let go the
horseman's wrist, which up to this time he had held in his firm grasp.

"Pardon me!" said he, "for this rudeness; but allow me to ask you
another question?"

"Ask it!" said Cuchillo, "since we are friends; in fact, among friends,
one question less or more can make no difference."

"Who sold you this horse six weeks ago?"

"Por Dios, his owner, of course--a stranger, whom I did not know, but
who had just arrived from a long journey."

Cuchillo repeated these words in a slow and drawling manner, as if to
gain time for some hidden purpose.

"A stranger?" repeated Tiburcio; "pardon me! one more question?"

"Has the horse been stolen from _you_?" asked the outlaw in an ironical
tone.

"No--but let us think no more of my folly--pardon me, senor!"

"I pardon you," answered Cuchillo, in a tone of magnanimity, "the more
so," added he mentally, "that you will not go much further, you son of a
hound!"

Tiburcio, unsuspecting, was no longer on his guard, and the outlaw,
profiting by the darkness, had already detached his carbine from the
saddle.  In another moment, beyond doubt, he would have carried into
execution his demoniac purpose, had it not been for the appearance of a
horseman, who was coming at full gallop along the road.  Besides the
horse which he rode, the horseman led behind him another, saddled and
bridled.  He was evidently a messenger from Don Estevan.

"Ah! is it you, Senor Cuchillo?" he cried out, as he rode up.

"The devil!" grumbled the outlaw, at this ill-timed interruption.  "Ah!
is it you, Senor Benito?" he inquired, suddenly changing his tone.

"Yes.  Well, have you saved the man?  Don Estevan has sent me back to
you with a gourd of fresh water, and a horse to bring him on."

"He is there," replied Cuchillo, pointing to Tiburcio, who stood at a
little distance, "thanks to me he is sound and safe--until I have a
chance of being once more alone with him," he muttered, in a tone not
intended to be heard.

"Well, gentlemen," remarked the servant, "we had better go on--the
camping place is not far from here--we can soon reach it."

Tiburcio leaped into the empty saddle, and the three galloped silently
toward the place where the travellers had halted--the servant thinking
only of reaching it as soon as possible, and going to rest--Cuchillo
mentally cursing the interruption that had forced him to adjourn his
project of vengeance--and Tiburcio vainly endeavouring to drive out of
his mind the suspicion which this curious incident had aroused.

In this occupation the three rode on for about a quarter of an hour,
until the gleam of fires ahead discovered the halting-place of the
travellers at La Poza.  Soon afterwards their camp itself was reached.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

LA POZA.

The place known by the name "La Poza" was the only one, within a circle
of many leagues, where at this time of the year water could be found.
There was here a natural cistern or well--partly nourished by a spring,
and partly by rain from the skies.  It was hollowed at the bottom of a
little crater-shaped valley, only a few paces in circumference, the
sloping side's of which served to conduct to the well the rain-water
that fell around.

The ridges inclosing the little valley were crowned with trees of thick
frondage, which, nourished by the evaporation of the water, appeared
green and vigorous, and protected the cistern from the burning rays of
the sun.  The green grass that grew around, the cool shadow of the
trees, and the freshness of the air, rendered the well of La Poza, in
the middle of the desert, a delicious little oasis.  Besides serving as
excellent resting-place for travellers, it was a favourite resort of
hunters, who used it as a stalking-ground for animals--elks and deer--as
well as jaguars and other fierce beasts that in great numbers came to
the well to drink.

At a short distance from the cistern of La Poza commenced a tract of
thick forest through which ran the path leading to the Hacienda del
Venado.  Nearer to the edge of the little valley, upon the side of this
path, the travellers had kindled an enormous fire, partly to defend
themselves from the the cold night air, and partly to frighten off any
jaguars or pumas that might be in the neighbourhood of the water.

Not far from this fire the servants had placed the camp-beds of the
Senator and Don Estevan; and while a large saddle of mutton was being
roasted for supper, a skin bottle of wine was cooling in the fresh water
with which the trough had been filled.

After a painful day's march, it was an attractive spectacle which this
scene presented to the eyes of the travellers.

"_Mine_! your halting-place, Tiburcio," said Cuchillo, as they rode into
the camp, and speaking in a tone of pretended friendliness in order to
conceal the real rancour which he felt.  "Dismount here, while I go and
report your arrival to our chief.  It is Don Estevan de Arechiza himself
under whose orders we are enrolled; so, too, may you be, if you desire
it; and between ourselves, _amigo_, it is the best thing you can do."

Cuchillo fearing that his victim might escape him, now wished more than
ever that he should join the expedition.  He pointed out Don Estevan and
the Senator seated on their camp-beds, and visible in the light of the
great fire, while Tiburcio was not yet seen by them.  Cuchillo himself
advanced toward Don Estevan.

"I am desirous, Senor Don Estevan," said he, addressing himself to the
Spaniard, "to say two words to your honour, with the permission of his
excellency the Senator."

Don Estevan arose from his seat and made a sign to Cuchillo to accompany
him into one of the dark alleys of the forest, the same by which the
path entered that led to the hacienda.

"You could hardly guess, Senor Don Estevan, who is the man your
generosity has saved--for I have brought him with me safe and sound, as
you see?"

Without making answer, Don Estevan took from his purse the piece of gold
he had promised, and handed it to Cuchillo.

"It is the young Tiburcio Arellanos to whom you have given life,"
continued the outlaw.  "As for me I only followed the dictates of my
heart; but it may be that we have both done a very foolish action."

"Why that?" asked the Spaniard.  "This young man will be easily watched
so long as he is near us; and I presume he is decided to be one of our
expedition?"

"He has asked twenty-four hours to reflect upon it."

"Do you think he knows anything of--"

"I have my fears," replied Cuchillo, in a melancholy tone, little
regarding the lie he was telling, and the purpose of which was to render
the Spaniard suspicious of the man he had himself vowed to kill.  "In
any case," continued he, with a significant smile, "we have saved his
life, and that will serve as _tit for tat_."

"What do you mean to say?"

"Only that my conscience assures me it will be perfectly tranquil if--
if--Carramba!" added he, brusquely--"if I should send this young fellow
to be broiled with his mother in the other world."

"God forbid that!" exclaimed the Spaniard, in a lively tone.  "What
need?  Admit that he knows all: I shall be in command of a hundred men,
and he altogether alone.  What harm can the fellow do us.  I have no
uneasiness about him.  I am satisfied, and so must you be."

"Oh!  I am satisfied if you are," growled Cuchillo, like a dog whose
master had hindered him from biting some one, "quite satisfied," he
continued, "but perhaps hereafter--"

"I shall see this young man," said the Spaniard, interrupting him, and
advancing in the direction where Tiburcio stood, while Cuchillo
followed, talking to himself:

"What the devil possessed him to ask how long I had owned my horse?  Let
me see! the animal stumbled, I remember, and it was just then he
dismounted and threatened me.  I can't understand it, but I suspect what
I do not understand."

When Arechiza and Cuchillo reached the camp, an excitement was observed
among the horses, that gathered around the _capitansa_, at a short
distance from the fire, and to all appearance in a state of extreme
terror, were uttering a wild and continuous neighing.  Some danger yet
afar, but which the animals' instincts enabled them to perceive, was the
cause of this sudden _stampede_.

"It is some jaguar they have scented," suggested one of the domestics.

"Bah!" replied another, "the jaguars attack only young foals--they
wouldn't dare to assault a strong vigorous horse."

"Do you think so?" demanded the first speaker.  "Ask Benito here, who,
himself, lost a valuable animal taken by the jaguars."

Benito, hearing this reference to himself, advanced towards the two
speakers.

"One day," he began, "or rather, one night just like this, I chanced to
be at a distance from the Hacienda del Venado, where I was a _vaquero_
at the time.  I was in search of a strayed horse, and not finding him,
had made up my mind to pass the night at the spring of _Ojo da Agua_.  I
tied my horse at a good distance off--where there was better grass--and
I was sleeping, as a man sleeps after riding twenty leagues, when I was
suddenly awakened by all the howlings and growlings of the devils.  The
moon shone so clear you might have fancied it daylight.  All at once my
horse came galloping toward me with the lazo hanging round his neck,
which he had broken at the risk of hanging himself.

"`Here then,' said I, `I shall now have two horses to go in search of
instead of one.'

"I had scarce made this reflection, when I observed, under the light of
the moon, a superb jaguar bounding after my horse.  He scarce appeared
to touch the ground, and each leap carried him forward twenty feet or
more.

"I saw that my poor steed was lost.  I listened with anxiety, but for a
while heard nothing.  At the end of a quarter of an hour, however, a
terrible roar--"

The speaker paused, and stood trembling.

"_Virgen Santa_!" cried he, "that's it!" as the fearful cry of a jaguar
at that moment echoed through the camp, succeeded by a deathlike
stillness, as if both men and animals had been alike terrified into
silence.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

NOCTURNAL VISITORS.

The sudden shock occasioned by the perception of a peril so proximate
and imminent paralysed every tongue.  Even the ex-herdsman himself was
silent, and appeared to reflect what had best be done to avoid the
danger.

At this instant the voice of Don Estevan broke the temporary silence
that reigned within the camp.

"Get your weapons ready!" shouted he.

"It is useless, master," rejoined the old vaquero, whose experience
among jaguars gave a certain authority to his words, "the best thing to
be done, is to keep the fire ablaze."

And saying this, he flung an armful of fagots upon it, which, being as
dry as tinder, at once caught flame--so as to illumine a large circle
around the camp.

"If they are not choking with thirst," said Benito, "these demons of
darkness will not dare come within the circle of the fire.  But, indeed,
they are often choking with thirst, and then--"

"Then!" interrupted one of the domestics, in a tone of anxiety.

"Then," continued the herdsman, "then they don't regard either light or
fire; and if we are not determined to defend the water against their
approach, we had better get out of their way altogether.  These animals
are always more thirsty than hungry."

"How when they have drunk?" asked Baraja, whose countenance, under the
light of the fire, betrayed considerable uneasiness.

"Why, then they seek to appease their hunger."

At this moment a second cry from the jaguar was heard, but farther off
than the first.  This was some relief to the auditory of Benito, who,
relying upon his theory, was satisfied that the animal was not yet at
the extreme point of suffering from thirst.  All of them preserved
silence--the only sounds heard being the crackling of the dry sticks
with which Baraja kept the fire profusely supplied.

"Gently there, Baraja! gently!" called out the vaquero, "if you consume
our stock of firewood in that fashion, you will soon make an end of it,
and, _por Dios_! _amigo_, you will have to go to the woods for a fresh
supply."

"There! hold your hand," continued he, after a pause, "and try to make
the fagots last as long as possible, else we may get in darkness and at
the mercy of the tiger.  He is sure to come back again in an hour or
two, and far thirstier than before."

If Benito had desired to frighten his companions, he could not have
succeeded better.  The eyes of one and all of them were anxiously bent
upon the heap of dried sticks that still remained by the fire, and which
appeared scarcely sufficient to last for another hour.  But there was
something so earnest in the tone of the ex-herdsman, despite the jesting
way in which he spoke, that told he was serious in what he had said.

Of course, Don Estevan had postponed the interview with Tiburcio; and
the young man, still ignorant that it was to Don Estevan he really owed
his life, did not think of approaching to offer him thanks.  Moreover,
he saw that the moment would be ill-timed to exchange compliments of
courtesy with the chief of the expedition, and for this reason he
remained standing where Cuchillo had left him.

Nevertheless Don Estevan could not hinder himself from casting an
occasional glance in the direction where the young man stood--though
through the obscurity he could make no exact observation of his
features.

The silence continued.  Don Estevan and the Senator remained seated on
their camp-beds, carbine in hand, while Benito, surrounded by the other
domestics, formed a group by the side of the fire.  The horses had all
approached within a few feet of their masters, where they stood
trembling and breathing loudly from their spread nostrils.  Their
behaviour indicated an instinct on their part that the danger was not
yet over.

Several minutes passed, in which no human voice broke the silence.  In
the midst of greatest perils there is something consolatory in the sound
of a man's voice--something which makes the danger appear less; and as
if struck by this idea, some one asked Benito to continue the narrative
of his adventures.

"I have told you then," resumed the ex-herdsman, "that I saw the tiger
springing after my horse, and that in the chase both disappeared from my
sight.  The moment after, the horse came galloping back; but I knew that
it was his last gallop, as soon as by the light of the moon I saw the
terrible rider that he carried.  The jaguar was upon his back, flattened
over his shoulders, with the neck of the poor horse fast between his
jaws.

"They had not gone a dozen paces before I heard a crackling sound--as if
some bone had been crushed--and on the instant I saw the horse stumble
and fall.  Both tiger and horse rolled over and over in a short but
terrible struggle, and then my poor steed lay motionless.

"For safety I stole away from the dangerous proximity; but returning
after daylight, I found only the half-stripped skeleton of a horse that
had carried me for many a long year.

"And now, amigo," continued the ex-herdsman, turning to the man who had
first spoken, "do you still think that the jaguar attacks only foals?"

No one made reply, but Benito's audience turned their glances outward
from the fire, fearing that in the circle around they might see shining
the eyes of one of these formidable animals.

Another interval of silence succeeded to the narrative of the vaquero.
This was broken by the young man Tiburcio, who, used to the wild life of
the plains and forests, was very little frightened by the presence of
the jaguars.

"If you have a horse," said he, "you need not much fear the jaguar; he
is sure to take your horse first.  Here, we have twenty horses and only
one tiger."

"The young man reasons well," rejoined Baraja, reassured by the
observation of Tiburcio.

"Twenty horses for one tiger--yes," replied Benito; "but suppose the
horses don't choose to remain here.  Supposing, what is likely enough to
happen, we have an _estampeda_--the horses will be off.  Now the jaguar
knows very well he cannot overcome a horse unless he does so in the
first bound or two.  I will not follow the horses then, but will stay by
the water, and of course by us as well.  Besides, the jaguars that hunt
by these springs are likely enough to have tasted human flesh before
now; and if so, they will not, as the young man affirms, prefer the
flesh of a horse."

"Very consoling, that," interrupted Cuchillo.

Benito appeared to be a man fond of the most frightful suggestions, for
not contented with what he had already said, he continued--

"If there be but one jaguar, then he will be satisfied with one of us,
but in case he should chance to be accompanied by his female, then--"

"Then what, by all the devils?" demanded Cuchillo.

"Why, then--but I don't wish to frighten you."

"May thunder strike you!  Speak out," cried Baraja, suffering at the
suspense.

"Why, in that case," coolly added Benito, "the tiger would undoubtedly
show his gallantry to his female by killing a pair of us."

"Carramba!" fervently exclaimed Baraja.  "I pray the Lord that this
tiger may be a bachelor," and as he said this he flung a fresh armful of
fagots on the fire.

"Gently, amigo! gently," interrupted the ex-herdsman, lifting off some
of the sticks again.  "We have yet at least six hours of night, and
these fagots will scarce serve to keep up the light for one.  Gently, I
say!  We have still three chances of safety: the first that the jaguar
may not be thirsty; the second, that he may content himself with one of
our horses; and the third, that he may, as you have wished it, be a
_bachelor_ tiger."

There was no response, and another interval of silence succeeded.
During this it was some consolation to the travellers to see the moon,
which now, rising above the horizon, lit up the plains with her white
beams, and flung her silvery effulgence over the trees.  From the
direction of the woods came the mournful notes of the great horned owl,
and the sound of flapping wings, caused by the vampire bat, as it glided
through the aisles of the forest.  No other sounds appeared to indicate
the presence of living thing except those made by the horses or the
travellers themselves.

"Do you think," said Baraja, addressing himself to Benito, "that the
jaguar is likely to return again?  I have known these animals howl at
night around my hut, and then go off altogether."

"Yes," replied Benito, "that may be when their drinking place is left
free to them.  Here we have intercepted their approach to the water.
Besides, here are both men and horses--both food and drink in one place;
it is not likely they have gone away from a spot that promises to
furnish them with both.  No, I warrant you, they are still in the
neighbourhood."

At this moment the cry of the jaguar was heard once more, proving the
correctness of Benito's judgment.

"There!" cried he, "just as I said; the beast is nearer too--no doubt
his thirst is increasing--the more so that he is hindered from
approaching the spring.  Ha! do you hear that?"

This exclamation was caused by another roar of the jaguar, but evidently
not the one that had been already frightening the travellers--for this
cry came from the opposite side of the camp.

"Ave Maria!" screamed Baraja, in anguish, "the tiger has a wife!"

"You speak true," said Benito, "there are two of them, and they must be
a male and female, since two male jaguars never hunt in company."

"_Carrai_!" exclaimed Cuchillo, "may the devil take me if ever I passed
a night in the company of such a man as this old herdsman.  He would
frighten the hair off one's head if he could."

"After all," said Baraja, "I think there can't be much danger, so long
as we have got the horses between us and these terrible brutes."

Unhappily, this chance of safety was not to exist much longer, for just
then the jaguars recommenced their growling, both of them nearer than
ever.  The effect upon the horses was now exhibited in a complete
_estampeda_,--for these animals, seeing they could no longer rely upon
their masters for protection, preferred trusting to their heels, and one
and all of them broke away in a wild gallop.

As this last chance of security was gone, the old vaquero, leaving the
fire, approached the spot where Don Estevan and the Senator were seated,
and thus addressed them:--

"Gentlemen," said he, "prudence requires that you will not remain so far
from the rest of us.  As you perceive there is danger on both sides, it
will be best that we should all keep close together, and as near the
fire as possible."

The affrighted look of the Senator offered a striking contrast to the
countenance of Don Estevan, which still preserved its calm rigidity.

"It is good advice this faithful servant gives us," said Tragaduros,
rising to do as Benito had suggested.

"Come, Benito," said Don Estevan, "these are nothing but hunter's
stories you have been telling, and you wish to frighten these novices?
Is it not so?"

"As I live, Senor Don Estevan, 'tis the truth!"

"There is a real danger, then?"

"Certain there is, my master!"

"Very well, in that case I shall remain where I am."

"Are you in earnest?" asked the frightened Tragaduros.

"Quite so--the duty of a leader is to protect his followers," said the
Spaniard, proudly, "and that is what I mean to do.  If the danger is
only from the right and left as it appears to be--I shall guard the
right here.  There are two bullets in my gun, and with these and a sure
eye, what care I for a jaguar?  You, Senor Don Vicente, can take your
stand on the left of the fire, and watch that side.  If it appears
prudent to you to keep near the men, do so."

This compromise appeared to the taste of Tragaduros, who had no idea of
exposing the person of a man who was to be the future proprietor of a
million of dollars dowry.  He lost no time, therefore, in crossing over
to the fire, and although he made a feint to keep watch on the opposite
side from that guarded by Don Estevan, he took care to remain within a
few feet of the group of attendants.

These dispositions had scarce been completed, when a formidable dialogue
was struck up between the two fierce beasts that were approaching on
opposite sides of the camp.  Now they would utter a hoarse roaring, then
a series of screams and yells, succeeded by a shrill mewing that
resembled the caterwauling of cats--only louder and more terrific in its
effect.  Though Benito and Tiburcio knew that all these noises were
caused by a single pair of tigers, the others imagined that not less
than a dozen must be engaged in the frightful chorus.

The gun of the Senator shook in his hand--Baraja commended his soul to
all the saints in the Spanish calendar--Cuchillo clutched his carbine,
as if he would crush it between his fingers--while the chief himself
coolly awaited the denouement of the drama.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

THE TIGER HUNTERS.

By the light of the fire Don Estevan could be seen walking in the
direction whence proceeded the cries of the jaguar that was approaching
on the right.  He appeared calm as if going out in search of a deer.
Tiburcio, at the aspect of the Spanish chief, felt within him that
exultation of spirit which danger produces in certain energetic natures;
but his dagger was the only weapon he possessed.

He cast a glance at the double-barrelled gun which the Senator held in
his hand, and of which the latter was likely to make a use more fatal to
his companions than to the jaguar.

On his part the Senator cast an envious look upon the safe position
which Tiburcio occupied--in the centre of the group formed by Benito and
his companions.  Tiburcio read the meaning of this look.

"Senor Senator," said he, "it is not proper that you should expose your
life thus--a life valuable to the state.  You have relatives--a noble
family; as for me, if I should be killed, there is no one to care for
me."

"The fact is," said the Senator, "if others set upon my life one half
the value I put upon it myself, my death would cause a great deal of
unhappiness."

"Well, senor, suppose we change places?  You give me your gun, and
permit me to place my body in front of you as a rampart against the
claws of the jaguars."

This proposal was made at the moment when the two cavernous voices of
the ferocious beasts were heard loudly answering to one another.  Under
the impression produced by the terrible dialogue, Tiburcio's offer was
hastily accepted.  The Senator took his place; while the young man, with
sparkling eyes and firm step, advanced several paces in the direction of
the forest whence came theories of the jaguar.  There he halted to
receive the attack that appeared inevitable.

Don Estevan and he appeared motionless as a pair of statues.  The
unequal reflection of the fire gleamed upon these two men--whom chance
had thus strangely united--neither of whom might yield to the other in
pride or courage.

The moment was becoming critical.  The two jaguars were about to find
enemies worthy of them.

The fire, now burnt down, threw out only a pale light, scarce strong
enough to illumine the group that stood near its edge.

At this moment an incident occurred which was likely to cause a change
in the situation of affairs.  In the midst of an interval of silence--in
which the very stillness itself increased the apprehension of the
travellers--was heard the long lugubrious whine of a prairie wolf.
Melancholy as was this sound, it was sweet in comparison with the cries
of the more formidable animals, the jaguars.

"The prairie wolf to howl in the presence of the tiger!" muttered the
ex-herdsman.  "Carramba! there's something strange about that."

"But I have heard it said," rejoined Tiburcio, "that it is the habit of
the prairie wolf to follow the jaguar when the latter is in search of
prey?"

"That is true enough," replied Benito, "but the wolf never howls so near
the tiger, till after the tiger has taken his prey and is busy devouring
it.  Then his howl is a humble prayer for the other to leave him
something.

"This is strange," continued the vaquero, as the prairie wolf was heard
to utter another long whine.  "Hark! another!--yes--another prairie wolf
and on the opposite side too!"

In fact, another plaintive whine, exactly resembling the first, both in
strength and cadence, was heard from a point directly opposite.

"I repeat it," said Benito, "prairie wolves would never dare to betray
themselves thus.  I am greatly mistaken if it be not creatures of a
different species that make this howling, and who don't care a straw for
the jaguars."

"What creatures?" demanded Tiburcio.

"Human creatures!" answered the ex-herdsman.  "American hunters from the
north."

"Trappers do you mean?"

"Precisely.  There are no people in these parts likely to be so fearless
of the jaguar, and I am pretty sure that what appears to be the call of
the prairie wolf is nothing else than a signal uttered by a brace of
trappers.  They are in pursuit of the jaguars; they have separated, and
by these signals they acquaint one another of their whereabouts."

Meanwhile the trappers, if such they were, appeared to advance with
considerable precaution; for although the party by the fire listened
attentively, not the slightest noise could be heard--neither the
cracking of a branch, nor the rustling of a leaf.

"Hilloa! you by the fire there!" all at once broke out from the midst of
the darkness a loud rough voice, "we are approaching you.  Don't be
afraid; and don't fire your guns!"

The voice had a foreign accent, which partly confirmed the truth of the
vaquero's conjecture, and the appearance of the speaker himself proved
it to a certainty.

We shall not stay to describe the singular aspect of the new arrival--
further than to say that he was a man of herculean stature, and
accoutred in the most _bizarre_ fashion.  He appeared a sort of giant
armed with a rifle--proportioned to his size--that is, having a barrel
of thick heavy metal nearly six feet in length.

As he approached the group his sharp eye soon took in the different
individuals that composed it, and rested with a satisfied look on the
form of Tiburcio.

"The devil take that fire of yours!" he said abruptly, but in a tone of
good-humour.  "It has frightened away from us two of the most beautiful
jaguars that ever roamed about these deserts."

"Frightened them away!" exclaimed Baraja.  "_Carramba_!  I hope that may
be true!"

"Will you allow me to put the fire out?" inquired the new-comer.

"Put out the fire--our only safeguard!" cried the astonished Senator.

"Your only safeguard!" repeated the trapper, equally astonished, as he
pointed with his finger around him.  "What! eight men wanting a fire for
a safeguard against two poor tigers!  You are surely making game of me!"

"Who are you, sir?" demanded Don Estevan, in a haughty tone.

"A hunter--as you see."

"Hunter, of what?"

"My comrade and I trap the beaver, hunt the wolf, the tiger--or an
Indian, if need be."

"Heaven has sent you then to deliver us from these fierce animals," said
Cuchillo, showing himself in front.

"Not very likely," replied the trapper, whose first impression of the
outlaw was evidently an unfavourable one.  "Heaven I fancy had nothing
to do with it.  My comrade and I at about two leagues from here chanced
upon a panther and two jaguars, quarrelling over the body of a dead
horse."

"I re was mine," interrupted Tiburcio.

"Yours, young man!" continued the trapper, in a tone of rude cordiality.
"Well, I am glad to see you here, for we thought that the owner of the
horse might be no longer among the living.  The panther we killed, but
the two jaguars made off, and we tracked them hither to the spring,
which your fire now hinders them from approaching.  Therefore, if you
wish to be rid of these beasts, the sooner you put out the fire the
better; and you will see how soon we shall disembarrass you of their
presence."

"And your comrade?" asked Don Estevan, struck with the idea of making a
brace of valuable recruits.  "Where is he?"

"He'll be here presently; but to the work, else we must leave you to get
out of your scrape as you best can."

There was a certain authority in the tone and words of the trapper--a
cool assurance that produced conviction--and upon his drawing near to
put out the fire, Don Estevan did not offer to hinder him, but tacitly
permitted him to have his way.

In a few seconds the burnt fagots were scattered about over the grass,
and the cinders quenched by a few buckets of water drawn from the
trough.  This done the trapper uttered an imitation of the voice of the
coyote; and before its echoes had died away, his companion stepped
forward upon the ground.

Although the second trapper was by no means a man of low stature,
alongside his companion he appeared only a pigmy.  He was not less
strangely accoutred, but in the absence of the firelight his costume was
not sufficiently visible for its style to be distinguished.  Of him and
his dress we shall hereafter speak more particularly.

"At last your devilish fire is out," said he, as he came up, "for the
want of wood, no doubt, which none of you dared to go fetch."

"No, that is not the reason," hastily replied the first trapper; "I got
leave from these gentlemen to put it out--so that we may have an
opportunity to rid them of the presence of the tigers."

"Hum!" murmured the Senator; "I fear we have done wrong in letting the
fire be put out.  Suppose you miss them?"

"Miss them!  _Por Dios_! how?" cried the second trapper.  "_Caspita_!
If I had not been afraid to frighten off one of the beasts, I could have
killed the other long ago.  Several times I had him at the muzzle of my
carbine, when the signal of my comrade hindered me from firing.  Miss
them indeed!"

"Never mind!" interrupted the great trapper; "we shall end the matter, I
have no doubt, by convincing this gentleman."

"You already knew, then, that we were here?" said Baraja.

"Of course.  We have been two hours involuntarily playing the spy upon
you.  Ah!  I know a part of the country where travellers that take no
more precautions than you would soon find their heads stripped of the
skin.  But come, Dormilon! to our work!"

"What if the jaguars come our way?" suggested the Senator,
apprehensively.

"No fear of that," replied the trapper.  "Their first care will be to
satisfy their thirst, which your fire has hindered them from doing.  You
will hear them howling with joy, as soon as they perceive that the fire
is gone out.  It was the light shining upon the water that frightened
them more than the presence of men.  All they want now is to get a
drink."

"But how do you intend to act?" inquired Don Estevan.

"How do we intend to act?" repeated the second trapper.  "That is simple
enough.  We shall place ourselves in the cistern--the jaguars will come
forward to its brink; and then, if we are only favoured by a blink of
the moon, I'll answer for it that in the twinkling of an eye the brutes
will neither feel hunger nor thirst."

"Ah, this appears very simple!" cried Cuchillo, who was in reality
astonished at the simplicity of the plan.

"Simple as bidding `good-bye' to you," humorously responded one of the
trappers.  "Listen there!--what did I tell you?"

Two loud roars, as if from a brazen trumpet, were heard at the moment.
They appeared to proceed from the same point, proving that the jaguars
had joined company; and, moreover, proclaimed the joy which the fierce
creatures felt at the darkness being restored.  This was further evident
from their repeated sniffing of the air, like horses who afar off scent
with delight the fresh emanations of the water.

At this the two trappers, leaving the party by the fire, betook
themselves to the cistern.  The moon, for a moment shining out, glanced
upon the barrels of their long rifles; but the next moment they had
disappeared behind the ridge that surrounded the spring.

No doubt it is a grand pleasure to witness the spectacle of a
bull-fight, as the huge bull dashes into the ring, and, pierced by the
tormenting _bandrilleros_, with a crest erect, and eyes flashing fire,
bounds over the arena.  But, if the spectators were not separated from
the actors by an impassable barrier, the sight would have in it less of
enjoyment than of terror.  The combats between men and tigers--which the
Romans used to enjoy--must have been a still more exciting spectacle;
but who can doubt that, if the iron railing which separated the audience
from the combatants had been removed, scarce one of the former would
have remained in the circus to witness the sanguinary struggle?

Only a short space--not wider than a jaguar could have passed over in a
single leap--here separated the spectators from the actors in the drama
about to be enacted.  Supposing, then, that one of the actors should
fail in performing his part, and the spectators have to take his place?
Here was a situation, exceptional, and fertile in emotions, which most
of the travellers felt keenly at the moment.

Meanwhile the trappers had descended into the little crater-like valley
of the spring, and there placed themselves in readiness, rifle in hand,
to await the approach of their terrible adversaries.  They were both
upon their knees, back to back, in order that they could keep at the
same time under view the whole circumference of the circle.  Both had
placed their knives in readiness, in case that, by any chance, they
should either miss their aim, or--what would be almost as unlucky--only
wound the enemy; for they well knew that a wounded jaguar is a more
dangerous adversary than one that escapes altogether from the touch of
the bullet.

Fortunately the moon had again appeared; but being yet low down in the
sky, her beams were not thrown into the bottom of the valley--and
therefore the trappers themselves were still under the shadow.  This
circumstance was in their favour.

Notwithstanding the perilous position in which they had thus voluntarily
placed themselves, neither made the slightest movement; and the long
barrels of their rifles stood forth in front of them, as motionless as
bronze cannon set in battery.

They well knew, in case either should miss with their firearms, that a
hand-to-hand struggle with the ferocious tigers would be the result; a
combat of knives and claws--a combat to the death.  Yes; at the bottom
of that little valley it would be necessary for them to conquer or die.
They knew this without exhibiting the slightest show of fear.



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

UNEXPECTED RECOGNITIONS.

It was not long before the spectators, who awaited this terrible
conflict, perceived the jaguars advancing toward the crest of the ridge.
All at once, however, the two made an abrupt pause, uttering a loud
roar that seemed to express disappointment.  They had just scented the
presence of the two men within the cistern--from which the animals were
now only a few paces distant.

For a moment both male and female stood together, stretching their
bodies out to their full length, and lashing their flanks with their
long sinewy tails.  Then, uttering another prolonged roar, they bounded
simultaneously forward, passing, at a single leap, over a space of full
twenty feet.  A second spring brought them upon the crest of the ridge,
upon which they had scarce rested an instant, before the quick sharp
crack of a rifle, followed by a yell of agony, told that one of them had
fallen to the hunter's bullet.

The second jaguar appeared for the moment to have escaped, but not to
have retreated.  He was seen to launch himself into the bottom of the
little valley; and then was heard a confusion of noises--human voices
mingling with the howls of the fierce brute, and the sound of a
struggle, as if jaguar and hunters were rolling over one another.  A
second report now struck upon the ear, followed as before by the
expiring yell of the tiger, and then succeeded a profound silence, which
told that the wild scene was at an end.

The great trapper was now perceived scrambling up to the ridge--towards
which the whole of the travellers had advanced to meet him.

"See!" he said, addressing himself to his admiring auditory, "see what a
brace of Kentucky rifles and a good knife can do in the hands of those
who know how to manage them!"

The darkness, however, hindered the spectators from making out the
tableau which was exhibited at the bottom of the little valley.

A few minutes afterwards the moon lighted up the scene, and then could
be observed the dead bodies of the two tigers, stretched along the
ground by the water's edge, while the other trapper upon his knees was
engaged in bathing with cold water a long scar, which he had received
from the claws of the last killed jaguar, and which extended from behind
his ear nearly down to his waist.  Fortunately this ugly-looking wound
was no more than skin-deep, and therefore not very dangerous.

"What signify the sharpest claws compared with the scratch of a knife!"
cried he, pointing to the nearest of the jaguars, whose upturned belly
exhibited a huge cut of more than a foot in length, and through which
the entrails of the animal protruded.

"Can any of you tell us," continued he, without thinking further about
his wound, "if there is a hacienda in this neighbourhood where one might
sell these two beautiful jaguar skins, as well as the hide of a panther
we've got?"

"Certainly," replied Benito, "there is the Hacienda del Venado, where we
are going.  There you may get not only five dollars apiece for the
skins, but also the bounty of ten dollars more."

"What say you, Canadian?" inquired the trapper, addressing his great
comrade.  "Will that do?"

"Certainly," replied the Canadian, "forty-five dollars is not to be
sneezed at; and when we have had a short nap we shall make tracks for
the hacienda.  We shall be likely to get there before these gentlemen,
whose horses have taken a fancy to have a bit of a gallop, and I guess
it will be some time before they lay hands on them again."

"Don't be uneasy about us!" rejoined the ex-herdsman.  "It's not the
first time I've seen a horse drove _stampedoed_, nor the first time I've
collected them again.  I've not quite forgotten my old business, and as
soon as it is daylight, with the permission of the Senor Don Estevan, I
shall go in search of them."

No one made any opposition to the rekindling of the fire, for the night
had grown cooler, and it was not yet midnight.  The domestics, no longer
afraid of going out into the woods, collected fresh fagots--enough to
last till morning--and the preparations for supper, which had been
interrupted by the approach of the jaguars, were now continued with
renewed zeal.

The blaze soon flared up bright and joyous as ever--the broiling mutton
sent forth its delicious odour, sharpening to a keen edge the appetites
of the travellers as they stood around the fire.

Don Estevan and the Senator now called before them the two intrepid
hunters, who had rendered them a service that fully deserved their
thanks.

"Come hither, brave hunters!" said the Senator, "you, whose daring
behaviour has been of such service to us.  A slice of roast mutton and a
cup of Catalonian wine will not be out of place, after the rude struggle
you have sustained."

"Ugh!" said the eldest of the trappers, in presenting his athletic form
in front of the fire, "throwing a couple of poor tigers is no great
feat.  If it had been an affair of a dozen Comanches, or Pawnees, that
would have been different.  Howsomever, a chunk of roast mutton is
welcome after a fight, as well as before one, and we're ready for it
with your permission.  Come along, comrade!  Here's some chawing for
you!"

"And you, young man," continued Don Estevan, addressing himself to
Tiburcio, who stood at some distance apart, "you will also partake of
our hospitality?"

Tiburcio by a sign accepted the invitation, and approached the fire.
For the first time his countenance came fairly under the light; and as
it did so, the eyes of the Spaniard seemed to devour him with their
regard.  In truth the physiognomy of Tiburcio Arellanos was of no
ordinary character, and would have merited observation from one less
interested in examining it than was Don Estevan Arechiza.

An aquiline nose, black eyes with thick dark eyebrows and long lashes,
and olive complexion--that appeared almost white in contrast with the
jetty blackness of his beard--but above all, the extreme contraction of
a thin upper lip, indicated the countenance of a man of quick resolves
and fiery passions.  A shade of tranquil melancholy over these features
to some extent tempered their half-fierce expression.

The hair was of a chestnut brown colour, and hung in luxuriant curls
over a forehead large and of noble outline.  Broad shoulders and
well-developed limbs denoted a man of European vigour, whose personal
strength would be equal, if occasion required it, to the execution of
those passionate designs nourished under the tropical skies of Spanish
America.

Tiburcio Arellanos was in truth the type of a noble and ancient race,
transplanted into a country still less than half civilised.

"The very form and bearing of Don Juan de Mediana!" muttered Don Estevan
to himself, more than half convinced that the young man before his eyes
was the son of him whose name he had pronounced.  No one could have read
his suspicions, hidden under the mask of perfect calmness.

There was one other man in that group who was struck by the aspect of
Tiburcio.  This was the big trapper, who on first sight of the young
man's face under the light of the fire started and closed his eyes, as
if lightning had flashed before them.  He was about to rush forward,
when a second look seemed to convince him he had made a mistake; and
smiling at his having done so, he kept his place.  His eyes then
wandered around the group of faces that encircled the fire, with that
scrutinising glance, that showed a capacity for reading the characters
of men in their looks.

Having finished this scrutiny, he called out to his companion, who had
not yet got forward:--

"Come along, partner; or people will say you are ashamed to show
yourself.  Prove to these gentlemen that you know how to enjoy life like
other folk."

"O certainly--I am coming--all right, comrade."

And the next moment the younger trapper made his appearance within the
circle of light.

An odd-looking object he appeared, with his huge fur cap upon his head,
drawn down in front, so as to cover his eyes, and an old striped cotton
handkerchief fastened over his face and throat, in such a manner as to
conceal the scar made by the claws of the tiger.  With the cap and
kerchief, the greater portion of his countenance was masked, leaving
visible only his mouth, with a double row of grand teeth, that promised
to perform their part upon the roast mutton.

Having reached the fire, he sat down with his back to it--so that his
half-masked face was still further concealed in shadow--and being
supplied, as well as his comrade, with a large cut from the joint, he at
once set about satisfying the appetite of hunger.

"Are there many men of your size and strength where you come from?"
inquired the Senator, addressing himself to the largest of the two
hunters.

"In Canada," answered the latter, "I should not be remarked among
others; ask my comrade there!"

"He speaks true," grumbled the other.

"But you are not both from the same country?" said Tragaduros.

"No--my comrade is a native of--"

"Of New York State," hastily interposed the younger of the two
trappers--a reply which astonished the Canadian, but which he refrained
from contradicting.

"And what is your calling?" continued the Senator, interrogatively.

"_Coureurs des bois_, wood-rangers," answered the Canadian.  "That is to
say, we pass our time in ranging the woods, with no other object than to
avoid being shut up in towns.  Alas! it is a profession likely soon to
come to an end; and when we two are gone, the race of wood-rangers will
run out in America, since neither of us has any sons to carry on the
business of their father."

There was a tone of melancholy in the last words of the trapper's speech
that contrasted strangely with his rude manner: something that seemed to
evince a certain degree of regret.  Don Estevan, noticing this, now
entered into the conversation.

"I fear it is a poor business you follow, my brave fellows!  But if you
feel inclined to leave it off for a while, and take a part in an
expedition that we are about to set on foot, I can promise to fill your
caps with gold dust.  What say you?"

"No!" brusquely responded the younger of the trappers.

"Each to his own business," added the Canadian.  "We are not
gold-seekers.  We love to range freely where we please, without leader,
and without being controlled by any one--in a word, free as the sun or
the prairie breeze."

These answers were given in a tone so firm and peremptory that the
Spaniard saw it would be of no use combating a resolution which was
evidently not to be shaken, and therefore he declined to make any
further offers.

Supper was soon over, and each of the travellers set about making
himself as comfortable as possible for the remainder of the night.

In a short time all, with the exception of Tiburcio, were asleep.  But
Tiburcio was yet a mere youth, an orphan, who had lately lost a mother
for whom he had a profound affection; and above all, Tiburcio was in
love--three reasons why he could not sleep.  A deep sadness had
possession of his spirits.  He felt himself in an exceptional
situation--his past was equally mysterious with his future.

"Oh, my mother! my mother!" murmured he, despairingly, to himself, "why
did you not tell me who I am!"

And as he said this he appeared to listen--as if the breeze, sighing
through the leaves, would give a response to his interrogation.  Little
thought he at the moment that one of those men, lying near him under the
light of the moon, could have given the desired answer--could have told
him the name which he ought to hear.

Nevertheless, on her death-bed, the widow of Marcos Arellanos had
revealed to him a secret--perhaps almost as interesting as that of his
birth and parentage.

The secret of the Golden Valley, which had been made known to Tiburcio,
had opened his eyes to a world of pleasant dreams.  A prospect which
hitherto had appeared to him only as a chimerical vision was now viewed
by him in the light of a reality.  A gulf that before seemed impassable
was now bridged over as if by the hand of some powerful fairy.

Gold can work such miracles.  Had he not in prospect the possession of a
rich placer?  Would not that enable him to overcome all obstacles both
of the past and the future?  Might he not, by the puissance of gold,
discover who were his real parents? and by the same means, might he not
realise that sweeter dream that had now for two years held possession of
his heart?

As he lay upon the ground, kept awake by these hopeful reflections, a
vision was passing before his mind's eye.  It was a scene in which were
many figures.  A gentleman of rich apparel--a young girl his daughter--a
train of servants all affrighted and in confusion.  They have lost their
way in the middle of the forest, and are unable to extricate themselves
from the labyrinth of llianas and thickets that surround them.  A guide
appears in the presence of a young hunter, who engages to conduct them
to the place whither they wish to go.  That guide is Tiburcio himself,
who in his reverie--as in the real scene that occurred just two years
before--scarce observes either the gentleman in rich apparel nor the
attendants that surround him, but only remembers the beautiful dark eyes
and raven hair of the young girl.  Tiburcio reassures them of safety,
guides them, during a journey of two days--two days that appeared to him
to pass only too rapidly.

In his waking dream one scene is forcibly recalled.  He remembers a
night halt in the woods.  All were asleep around him--the attendants
upon the grass--the rich gentleman upon his cloak, and the young girl
upon the skin of a jaguar which the guide himself had supplied.  He
alone remained awake.  The moon was shining upon all; and a delicious
perfume from the blossoms of the sweet sassafras trees that grew near
was wafted toward them upon the gentle breeze.  The blue heaven above
appeared in perfect harmony with the tranquil scene below.  The guide,
with admiring eyes, looked upon that lovely virgin form and listened to
the soft breathing of that innocent bosom.  To him it was a moment of
delicious anguish...

Then the vision changed--the young girl at length reached her home, and
entered the grand dwelling of her father.  There the guide remained a
whole week a welcome guest--drunk with love yet not daring to raise his
eyes to the object of his passion.

Afterwards, too, at the festivals of the neighbouring villages, a
hundred times had he gazed upon her; but what of that? he was only a
poor _gambusino_, and she the daughter of the richest proprietor in the
province!

But now--with the secret of the Golden Valley--Tiburcio suddenly saw
himself powerful and rich; hope had sprung up within his bosom; and
amidst the reverie occasioned by these delightful thoughts, he at last
fell asleep.

It is scarce necessary to add that the young girl who recalled these
sweet souvenirs, and who was now mingling in his dreams, was the
daughter of Don Augustin Pena, the proprietor of the Hacienda del
Venado.

At daybreak the sleepers were awakened by the ringing of a bell and the
clatter of hoofs.  It was the _cavallada_ returning to camp, under the
charge of Benito, who had thus kept his promise.  The travellers were
soon upon their feet, but it was soon perceived that the two trappers
were not amongst them.  These had gone away without any one having
observed their departure!

The horses being saddled and bridled and the mules packed, the cavalcade
continued its journey towards the hacienda--Don Estevan and the Senator,
as before, riding in front.

It was after sunset before the walls of the hacienda were descried in
the distance, already assuming a sombre hue under the fast increasing
obscurity of the twilight.  But through the wide forest tract which
surrounded the hacienda a well-defined road led in the direction of the
dwelling, which the travellers could follow even in the darkest night,
and upon this road the cavalcade was now seen to enter.

A few minutes before they had passed into the forest from the open plain
two men were seen standing near the edge of a thicket, by which they
were hidden from the view of the travellers.  These men might have been
easily recognised by their long rifles as strangers to that part of the
country; they were, in fact, the two trappers, the Canadian and his
comrade, who had that morning so abruptly taken leave of the camp.

"You must have been deceived by some accidental resemblance," said the
Canadian to his companion.

"No," replied the latter; "I am sure it is he.  Twenty years have not
made much change either in his face or figure.  His voice is just the
same as it was when I was the coast-guard, Pepe the Sleeper.  My eyes
and ears are as good as they were then, and I assure you, Bois-Rose,
that he's the very man."

"Strange enough," answered Bois-Rose (for the great Canadian trapper was
no other than Bois-Rose himself).  "After all, one is more likely to
meet an enemy he is in search of than a friend.  It may be the same."

As he finished this speech, the Canadian, leaning upon his long rifle,
stood looking after the cavalcade, which was just disappearing into the
forest road that led to the hacienda.

After remaining a few minutes in this position, the two trappers turned
back again into the forest, and soon disappeared under the shadows of
the trees.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

THE HACIENDA DEL VENADO.

The Hacienda del Venado--like all buildings of this kind situated upon
the Indian frontier, and of course exposed to the attacks of the
savages--was a species of citadel, as well as a country dwelling-house.
Built with sun-dried bricks and hewn stone, crowned by a crenelled
parapet, and defended by huge, massive doors, it could have sustained a
siege from an enemy more expert in strategy than the tribe of Apaches
who were its neighbours.

At one corner stood a tower of moderate height, which crowned the chapel
belonging to the hacienda, serving for the great clock as well as for a
belfry.  In case the principal part of the building should be forced,
this tower would answer for an asylum almost impregnable.

Finally, a strong stockade composed of trunks of the _palmetto_,
completely encircled the building; within which enclosure were the
quarters destined for the domestics of the hacienda--as also for the
herdsmen, and such ordinary guests as from time to time came to seek a
passing hospitality.  Outside this privileged enclosure was a group of
from twenty to thirty huts, composing a species of little village.
These were inhabited by the day-labourers (peons) and their families
attached to the hacienda--who, in case of danger, would escape within
the enclosure for safety and protection.

Such was the Hacienda del Venado.  The proprietor, Don Augustin Pena,
was a man of great opulence.  In addition to a rich gold mine which he
worked, at no great distance off, he was the owner of countless herds of
horses, mules, and cattle, that in a half-wild state roamed over the
vast savannahs and forests that constituted the twenty leagues of land
belonging to the hacienda.  Such a vast tract of territory belonging to
one man is by no means a rare thing in northern Mexico.

At this time Don Augustin was a widower, and his family consisted of
only one daughter--the young girl already introduced to the reader.
Considering the immense heritage that the Dona Rosario--or, as she was
more gracefully called, Rosarita--was likely to bring to whoever should
become her husband, it was natural that an alliance with Don Augustin
should be the object of many an ambition; in fact her beauty without the
grand fortune--which, at her father's death, she was to become mistress
of--would of itself have been enough to have challenged a crowd of
pretenders to her hand.

The Andalusian type has lost nothing in the northern provinces of
Mexico.  Its purity of outline is there associated with freshness of
colour, and this happy mixture of graces was exhibited in the beautiful
countenance of Rosarita.  We have described her with black eyes and hair
of raven hue; but hers was a beauty that words can but faintly portray,
and about which all description would be superfluous.

And this lovely creature bloomed in the very midst of the desert, like
the flower of the cactus which blossoms and fades under the eye of God
alone.

The immense plain in the midst of which stood the Hacienda del Venado
presented a double aspect.  In front of the house only did the ground
show any traces of cultivation.  On that side fields of Indian corn and
vast olive plantations denoted the presence and skilful labour of man.

Behind the hacienda--at some hundred paces distance from the stockade--
the clearing ended, and thence extended the virgin forest in all its
sombre and primitive majesty.

The cultivated ground was intersected by a considerable stream of water.
During the dry season it ran gently and silently along, but in the
season of rain it would suddenly change into an impetuous torrent that
inundated the whole plain, bearing huge rocks along in its current, and
every year widening its channel.

Perhaps the most powerful of Arab chiefs, the richest patriarch of
ancient times, never counted such superb and numerous herds as roamed
over the pasturage of the Hacienda del Venado.

About an hour before sunset--on that same day on which the travellers
departed from La Poza--two men, one on horseback, the other mounted on a
mule, were seen traversing the plain in the direction of the hacienda.
Both horse and mule were each a splendid specimen of his kind--the horse
with fiery eye, broad chest, and curving, swan-like neck, was scarce
more to be admired than the mule, that with fine, delicate limbs,
rounded flanks, and shining coat, walked side by side with him.

This horseman was the master of the hacienda, Don Augustin Pena.  His
costume consisted of a hat of Guayaquil grass, a shirt of the finest
cambric, an embroidered vest, and silk velvet pantaloons fastened down
the sides with large buttons of gold.

His companion, the rider of the mule, was the chaplain of the hacienda,
a reverend Franciscan monk in a sort of half convent costume.  This
consisted of an ample blue frock confined around the waist with a thick
cord of silk, the tassels of which hung down below his knees.  Beneath
this appeared a pair of large riding-boots heavily spurred.  Upon his
head a grey beaver, somewhat jauntily set, gave to the Franciscan an
appearance rather soldier-like than monastic.

The haciendado appeared to be regarding with a look of pride his rich
possessions--extending beyond view on every side of him--as if he was
reflecting how much this kind of wealth was superior to golden ingots
shut idly in a chest; while the monk seemed to be absorbed in some
profound reverie.

"By Saint Julian! the patron saint of travellers!" said Don Augustin,
breaking silence, "you have been more than twenty-four hours absent!  I
was afraid, reverend father, that some jaguar had swallowed both you and
your mule."

"Man proposes, and God disposes," replied the monk.  "When I took my
departure from the hacienda, I did not except to be gone more than a few
hours--giving Christian burial to poor Joaquin, that had been killed by
one of the bulls--but just as I had blessed the earth where they had
buried him, a young man came galloping up like a thunderbolt, both
himself and horse all of a sweat, to beg that I would go along with him
and confess his mother who was upon her death-bed.  Only ten leagues he
said it was, and I should have been glad for a pretext to get off from
such a difficult turn of duty; but at the earnest entreaty of the young
fellow, and knowing who he was, I could not refuse him.  Who do you
think he was?"

"How should I know?" replied the haciendado.

"Tiburcio, the adopted son of the famous gambusino, Marcos Arellanos."

"How! his mother dead!  I am sorry.  He is a brave youth, and I have not
forgotten the service he once did me.  But for him we should all have
been dead of thirst, my daughter, my people, and myself.  If he is left
without resources, I hope you have said to him that he will find a
welcome at the Hacienda del Venado."

"No--I have not," replied the monk.

"And why?"

"Because this young fellow is desperately in love with your daughter; it
is my duty to tell you so."

"What signifies that, so long as my daughter does not love him?" replied
Don Augustin.  "And if she did, where would she find a man possessing
higher physical or moral qualities than this same Tiburcio?  I never
dreamt of having for my son-in-law any other than an intelligent man,
brave enough to defend the frontier against these hordes of savage
Indians, and just such a man is young Arellanos.  But in truth I forget
myself; I have this day designed for Rosarita a husband of a more
exalted station."

"And it may be that you have done wrong," rejoined the monk, in a
serious tone; "from what I suspect--in fact, what I may say I know--this
Tiburcio might make a more valuable son-in-law than you imagine."

"It's too late then," said Don Augustin.  "I have given my word, and I
cannot retract it."

"It is just about this matter I wish to speak to you, if you have time
to hear me."

At this moment the two horsemen, having passed the stockade, had arrived
at the foot of the stone stairway--which led up to the portico, and
thence into the grand sala of the hacienda--and while dismounting, their
dialogue was interrupted.

This sala was a large room, which, according to the practice in hot
countries, was so arranged as to be continually kept cool by a current
of air passing lengthwise through its whole extent.  Fine Chinese mats
covered the floor, while richly painted window-blinds prevented the rays
of the sun from entering the apartment.  The walls, whitened with
stucco, were adorned with rare illuminated paintings set in gold frames,
some leathern chairs called _butacas_, several side tables--upon one of
which stood a silver brazero filled with red cinders of charcoal--these,
with a _fauteuil_ or two, and a mahogany couch of Anglo-American
manufacture, completed the furniture of the apartment.

Upon a table of polished balsam-wood stood several porous jars
containing water; beside them, on a large silver waiter, were
confections of several kinds; while heaped upon other dishes, also of
solid silver, were fruits both of the tropic and temperate climes--
oranges, granadillas, limes, and pitayas, here brought together to tempt
the appetite or assuage the thirst.

The appearance of these preparations denoted that Don Augustin expected
company.  As soon as they had entered within the sala, the monk,
observing the well garnished tables, inquired if such was the case.

"Yes," answered the haciendado, "Don Estevan de Arechiza has sent me
word that he will arrive this evening with a somewhat numerous train,
and I have taken measures to entertain a guest of such importance.  But
you say you wish to speak to me about some business--what is it, Friar
Jose Maria?"

The two now sat down, each choosing an easy-chair, and while Don
Augustin was lighting a cigar the monk commenced speaking as follows:

"I found the old woman seated upon a bank outside the door of her hut,
whither she had dragged herself to look out for my arrival.  `Bless you,
good father!' said she, `you have arrived in time to receive my last
confession.  But while you rest a little, I wish you to listen to what I
am going to say to him whom I have always treated as my own child, and
to whom I intend to leave a legacy of vengeance.'"

"What! holy father!" interrupted Don Augustin, "surely you did not
permit this infraction of God's law, who says, _vengeance belongs only
to Him_?"

"Why not?" replied the monk.  "In these deserts, where neither laws nor
tribunals exist, every man must be his own avenger."

With this strange apology for his conduct, the monk continued:

"I sat down and listened to what she had to say to this adopted son.  It
was this:--`Your father was _not_ killed by the Indians, as we were led
to believe.  It was his companion who murdered him--for the purpose of
being the sole possessor of a secret, which I shall presently disclose--
but to you only, Marcos.'

"`God alone knows who this man was,' said Tiburcio, `he alone knows
him.'

"`He only!' cried the dying woman, with an air of disdain.  `Is this the
language of a man?  When the Indians come to steal his cattle from the
vaquero, does he sit still and say: _God only can prevent them_?  No!--
with his eye bent, and his hand ready, he follows upon their traces,
till he has recovered his herds, or perished in the attempt.  Go you and
do as the vaquero!  Track out the assassin of your father.  That is the
last wish of her who nourished you, and has never failed in her
affection.'

"`I shall obey you, my mother,' answered the young man, in a firm voice.

"`Listen, then, to what I have got to say!' continued the widow.  `The
murder of Arellanos is no longer a supposition, but a reality.  I have
it from a herdsman who came from the country beyond Tubac.  Some days
before, he had met two travellers.  One was your father Marcos; the
other was a stranger to him.  The herdsman was travelling on the same
route, and followed them at some distance behind.  At a place where
certain signs showed that the two travellers had made their bivouac, the
herdsman had found the traces of a terrible struggle.  The grass was
bent down, and saturated with blood.  There were tracks of blood leading
to a precipice that hung over a stream of water; and most likely over
this the victim was precipitated.  This victim must have been Marcos;
for the herdsman was able to follow the trail of the murderer by the
tracks of his horse; and a little further on he noticed where the horse
had stumbled on the left fore-leg.  The assassin himself must have been
wounded in the struggle, for the herdsman could tell by his tracks
leading to the precipice that he had limped on one leg.'"

Don Augustin listened with attention to this account--proving the
wonderful sagacity of his countrymen, of which he had almost every day
some new proof.  The monk went on with his narration.

"`Swear then, Tiburcio, to avenge your father!' continued the dying
woman.  `Swear it, and I promise to make you as rich as the proudest in
the land; rich enough to bend to your wishes the most powerful--even the
daughter of Augustin Pena, for whom your passion has not escaped me.
This day you may aspire to her hand without being deemed foolish; for I
tell you, you are as rich as her own father.  Swear, then, to pursue to
the death the murderer of Arellanos?'

"`I swear it,' rejoined Tiburcio, with a solemn gesture.

"Upon this, the dying woman placed in the hands of the young man a piece
of paper, upon which Arellanos, before leaving his home for the last
time, had traced the route of his intended journey.

"`With the treasure which that paper will enable you to find,' continued
the dying woman, `you will have gold enough to corrupt the daughter of a
viceroy, if you wish it.  Meanwhile, my child, leave me for a while to
confess to this holy man: a son should not always hear the confession of
his mother.'"

The monk, in a few more words, related the closing scene of the widow's
death, and then finished by saying:--

"Now, Don Augustin, you perceive my reason for saying that this young
fellow, whatever may be his family, is not the less likely to make a
good match for the Dona Rosarita."

"I agree with you," responded the haciendado; "but, as I have said to
you, my word is given to Don Estevan de Arechiza."

"What!" exclaimed the monk, "this Spaniard to be your son-in-law!"

Don Augustin smiled mysteriously as he replied:--

"He! no, good Fray Jose, not he, but another.  Don Estevan does not wish
this alliance."

"Caspita!" exclaimed the monk.  "Does he think it beneath him?"

"It may be he has the right to think so," added Don Augustin, again
smiling mysteriously.

"But who is this man?" inquired the monk, with an air of surprise.

Just as Don Augustin was about to reply, a servant entered the _sala_.

"Senor Don Augustin," said the servant, "there are two travellers at the
gate, who beg of you to give them a night's lodging.  One of them says
that he is known to you."

"Bid them welcome!" replied the haciendado, "and let them enter.
Whether they are known to me or not, two guests more or less will be
nothing here."

A few seconds after, the two travellers had advanced to the foot of the
stone stairway, where they stood awaiting the presence of the master of
the house.

One of them was a man of about thirty years of age--whose open
countenance and high forehead denoted courage, combined with
intelligence.  His figure presented an appearance of strength and
vigorous activity, and he was somewhat elegantly dressed--though without
any signs of foppery.

"Ah! is it you, Pedro Diaz?" cried Don Augustin, recognising him.  "Are
there any Indians to be exterminated, since I find you coming into these
solitudes of ours?"

Pedro Diaz was, in truth, known as the most celebrated hater and hunter
of Indians in the whole province--hence the strange salutation with
which Don Augustin received him.

"Before answering you, Senor Don Augustin, permit me to introduce to you
the king of _gambusinos_ and prince of musicians, the Senor Don Diego
Oroche, who scents a placer of gold as a hound would a deer, and who
plays upon the mandolin as only he can play."

The individual presented under the name of Oroche, solemnly saluted the
haciendado.

It must have been a long time since the prince of gambusinos had found
an opportunity to exercise the subtle talent of which his companion
spoke--or else the cards had been of late unlucky--for his outward man
presented an appearance that was scarcely more than comfortable.

In reaching his hand to his hat, it was not necessary for him to
disarrange the folds of his cloak.  It only required that he should
choose one of the numerous rents that appeared in this garment, to pass
through it his long-clawed fingers--whose length and thinness denoted
him a player on the mandolin.  In reality, he carried one of these
instruments slung over his shoulders.

Don Augustin invited both Diaz and his singular companion to enter.
When they were seated in the saloon Diaz began the conversation.

"We have heard," said he, "of an expedition being got up at Arispe to
proceed to _Apacheria_; and this gentleman and I are on our way to take
part in it.  Your hacienda, Senor Don Augustin, chanced to lie in our
way, and we have entered to ask your permission to lodge here for the
night.  By daybreak we shall continue our route for Arispe."

"You will not have to go so far," replied Don Augustin, with a smile.
"The expedition is already on foot, and I expect the leader of it here
this very night.  He will be glad of your services, I guarantee you, and
it will save you several days' journey."

"A miracle in our favour!" exclaimed Diaz; "and I thank God for the
lucky coincidence."

"The thirst of gold has caught you also, Pedro Diaz?" asked Don
Augustin, smiling significantly.

"No, thank God!" replied Diaz, "nothing of the sort.  Heave the
searching for gold to experienced gambusinos, such as the Senor Oroche
here.  No--you know well that I have no other passion than hatred for
the ferocious savages who have done so much ill towards me and mine.  It
is only because I hope through this expedition once more to carry steel
and fire into their midst, that I take any part in it."

"It is right," said the haciendado, who like all dwellers upon the
frontiers exposed to Indian incursions, nourished in his heart a hatred
for the savages almost equal to that of Diaz himself.  "I approve of
your sentiments, Don Pedro Diaz; and if you will permit me to offer you
a gage of mine, I beg you will accept from me the present of a horse I
have--one that will carry you to your satisfaction.  I promise you that
the Indian you pursue, while on his back, will require to go as fast as
the wind itself, if you do not overtake him."

"He shall be my war-horse," exclaimed Diaz, his eyes sparkling with
pleasure at the gift.  "I shall ornament his crest with Indian scalps,
in honour of him who gave him to me."

"I cannot divine what has delayed Don Estevan," said the haciendado,
changing the subject of conversation.  "He should have been here three
hours before this, that is, if he passed the night at La Poza."

Don Augustin had scarce finished his speech when a sudden and graceful
apparition glided into the saloon.  It was his daughter, the beautiful
Rosarita.

As if the expected cavalcade only awaited her presence, the clattering
of hoofs at the same instant was heard outside; and by the light of the
torches which the domestics had carried out, Don Estevan and his suite
could be seen riding up to the entrance of the hacienda.



CHAPTER NINETEEN.

ROSARITA.

On the route from La Poza it had fallen to the lot of Cuchillo and
Tiburcio to ride side by side, but for all this few words had passed
between them.  Although Cuchillo had not the slightest idea of
renouncing his dire design, he continued to hide his thoughts under an
air of good-humour--which when need be he knew how to assume.  He had
made several attempts to read the thoughts of the young gambusino, but
the latter was on his guard, seeking in his turn to identify Cuchillo
with the assassin of his father.  No opportunity offered, however; and
in this game of mutual espionage, neither had the advantage.
Nevertheless, an instinctive and mutual hatred became established
between the two, and before the day's journey was over, each regarded
the other as a mortal foe.  Cuchillo was more than ever determined to
execute his hellish purpose--since a crime less or more would be nothing
to him--while Tiburcio, keenly remembering the oath which he had made to
his adopted mother, was resolved on keeping it, and only awaited the
time when he should be sure of the assassin.  We need scarcely add that
Tiburcio in the accomplishment of his vow, had no thought of playing the
assassin.  No.  Whenever and wherever the murderer should be found, he
was to die by Tiburcio's hand; but only in fair and open fight.

But there were other painful reflections that occupied Tiburcio's mind
during the journey.  The nearer he approached the object of his love the
greater seemed to be the distance between them.  Though a man may hope
to obtain what he only wishes for in a moderate way, yet when anything
is ardently yearned after, the obstacles appear insurmountable.  Hence
the secret of many a heroic resolution.  When Tiburcio was reclining by
the well of La Poza, his sweet dream hindered him from thinking of these
obstacles; but now that the journey was nearly ended, and he drew near
to the grand hacienda, his spirits fell, and a feeling of hopelessness
took possession of his soul.  Hence it was that he formed the resolution
to put an end to the painful suspense which he had now a long time
endured; and that very night, if possible, he intended to ascertain his
position in the eyes of Dona Rosarita.  Come what might, he resolved to
ask that question, whose answer might render him at once the happiest or
the most miserable of men.

When Tiburcio had first met Dona Rosarita, with her father and his
servants, in the depth of the forest, he knew nothing of the rank of the
party thus wandering astray.  Even during the two happy days in which he
acted as their guide, he was ignorant of the name of the beautiful young
girl, to whom his eyes and his heart rendered a continual homage.  He
therefore permitted himself to indulge in those pleasant dreams which
have their origin in a hopeful love.  It was only after he had learned
the quality of his fellow-travellers--that the young lady was the
daughter of the opulent proprietor, Don Augustin Pena--it was only on
ascertaining this that Tiburcio perceived the folly of his aspirations,
and the distance that lay between him and the object of his love.  If
then the secret, so unexpectedly revealed to him, had given him a desire
for the possession of riches, it was not for the sake of being rich.
No; a nobler object inspired him--one more in keeping with his poetic
character.  He desired riches only that with them he might bridge over
the chasm that separated him from Rosarita.

Unhappily he could not hide from himself the too evident fact that he
was not the sole possessor of the secret.

All at once it occurred to him that the expedition to which he found
himself thus accidentally attached could have no other object than this
very placer of the Golden Valley.  Most likely the very man who shared
the secret with him--the murderer of Marcos Arellanos--was among the men
enrolled under the orders of the chief Don Estevan.  The ambiguous
questioning of Cuchillo, his comprehension of events, the stumbling of
his horse, with other slighter indications, appeared to throw some light
upon the obscurity of Tiburcio's conjectures; but not enough.  How was
he (Tiburcio) to arrive at a complete understanding?

A still more painful uncertainty pressed upon his spirit, as they
approached the dwelling of Don Augustin.  What reception would he meet
with from Dona Rosarita? he, a poor gambusino--without resources,
without family--poorly dressed even--a mere follower, confounded with
the common mob of adventurers who composed the expedition?  Sad
presentiments were passing in his mind, as the cavalcade of which he
formed so humble an appendage arrived at the palisade enclosure of the
hacienda.

The gates were soon open to receive them; and the moment after Don
Augustin himself welcomed the travellers at the front entrance of the
mansion.  With that ease and elegance, almost peculiar to Spanish
manners, he received Don Estevan and the Senator, while the cordiality
with which he welcomed Tiburcio appeared to the young man a happy omen.

The travellers all dismounted.  Cuchillo remained outside--partly out of
respect to his chief and partly to look after his horse.  As to
Tiburcio, he had not the same motives for acting thus, and therefore
entered along with Don Estevan and Tragaduros, his face pale and his
heart beating audibly.

The room into which they had been shown was the grand sala already
described, and in which certain preparations had been made for a
magnificent banquet.  But Tiburcio saw nothing of all this.  His eyes
beheld only one object--for there stood a beautiful girl whose lips
rendered paler the carnation red of the granadillas, and the hue of
whose cheeks eclipsed the rosy tint of the _sandias_, scattered
profusely over the tables.  It was Rosarita herself.  A silken scarf
covered her head, permitting the thick plaits of her dark hair to shine
through its translucent texture, and just encircling the outline of her
oval face.  This scarf, hanging down below the waist, but half concealed
her white rounded arms, and only partially hindered the view of a figure
of the most elegantly voluptuous tournure.  Around her waist another
scarf of bright scarlet formed a sort of cincture or belt, leaving its
long fringed ends to hang over the skirt of her silken robe, and
blending its colours with those of the light veil that fell down from
her shoulders.  It was a costume that seemed well-suited to her striking
beauty, and the effect of the _coup d'oeil_ upon the heart of poor
Tiburcio was at once pleasant and embarrassing.

Notwithstanding the gracious smile with which she acknowledged his
presence, there was a certain hauteur about the proffered welcome--as if
it was a mere expression of gratitude for the service he had formerly
rendered.

Tiburcio observed this with a feeling of chagrin, and sighed as he
contrasted her cold formality of speech with the abandon and freedom of
their former relations.  But he could not help noticing a still greater
contrast when he looked at his own poor garments and compared them with
the elegant costumes of his two travelling companions.

While Don Estevan was entertaining his host with some account of what
had happened on their journey, the Senator appeared to have eyes only
for the beautiful Rosarita--upon whom he was not slow in lavishing a
string of empty compliments.

The young girl appeared to Tiburcio to receive these compliments with a
smile very different from that she had accorded to himself; he also
observed, with a feeling of bitterness, the superior easiness of manner
in which those whom he regarded as his rivals addressed themselves to
her.  With anguish he noticed the colour become more vivid upon her
cheeks; while the heaving of her bosom, as the scarf rose and fell in
regular vibrations, did not escape the keen glance of jealousy.  In fact
the young girl appeared to receive pleasure from these gallantries, like
a village belle who listens to the flatteries of some grand lord, at the
same time that a voice from within whispers her that the sweet
compliments she is receiving are also merited.

Don Estevan was not unobservant of this by-play that was passing around
him.  He easily read in the expressive looks of Tiburcio the secret of
his heart, and involuntarily contrasted the manly beauty of the young
man with the ordinary face and figure of the Senator.  As if from this
he apprehended some obstacles to his secret projects, more than once his
dark eyebrows became contracted, and his eyes shone with a sombre fire.

By little and little he ceased to take part in the conversation, and at
length appeared wrapped in a profound meditation.  Insensibly also an
air of melancholy stole over the features of Rosarita.  As for Don
Augustin and the Senator they appeared at once to be on good terms with
each other, and carried on the conversation without permitting it to
flag for a moment.

Just then Cuchillo, accompanied by Baraja, entered to pay their respects
to the master of the hacienda.  Their entrance within the sala of course
created some slight disarrangement in the tableaux of the _dramatis
personal_ already there.  This confusion gave Tiburcio an opportunity to
carry out a desperate resolution he had formed, and profiting by it, he
advanced nearer to Rosarita.

"I will give my life," said he to her, in a side whisper, "for one
moment alone with you.  I wish to speak of an affair of the highest
importance."

The young girl regarded him for a moment with an air of astonishment,
further expressed by a disdainful movement of the lip; although,
considering their former relations, and also the free familiarity of
Mexican manners, she might have been expected to have excused his
freedom.  Tiburcio stood waiting her reply in a supplicating attitude,
and as everything seemed spontaneous with her, he had not long to wait.
She answered in a few words:

"To-night then--at ten o'clock I shall be at my window."

Scarcely had the thrilling tones of her voice ceased to vibrate on the
ear of Tiburcio, when supper was announced, and the guests were shown
into another room.  Here a table, splendidly set out, occupied the
middle of the apartment, above which hung a great chandelier fitted with
numerous waxen candles: these gave out a brilliant and cheerful light,
that was reflected from hundreds of shining vessels of massive silver of
antique forms, arranged upon the table below.

The upper end of the table was occupied by the host himself and his
principal guests.  His daughter sat on his left hand, while Don Estevan
was placed upon the right.  After them, the Senator and the chaplain,
and Pedro Diaz.  At the lower end were seated Tiburcio, Cuchillo, Baraja
and Oroche.

The chaplain pronounced the _benedicite_.  Although it was no longer the
same jumbling formula, _sans facon_, which he had used at the death-bed
of the widow of Arellanos, yet the air of mock solemnity and unction
with which the grace was uttered, recalled to the heart of Tiburcio that
sad souvenir, which recent events had for a time caused him to forget.

Cheerfulness soon reigned around the table.  The expedition was talked
of, and toasts drunk to its success.  Vast silver goblets of antique
shape were used for wine glasses, and these, passing rapidly from hand
to mouth, soon produced an abundance of good-humour among the guests.

"Gentlemen!" said Don Augustin, when the festive scene was near its end,
"before retiring I have the honour to invite you all to a hunt of the
wild horse on my estate--which is to come off early in the morning."

Each of the guests accepted the invitation, with that _abandon_ natural
to people who have made a good supper.

With regard to Tiburcio, jealousy was devouring him.  He scarce ate of
the rich viands placed before him.  He kept his eyes constantly fixed
upon Don Estevan, who, during the supper appeared to pay marked
attentions to Rosarita, and for every one of which Tiburcio thanked him
with a look of hatred.  As soon as the supper was ended, the young man
silently left the room and repaired to the chamber that had been
assigned to him for the night.

At an early hour--for such was the custom of the hacienda--all the
guests had retired to their sleeping apartments--even the domestics were
no longer to be seen in the great hall; and a profound silence reigned
throughout the vast building, as if all the world had gone to rest.  But
all the world was not yet asleep.



CHAPTER TWENTY.

THE ASSIGNATION.

Alone in his chamber, Tiburcio awaited impatiently the hour named by
Rosarita.  From his window he cast a distracted glance over the plain
that stretched away from the walls of the hacienda.  The moon was up in
the heavens, and the road leading to Tubac appeared under her light
shining like a vast ribbon extended through the middle of the forest.
The forest itself appeared asleep; not even a breath stirred the leaves
of the trees, and the only sounds he heard were those caused by the
half-wild herds that wandered through its glades.  Now and then the
bellowing of a bull denoted the uneasiness of the animal--perhaps from
the presence of those terrible night robbers, the puma and jaguar.
There was one other sound that reached the ear of Tiburcio, but this
appeared to proceed from some part of the hacienda itself.  It was the
tinkling of a mandolin.  The hour was appropriate to amorous
reflections, as well as to thoughts of a graver character, and both
presented themselves at that moment to the spirit of Tiburcio.  Like all
those whose life has been passed amid the depths of the desert, there
was at the bottom of his heart a certain poetic temperament, at the same
time that his soul exhibited that energetic vigour required by the
dangers which surround such a life of solitude.  His present position
then was perfectly appropriate to this double character.  His love was
unreciprocated--the coolness of Rosarita, almost assured him of the
painful fact--and some secret presentiment told him that he was
encompassed by enemies.

While thus sadly reflecting on his situation, an object came under his
eyes that attracted his attention.  It was the gleam of a fire, which
appeared to be kindled under cover of the forest at no great distance
from the hacienda.  The light was partly eclipsed by that of the moon,
but still it could be traced by the greater redness of its rays, as they
trembled mysteriously on the silver foliage of the trees.  It denoted
the halting-place of some traveller.

"So near the hacienda!" muttered Tiburcio, in entering upon a new series
of reflections.  "What can it mean?  Why have these travellers not come
here to demand hospitality?  They have certainly some reason for keeping
themselves at a distance?  They may be unknown friends to me for heaven
often sends such to those who stand in need of them.  Cuchillo, Don
Estevan, and this pompous Senator, all appear to be my enemies and all
are secure under this roof! why might not these travellers, who appear
to shun it for that very reason prove friends to me?"

The hour of rendezvous had at length arrived.  Tiburcio took up his
_serape_ and his knife--the last, the only weapon he had--and prepared
to go out from his chamber without making any noise.  A fearful conflict
of emotions was passing in his bosom; for he knew that in a few minutes
would be decided the question of his happiness or misery.  Before
leaving his chamber, he looked once more through the window in the
direction of the forest fire.  It was still gleaming in the same place.

While the lover, with cautious tread and wildly beating heart, was
silently traversing the long gallery, and passing round to that side
upon which opened the window of Rosarita, other scenes were passing
elsewhere that must now be detailed.

Since his arrival at the hacienda, Don Estevan, in presence of the other
guests, had scarce found an opportunity to speak with the _haciendado_
on business that concerned both of them.  Only for one moment had they
been alone; and then the Spaniard had briefly related to Don Augustin
the contract he had entered into with Cuchillo.  When Don Estevan
mentioned the secret of the Golden Valley, the haciendado appeared to
make a slight gesture, as of disappointment, but their short dialogue
ended abruptly by a promise to return to the subject at a later hour of
the night.

Don Estevan awaited until all the other guests had retired to their
chambers.  Then drawing the Senator into the bay of one of the large
windows of the sala, he requested him to look up at the stars that were
shining in all their brilliance in the blue sky above.

"See!" said he, pointing to a particular constellation.  "That is the
_Chariot_ that has risen above the eastern horizon.  Do you perceive a
single star farther down, which scarce shines through the vapour?  That
is the emblem of _your_ star, which at present pale, to-morrow may be in
the ascendant, and gleam more brightly than any of those that compose
the brilliant cortege of the _Chariot_."

"What mean you, Senor Arechiza?"

"I shall tell you presently.  Perhaps the hour is nearer than you think
when you may be the future master of this hacienda, by a marriage with
the charming daughter of its present owner, who is to be its heiress.
Come presently to my apartment.  The conversation which I am about to
have with Don Augustin must be decisive, and I shall let you know the
result."

With these words the Spaniard and the Senator parted--the heart of the
latter beating at the same time with hope and fear.

Don Estevan now awaited the haciendado, who the moment after came up to
him.

The proprietor of the Hacienda del Venado, as has already been seen, had
given to the Spaniard more than an ordinary welcome.  His politeness to
him when in presence of witnesses, was even less respectful than when
the two were alone.  On his side Don Estevan appeared to accept the
homage of the other as if it were due to him.  There was in his polite
condescension towards the rich proprietor, and in the deference of the
latter towards him, something resembling the relation that might be
supposed to exist between a powerful sovereign and one of his noble
vassals.

It was not until after reiterated requests--orders they might almost be
called--that Don Augustin consented to be seated in the presence of the
other--whereas the Spaniard had flung himself into a _fauteuil_ on the
moment of entering the chamber, and with the most perfect abandon.

The haciendado waited silently for Don Estevan to speak.

"Well, what do you think of your future son-in-law?" inquired the
Spaniard.  "I presume you never saw him before?"

"Never," answered Don Augustin.  "But if he was even less favoured by
nature than he is, that would make no obstacle to our projects."

"I know him; he only needs to be known to prove that he has in him the
stuff of a gentleman, besides being a senator of the illustrious
congress of Arispe."

The Spaniard pronounced these words with a slight smile of contempt.

"But, senor," continued he, "that is not the difficulty, the important
matter is whether _your daughter_ will find him to her liking."

"My daughter will act according to my wish," said the haciendado.

"But supposing her heart is not free?"

"The heart of Rosarita is free, Senor Don Estevan; how could it be
otherwise--she whose life has been spent in the midst of these deserts?"

"And what about this ragged young fellow, this Tiburcio Arellanos, whom
you appear to know? he is in love with your daughter?"

"I have been made aware of it this very morning."

"If it is only a few hours, then, since you have been apprised of the
secret of his passion, surely that of your daughter cannot have to this
time escaped you?"

"The truth is," answered Don Augustin, smiling, "that I understand
better how to follow the traces of an Indian, and read in the
countenance of a savage his most secret thoughts, than to look into the
heart of a young girl.  But I repeat it, I have reason to believe that
my daughter's heart is free of any such affection.  I do not apprehend
any difficulty in this regard.  I dread an obstacle of a more important
character--I mean an obstacle to the expedition you are about to conduct
into the desert."

Here the haciendado communicated to Don Estevan the particulars which
the monk had gathered at the death-bed of the widow of Arellanos, and
which seemed to produce a strong impression on the Spaniard; but
although the conversation continued for some time longer, I shall not
here detail what was said, but return to the Senator, who with anxious
heart was now awaiting Don Estevan in the apartment which had been
assigned to the latter.



CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

THE DUKE DE ARMADA.

The chamber set apart for the Senor Don Estevan de Arechiza was
undoubtedly the best in the house; and, notwithstanding the little
progress that luxury has made in the state of Sonora, was furnished with
considerable elegance.

In this chamber Don Estevan found the Senator pacing to and fro, with an
air that bespoke him a prey to the most vivid emotions.

"Well, Senor Don Vicente!" began Arechiza, who appeared to make light of
the impatience of his _protege_, "what do you think of the daughter of
our host? have I exaggerated her beauty?"

"Oh, my friend!" exclaimed the Senator, with all that vivacity of
pantomimic gesture so characteristic of the South, "the reality far
exceeds the imagination.  She is an angel!  Even in our country, famous
for its beautiful women, Dona Rosarita is certainly loveliest of all."

"And richest too," added the Spaniard, with a smile.

"Who would have expected to find, in the middle of the desert, such an
accomplished beauty? such youthful freshness?  Such charms were created
to shine in afar higher sphere?"

"At the court of a king, for instance," carelessly rejoined Arechiza.

"Oh!  Senor Don Estevan!" again exclaimed the Senator in an earnest
voice, "do not keep me in suspense; the divine, the rich Dona Rosarita--
is it possible I am to have her for my wife?"

"One word from me, one promise from you, and the thing is done.  I have
her father's word.  Within fifteen days you may be the husband of his
daughter."

"Agreeable as easy."

"A little later you will be rich."

"No harm in that."

"Later still you will be a grand proprietor."

"Oh! it is magnificent.  Carramba!  Senor de Arechiza, it is a perfect
cataract of felicities to be lavished upon my head, it is a dream! it is
a dream!" shouted the Senator, as he strode to and fro across the floor.

"Lose no time then in making it a reality," replied Don Estevan.

"But is the time so pressing?" inquired the Senator, suddenly pausing in
his steps.

"Why this question?  Is it possible to be too quick in obtaining
happiness?"

The Senator appeared thoughtful, and for a moment presented an aspect of
embarrassment, in strange contrast to his previous looks.  He replied
after a pause--

"The fact is, Don Estevan, I am willing to marry an heiress whose
wealth, as is usually the case, would compensate for her ugliness.  In
this case it is the very beauty of the lady that confuses me."

"Perhaps she does not please you!"

"On the contrary, so much happiness awes me.  It appears to me, for a
reason which I cannot divine, that some sad disappointment lurks under
the seductive prospect."

"Ah! just as I expected," answered Don Estevan; "it is the human heart.
I knew you would make some objection of this kind, but I thought you
were more a man of the world than to trouble yourself about the past
with such a splendid fortune before you.  Ah! my poor Despilfarro,"
added the Spaniard, with a laugh, "I thought you were more advanced."

"But why, Don Estevan?" inquired the Senator, intending to give a proof
of his high diplomatic capacity,--"why is it, _entre nous_, that you
desire to lavish this treasure of beauty--to say nothing of her grand
wealth--upon another, while you yourself--"

"While I myself might marry her," interrupted the Spaniard.  "Is that
what you mean to say?  Suppose I have no wish to get married.  I had
that desire long ago, like the rest of the world.  My history has been
like a great many others; that is, my sweetheart married another.  It is
true I adopted the means to re--to console myself, and quickly too,"
added Arechiza, with a dark scowl.  "But who do you think I am, Don
Vicente Tragaduros?"

"Who are you! why; Don Estevan de Arechiza, of course!"

"That does honour to your penetration," said the Spaniard, with a
disdainful smile.  "Well, then, since I have already demanded the hand
of Dona Rosarita for the illustrious senator Tragaduros y Despilfarro,
of course I cannot now take his place."

"But why, senor, did you not make the demand on your own account?"

"Why, because, my dear friend, were this young lady three times as
beautiful, and three times as rich as she is, she would neither be
beautiful enough nor rich enough for me!"

Despilfarro started with astonishment.

"Eh! and who are you then, senor, may I ask in my turn?"

"Only, as you have said, Don Estevan Arechiza," coolly replied the
Spaniard.

The Senator made three or four turns across the room before he could
collect his thoughts; but in obedience to the distrust that had suddenly
sprung up within him, he resumed:

"There is something in all this I cannot explain, and when I can't
explain a thing I can't understand it."

"Good logic," exclaimed Don Estevan, in a tone of raillery, "but am I
really mistaken about you, my dear Senator?  I did you the honour to
believe you above certain prejudices; and even if there was anything in
the past life of the beautiful Rosarita--for instance, any prejudice to
be trampled under foot--is a million of dowry, besides three millions of
expectation, nothing in your eyes?"

Don Estevan put this question for the purpose of sounding the morality
of the man, or rather to try the strength of a tool, which he meant to
make use of.

Despilfarro returned no reply.

"Now, then, I await your answer," said Don Estevan, after a pause,
appearing to take pleasure in the Senator's embarrassment.

"Upon my word, Don Estevan," replied Despilfarro, "you are cruel to
mystify one in this manner.  I--I--Carramba! it is very embarrassing."

Don Estevan interrupted him.  This hesitation on the part of Despilfarro
told the Spaniard what he wished to know.  An ironical smile played upon
his lips, and laying aside his pleasantry, he resumed in a serious tone:

"Listen to me, Tragaduros!  It would be unworthy of a gentleman to
continue longer this badinage where a lady's reputation is concerned.  I
can assure you, then, that the past life of the Dona Rosarita is without
a stain."

The Senator breathed freely.

"And now," continued Don Estevan, "it is necessary that you give me your
full confidence, and I will set you an example by giving mine with a
perfect frankness: the success of the noble cause I have embraced
depends upon it.  First, then, hear who I am.  Arechiza is only a
borrowed appellation.  As to my real name--which you shall soon know--I
made oath in my youth, that no woman, however rich or beautiful, should
share it with me; therefore, now that my hair is grey do you think that
I should be likely to break the oath I have so long kept?  Although a
wife, such as I propose for you, may ofttimes be a stepping-stone to
ambition, she is oftener an obstacle."

As he said this, Don Estevan rose, and in his turn paced the floor with
an agitated air.  Some traces of distrust were still perceptible upon
the countenance of the Senator--they were noticed by him.

"You wish for a more precise explanation?" said he; "you shall have it."

The Spaniard approached the window and closed the shutters--as if
fearful that their conversation might be heard outside.  He then sat
down again, and requested the Senator to be seated near him.

Tragaduros watched him with a lively curiosity, at the same time
lowering his eyes whenever they met the fiery glances of the Spaniard.

The latter appeared suddenly to become transformed, as if looking
grander and nobler.

"Now, Senor Senator!" began he, "I am going to make known to you some
secrets sufficient to turn your head."

The Senator trembled.

"When the tempter carried the Son of Man to the top of a mountain, and
promised him all the kingdoms of the earth if he would fall down and
worship him, he scarce offered him more than I am offering to the
Senator of Arispe.  As the tempter, then, I lay at your feet honours,
power, and riches, if you will subscribe to my conditions."

The solemnity of this exordium, and the imposing manner of Don Estevan,
following so closely upon the jocular mien he had hitherto exhibited,
made a painful impression upon the mind of the Senator.  There was a
short moment in which he regretted being so _advanced_ in his opinions,
and during this time the great dowry of Rosarita and her rosy lips had
but slight prestige for him.

"It is now twenty years," continued the Spaniard, "since I took up my
real vocation in the world.  Previous to that time, I believed myself
made for domestic life, and indulged in those absurd dreams of love
natural to young hearts.  An illusion soon destroyed--an evil hour--an
accident showed me the deception; and I found out that I was made for
ambition--nothing more.  I have therefore sought for glory and honour to
satisfy my desires, and I have won them.  I have conquered the right to
stand uncovered in the presence of the king of Spain.  Chevalier of the
Order of Saint James of the Sword, I have taken part in the royal
ceremonies of the _white cloak and red sword_; and I may say that for me
fame has been no idle illusion.  Chevalier also of Carlos the Third, I
have shared with the royal princes the title of the Grand Cross.  I have
won successively the Order of Saint Ferdinand, of Saint Hermengildo, and
the Golden Fleece of Calatrava.  These honours, although coveted by all,
were for me but sterile consolations."

This enumeration, made without the slightest show of ostentation, caused
the Senator to regard the speaker with an air of respectful
astonishment.  Don Estevan continued:

"Wealth followed close upon these honours.  Rich _appanages_, added to
the fortune I derived from my ancestors, soon left far behind me, the
time when, as a simple cadet of my family, I was worth nothing but my
sword.  Now I was rich, opulent, and--will I tell you?--I was still far
from being content.  My efforts continued; and I was made Comte de
Villamares, and afterwards Duke de Armada--"

"Oh!  Senor Duke," interrupted Despilfarro, in a humble voice, "permit
me--but--I--"

"I have not yet finished," calmly continued the Spaniard; "when you have
heard all, you will no longer doubt my words.  Notwithstanding your
mistrust, senor, I am still nothing more than the secret agent of a
prince, and I desire to remain in your eyes, as ever, the simple
gentleman Don Estevan de Arechiza--nothing more.  It is necessary,
however, that this distrust of me should not manifest itself again; for
since you are presently to know the object which I am pursuing, you will
be privy to my most secret thoughts."

The Senator continued to listen in the most respectful silence.

"As I have said, then, I followed ambition for twenty years for its own
sake; or to speak more truly, I passed twenty years of my life to
destroy a painful souvenir, at the same time that I was pursuing the
path to fame.  I fancied that in the middle of a turbulent life, this
souvenir would in time be effaced from my memory.  The favourite of a
prince, the expectant heir to one of the first thrones in Christendom--
elevated to the highest places of power--wealth prodigally lavished upon
me--I hoped to be able to forget that terrible souvenir.  Vain hope!"
added the speaker in a solemn voice: "Alas!  Nothing can banish remorse.
The bloody sword of Saint James was no idle symbol in my hands; for
remorse lends to ambition a fearful activity--like a voice continually
crying, `On--on forever!'"

Don Estevan paused, and for a time remained silent, during which the
Senator regarded him with a timid look, at the same time admiring the
imposing and solemn dignity of his countenance.

"But where to go on?" continued the speaker; "what object to follow
next?  Into what new course might I precipitate this torrent of ambition
that was boiling within me?  At length a new incident offered itself,
and gave me a fresh opportunity for action--an opportunity to strive and
combat--for in my case, to struggle and fight is to forget.

"In all likelihood you have scarce heard of our political troubles, Don
Vicente?  I am aware that all the kingdoms of Europe might be shaken to
their bases, without your knowing anything of the matter, in this out of
the way corner of the world.  Well, then, I shall make known to you what
occurred.

"It is now about two years since the king of Spain--by a total violation
of the Salic law, hitherto observed by all his ancestors--violently cut
off the succession to the throne in the person of his brother Don
Carlos; and by this act kindled the fires of civil war throughout the
kingdom.  The Infanta Isabella was declared heiress to the crown, to the
exclusion of her uncle, the legal heir.  This prince it was of whom I
spoke, and who is my august patron and protector.  I did everything in
my power to assuage the mortal grief that this unexpected event
naturally caused to the man, whom I above all others have reason to
esteem.

"Amidst the consolations which I offered him, and the plans which I
proposed, one design of a gigantic nature offered itself to my
imagination.  True, it presented the prospect of countless dangers, and
obstacles almost insurmountable; but for this very reason I adopted it.

"My dream, then, is to conquer for my master a kingdom as vast as the
one of which he has been wrongfully deprived; to restore to him one of
the brightest jewels of that Transatlantic crown, which his ancestors
once so gloriously wore.  I dream of conquering a kingdom--and that
kingdom once conquered, I, a simple gentleman, intend to present it to
the true heir of the Spanish monarchy--Don Carlos de Bourbon!

"Now, do you believe, Senor Senator, that Don Estevan de Arechiza has
the power to bestow upon others, and without regretting it, the beauty
and wealth of the daughter of a Mexican haciendado?"

The Spaniard pronounced these last words with an air of proud
tranquillity, and then remained silent, awaiting their effect upon his
listener.



CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

THE NEW KINGDOM.

The Mexican senator, with his contracted, or rather egoistic views, was
struck dumb by the gigantic and daring design of his companion.  He
could only exclaim, as he respectfully pressed the hand which the
Spaniard held out to him:

"Oh, Don Estevan--if you permit me still to give you this modest title--
I regret my suspicions; and for the happiness which you offer me, for
the grand perspective which you open before me, I promise you my life,
my heart, but--"

"But! another suspicion?" asked Don Estevan, with a smile.

"_No_, not a suspicion of you, but a fear of some one else.  Have you
noticed the young man whom chance brought into our company?  I have a
secret presentiment that there is something between him and Dona
Rosarita.  He is young--he is good-looking--and they appear to have
known each other a long while."

"What!" exclaimed Don Estevan, "jealous of this ragged rustic?"

"I avow," replied the Senator, "that I cannot help it.  I noticed two or
three times their eyes fixed upon each other with a strange expression."

"Make yourself easy about that.  I know, for certain--and from Don
Augustin himself I have had my information--that the heart of his
daughter is free.  Besides, her vanity alone would hinder her from any
fancy for this droll fellow, who appears to have all the pride of a
Spanish beggar.  He shall be watched; and, should he have the impudence
to carry his pretensions so high, it will be an easy matter to send him
about his business."

In pronouncing the last words the countenance of Don Estevan appeared
for a moment to wear a troubled expression, and he could not hinder
himself from adding:

"I have myself remarked what you say, but let us not dwell upon
chimerical fears.  Listen to me, Don Vicente, while I explain more
categorically the object of which I have been speaking, in order that
you may understand fully why I wish to reckon upon your assistance.  I
have not yet told you--either what resources I have, or the kingdom it
is my design to conquer."

"True enough," assented Tragaduros, "you have not."

"The province then which I intend to transform into a kingdom is neither
more nor less than this of Sonora."

"What! our republican state to be changed into a monarchy!" exclaimed
the Senator.  "Senor Don Estevan, to attempt this will be to play with
your life."

"I know it."

"But what resources do you count upon?"

"Listen: Ten years ago I was in the Spanish army, and fought against the
independence of your country in this very province.  I then became
acquainted with its resources--its incalculable richness--and when I
quitted it to go home to Europe, I had a presentiment that some day I
should again return to it--as I have done.  Chance at that time made me
acquainted with Don Augustin, then occupied in amassing the vast wealth
which to-day he so freely spends.  I had the fortune to render him a
service--to save his life, in fact, and prevent his house from being
pillaged by the insurgents, for he did not conceal his sympathy for the
Spanish cause.  I afterwards kept up with him a correspondence, and
learned that Sonora became every day more discontented with the federal
government.  I then designed my great plan, which was approved of by the
prince, and at his desire I came over here.  Don Augustin was among the
first to whom I opened my purpose.  He was flattered by the promises I
was able to make in the name of my royal master, and at once placed his
fortune at my disposal.

"Nothwithstanding the large pecuniary resources I have been able to
dispose of, I am seeking to augment them still farther, and chance has
favoured me.  While here in my former campaign I made the acquaintance
of an odd character--a young fellow who in turns betrayed both royalists
and republicans.  My relations with him recall a somewhat droll
occurrence.  I found that he was guiding the regiment I commanded into
an ambuscade of the insurgents, and I ordered him to be hung to the
first tree we should meet with.  Fortunately for him my men translated
the order in its most literal sense; and being at the time in the middle
of vast savannahs entirely destitute of trees, the execution was held
over, as it was an impossibility to perform it.  The result was that in
the middle of our marchings and counter-marchings the fellow escaped;
and it appears did not, afterwards, hold any rancour towards me, since
he has again offered his services to me.  This fellow to-day goes by the
name of Cuchillo.  It was he whom I met at the village of Huerfano,
where you saw us renew our acquaintance; and at that interview he has
made known to me the secret of an immense placer of gold--whither I
intend to conduct my expedition.  Besides ourselves, Cuchillo alone
knows the object of this enterprise," (the Spaniard did not mention the
name of Tiburcio), "which is generally supposed to be merely a new
expedition--like many others that have been got up to go gold seeking by
chance.

"And now, Senor Senator," continued Don Estevan, "you need not proceed
farther with us.  You may remain here, where you will have an easy part
to play, in making yourself agreeable to the fair Rosarita, while I am
braving the perils of this unknown frontier.  As for Cuchillo, if he
attempt to play the traitor with me a second time, I shall take care to
be a little more prompt in punishing him.

"The product of this expedition," pursued the Spaniard,--"of which, as
leader, I shall be entitled to a fifth part--will be added to the
resources I have already.  The men who compose it will be easily
converted into devoted partisans of our design; and should it happen
that the forces I expect from Europe should fail to come to hand in due
time, these adventurers will serve a good purpose.  But I have no fear
for the want of followers.  Europe is at the present moment overcrowded
with people who lack employment: any enterprise will be welcome to them;
and a leader in any part of the world needs only to speak the word for
crowds to enrol themselves under his banner."

As he said this, Don Estevan paced the room, agitated by the grandeur of
his thoughts.  His dark eyes flashed with excitement, and his soul
seemed inspired with a warlike ardour that caused him for a while to
forget the presence of the Senator.  It was only after some minutes
spent in this wild enthusiasm that he remembered an important fact--that
in all projects such as he was engaged in, _intrigue_ should be the
precursor of open action; and as this was to be the peculiar _role_
which the Senator was expected to play, he again turned to address
himself to this individual.

"Meanwhile," said he, "your tactics will be of a more pacific character.
I take charge of the open fighting--while you manage the secret
diplomacy of the affair.  Your fortune, restored to you by this opulent
alliance, will enable you to get back the influence you have lost.  You
will receive with the daughter of Don Augustin, at least two hundred
thousand dollars of dowry.  Half of this you are to employ in making
partisans in the Senate, and in what you are pleased to call _your
army_.  This sum you will not lose: it will be repaid to you, and with
usurious interest; or if it never should, you still make a good thing of
it.  The end you will keep in view, is to detach the Senate of Sonora
from the Federal alliance.  You will find no lack of reasons for this
policy.  For instance, your State has now scarcely the privileges of a
simple territory; your interests differ entirely from those of the
central States of the Republic.  Every day your laws are becoming more
centralised.  The President, who deals with your finances, resides at a
distance of seven hundred leagues from your capital--it is ridiculous!
Besides, the funds of the treasury are misappropriated--the army badly
paid, although you have to do your duty in raising the tax that is to
pay it--a thousand grievances can be cited.  Well, this will enable you
to get up a _pronunciamento_, and before the news of your _grito_ can
reach the city of Mexico, and the Executive power there can send a force
against you--ay, before the government troops could get half-way to
Sonora, more than two-thirds of them would desert.  The others would
come upon the ground, only to find the insurrectionary party too strong
for them, and they themselves would be certain to join us.

"Laws emanating from your own Senate--of which you yourself would have
the control and guidance--laws suited to the manners and usages of your
State, would soon become firmly established and respected, and Sonora
would then be an independent government.  This would be the first step
and the most difficult.  After that the rest would be easy enough; and
the gold which I should furnish will bring it about.  The Senate and the
army would call for a European prince to place himself at their head--
one who speaks the same language and professes the same religion as
themselves.  This prince I have already provided.  Now hear me, Don
Vicente! as to your own share in this business.  The Senator Despilfarro
is already a rich man, with a lady for his wife of whom a prince might
be proud.  He will be made noble--a count--a Grandee of Spain.  A
lucrative post will attach him to the person of the new king, and
nothing is to hinder him from rising to the very summit of his ambition.
All this I promise on the part of your future sovereign, _King Charles
the First_."

With these words the Spaniard finished his harangue.  The Mexican
Senator, fascinated by the riches and honours thus promised him, grasped
the hand of the bold conspirator, at the same time crying out with
enthusiasm, "_Viva!  Viva Carlos el Primero_!"

"Good!" rejoined Don Estevan, with a smile.  "Don Carlos can count upon
one powerful partisan already in Sonora, and there will soon be many.
But it is getting late, Don Vicente, and I have yet much business to do
before I can go to sleep.  You will excuse me, then, if I bid good-night
to you."

After exchanging the usual _buenas noches_, the Senator returned to his
own chamber and couch, to dream of his future riches and grandeur.



CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.

QUARRELSOME GAMESTERS.

In a remote chamber of the hacienda were lodged the four adventurers,
Pedro Diaz, Oroche, Cuchillo, and Baraja.  These gentlemen were not slow
in becoming acquainted with one another, and this acquaintance was soon
of the most familiar character.  In the middle of the room in which all
four were to pass the night, stood a strong oaken table, upon which, in
an iron candlestick, was burning a long thin tallow candle, that gave
forth a somewhat dim and doubtful light.  By this light Cuchillo and
Baraja--forgetful of all their promises and vows--were going on with the
game, which had been so suddenly interrupted that morning at the village
of Huerfano.

Pedro Diaz appeared to be merely an involuntary spectator; while Oroche,
seated at one corner of the table, his right leg across his left, his
elbow resting on his knee--the favourite attitude of mandolin players--
accompanied his own voice as he sang the _boleros_ and _fandangos_ then
most in vogue among the inhabitants of the coast region.

Wrapped as usual in his ragged cloak, Oroche appeared to have the true
inspiration of an artist: since he could thus elevate himself upon the
wings of music, above the vulgar consideration of the toilette, or the
cleanliness and comfort of the person.  A bottle of _mezcal_, already
half empty, stood upon the table.  From this the players occasionally
helped themselves--as a finale to the elegant supper they had eaten and
to which Cuchillo, Baraja, and Oroche had done ample honour.
Notwithstanding the frequent bumpers which Cuchillo had quaffed, he
appeared to be in the worst of humour, and a prey to the most violent
passions.  His shaggy eyebrows, contracted by the play of these
passions, added to the evil aspect of his physiognomy, rendering it even
more sinister than common.  Just then he was observed to cut the cards
with particular care.  He was not playing with his friend Baraja for the
mere sport of the thing; for a moiety of the half ounce he had received
from Don Estevan had already gone into Baraja's pockets, and Cuchillo
was in hopes that the attention which he had given to the cutting of the
cards might change the luck that had hitherto been running against him.
The careful cutting, however, went for nothing; and once more the sum he
had staked was swept into the pocket of his adversary.  All at once
Cuchillo flew off into a passion, scattering his hand of cards over the
table.

"Who the devil wants your music?" cried he to Oroche in a furious tone,
"and I myself, fool that I am, to play in this fashion--only credit when
I win, and cash whenever I lose."

"You offend me, Senor Cuchillo," said Baraja, "my word has always passed
for its value in cash."

"Especially when you don't happen to lose," sneeringly added Cuchillo.

"That is not a very delicate insinuation," said Baraja gathering up the
cards.  "Fye, fye!  Senor Cuchillo--to get angry about such a trifle!  I
myself have lost half a hacienda at play--after being robbed of the
other half--and yet I never said a word about it."

"Didn't you indeed? what's that to me?  I shall speak as I please, Senor
Baraja, and as loudly as I please too," added he, placing his hand upon
the hilt of his knife.

"Yes," coolly answered Baraja, "I know you use words _that cause your
friends to drop dead_; but these words are harmless at a distance--
besides I have got a tongue as sharp as yours, Senor Cuchillo."

As Baraja said this, he drew his knife from its sheath--in which action
he was imitated by his antagonist--and both placed themselves
simultaneously in an attitude for fight.

Oroche coolly took up his mandolin--which at the interference of
Cuchillo he had laid aside--and, like a bard of ancient times was,
preparing to accompany the combat with a chant, when Diaz suddenly
interposed between the two champions.

"For shame, gentlemen!" cried he; "what! two men made to be mutual
friends, thus to cut each other's throats for a few paltry dollars! on
the eve too of becoming the owners of a hundred times as much!  Have I
not understood you to say, Senor Cuchillo, that you were to be the guide
of our expedition?  Your life is no more your own, then; it belongs to
us all, and you have no right to risk it.  And you, Senor Baraja! you
have not the right to attempt the life of our guide.  Come! put up your
knives, and let there be no more of this matter."

This speech recalled the two combatants to their senses.  Cuchillo
remembering the grand interest he had in the success of the expedition,
and perceiving that the risk of life was playing a little too high--for
a combat of this sort usually ends in the death of one or the other--
gave ready ear to the counsel of Diaz.  Baraja, on his side, reflected
that the dollars he had already pocketed might be better employed than
in defraying the expenses of his own funeral; and on this reflection was
equally ready to desist from his intention.

"Be it so, then!" cried Cuchillo, speaking first; "I sacrifice my
feelings to the common good."

"And I," said Baraja, "I am willing to follow so noble an example.  I
disarm--but--I shall play no more."

The knives were again stuck into their scabbards, and the two
adversaries mutually extended their hands to one another.

At this moment, Diaz, by way of preventing any allusion to the recent
quarrel, suddenly turning to Cuchillo, demanded:

"Who, Senor Cuchillo, is this young man whom I saw riding by your side
as you came up to the hacienda?  Notwithstanding the friendship that
appeared to exist between you and him, if I mistake not, I observed you
regarding one another with an occasional glance of mistrust--not to say
hostility.  Was it not so?"

Cuchillo recounted how they had found Tiburcio half dead upon the road,
and also the other circumstances, already known to the reader; but the
question put by Diaz had brought the red colour into the face of the
outlaw, for it recalled to him how his cunning had been outwitted by the
young man, and also how he had been made to tremble a moment under
Tiburcio's menace.  Writhing under these remembrances, he was now
determined to make his vengeance more secure, by enlisting his
associates as accomplices of his design.

"It often happens," said he, in a significant tone, "that one man's
interest must be sacrificed to the common welfare--just as I have now
done--does it not?"

"Without doubt," replied several.

"Well then," continued Cuchillo, "when one has given himself, body and
soul, to any cause, whatever it may be, it becomes his duty, as in my
case, to put a full and complete constraint upon his affections, his
passions, even his dearest interests--ay, even upon any scruples of
conscience that might arise in an over-delicate mind."

"All the world knows that," said Baraja.

"Just so, gentlemen.  Well, I feel myself in that difficulty; I have a
too timid conscience, I fear, and I want your opinions to guide me."

His audience maintained an imperturbable silence.

"Suppose, then," continued the outlaw, "there was a man whom you all
held in the highest esteem, but whose life compromised the success of
our expedition, what should be done with him?"

"As God lives," cried Oroche, "I should be happy to find some occasion
of sacrificing private interests to the common good."

"But is there such a man?" inquired Diaz, "and who may he be?"

"It's a long story," replied Cuchillo, "and its details concern only
myself--but there _is_ such a man."

"Carajo!" exclaimed Oroche, "that is enough; he should be _got rid of_
as speedily as possible."

"Is that the advice of all of you?" asked Cuchillo.

"Of course," answered simultaneously Oroche and Baraja.

Diaz remained silent keeping himself out of this mysterious compromise.
After a little, he rose from his seat, and under some pretext left the
chamber.

"Well, then, gentlemen," said Cuchillo, addressing himself to his two
more facile comrades, "you are fully of the opinion that the man should
be got rid of?  Let me tell you, then, that this man is no other than
Tiburcio Arellanos."

"Tiburcio!" exclaimed the two acolytes.

"Himself--and although, since he is one of my dearest friends, it goes
sadly against my heart, I declare to you that his life may render
abortive all the plans of our expedition."

"But," interposed Baraja, "why may he not lose it?--to-morrow in this
hunt of wild horses there will be a thousand opportunities of his losing
it?"

"True enough," said Cuchillo, in a solemn voice.  "It is of great
importance he should not return from this hunt.  Can I rely upon you,
gentlemen?"

"Blindly!" replied the two adventurers.

The storm was gathering over the head of poor Tiburcio, but danger
threatened him from still another quarter; and long before the expected
hunt, that danger would be at its height.

The three adventurers continued their conversation, and were entering
more particularly into the details of their design, when a knocking at
the outer door interrupted their sinister councils.



CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.

TIBURCIO IN DANGER.

Cuchillo opened the door, outside of which appeared one of the
attendants of Don Estevan.  Without entering the man communicated his
message--which was to Cuchillo himself--to the effect that Don Estevan
awaited him in the garden.  The outlaw, without reply, followed the
servant, who conducted him to an alley between two rows of granadines,
where a man wrapped in his cloak was pacing to and fro, apparently
buried in a deep meditation.  It was Don Estevan himself.

The approach of Cuchillo interrupted his reverie, and a change passed
over his countenance.  Had Cuchillo not been preoccupied with his own
thoughts and purposes of vengeance, he might have observed on the
features of the Spaniard an expression of disdainful raillery, that
evidently concerned himself.

"You have sent for me?" said he to Don Estevan.

"You cannot otherwise than approve of my discretion," began the
Spaniard, without making answer.  "I have allowed you time enough to
sound this young fellow--you know whom I mean.  Well! no doubt you have
penetrated to the bottom and know all--you, whose perspicacity is only
equalled by the tenderness of your conscience?"

There was an ascerbity in this speech which caused the outlaw to feel
ill at ease, for it re-opened the wounds of his self-esteem.

"Well," continued Don Estevan, "what have you learnt?"

"Nothing," replied Cuchillo.

"Nothing!"

"No; the young man could tell me nothing, since he knew nothing himself.
He has no secrets for me."

"What! does he not suspect the existence of the Golden Valley?"

"He knows no more of it than of the Garden of Eden," replied Cuchillo,
with a confident swagger.

"What was bringing him to the hacienda, then--for that is upon the
route?  He must have some object in coming this way."

"O yes!--he came to ask Don Augustin to take him into his service as a
vaquero."

"It is evident," said the Spaniard, in a tone of mockery, "that you have
gained his full confidence and know all about him."

"I flatter myself, my perspicacity--"

"Is only equalled by the tenderness of your conscience," interrupted Don
Estevan, still keeping up his tone of raillery.  "Well, but has this
young man not confided to you any other secret?  You have had a long
ride together, and an opportunity to talk of many things.  For instance,
has he said nothing to you about an affair of the heart?--has he not
told you he was in love?"

"Por Dios!  Who could Tiburcio be in love with in these deserts?  The
poor devil is likely to think more of a good horse than a pretty girl."

"Indeed!" exclaimed the Spaniard, with a mocking laugh that sent a
shivering through the frame of Cuchillo.  "Well, well! friend Cuchillo,
your youth promised better than this.  If your conscience is as callous
as your perspicacity is obtuse--which God forbid--it is not likely to
interfere with your sleep."

"What do you mean, senor?" demanded Cuchillo, evidently confounded by
the reproach.

"I fear, my friend, that in the only good action you have ever done, you
have made a bad hand of it."

"Good action!" repeated Cuchillo, embarrassed to know at what epoch of
his life he had done such a thing.

"Yes--in saving this young man's life."

"But it was you who did that good action: as for me, it was only a
lucrative one."

"Be it so.  I will lend it to you, notwithstanding the proverb which
says we should only lend to the rich.  But now hear what I have
ascertained--I, who do not boast either of my scruples of conscience or
of my perspicacity.  This young man has in his pocket, at this moment, a
written direction of the route to the Golden Valley; moreover, he is
passionately in love with Dona Rosarita, for whom he would give all the
gold in this valley, or all the gold in the world, and all the horses in
Sonora, if he had them.  Moreover, his object in coming to the Hacienda
del Venado, was to make himself its future proprietor."

"Blood and thunder!" cried Cuchillo, started as if bitten by a
snake--"that cannot be--it is not possible I could be fooled in that
manner by a child!"

"That child is a giant beside you, master Cuchillo," coldly replied
Arechiza.

"It is impossible!" exclaimed the exasperated Cuchillo.

"Do you wish the proofs?--if you do you shall have them--but I may tell
you they are of a nature to make you shudder from the crown of your head
to the soles of your feet."

"No matter; I should like to hear them," said Cuchillo in a suppressed
voice.

"I will not speak of your conscience--mark that well, Cuchillo!  For I
know that it never shudders--nor yet shall I speak of your timidity,
which I observed last night while you were in the presence of the
jaguars--"

Don Estevan paused, to let his words have their full effect.  It was his
design to crush by his superiority the man whose fidelity he had a
thousand reasons to suspect.

"Tiburcio," continued he, "is of a race--or appears to be of a race--
that unites intelligence with courage; and you are his mortal enemy.  Do
you begin to understand me?"

"No," said Cuchillo.

"Well, you will presently, after a few simple questions which I intend
to ask you.  The first is:--In your expedition with Arellanos, had you
not a horse that stumbled in the left leg?"

"Eh!" ejaculated Cuchillo, turning pale.

"A second question:--Were they really _Indians_ who murdered your
companion?"

"Perhaps it was me?" replied the outlaw, with a hideous smile.

"Third question:--Did you not receive, in a deadly struggle, a wound in
the leg? and fourth: Did you not carry upon your shoulder the dead body
of Arellanos?"

"I did--to preserve it from being mutilated by the Indians."

"One more question:--Was it for this you flung the dead body into the
neighbouring river--not quite dead, it may be?"

The beams of the moon, slanting through the leaves of the granadines,
shone with a livid reflection on the face of the outlaw, who with
haggard eyes listened, without comprehending whence they came, to the
proofs of a murder which he believed forever buried in the desert.

Cuchillo, when imparting to Don Estevan the knowledge of his marvellous
secret, had of course taken care not to give in detail the exact manner
by which he had himself become master of it; he had merely stated such
circumstances as were necessary to convince the Spaniard of the
importance of the discovery.  It would be impossible to paint the
stupefied expression of his countenance, as he listened to these
interrogatories.  The very desert itself had spoken!

"Does Tiburcio know all this?" he asked, with an ill-dissembled anxiety.

"No; but he knows that the assassin of his father had a horse like
yours; that he was wounded in the leg; that he flung the dead body in
the water.  Of one matter only is he still ignorant--the name of the
murderer.  But now let me say to you; if you give me the slightest cause
to suspect your fidelity, I shall deliver the secret to this young man,
who will crush you like a scorpion.  Good blood never lies; so I repeat
it, Cuchillo; no deception--no treason, or your life will answer for
it!"

"Well, as regards Tiburcio," muttered Cuchillo to himself, "if you only
keep the secret till this time to-morrow night, you may then shout it in
his ears: I shall have no fear of his hearing you."

The outlaw was one of those characters who soon recover from a shock,
similar to that he had just received.  Almost on the instant he
inquired, with impudent assurance:

"But your Excellency has not proved to me that this young fellow is in
love with Dona Rosarita; and until I have proof of this I shall not
doubt my penetration--"

"Hush!" interrupted the Spaniard; "I fancy I hear voices!"

Both remained silent.  In advancing across the garden, the two men had
approached nearer to the walls of the building, and on that side of it
which fronted the window belonging to the chamber of Rosarita.  They
were still at a considerable distance from the window itself; but so
tranquil was the night, that sounds could be heard along way off.  As
they stood to listen, a confused murmur of voices reached their ears--as
of two persons engaged in conversation--but the words could not be
distinguished.

"It is the voice of Tiburcio and Rosarita!" muttered the outlaw.

"Did I not tell you?  You may take that, I think, as an instalment of
the proof you are desirous of having."

A reflection, at this moment, came into the mind of the Spaniard, that
struck upon his spirit like a thunderbolt.  It was this:--"If the young
girl, after all, is really in love with this fellow, what a dilemma!  I
may have to renounce all idea of the marriage, which I had designed as
the corner-stone of my vast edifice!"

Don Estevan was the only one who at this time was aware of the real name
and family of Tiburcio, and of course knew that he was not unworthy of
the daughter of a Mexican haciendado.  But it had never entered his mind
that this young girl, who only regarded Tiburcio in the light of a poor
gambusino, would think for a moment of reciprocating his passion.  His
ideas were suddenly altered, however, on hearing the voices of Tiburcio
and Rosarita, alternating with each other, with no other witness to
their conversation than the stars in the sky.  It was evident,
therefore, that Rosarita did not regard the young rustic with an
unfavouring eye.  An interview, such as this, could not be otherwise
than a thing premeditated and prearranged.

The heart of the Spaniard swelled with rage at the thought.  His
ambition was suddenly alarmed: for this was an obstacle that had never
occurred to him.  His countenance exhibited a thoughtful and troubled
expression.  He found himself unexpectedly in the presence of one of
those exigencies, which render diplomacy powerless, and absolve all
reasons of state.  He had behind him a man ready to destroy whatever
victims he might point out; but he remembered that twenty years of
expiation had failed to wash from his memory a murder of which he had
been himself accused.  Should he, then, after having passed the middle
of his career, again embitter the remainder of his days by another deed
of blood?  On the other hand, so near the object of his ambition, was he
to permit this barrier to stand in his way? or with a bold effort to rid
himself of the obstacle?

Thus it is that the ambitious continually roll before them the rock of
Sisyphus!

"Providence," said he to himself--and as he pronounced the word a bitter
smile played upon his lips--"Providence offers me an opportunity to
restore to this young man his name and his fortune, and the honours
which he has lost.  Such a good action in my ripe age would perhaps
compensate for the crime of my youth.  But, no--no--I spurn the
occasion--it is but a slight sacrifice to the cause which I serve."

As he spoke, his face was turned towards Cuchillo, who was observing him
attentively; but the shadow of the trees hindered the outlaw from noting
the sombre expression of his countenance.

"The hour is come," said he, speaking to Cuchillo in a low voice, "when
our doubts are to be solved.  But remember! your projects of vengeance
must remain subordinate to my wishes--now follow me!"

Saying this, he walked silently towards the hacienda, followed by the
assassin.

The storm which threatened Tiburcio promised soon to break over his
head.  Two dangerous enemies were approaching him; Cuchillo with wounded
self-esteem, and purposes of vengeance that caused, him to grind his
teeth as he thought of them; and Don Estevan, smarting at the discovery
of such an obstacle to his ambition.

Tiburcio in going forth from his chamber, and traversing the path that
conducted him to the appointed rendezvous, was under the belief he had
not been observed: neither was he; but unfortunately chance had now
betrayed him.

The night was not so dark as Don Estevan and Cuchillo would have wished;
nevertheless, by crouching low, and keeping well in to the wall that
enclosed the garden, they succeeded in reaching a little grove of orange
and citron trees, the foliage of which was thick enough to shelter them
from view.  From this grove, thanks to the calmness of the night, they
could catch every word that was said--for under the shadow of the trees
they were able to approach very near to the speakers.

"Whatever you may hear," whispered Don Estevan in the ear of the other,
"remain motionless as I do."

"I will," simply answered Cuchillo.

The two now placed themselves in an attitude to see and hear.  They were
separated from the speakers by a slight barrier of leaves and branches,
and by a distance not greater than an active man could pass over in two
bounds.  Little did the victims of their espionage suspect their
proximity--little dreamt Tiburcio of the danger that was so near him.



CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.

LOVE THROUGH THE WINDOW.

For a time the listeners heard nothing beyond those commonplace speeches
exchanged between lovers--when the young man, doubtful of his position,
makes himself heard in reproaches, or arguments, which to him appear
all-powerful, while the responses which he meets with show too plainly
that he is either not loved at all, or that the advantages are on the
side of the girl.  But was this really the position of Tiburcio with
Rosarita?  It remains to be known.

According to the custom of country houses throughout Mexico, the window
of Rosarita's chamber was unglazed.  Strong iron bars, forming what is
called the _reja_, hindered an entrance from without; and behind this
reja, lit up by the lamp in the chamber, the young girl was standing in
an attitude of graceful ease.  In the calm and perfumed night she
appeared even more charming than when seen in the brilliant saloon--for
it is behind the railing of these balconies that the women of Spanish
race appear to the greatest advantage.

A _reboso_ of silk was thrown over her head, falling over her shoulders
in graceful undulations.  The window running quite down to the level of
the floor concealed nothing of her person; she was visible from the
crown of her head to the satin slipper that covered her pretty little
foot; and the outline of her figure formed in a graceful silhouette
against the light burning within.

Tiburcio, his forehead resting against the bars, appeared to struggle
with a painful conviction that was fast forcing itself upon him.

"Ah!" said he, "I have not forgotten, as you, Rosarita, the day when I
first saw you in the forest.  The twilight was so sombre I could scarce
make out your form, which appeared like the graceful shadow of some
siren of the woods.  Your voice I could hear, and there was something in
it that charmed my soul--something that I had never heard till that
moment."

"I have never forgotten the service you rendered us," said the young
girl; "but why recall those times? they are long past."

"Long past! no, not to me, Rosarita--that scene appears to me as if it
had happened yesterday.  Yes," continued the young man, in a tone of
melancholy, "when the light of the camp-fire by little and little
enabled me to observe the radiant beauty of your face, I can scarce
describe the emotion which it gave me."

Had Tiburcio, instead of looking to the ground, but raised his eyes at
that moment, he might have noticed upon the countenance of Rosarita an
expression of interest, while a slight blush reddened her cheeks.
Perhaps her heart was scarce touched, but rarely does woman listen,
without pleasure, to those impassioned tones that speak the praises of
her beauty.

Tiburcio continued in a voice still softer and more marked by
emotion:--"I have not forgotten the flowers of the llianas which I
gathered for you, and that seemed to give forth a sweeter perfume when
mingled with the tresses of your hair.  Ah! it was a subtle poison that
was entering into my heart, and which has resulted in filling it with an
incurable passion.  Ah! fool that I have been!  Is it possible,
Rosarita, that you have forgotten those sweet souvenirs upon which I
have lived from that day up to the present hour?"

There are certain moments of indiscretion in the life of most women, of
which they have a dislike to be reminded.  Was it so with Rosarita?  She
was silent for a while, as if her rebellious memory could not recall the
particulars mentioned by Tiburcio.

"No," at length answered she, in a tone so low as not to betray a slight
trembling of her voice, "I do not forget, but we were then only
children--to-day--"

"To-day," interrupted Tiburcio in a tone of bitter reproach, "to-day
that is all forgotten, since a Senator from Arispe has condescended to
comprise you in his projects of ambition."

The melodious voice of Rosarita was now heard in a tone of disdainful
anger.  Tiburcio had wounded her pride.

"Comprise me in his projects of ambition," said she, her beautiful
nostrils curving scornfully as she spoke, "and who has told you, senor,
that it is not I who condescend?"

"This stranger, too," continued Tiburcio, still preserving his
reproachful manner, "this Don Estevan--whom I hate even worse than the
Senator--has talked to you of the pleasures of Madrid--of the wonderful
countries that lie beyond the sea--and you wish to see them with your
own eyes!"

"Indeed I acknowledge," answered Rosarita, "that in these deserts life
appears to me dull enough.  Something tells me that I was not made to
die without taking part in those splendours of the world of which I have
heard so much.  What can you offer to me--to my father?"

"I understand now," cried Tiburcio with despairing bitterness, "to be
poor, an orphan, unhappy--these are not the titles to win the heart of a
woman."

"You are unjust, Tiburcio.  It is almost always the very reverse that
happens--for it is the instinct of a woman to prefer those who are as
you say.  But it is different with fathers, who, alas! rarely share this
preference with their daughters."

There was in these last words a sort of tacit avowal which Tiburcio
evidently did not comprehend--for he continued his reproaches and bitter
recriminations, causing the young girl many a sigh as she listened to
them.

"Of course you love this Senator," said he.  "Do not talk, then, of
being compelled!"

"Who talks of being compelled?" said Rosarita, hastily interrupting the
young man.  "I said nothing of compulsion, I only spoke of the desire
which my father has already manifested; and against his will, the hopes
you may have conceived would be nothing more than chimeras or idle
dreams."

"And this will of your father is to throw you into the arms of a ruined
prodigal, who has no other aim than to build up the fortune he has
squandered in dissipation, and satisfy his ambitious desires?  Say,
Rosarita, say! is this will in consonance with your own?  Does your
heart agree to it?  If it is not, and there is the least compulsion upon
you, how happy should I be to contest for you with this rival.  Ah! you
do not make answer--you love him, Rosarita?  And I--Oh! why did they not
leave me to die upon the road?"

At this moment a slight rustling was heard in the grove of oranges,
where Don Estevan and Cuchillo were crouching in concealment.

"Hush!" said the young girl, "did you not hear a noise?"

Tiburcio turned himself quickly, his eye on fire, his heart beating
joyfully with the hope of having some one upon which to vent the
terrible anger that tortured it--but the rays of the moon shone only
upon the silvery foliage--all was quiet around.

He then resumed his gloomy and pensive attitude.  Sadness had again
taken possession of his soul, through which the quick burst of anger had
passed as lightning though a sombre sky.

"Very likely," said he, with a melancholy smile, "it is the spirit of
some poor lover who has died from despair."

"Santisima Virgen!" exclaimed Rosarita, making the sign of the cross.
"You make me afraid, Tiburcio.  Do you believe that one could die of
love?" she inquired in a tone of _naivete_.

"It may be," replied Tiburcio, with a sad smile still playing upon his
lips.  Then changing his tone, he continued, "Hear me, Rosarita! you are
ambitious, you have said so--hear me then!  Supposing I could give you
all that has been promised you? hitherto I have preferred to plead the
cause of Tiburcio poor and an orphan; I shall now advocate that of
Tiburcio Arellanos on the eve of becoming rich and powerful; noble too I
shall become--for I shall make myself an illustrious name and offer it
to you."

As he said these words the young man raised his eyes towards heaven: his
countenance exhibited an altered expression, as if there was revived in
his soul the pride of an ancient race.

For the first time since the commencement of the interview, Tiburcio was
talking sensibly, and the daughter of Eve appeared to listen with more
attention than what she had hitherto exhibited.

Meanwhile the two spies were also listening attentively from their
hiding-place among the oranges.  Not a word of what was said, not a
gesture escaped them.  The last speech of Tiburcio had caused them to
exchange a rapid glance.  The countenance of the outlaw betrayed an
expression of rage mingled with shame.  After the impudent manner in
which he had boasted of his penetration, he felt confounded in the
presence of Don Estevan, whose eyes were fixed upon him with a look of
implacable raillery.

"We shall see now," whispered the Spaniard, "whether this young fellow
knows no more of the situation of the Golden Valley than he does of the
Garden of Eden."

Cuchillo quailed under this terrible irony, but made no reply.

As yet Don Estevan had learnt nothing new.  The essential object with
him was to discover whether Tiburcio's passion was reciprocated: the
rest was of little importance.  In the behaviour of Rosarita there was
certainly something that betrayed a tender compassion for the adopted
son of Arellanos; but was this a sign of love?  That was the question to
which Don Estevan desired to have the answer.

Meanwhile, having excited the evil passions of the outlaw to the highest
pitch, he judged it prudent to moderate them again; an explosion at that
moment would not have been politic on his part.  A murder committed
before his face, even though he had not ordered it either by word or
gesture, would at least exhibit a certain complicity with the assassin,
and deprive him of that authority which he now exercised over Cuchillo.

"Not for your life!" said he, firmly grasping the arm of the outlaw,
whose hand rested upon his knife.  "Not for your soul's safety!
Remember! till I give the word, the life of this young man is sacred.
Hush!" he continued, "listen!" and still holding the outlaw by the arm
he turned his eyes upon Tiburcio, who had again commenced speaking.

"Why should I conceal it from you longer?" exclaimed the young man, in a
tone to which the attentive attitude of Rosarita had lent animation.
"Hear me, then! honours--riches--power I can lay at your feet, but you
alone can enable me to effect this miracle."

Rosarita fixed her eyes upon the speaker with an interrogatory
expression.

"Perhaps I should have told you sooner," continued Tiburcio, "that my
adopted mother no longer lives--"

"I know it," interrupted the young girl, "you are alone in the world; I
heard it this evening from my father."

The voice of Rosarita, in pronouncing these words, was soft as the
breeze that sighed through the groves of oranges; and her hand, falling
as if by chance into that of Tiburcio, did not appear to shun the
pressure given to it.

At the sight of this, the hand of Don Estevan gradually relaxed its hold
upon the arm of Cuchillo.

"Yes," continued Tiburcio, "my mother died in poverty, though she has
left me a valuable inheritance, and at the same time a legacy of
vengeance.  True, it is a dangerous secret of which I am the heir, for
it has already been death to those who possessed it; nevertheless it
will furnish the means to raise myself to an opulence like your own.
The vengeance which I have sworn to accomplish must be delayed, but it
shall not be forgotten.  I shall yet seek the murderer of Arellanos."

At these words Cuchillo turned pale, impatiently grinding his teeth.
His arm was no longer restrained, Don Estevan grasped it no more, for he
saw that the hand of Rosarita was still pressed by that of Tiburcio.

"Here me further!" continued the young man.  "About sixty leagues from
here, in the heart of the Indian country, there is a placer of gold of
incalculable richness; it was discovered by my adopted father.  My
mother on her death-bed gave me full directions to find the place; and
all this gold may be mine, Rosarita, if you will only love me.  Without
your love I care nothing for it.  What should I do with such riches?"

Tiburcio awaited the answer of Rosarita.  That answer fell upon his
heart like the tolling of a funeral knell.

"I hope, Tiburcio," said she, with a significant smile, "that this is
only a _ruse_ on your part to put me to the proof--I hope so, because I
do not wish to believe that you have acted so vile a part as to make
yourself master of a secret that belongs to another."

"The secret of another!" cried the young man in a voice hoarse with
astonishment.

"Yes, a secret which belongs only to Don Estevan.  I know it--"

Tiburcio at once fell from the summit of his dreams.  So his secret,
too, was lost to him as well as her whom he loved, this secret upon
which he had built his sweetest hopes; and to add to the bitterness of
his disappointment, she too--for whose sake alone he had valued it--she
to accuse him of treason!

"Ah!" cried he, "Don Estevan knows of the Golden Valley? perhaps then he
can tell me who murdered my father!  Oh! my God!" cried he, striking the
ground with his heel, "perhaps it was himself!"

"Pray God rather to protect you,--you will need all his grace!" cried a
rough voice, which caused Rosarita to utter a cry of terror as she saw a
dark form--that of a man--rushing forward and flinging himself upon
Tiburcio.

The young man, before he could place himself in an attitude of defence,
received a severe wound, and losing his balance fell to the ground.  The
next moment his enemy was over him.  For some minutes the two struggled
together in silence--nothing was heard but their loud quick breathing.
The knife of Cuchillo, already stained with blood, had escaped from his
hand, and lay gleaming upon the ground without his being able to reach
it.

"Now, villain, we are quits," cried Tiburcio, who with an effort of
supreme strength had got uppermost, and was kneeling upon the breast of
the outlaw.  "Villain!" repeated he, as he endeavoured to get hold of
his poignard: "you shall die the death of an assassin."

Places had suddenly changed--Tiburcio was now the aggressor, but at this
moment a third personage appeared upon the scene.  It was Don Estevan.

"Hold," screamed Rosarita, "hold, for the love of the Holy Virgin!  This
young man is my father's guest; his life is sacred under our roof."

Don Estevan grasped the arm that was raised to strike Cuchillo, and as
Tiburcio turned to see what thus interfered between him and his
vengeance, the outlaw glided from under him.

Tiburcio now sprang up, rolled his serape around his left arm, and
holding it as a shield, stood with his body inclined backward, his left
leg advanced, and his right hand firmly grasping his weapon, in the
attitude of an ancient gladiator.  He appeared for a moment as if
choosing upon which of his antagonists he would first launch himself.

"You call this being quits!" cried Cuchillo, his breast still heaving
from the pressure to Tiburcio's knee.  "Your life belongs to me--I only
lent it to you, and I shall now take it back."

"Come on, dog!" shouted Tiburcio, in answer; "and you too, Don Estevan,
you cowardly assassin! you who pay for the murder of defenceless
people."

The countenance of the Spaniard turned livid pale at this unexpected
accusation.  He instantly drew his dagger, and crying out:--"Down with
him, Cuchillo!" rushed furiously forward to the attack.

No doubt Tiburcio would soon have succumbed before two such formidable
antagonists, but at this moment a red light flashed upon the combatants,
as Dona Rosarita, with a flaming torch in her hand, rushed forward
between them.

The aspect of Tiburcio, who, despite the odds against him, and the blood
that was running from his arm, still fearlessly maintained his defensive
attitude, caused the heart of Rosarita to beat with sympathetic
admiration.  This sanguinary _denouement_ to their interview, was
pleading the cause of the lover far more eloquently than either his
reproaches or promises!

The first impulse of Rosarita was to fling herself into the arms of the
young man so daring and beautiful.  She was restrained only from
following this impulse, by a feeling of feminine delicacy; and for an
instant Tiburcio seemed the one about whom she was least concerned.

"Oh! my God!" cried she, "are you wounded?  Don Estevan?  Senor
Cuchillo?  Senor Arechiza! retire; for the love of the Virgin, let not
the world know that a crime has been committed in our house."

The excited bearing of the young girl, her bosom heaving under the light
tissue of her dress, her reboso floating behind her, mingled with the
long dark tresses of her dishevelled hair--all these, added to the proud
savage beauty of her countenance--commanded respect; and as if by
enchantment, the weapons of the combatants were restored to their
sheaths.

Cuchillo growled like a dog newly muzzled, while Don Estevan preserved a
sombre silence.  Both walked away from the ground, and their forms were
soon lost in the darkness.

Tiburcio, with face upturned, his eyes still flashing with rage, his
features illuminated with the red light of the torch, remained for some
moments without changing his attitude.  His features exhibited that
superb expression that danger only magnifies into grandeur.  Gradually,
however, their tone became softened, and an air of melancholy succeeded
it, as his eyes rested upon Rosarita.  The young girl had suddenly
become pale, under the reaction of such vivid emotions, as well as under
the influence of the powerful sentiment now rekindled within her heart.
Acting under this influence as well, she hastily arranged her scarf in
order to cover her nude shoulders, and the palpitating movements of her
bosom.  Even her motive for this was misunderstood by Tiburcio.

"Rosarita!" he said, speaking with perfect calmness, "I might have
doubted your words, but your actions have spoken more plainly.  It was
to my enemies you first ran, though my blood was spilling; all your
fears appeared to be for Don Estevan."

"God knows that I do not deserve this reproach," said the young girl, as
with a look of terror she saw the blood streaming to the ground.  At the
same instant she advanced to examine the wound.

Tiburcio repulsed her by stepping backward.

"It is too late," said he with a bitter smile, "the evil is done.
Adieu!  I have been too long your guest.  The hospitality of your house
is fatal to me.  Under your roof my life has been threatened, my dearest
hopes have been crushed!  Adieu, Rosarita!  Adieu!"

As he pronounced the last words, he turned and walked hastily away.
There was a broken place in the wall of the enclosure, and towards this
he directed his steps.  A hundred paces beyond, the forest commenced,
and the dark sombre trees were visible through the opening.  The
mysterious light he had already noticed, was still glimmering feebly
above their tops.

"Where are you going, Tiburcio?" cried the young girl, her hands joined
and her eyes filling with tears, "my father's roof will protect you."

Tiburcio only answered by a negative shake of the head.

"But yonder," continued Rosarita, pointing to the woods, "yonder, alone
and without defence--danger--death will await you."

"God will send me friends," answered Tiburcio, glancing towards the
distant light.  "The hospitality of the wandering traveller--a sleep by
his camp-fire--will be safer for me than that of your father's roof."
And Tiburcio continued to advance towards the breach with a gentle but
resolute step.

"For the love of heaven do not expose yourself to dangers that may
perhaps arise when I am no longer present to protect you!  I tell you
out yonder you will be risking your life;" then giving to her voice a
tone of persuasive softness, she continued, "In what place, Tiburcio,
will you be safer than with me?"

Tiburcio's resolution was for a moment shaken, and he paused to make
answer.

"One word, Rosarita!" said he; "say that you hate my rival as I hate
him--say this, and I remain."

A violent conflict appeared to arise in the breast of Rosarita.  Her
bosom swelled with conflicting emotions, as she fixed upon Tiburcio a
glance of tender reproach, but she remained silent.

To a man of Tiburcio's age the heart of a woman is a sealed book.  Not
till we have lost the attractions of youth--so powerful, despite its
inexperience--are we able to penetrate the mysteries of the female
heart--a sad compensation which God accords to the maturity of age.  At
thirty years Tiburcio would have remained.  But he was yet only
twenty-four; he had spent his whole life in the desert, and this was his
first love.

"You will not say it?  Adieu, then," cried he, "I am no longer your
guest," and saying this, he leaped over the broken wall, before the
young girl could offer any opposition to his departure.

Stupefied by this unexpected movement, she mounted upon the fragments
that lay at the bottom of the wall, and stretching her arms toward the
forest, she cried out--

"Tiburcio!  Tiburcio! do not leave us so; do you wish to bring upon our
house the malediction of heaven?"

But her voice was either lost to his ears, or he disdained to reply.

She listened a moment, she could hear the sound of his footsteps fast
dying in the distance--until they could be heard no more.

"Oh! my God," cried she, falling upon her knees in an attitude of
prayer, "protect this young man from the dangers that threaten him.  Oh
God! watch over him, for alas! he carries with him my heart."

Then forgetting in her grief her projects of ambition, the will of her
father, all that deceptive confidence, which had kept silent the voice
of a love, of the existence of which she was hitherto almost ignorant--
the young girl rose hastily from her knees, once more mounted upon the
wall, and in a heart-rending voice called out, "_Come back!  Tiburcio;
come back!  I love only you_!"

But no answer was returned, and wrapping her face in her reboso, she sat
down and wept.

Before returning to her chamber she cast one more look in the direction
of the forest, but the woods were still enveloped in the obscurity of
night; all was sombre and silent, though in the distance the feeble
light was still glimmering over the tree tops.  All at once it appeared
for an instant to flash more brightly, as if offering a welcome to him
who had no longer a home!



CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.

AN ABRUPT DEPARTURE.

Don Estevan and Cuchillo, on leaving the ground of the combat, returned
to the alley of granadines; but for some time not a word passed between
them.  Don Estevan was buried in a profound meditation.  More skilled
than his coarse companion in the mysteries of the female heart, he had
divined, before the end of the dialogue between Rosarita and Tiburcio,
that the young girl felt for the latter a tender sentiment.  It was true
it was just germinating in her soul; but the accents of her voice, her
gestures, and other signs, discovered to the experienced intelligence of
Don Estevan that she really loved Tiburcio, though herself not yet aware
of the extent of that love.

For Tiburcio knowing the secret of the Golden Valley, Don Estevan cared
little--that was a matter of secondary importance; but Tiburcio's love
reciprocated by Dona Rosarita was a very different affair.  This at once
presented a series of obstacles to the ambitious projects of the
Spaniard.  Tiburcio then must be got out of the way at all hazards, and
at any price.  Such are the terrible exigencies of ambition.

It only remained to adopt some plan; but the Spaniard was not then in
the spirit to think of one.  He was writhing at the inadvertence that
had just happened.

"The clumsy fool!" he muttered, but loud enough for his companion to
hear him.

"Is it of me your excellency is speaking?" inquired Cuchillo, in a tone
that savoured strongly of his usual impudence.

"Who else could I mean, you sot?  You who neither know how to use
strength or stratagem!  A woman has accomplished what you could not do!
I have told you that this child is a giant to you; and had it not been
for me--"

"Had it not been for you," interrupted the outlaw, "this young fellow
would not now have been living to trouble us."

"How sir?" demanded Don Estevan.

"Last night, as I was bringing him to your bivouac, the fellow did an
outrage to my honour, and actually threatened me.  I was about putting
an end to our differences by a shot from my carbine, when your precious
old fool of a servant, Benito, came galloping up, and of course I had to
renounce my design.  So you see, the only good action I have ever done,
has brought me to grief.  Such is the reward of our virtue!"

"Speak for yourself, my droll fellow!" said the Spaniard, whose pride
revolted at being thus classed with such company as the outlaw.  "But if
that could be outraged which does not exist, may I ask what attempt this
young man made upon your honour?"

"I do not know myself--it was something that happened with my horse, who
has the fault--"

Cuchillo interrupted himself as one who has made an imprudent speech.

"The fault of stumbling in the left fore-leg?" added Don Estevan.  "I
see--this old history of the murder of Arellanos."

"I did not murder him," cried the outlaw, impudently.  "I had reasons
not to like him; but I pardoned him, for all that."

"Oh! you are so magnanimous!  But come, an end to these pleasantries.
It remains for you to get this young man out of the way.  I have my
reasons for wishing it so--among others, he knows our secret.  I gave
you a half _onza_ to save his life.  To-day I have different views
regarding him; and I promise to give you twenty _onzas_ when I am
assured that he is no longer alive."

"Agreed, Don Estevan; and in to-morrow's hunt of these wild horses, it
will be strange if Tiburcio Arellanos don't knock his brains out against
either a rock or the trunk of a tree, or at least get himself into some
corner, where he won't be able to find his way out again.  The only
regret I have is, that I shall have to share these twenty onzas with my
friends, Baraja and Oroche."

"To-morrow!" exclaimed Don Estevan; "and who knows but that to-morrow
may be too late?  Is the night not better for your purpose?  Are you not
three to one?  Who is to assure you that to-morrow I may not change my
mind?"

This threat seriously alarmed Cuchillo.

"Carramba! your excellency is quick to decide; you are not one of those
who leave for to-morrow what should be done to-day.  _Pues_--then--I
shall try my best.  In fact, it is very quiet here--I wonder the cries
of this young woman have not startled the whole house.  There's not a
creature about."

Such was in reality the case.  Notwithstanding the noise of the struggle
between Tiburcio and his assailants, and later still, the cries of
Rosarita, no one had been awakened.  The vast extent of the building
prevented these sounds from being heard, particularly as all the
domestics of the hacienda, as well as the proprietor himself, were
buried in a profound slumber.

Cuchillo now directed himself toward the apartment where he had left his
comrades; Don Estevan returning at the same time to his own chamber.
The moon once more poured her soft, silvery light upon the grove of
oranges, as if no crime had ever been attempted in that tranquil spot.

Don Estevan did not go to rest; but for a long time paced to and fro
across his ample chamber, with the air of one accustomed to watch over
ambitious projects while others were asleep.

After a lapse of time, Cuchillo was heard knocking softly at his door;
and as soon as it was opened, the hired assassin stepped in.  His
confused looks caused Don Estevan to tremble.  Was the deed already
done?  He wished it, yet feared to ask the question.  Cuchillo relieved
him from his embarrassment by speaking first.

"My twenty onzas are gone to the devil!" said he, in a lugubrious tone.

"How?" hastily inquired Don Estevan.

"The bird has flown: the young man is no longer about the place."

"Gone!" exclaimed Don Estevan.  "And you have let him escape?"

"How could I hinder him?  This brute, Baraja, as well as Oroche, were
both drunk with mezcal; and Diaz refused to assist me, point-blank.
While I was endeavouring to arouse the other two, the fellow had taken
leg bail through an opening in the wall of the garden--at least that's
all we can make out."

"And how have you arrived at this conjecture?" asked Don Estevan,
angrily striking the floor with his foot.

"Why, when we arrived at the place, the Dona Rosarita was clinging over
the wall, no doubt guided there by Tiburcio.  He could not be far off at
the time, for she was still calling upon him to return; and judging by
the love-speeches she was making, she must have earnestly desired it."

"She loves him, then?"

"Passionately--or her words and her accents are all deceit.  `_Come
back_!' she cried, `_Tiburcio, come back_!  _I love only you_!'  These
were the last words I heard; for shortly after she left the wall, and
went back to her room."

"We must to horse and pursue him!" cried Don Estevan, hurrying to make
ready; "yes, there is no help for it now.  The success of our expedition
depends upon the life of this ragged fellow.  Go! arouse Benito and the
others.  Tell them to saddle the horses.  Warn your friends in the
chamber that we must be _en route_ in an hour.  Away! while I awake Don
Augustin and the Senator."

"Just as I have known him for twenty years," muttered Cuchillo, as he
hastened to his companions, "always awake, always ready for the greatest
obstacles.  Well, if with his character he has not made way in his own
country, I fear that in Europe perseverance and energy are not worth
much."

Don Estevan, as soon as Cuchillo had left him, spent a few minutes in
putting himself once more in travelling costume, and then repaired to
the chamber of the Senator.  He found the door open--as is the custom in
a country where people spend most of their lives outside their houses.
The moon was beaming full through the large window, and her light
illumined the chamber as well as the couch upon which the Senator was
sleeping.

"What is it, Don Estevan?" cried the Senator, suddenly leaping up in his
bed; "Senor Estevan, I should say."  Tragaduros had been dreaming of the
court of the King of Spain.  "What is it, your grace?"

"I come to take leave of you, and to give you my final instructions."

"Eh! what?" said the Senator.  "Is the hour late? or have I been three
days asleep?"

"No," gravely replied the Spaniard, "but there is a serious danger that
menaces our projects--both yours and mine.  This young rustic, whom we
found on the road, knows all about the Golden Valley; and what is still
worse, he loves Dona Rosarita, and Dona Rosarita loves him."

Tragaduros, instead of starting up at this announcement, sank back upon
his pillow, crying out.

"Adieu then to the million dollars of dowry! adieu to those beautiful
plains covered with horses and cattle, which I already believed my own!
adieu to the honours of the court of _Carlos el Primero_!"

"Come! all is not yet lost," said Don Estevan.  "The evil may be
remedied if taken in time.  This young fellow has quitted the hacienda.
It will be necessary to follow and find him before he gets out of the
way.  So much the worse for him, if his evil star is in opposition to
yours."

The Spaniard said no more of his designs with regard to Tiburcio.  As to
the Senator, it was of little importance to him how he was to be
disembarrassed of so dangerous a rival, so long as he himself should not
be troubled with the matter.

"Whatever may be the end of it," added Don Estevan, "one thing is
certain--the young fellow will never be allowed to come back to this
house, for I shall arrange that with Don Augustin.  You will therefore
be master of the situation, and will have everything your own way.  Make
the young lady love you--it will be easy enough--your rival will be
absent, he may be _dead_--for these deserts are dangerous, and you know
the old proverb about absence?"

"I shall make myself irresistible!" said the Senator, "for since
yesterday I feel as if I was on fire about this lovely creature, who
appears to have come down direct from heaven--and with--such a dowry!"

"No man ever aimed at an object more desirable than this immense dowry
and this fair flower of the desert.  Spare no pains, therefore, to win
both the lady and the fortune."

"If necessary I shall spin for her, as Hercules at the feet of Omphale."

"Ha, ha ha!" laughed the Spaniard.  "If Hercules had any merits in the
eyes of Omphale, it was not on account of his spinning, but because he
was Hercules.  No--do better than spin.  To-morrow Don Augustin has a
hunt among his wild steeds; there will be an opportunity for you to
distinguish yourself by some daring exploit.  Mount one of the wildest
of the horses, for the honour of the beautiful eyes of Rosarita, and
after having tamed him, ride him up panting into her presence.  That
will gain you more grace than handling the thread and distaff _a la
Hercules_."

The Senator responded to these counsels with a sigh: and Don Estevan,
having given him further instructions as to how he was to act during the
absence of the expedition, took leave of him, and repaired to the
chamber of Don Augustin.

The clank of his heavy spurs, as he entered the sleeping apartment of
the haciendado, awoke the latter--who on opening his eyes and seeing his
nocturnal visitor in full riding-costume, cried out:

"What! is it time to set forth upon the chase?  I did not know the hour
was so late!"

"No, Don Augustin," replied the Spaniard, "but for me the hour has come
to set forth upon a more serious pursuit than that of wild horses.  I
hasten to pursue the enemy of your house--the man who has abused your
hospitality, and who if not captured, may bring ruin upon all our
projects."

"The enemy of my house! the man who has abused my hospitality!" cried
the haciendado, starting up in astonishment, and seizing a long Toledo
rapier that hung by the side of his bed, "Who is the man that has acted
so, Don Estevan?"

"Be calm!" said Don Estevan, smiling inwardly at the contrast exhibited
between the spirit of the haciendado and the pusillanimity of the
Senator.  "Be calm! the enemy I speak of is no longer under your roof--
he has fled beyond the reach of your just vengeance."

"But who is he?" impatiently demanded Don Augustin.

"Tiburcio Arellanos."

"What!  Tiburcio Arellanos my enemy!  I do not believe it.  Loyalty and
courage are the characteristics of the young man.  I shall never believe
him a traitor."

"He knows the situation of the Golden Valley!  Furthermore, he loves
your daughter!"

"Is that all?  Why, I was aware of these facts already!"

"Yes, but your daughter loves him--perhaps you were not aware of that
fact?"

Don Estevan here detailed the events that had just transpired, and which
proved that the passion of the young gambusino was reciprocated by
Rosarita.

"Well!" calmly rejoined Don Augustin; "so much the worse for the
Senator!"

This reply could not fail to astonish the Spaniard, and create a feeling
of disappointment.

"Remember," said he, "remember, Don Augustin Pena; that you have engaged
your word--not only to me, not only to Tragaduros, but to a prince of
the blood royal of Spain, from whose brow this apparently simple
incident--the caprice of a young girl--may snatch a crown.  Think too of
your country--its future glory and greatness--all dependent on the
promise you have given--"

"Why," interrupted Don Augustin, "why set forth all these
considerations?  After my promise has been given, I never retract my
word.  But it is only to the Duke de Armada I have engaged myself, and
he alone can free me from that engagement.  Are you satisfied with this
assurance?"

"How could I be otherwise?" cried the Spaniard, holding out his hand to
the noble haciendado.  "Enough!  I have your word, it will be necessary
forme to leave you without farther delay.  This young fellow may find
comrades to accompany him to the Golden Valley.  There is not a moment,
therefore, to be lost.  I must at once proceed to Tubac.  Adieu, my
friend, adieu!"

Don Augustin would have risen to accompany his guest to the gates, but
the Spaniard would not permit him, and they parted without farther
ceremony.

When Don Estevan reached the court-yard, his attendants and domestics
were found in readiness to depart.  The mules had been packed, and the
_remuda_ collected in charge of the driver.  The followers, Cuchillo,
Baraja, Oroche, and Pedro Diaz were already in their saddles--the last
mounted on a magnificent and fiery steed, which told that the generous
haciendado had kept his promise.



CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.

THE LONE FIRE IN THE FOREST.

The motive for this hasty departure from the hacienda was unknown only
to Benito and the other domestics.  The cavalier adventurers were aware
of its object though two of them, Baraja and Oroche, had no very clear
understanding upon the matter.  The fumes of the mezcal were still in
their heads, and it was with difficulty they could balance themselves in
the saddle.  They were sensible of their situation, and did their best
to conceal it from the eyes of the chief.

"Am I straight in my stirrups?" whispered Oroche addressing himself to
Baraja.

"Straight as a bamboo!" replied the other.  "Do I appear firm?" inquired
he in turn.

"Firm as a rock," was the response.

Thanks to the efforts they were making to keep themselves upright, Don
Estevan, as he glanced over the ranks of his followers, did not observe
anything amiss.  Cuchillo, however, knowing that they were not in a fit
state for inspection regarded them with an anxious glance.

As Don Estevan was about to mount, the outlaw rode up to him, and
pointing to the others with an expressive gesture, said, "If your honour
desires me to act as guide, and give the order of march, I am ready to
enter upon my duties."

"Very well," replied Don Estevan, springing into the saddle, "commence
at any moment, but let us be gone as soon as possible."

"Benito!" shouted the newly appointed guide, "take the _remuda_ and
_recua_ in advance; you will wait for us at the bridge of the _Salto de
Agua_."

Benito, with the other attendants, obeyed the order in silence; and the
moment after were moving with their respective charges along the road
leading to Tubac.  A little later the cavalcade rode out of the
court-yard of the hacienda, and turning round the wall of the enclosure,
guided by Cuchillo, proceeded toward the breach through which Tiburcio
had passed.  The guide was riding by the side of Don Estevan.

"We have found his traces," said he to the chief, as they moved forward;
"he is down in the forest."

"Where?"

"Do you see a light yonder shining through the trees?"

The mysterious light was gleaming, just as Tiburcio had first seen it
from his window.  It was to this that Cuchillo directed the attention of
the chief.

"Yes," replied the latter, "what of it?"

"It is the camp-fire of some travellers; and in all probability the
fellow will be found there.  So," continued he, with a hideous smile,
"we are going to give chase to a wild colt--which will be better than
hunting Don Augustin's wild horses--and here are the three hunters."

As the outlaw said this, he pointed with his whip, first to himself, and
then to his two comrades, Oroche and Baraja.

"They have both espoused our quarrel," he added.

"From what motive?" inquired the Spaniard.

"That motive which the hound has in taking the part of the hunter
against the stag," answered the outlaw, with a significant smile; "they
only follow their instincts, and they are two animals with formidable
teeth."

At this moment the moon shone out, and gleaming upon the carbines and
knives of the two adventurers, seemed to confirm the assertion of
Cuchillo.  But the light proved disadvantageous to Baraja and Oroche,
for it enabled Don Estevan to perceive that they were far from steady in
their seats.

"Why, these fellows are drunk!" cried he, turning upon the guide a look
of furious reproach.  "Are these the assistants you count upon?"

"True, your honour," replied Cuchillo, "they are not exactly sober; but
I hope soon to cure them.  I know of a remedy that will set them all
right in five minutes.  It is the fruit of the _jocuistle_, which grows
abundantly in these parts.  I shall find it as soon as we have reached
the woods."

Don Estevan was forced to swallow his chagrin in silence.  It was not
the time for vain recriminations; and above all, Tiburcio had first to
be found, before the services of either of the inebriated gentlemen
would be called into requisition.

In a few seconds' time the party had reached the breach in the wall.
Cuchillo dismounted, and striking a light, pointed out to the others the
traces left by Tiburcio.  There could be seen some fragments freshly
fallen from the wall, evidently detached by the feet of one passing
over; but what was of more consequence, they were stained with drops of
blood.  This must have been Tiburcio's.

"You see," said the outlaw to Don Estevan, "that he must have passed
this way.  Ah! if I had only given him another inch or two.  After all,"
added he, speaking to himself, "it is better I didn't.  I shall be
twenty onzas the richer that I didn't settle with him then.  Now,"
continued he, once more raising his voice, "where can he have gone,
unless to yonder fire in the woods?"

A little farther on in the direction of the forest, other spots of fresh
blood were discovered upon the dry calcareous surface of the soil.  This
appeared to confirm the conjecture of the guide--that Tiburcio had
proceeded towards the camp-fire.

"If your honour," resumed Cuchillo, addressing himself to his chief,
"will go forward in company with the Senor Diaz, you will reach a stream
running upon your left.  By following down its bank for some distance,
you will come to a bridge constructed with three or four trunks of
trees.  It is the bridge of the _Salto de Agua_.  Just before reaching
it, your honour will see a thick wood on the right.  Under cover of that
you can remain, until we three have finished our affair and rejoin you.
Afterwards we can overtake the domestics.  I have ordered them forward,
for the reason that such people should not be privy either to our
designs or actions."

In this arrangement Cuchillo exhibited the consummate skill of the
practiced bandit.  Don Estevan, without offering any opposition to his
plan, rode off as directed, in company with Diaz; while the outlaw, with
his two chosen acolytes turned their horses' heads in the direction of
the fire.

"The fire betokens a halt of travellers, beyond doubt," remarked Diaz to
Don Estevan; "but who these travellers can be is a thing that puzzles
me."

"Travellers like any others, I suppose," rejoined the Spaniard, with an
air of abstraction.

"No, that is not likely.  Don Augustin Pena is known for his generous
hospitality for twenty leagues around.  It is not probable that these
travellers should have halted so near his hacienda without knowing it.
They must be strangers to the country I fancy, or if not, they have no
good purpose in camping where they are."

Pedro Diaz was making almost the same observations that had occurred to
Tiburcio at an earlier hour of the night.

Meanwhile, Cuchillo, with his two comrades, advanced towards the edge of
the forest.  As soon as they had reached it the guide dismounted from
his horse.

"Stay here," said he, "while I go fetch something to cure you of your
ill-timed drunkenness."

So saying he glided in among the trees, and in a few seconds came out
again, carrying with him several oblong yellow-coloured fruits that
resembled ripe bananas.  They were the fruits of the _jocuistle_, a
species of _asimina_, whose juice is an infallible remedy against the
effects of intoxication.  The two inebriates ate of the fruit according
to Cuchillo's direction; and in a minute or two their heads were cleared
of the fumes of the mezcal as if by enchantment.

"Now to business!" cried Cuchillo, without listening to the apologies
his comrades were disposed to make--"to business!  You will dismount and
lead your horses forward by the bridle, until you can see the fire; and
when you hear the report of my gun, be ready, for I shall then fall back
upon you."

"All right," responded Oroche, "we are both ready--the Senor Baraja and
myself--to sacrifice all private interests to the common good."

Cuchillo now parted with the two, leading his horse ahead of them.  A
little farther on he tied the animal to the branch of a tree, and then
stooping downward he advanced on foot.  Still farther on he dropped upon
his hands and knees, and crept through the underwood like a jaguar
stealing upon its prey.

Now and then he paused and listened.  He could hear the distant lowing
of the wild bulls, and the crowing of the cocks at the hacienda, mingled
with the lugubrious notes of the great wood owl, perched near him upon a
branch.  He could hear the distant sound of water--the cataract of the
_Salto de Agua_--and, in the same direction, the continuous howling of
the jackals.

Again the assassin advanced--still creeping as before.  Presently he saw
before him the open glade, lit up by the flame of the camp-fire.  On the
edge nearest him, stood a huge button-wood tree, from whose base
extended a number of flat ridge-like processes, resembling the bastions
of a fortification.  He perceived that, behind these he would be
concealed from the light of the fire; while he himself could command a
view of every object within the glade.

In another moment he was crouching under the trunk of the button-wood.
His eyes gleamed with a fierce joy, as he gazed in the direction of the
fire, around which he could distinguish the forms of three men--two of
them seated, the other stretched along the ground, and apparently
asleep.



CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.

THE WOOD-RANGERS.

Behind the Hacienda del Venado--that is, to the northward of it--the
surface of the country was still in a state of nature; as we have
already said, the edge of the forest lay almost within gun-shot of the
walls; and this vast tract of woods extended for many leagues to the
north, till it ended in the great deserts of Tubac.

The only road that trended in a northerly direction, was that leading to
the Presidio of Tubac--though in reality it was not a road, but simply
an Indian trail.  At a short distance beyond the hacienda, it was
crossed by a turbulent and rapid stream--the same that passed near the
house--augmented by several tributaries that joined it in the woods.
Where the road crossed it, and for a long distance above and below, this
stream partook rather of the nature of a torrent, running in a deep bed,
between rocky banks--a _canon_.  Over this canon the crossing was
effected by means of a rude bridge consisting simply of the trunks of
two or three trees, laid side by side, and reaching from bank to bank.
About half-way between the hacienda and this bridge, and but a short
distance from the side of the road, was the fire which had already
attracted so much attention.

This fire had been kindled near the centre of a little glade, but its
flame cast a red glare upon the trees at a distance, until the grey bark
of the button-wood, the pale foliage of the acacias, and the scarlet
leaves of the sumac, all appeared of one colour: while the darker
llianas, stretching from tree to tree, encircled the little glade with a
series of festoons.

At the hour when Tiburcio was about leaving the hacienda, two persons
were seated by this fire, in the attitude of men who were resting after
a day of fatigue.  These persons were the trappers, who had already made
their appearance at La Poza.

There was nothing remarkable in two men having made their camp-fire in
the woods; it was their proximity to a hacienda--and that, too, the
Hacienda del Venado--that rendered the fact significant.  The trappers
knew well enough that the hacienda was close at hand; it followed, then,
that they had some reasons of their own for not availing themselves of
its hospitality.  A large pile of fagots lay near the fire, evidently
collected to feed it, and this proved that the men who had kindled it
intended to pass the night on the spot.

The appearance of these two men would have been striking, even in the
light of day; but under that of the fire it was picturesque--almost
fantastic.  The older of the two was habited in a costume half Indian,
half Canadian; on his head was a sort of bonnet, shaped like a truncated
cone, and made out of the skin of a fox; a blue striped cotton shirt
covered his shoulders, and beside him upon the ground lay a sort of
woollen surtout--the _capote_ of the Canadians.  His legs were encased
in leathern leggins, reaching from the thigh downward to the ankle; but
instead of moccasins he wore upon his feet a pair of strong iron-bound
shoes, capable of lasting him for a couple of years at the least.  A
large buffalo-horn, suspended from the shoulder, contained his powder;
and upon his right side hung a leathern pouch, well filled with bullets.
In fine, a long rifle, with a barrel nearly six feet in length, rested
near his hand; and this, with a large hunting-knife stuck in his belt,
completed his equipment.  His hair already showed symptoms of turning
grey and a long scar which crossed his temples, and appeared to run all
round his head, showed that if his scalp was still there he had some
time or other run the risk of having it _raised_.  His bronzed
complexion denoted a long exposure to sun, wind, and rain; but for all
this, his countenance shone with an expression of good-humour.  This was
in conformity with his herculean strength--for nature usually bestows
upon these colossal men a large share of kind-heartedness.

The other trapper appeared to be some five or six years younger; and
although by no means a man of small stature, he was but a pigmy
alongside his gigantic companion.  His countenance also lacked the
serenity which distinguished that of the other--his black eyes gave out
an expression of boldness approaching to effrontery; and the play of his
features indicated a man whose passions, fiery by nature, once aroused,
would lead him into acts of violence--even of cruelty.  Everything about
him bespoke the second trapper to be a man of different race from his
companion--a man in whose veins ran the hot blood of the south.
Although his style of dress did not differ very much from that of his
comrade, there were some points in it that denoted him to be more of a
horseman.  Nevertheless, his well-worn shoes bore witness to his having
made more than one long journey on foot.

The Canadian, half reclining upon the grass, was watching with especial
interest a large piece of mutton, which, supported upon a spit of
iron-wood, was frizzling and sputtering in the blaze of the fire.  He
appeared to enjoy the savoury odour that proceeded from the joint; and
so much was his attention taken up by his gastronomic zeal, that he
scarce listened to what his companion was saying.

"Well, I have often told you," said the latter, "that when one is on the
trace of an enemy, whether it be an Indian or a white, one is pretty
sure of coming on his tracks somewhere."

"Yes," rejoined the Canadian; "but you forgot that we shall just have
time to reach Arispe, to receive the pay for our two years' campaign;
besides, by our not going to the hacienda, we lose the bounty upon these
three skins, and miss selling them besides."

"I never forget my interests," replied the other; "no more than I do the
vows which I make: and the best proof of it is, that twenty years ago I
made one which I believe I shall now be able to accomplish.  We can
always force them to pay us what is due at Arispe, and we shall find
many an opportunity of getting rid of the skins: but the chance which
has turned up in the middle of these deserts, of bringing me in contact
with the man against whom I have sworn vengeance may not offer again
during my whole lifetime."

"Bah!" exclaimed the Canadian, "vengeance is like many other kinds of
fruit, sweet till you have tasted it, and afterwards bitter as gall."

"For all that, Senor Bois-Rose, you do not appear to practise your own
doctrine with the Apaches, Sioux, Crows, and other Indians with whom you
are at enmity!  Your rifle has cracked many a skull--to say nothing of
the warriors you have ripped open with your knife!"

"Oh! that is different, Pepe.  Some of these would have robbed me of my
peltries--others would have taken my scalp, and came very near doing so,
as you see--besides, it is blessed bread to clear the prairies of these
red vermin; but I have never sought to revenge myself against one of my
own race and colour.  I never hated one of my own kind sufficiently to
kill him."

"Ah!  Bois-Rose; it is just those of one's own race we hate most--that
is when they have given us the reason for doing so--and this man has
furnished me with such motives to hate him as can never be forgotten.
Twenty years have not blunted my desire for vengeance; though, on
account of the great distance that separated us, I supposed I should
never find an opportunity of fulfilling my vow.  Strange it is that two
men, with relations like ours, should turn up together in the middle of
these desert plains.  Well! strange though it be, I do not intend to let
the chance escape me."

Pepe appeared to have fixed his resolution upon this matter, and so
firmly that his companion saw the folly of attempting to dissuade him by
any further advice.  The Canadian, moreover, was of an easy disposition,
and readily yielded to the arguments of a friend.

"After all," said he, "perhaps, if I fully understood your motives, I
might entirely approve of the resolution you have made."

"I can give them in two words," rejoined he whom the Canadian was
addressing as Pepe.  "It is just twenty years, as I have already told
you, since I was a carabinier in the service of her Catholic majesty.  I
should have been content with my position and the amount of pay, had it
only been _paid_ which unfortunately it was not.  We were obliged to do
the duty of coast-guard as well, and this would have done well enough
had there been any smuggling, with the capture of which we might have
indemnified ourselves; but there was none.  What a fool a smuggler would
have been to have ventured on a coast, guarded by two hundred fellows at
their wits' end with hunger!  Well, then I reasoned that if any smuggler
was to land it could only be with the concurrence of our captain, and I
suspected that the captain would make no objection to such an
arrangement--for he himself was, like the rest of us, a creditor of the
government.  In such case he would cast around among us for the man in
whom he _could most_ confide, and that would be he who was noted as
being most careless upon his post.  I resolved, therefore, to become the
captain's confidential sentry.

"To arrive at this object I pretended to be all the day asleep; and,
notwithstanding the reprimands I received, I managed also to be found
asleep upon my post at all hours of the night.  I succeeded in my
design.  The captain soon learnt all about my somnolent habits, and
chose me for his favourite sentinel."

At this moment the Canadian detached the mutton from the spit, and
having cut a large "hunk" from it with his knife passed the joint to his
comrade.

This interrupted the narrative, for both narrator and listener were
hungry.  The two now sat face to face, their legs forming a sort of an
ellipse, with the roast mutton in the centre, and for several minutes a
formidable gritting of teeth, as huge pieces of the mutton passed
through them, were the only sounds that broke the stillness of the
night.



CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.

OLD SOUVENIRS.

"I have said then," resumed Pepe, after a time, "that I pretended to be
always asleep.  The _ruse_ succeeded equal to my best expectations, and
one night the captain sent for me.  Good! said I to myself, there's an
eel under the stone--the captain is going to confide a post to me.  Just
as I had anticipated he sent me to sleep--at least he thought so--on a
most important post; but for all that I did not sleep a wink during the
whole of that night."

Here Pepe paused for a moment, in order to swallow an enormous mouthful
of the roast mutton, that hindered the free use of the tongue.

"To be brief, then," resumed he, "a boat arrived with men, and I
permitted it to land.  It was only afterwards that I learnt that it was
no smuggling business these men were bent upon, but an affair of blood--
of murder; and the thought that I was instrumental in aiding the
assassins causes me to this hour a feeling of remorse.  I did not
conceal what I knew.  Afterwards I denounced the murderer, by way of
atoning for my fault.  A trial took place, but as in Spain justice goes
to the highest bidder, the assassin was set free, and I became a victim.
I was drummed out of my regiment, and transported to the fisheries of
Ceuta, on the unhealthy coast of Africa.  There I was compelled to
remain for many years, till at last having made my escape, after a
thousand perilous adventures, I found myself on the prairies of
America."

"It was a rich man then--some powerful person--whom you denounced?"

"Yes; a grand senor.  It was the old story of the pot of clay broken
against the pot of iron.  But the desert here has no distinctions; and,
by the Virgin of Atocha!  I shall prove that before many suns have gone
over my head.  Ah! if I only had here a certain alcalde of the name of
Don Ramon Cohecho, and his damned friend, one Senor Cagatinta, I fancy I
should make them pass an uncomfortable quarter of an hour."

"Very well, then," said Bois-Rose, seeing the other had finished his
narrative; "very well.  I quite approve of your intentions--let the
journey to Arispe stand over."

"It is an old story," said Pepe, in conclusion; "and if for ten years
you have been teaching me to handle a rifle, after many more spent in
the usage of a carbine in the service of her Catholic majesty, surely I
should be able to manage it now.  I think I would scarcely miss an
object as large as him whom you have seen at the head of those horsemen
journeying towards the hacienda."

"Yes--yes," replied the Canadian, with a laugh; "but I remember the
time, Pepe, when you missed many a buffalo twice as big as he.
Nevertheless, I fancy I have made a passable shot of you at last,
although you still persist in mistaking the ear of an otter for his eye,
which always depreciates the value of the skin.  Well, you know that I
myself was not brought up on the prairies.  I was a sailor for many long
years; and perhaps I should have continued one but for--a sad event--a
melancholy affair--but what good is there in speaking of that which is
no more.  Let the past be past!  I find the life of the desert something
like that on the ocean--once a man has got used to it he cannot easily
quit it."

"Yes," rejoined Pepe; "the life of the forest and prairie has its
charms, and for my part--"

"Hush!" whispered the Canadian, interrupting the speech of his comrade
and placing himself in an attitude to listen.  "I heard a rustle among
the branches.  Other ears than mine may be listening to you."

Pepe cast a glance in the direction whence the sounds had been heard.
The dark form of a man was perceived among the trees coming from the
direction of the hacienda.

It was evident that the man was not trying to approach by stealth, for
his form was erect and he made no attempt to conceal himself behind the
branches.

This would have freed the mind of Pepe from all suspicion, but for the
circumstance that the stranger appeared to be coming direct from the
hacienda.

"Who goes there?" he hailed in a loud tone, as the dark shadow was seen
entering the glade.

"One who seeks an asylum by your fire," was the ready reply, delivered
in rather a feeble voice.

"Shall we allow him to come on? or beg him to continue his journey?"
muttered Pepe to the Canadian.

"God forbid we should deny him!  Perhaps they have refused him a lodging
up at the house; and that voice, which I think I have heard before,
plainly denotes that he is fatigued--perhaps ill."

"Come on, Senor!" called out Pepe, without hesitating farther; "you are
welcome to our fire and our mess; come on!"

At this invitation the stranger advanced.  It is needless to say that it
was Tiburcio Arellanos, whose cheeks as he came within the light of the
fire betrayed by their paleness the traces of some violent emotion, or
else of some terrible malady.  This pallor, however, was partly caused
by the blood which he had lost in the conflict with Cuchillo.

As soon as the features of Tiburcio came fairly under the light, the
trappers recognised him as the young man they had met at La Poza; but
the ex-carabinier was struck with some idea which caused him to make an
involuntary gesture.  The Canadian, on the other hand, regarded the
new-comer with that expression of condescending kindness which age often
bestows upon youth.

"Have you parted with the gentlemen in whose company we saw you?" asked
Pepe of Tiburcio.

"Yes."

"Perhaps you are not aware that there is a house close by.  I do not
know the owner, but I fancy he would not refuse you a night's lodging,
and he could entertain you better than we.  Perhaps," continued he,
observing that Tiburcio made no reply, "you have been up to the house
already?"

"I have," answered Tiburcio.  "I have no reproach to make against its
owner, Don Augustin Pena; he has not refused me hospitality; but there
are other guests under his roof with whom my life is not safe."

"Oh, that!" exclaimed Pepe, appearing to become more interested; "has
anything happened to you?"

Tiburcio lifted his serape, exhibiting the wound in his right arm from
which the blood was yet oozing.

Both Pepe and the Canadian rose hastily to their feet and stepped
forward to examine the wound.  Having done so, they immediately set
about dressing it, which they effected with as much dexterity and
despatch as might have been shown by practised surgeons; at the same
time the rude physiognomy of each was marked by an expression of
interest almost amounting to tenderness.  While the Canadian kept
bathing the wound with water from his canteen, Pepe proceeded into the
woods in search of a peculiar plant noted for its healing properties.
This plant was the _oregano_.  Presently he returned, bringing with him
several slices which he had cut from the succulent stem of the plant;
the pulp of these, mashed between two stones, was placed over the wound,
and then secured by Tiburcio's own scarf of China crape wound several
times around the arm; nothing more could be done than await the effect
of the application.

"Now," said the Canadian, "you will soon feel better.  There is no
danger of inflammation--nothing beats the oregano for preventing that,
and you need not be afraid of fever.  Meanwhile, if you feel inclined,
there's a bit of roast mutton and a glass of _eau de vie_ at your
service; after which you had best lie down by the fire and take some
sleep--for I can see that you're weary."

"In truth," replied Tiburcio, "I am fatigued.  I thank you for your
offer, but I do not feel inclined either to eat or drink; I have more
need of sleep, and with your permission shall try and get some.  One
request I would make of you: that you will not permit me to sleep too
long; there are reasons why I should soon be awake again."

"Very well," said Pepe; "we don't want your reasons.  If you wish us to
watch the hacienda, I beg you will only say so, and you shall have two
pair of good eyes at your service; therefore make your mind easy, and
sleep without fear of any enemy coming upon you unawares."

Tiburcio stretched himself upon the grass, and overcome by fatigue and
the many violent emotions he had that day experienced, soon fell into a
lethargic slumber.

For some time Bois-Rose sat regarding the sleeper in silence, but with
an air of strange interest.

"What age do you think he is?" he at length inquired of his comrade.

"Twenty-four, I should fancy," replied the ex-coast-guard.

"Just what I was thinking," said the Canadian, speaking in a tone of
half soliloquy, while a melancholy expression appeared to tone down his
rude physiognomy.  "Yes, just the age he ought to be if still alive."

"He! who are you talking of?" brusquely interrupted his companion, in
whose heart the words of the Canadian seemed to find an echo.

"No matter," said Bois-Rose, still speaking in a tone of melancholy;
"the past is past; and when it has not been as one would have wished it,
it is better forgotten.  But come! let us have done with idle regrets
and finish our supper--such souvenirs always spoil my appetite."

"The same with me," agreed Pepe, as he seized hold of a large
mutton-bone, and commenced an attack upon it in a fashion that proved
that his appetite was not yet quite gone.

After a while Pepe again broke the silence.

"If I had the pleasure," said he, "of a personal acquaintance with this
Don Augustin Pena, who appears to be the proprietor here, I would
compliment him upon the fine quality of his mutton; and if I thought his
horses were of as good a sort, I think I should be tempted to borrow
one--one horse would never be missed out of the great herds we have seen
galloping about, no more than a sheep out of his vast flocks; and to me
a good horse would be a treasure."

"Very well," said the Canadian.  "If you feel inclined for a horse, you
had better have one; it will be no great loss to the owner, and may be
useful to us.  If you go in search of one, I can keep watch over this
young fellow, who sleeps as if he hadn't had a wink for the last month."

"Most probably no one will come after him; nevertheless, Bois-Rose, keep
your eye open till I return.  If anything happens, three howls of the
coyote will put me on my guard."

As he said this, Pepe took up a lazo that lay near, and turning his face
in the direction in which he was most likely to find a drove of horses,
he walked off into the woods.

Bois-Rose was left alone.  Having thrown some dry branches upon the
fire, in order to produce a more vivid light, he commenced regarding
anew the young man who was asleep; but after a while spent in this way
he stretched himself alongside the prostrate body, and appeared also to
slumber.

The night-breeze caused the foliage to rustle over the heads of these
two men, as they lay side by side.  Neither had the least suspicion that
they were here re-united by strange and providential circumstances--that
twenty years before, they had lain side by side--then lulled to sleep by
the sound of the ocean, just as now by the whispering murmurs of the
forest.



CHAPTER THIRTY.

BOIS-ROSE AND FABIAN.

For twenty years the murderer of the Countess de Mediana had gone
unpunished.  For twenty years the justice of heaven had remained
suspended; but the time of its accomplishment was not far off.  Soon was
it to open its solemn assizes; soon would it call together accuser and
criminal, witness and judge--not from one part of a country to another,
but from opposite sides of the globe; and, as if led by some invisible
hand, all would have to obey the terrible summons.

Fabian de Mediana and the Canadian sailor lay side by side--just as they
had done twenty years ago, at three thousand leagues distance from
Sonora.  And yet they had no suspicion of ever having met before, though
a single chance word might at that moment have brought either to the
memory of the other.

It was just about this time that Don Estevan and his party rode off from
the hacienda.

The Canadian, according to the counsel of his comrade Pepe, slept with
one eye open.  At short intervals he contrived to awake himself, and
raising his head slightly, cast around him a scrutinising glance.  But
on each of these occasions, the light of the fire showed him Tiburcio
still tranquilly asleep; and this appearing to satisfy him, he would
again compose himself as before.

About an hour had passed, when the sound of heavy footsteps awakened him
once more, and listening a moment, he distinguished them as the
hoof-strokes of a horse.

A few moments after, Pepe made his appearance within the circle of the
blaze, leading a horse at the end of his lazo--a magnificent animal,
that snorted and started back at sight of the fire.  Pepe, however, had
already given him more than one lesson, and his obedience was nearly
complete; so that, after a short conflict, the trapper succeeded in
bringing him nearer and attaching him to the trunk of a tree.

"Well," said Pepe, wiping the perspiration from his forehead with an old
ragged handkerchief, "I've had a tough struggle with him; but he's worth
it, I fancy.  What think you, Bois-Rose?  Isn't he the most splendid
quadruped that ever galloped through these woods?"

In truth it was a beautiful creature, rendered more beautiful by the
terror which he was exhibiting at the moment, as he stood with his fine
limbs stretched, his head thrown high in the air, his mane tossed over
his wild savage eyes, and his nostrils spread and frothy.  Strange
enough that fear, which renders vile and degraded the lord of the
creation, should have an opposite effect on most of the lower animals--
especially on the horse.  This beautiful creature under its impulse only
appears more beautiful!

Little as Bois-Rose delighted in horse-flesh, he could not withhold his
approval of the capture which his comrade had made.

"He looks well enough," was his sober reply; "but he'll be a rough
mount, I reckon."

"No doubt of that," assented Pepe.  "I know he'll be rough at first; but
the main thing was to get hold of him.  I had a lucky hand to hook him
as I did."

"I hope your neck will prove as lucky as your hand.  For my part, I'd
rather walk ten leagues than be on his back for ten minutes.  But see,
comrade!" continued the big trapper, pointing to the stars, "they're
gone down yonder! you'll need some sleep before morning.  Lie down while
I take my turn of the watch."

"I'll take your advice," replied Pepe, at the same time stretching
himself out upon his back, with his feet to the fire--in which attitude
he was soon asleep.

The Canadian rose to his feet, took several turns round the fire--as if
to drive away any remains of sleep that might be lurking in his eyes--
then sat down again, with his back resting against the stump of a tree.

He had not been long seated before he got up once more, and, approaching
with caution, stood over Tiburcio.  For several minutes he remained in
this attitude, attentively examining the features of the young man: he
then returned to his seat by the stump.

"Just about _his_ age, if he is still living," muttered he to himself.
"But what chance have I to recognise in a grown man the features of an
infant scarce four years old?"

A smile of disdain played for an instant on his lips, as if he were
chiding himself for the silliness of his conjectures.

"And yet," he continued, his countenance changing its expression, "I
have seen and taken part in too many strange events--I have been too
long face to face with Nature--to doubt the power of Providence.  Why
should I consider this a miracle?  It was not one when I chanced upon
the boat adrift that carried that poor infant and its murdered mother!
No, it was the hand of God.  Why might not the same hand restore him to
me in the midst of the desert?  The ways of Providence are inscrutable."

As if this reflection had given birth to new hopes, the Canadian again
rose to his feet, and approaching, stooped once more over the prostrate
form of Tiburcio.

"How often," said he, "have I thus gazed on my little Fabian as he
slept!  Well, whoever you are, young man," continued he, "you have not
come to my fire without finding a friend.  May God do for my poor Fabian
what I am disposed to do for you!"

Saying this, he once again returned to his seat, and remained for a long
time reflecting upon incidents that had transpired twenty years before
in the Bay of Biscay.

It should here be stated that up to this hour Bois-Rose and Pepe had not
the slightest suspicion that they had ever met, before their chance
encounter upon the prairies of America.  In reality they had never met--
farther than that they had been within musket-range of each other.  But
up to this hour Pepe knew not that his trapping comrade was the gigantic
smuggler he had fired at from the beach of Ensenada; and Bois-Rose was
equally ignorant that Pepe was the coast-guard whose "obstinacy and
clumsiness" he had spoken of to his lieutenant.

The cause of this mutual ignorance of each other's past was that neither
of them had ever mentioned the word Elanchovi in the hearing of the
other.  The Canadian had never thought of communicating the incidents of
that night to his prairie comrade; and Pepe, on his side, would have
given much to have blotted them altogether from the pages of his memory.

The night became more chilly as the hours passed on, and a damp dew now
fell upon the grass and the foliage of the trees.  It did not wake the
sleepers, however, both of whom required a long rest.

All at once the silence was broken by the horse of Pepe, that neighed
loudly and galloped in a circle at the end of his lazo: evidently
something had affrighted him.  Bois-Rose suddenly started from his
reverie, and crept silently forward, both ear and eye set keenly to
reconnoitre.  But nothing could be heard or seen that was unusual; and
after a while he glided back to his seat.

The noise had awakened Tiburcio, who, raising himself into a sitting
posture, inquired its cause.

"Nothing," answered the trapper, whose denial, however, was scarce
sincere.  "Something indeed," continued he, "has frightened the horse.
A jaguar, I fancy, that scents the skins of his companions, or, more
likely, the remains of our roast mutton.  By the way, you can eat a bit
now; I have kept a couple of pieces for you."

And as he said this he handed two goodly-sized pieces of mutton to
Tiburcio.

This time the young man accepted the invitation to eat.  Rest had given
him an appetite; and after swallowing a few mouthfuls of the cold
mutton, warmed up by a glass of the brandy already mentioned, he felt
both his strength and spirits restored at the same time.  His features,
too, seemed to have suddenly changed their hue, and now appeared more
bright and smiling.

The presence of the hunter also added to the pleasure thus newly arisen
within his breast.  He remembered the solicitude which the Canadian had
exhibited in dressing his wound--which he now extended even to giving
him nourishment--and the thought occurred to him that in this man he
might find a friend as redoubtable for his herculean strength as for his
dexterity and courage.  He no longer felt so lone in the world--so
abandoned.

On the other hand, Bois-Rose sat looking at his _protege_ and apparently
delighted to see him enjoy his repast.  The heart of the trapper was
fast warming into a strong friendship for this young man.

"Stranger!" said he, after a considerable interval of silence, "it is
the custom of the Indians never to inquire the name or quality of a
guest until after he has eaten of their bread.  I have followed their
example in regard to you; and now may I ask you who you are, and what
happened at the hacienda to drive you forth from it?"

"I shall willingly tell you," answered Tiburcio.  "For reasons that
would have no interest for you, I left my hut and started on a journey
to the Hacienda del Venado.  My horse, overcome by thirst and fatigue,
broke down on the way.  It was his dead body, as you already know, that
attracted the jaguars, so adroitly destroyed by you and your brave
comrade."

"Hum!" interrupted the Canadian, with a smile; "a poor feat that--but go
on.  I long to hear what motive any one could have for hostility to a
mere youth scarce twenty years old, I should fancy."

"Twenty-four," answered Tiburcio, and then proceeded with his narrative.
"I came very near sharing the fate of my poor horse; and when, about
two hours after, you saw me at La Poza, I had just arrived there--having
been saved by the party in whose company you found me.  But what motive
those gentlemen could have, first to rescue me from death, and then
afterwards attempt to take my life, is what I am unable to comprehend."

"Perhaps some rivalry in love?" suggested the Canadian, with a smile;
"it is usually the history of young men."

"I acknowledge," rejoined Tiburcio, with an air of embarrassment, "there
is something of that; but there is also another motive, I believe.
Possibly it is to secure to themselves the sole possession of an
important secret which I share with them.  Certain it is, that there are
three men whom my life appears to discommode; there is one of them
against whom I have myself sworn vengeance, and although I am but one
against three I must accomplish the vow which I made at the death-bed of
a person who was very dear to me."

The three men whom Tiburcio meant--and whose names he repeated to
Bois-Rose--were Cuchillo, who had attempted to assassinate him; the
Senator, his rival: and Don Estevan, whom Tiburcio now believed to be
the murderer of Marcos Arellanos.

Bois-Rose tacitly applauded this exhibition of youthful ardour and
reckless courage.

"But you have not yet told me your name?" said he, interrogatively,
after a moment's hesitation.

"Tiburcio Arellanos," was the reply.

At the mention of the name the Canadian could not restrain a gesture
that expressed disappointment.  There was nothing in the name to recall
the slightest souvenir.  He had never heard it before.

The young man, however, observed the gesture.

"You have heard the name before?" he asked abruptly.  "Perhaps you knew
my father, Marcos Arellanos?  He has often been through the wildest
parts of the country where you may have met him.  He was the most
celebrated gambusino in the province."

Instead of calling Marcos Arellanos his father, had Tiburcio said his
_adopted father_, his explanation might have elicited a different
response from the Canadian.  As it was, he only said in reply:

"It is the first time I have heard the name.  It was your face that
recalled to me some memories of events that happened--long, long ago--"

Without finishing what he meant to have said, the Canadian relapsed into
silence.

Tiburcio, too, ceased speaking for a while; he was reflecting on some
hopes that had suddenly sprung up within him.  His meeting with the two
trappers appeared to him not so much a mere chance as a providential
circumstance.  The secret which he possessed, almost useless to him
alone, might be rendered available with the assistance of two
auxiliaries such as they--it might become the key to the favour of Don
Augustin.  It was not without repugnance that he reflected on this means
of winning the heart of Rosarita--or rather of purchasing it at the
price of gold--for Tiburcio believed that it was closed against any more
tender appeal.  He had mentally resolved never to return to the
hacienda; but notwithstanding this vow he still indulged in a slight
remnant of hope--perhaps the echo of his own profound passion.  This
hope overcame his repugnance; and he resolved to make known his design
to the trappers, and endeavour to obtain assistance in carrying it out.

With this view he again opened the conversation.

"You are a hunter by profession--I think I have heard you say?"

"Yes; that is the vocation both of my comrade and myself."

"It is not a very profitable one, and yet attended with many dangers."

"Ah! it is a noble calling, my boy!  My fathers followed it before my
time, and I, after a few years of interruption, have resumed the
profession of my fathers.  Unfortunately I have no son to succeed me;
and I can say, without boasting, that when I am gone a brave and strong
race perishes with me."

"I, too," said Tiburcio, "follow the profession of my father--who, as I
have told you, was a gambusino."

"Ah! you are one of a race whom God has also created--in order that the
gold which He has given to the world should not be lost to the use of
man."

"My father," continued Tiburcio, "has left me a grand legacy--the
knowledge of a deposit of gold, not far from the frontier; and if two
men, such as you and your comrade, would join me in obtaining it, I
could promise to make you richer than ever you dreamt of becoming."

Tiburcio awaited the reply of the trapper, feeling almost certain of his
adhesion, notwithstanding the refusal the latter had made in his
presence to the proposal of Don Estevan.  His astonishment, therefore,
was great when the Canadian, with a negative shake of the head, replied
as follows:

"Your proposal, young man, might be seductive to many--there was a time
when it would have been so to myself--but now it is no longer so.  What
would gold be to me?  I have no one to whom either to give it or leave
it.  I have no longer a country.  The woods and prairies are my home,
and gold would be of no service to me there.  I thank you, young friend,
for your offer, but I must decline to accept it."

And as he said this, the Canadian covered his face with his huge hand,
as if to shut out from his eyes the seductive prospect which had been
offered to his view.

"Surely this is not your final answer?" said Tiburcio, as soon as he had
recovered from his surprise.  "A man does not so readily refuse a
treasure that he has only to pick up from the ground?"

"Nevertheless," responded the trapper, "it is my resolution, fixed and
firm.  I have other objects to follow.  I have given myself, body and
soul, to aid my comrade there in an enterprise--my comrade of ten years'
standing."

During this conversation the words _gold_ and _treasure_, frequently
pronounced, appeared to produce their magic influence on Pepe.  Every
now and then he turned himself, as if about to protest against the
refusal of Bois-Rose, so definitively given.  It was evident he was not
sleeping very soundly while the talk was going on.

"This Don Estevan de Arechiza, of whom you speak," resumed the Canadian;
"he is the same we saw at La Poza is he not--the chief of the
expedition?"

"The same."

"Ha! is that the name he goes by here?" cried Pepe, suddenly rousing
himself from his apparent sleep.

"You know him, then?" said Tiburcio, interrogatively.

"Yes--yes," replied Pepe; "he is an old acquaintance, with whom I have
some back debts to settle--and that is why you see me in this part of
the country.  But if you desire to have the whole story--and from what
has happened I fancy you will--I promise to tell it to you by-and-bye.
I begin to fancy that our cause is a common one; and if so, I shall be
able to lend you a hand.  But there's a time for everything; and now,
the most important thing for me is to get some sleep, so as to be ready
for whatever turns up."

As Pepe said this, he made a movement to return to the horizontal
position from which he had temporarily raised himself.

"Stay!  Pepe!" interrupted the Canadian, with an air of good-humour;
"one instant before you fall asleep, or I shall say that you deserved
the name of Pepe the Sleeper.  Hear me!  This young man has made us an
offer.  He wishes us to accompany him to a _placer_ he knows of, where
you have only to stoop down and gather the gold in handfuls."

"Carramba!" exclaimed Pepe; "you have accepted the offer, of course?"

"On the contrary, I have refused it."

"Then you've done wrong, Bois-Rose!  That's a thing that deserves
consideration; but we can talk it over by-and-bye--I must have some
sleep first."  And as he uttered the last words he lay down again; and
the instant after a loud snore announced that he was soundly asleep!



CHAPTER THIRTY ONE.

THE RECOGNITION.

The conversation, for a moment interrupted, was resumed by Bois-Rose.

"So you shall find," said he, "in my comrade Pepe, a man ready to join
you against this Don Estevan; and, as Pepe's enemies are mine, I shall
be equally your partisan.  We shall be able to offer you a brace of good
rifles that never miss their aim.  There is one, at all events, I think
I can answer for."

As the trapper said this, he pointed to the long piece that rested by
his side.

Tiburcio cast his eyes upon the gun, and for a moment regarded it with
some surprise.  He appeared to look more particularly at the wood-work
of the stock, which was notched and carved in a somewhat fantastic
manner.  Here there was a row of simple notches, and there another row
of marks resembling crosses.  Then there were rows of double crosses;
and also one of triple crosses; and finally a series of stars.  All
these hieroglyphics appeared to have been cut with the blade of a knife;
but their purpose was a puzzle to Tiburcio.

Bois-Rose, noticing an interrogative expression upon the face of the
young man, at once entered upon an explanation.

"These marks," said he, "are the scores I keep of the savages that have
fallen by my rifle.  They themselves keep count by the number of scalps;
but this, you see, is more Christian and decent.  That row of crosses
stands for Apache--there is a dozen in all.  The double crosses are for
Sioux--seven of them.  Those with the triple branch are Pawnees--eight
of them I have sent to the land of spirits.  The stars are Crows--and
number only four, that my rifle has caused to utter their death-yell.
You see nine parallel notches?--well, these are nine Flatheads that,
thanks to me, will rob no longer in this world; and finally, those marks
of a roundish shape, which I needn't count, are so many Blackfeet, who
have gone to their happy hunting-grounds.  Now," added the trapper, "I
think I can promise you a rifle that is not likely to miss fire, and the
hand of a friend that will not fail you."

And as he said this, he stretched forth his huge hand, and grasping that
of Tiburcio, pressed it frankly and firmly.

The young man accepted the offer with a profusion of thanks.

"I had a presentiment," said he, "when I saw the light of your fire,
that I should find friends around it."

"You are not deceived," warmly responded Bois-Rose; "you have found
friends;--but, pardon me when I ask you, have you no relatives or
connections with whom you could find a home?"

For a moment the colour mounted to the cheeks of Tiburcio; but after a
slight hesitation, he replied:

"Why should I not be frank with you?--I shall!  Know then, brave
trappers, that surrounded as I am by enemies who seek my life; disdained
by the woman I have loved, and still love--I am alone in the world: I
have neither father, nor mother, nor any relative that I know of?"

"Your father and mother--are they dead?" inquired Bois-Rose, with an air
of interest.

"I never knew either of them," answered the young man in a sad voice.

"You have never known them!" cried the Canadian, rising suddenly, and
laying hold of a blazing fagot, which he held up to the face of
Tiburcio.

This fagot, light as it was, appeared as if a hundredweight in the hand
of the giant, that trembled like an aspen, under the convulsive emotions
that were agitating his bosom.  He held the flame closed to the
countenance of the young man, and scanned his features with eager
anxiety.

"But surely," said he, "you at least know in what country you were
born?"

"I do not," answered Tiburcio.  "But why do you ask me?  What
interest--"

"Fabian!  Fabian!" interrupted Bois-Rose, in a soft, appealing tone, as
if he was speaking to an infant--"what has become of you?"

"Fabian!" repeated the young man; "I do not know the name."

"Oh, my God!" exclaimed the Canadian, as if speaking to himself, "since
this name recalls nothing to him, it is not he!  Why did I indulge in
such a foolish hope?  And yet his features are just as Fabian's should
be at his age.  Pardon me," he continued, addressing himself to
Tiburcio--"pardon me, young friend.  I am a fool!  I have lost my
senses!"

And throwing the fagot back upon the fire, he returned to his seat,
placing himself with his back to the light, so that his countenance was
concealed from the eyes of his companion.

Both were for some minutes silent.  Tiburcio was endeavouring to
penetrate the past, and recall some vague reminiscences of infancy, that
still lingered in his memory.  The widow of Arellanos had told him all
she knew of his early history--of the gigantic sailor who had nursed
him; but it never occurred to Tiburcio that the great trapper by his
side, a _coureur de bois_ of the American wilderness--could ever have
been a seaman--much less that one of whom he had heard and read, and who
was believed to have been his father.  The strange interest which the
trapper had exhibited and the questions he had asked were attributed by
him to mere benevolence.  He had no idea that the latter referred to any
one whom he had formerly known, and who was now lost to him; for
Bois-Rose had as yet told him nothing of his own history.

As Tiburcio continued to direct his thoughts upon the past, certain
vague souvenirs began to shape themselves in his memory.  They were only
dim shadows, resembling the retrospect of a dream, and yet he was
impressed with the belief that they had once been realities.  He was the
more confirmed in this idea, because such visions had occurred to him
before--especially upon the night when he sat by the death-bed of his
adopted mother--the widow of Arellanos.  The revelations which she made
to him before dying had revived in some mysterious way these shadowy
souvenirs.

After a while the young man made known his thoughts to his companion by
the camp-fire, whose interest appeared to be forcibly re-awakened, and
who listened with eager attention to every word.

"I fancy I can remember," said Tiburcio--"that is, if it be not a dream
I have sometimes dreamt--a terrible scene.  I was in the arms of a woman
who held me closely to her breast--that I was rudely snatched from her
embrace by a wicked man--that she screamed and cried, but then all at
once became silent; but after that I remember no more."

These words appeared to produce an effect upon the Canadian; and his
interest visibly increased as he listened.

"You can remember no more?" he inquired, in an eager tone.  "Can you not
remember what sort of place it was in?  Was it in a house? or do you not
remember whether the sea was around you?  That is a thing one is not
likely to forget."

"No," answered Tiburcio, "I saw the great ocean for the first time at
Guaymas--that was four years ago--and yet from what has been told me I
should have also seen it when I was a child."

"But, when you saw it four years ago, did it not recall anything to your
memory?"

"No, nothing."

"Nothing?" repeated the Canadian, interrogatively, and in a despairing
tone.

"Nothing more than this same dream, which I have mistaken no doubt for
reality."

Bois-Rose again resumed his attitude of melancholy, and remained silent.

After a pause Tiburcio continued:

"One figure appears to me in these visions that is different from the
rest."

"What sort of figure?" inquired the Canadian, with renewed interest.

"That of a man of a hale rude countenance, but notwithstanding one of
kindly expression.  This man loved me, for I now have his face before me
more clearly than I ever had; and I can trace that expression upon it."

"And did you love him? can you remember that?" inquired the Canadian,
while his heart beat with anxiety, as he awaited the answer.

"I am sure I did, he was so kind to me.  I can remember he was kind to
me."

A tear stole over the bronzed cheek of the trapper as he listened to
these words; and then turning his face once more so that it was hidden
from the view of Tiburcio, he murmured to himself--

"Alas, poor Fabian! he too loved me--I know he did."

Then once more facing round to the fire, he hazarded a last question:

"Do you not remember one circumstance above all?  Do you not remember
that this man was suddenly separated from you in the midst of a terrible
affray--?"

The emotion under which Bois-Rose was suffering hindered him from
finishing his interrogatory.  His head fell between his knees, and he
awaited in trembling the response which Tiburcio might make.

The latter was silent for some seconds, as if endeavouring to arrange
the confused thoughts that had suddenly sprung up in his mind.

"Hear me!" said he at length, "you who appear to be a beacon guiding my
memories of the past--hear what I can remember at this moment.  There
was one day of terror and confusion; I saw much blood around me.  The
ground appeared to tremble--there was thunder or the noise of cannon.  I
was in great fear within a dark chamber where I had been shut up--a man
came to me; it was the big man who loved me--"

Tiburcio paused for an instant, as if to grapple freshly with the vague
reminiscences that were endeavouring to escape from him, while the
Canadian appeared like one suffering the agony of suspense.

"Yes," resumed Tiburcio, "this man came to me--he lifted me up in his
arms and carried me into the light--there he caused me to kneel down--
oh!  I now remember what he said--`_kneel_!' said he, `_kneel, my child!
and pray for your mother_!'  That is all I can remember."

The Canadian, who was still seated, appeared to tremble convulsively, as
he listened to these last words; but when Tiburcio had finished
speaking, he rose suddenly to his feet; and rushing forward threw his
arms wildly around the young man, while at the same time he cried out in
a broken voice:

"_Your mother whom I found dead beside you_.  Oh! my God!  Once more in
need of a father, hast thou sent him to me.  Oh!  Fabian!  Fabian!  Come
to my heart!  It was I who caused you to kneel--I am that man! who in
the bay of Elanchovi--"

At this moment the report of a carbine echoed in the woods; and a bullet
whistling through the air, passed close to the head of Tiburcio,
striking a tree that stood behind him.

This unexpected intruder at once put an end to the dialogue; suddenly
changing the tableaux of figures around the fire.  Pepe, who had heard
the shot, sprang instantaneously to his feet, and all three stood
grasping their weapons, ready to receive the enemy who had committed the
dastardly attempt.



CHAPTER THIRTY TWO.

SOUVENIRS OF ELANCHOVI.

While these incidents were passing by the trappers camp-fire, Don
Estevan was actively pursuing the execution of his plans.

From what little he had heard and seen of Diaz he had conceived a high
opinion of this person.  He had observed in him a man of very different
character from the crowd of adventurers who usually make up expeditions
of the kind he was about to lead.  Don Augustin had pronounced upon his
courage; and the chief himself had noticed the reserve with which Diaz
treated his new associates Cuchillo and Baraja.  Moreover, some words
with Diaz himself had confirmed Don Estevan's favourable impression, and
convinced him that the Indian fighter was a man of brave and loyal
heart.  He regarded Diaz, therefore, as a valuable member of the
expedition, and resolved to attach him as much as possible to his
service--not merely with a view to his assistance in the search and
conquest of the Valley of Gold, but for that higher aim which he had
proposed to himself--the establishment of a kingdom.

While proceeding to the rendezvous designated by Cuchillo, Don Estevan
took the opportunity of sounding Diaz on this important question.  His
bravery and address as a soldier were already known; but these two
qualities were not sufficient for the purposes of the Spaniard.
Something more would be required of the man of whom it was his design to
make both his lieutenant and confidant.

The reply of Diaz to his very first question, convinced Don Estevan that
Diaz was the very man he stood in need of; but the time had not yet
arrived for the leader to open himself fully.  He contented himself by
simply observing, that in the event of the expedition being crowned with
success, it might lead to an important affair--the separation of Sonora
from the Federal Republic.

At this moment the conversation between the chief and Pedro Diaz was
interrupted by the report of a carbine.  It was the shot fired by
Cuchillo, which had caused the sudden alarm at the camp-fire of the
trappers, but which as already known had failed in its aim.

If the outlaw had not yielded to his own cupidity, it is possible that
Tiburcio would have fallen at that moment.  The assassin would have
taken with him his two associates Baraja and Oroche; and as three
bullets instead of one would thus have been aimed at the intended
victim, the chances are that some of them would have reached his life.
But Cuchillo did not desire to have a partner in the deed who could
claim a share in the promised reward, he was determined to have the
twenty onzas to himself; and this it was that induced him to leave
Baraja and Oroche behind him.  His design was well conceived, and might
have been executed to his satisfaction.  No doubt his aim had been true
enough; but it chanced to be taken at an inopportune moment--just as
Tiburcio sprang forward under the impulse of the revelation which
Bois-Rose had made to him.

Having delivered his fire the outlaw did not even stop to ascertain its
effect; but turning suddenly away, he ran to recover his horse.  The
dread of being pursued and overtaken by the two trappers caused him to
fly at full speed.  He dreaded the vengeance of two men of whose
singular courage and dexterity he had already been a witness.  Fear,
however, so confused his senses, that on facing round, he was unable to
remember in what direction he had come, or where the horse had been
left; and for some seconds he stood hesitating and doubtful.

Short as was the time, it might have proved fatal to him, but that his
unexpected attack had somewhat disconcerted the camp.  Both Bois-Rose
and Tiburcio, interrupted while suffering the most vivid emotions, stood
for some moments in a state of stupor, while Pepe was stretched out at
full length, and supposed to be asleep.

This was only apparent, however, for at the report he sprang to his feet
as if he had heard the "hish" of the bullet as it passed close to his
ears.

"_Carramba_!" cried he, "I am curious to know which of us that bit of
lead was intended for, you or myself, young man; for I have heard your
conversation, and I am no stranger to this affair of Elanchovi."

"Elanchovi!" exclaimed the Canadian.  "What! do you know anything of
Elanchovi?"

"Ah, well do I," answered Pepe.  "I have good reasons to know
Elanchovi--but there's no time to talk of it now; I will settle that
business by-and-by, for it's a secret you can't comprehend without my
help.  So indeed it is the young count, and you have found him again!
Well that's enough at present.  Now, Bois-Rose, forward!  You take to
the right of where the shot came from, while this young man and I go to
the left.  The cowardly rascal who fired will no doubt be trying to turn
our camp, and by going both ways, one or other of us will be likely to
chance upon him.  Away, Bois-Rose, away!"

Hurriedly pronouncing these words, Pepe grasped his rifle and struck off
to the left, followed by Tiburcio, who had no other weapon than his
knife.  The Canadian, suddenly stooping, till his huge body was almost
horizontal, glided off to the right under the branches of the trees, and
then moved on with a silence and rapidity that showed how accustomed he
was to this mode of progression.

The camp-fire was abandoned to the guard of the half-wild horse, that,
freshly affrighted by the report of the carbine, once more plunged and
reared, until he had almost strangled himself in the noose of his lazo.

Meanwhile the day was beginning to break, and the red light of the fire
was every moment growing paler under the first rays of the morning.

"Let us stop here," said Pepe to Tiburcio, as soon as they had reached a
thicket where they could have the advantage of seeing without being
seen, and from which they commanded a view of the road leading to the
Salto de Agua.  "Stand closely behind this sumac bush," continued he; "I
have an idea that this _picaron_, who has such a crooked sight, will
pass this way.  If he do, I shall prove to him that the lessons
Bois-Rose has given me have not been altogether lost upon me.  I manage
my piece somewhat better now than when I was in the service of her
Catholic majesty.  There now, stand close, and not a word above a
whisper."

Tiburcio--or, as we may now call him, Fabian de Mediana--obeyed with
pleasure the injunctions of his companion.  His spirit, troubled with a
few strange words he had heard from Bois-Rose and Pepe, was full of hope
that the latter would be able to complete the revelation just begun; and
he waited with anxious silence to hear what the ex-carabinier might say.

But the latter was silent.  The sight of the young man--whom he had
himself assisted in making an orphan, and despoiling not only of his
title and wealth, but even of his name--renewed within him the remorse
which twenty years had not sufficed to blot out from his memory.  Under
the dawning light he looked sadly but silently on the face of that child
whom he had often seen playing upon the beach of Elanchovi.  In the
proud glance of the youth, Pepe saw once more the eyes of his high-born
mother; and in the elegant and manly form he recognised that of Don Juan
de Mediana, his father; but twenty years of a rude and laborious life--
twenty years of a struggle with the toils and dangers of the desert--had
imparted to Fabian a physical strength far superior to that of him who
had given him being.

Pepe at length resolved to break the silence.  He could no longer
restrain himself, suffering as he was from such bitter memories.

"Keep your eye fixed upon the road," said he, "at yonder point, where it
is lost among the trees.  Watch that point whilst I talk to you.  It is
the way in which Bois-Rose and I do when there is any danger threatening
us.  At the same time listen attentively to what I say."

"I listen," answered Fabian, directing his glance as his companion, had
instructed him.

"Do you remember nothing of your young days, more than you have just
related to the Canadian?"

"Nothing--ever since I learnt that Arellanos was not my father, I have
tried to remember something, but to no purpose.  I do not even know who
took care of me in my infancy."

"No more know they of you, my poor young man.  I am the only one who can
tell you these things of which you are ignorant."

"For heaven's sake speak!" impatiently cried Fabian.

"Hush! not so loud!" cautioned the trapper.  "These woods, remote and
solitary as they seem, nevertheless contain your deadliest enemy--
unless, indeed, it was at me that the bullet was aimed.  That may make a
difference in your favour.  In fact, since I have not been able to
recognise you, I do not see how _he_ can?"

"Who--of whom do you speak?" brusquely demanded Fabian.

"Of your mother's murderer--of the man who has robbed you of your
titles, your honours, your wealth, and your name."

"I should be noble and rich then?" cried Fabian, interrogatively.  "Oh
that I had but known it sooner--only yesterday!"

Fabian's thoughts were upon Rosarita.  If he could have told this to
her, in that sad parting interview, perhaps the result might have been
different!

"Noble! yes!" replied Pepe, "you should be and shall yet, if I mistake
not--but rich--alas! you are no more rich."

"What matters it?" responded Fabian, "to-day it would be too late."

"Yes, but it does matter--ah!  I knew two men--one at least--who shall
restore to you what you have lost, or die in the attempt."

"Of whom do you speak?"

"Of one who, without knowing it, aided to some extent in the
assassination of your mother--of one whom that sad souvenir has a
thousand times troubled the conscience--who, in the silence of the night
in the midst of the woods, has often fancied he could hear that cry of
anguish, which at the time he mistook for the wailing of the breeze
against the cliffs of Elanchovi.  It was the death scream of your poor
mother.  Ah!  Don Fabian de Mediana," continued the speaker, in reply to
the gesture of horror made by the young man, "Ah! that man's conscience
has reproached him in stronger terms than you could use; and at this
hour he is ready to spill the last drop of his blood for you."

The impetuous passions of Fabian, for a moment softened by thoughts of
Rosarita, were again inflamed to their utmost.  He had already sworn to
avenge the death of Arellanos, and here was anew object of vengeance,
the murderer of his own mother!  The bland image of Rosarita at once
disappeared, paling away as the firelight eclipsed by the brighter
gleams of the rising sun.

"My mother's assassin!" cried he, his eyes flashing with furious
indignation.  "And you know him?"

"You also--you have eaten with him at the same table--under the same
roof--that which you have just now quitted!"

Pepe without further interrogation went on to recount what he knew of
the events of Elanchovi.  He told Fabian who he was--that Don Estevan
was no other than his uncle, Antonio de Mediana--of the marriage of his
mother with Don Juan his father--of the consequent chagrin of the
younger brother--of his infamous design, and the manner it had been
carried into execution.  How Don Antonio, returning from the wars in
Mexico, with his band of piratical adventurers, had landed in a boat
upon the beach at Ensenada--how he had entered the chateau, and with the
help of his two subordinate villains had abstracted the Countess and her
infant--himself Fabian--how the assassination of the mother had been
committed in the boat, and the child only spared in the belief that the
murderer's steel was not necessary--in the belief that the waves and the
cold atmosphere of a November night would complete the deed of death.

Nor did Pepe conceal his own conduct connected with this affair.  He
disclosed all to his half-frantic listener--the after actions of Don
Antonio with regard to himself--his imprisonment and subsequent
banishment to the fisheries of Ceuta--his escape at a later period to
the prairies of America, and his meeting with Bois-Rose--with whom,
however, no recognition had ever been established about the events of
Elanchovi--since neither had ever mentioned that name in hearing of the
other.

All these things Pepe narrated in turn, but briefly as the circumstances
required.  The rest of his history Fabian already knew--at least, the
greater part of it; Bois-Rose had partially made the revelation.



CHAPTER THIRTY THREE.

THE MAN IN THE YELLOW JACKET.

Bois-Rose, as already stated, had gone alone in a direction opposite to
that taken by his comrades.  His mind full of the danger with which
Fabian was surrounded--Fabian restored to him as if by a miracle--the
Canadian continued to advance with rapid strides.  He examined every
opening and aisle of the forest with an eye keenly bent, and an ear
straining to catch the slightest sound.

After making a distance of a hundred yards or so, he stopped in his
tracks, and laying himself flat along the grass, placed his ear to the
ground and listened attentively.  In a few seconds' time a dull sound
reached him--the hoof-strokes of a horse that seemed to approach the
spot where he lay.

"Pepe is right," muttered he to himself, as he started to his feet; "the
skunk is coming this way.  Good! he has the advantage of me in being
mounted; but I have a rifle that I dare say will make up for the
difference--_enfant de grace_! he is here!"

As this exclamation escaped him, the trapper was seen suddenly to raise
his long rifle to his shoulder.  At the same instant a leathern jacket
of yellowish colour appeared at some distance off among the leaves, and
at about the height of a man on horseback.

The sharp crack of a rifle was instantly followed by the disappearance
of the leathern jacket: and, since for marksmen like Bois-Rose to take
aim is to hit, the latter had no doubt that his enemy had fallen to the
ground either dead or wounded.  For a moment he thought of reloading;
but the ardour of his vengeance urged him to rush forward and make sure
of his victim.  In the event that the assassin should have companions,
the trapper trusted to his great strength to equalise the chances of a
hand-to-hand conflict.  Neglecting all further precautions, therefore,
like the hunter rushing upon the wounded stag, he dashed forward through
the trees toward the spot where his enemy had fallen.

As he drew near, he could perceive a horse rearing furiously in front of
him, crushing the underwood as he plunged violently from side to side.
The horse was saddled and bridled, but there was no one in the saddle.
This led Bois-Rose to the belief that his bullet had dismounted the
rider.

All at once a shrill whistle rang through the trees; and the horse
uttered a loud neigh--as if in reply--galloping off in the direction
from which the signal had come.  After making several lengths through
the bushes, the horse came to a stop.  Bois-Rose ran after, and in a few
bounds was beside the animal.  It was still dark under the shadow of the
trees, but the Canadian could make out the form of a man upon the
ground, at that moment struggling in the act of raising himself.  Just
then the horse dropped upon his knees, the man grasping the pommel of
the saddle succeeded in crawling into it; a signal started the animal to
his feet again; and before the trapper could come up to the spot, both
horse and man were fast disappearing behind the foliage of the trees.

Bois-Rose launched after them a furious malediction; and reloading his
rifle as rapidly as he could, sent a bullet in the same direction; but
the continued strokes of the horse's feet falling upon his ear told him
that his random shot had been delivered to no purpose.

Without following further, he turned in the opposite direction, and
after imitating three times in succession, the howling of the prairie
wolf--a signal for Pepe--he strode off to the spot where the yellow
jacket had fallen from the saddle.

There he perceived the grass pressed down as if where a man's body had
fallen upon it; and at about the height of a man on horseback, the
branches of the sumac tree were broken, as though the horseman had
caught at them in falling.  There were no traces of blood, however--not
a drop could be seen; but a carbine lying upon the ground showed that
the horseman, in his hurry to escape, had left his weapon behind him.

"My poor Fabian!" muttered he, "this will serve for him.  In these woods
a knife is not much worth; this will be a better weapon for him."

Somewhat consoled by this reflection, the trapper now turned to go back
in the direction of the camp-fire.  He had not made a dozen steps, when
the sharp report of a rifle fell upon his ear.

"It is Pepe's!" he cried.  "I know it.  God grant he may have made a
better shot than I have done!"

Just then a second report echoed through the woods.  It sounded sadly on
the ear of the Canadian--who did not recognise it--and being now the
victim of a terrible uncertainty, he ran with all speed in the direction
whence the sound had come.

Another report that now reached him added to the anguish of his
suspense; for this time, like the last, it was not the well-known crack
of his comrade's rifle.

Almost at the same instant, however, he heard Pepe's voice calling out:

"Come back, Fabian! come back!  What is the use of--"

A third detonation seemed to cut short the speech of the
ex-coast-guard--as if he had fallen by the bullet--while no voice of
Fabian was heard to make reply.  A profound and frightful silence
followed the last shot, which was broken only by the voice of the
mock-bird, who appeared imperfectly to imitate the words that had been
spoken, and then commenced chanting a plaintive song--as if mourning the
death of those who had fallen by the shots.

The Canadian ran on for some moments, until--unable longer to restrain
himself--he paused, and cried out, at the risk of exposing himself to
some ambushed enemy:

"Hola!  Pepe!--where are you?"

"Here!" answered the voice of the ex-carabinier.  "We are here, straight
before you--Don Fabian and myself.  Come on!"

A cry of joy was all the response the Canadian could give; and the next
moment another joyous shout, as he came upon the ground and perceived
that both his companions were still in safety.

"The skunk ought to be wounded," said he; "my shot caused him to tumble
out of his saddle.  You were perhaps more fortunate than I?  I heard
your piece speak--have you throwed him, Pepe?"

Pepe shook his head in the negative.

"If you mean the fellow in the yellow jacket," said he, "I fancy the
devil has _him_ under his protection; for I had a fair sight on him--and
yet he's off!  He's not alone, however; there are four other horsemen
along with him; and in one of these gentleman I have recognised him whom
they here call Don Estevan de Arechiza, but who is no other than--"

"I have seen only the fellow in the leather jacket," interrupted the
Canadian; "and here is his gun, Fabian, for you.  But are you quite
safe?" continued he, in an anxious tone.  "You are sure you are not
wounded?"

"No, no--my friend--my father!" cried Fabian, flinging himself into the
trapper's arms, as if they had just met after a long separation.

"Oh, Pepe!" cried the Canadian, his eyes filling with tears, as he
pressed Fabian convulsively against his great bosom, and then held him
at a distance as if to get a better view of him.  "Is he not grand?  Is
he not beautiful?  He--once my little Fabian--oh!"

"Pepe has told me all," said Fabian.  "Among these men is the murderer
of my mother."

"Yes," exclaimed Pepe; "and by the Virgin of Atocha let us not delay
here.  There is no time for sentiment--the villain must not escape us.
Justice, so long evaded, must now have its due."

"As God wills!" rejoined Fabian.

The three friends now held a rapid council as to what course was best to
be taken.  It was concluded by their resolving to follow the horsemen as
rapidly as possible along the road which these had taken--the road to
Tubac.



CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR.

THE BLOOD OF THE MEDIANAS.

After having uselessly discharged their carbines several times, from too
great a distance for the balls to be dangerous, Oroche and Baraja had
rejoined Cuchillo.

The outlaw was as pale as death; the ball fired at him by the Canadian
had creased his head, and it was this had caused him to fall from his
horse.  Doubtless Bois-Rose would then have crushed him, like a venomous
reptile, but for the horse.  The noble animal, seeing that his master
could not raise himself unaided, bent down that he might seize his mane,
and so reach the saddle, and when he felt his master once more firmly
seated on his back, he had set off at full gallop, and carried him away
beyond the reach of Bois-Rose.

This was not the only danger run by the outlaw.  When his accomplices
had rejoined him and all three had come up with Don Estevan and Diaz,
another danger was in store for him.  The Spaniard had no need to
interrogate Cuchillo in order to learn that Fabian had once more
escaped.  From the disappointed air of the two followers, and the
paleness of the outlaw, who was still tottering in his saddle, Don
Estevan guessed all.

Deceived in his expectation, the rage of the Spaniard burst out.  He
rode up to Cuchillo, crying, in a voice of thunder, "Cowardly and clumsy
knave!" and in his blind fury, without reflecting that Cuchillo alone
knew the secret of the Golden Valley, he drew his pistol.  Luckily for
the outlaw, Pedro Diaz threw himself quickly between him and Don
Estevan, whose fury gradually subsided.

"And those men who are with him--who are they?" cried he.

"The two tiger-killers," replied Baraja.

A short deliberation took place in a low voice between Don Estevan and
Pedro Diaz, which ended by these words, pronounced aloud:

"We must destroy the bridge of the Salto de Agua, and the devil is in it
if they overtake us before we reach Tubac;" and at this they all set off
at full gallop.

Fabian had heard Don Estevan say to Cuchillo, the night before, that he
should only pass two hours at the hacienda before his departure; and as
the last events which had taken place at Don Augustin's must have tended
to shorten his stay, there was no time to hesitate.  The horse of Pepe
became a precious auxiliary in following the fugitives, and, if
necessary, for cutting off their retreat.  It remained to be decided who
should mount him, and undertake an enterprise so perilous as opposing
singly the flight of five armed horsemen.

"I shall follow them," said Fabian.

So saying, he rushed towards the animal, who recoiled in terror; but
seizing the cord by which he was tethered, the young man threw a
handkerchief over his eyes.  Trembling in every limb, the horse remained
quiet, while Fabian brought Pepe's saddle, which he placed on his back,
and then arranged the lazo so as to form at once a bridle and a snaffle.
He was about to mount without removing the handkerchief, when Pepe, at
a sign from Bois-Rose, interposed.

"Gently," said he, "if any one here has a right to mount this animal, it
is I--I who captured him, and to whom he belongs."

"Do you not see," cried Fabian, impatiently, "that he is not _branded_,
which shows that he has never yet been mounted? if you care for the
safety of your limbs, I advise you not to try him."

"That is my business," said Pepe, advancing; but scarcely had the animal
felt his hand on the pommel, and his foot on the stirrup, than with a
furious bound he threw him ten feet off.  Pepe uttered an angry oath,
but Fabian vaulted into the saddle without touching the stirrups.

"Stop!  Fabian, stop!" cried Bois-Rose, in a tone of anguish, "you must
not go alone and risk falling into their hands."

But already Fabian had removed the handkerchief; and the noble animal,
his eyes restored to the light, made furious efforts to free himself
from a weight which he felt for the first time, but at last stood
motionless and trembling.  Bois-Rose profited by this moment to seize
the bridle, but was shaken off by another furious bound, and the
terrified animal rushed away with such impetuosity that it was no longer
in human power to restrain him.  For a few moments the Canadian watched
the intrepid rider struggling with the fury of the horse, and then both
disappeared from his sight.

"They will kill him," cried he; "they are five to one.  Let us follow as
closely as we can, Pepe, to protect once more my lately recovered
child."

Bois-Rose threw his rifle over his shoulder, and was already taking
gigantic strides after Fabian.

"The horse is difficult to manage," cried he; "I am certain that he will
not go straight! we shall perhaps arrive as soon as he.  Ah!  Don
Estevan, your evil star has guided you to these outlaws."

Fabian, like those legendary cavaliers whom nothing appals, passed with
fearful rapidity over hillocks, ravines, and fallen trunks of trees.
Pepe was not wrong; in spite of the start that the pursued had of him,
Fabian would soon have overtaken them, could he have guided his horse;
but luckily, or unluckily for him, the intractable animal deviated
constantly from the track; and it was only after prodigious efforts that
he could bring him back to the road, which wound through the wood, and
on which the traces of the five fugitives were visible, and thus the
pursuer constantly lost ground.

However, after an hour of this struggle, the horse began to find that he
had met with his master, and that his strength was becoming exhausted;
the curb, held by a vigorous hand, compressed his jaws, his speed
gradually relaxed, his bounds became less violent, and he ended by
obeying the hand which guided him.  As if by common consent, man and
horse stopped to take breath.  Fabian profited by this rest to look
around him; his heart began to beat less rapidly and he could both hear
and see.  Trampled leaves, newly broken branches and the prints of
horses' feet, were clear indications of the passage of those who fled
before him.

Suddenly the sound of falling water struck upon his ear.  In another
moment the fugitives would have gained the rustic bridge which crossed
the wide and deep bed of the torrent; their united efforts might destroy
it, and then all pursuit would be useless.  While he was seeking for a
ford Don Estevan would escape through the vast plains which extended to
Tubac.  This thought aroused anew the young man's passion; and, pressing
his horse's side he galloped along the path, the windings of which still
hid his enemies from view.  This time his horse had grown docile and
flew along the road.

The noise of the torrent soon drowned that of the horse's feet, but
before long human voices mingled with it.  This sound produced upon
Fabian as powerful an effect as his repeated blows did upon his horse; a
few minutes more and he would confront the enemies whom he was burning
to reach.  The impetuous pace of a horse excites a man to the greatest
degree; horse and rider react upon each other, and Fabian in his
excitement forgot the inequality of numbers, therefore the spectacle
which met his eyes was one that caused him a bitter disappointment.

As already stated, a bridge composed of trunks of trees roughly cut,
joined the two steep banks, between which roared the Salto de Agua.
This bridge, broad enough for a horse to pass over, rested at each end
on the bare rock without anything to secure it, and the strength of a
few men might overturn the trees and render the crossing impossible.

Just as Fabian reached the bridge, four horses, urged on by their
riders, were pulling vigorously, with ropes attached to the trees, which
at that moment yielding, fell with a crash into the torrent.

Fabian uttered a cry of rage.  A man turned round--it was Don Estevan,
but Don Estevan separated from him by an impassable barrier, and looking
triumphantly at him.

Fabian, his clothes torn to pieces by the brambles, and his face so
transformed by fury as to be scarcely recognisable, rushed forward in
his blind rage to cross the river.  But his horse reared violently and
refused to proceed.

"Fire on him!" cried Don Estevan, "or the madman will derange all our
plans.  Fire, I tell you!"

Three carbines were already pointed at Fabian, when at some distance
behind him loud voices were heard, and Pepe and the Canadian appeared.
At the sight of these formidable rifles, the outlaws hesitated; Fabian
made a new effort, but the frightened horse plunged and reared as
before.

"Fire!" again cried Don Estevan.

"Woe to him who does!" shouted the Canadian, "and you, Fabian, in
heaven's name, retire!"

"Yes, it is I, Fabian!" cried the Count, in a voice which drowned the
thunder of the torrent and the cries of the hunters, "Fabian, who comes
to avenge his mother's blood upon the infamous Don Antonio de Mediana!"

Then, while his voice still sounded in the ears of Don Estevan, who for
the first time in his life stood motionless with terror, the impetuous
young man drew his knife and pricked his horse with it.

This time the animal gave a furious leap across the gulf and reached the
opposite bank; but one of his feet slipped, and after a short struggle
he fell backwards, both horse and rider disappearing in the flood.  A
cry of anguish burst from the Canadian and one of triumph from the
opposite bank; but both were quickly drowned by the roar of the torrent
as it closed over its double prey.



CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE.

A BIRD'S EYE VIEW OF THE DESERT.

About a fortnight after the events just related, other scenes were
taking place in a part of the desert which extends from Tubac to the
American frontier.  But before referring to the actors let us describe
the theatre on which they once more met.

The vast plains which separated Mexico from the United States are known
only by the vague reports of hunters or gold-seekers--at least that part
watered by the river Gila and its tributaries.  This river, which takes
its rise in the distant mountains of the Mimbres, passes under various
names through an immense extent of sandy barren country, the arid
monotony of which is interrupted only by the ravines hollowed by the
waters, which in their erratic course, ravage without fertilising.

The reader must imagine himself at a spot distant about sixty leagues
from Tubac.  The sun, inclining towards the west, was already darting
oblique rays; it was the hour when the wind, although still hot, no
longer seems to come out of the mouth of a furnace.  It was about four
o'clock in the afternoon, and light white clouds tinted with rose
colour, indicated that the sun had run two-thirds of his course; above,
in the deep blue sky, an eagle hung motionless over the desert, the only
visible inhabitant of the air.  From the height where the king of birds
balanced himself majestically, his eye could perceive on the immense
plain, many human beings, some of whom were in groups, and others at so
great a distance apart as to be visible to him alone, and not to each
other.

Just beneath the soaring bird was a kind of irregular natural circle
formed by a hedge of cacti, with their fleshy leaves and thorny points,
with which were mingled the pale foliage of the _bois de fer_.  At one
end of this hedge was an elevated piece of ground two or three feet
high, with a flat top, which overlooked it on all sides.  All around
this entrenchment, untouched by the hand of man, stretched arid plains
or a succession of little hillocks which appeared like motionless waves
in a sea of sand.

A troop of about sixty men on horseback had alighted in this place.  The
steaming horses showed that they had travelled fast.  There was a
confused noise of human voices, the neighing of horses, and the rattling
of every kind of weapon--for it did not appear to be a regular cavalry
corps.  Lances with red pennons, muskets, carbines and double-barrelled
guns were hanging from the saddle-bows.

Some of the men were cleaning their horses, while others were lying on
the sand under the shelter of the cacti; a little further back were a
number of mules advancing towards the halting-place, and behind them
again, some twenty carts, heavily laden.

Visible to the eyes of the eagle, in the road along which these
travellers must have passed, were corpses of men and animals strewn on
the arid plain, marking the bloody track of this band of adventurers.
Doubtless our readers have already recognised the Gold-seekers under the
command of Don Estevan de Arechiza.

When the mules and the carts joined the horsemen, the mules were
unharnessed and the horses unsaddled; the carts were unloaded and then
linked together with iron chains, while the saddles of the animals were
piled upon one another, and served with the cacti to fill up the spaces
between the wheels and form a formidable barricade.  The animals were
tied to the carts, and the cooking utensils placed by the side, of the
brushwood brought from a distance; a portable forge was established; and
this colony, which seemed as though it had risen from the ground as by a
miracle, was soon busily employed, while the anvil resounded with the
blows which were fashioning horses' shoes and repairing wheels.

A man richly dressed, but whose clothes were faded with sun and dust,
alone remained on horseback in the middle of the camp, looking earnestly
around him.  This man was the chief of the troop.  Three other men were
occupied meanwhile in fixing the poles of a tent, and then placing on
its summit a red banner on which was painted a scutcheon with six golden
stars on an azure ground, with the motto, "I will watch."  The chief
then alighted, and after having given an order to one of his men, who
mounted and left the camp he entered the tent.  All these preparations
had occupied barely half-an-hour, so much were they simplified by habit.

To the right of the camp, but far distant, arose from the sand a mass of
gum-trees and _ironwoods_, the only trees produced by these arid plains.
Here a second troop had halted.  They had neither carts nor baggage
mules, but were about double the number of the other party.  By the
bronzed complexions of the riders, some almost naked, others covered
with skins and with waving plumes of eagle's feathers, and by the
brilliant red and yellow with which they were painted, it was easy to
recognise a party of Indians.

Ten of them--doubtless the chiefs--gravely seated round a fire which
produced more smoke than flame, were passing from hand to hand the
calumet or pipe of council.  Their arms, consisting of leathern
bucklers--surrounded by a thick fringe of feathers--axes, and knives,
were laid by their side.  At some little distance and out of hearing,
five warriors held a number of horses, strangely accoutred with wooden
saddles covered with skins.  These horses belonged to the chiefs, and
seemed difficult to restrain.

As one of the chiefs passed the calumet to the others, he pointed to a
spot in the horizon.  The eyes of a European would only have seen a
slight grey cloud against the blue sky, but the Indian recognised a
column of smoke--that rising from the camp of the whites.

At that moment an Indian messenger arrived with some news, and all the
party crowded round him.

Now between the two camps the eye of the eagle could discover another
rider, but alone and out of sight of both parties.  It was doubtless he
who was being sought for by the messenger despatched from the camp of
the gold-seekers.  This man rode a grey horse, and seemed to be seeking
a track; he was dressed as a European; and his complexion, though much
bronzed, denoted that he belonged to that race.

It was Cuchillo, who, resuming his course, caused his horse to mount one
of the hillocks, where he could perceive the columns of smoke arising
from the two camps.  The Indians perceived him at the same time; for a
long howl, like that of a hundred panthers, arose, and the king of
birds, terrified by the tumult, soon became only a black speck in the
clouds.  The outlaw fled rapidly in the opposite direction and the
Indians rushed after him.

Still further in the horizon, placed so as to form a triangle with the
other camps, was a third group of men scarcely visible to the eagle
himself.  They were encamped upon a small islet in the midst of a river
fringed with trees, and over which rested a light fog.  The desert of
Tubac ended at this river, which, flowing from east to west, divided, a
league below the island, into two branches, and formed a vast delta--
bounded by a chain of hills which were now shrouded by the fog.

In this delta, more than a league square, lay the Golden Valley.

All these different groups of people will soon meet, like the waves
which, raised by opposing winds, break against each other in the
immensity of the ocean.

Thanks to a skillful manoeuvre of Pedro Diaz, the expedition, on
arriving near the Golden Valley, had concealed for two days from the
Indians the route they had taken.  But to associate himself with sixty
companions did not please Cuchillo, who, under the pretence of
reconnoitring the country, had separated himself from his companions.
It was to indicate the position of their bivouac that they had lighted a
fire in the camp, and to find him that Don Estevan had sent out a
messenger.  Cuchillo, indeed, was the only one who could guide them to
the Golden Valley.

A bold thought was in Cuchillo's mind, but the executions of this
project was yet to lead him to a fearful punishment, which he well
deserved.  We cannot, however, speak of this at present.

A man, as we have said, had arrived at the Indian camp with news.  This
man, in seeking the enemies whom they were pursuing, had reached the
bank of the river, and concealed by the willows, had perceived three
white men.  These three men could only be Bois-Rose, Pepe the Spaniard,
and Fabian de Mediana.  It was indeed this trio of friends.

We left Bois-Rose and Pepe on the banks of the torrent in which the
young Spaniard, excited by the tale he had heard of his mother's
assassination, and full of fury, had nearly found a tomb.  Fortunately
the fall had been fatal only to the horse, and the rider had escaped by
a miracle.  The three friends had resumed their pursuit; but, forced to
proceed on foot while their enemies were on horseback, they had only
arrived at Tubac on the day the expedition left it, after having
travelled sixty leagues in five days.

Then it became more easy to follow the adventurers--who were retarded by
their baggage--and ten days' march had brought the intrepid companions
to the same point as their enemies; for although forced for safety to
take a different route, they had rarely lost sight of the fires of their
bivouacs.  Surrounded as he was, however, Don Estevan could not be
easily captured.

When the Indian messenger had finished his report, the warriors
deliberated afresh.  The youngest of the ten called upon to speak first,
said:

"The whites have sometimes the legs of a deer, sometimes the courage of
the puma, and the cunning of the jackal.  They have concealed their
route for two days from eyes which can trace that of the eagle in the
air; it is another ruse on their part to scatter their warriors, and we
must seek them near the island in river Gila."

After a minute's silence, another spoke:

"The whites have doubtless a thousand stratagems at their service, but
can they increase their stature?  No; and if on the contrary they could
make themselves so small that the Indian eye could not perceive them,
they would do it.  Our enemies are from the south--these men just
discovered come from the north--it is not therefore towards the island
that we must go."

In the midst of these contradictory opinions, the shouts of the Indians,
at the sight of Cuchillo, burst forth, compelling the chiefs to suspend
their deliberations until the warriors who pursued him had returned.
When they reappeared, they reported that they had discovered the trail
of the whites.  Then the second chief who had spoken--a man of tall
stature and darker in colour than most of his tribe--whence his name of
the _Blackbird_--again spoke:

"I have said that the men who come from the north could not form part of
those who come from the south.  I have always seen that the south and
the north are enemies of one another like the winds which flow from
opposite quarters.  Let us send a message to the three warriors on the
island and ask them to join us against the other whites, and the Indian
will be gladdened at the death of his enemies by the hands of each
other."

But this advice, dictated by prudence and knowledge of mankind, found no
support in the council.  The Blackbird was forced to yield, and it was
agreed that the mass of the troop should march against the camp, while
only a small detachment should be sent to the island.

A quarter of an hour after, one hundred men set off for the camp; while
twenty others went towards the island, thirsting for the blood of the
three men who had taken shelter there.

It is towards the end of the month of March that we find the
gold-seekers and their chief in the camp described, after they had lost
by the Indians and by the numberless dangers of the desert, forty of
their men.  But although weakened by this loss, still the chances
between them and the Indians, ever ready to defend their territory, were
nearly equal.  On each side was cunning, and the habit of following an
almost invisible track, while the cupidity of the one was equalled by
the ferocity of the other.

Nevertheless the enthusiasm was no longer so great as on the day when,
after having celebrated a mass for the success of their expedition, the
adventurers had set off from Tubac, uttering cries of triumph, which
were accompanied by the sound of cannon and the acclamations of the
inhabitants.  No precaution had been omitted by Don Estevan, who seemed
to foresee everything.  Until then, in these kind of expeditions, each
man had acted for himself, and trusted to himself and his own horse for
his safety; but the Spaniard had disciplined this band, and forced them
to obey him, while the carts that he had brought served both for
transport and for defence.  Thus moved the ancient people of the north
in their invading journeys towards the south of Europe.  No former
expedition had penetrated so far into the desert as had this one, under
the guidance of its skillful chief.

The responsibility which weighed upon Don Estevan would of itself have
been enough to account for the clouds upon his brow; but perhaps he
thought more of the past than of the present or the future.  He had been
able to compare the energy of Fabian with the pusillanimity of the
Senator Tragaduros.  Carried away by the course of events, he had
thought only of removing his nephew from his path; but when the young
man disappeared in the gulf shouting a fierce menace to his father's
brother, he had suddenly felt an immense void, and a scarcely-closed
wound had re-opened in his heart.  He missed one thing amidst all his
prosperity, and in spite of himself, the pride of race revived in his
breast, and an ardent sympathy had seized upon him for the ardent young
man, loved by Dona Rosarita, who might perhaps have replaced the Senator
in the execution of his bold plan.

He regretted having allowed himself to be led away by circumstances, and
at the moment when the last of the Medianas--except himself--disappeared
from his eyes, he regretted an heir so worthy to bear the name.  Now,
when on the eve of mounting another step by the conquest of the Golden
Valley, this regret became more vivid.

This was not the only care, however, which then preoccupied Antonio de
Mediana; the absence of Cuchillo made him uneasy, and he began to have a
suspicion of this man's perfidy.

Cuchillo had gained considerably upon the Indians who pursued him; but
no sooner did he perceive through the hedge the entrenchment raised by
his companions than he slackened his pace.  The distance at which he
still was from the camp was too great to enable him to be perceived by
the sentinels; and when he saw the Indians who pursued him halt at sight
of the column of smoke, he stopped altogether.  His plan was to go into
the camp as late as possible, so as only to give the alarm at the last
moment.  He knew enough of the Indians to play this dangerous game with
the most perfect _sang froid_; he knew that they never attacked but with
superior numbers, also that some hours would elapse before they decided
on attacking the camp at all; that, satisfied with having recovered the
track of their enemies, his pursuers would return and carry the report
to their companions.

He was right; and enchanted at the effect of his ruse, the outlaw lay
down behind a mound of earth, ready to resume his course when his senses
should warn him of the approach of danger.  By regaining the camp only a
few minutes before the attack, he hoped also to escape the questions of
Don Estevan.

"We should have sixty to divide the treasure," thought he, "had I not
taken care to diminish that number.  Then, while the whites and reds are
fighting together, I--"

A distant explosion, like that of a rifle, interrupted his meditations.
This sound appeared to come from the north, and indeed proceeded from
the river, where were Bois-Rose and his companions.

"It is strange that such a sound should proceed from that quarter," said
Cuchillo, "for the white camp is eastward and the red westward."

A second shot was heard; then a third, followed by a short silence, to
which succeeded a continual firing.  Cuchillo trembled.  He fancied that
a second white party, distinct from his, were about to seize the coveted
treasures.  Then he feared that Don Estevan had despatched a detachment
to take possession of the Golden Valley.  But reason soon showed him the
little probability of either of these surmises.  A party of men must
have left traces which he should have discovered during the two days he
had been scouring the country; and then it was not probable that Don
Estevan would have dared to weaken his force by dividing it.  He
therefore lay still, and concluded that the sounds proceeded from some
party of American hunters surprised by the natives.

We must return to the camp of Don Antonio, where the firing had also
been heard, and where it had given rise to a host of conjectures.

Evening had come on, and red clouds marked the fiery trace of the
setting sun; the earth began to freshen up at the approach of night, and
the crescent of the moon to grow more and more brilliant, under the
light of which the camp appeared picturesque.

On the rising ground which overlooked the whole entrenchment, arose, as
we have said, the chief's tent with its floating banner.  A feeble light
from within indicated that he was still watching, and several fires,
made in holes dug in the sand or surrounded by stones--lest their light
should betray their position--threw a subdued red glare around; while,
in case of attack, fagots were prepared to illumine the camp.  Groups of
men lying down, and others preparing the evening meal, were mingled with
the horses and mules, who were eating their rations of maize.

The careless and satisfied look upon every face, showed that these men
confided the care of their defence wholly to their chief.  At the
entrance to the tent lay a man, like a dog watching over his master; and
from his long hair and the guitar by the side of his rifle, it was easy
to recognise Oroche.  His time seemed to be divided between the
contemplation of a heaven glittering with stars, and the care of keeping
up a fire of green wood, the smoke of which rose in a vertical column
silvered by the moon.  Beyond the entrenchments the moonlight whitened
the plain, and even the fog which covered the summits of a chain of
mountains which were visible in the horizon.

Behind the carts paced the sentinels, carbine in hand.  Among the
various groups of men scattered about were Benito, the servant of Don
Estevan, and Baraja.  They were engaged in conversation.

"Senor Benito," said Baraja, speaking to the old herdsman, "you who are
so well acquainted with all the affairs of these deserts, can you
explain to me what is the cause of these shots, which we have been
hearing ever since noon, and which can only be fired by our enemies, the
Indians?"

"It is difficult to say," answered Benito; "but certainly they must have
some good reason for wasting so much powder--a scarce article among
them.  It appears probable enough that poor Cuchillo is captured; or may
be the Senor Gayferos, who was sent after him."

"But why should they keep firing from time to time?--one shot would be
enough to put an end to either Cuchillo or Gayferos; whereas we have
heard volleys."

"Ah! it may be that the savages are practising one of their horrible
modes of punishment--perhaps they are firing at their victims merely for
the sport.  There is one terrible torture they inflict--I remember to
have been--"

"Hold there, friend Benito!" cried Baraja, interrupting him, "no more of
your horrible stories; I have not forgotten that frightful night by the
well of La Poza."

"Well," rejoined the herdsman, "unless they are firing at either
Cuchillo or Gayferos--or perhaps at both--I cannot divine the cause of
their continued fusillade.  These Indians are as curious as the very
devil; and they can extract a secret almost as effectually as the Holy
Inquisition itself.  Perhaps they are frightening either the guide or
Gayferos to betray the situation of our camp."

"God forbid they should succeed!" exclaimed Baraja.

"I join you in the prayer," said the ex-herdsman: "but I cannot help
remarking, how imprudent in our chief to permit the fire.  The smoke has
been rising all day like a column.  In an atmosphere like this it may be
seen for leagues off!"

"I agree with you," replied Baraja; "but then you know it was kindled at
the express wish of the guide--so that he might find the way to where we
should be encamped.  Both humanity towards Cuchillo, as well as our own
interest in his safety, required us to light the fire."

"Ah! that is not so certain.  Between ourselves, I haven't much
confidence in this Cuchillo.  He appears to be one of those guides whose
paths always end in quagmires."

"But have you not heard the rumour of the camp?"

"What rumour?  That Don Estevan is not going by mere hazard to search
for a mine of gold; but that he already knows of the existence of a rich
placer?  Is it that you mean?"

"Yes--or rather that Don Estevan knows of the existence of the placer;
but not _where_ it is, or the road that leads to it.  This is only known
to Cuchillo, whose death would therefore be an irreparable loss to all
of us."

"Bah!" replied the ex-herdsman, with a shake of the head; "Cuchillo's
face is one that could never deceive an experienced eye.  For my part I
hope I am deceived in him, though I doubt it."

"Oh, Senor Benito, you always look upon the dark side of things."

"Well, perhaps so--and on this very night I may especially appear a bird
of ill omen, for I cannot help feeling the presentiment that there is
danger near us.  See! look yonder!  The animals have left off eating--
both mules and horses.  Observe how they stand listening, as if they
heard something.  Well, what is to come will come; and I have not much
to lose--even my life is not worth much."

And with this consolatory speech the old shepherd wrapped himself up in
his cloak and lay down to sleep.

Not so Baraja.  The words of his comrade had produced their effect, and
he was unable to compose himself to rest.  His imagination depicted to
him a thousand phantoms, and every moment he fancied he could hear the
yells of the savages, as they rushed forward to attack the camp.  Not
that the ex-haciendado was altogether a coward; but there was reason for
his fears; and the darkness of the night, as well as the strange
behaviour of the animals, was sufficient cause to render even a brave
man apprehensive of danger.

After the long day's march, all the adventurers were asleep--stretched
here and there upon the ground.  The sentinels alone were awake, and
watching--now and then raising along the lines their monotonous cry of
"_Sentinela alerte_!"  It was the only sound that for a long time
interrupted the silence of the night.

After remaining awake for a considerable time, Baraja began to feel
confidence, and perhaps would have gone to sleep, like the others, when
all at once he heard several shots, similar to those that had been heard
during the day, and which appeared to proceed from the same direction.

"They are still firing over there," said he, nudging the old herdsman so
as to awake him.

"No matter," grumbled Benito; "let them fire away.  If it be not
Cuchillo or Gayferos, we needn't care.  So, friend Baraja, I wish you
good-night--go to sleep yourself.  In the desert, time for sleep is
precious, although at any minute you may be sent to sleep in eternity--
Good-night!"

After this terrifying speech, the ex-herdsman drew his cloak over his
eyes to keep out the rays of the moon, when a noise made by the mules
caused him to raise his head again, "Ah!" said he, "the red devils are
not far off."

The neigh of a horse was now heard from a distance, accompanied by a cry
of alarm, and the next moment a man was seen riding up at full gallop.

"It is Cuchillo," cried the servant; then, in a low voice, to Baraja,
"Let the travellers take care when the will-o'-the-wisp dances on the
plain!"



CHAPTER THIRTY SIX.

THE ALARM.

That evening, as usual, Don Estevan watched in his tent, while his
people reposed.  By the light of a smoky candle, the Spaniard, in spite
of the modest appearance of his lodgings and of his dust-covered
clothes, seemed to have lost nothing of the dignity of his appearance or
of his grand air.  His complexion, more sunburnt than usual, gave his
countenance a still more energetic character.  He appeared pensive, but
his thoughts were no longer so uneasy as they had been; on the eve,
after so many dangers, of realising his vast designs, Don Estevan had,
for the time at least, shaken off gloomy thoughts, and fixed his mind on
the hope of a success which he believed infallible.

He had raised the canvas, which served as a door, in order to glance
upon the men who reposed around, and seemed to wish to compare his means
of action with the aim he was pursuing.

"Nearly twenty years ago," thought he, "I commanded a party of sailors,
nearly equal in number, and as determined as these.  I was then only an
obscure younger son, and they aided me to recover my inheritance--yes,
it was mine.  But I was then in the flower of my age, and had an aim in
the future to pursue.  I have attained this aim--I have even surpassed
it; and now that I have nothing more to desire, I find myself, in my
mature age, scouring the desert as I formerly scoured the sea.  Why?"

The conscience of Mediana cried to him, that it was in order to forget
one day of his life, but at that moment he wished to remain deaf to its
voice.  The moon shone upon the firearms piled in the centre of the
camp, and cast its light upon sixty men inured to peril and fatigue, and
who laughed at heat and thirst.  In the distance a luminous vapour
rested upon the mountains beyond which lay the Golden Valley.

"Why?" repeated Don Estevan; "because there remains to me still an
immense treasure and a vast kingdom to conquer."

The eyes of Mediana sparkled with pride; then this expression passed
away, and he fixed on the horizon a melancholy look.

"And yet," continued he, "what of this treasure shall I keep for myself?
Nothing.  The crown will be placed on the head of another, and I shall
not even have a son or any descendant bearing the name of Mediana, who
one day might bow before my portrait and say, `This man could be tempted
neither by gold nor by a throne.'  But they will say it of me now, and
is not that enough?"

At this moment Pedro Diaz raised the door of the tent, and said, "You
sent for me, Senor Don Estevan?"

"I wish to speak to you of important things, which I could not do
yesterday, and ought to do to-day; I have some questions to ask; and
although this is the hour for repose, they must not be adjourned.  If I
do not deceive myself, Diaz, you are one of those men who repose only
when they have nothing better to do.  The ambitious are such," added Don
Estevan, with a smile.

"I am not ambitious, Senor," replied the adventurer quietly.

"You are so without knowing it, Diaz; and I will prove it to you,
presently.  But first tell me what you think of this distant firing?"

"Men meet on the sea whose surface is incomparably more extensive than
that of this desert; it is not astonishing that they should meet here.
Travellers and Indians have encountered one another, and are fighting."

"That is what I think.  One more question and then we will return to the
first subject which I have at heart.  Has Cuchillo returned?"

"No, Senor, and I much fear that we have lost the guide who has
conducted us till now."

"And to what do you attribute this strange absence?" asked Don Estevan,
with an anxious look.

"Probably he has gone too far upon the track of the Apaches, and has
been surprised by them.  In that ease his absence may prove eternal, in
spite of the fires which we have lighted for two days to show him our
encampment."

"Is that really your idea?" said the chief, looking fixedly at Diaz.

"It is; although, to say the truth, Cuchillo is one of those people whom
one is rarely wrong in accusing of perfidy; but I do not see what object
he could have in betraying us."

Don Estevan pointed to the fog which hid the tops of the mountains in
the horizon.  "The neighbourhood of those mountains," said he, "might
explain the absence of Cuchillo."  Then, with a changed tone, "Are our
men still of the same mind."

"Yes, Senor, and have more confidence than ever, in the chief who
watches while they sleep, and fights like the humblest of them."

"I have battled in many parts of the world," said Don Estevan, sensible
to praise, the sincerity of which he believed in, "and I have rarely
commanded men more determined than these.  Would they were five hundred
instead of sixty, for then on the return of this expedition my projects
would be easy of accomplishment."

"I am ignorant what these projects are, of which you now speak to me for
the first time," said Diaz in a reserved tone.  "But perhaps Don Estevan
thinks me ambitious, only because he does me the honour to judge me by
himself."

"It is possible, friend Diaz," replied Don Estevan, smiling; "the first
time that I saw you I thought that your mind was of the same stamp as my
own.  We are made to understand each other, I am sure."

The Mexican had all the vivacious intelligence of his country; he had
judged Don Estevan, but he waited for him to take the initiative.  He
therefore bowed and kept silence.

The Spaniard pushed open the curtains of the tent, and, pointing one
more to the horizon, "Another day's march," said he; "and we shall
encamp at the foot of those mountains."

"Yes, we are scarcely six leagues distant."

"And do you know what is below that mass of fog which crowns their top?"

"No," replied the Mexican.

Don Estevan cast upon Diaz a look which seemed as if meant to penetrate
his soul, at the moment of revealing a secret until then so carefully
kept.  The Spaniard wished to assure himself that the confidant he was
about to choose was worthy of his confidence.  The honest look of Diaz--
on whose countenance could be traced none of that cupidity which spurred
on his companions--reassured him, and he went on:

"Well, it is towards those mountains that we have been marching.  I
shall now tell you why I have directed the expedition to this place, as
the pilot conducts the ship to some point in the ocean known only to
himself; this evening you shall read my mind clearly.  That mass of fog,
which the sun itself will not wholly disperse, serves as a veil to
treasures which have been amassing perhaps from the beginning of the
world.  For centuries the rains have been washing them into the plains:
the whites only suspected, and the Indians spared them; to-morrow they
shall be ours!  This has been my aim.  Well, Diaz! do you not fall on
your knees to thank God for being one of those called to share in these
treasures?"

"No," replied Diaz, simply; "cupidity would not have made me brave the
dangers that a wish for revenge has done.  I would have sought from the
work of my arms what others seek by easier, if by less sure, methods.
But the Indians have ravaged my fields, pillaged my flocks, and murdered
my father and brothers.  Of my people I alone escaped.  Since that time
I have made fierce war upon the savages, have slain many, have sold
their sons by dozens, and it is still the hope of vengeance which brings
me here--neither ambition nor cupidity.  But I love my country and all
that I should care for riches would be to enable me to make a last
effort against that distant congress which tyrannises over but cannot
protect us."

"Good! friend Diaz!" cried the Spaniard, holding out his hand to the
adventurer, and then added with vehemence:

"Strong by the aid of this gold, I will confide my plans to those sixty
men now buried in sleep.  On our return our numbers will swell like the
stream which widens as it flows, and we shall shake off the yoke of a
capital--which is capable only of constantly changing its men and its
principles."

Don Estevan had already noticed, in former conversations with Diaz, his
great hatred of the federal system, but wishing to be sure whether or
not it was founded on personal motives, he continued--

"The congress is far from you, and the government of Mexico has neither
troops nor money to protect provinces so distant as yours.  Is that the
only reproach you have to make of it!"

"The only reproach!  No.  Independence is for us but an empty name, and
we have to bear only the burden of a distant government."

Don Estevan now unveiled to Diaz the project which he had discussed with
the Senator.  Then passing from principles to persons, he named the
King, Don Carlos, as him whom they were to introduce.

"A king!  King Charles! so be it," replied Diaz, "but we shall have many
obstacles to overcome."

"Less than you imagine, Diaz.  Gold will level all obstacles, and
to-morrow we shall gather it by handfuls.  We will pave the way to the
new kingdom with gold, and pay largely the founders and guardians of a
throne which will want only its king."

Thus, as he had promised his master, the bold partisan laid, even in the
desert, the foundation of a future dynasty.  What the influence of the
Senator was to effect in the congress, that of a man renowned by his
exploits was to obtain from his equals.

After this conversation Diaz retired to seek repose from his fatigues,
and Don Estevan accompanied him out of the tent.  The latter threw
around him a glance of tranquil pride; all obstacles were surmounted,
the incessant vigilance of the Indians had been eluded, thanks to Diaz,
and an immense treasure, untouched since the commencement of the world,
awaited only the hands which were about to be extended to seize it.

"See!" said he, "from those will rise the elements of a new kingdom, and
our names will belong to history.  Now I have but one fear--that is,
treachery on the part of Cuchillo--and you will share this fear with me
when you hear that it is he who sold me the secret of this golden
deposit."

Diaz was looking earnestly at the plain.

"There!" cried he, "I see a man approaching at full gallop: it is
Gayferos or Cuchillo?"

"Pray God it be the latter," said Don Estevan.  "I prefer having him
near rather than far from my sight."

"I think I recognise his grey horse."

In a minute, indeed, they recognised Cuchillo himself.

"To arms! to arms!" cried the guide, "here are the Indians," and he
rushed precipitately through the opening made for him by the sentinels.

"Cuchillo! the Indians! both names of bad augury," said Don Estevan, as
he turned towards his companion.



CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN.

THE ATTACK.

At the cry of Cuchillo, which resounded throughout the camp, the
Spaniard and Diaz exchanged looks of intelligence.

"It is strange that the Indians should have found our trail again?" said
Don Estevan, interrogatively.

"Very strange," replied Diaz, and without saying another word, both
descended from the eminence, on which they stood.

The camp was already in motion, and confusion reigned everywhere; there
was a general movement among these intrepid men, who were accustomed to
such surprises, and who had already more than once measured their
strength with their implacable enemies.  Each armed hastily, but soon
the tumult subsided, and all stationed themselves at the posts assigned
to them in case of attack.  The first who interrogated Cuchillo were the
shepherd and Baraja.

"Unless you drew the Indians on to our track, how could they have
discovered us?" said the former, with a suspicious look.

"Certainly it was I," replied Cuchillo, impudently.  "I should have
liked to have seen you pursued by a hundred, of these demons, and
whether you would not, like me, have galloped to the camp to seek an
asylum!"

"In such a case," replied Benito, severely, "a man to save his
companions, does not fly, but gives up his life sooner than betray them.
I should have done so."

"Every one in his own way," replied Cuchillo, "but I have an account to
render only to the chief, and not to his servants."

"Yes," murmured the other, "a coward and a traitor can but commit
baseness and perfidies."

"Are the Indians numerous?" asked Baraja.

"I had not time to count them; all that I know is that they must be
near."

And crossing the camp he proceeded to where Don Estevan--after having
attended to the most important precautions--stood at the door of his
tent waiting for him.  As Cuchillo went on without replying to any of
the questions with which he was assailed, a man advanced with a lighted
torch in his hand to set fire to the fagots piled in various places, but
Don Estevan cried--

"Not yet; it is, perhaps, a false alarm, and until we have the certainty
of attack we must not light up the camp to betray ourselves."

At the words "false alarm," a smile played over Cuchillo's features.

"However," added Don Estevan, "let every one saddle his horse and be
prepared."  Then he returned to his tent, making a sign to Diaz to
accompany him.

"That means, friend Baraja," said Benito, "that if the orders are given
to light the fires, we are sure to be attacked--at night too; it is
terrible."

"Who knows that better than I?" said Baraja, "have you ever been present
at such a thing?"

"Never; that is why I dread it so much."

"Well, if you had, you would dread it more."

Cuchillo, as he drew near the tent, arranged his countenance and threw
back his long hair--as though the wind had blown it about in his rapid
flight--and then entered the tent like a man out of breath and
pretending to wipe the perspiration from his forehead.  Oroche had
glided in with Diaz.

Cuchillo's story was brief: in reconnoitring the places towards which
the expedition should advance, he had gone further than was prudent.

Diaz interrupted him.

"I had taken such precautions to deceive the Indians by false tracks,"
said he, "I had so misled them, that you must have quitted the line of
march and gone from right to left."

"Yes," replied the outlaw, "I lost my way, deceived by the monotony of
these endless plains where each hillock resembles the other."

"What!" cried Diaz, ironically.  "Had a dweller in cities been so
deceived it might be believed; but you--fear must have thrown a mist
before your eyes!"

"Fear!" replied Cuchillo; "I know it no more than you do."

"Then you must be growing shortsighted, Senor Cuchillo."

"However it happened, I lost myself; and, but for the column of smoke, I
should not have regained my way so quickly.  I was, however, forced to
make a circuit on perceiving a party of Indians, and only owe the start
I have got upon them to the speed of my good horse."

As he spoke, Don Estevan frowned more than once.  Oroche left the tent,
but immediately re-entering, said--

"The Indians are there!  Look at those black shadows on the plain over
which the moon throws a distant light; those are men sent to reconnoitre
our encampment."

Over the sand of the desert they could indeed see men on horseback
advancing, and then disappearing in the shadows of the sand heaps.

Pedro Diaz consulted an instant with Don Estevan, and then cried
loudly--

"Light the fires everywhere! we must count our enemies."

A few minutes after, a red light, almost as bright as the sun, lit up
the whole camp, and showed the adventurers at their post, rifles in
hand; while the horses stood saddled and bridled, only waiting for their
riders in case of a sortie being necessary.  At the same time Don
Estevan's tent was struck, and a calm succeeded to the tumult.

The desert was silent also; the moon no longer shone on the Indians, who
had all disappeared like a bad dream chased away by the return of
morning.  It was a dead silence--the precursor of the storm--and there
seemed in this silence something fearful.  It did not announce one of
those surprises in which an enemy inferior in number disguises his
weakness under the impetuosity of his attack, and ready to run if he is
resisted: it was the respite before the combat, granted by pitiless
enemies, preparing for a deadly struggle.

"Yes, trust to me," said old Benito to Baraja, "in a quarter of an hour
you will hear the howlings of these red devils sound in your ears like
the trumpets of the last judgment!"

"Carramba! you are the most skilled man about tigers and Indians that I
ever met with, but you might be more consoling.  I wish to God I could
doubt the truth of your words!"

"There are some things always easy to foresee," continued the old man.
"One may predict to the traveller who goes to sleep in a bed of a
torrent that he will be carried away by the waters; and that Indians who
have discovered their enemies will draw off a little, and count their
men before making an attack.  One may also predict that several of them
will utter their death-cry, as many among us will have to say their last
prayer; but who those will be no one can say.  Do you know any prayers
for the dying, Senor Baraja?"

"No," replied the latter, dolefully.

"I am sorry for that; those are little services that friends may render
each other, and if I had the grief, as is very possible, of seeing you
first scalped then murdered--"

Further conversation was interrupted by outcries which seemed drawing
near to the camp.  In spite of the terrifying words of the old shepherd,
his _sang froid_ in the greatest perils and his resolution full of
consoling fatalism, sustained the more wavering courage of Baraja.

As he shuddered at the horrible sounds--which must be heard to be
appreciated--he cast upon Benito a glance in order to catch from him a
little of his philosophy.  For the first time a cloud of sadness
appeared on the ex-herdsman's brow, and his eyes looked as though tears
stood in them.  Baraja was struck by the change, and laid his head upon
the old man's arm.  Benito raised his head.

"I understand you," said he, "but man has his moments of weakness.  I am
like him who is called from his hearth by the sound of the trumpet at a
time he least thought to quit it.  Amidst those howls I hear from above
the sound of the last trumpet calling me, and although I am old, it
grieves me to go.  I leave neither wife nor children to regret, nor
those who would weep for me; but there is an old companion of my
solitary life from whom I cannot separate without grief.  It is at least
a consolation for the Indian warrior to know that his war-horse will
share his tomb, and to believe that he shall find him again in the land
of spirits.  How many times have we scoured the woods and the plains
together.  How often have we borne together heat, hunger, and thirst!
This old and faithful friend is my horse, as you may have guessed.  I
give him to you, friend Baraja.  Treat him kindly--love him as I love
him, and he will love you as he loves me.  His companion was killed by a
tiger, and he will now be left alone."

So saying, the old man pointed to a noble courser, champing his bit
proudly, among the other horses.  He then went towards him, caressed
him, and, this moment of weakness over, his countenance recovered its
habitual serenity.  As he recovered his calmness, he renewed his
predictions, careless of the terror he excited in others.

"Listen!" said he to Baraja; "to recompense you for the care you will
take of my old friend, I shall teach you, while there is still time, a
verse of the psalm for the dying, that may serve you as--"

"Well!" said Baraja, as he did not go on, "what more terrifying things
have you to say?"

Benito did not reply, but his companion felt him press his arm
convulsively, and then the sight which struck Baraja was more terrible
than any answer.  The old man's eyes were rolling wildly, and he was
vainly trying to stanch the blood which flowed from a wound made by an
arrow that had just pierced his throat.

He fell, crying: "What is ordained must happen.  No," added he,
repulsing the assistance that Baraja was endeavouring to render him, "my
hour is come--remember--my old friend--" and the flowing blood cut short
his speech.

At that moment the best mounted among the Indians showed themselves in
the moonlight.  Travellers who have met only with civilised Indians can
with difficulty form any idea of the savage tribes.  Nothing less
resembled those degenerate Indians than these unconquered sons of the
desert; who--like the birds of prey, wheeling in the air before pouncing
on their victims--rode howling around the camp.  Their figures hideously
marked with paint, were visible from time to time; their long hair
streaming in the wind, their cloaks of skins floating in their rapid
course, and their piercing cries of defiance and bravado, giving them
the appearance of demons, to whom they have justly been compared.

There were few among the Mexicans who had not some revenge to take on
these indefatigable spoilers, but none of them were animated by such
deadly hatred as Pedro Diaz.  The sight of his enemies produced on him
the effect that scarlet does on a bull, and he could scarcely refrain
from indulging in one of those exploits which had rendered his name
formidable to their tribes.  But it was necessary to set an example of
discipline, and he curbed his impatience.  Besides, the moment of attack
could not be far off, and the superior position of the gold-seekers
compensated for the inequality of their numbers.

After having assigned to each his post behind the intrenchments, Don
Estevan placed on the rising ground, where his tent had stood, those of
his men whose rifles carried farthest, or whose sight was the best, and
the fires gave light enough for their aim.  As for himself, his post was
everywhere.

The piercing eyes of the Indians, and the reports of those who had
preceded them had doubtless instructed them as to the position of the
whites.  For a moment an indecision seemed to reign among them, but the
truce did not last long.  After a short interval of silence, a hundred
voices at once shrieked out the war-cry; the earth trembled under an
avalanche of galloping horses; and amidst a shower of balls, stones, and
arrows, the camp was surrounded on three sides by a disorderly
multitude.  But a well-sustained fire proceeded from the top of the
hill.

Under this murderous discharge riderless horses were seen galloping over
the plain, and riders disengaging themselves from their wounded steeds.
Before long, however, the combat became one of hand to hand; the
Mexicans behind their carts, the Indians trying to scale them.

Oroche, Baraja, and Pedro Diaz pressed one against the other, sometimes
retiring to avoid the long lances of their enemies--sometimes advancing
and striking in their turn--encouraging each other, and never pausing
but to glance at their chief.  As already stated, the report had vaguely
spread that he knew the secret of the immense riches, and cupidity
supplied to Oroche and Baraja the place of enthusiasm.

"Carramba!" cried Baraja, "a man possessing such a secret should be
invulnerable."

"Immortal!" said Oroche, "or only die after--"

A blow from a hatchet on his head cut short his words.  He fell to the
ground, and but for the solidity of his hat, and the thickness of his
hair, all had been over with him.  His adversary, carried away by the
violence of his own blow, placed his hand for support on the shafts of
the cart which separated them.  Diaz immediately seized the Indian's
arm, and leaning on the nave of the wheel, dragged him towards him with
such force that he fell off his horse into camp; and, almost before he
touched the ground, the Mexican's sword severed his head from his body.

Useless now on their elevated position--for the _melee_ was so thick
that their shots might have been as fatal to friends as foes--the
sharpshooters had come down and mingled with the other combatants.

In the corner of the intrenchments where they stood, Don Estevan and
Cuchillo had to sustain an attack not less furious.  The first, while he
defended himself, yet cast an eye over the whole of the intrenchments;
but it was with the greatest difficulty that amidst the tumult he could
make heard his orders and advice.  More than once his double-barrelled
rifle of English make--and which he loaded and discharged with wonderful
rapidity--stayed the knife or axe which was menacing one of his men--a
feat which was greeted each time with loud hurrahs.  He was, in a word,
what the adventurers had seen him from the beginning of this dangerous
campaign, the chief who thought of all, and the chief who feared
nothing.

Accompanied by his horse, which followed his movements with the
intelligence of a spaniel, Cuchillo stood behind the chief--as much out
of the way as possible--with more prudence than bravery.  He seemed to
be following with an anxious eye the chances of attack and defence: when
all at once he tottered as though struck by a mortal wound, and fell
heavily behind the carts.  This incident passed almost unperceived
amidst the confusion--every one being in so much danger as to be able to
think only of himself.

"There is a coward the less," said Don Estevan, coldly, while Cuchillo's
horse drew near him with a terrified air.

For some minutes Cuchillo remained motionless; then, little by little,
he raised his head and cast around him a glance which seemed undimmed by
the approach of death.  A few minutes after, he rose on his feet, like a
man to whom death lends some strength at the last, and apparently,
mortally hurt, his hand on his breast, as though endeavouring to retain
the spark of life ready to escape, tottered backwards, and then fell
again some way off.  His horse followed him once more; and then, if
every one had not been too much occupied, they might have seen the
outlaw rolling over and over towards an open place in the intrenchments.
He then stopped again; and finally glided under the cart wheels out of
the camp.

There he rose upon his legs as firm as ever, while a smile of joy played
over his lips.  The darkness and the tumult favoured his manoeuvre.  He
silently unfastened the iron chains of two carts, and opened a passage.
He whistled and his horse glided after him; in a second he was in the
saddle, almost without touching the stirrup; when after a moment's
thought, he spurred on the animal, who set off like the wind, and horse
and rider soon disappeared in the darkness!

On both sides of the intrenchment corpses covered the ground; half
burnt-out piles of wood cast their red light upon the bloody scenes of
this struggle; the shouts of enemies, the repeated discharge of
firearms, and the whistling of bullets followed each other
uninterruptedly.  The hideous figures of the Indians looked more hideous
still in the strange light.

One point in the intrenchment had given way before the incessant
attacks; and here, dead or wounded, its defenders had yielded to enemies
who seemed to swarm from the ground.  At this point there was an instant
of horrible confusion.  A _pele mele_ of bodies interlaced, over which
appeared the plumes of the Indian warriors.  Soon, however, the line of
the adventurers, broken for an instant, reformed before a group of
Indians who were rushing like wild beasts into the middle of the camp.

Oroche and Baraja left the point which they were still defending, and
found themselves face to face with their enemies, this time with nothing
to separate them.  Amidst the group of Indians, whose lances and
hatchets fell indiscriminately upon horses, mules and men, the chief was
recognisable by his vast height, the painting of his face and his great
strength.

It was the second time that he had faced the whites since the
commencement of the campaign, and his name was known to them.

"Here, Diaz," cried Baraja, "here is the _Spotted Cat_!"

At the name of Diaz, which had already reached him, the Indian chief
looked round for him who bore it, with eyes which seemed to dart flames,
and raised his lance to strike Diaz, when a blow from Oroche's knife
wounded his horse.  The Indian thrown to the ground, let fall his lance.
Diaz seized it, and while the chief raised himself on one knee and
endeavoured to draw his sword, the lance which he had dropped, pierced
his naked breast, and came out between his shoulders.  Although mortally
wounded, the Indian uttered no cry, his eyes never lost their haughty
menace, and his face expressed only rage.

"The Spotted Cat dies not so easily," said he, and with a vigorous hand
he seized the wood of the lance still held by Diaz.  A fierce struggle
ensued, but at every effort of the Indian to draw Diaz towards him, and
envelop him in a last deadly clasp, the murdering, lance pierced farther
and farther.  Soon his strength failed, and violently torn from his body
the bloody weapon remained in the hands of Diaz.  The Indian fell back,
gave one glance of defiance, and then lay motionless upon the earth.

Their chief fallen, the others soon shared the same fate, while their
companions vainly tried to force the line a second time.  Victims of
their temerity, the Indians, without asking for a mercy which they never
showed, fell like their chief facing the enemy, and surrounded by the
corpses of those who had preceded them in their journey to the land of
spirits.

Of all the savages in the camp but one remained.  He looked round him
for a minute with eyes fierce as those of the hunted tiger; then,
instead of seeking to hide his presence, he uttered anew his war-cry,
but it was confounded with those from without--and profiting by a moment
of confusion, during which the adventurers, attacked from without, left
the breach almost clear--he caused his horse to leap over, and found
himself once more among his own people.

Pedro Diaz alone saw him, and regretted his prey, but the implacable
enemy of the Indians never indulged in sterile regrets.  He was mounted
on the war-horse presented to him by Don Augustin Pena.  From his left
hand hung by the sword-knot a long Toledo rapier, with the Spanish
device:

  Do not draw me without cause,
  Or sheathe me without honour.

The blade was red with blood.  Diaz shaded his eyes with his right hand,
and tried to pierce the distant obscurity.  All at once he perceived at
the end of the luminous zone projected by the fires, the man he was
seeking.  He was making furious evolutions on his horse, and uttering
shouts of defiance.  Diaz remembered the speech of the haciendado about
the horse he had given him--"The Indian whom you pursue must be mounted
on the wings of the wind if you do not catch him," and he resolved to
make the attempt.  The noble animal, excited by the spur, leaped over
the intrenchments overthrown by the Indians, and the two were soon side
by side.  The Indian brandished his hatchet, Diaz his sword, and for
some seconds there was a trial of agility, courage, and address.  Each
sustained his country's reputation, but the Indian's hatchet broke to
pieces the sword of the Mexican.  The two combatants then seized one
another round the body and tried to drag each other from their horses,
but like centaurs, each seemed to form a part of the animal he bestrode.

At last Diaz disengaged himself from his adversary's clasp, and backed
his horse, still facing the Indian.  Then, when he was a little way off,
he caused his horse to rear so furiously that the animal seemed for a
moment to be raised over the Indian.  At the same moment Diaz lifted his
right leg, and with a blow from the large heavy iron-bound stirrup,
broke his adversary's skull, whom his horse carried away dead from the
spot.

This last magnificent exploit seemed to end the battle; some arrows flew
harmlessly around Diaz, who was welcomed back with shouts of triumph by
his companions.

"Poor Benito!" cried Baraja; "may God rest his soul, I regret even his
terrific histories."

"What is still more to be regretted," interrupted Oroche, "is the death
of the illustrious Cuchillo, the guide of the expedition."

"Your ideas are still confused from the blow you received on your head,"
said Diaz, as he tried the flexibility of a new sword.  "But for the
illustrious Cuchillo, as you call him, we should not have lost to-night
at least twenty brave comrades.  Cuchillo unluckily died a day too late,
and I cannot say `God rest _his_ soul.'"

Meanwhile the Indians were deliberating.  The last exploit of Diaz, the
death that so many of their party had met with in the camp, and those
killed by the filing, had thinned their ranks.

The Indian never persists in a hopeless struggle: a singular mixture of
prudence and contempt of life characterises this singular race, and
prudence counselled them to retreat; they did so precipitately as they
had attacked.

But the tactics of the white men were different; they were anxious to
profit by a victory the fame of which would penetrate to the furthest
end of the desert, and render their future more secure.  Therefore an
order to pursue the fugitives given by Don Estevan was received with
acclamations.  Twenty cavaliers instantly rushed forward, Pedro Diaz
among the foremost.  Sword in one hand, and lasso and bridle in the
other, he was soon out of sight.

Those who remained behind, though nearly all more or less wounded,
occupied themselves first with reconstructing the intrenchment in case
of any new attack; then, overwhelmed with fatigue, hunger, and thirst,
after clearing the camp of the dead bodies which encumbered it, they lay
down on the earth, still wet with blood, to seek for repose.



CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT.

AFTER THE FIGHT.

In the calm which succeeded to the noise of the combat, a single man
rose slowly up, and by the light of a torch which he held, examined all
the corpses lying at his feet, as if seeking to identify the livid or
bloody faces of the dead.  Sometimes the light fell on the strange paint
of an Indian face, and the pale one of a white man, lying side by side
in an eternal sleep; occasionally a deep groan proceeded from some one
who was wounded, but the seeker did not appear to find what he sought.

All at once, amidst the silence, a weak voice attracted his attention,
and he tried in the half-light to discover whence the sound proceeded.
The feeble movement of a hand guided him, and he approached the dying
man--in whom he immediately recognised Benito.

"Ah! it is you, my poor Benito?" said he, with a look of profound pity.

"Yes," replied the old shepherd, "it is old Benito, dying in the desert
where he has nearly always lived.  As for me--I know not who you are; my
eyes are dim.  Is Baraja living?"

"I trust so; he is now pursuing the Indians, and will return in time, I
hope, to bid you a last adieu."

"I doubt it," replied Benito; "I wished to teach him a verse of the hymn
for the dying.  I can no longer remember it now.  Do you not know
something?"

"Not a word."

"Ah!  I must do without it," said Benito, whose accustomed stoicism did
not forsake him even at that moment.  Then, in a still more feeble
voice, he added, "I have bequeathed to Baraja an old companion--an old
friend; whoever you may be, recommend him to observe my last request, to
love him as I did."

"A brother doubtless."

"Better than that; my horse."

"I shall remind him--do not fear."

"Thank you," said the old man.  "As for myself, I have finished my
travels.  The Indians did not kill me when they took me prisoner in my
youth--now they have killed me in my old age without taking me prisoner.
That--" he stopped, and then added some words in so low a tone that
they did not reach the ear of the listener.  He spoke no more; those
were his last words, for death had abruptly ended his speech.

"He was a brave man--peace be with him!" said the speaker, who then
continued his search, until at last, fatigued by its uselessness, he
returned with an anxious look to his place, and after he had gone the
silence of death seemed to pervade the camp.

Before long, however, a confused noise of voices and horses' feet
indicated the return of the adventurers who had started in pursuit of
the Indians, and by the doubtful light of the half extinct fires, they
entered the camp.

The same man who had been recently inspecting the dead, went out to meet
them.  While some of them were dismounting to open a passage through the
barricades, Pedro Diaz advanced towards him, a stream of blood flowing
from a wound in his forehead.

"Senor Don Estevan," said he, "we have not been lucky in our pursuit.
We have but wounded one or two of the Indians, and have lost one of our
own men.  However I bring you a prisoner; do you wish to interrogate
him?"

So saying, Diaz detached his lasso from the saddle-bow, and pointed to a
mass held in its noose.  It was an Indian, who, pitilessly dragged along
over the sand and stones, had left behind at every step pieces of flesh,
and now scarcely retained any vestige of humanity.

"He was alive when I took him, however," cried Diaz, "but it is just
like these dogs of Indians, he must have died in order not to tell
anything."

Without replying to this ferocious jest, Don Estevan signed to Diaz to
accompany him to a place where they might converse without being
overheard.  When the new-comers had lain down and silence reigned anew,
Don Estevan began:

"Diaz," said he, "we are close on the end of our expedition: to-morrow,
as I told you, we shall encamp at the foot of those mountains; but in
order that success may crown our efforts, treason must not throw
obstacles in our way.  It is on this subject that I wish to consult you
to-night.  You have known Cuchillo long, but not so long as I have; and
certainly, not as thoroughly.  From his earliest youth he has always
betrayed those to whom he appeared most devoted.  I know not which of
all the vices with which he is endowed has the ascendant; but in a word,
the sinister look of his face is but a feeble reflection of the
blackness of his soul.  It was he who sold to me the secret of the rich
and mysterious placer to which I am leading you--and of this secret he
had made himself the sole master by murdering the friend who had freely
confided it to him, and who thought to find him a faithful companion in
his dangers.

"I have ever, therefore, kept a watchful eye over him.  His
disappearance for the last two days alarmed me, but it might have been
the result of an accident common in these deserts.  The attack, however,
from which we have so narrowly escaped has confirmed my suspicions.  He
has advanced under our protection, until we have reached the place where
he would, be able to seize a part of these immense treasures.  He had
need of auxiliaries in order to murder our sixty men, and the Indians
who have attacked us were but his instruments."

"Indeed," replied Diaz, "his report seemed to me suspicious.  But the
simplest method will be to hold a court-martial, interrogate him, and if
he be convicted of treason, let us shoot him at once."

"At the commencement of the attack, I assigned him a post near me, in
order to watch him more easily.  I saw him totter and then fall
apparently mortally wounded, and I was glad to be rid of a traitor and a
coward.  But I have just turned over and examined all the dead, and
Cuchillo is not amongst them.  It is therefore urgent that without loss
of time we should follow him; he cannot be far off.  You are accustomed
to this sort of expedition; we must, without delay, set off in pursuit
of him, and execute prompt justice on a villain whose life must pay for
his treachery."

Diaz appeared to reflect for a moment, and then said, "To trace him can
neither be tedious nor difficult.  Cuchillo must have gone towards the
Golden Valley--therefore in that direction we must seek him."

"Go rest for an hour, for you must be worn out," said the chief.  "Ah!
Diaz, if all these men were like you, how easy our path would be--gold
in one hand, and the sword in the other."

"I have only done my duty," said Diaz, simply.

"Say to our men that it is necessary for us to reconnoitre the environs
of the camp, and tell the sentinels to keep strict watch until our
return, and then we shall proceed towards the valley."

"Cuchillo must certainly be there, and we shall catch him either going
or returning."

"We shall find him in the valley," said Don Estevan.  "When you have
seen it, you will find it a place that a man like Cuchillo could not
make up his mind to leave."

Diaz departed to execute his orders, and Don Estevan caused his tent to
be pitched again, that even in his absence his starry banner might float
over the camp as a sign of his protective authority.  This done, he
threw himself on his couch, and slept the sleep of a soldier after a day
of fighting and fatigue.

Little more than an hour after, Diaz stood before him, "Senor Don
Estevan," said he, "all is prepared for starting."

The chief rose and found his horse awaiting him ready saddled.

"Diaz," said he, "ask the sentinels if Gayferos has returned."

Diaz questioned one of the men, who replied, "The poor fellow will
probably never return.  The Indians must have surprised and killed him
before attacking us, and that probably was the cause of the firing that
we heard in the afternoon."

"I fear it is but too certain that he has been murdered," replied Diaz;
"but as for the firing that we heard, I believe that had a different
origin."

Don Estevan now mounted his horse, and the two set off in, the direction
of the mountains.



CHAPTER THIRTY NINE.

THE ISLET.

While the Indians, united in council, were deliberating on the means of
attacking the camp of the gold-seekers, let us see how the three men on
the island were occupied.

It was about four o'clock, and the fog was beginning to rise slowly from
the water.  Willows and aspens grew on the shores of the river Gila,
within rifle-range of the little island, and so near the water that
their roots were in the river.  The spaces between the trees were filled
up by vigorous osier and other shoots; but just in front of the island
was a large open space.  This had been made by the troops of wild horses
and buffaloes, that came down to drink at the river; and through this
opening any one on the island could see clearly over the plain.

The little island had been formed originally by trees that had taken
root in the bed of the river; other trees, some green and others without
branches or foliage, had rested against these, and their roots had
become interlaced.  Since then, many summers and winters must have
passed; and grasses and sedges, detached from the banks by the water,
had filled up the interstices.  Then the dust, brought there by the
wind, had covered these with a crust of earth, and formed a kind of
solid ground for the floating island.  Plants had grown along the banks;
the trunks of the willows had sent forth vigorous shoots, and, with the
reeds, had surrounded the island with a fringe of verdure.  The island
was only a few feet in diameter; but a man lying, or even kneeling upon
it, was completely hidden by the willow-shoots.

The sun was going down, and a little shade was thrown by the leaves and
trees; in this shade was stretched the form of Fabian asleep.  Bois-Rose
seemed to be watching over his sleep, hastily taken after the fatigues
of a long march, while Pepe refreshed himself by plunging in the water.
While Fabian slumbers, we shall raise the veil by which the young Count
hid from the eyes of his two friends his most secret and dearest
thoughts.

After his fall into the torrent, Pepe had forgotten that the enemy on
whom he had sworn vengeance was escaping, and both he and Bois-Rose had
thought only of rendering prompt assistance to Fabian.  On returning to
consciousness, Fabian's first thought was to resume his interrupted
pursuit.  The acquisition of the Golden Valley, and even the remembrance
of Dona Rosarita, were forgotten by the ardent wish of revenging his
mother.

Pepe, on his side, was not the man to draw back from his vow; and as for
Bois-Rose, his whole affections were centred in his two companions, and
he would have followed them to the end of the world.  Their first
failure, far from discouraging them, did but excite their ardour; in
hatred as in love, obstacles are always a powerful stimulant to vigorous
minds.  The pursuit had gradually presented a double object to Fabian;
it brought him near to the Golden Valley in the desert; and he nourished
a vague hope that the place pointed out to him was not the same as that
which the expedition led by Antonio de Mediana proposed to conquer.

Fabian said to himself, that the daughter of Don Augustin doubtless only
yielded obedience to the ambitious views of her father, and that it
might yet be easy for him, noble and rich, to win the day against such a
rival as Tragaduros.

Still, discouragement often seized upon Fabian; he loved the daughter of
the haciendado with his whole soul; and the thought of owing her love
only to the treasures that he might possess, distressed him.  Moreover,
he felt that the ardent and jealous affection of the Canadian, had
founded on him the sole aim of his life, and that, like the eagle who
carries away his young one and places it in an eyrie, inaccessible to
the hand of man, Bois-Rose, who had forever quitted civilised life,
wished to make of him his inseparable companion in the desert; and that,
to disappoint the old man would be to throw a shadow over his whole
future life.  As yet, no confidence as to their future had been
exchanged between them; but in face of a love that he believed hopeless,
and of the ardent, though secret wishes of the man who now acted as a
father to him, and who would half break his heart at a separation,
Fabian had generously and silently sacrificed his tastes and hopes that
would not die.  He who had but to hold out his hand to seize the things
that the whole world desires--riches, titles, and honours--was like one
whose life tortured by an unhappy love, disclaiming the future, seeks
within the cloister forgetfulness of the past.  For Fabian de Mediana,
the desert was the cloister; and his mother once revenged, it only
remained to him to bury himself in it forever.  Sad and inefficacious,
as a remedy, would be solitude, with its mysterious voice, and the
ardent contemplations that it awakens, for a passion so fondly awakened
in the young heart of Fabian.

One single hope remained to him--that amidst the ever-renewed dangers of
an adventurous life, the day was not far distant when his life would be
cut short in some contest with the Indians, or in one of those desperate
attempts that he meditated against the murderer of his mother.  He had
carefully hidden from the Canadian the love that he buried in the depths
of his heart; and it was in the silence of the night that he dared to
look into his own bosom.  Then, like the light which shines in the
horizon above great cities, and which the traveller contemplates with
joy, a radiant and cherished image rose before his eyes in the desert,
standing on that breach in the wall of the hacienda, where his last
souvenirs carried him.  But during the day, the heroic young man tried
to hide under an apparent calm, the melancholy that devoured him.  He
smiled, with sad resignation, at those plans for the future which the
Canadian sometimes enlarged on before him--he so happy in having found
him, and who trembled to lose again his beloved Fabian, whose hand he
hoped would one day close his eyes.  The blind tenderness of Bois-Rose
did not divine the abyss under the calm surface of the lake, but Pepe
was rather more clear-sighted.

"Well," said Pepe, after a long silence, "the inhabitants of Madrid
would pay dearly for such a stream of water in the Manzanares; but we
have not the less lost a day which might have brought us nearer to the
Golden Valley, and from which we cannot now be far distant."

"I allow that," replied Bois-Rose, "but the child," for so he called the
vigorous young man before them, "is not so accustomed as we are to long
marches, and though sixty leagues in twelve days is not very much for
us, it begins to tell on him.  But before he has been a year with us, he
will be able to walk as far as ourselves."

Pepe could not help smiling at this answer, but the Canadian did not
perceive it.

"See," said the Spaniard, pointing to Fabian, "how the poor lad has
changed in a few days.  For my part, at his age, I should have preferred
the glance of a damsel and the Puerta del Sol at Madrid to all the
magnificence of the desert.  Fatigue alone has not produced this change
in him.  There is some secret which he does not tell us, but I will
penetrate it one of these days," added Pepe mentally.

At these words the Canadian turned his head quickly towards his beloved
child, but a smile of joy from Fabian chased away the sudden cloud from
the brow of his adoptive father.  Fabian indeed smiled; he was dreaming
that he was on his knees before Rosarita, listening to the sweet voice
of the young girl, who was recounting her anguish during his long
absence, and that Bois-Rose stood behind them leaning on his rifle and
blessing them both.  Ah! it was only a dream.

The two hunters looked for a moment silently at the sleeper.

"There lies the last descendant of the Medianas," said Pepe, with a
sigh.

"What care I for the Medianas and their powerful race?" replied the
Canadian.  "I know but Fabian.  When I saved him, and attached myself to
him as though he had been my own, did I ask about his ancestors?"

"You will wake him if you talk so loud," said Pepe; "your voice roars
like a cataract."

"Why are you always recalling to me things that I do not wish to know,
or rather wish to forget.  I know that some years in the desert will
accustom him--"

"You deceive yourself strangely, Bois-Rose, if you imagine that with the
prospects that await him in Spain, and the rights that he can claim,
this young man will consent to pass his whole life in the desert.  It is
good for us, but not for him."

"What! is not the desert preferable to cities?" cried the old sailor,
who vainly tried to conceal from himself that Pepe was right.  "I
undertake to make him prefer a wandering life to a settled one.  Is it
not for movement, for fighting, and for the powerful emotions of the
desert that man is born?"

"Certainly," said Pepe, gravely, "and that is just why the towns are
deserted and the deserts peopled!"

"Do not jest, Pepe; I am speaking of serious things.  While I leave
Fabian free to follow his own inclinations, I shall make him love this
captivating life.  Is not this short sleep, snatched hastily between two
dangers, preferable to what one tastes after a day of idle security in
the towns.  You yourself, Pepe--would _you_ wish to return to your own
country, since you have known the charms of a wandering life?"

"There is between the heir of the Medianas," replied Pepe, "and the old
coast-guard man a great difference.  To him will come a fine property, a
great name, and a beautiful Gothic castle with towers like the cathedral
at Burgos; while I should be sent to fish for mackerel at Ceuta--which
is the most execrable life I know of and which I should have but one
chance of escaping from--that of waking some fine morning, at Tunis or
Tetuan, as a slave to our neighbours the Moors.  I have here, it is
true, the daily chance of being scalped or burnt alive by the Indians.
Still the town is worse for me--but for Don Fabian--"

"Fabian has always lived in solitude, and will, I trust, prefer the calm
of the desert to the tumult of cities.  How solemn and silent is all
around us!  See here!" and he pointed to Fabian, "how the child sleeps,
softly lulled by the murmur of the waters, and by the breeze in the
willows.  Look there, in the horizon at those fogs just coloured by the
sun, and that boundless space where man wanders in his primitive
liberty, like the birds in the air!"

The Spaniard shook his head doubtfully, although he partook the ideas of
the Canadian, and like him felt the charm of this wandering life.

"Look," continued the old hunter, "at that troop of wild horses coming
down to drink before going for the night to their distant pasturage.
See how they approach in all the proud beauty that God gives to free
animals--ardent eyes, open nostrils, and floating manes!  Ah!  I should
almost like to awake Fabian in order that he might see and admire them."

"Let him sleep, Bois-Rose; perhaps his dreams show him more graceful
forms than those horses of the desert--forms such as abound in our
Spanish towns, in balconies or behind barred windows."

Bois-Rose sighed, as he added--

"Yet this is fine sight--how these noble beasts bound with joy at their
liberty!"

"Yes, until they are chased by the Indians, and then they bound with
terror!"

"There! now they are gone like the cloud driven by the wind!" continued
the Canadian.  "Now the scene changes.  Look at that stag, who shows
from time to time his shining eyes and black nose through the trees; he
snuffs the wind, he listens.  Ah! now he also approaches to drink.  He
has heard a noise, he raises his head; do not the drops that fall from
his mouth look like liquid gold?  I will wake the lad!"

"Let him sleep, I tell you; perhaps his dream now shows him black eyes
and rosy lips, or some nymph sleeping on the banks of a clear stream."

The old Canadian sighed again.

"Is not the stag the emblem of independence?" said he.

"Yes, until the time when the wolves assemble to pursue and tear him to
pieces.  Perhaps he would have more chance of life in our royal parks.
Everything to its time, Bois-Rose; old age loves silence, youth noise."

Bois-Rose still fought against the truth.  It was the drop of gall that
is found at the bottom of every cup of happiness; it is not permitted
that there should be perfect felicity, for it would then be too painful
to die; neither is unmixed misery allowed to mortals, or it would be
painful to live.  The Canadian hung his head and looked sad as he
glanced at the sleeping youth, while Pepe put on his buffalo-skin
buskins.

"Well! what did I tell you?" said he, presently; "do you not hear from
afar those howlings--I mean those barkings, for the wolves have voices
like dogs when they hunt the stags.  Poor stag! he is, as you said, the
emblem of life in the desert."

"Shall I wake Fabian now?" said Bois-Rose.

"Yes, certainly; for after a love dream a stag hunt is the thing most
worthy of a nobleman like him, and he will rarely see such a one as
this."

"He will see nothing like it in the towns," cried the Canadian,
enchanted; "such scenes must make him love the desert."

And he shook the young man gently.

With head thrown back, to inhale more freely the air necessary to his
lungs, the stag flew like an arrow along the plain.  Behind him a hungry
pack of wolves, a few white, but the greater number black, pursued him
at full speed.  The stag had an immense start, but on the sand heaps,
almost lost in the horizon, the piercing eye of the hunter might
distinguish other wolves watching.  The noble animal either did not see,
or else disdained them, for he flew straight towards them.  As he neared
them he halted a moment.  Indeed, he found himself shut in by a circle
of enemies, who constantly advanced upon him as he stopped to take
breath.  All at once he turned round, faced the other wolves, and tried
one last effort to escape.  But he could not now clear the solid masses
that had formed around him, and he fell in the midst of them.  Some
rolled under his feet, and two or three were tossed in the air.  Then,
with a wolf hanging to his flanks, bleeding and with tongue protruding,
the poor animal advanced to the edge of the water, in front of the three
spectators of the strange chase.

"It is magnificent!" cried Fabian clapping his hands, and carried away
by the hunter's enthusiasm, which for the time silences humanity in the
heart of men.

"Is it not fine?" cried Bois-Rose, doubly pleased, happy at Fabian's
pleasure, and at his own.  "And we shall witness many such fine sights,
my Fabian! here you see only the worst side of these American solitudes,
but when you go with Pepe and me to the great rivers, and the great
lakes of the north--"

"The animal has got rid of his enemy," interrupted Fabian, "he is about
to spring into the river!"

The water bubbled after the leap of the stag, then a dozen times more as
the wolves followed; then amidst the foam were visible the head of the
stag, and those of the wolves who were pursuing him, howling with
hunger, while the more timid ones ran along the banks uttering their
lamentable howls.  The stag had neared the island, when the wolves on
the bank suddenly ceased their cries and fled precipitately away.

"What is that?" cried Pepe; "what causes this sudden panic?" but no
sooner had he spoken than he cried again, "Hide yourselves, in God's
name! the Indians are in chase also."

Other and more formidable hunters now appeared in their turn upon the
arena.  A dozen of the wild horses, which they had seen before, were now
seen galloping wildly over the plain, while some Indians, mounted
bareback on their horses (having taken their saddles off for greater
speed), with their knees almost up to their chins, were pursuing the
terrified animals.  At first there were but three Indians visible; but
one by one about twenty appeared, some armed with lances, and others
brandishing their lassoes of plaited leather--all uttering those cries
by which they express their joy or anger.

Pepe glanced at the Canadian as though to ask whether he had calculated
these terrible chances when he wished to make Fabian share their
adventurous career.  For the first time, at such a crisis, the intrepid
hunter looked deadly pale.  An eloquent but sad glance was his reply to
the Spaniard's mute interrogation.

"A too great affection in the heart of the bravest man," thought Pepe,
"makes him tremble for him who he loves more than life; and adventurers
like us should have no ties.  There is Bois-Rose trembling like a
woman!"

However, they felt almost certain that even the practiced eyes of the
Indians could not discover them in their retreat; and the three men,
after their first alarm had passed over, watched coolly the manoeuvres
of the Indians.  These continued to pursue the flying horses; the
numberless obstacles so thickly strewn over the plain--the ravines, the
hillocks, and the sharp-pointed cacti--could not stop them.  Without
slackening the impetuosity of their pace or turning aside from any
obstacle, these horsemen cleared them with wonderful address.  Bold
rider as he was himself, Fabian looked with enthusiasm on the
astonishing agility of these wild hunters, but the precautions which
they were forced to take, in order to conceal themselves, made the three
friends lose a part of this imposing spectacle.

The vast savannahs, late so deserted, were suddenly changed into a scene
of tumult and confusion.  The stag, returning to the bank, continued to
fly, with the wolves still after him.  The wild horses galloped before
the Indians--whose howlings equalled that of the wolves--and described
great circles to avoid the lance or the lasso, while numerous echoes
repeated these various sounds.

The sight of Fabian, who followed with an ardent eye all these
tumultuous evolutions, not appearing to disquiet himself about a danger
which he now braved for the first time, deprived Bois-Rose of that
confidence in himself which had brought him safe and sound out of perils
apparently greater than this.

"Ah!" muttered he, "these are scenes which the inhabitants of cities can
never see, it is only in the desert one can meet with them."

But his voice trembled in spite of himself; and he stopped, for he felt
that he would have given a year of his life that Fabian had not been
present.  At this moment a new subject of apprehension added to his
anguish.

The scene became more solemn; for a new actor, whose _role_ was to be
short though terrible, now appeared upon it.  It was a man, whom by his
dress the three recognised with terror as a white man like themselves.
The unlucky man suddenly discovered in one of the evolutions of the
chase, had become in his turn the exclusive object of pursuit.  Wild
horses, wolves, the stag, had all disappeared in the distant fog.  There
remained only the twenty Indians scattered over a circle, of which the
white man occupied the centre.  For an instant the friends could see him
cast around him a glance of despair and anguish.  But, excepting on the
river-side, the Indians were everywhere.  It was, therefore, in this
direction that he must fly; and he turned his horse towards the opening
opposite to the island.  But his single moment of indecision had
sufficed for the Indians to get near him.

"The unhappy man is lost, and no help for it," said Bois-Rose; "he is
too late now to cross the river."

"But," said Fabian, "if we can save a Christian, shall we let him be
murdered before our eyes?"

Pepe looked at Bois-Rose.

"I answer for your life before God," said the Canadian, solemnly, "if we
are discovered we are but three against twenty.  The life of three men--
yours especially, Fabian--is more precious than that of one; we must let
this unhappy man meet his fate."

"But intrenched as we are?" persisted Fabian.

"Intrenched!  Do you call this frail rampart of osiers and reeds an
intrenchment?  Do you think these leaves are ball proof?  And these
Indians are but twenty now; but let one of our shots be fired at them,
and you will soon see one hundred instead of twenty.  May God pardon me
if I am unfeeling, but it is necessary."

Fabian said no more; this last reason seemed conclusive, for, like his
companions, he was ignorant that the rest of the Indians were at the
camp of Don Estevan.

Meanwhile the white fled like a man the speed of whose horse is his last
resource.  Already they could see the terror depicted on his face, but
just as he was about twenty feet from the river, the lasso of an Indian
caught him, and the unlucky wretch, thrown violently from his saddle
fell upon the sand.



CHAPTER FORTY.

AN INDIAN DIPLOMAT.

After the cries of triumph which announced the capture of the unlucky
white man, there was a moment of profound silence.  The men on the
island exchanged looks of consternation and pity.  "Thank God! they have
not killed him!" said Fabian.

The prisoner indeed arose, although bruised with his fall, and one of
the Indians disengaged him from the lasso.  Bois-Rose and Pepe shook
their heads.

"So much the worse for him, for his sufferings would now be over," said
Pepe; "the silence of the Indians shows that each is considering what
punishment to inflict.  The capture of one white is more precious in
their eyes than that of a whole troop of horses."

The Indians, still on horseback, surrounded the prisoner, who, casting
around him a despairing glance, saw on every side only bronzed and
hardened faces.  Then the Indians began to deliberate.

Meanwhile, one who appeared to be the chief, and who was distinguished
by his black plumes, jumped off his horse, and, throwing the bridle to
one of the men, advanced towards the island.  Having reached the bank,
he seemed to seek for footsteps on the sand.  Bois-Rose's heart beat
violently, for this movement appeared to show some suspicion as to their
presence.

"Can this wretch," whispered he to Pepe, "smell flesh like the ogres in
the fairy tales?"

"_Quien sabe_--who knows?" replied the Spaniard, in the phrase which is
the common answer of his native country.

But the sand trampled over by the wild horses who had come to drink,
showed no traces of a human foot, and the Indian walked up the stream,
still apparently seeking.

"The demon has some suspicion," said Bois-Rose; "and he will discover
the traces that we left half-a-mile off when we entered the bed of the
river to get at this island.  I told you," added he, "that we should
have entered two miles higher up; but neither you nor Fabian wished it,
and like a fool, I yielded to you."

The deliberation as to the fate of the prisoner was now doubtless over;
for cries of joy welcomed some proposition made by one of the Indians.
But it was necessary to await the return and approbation of the chief,
who was the man already known to us as the "Blackbird."  He had
continued his researches, and having reached the place where they had
left the sand to enter the river, no longer doubted that the report
brought to them had been correct; and having his own private objects, he
determined to follow it.  Once assured of the presence of the three
whites, he returned to his men, listened gravely to the result of their
deliberations, answered in a few words, and then advanced slowly towards
the river--after having given an order to five of his men who set off at
full gallop to execute it.

The aquatic plants were open in the sunshine; the breeze agitated the
leaves of the osiers on the banks of the island, which was to all
appearance as uninhabited as when the stream flowed only for the birds
of heaven, and the buffaloes and wild horses of the plains.  But an
Indian could not be deceived by this apparent calm.  The "Blackbird"
made a speaking-trumpet of his hand, and cried in a language half
Indian, half-Spanish--

"The white warriors of the north may show themselves; the `Blackbird' is
their friend.  So, too, are the warriors he commands."

At these words, borne to them distinctly by the wind, the Canadian
pressed the arm of Pepe; both understood the mixed dialect of the
Indian.

"What shall we reply?" said he.

"Nothing," answered Pepe.

The breeze which murmured through the reeds was the only answer the
Indian could hear.

He went on--

"The eagle may hide his track in the air from the eye of an Apache; the
salmon in the stream leaves no trace behind him; but a white man who
crosses the desert is neither a salmon nor an eagle."

"Nor a gosling," murmured Pepe; "and a gosling only betrays himself by
trying to sing."

The Indian listened again, but hearing no sound, continued, without
showing any signs of being discouraged, "The white warriors of the north
are but three against twenty, and the red warriors engage their word to
be friends and allies to them."

"Wagh!" said Bois-Rose, "for what perfidy has he need of us?"

"Let him go on, and we shall hear; he has not yet finished, or I am much
mistaken!"

"When the white warriors know the intentions of the Blackbird, they will
leave their hiding-place," continued he, "but they shall hear them.  The
white men of the north are the enemies of those of the south--their
language, their religion is different.  The Apaches hold in their toils
a whole camp of southern warriors."

"So much the worse for the gold-seekers," said Bois-Rose.

"If the warriors of the north will join the Indians with their long
rifles, they shall share the horses and the treasures of the men of the
south; the Indians and the whites will dance together round the corpses
of their enemies, and the ashes of their camp."

Bois-Rose and Pepe looked at each other in astonishment, and explained
to Fabian the proposal made to them, but the fire of their eyes and
their disdainful looks, showed that the noble trio had but one opinion
on the subject--that of perishing rather than aiding the Indians to
triumph even over their mortal enemies.

"Do you hear the miscreant," cried Bois-Rose, using in indignation an
image fit for the Indians, "he takes jaguars far jackals.  Ah! if Fabian
were not here, a bullet would be my answer."

Meanwhile, the Indian feeling certain of the presence of the hunters in
the island, began to lose patience--for the orders of the chiefs had
been peremptory to attack the whites--but he, having his own opinions,
wished to prove them right.  He knew that the American or Canadian rifle
never misses its aim, and three such allies seemed to him not to be
despised.  He therefore continued to speak:

"The buffalo of the prairies is not more easy to follow than the white
man; the track of the buffalo tells the Indian his age, his size, and
the time of his passing.  There are behind the reeds of the floating
island a man as strong as a bison, and taller than the tallest rifle, a
warrior of mingled north and south blood, and a young warrior of the
pure south, but the alliance of these two with the first, indicates that
they are enemies of the southern whites--for the weakest ever seek the
friendship of the strongest and espouse their cause."

"The sagacity of these dogs is admirable," said Bois-Rose.

"Because they flatter you," said Pepe, who seemed somewhat annoyed at
what the Indian had said.

"I await for the answer of the whites," continued the Blackbird.  "I
hear only the sound of the river, and the wind which says to me, `the
whites imagine a thousand errors; they believe that the Indian has eyes
behind his back, that the track of the bison is invisible, and that
reeds are ball proof.'  The Blackbird laughs at the words of the wind."

"Ah!" said Bois-Rose, "if we had entered but two miles higher up the
river!"

"A friend disdained becomes a terrible enemy," continued the chief.

"We say something similar among us," muttered Pepe.

The Blackbird now signed to the captive to approach.  The latter
advanced, and the chief pointed out to him the little island, and said,
"Can the rifle of the pale-face send a ball into the space between those
bushes?"

But the prisoner had understood only the little Spanish mixed with the
Indian dialect, and he remained mute and trembling.  Then the Blackbird
spoke to one of his warriors, who placed in the hands of the prisoner
the rifle that he had taken from him, and by gestures made him
understand what was wanted of him.  The unlucky man tried to take aim,
but terror caused him to shake in such a fashion that his rifle was
unsteady in his hands.

"If the Indian has no better way than that to make us speak," said Pepe,
"I will not say a word until to-morrow!"

The white man fired indeed, but the ball, directed by his trembling
hands, fell into the water some distance from the island.  The Blackbird
glanced contemptuously at him, and then looked around him.

"Yes," said Pepe; "seek for balls and powder among the lances and
lassoes of your warriors."

But as he finished this consoling reflection, the five men who had gone
away, returned armed for combat, with rifles and quivers full of arrows.
They had been to fetch the arms which they had laid down, in order to
follow the wild horses more freely.  Five others now went off.

"This looks bad," said Bois-Rose.

"Shall we attack them while they are but fifteen," said Pepe.

"No, let us remain silent; he still doubts whether we are here."

"As you like."

The Indian chief now took a rifle and advanced again to the bank.

"The hands of the Blackbird do not tremble like a leaf shaken by the
wind," said he, pointing his rifle steadily towards the island.  "But
before firing, he will wait while he counts one hundred, for the answer
of the whites who are hidden in the island."

"Get behind me, Fabian," said Bois-Rose.

"No, I stay here," said Fabian, decidedly.  "I am younger, and it is my
place to expose myself for you."

"Child! do you not see that my body exceeds yours six inches on every
side, and your remaining in front is but presenting a double mark."

And without shaking a single one of the reeds around the island, he
advanced and knelt before Fabian.

"Let him do it, Fabian," said Pepe.  "Never had man a more noble
buckler, than the heart of the giant which beats in fear for you."

The Indian chief, rifle in hand, listened as he counted, but excepting
the murmur of the water, a profound silence reigned everywhere.

He fired at length, and the leaves of the trees flew into the air; but
as the three hunters knelt in a row they did not present a large aim,
and the ball passed at some little distance from them.

The Blackbird waited a minute and cried again: "The Indian was wrong, he
acknowledges his error, he will seek for the white warriors elsewhere."

"Who believes that?" said Pepe; "he is more sure than ever.  He is about
to leave us alone for a few minutes, until he has finished with that
poor devil yonder, which will not belong--since the death of a white is
a spectacle which an Indian is always in a hurry to enjoy."

"But had we better not make some effort in favour of the unlucky man?"
said Fabian.

"Some unexpected circumstances may come to our assistance," replied
Bois-Rose.  "Whatever Pepe says, the Indians may still doubt, but if we
show ourselves, all is over.  To accept an alliance with these Indians,
even against Don Estevan de Arechiza, would be an unworthy cowardice.
What can we do?" added he, sadly.

One fear tormented him; he had seen Fabian in danger when his blood was
boiling with passion, but had he the calm courage which meets death
coolly?  Had he the stoical resignation of which he himself had given so
many proofs?  The Canadian took a sudden resolution.

"Listen, Fabian," said he; "can I speak to you the language of a man?
Will the words which your ears will transmit to your heart not freeze it
with terror?"

"Why doubt my courage?" replied Fabian in a tone of gentle reproach.
"Whatever you say, I will hear without growing pale; whatever you do, I
will do also, without trembling."

"Don Fabian speaks truly, Pepe; look at his eye," said the Canadian,
pressing Fabian in his arms; then he continued solemnly: "Never were
three men in greater peril than we are now; our enemies are seven times
our number; when each of us has killed six of them, there would still
remain a number equal to our own."

"We have done it before," said Pepe.

"And we shall do it again," cried Fabian.

"Good, my child," said Bois-Rose, "but whatever happens, these demons
must not take us alive.  See, Fabian!" added the old man, in a voice
that he tried to keep firm while unsheathing a long knife, "if we were
left without powder or ammunition at the mercy of these dogs, about to
fall into their hands, and this poignard in my hand was our only chance,
what would you say?"

"I would say, strike, father, and let us die together!"

"Yes, yes," cried the Canadian, looking with indescribable tenderness at
him who called him father, "it will be one means of never being
separated."  And he held out to Fabian his hand trembling with emotion,
which the latter kissed respectfully.

"Now," said Bois-Rose, "whatever happens we shall not be separated.  God
will do the rest, and we shall try to save this unlucky man."

"To work then!" said Fabian.

"Not yet, my child; let us see what these red demons are about to do."

Meanwhile the Indians had ranged themselves in two lines, and the white
man was placed a little in advance of them.

"I see what they are going to do," said Bois-Rose, "they are going to
try if the poor wretch's legs are better than his arms.  They are about
to chase him."

"How so?" said Fabian.

"They will place their captive a little in advance, then at a given
signal he will run.  Then all the Indians will run after him, lance and
hatchet in hand.  If the white is quick enough to reach the river before
them, we will call to him to swim to us.  Some shots will protect him,
and he may reach here safe and sound.  But if terror paralyses his
limbs, as it did his hands just now, the foremost Indian will break his
head with a blow from a hatchet.  In any case we shall do our best."

At this moment the five other Indians returned armed from head to foot,
and now joined the rest.  Fabian looked with profound compassion at the
unlucky white man, who with haggard eye, and features distorted by
terror, waited in horrible anguish until the signal was given.  But the
Blackbird pointed to the bare feet of his warriors, and then to the
leather buskins which protected the feet of the white man.  They then
saw the latter sit down and take them off slowly, as if to gain a few
seconds.

"The demons!" cried Fabian.

"Hush!" said Bois-Rose, "do not by discovering yourself destroy the last
chance of life for the poor wretch!"

Fabian shut his eyes so as not to witness the horrible scene about to
take place.  At length the white man rose to his feet, and the Indians
stood devouring him with their looks, until the Blackbird clapped his
hands together, and then the howlings which followed could only be
compared to those of a troop of jaguars in pursuit of a deer.  The
unlucky captive ran with great swiftness, but his pursuers bounded after
him like tigers.  Thanks to the start which he had had, he cleared
safely a part of the distance which separated him from the river, but
the stones which cut his feet and the sharp thorns of the nopals soon
caused him to slacken his pace, and one of the Indians rushed up and
made a furious thrust at him with his lance.  It passed between his arm
and his body, and the Indian losing his equilibrium, fell on the sand.

Gayferos, for it was he, appeared to hesitate a moment whether he should
pick up the lance which the Indian had let fall, but then rapidly
continued his course.  That instant's hesitation was fatal to him.  All
at once, amidst the cloud of dust raised by his feet, a hatchet shone
over the head of the unfortunate Mexican, who was seen falling to the
earth.

Bois-Rose was about to fire, but the fear of killing him whom he wished
to defend, stopped his hand.  For a single moment the wind cleared away
the dust, and he fired, but it was too late, the Indian who fell under
his ball was brandishing in his hand the scalp of the unhappy man.  To
this unexpected shot, the savages replied with howls, and then rushed
away from what they believed to be only a corpse.  Soon, however, they
saw the man rise, with his head laid bare, who after straggling a few
paces, fell again, while the blood flowed in torrents from his wounds.

"Ah!" cried Bois-Rose, "if there remains in him a spark of life--and
people do not die only from scalping--we shall save him yet; I swear we
shall!"



CHAPTER FORTY ONE.

INDIAN CUNNING.

As the Canadian uttered the generous oath, wrung from him by
indignation, it seemed to him that a supplicating voice reached him.
"Is not the poor wretch calling for aid?"  And he raised his head from
behind its shelter.

At sight of the fox-skin cap which covered the head of the giant, and of
the long and heavy rifle which he raised like a willow wand, the Indians
recognised one of their formidable northern enemies, and recoiled in
astonishment--for the Blackbird alone had been instructed as to whom
they were seeking.  Bois-Rose, looking towards the shore now perceived
the unlucky Gayferos stretching out his arms towards him, and feebly
calling for help.  The dying Indian still held the scalp in his clenched
hand.

At this terrible spectacle the Canadian drew himself up to his full
height.  "Fire on these dogs!" cried he, "and remember--never let them
take you alive."

So saying, he resolutely entered the water, and any other man would have
had it up to his head, but the Canadian had all his shoulders above the
surface.

"Do not fire till after me," said Pepe to Fabian; "my hand is surer than
yours, and my Kentucky rifle carries twice as far as your Liege gun."
And he held his rifle ready to fire at the slightest sign of hostility
from the Indians.

Meanwhile, Bois-Rose still advanced, the water growing gradually
shallower, when an Indian raised his rifle ready to fire on the intrepid
hunter; but a bullet from Pepe stopped him, and he fell forward on his
face.

"Now you, Don Fabian!" said Pepe, throwing himself on the ground to
reload, after the American custom in such cases.

Fabian fired, but his rifle having a shorter range, the shot only drew
from the Indian at whom he aimed a cry of rage.  But Pepe had reloaded,
and stood ready to fire again.

There was a moment's hesitation among the Indians, by which Bois-Rose
profited to draw towards him the body of the unlucky Gayferos.  He,
clinging to his shoulders, had the presence of mind to leave his
preserver's arms free; who, with his burden, again entered the water,
going backwards.  Then his rifle was heard, and an Indian's death-cry
immediately followed.  This valiant retreat, protected by Pepe and
Fabian, awed the Indians, and some minutes after, Bois-Rose triumphantly
placed the fainting Gayferos on the island.

"There are three of them settled for," said he, "and now we shall have a
few minutes' truce.  Well, Fabian, do you see the advantage of firing in
file?  You did not do badly for a beginner, and I can assure you that
when you have a Kentucky rifle like us, you will be a good marksman."
Then to Gayferos, "We came too late to save the skin of your head, my
poor fellow, but console yourself, it is no such dreadful thing.  I have
many friends in the same condition, who are none the worse for it.  Your
life is saved--that is the great thing--and we shall endeavour to bind
up your wounds."

Some strips torn from the shirt of Gayferos served to bind around his
head a large mass of willow leaves crushed together and steeped in
water, and concealed the hideous wound.  The blood was then washed from
his face.

"You see," said Bois-Rose, still clinging to the idea of keeping Fabian
near him, "you must learn to know the habits of the desert, and of the
Indians.  The villains, who see, by the loss of three of their men, what
stuff we are made of, have retired to concoct some stratagem.  You hear
how silent all is after so much noise?"

The desert, indeed, had recovered its silence, the leaves only trembled
in the evening breeze, and the water began to display brilliant colours
in the setting sun.

"Well, Pepe, they are but seventeen now!" continued Bois-Rose, in a tone
of triumph.

"Oh! we may succeed, if they do not get reinforcements."

"That is a chance and a terrible one; but our lives are in God's hands,"
replied Bois-Rose.  "Tell me, friend!" said he to Gayferos, "you
probably belong to the camp of Don Estevan?"

"Do you know him then?" said the wounded man, in a feeble voice.

"Yes; and by what chance are you so far from the camp?"

The wounded man recounted how, by Don Estevan's orders, he had set off
to seek for their lost guide, and that his evil star had brought him in
contact with the Indians as they were hunting the wild horses.

"What is the name of your guide?"

"Cuchillo."

Fabian and Bois-Rose glanced at each other.

"Yes," said the latter, "there is some probability that your suspicions
about that white demon were correct, and that he is conducting the
expedition to the Golden Valley; but, my child, if we escape these
Indians, we are close to it; and once we are installed there, were they
a hundred, we should succeed in defending ourselves."

This was whispered in Fabian's ear.

"One word more," said Bois-Rose to the wounded man, "and then we shall
leave you to repose.  How many men has Don Estevan with him?"

"Sixty."

Bois-Rose now again bathed the head of the wounded Gayferos with cold
water: and the unhappy man, refreshed for the moment, and weakened by
loss of blood, fell into a lethargic sleep.

"Now," continued Bois-Rose, "let us endeavour to build up a rampart
which shall be a little more ball and arrow-proof than this fringe of
moving leaves and reeds.  Did you count how many rifles the Indians
had?"

"Seven, I believe," said Pepe.

"Then ten of them are less to be feared.  They cannot attack us either
on the right or the left--but perhaps they have made a detour to cross
the river, and are about to place us between two fires."

The side of the islet opposite the shore on which the Indians had shown
themselves was sufficiently defended by enormous roots, bristling like
chevaux-de-frise; but the side where the attack was probably about to
recommence was defended only by a thick row of reeds and osier-shoots.

Thanks to his great strength, Bois-Rose, aided by Pepe, succeeded in
dragging from the end of the islet which faced the course of the stream,
some large dry branches and fallen trunks of trees.  A few minutes
sufficed for the two skilful hunters to protect the feeble side with a
rough but solid entrenchment, which would form a very good defence to
the little garrison of the island.

"Do you see, Fabian," said Bois-Rose, "you'll be as safe behind these
trunks of trees as in a stone fortress.  You'll be exposed only to the
balls that may be fired from the tops of the trees, but I shall take
care that none of these redskins climb so high."

And quite happy at having raised a barrier between Fabian and death, he
assigned him his post in the place most sheltered from the enemy.

"Did you remark," said he to Pepe, "how at every effort that we made to
break a branch or disengage a block of wood, the island trembled to its
foundation?"

"Yes," said Pepe, "one might think that it was about to be torn from its
base and follow the course of the stream."

The Canadian then cautioned his two companions to be careful of their
ammunition, gave Fabian some instructions as to taking aim, pressed him
to his heart, squeezed the hand of his old comrade, and then the three
stationed themselves at their several posts.  The surface of the river,
the tops of the aspens growing on the banks, the banks themselves and
the reeds, were all objects of examination for the hunters, as the night
was fast coming on.

"This is the hour when the demons of darkness lay their snares," said
Bois-Rose, "when these human jaguars seek for their prey.  It was of
them that the Scriptures spoke."

No one replied to this speech, which was uttered rather as a soliloquy.

Meanwhile, the darkness was creeping on little by little, and the bushes
which grew on the bank began to assume the fantastic forms given to
objects by the uncertain twilight.

The green of the trees began to look black; but habit had given to
Bois-Rose and to Pepe eyes as piercing as those of the Indians
themselves, and nothing, with the vigilance they were exerting, could
have deceived them.

"Pepe," whispered Bois-Rose, pointing to a tuft of osiers, "does it not
seem to you that that bush has changed its form and grown larger?"

"Yes; it has changed its form!"

"See, Fabian! you have the piercing sight that I had at your age; does
it not appear to you that at the left-hand side of that tuft of osiers
the leaves no longer look natural?"

The young man pushed the reeds on one side, and gazed for a while
attentively.

"I could swear it," said he, "but--" He stopped, and looked in another
direction.

"Well! do you see anything?"

"I see, between that willow and the aspen, about ten feet from the tuft
of osiers, a bush which certainly was not there just now."

"Ah! see what it is to live far from towns;--the least points of the
landscape fix themselves in the memory, and become precious indications.
You are born to live the life of a hunter, Fabian!"

Pepe levelled his rifle at the bush indicated by Fabian.

"Pepe understands it at once," said Bois-Rose; "he knows, like me, that
the Indians have employed their time in cutting down branches to form a
temporary shelter; but I think two of us at least may teach them a few
stratagems that they do not yet know.  Leave that bush to Fabian, it
will be an easy mark for him; fire at the branches whose leaves are
beginning to wither--there is an Indian behind them.  Fire in the
centre, Fabian!"

The two rifles were heard simultaneously, and the false bush fell,
displaying a red body behind the leaves, while the branches which had
been added were convulsively agitated.  All three then threw themselves
on the ground, and a discharge of balls immediately flew over their
heads, covering them with leaves and broken branches, while the war-cry
of the Indians sounded in their ears.

"If I do not deceive myself, they are now but fifteen," said Bois-Rose,
as he quitted his horizontal posture, and knelt on the ground.

"Be still!" added he.  "I see the leaves of an aspen trembling more than
the wind alone could cause them to do.  It is doubtless one of those
fellows who has climbed up into the tree."

As he spoke, a bullet struck one of the trunks of which the islet was
composed, and proved that he had guessed rightly.

"Wagh!" said the Canadian, "I must resort to a trick that will force him
to show himself."

So saying, he took off his cap and coat, and placed them between the
branches, where they could be seen.  "Now," said he, "if I were fighting
a white soldier, I would place myself by the side of my coat, for he
would fire at the coat; with an Indian I shall stand behind it, for he
will not be deceived in the same manner, and will aim to one side of it.
Lie down, Fabian and Pepe, and in a minute you shall hear a bullet
whistle either to the right or the left of the mark I have set up."

As Bois-Rose said this, he knelt down behind his coat, ready to fire at
the aspen.

He was not wrong in his conjectures; in a moment, the balls of the
Indians cut the leaves on each side of the coat, but without touching
either of the three companions, who had placed themselves in a line.

"Ah," cried the Canadian, "there are whites who can fight the Indians
with their own weapons; we shall presently have an enemy the less."

And saying this he fired into the aspen, out of which the body of an
Indian was seen to fall, rolling from branch to branch like a fruit
knocked from its stem.

At this feat of the Canadian, the savage howlings resounded with so much
fury, that it required nerves of iron not to shudder at them.  Gayferos
himself, whom the firing had not roused, shook off his lethargy and
murmured, in a trembling voice, "Virgen de los Dolores!  Would not one
say it was a band of tigers howling in the darkness?--Holy Virgin! have
pity on me!"

"Thank her rather," interrupted the Canadian; "the knaves might deceive
a novice like you, but not an old hunter like me.  You have heard the
jackals of an evening in the forest howl and answer each other as though
there were hundreds of them, when there were but three or four.  The
Indians imitate the jackals, and I will answer for it there are not more
that a dozen now behind those trees.  Ah! if I could but get them to
cross the water, not one of them should return to carry the news of
their disaster."

Then, as if a sudden thought had flashed across his mind, he directed
his companions to lie down on their backs--in which position they were
protected by the trunks of the trees.  "We are in safety as long as we
lie thus," said he, "only keep your eye on the tops of the trees; it is
from these only they can reach us.  Fire only if you see them climb up,
but otherwise remain motionless.  The knaves will not willingly depart
without our scalps, and must make up their minds at last to attack us."

This resolution of the hunter seemed to have been inspired by heaven,
for scarcely had they laid down before a shower of balls and arrows tore
to pieces the border of reeds, and broke the branches behind which they
had been kneeling a minute before.  Bois-Rose pulled down his coat and
hat, as though he himself had fallen, and then the most profound silence
reigned in the island, after this apparently murderous fire.  Cries of
triumph followed this silence, and then a second discharge of bullets
and arrows.

"Is not that an Indian mounting the willow?" whispered Pepe.

"Yes, but let us risk his fire without stirring; lie all of us as if we
were dead.  Then he will go and tell his companions that he has counted
the corpses of the palefaces."

In spite of the danger incurred by this stratagem, the proposition of
Bois-Rose was accepted, and each remained motionless, watching, not
without anxiety, the manoeuvres of the Indian.  With extreme precaution
the red warrior climbed from branch to branch, until he had reached a
point from which he could overlook the whole islet.

There remained just sufficient daylight to observe his movements when
the foliage itself did not hide them.  When he had reached the desired
height, the Indian, resting on a thick branch, advanced his head with
precaution.  The sight of the bodies extended on the ground appeared not
to surprise him, and he now openly pointed his rifle towards them.  This
he did several times, apparently taking aim, but not one of the hunters
stirred.  Then the Indian uttered a cry of triumph.  "The shark takes
the bait," muttered Bois-Rose.

"I shall recognise this son of a dog," rejoined Pepe, "and if I do not
repay him for the anxiety he has caused me, it is because the bullet he
is about to send will prevent me."

"It is the Blackbird," said Bois-Rose, "he is both brave and dexterous--
lie close!"

The Indian once more took aim, and then fired; a branch knocked from a
tree just above Pepe, fell upon him and hurt his forehead.  He stirred
no more than the dead wood against which he leaned, but said, "Rascal of
a redskin, I'll pay you for this before long."

Some drops of blood fell upon the face of the Canadian.

"Is any one wounded?" said he, with a shudder.

"A scratch, nothing more," said Pepe, "God be praised!"

Just then the Indian uttered a cry of joy, as he descended from the tree
on which he had mounted, and the three friends again breathed freely.

And yet some doubt seemed to remain in the minds of the Indians, for a
long and solemn silence followed the manoeuvre of their chief.

The sun had now set, the short twilight had passed away, night had come
on, and the moon shone on the river, yet still the Indians did not stir.

"Our scalps tempt them, but they still hesitate to come and take them,"
said Pepe, who was becoming very tired of doing nothing.

"Patience!" whispered Bois-Rose, "the Indians are like the vultures, who
dare not attack a body until it begins to decay.  We may look out for
them by-and-bye.  Let us resume our position behind the reeds."

The hunters again quickly knelt down and continued to watch their
enemies.

Before long an Indian showed himself very cautiously, another then
joined him, and both approached with increasing confidence, followed by
others, until Bois-Rose counted ten in the moonlight.

"They will cross the river in file, I expect," said he.  "Fabian, you
fire at the first, Pepe will aim at the centre, and I at the last but
one.  In that way they cannot all attack together.  It will be a
hand-to-hand struggle, but you, Fabian, while Pepe and I wait for them
knife in hand, shall load our rifles and pass them to us.  By the memory
of your mother, I forbid you to fight with these wretches."

As the Canadian uttered these words, a tall Indian entered the river,
followed by nine others.  All advanced with the utmost caution; they
might have been taken for the shades of warriors returned from the land
of spirits.



CHAPTER FORTY TWO.

THE BLACKBIRD.

Death seemed to the eyes of the Indians to reign over the island--for
the hunters held even their breath--and yet they advanced with the
utmost care.

The foremost man, who was the "Blackbird" himself, had reached a place
where the water began to be deep, as the last man was just leaving the
bank.  But just as Fabian was about to take aim against the chief, to
the great regret of Pepe, the "Blackbird," either fearful of danger, or
because a ray of moonlight gleaming on the rifles told him his enemy
still lived dived suddenly under the water.

"Fire!" cried Bois-Rose, and immediately the last Indian of the file
fell to rise no more, and two others appeared struggling in the water,
and were quickly borne off by the stream.  Pepe and Bois-Rose then threw
their rifles behind them as agreed upon, for Fabian to reload, while
they themselves stood upon the bank, knives in hand.

"The Apaches are still seven," shouted Bois-Rose, in a voice of thunder,
anxious to finish the struggle, and feeling all his hatred of the
Indians awakened within him, "will they dare to come and take the scalps
of the whites?"

But the disappearance of their chief and the death of their comrades had
disconcerted the Indians; they did not fly, but they remained undecided
and motionless, as black rocks bathed by the shining waters of the
river.

"Can the red warriors only scalp dead bodies?" added Pepe with a
contemptuous laugh.  "Are the Apaches like vultures who only attack the
dead?  Advance then, dogs, vultures, women without courage!" shouted he,
at the sight of their enemies, who were now rapidly regaining the bank.
Suddenly, however, he noticed a body floating on its back, whose bright
eyes showed that it was not a corpse, as the extended arms and
motionless body seemed to indicate.

"Don Fabian, my rifle! there is the `Blackbird' pretending to be dead
and floating down the stream."

Pepe took the rifle from Fabian, and aimed at the floating body, but not
a muscle stirred.  The hunter lowered his rifle.  "I was wrong," said
he, aloud, "the white men do not, like the Indians, waste their powder
on dead bodies."

The body still floated, with outspread legs and extended arms.  Pepe
again raised his rifle and again lowered it.  Then, when he thought that
he had paid off anguish for anguish to the Indian chief, he fired, and
the body floated no longer.

"Have you killed him?" asked Bois-Rose.

"No, I only wished to break his shoulder bone, that he may always have
cause to remember the shudder he gave, and the treason he proposed to
me.  If he were dead, he would still float."

"You might have done better to have killed him.  But what is to be done
now?  I hoped to finish with these demons, and now our work is still to
be done.  We cannot cross the river to attack them."

"It is the best thing we can do."

"With Fabian, I cannot decide to do it, or I should be now on the bank
opposite, where you know as well as I do they still are breathing their
infernal vengeance."

The Spaniard shrugged his shoulders with stoical resignation.

"Doubtless," said he, "but we must decide either to fly or to stay."

"Carramba!" continued he, "if we two were alone we would gain the
opposite bank in a minute; the seven who are left would catch us no
doubt, but we should come out of it, as we have out of more difficult
situations."

"It would be better than to stay here like foxes in their hole."

"I agree: but Fabian! and the unlucky scalped man, whom we cannot
abandon thus to the mercy of the wretches who have already treated him
so cruelly.  Let us wait at least until the moon has set, and darkness
comes on."

And the old man hung his head with an air of discouragement--which made
a painful impression on the Spaniard--raising it only to glance
anxiously at the sky; where the moon held on her ordinary course over
the starry blue.

"So be it," said Pepe; "but, stay! we killed first five Indians, then
three, that makes eight; there should have been twelve left; why did we
only count ten in the water?  Depend upon it, the Blackbird has sent the
two others to seek for reinforcements."

"It is possible: to remain here or to fly are both terrible."

For some time the hunters thus continued to deliberate; meanwhile the
moonbeams began to fall more obliquely, and already a part of the tops
of the trees were in shadow.  More than an hour had elapsed since the
attempt of the Indians, and Pepe, less absorbed than Bois-Rose, was
watching anxiously.

"That cursed moon will never go down," said he, "and it seems to me that
I hear something like the noise of feet in the water; the buffaloes do
not come down to drink at this time of night."

So saying, he rose and leaning right and left, looked up and down the
stream, but on each side extended an impenetrable veil of fog.  The
coolness of the American nights which succeeds the burning heat of the
day, condenses thus in thick clouds the exhalations of the ground, and
of the waters heated by the sun.

"I can see nothing but fog," said he.

Little by little the vague sounds died away, and the air recovered its
habitual cairn and silence.  The moon was fast going down, and all
nature seemed sleeping, when the occupants of the island started up in
terror.

From both sides of the river rose shouts so piercing that the banks
echoed them long after the mouths that uttered them were closed.
Henceforth flight was impossible; the Indians had encompassed the
island.

"The moon may go down now," cried Pepe with rage.  "Ah! with reason I
feared the two absent men, and the noises that I heard; it was the
Indians who were gaining the opposite bank.  Who knows how many enemies
we have around us now?"

"What matter," replied Bois-Rose gloomily, "whether there are one
hundred vultures to tear our bodies, or a hundred Indians to howl round
us when we are dead?"

"It is true that the number matters little in such circumstances, but it
will be a day of triumph for them."

"Are you going to sing your death-song like them, who, when tied to the
stake, recall the number of scalps they have taken?"

"And why not? it is a very good custom, it helps one to die like a hero,
and to remember that you have lived like a man."

"Let us rather try to die like Christians," replied Bois-Rose.

Then drawing Fabian towards him, he said:

"I scarcely know, my beloved child, what I had dreamed of for you; I am
half savage and half civilised, and my dreams partook of both.
Sometimes I wished to restore you to the honours of this world--to your
honours, your titles--and to add to them all the treasures of the Golden
Valley.  Then I dreamed only of the splendour of the desert, and its
majestic harmonies, which lull a man to his rest, and entrance him at
his waking.  But I can truly say that the dominant idea in my mind was
that of never quitting you.  Must that be accomplished in death?  So
young, so brave, so handsome, must you meet the same fate as a man who
would soon be useless in the world?"

"Who would love me when you were gone?" replied Fabian, in a voice which
their terrible situation deprived neither of its sweetness nor firmness.
"Before I met you, the grave had closed upon all I loved, and the sole
living being who could replace them was--you.  What have I to regret in
this world?"

"The future, my child; the future into which youth longs to plunge, like
the thirsty stag into the lake."

Distant firing now interrupted the melancholy reflections of the old
hunter; the Indians were attacking the camp of Don Estevan.  The reader
knows the result.

Suddenly they heard a voice from the bank, saying, "Let the white men
open their ears!"

"It is the `Blackbird' again," cried Pepe.  It was indeed he, supported
by two Indians.

"Why should they open their ears?" answered Pepe.

"The whites laugh at the menaces of the `Blackbird,' and despise his
promises."

"Good!" said the Indian; "the whites are brave, and they will need all
their bravery.  The white men of the south are being attacked now; why
are the men of the north not against them?"

"Because you are a bird of doleful plumage! because lions do not hunt
with jackals, for jackals can only howl while the lion devours.  Apply
the compliment; it is a fine flower of Indian rhetoric," cried Pepe,
exasperated.

"Good! the whites are like the conquered Indians, insulting his
conqueror.  But the eagle laughs at the words of the mocking-bird, and
it is not to him that the eagle deigns to address himself."

"To whom then?" cried Pepe.

"To the giant, his brother, the eagle of the snowy mountains, who
disdains to imitate the language of other birds."

"What do you want of him?" said Bois-Rose.

"The Indian would hear the northern warrior ask for life," replied the
Blackbird.

"I have a different demand to make," said the Canadian.

"I listen," replied the Indian.

"If you will swear on the honour of a warrior, and on your father's
bones, that you will spare my companions' lives, I shall cross the river
alone without arms, and bring you my scalp on my head.  That will tempt
him," added Bois-Rose.

"Are you mad, Bois-Rose?" cried Pepe.

Fabian flew towards the Canadian: "At the first step you make towards
the Indian, I shall kill you," cried he.

The old hunter felt his heart melt at the sound of the two voices that
he loved so much.  A short silence followed, then came the answer from
the bank.

"The Blackbird wishes the white man to ask for life, and he asks for
death.  My wish is this, let the white man of the north quit his
companions, and I swear on my father's bones, that his life shall be
saved, but his alone; the other three must die."

Bois-Rose disdained to reply to this offer, and the Indian chief waited
vainly for a refusal or an acceptance.  Then he continued: "Until the
hour of their death, the whites hear the voice of the Indian chief for
the last time.  My warriors surround the island and the river.  Indian
blood has been spilled and must be revenged; white blood must flow.  But
the Indian does not wish for this blood warmed by the ardour of the
combat, he wishes for it frozen by terror, impoverished by hunger.  He
will take the whites living; then, when he holds them in his clutches,
when they are like hungry dogs howling after a bone, he will see what
men are like after fear and privation; he will make of their skin a
saddle for his war-horse, and each of their scalps shall be suspended to
his saddle, as a trophy of vengeance.  My warriors shall surround the
island for fifteen days and nights if necessary, in order to make
capture of the white men."

After these terrible menaces the Indian disappeared behind the trees.
But Pepe not willing that he should believe he had intimidated them,
cried as coldly as anger would permit, "Dog, who can do nothing but
bark, the whites despise your vain bravados.  Jackal, unclean polecat, I
despise you--I--I"--but rage prevented him from saying more, and he
finished off by a gesture of contempt; then with a loud laugh he sat
down, satisfied at having had the last word.  As for Bois-Rose he saw in
it all only the refusal of his heroic sacrifice.

"Ah!" sighed the generous old man, "I could have arranged it all; now it
is too late."

The moon had gone down; the sound of distant firing had ceased, and the
darkness made the three friends feel still more forcibly how easy it
would have been to gain the opposite bank, carrying in their arms the
wounded man.  He, insensible to all that was passing, still slept
heavily.

"Thus," said Pepe, first breaking silence, "we have fifteen days to
live; it is true we have not much provision, but carramba! we shall fish
for food and for amusement."

"Let us think," said Bois-Rose, "of employing usefully the hours before
daylight."

"In what?"

"Parbleu! in escaping!"

"But how?"

"That is the question.  You can swim, Fabian?"

"How else should.  I have escaped from the Salto de Agua?"

"True!  I believe that fear confuses my brain.  Well! it would not be
impossible, perhaps, to dig a hole in the middle of this island, and to
slip through this opening into the water.  The night is so dark, that if
the Indians do not see us throw ourselves into the water, we might gain
a place some way off with safety.  Stay, I shall try an experiment."  So
saying, he detached, with some trouble, one of the trunks from the
little island; and its knotty end looked not unlike a human head.  This
he placed carefully on the water, and soon it floated gently down the
stream.  The three friends followed its course anxiously; then, when it
had disappeared, Bois-Rose said:

"You see, a prudent swimmer might pass in the same manner; not an Indian
has noticed it."

"That is true; but who knows that their eyes cannot distinguish a man
from a piece of wood?" said Pepe.  "Besides, we have with with us a man
who cannot swim."

"Whom?"

The Spaniard pointed to the wounded man; who groaned in his sleep, as
though his guardian angel warned him that there was a question of
abandoning him to his enemies.

"What matter?" said Bois-Rose; "is his life worth that of the last of
the Medianas?"

"No," replied the Spaniard; "and I, who half wanted a short time ago to
abandon the poor wretch, think now I would be cowardly."

"Perhaps," added Fabian, "he has children, who would weep for their
father."

"It would be a bad action, and would bring us ill luck," added Pepe.

All the superstitious tenderness of the Canadian awoke at these words,
and he said--

"Well, then, Fabian, you are a good swimmer, follow this plan: Pepe and
I will stay here and guard this man, and if we die here, it will be in
the discharge of our duty, and with the joy of knowing you to be safe."

But Fabian shook his head.

"I care not for life without you; I shall stay," said he.

"What can be done then?"

"Let us think," said Pepe.

But it was unluckily one of those cases in which all human resources are
vain, for it was one of those desperate situations from which a higher
power alone could extricate them.  In vain the fog thickened and the
night grew darker; the resolution not to abandon the wounded man opposed
an insurmountable obstacle to their escape, and before long the fires
lighted by the Indians along each bank, threw a red light over the
stream, and rendered this plan impracticable.  Except for these fires,
the most complete calm reigned, for no enemy was visible, no human voice
troubled the silence of the night.  However, the fog grew more and more
dense, the stream disappeared from view, and even the fires looked only
like pale and indistinct lights under the shadowy outline of the trees.



CHAPTER FORTY THREE.

A FEAT OF HERCULEAN STRENGTH.

Let us now glance at the spot occupied by the Blackbird.  The fires
lighted on the banks threw at first so strong a light that nothing could
escape the eyes of the Indians, and a sentinel placed near each fire was
charged to observe carefully all that passed on the island.  Seated and
leaning against the trunk of a tree, his broken shoulder bound up with
strips of leather, the Blackbird only showed on his face an expression
of satisfied ferocity; as for the suffering he was undergoing, he would
have thought it unworthy of him to betray the least indication of it.
His ardent eye was fixed continually on the spot where were the three
men, whom he pictured to himself as full of anguish.

But as the fog grew thicker, first the opposite bank and then the island
itself, became totally invisible.  The Indian chief felt that it was
necessary to redouble his surveillance.  He ordered one man to cross the
river, and another to walk along the bank, and exhorted every one to
watchfulness.

"Go," said he, "and tell those of my warriors who are ordered to watch
these Christians--whose skins and scalps shall serve as ornaments to our
horses--that they must each have four ears, to replace the eyes that the
fog has rendered useless.  Tell them that their vigilance will merit
their chief's gratitude; but that if they allow sleep to deaden their
senses, the hatchet of the Blackbird will send them to sleep in the land
of spirits."

The two messengers set off, and soon returned to tell the chief that he
might rest satisfied that attention would be paid to his orders.
Indeed, stimulated at once by their own hatred of the whites, and by the
hope of a recompense--fearing if sleep surprised them, not so much the
threatened punishment as the idea of awaking in the hunting-grounds of
the land of spirits, bearing on their foreheads the mark of shame which
accompanies the sentinel who gives way to sleep--the sentinels had
redoubled their vigilance.  There are few sounds that can escape the
marvellous ears of an Indian, but on this occasion the fog made it
difficult to hear as well as to see, and the strictest attention was
necessary.  With closed eyes and open ears, and standing up to chase
away the heaviness that the silence of nature caused them to feel, the
Indian warriors stood motionless near their fires, throwing on on from
time to time some fagots to keep them ablaze.

Some time passed thus, during which the only sound heard was that of a
distant fall in the river.

The Blackbird remained on the left bank, and the night air, as it
inflamed his wounds, only excited his hatred the more.  His face covered
with hideous paint, and contracted by the pain--of which he disdained to
make complaint--and his brilliant eyes, made him resemble one of the
sanguinary idols of barbarous times.  Little by little, however, in
spite of himself, his eyes were weighed down by sleep, and an invincible
drowsiness took possession of his spirit.  Before long his sleep became
so profound, that he did not hear the dry branches crackle under a
moccasin, as an Indian of his tribe advanced towards him.

Straight and motionless as a bamboo stem, an Indian runner covered with
blood and panting for breath, waited for some time until the chief,
before whom he stood, should open his eyes and interrogate him.  As the
latter showed no signs of awaking, the runner resolved to announce his
presence, and in a hollow, guttural voice, said--

"When the Blackbird shall open his eyes, he will hear from my mouth
words which will chase sleep far from him."

The chief opened his eyes at the voice, and shook off his drowsiness
with a violent effort.  Ashamed at having been surprised asleep, he
muttered:

"The Blackbird has lost much blood; he has lost so much that the next
sun will not dry it on the ground, and his body is more feeble than his
will."

"Man is made thus," rejoined the messenger, sententiously.

The Blackbird continued without noticing the reflection:

"It is some very important message doubtless, since the Spotted Cat has
chosen the fleetest of his runners to carry it?"

"The Spotted Cat will send no more messengers," replied the Indian.
"The lance of a white man has pierced his breast, and the chief now
hunts with his fathers in the land of spirits."

"What matter! he died a conqueror? he saw, before he died, the white
dogs dispersed over the plain?"

"He died conquered; and the Apaches had to fly after losing their chief
and fifty of their renowned warriors."

In spite of his wound, and of the empire that an Indian should exercise
over himself, the Blackbird started up at these words.  However, he
restrained himself, and replied gravely, though with trembling lips--

"Who, then, sends you to me, messenger of ill?"

"The warriors, who want a chief to repair their defeat.  The Blackbird
was but the chief of a tribe, he is now the chief of a whole people."

Satisfied pride shone in the eye of the Indian, at his augmented
authority.

"If the rifles of the north had been joined to ours, the whites of the
south would have been conquered."  But as he recalled to mind the
insulting manner in which the two hunters had rejected his proposal, his
eyes darted forth flames of hatred, and pointing to his wound, he said,
"What can a wounded chief do?  His limbs refuse to carry him, and he can
scarcely sit on his horse."

"We can tie him on; a chief is at once a head and an arm--if the arm be
powerless the head will act, and the sight of their chief's blood will
animate our warriors.  The council fire was lighted anew after the
defeat, and the warriors wait for the Blackbird to make his voice heard;
his battle-horse is ready--let us go!"

"No," replied the Blackbird, "my warriors encompass, on each bank, the
white hunters whom I wished to have for allies; now they are enemies;
the ball of one of them has rendered useless for six moons, the arm that
was so strong in combat; and were I offered the command of ten nations,
I would refuse it, to await here the hour when the blood that I thirst
for shall flow before my eyes."

The chief then recounted briefly the captivity of Gayferos, his
deliverance by the Canadian, the rejection of his proposals and the vow
of vengeance he had made.

The messenger listened gravely; he felt all the importance of making a
new attack on the gold-seekers, at the moment when, delighted at their
victory, they believed themselves safe, and he proposed to the Blackbird
to leave some one behind in his place to watch the island; but the
Blackbird was immovable.

"Well!" said the runner, "before long the sun will begin to rise; I
shall wait until daylight to report to the Apaches that the Blackbird
prefers his personal vengeance to the honour of the entire nation.  By
deferring my departure, I shall have retarded the moment when our
warriors will have to regret the loss of the bravest among them."

"So be it," said the chief, in a grave tone, although much pleased by
this adroit flattery, "but a messenger has need of repose after a battle
followed by a long journey.  Meanwhile, I would listen to the account of
the combat in which the Spotted Cat lost his life."

The messenger sat down near the fire, with crossed legs, and with one
elbow on his knee and his head leaning on his hand, after a few minutes'
rest, gave a circumstantial account of the attack on the white camp--
omitting no fact which might awaken the hatred of the Blackbird against
the Mexican invaders.

This over, he laid down and slept, or seemed to sleep.  But the
tumultuous and contrary passions which struggled in the heart of the
Blackbird--ambition on the one hand, and thirst for vengeance on the
other--kept him awake without effort.  In about an hour the runner half
rose, and pushing back the cloak of skin which he had drawn over his
head he perceived the Blackbird still sitting in the same attitude.

"The silence of the night has spoken to me," said he, "and I thought
that a renowned chief like the Blackbird might, before the rising sun,
have his enemies in his power and hear their death-song."

"My warriors cannot walk on the water as on the warpath," replied he;
"the men of the north do not resemble those of the south, whose rifles
are like reeds in their hands."

"The blood that the Blackbird has lost deceives his intellect and
obscures his vision; if he shall permit it, I shall act for him, and
to-morrow his vengeance will be complete."

"Do as you like; from whatever side vengeance comes, it will be
agreeable to me."

"Enough.  I shall soon bring here the three hunters, and him whose scalp
they could not save."

So saying the messenger rose and was soon hidden by the fog from the
eyes of the Blackbird.

On the island more generous emotions were felt.  From the eyes of its
occupants sleep had also fled--for if there be a moment in life, when
the hearts of the bravest may fail them, it is when danger is terrible
and inevitable, and when not even the last consolation of selling life
dearly is possible to them.  Watched by enemies whom they could not see,
the hunters could not satisfy their rage by making their foes fall
beneath their bullets as they had done the evening before.  Besides,
both Bois-Rose and Pepe knew too well the implacable obstinacy of the
Indians to suppose that the Blackbird would permit his warriors to reply
to their attacks; a soldier's death would have seemed too easy to him.

Oppressed by these sad thoughts, the three hunters spoke no more, but
resigned themselves to their fate, rather than abandon the unlucky
stranger by attempting to escape.

Fabian was as determined to die as the others.  The habitual sadness of
his spirit robbed death of its terrors, but still the ardour of his mind
would have caused him to prefer a quicker death, weapon in hand, to the
slow and ignominious one reserved for them.  He was the first to break
silence.  The profound tranquillity that reigned on the banks was to the
experienced eyes of the Canadian and Pepe only a certain indication of
the invincible resolution of their enemies; but to Fabian it appeared
reassuring--a blessing by which they ought to profit.

"All sleeps now around us," said he, "not only the Indians on the banks,
but all that has life in the woods and in the desert--the river itself
seems to be running slower!  See! the reflections of the fires die away!
would it not be the time to attempt a descent on the bank?"

"The Indians sleep!" interrupted Pepe, bitterly, "yes, like the water
which seems stagnant, but none the less pursues its course.  You could
not take three steps in the river before the Indians would rush after
you as you have often seen wolves rush after a stag.  Have _you_ nothing
better to propose, Bois-Rose?"

"No," replied he as his hand sought that of Fabian, while with the other
he pointed to the sick man, tossing restlessly on his couch of pain.

"But, in default of all other chance," said Fabian, "we should at least
have that of dying with honour, side by side as we would wish.  If we
are victorious, we can then return to the aid of this unfortunate man.
If we fall, God himself, when we appear before him, cannot reproach us
with the sacrifice of his life, since we risked our own for the common
good."

"No," replied Bois-Rose; "but let us still hope in that God, who
re-united us by a miracle; what does not happen to-day, may to-morrow;
we have time before us before our provisions fail.  To attempt to take
the bank now, would be to march to certain death.  To die would be
nothing, and we always hold that last resource in our own hands; but we
might perhaps be made prisoners, and then I shudder to think of what
would be our fate.  Oh! my beloved Fabian, these Indians in their
determination to take us alive give me at least the happiness of being
yet a few days beside you."

Silence again resumed its reign; but as Bois-Rose thought of the
terrible denouement he clutched convulsively at some of the trunks of
the dead trees, and under his powerful grasp the islet trembled as
though about to be torn from its base.

"Ah! the wretches! the demons!" cried Pepe, with a sudden explosion of
rage.  "Look yonder!"

A red light was piercing gradually through the veil of vapour which hung
over the river, and seemed to advance and grow larger; but, strange to
say, the fire floated on the water, and, intense as was the fog, the
mass of flames dissipated it as the sun disperses the clouds.  The three
hunters had barely time to be astonished at this apparition, before they
guessed its cause.  A long course of life in the desert and its dangers
had imparted to the Canadian a firmness which Pepe had not attained;
therefore, instead of giving way to surprise, he remained perfectly
calm.  He knew that this was the only way to surmount any difficulty.

"Yes," said he, "I understand what it is as well as if the Indians had
told me.  You spoke once of foxes smoked out of their holes; now they
want to burn us in ours."

The globe of fire which floated on the river advanced with alarming
rapidity, and confirmed the words of Bois-Rose.  Already amidst the
water, reddened by the flame, the twigs of the willows were becoming
distinct.

"It is a fire-ship," cried Pepe, "with which they want to set fire to
our island."

"So much the better," cried Fabian; "better to fight against the fire
than wait quietly for death."

"Yes," said Bois-Rose; "but fire is a terrible adversary and it fights
for these demons."

The besieged could oppose nothing to the advancing flames; and they
would soon devour the little island, leaving to its inmates no other
chance of escape but by throwing themselves into the water--where the
Indians could either kill them by rifle-shots, or take them alive, as
they pleased.

Such had been the idea of the Indian messenger.  By his order, the
Apaches had cut down a tree with its leaves on, and a thick mass of wet
grass interlaced in its branches formed a sort of foundation, on which
they placed the branches of a pine tree; and after setting fire to this
construction, they had sent it floating down the stream.  As it
approached, the crackling of the wood could be heard; and out of the
black smoke which mixed with the fog arose a bright, clear flame.

Not far from the bank they could distinguish the form of an Indian.
Pepe could not resist a sudden temptation.  "Yon demon," cried he,
"shall at least not live to exult over our death."

So saying, he fired and the plume of the Indian was seen to go down.

"Sad and tardy vengeance," remarked Bois-Rose; and as if, indeed, the
Apaches disdained the efforts of a vanquished foe, the shore preserved
its gloomy solitude, and not a single howl accompanied the last groans
of the warrior.

"Never mind," cried Pepe, stamping his foot in his impotent fury; "I
shall die more calmly, the greater number of those demons I have sent
before me."  And he looked round for some other victim.

Meanwhile Bois-Rose was calmly reconnoitring the burning mass, which, if
it touched the island, would set fire to the dried trees which composed
it.

"Well," cried Pepe, whose rage blinded his judgment, "it is useless to
look at the fire; have you any method of making it deviate from its
course?"

"Perhaps," replied the Canadian.  Pepe began to whistle with an affected
indifference.

"I see something that proves to me that the reasonings of the Indians
are not always infallible; and if it were not that we shall receive a
shower of balls, to force us to stay hidden while the islet takes fire,
I should care as little for that burning raft as for a fire-fly in the
air."

In constructing the floating fire, the Indians had calculated its
thickness, so that the wet grass might be dried by the fire and become
kindled about the time when it should touch the island.  But the grass
had been soaked in the water, and this had retarded its combustion;
besides the large branches had not had time to inflame; it was only the
smaller boughs and the leaves that were burning.  This had not escaped
the quick eye of the Canadian, who, advancing with a long stick in his
hand, resolved to push it underwater; but just as he was about to risk
this attempt, what he had predicted took place.  A shower of balls and
arrows flew towards them; though these shots seemed rather intended to
terrify than to kill them.

"They are determined," said Bois-Rose, "only to take us alive!"

The fire almost touched the island, a few minutes and it would be
alight, when with the rapidity of lightning, Bois-Rose glided into the
water and disappeared.  Shouts rose from each side of the river, when
the Indians, as well as Fabian and Pepe, saw the floating mass tremble
under his powerful grasp.  The fire blazed up brightly for a moment,
then the water hissed and the mass of flame was extinguished in foam,
until darkness and fog once more spread their sombre covering over the
river.  The blackened tree, turned from its course, passed by the
island, while, amidst the howls of the Indians Bois-Rose rejoined his
friends.  The whole island shook under his efforts to get back upon it.

"Howl at your ease," cried he, "you have not captured as yet; but," he
added, in a more serious tone, "shall we be always as lucky?"

Indeed, although this danger was surmounted, how many remained to be
conquered!  Who could foresee what new stratagems the Indians might
employ against them?  These reflections damped their first feeling of
triumph.  All at once Pepe started up, crying out as he did so:

"Bois-Rose, Fabian, we are saved!"

"Saved!" said Bois-Rose, "what do you mean?"

"Did you not remark how a few hours ago the whole islet trembled under
our hands when we tore away some branches to fortify ourselves with, and
how you yourself made it shake just now? well, I thought once of making
a raft, but now I believe we three can uproot the whole island and set
it floating.  The fog is thick, the night dark and to-morrow--"

"We shall be far from here!" cried Bois-Rose.  "To work! to work! we
have no time to spare, for the rising wind indicates the approach of
morning, and the river does not run more than three knots an hour."

"So much the better, the movement will be less visible."

The brave Canadian grasped the hands of his comrades as he rose to his
feet.

"What are you going to do?" said Fabian, "cannot we three uproot the
island, as Pepe said?"

"Doubtless, Fabian, but we risk breaking, it in pieces, and our safety
depends upon keeping it together.  It is, perhaps, some large branch or
root which holds it in its place.  Many years must have elapsed since
these trees were first driven here, and the water has probably rendered
this branch or root very rotten--that is what I wish to find out."

At that moment the doleful screech of an owl interrupted them, and those
plaintive cries troubling the silence of night, just as they were about
to entertain some hope, sounded ominous in the ears of Pepe.

"Ah!" said he, sadly, all his superstition reviving, "the voice of the
owl at this moment seems to me to announce no good fortune to us."

"The imitation is perfect, I allow," said Bois-Rose, "but you must not
be thus deceived.  It is an Indian sentinel who calls to his companions
either to warn them to be watchful, or what is more like their
diabolical spirit, to remind us that they are watching us.  It is a kind
of death-song with which they wish to regale us."

As he spoke, the same sound was repeated from the opposite bank with
different modulations, confirming his words, but it sounded none the
less terrible as it revealed all the perils and ambushes hidden by the
darkness of the night.

"I have a great mind to call to them to roar more like tigers that they
are."

"Do not; it would only enable them to know our exact position."

So saying, the Canadian entered the water with extreme care, while his
comrades followed his movements with anxious eyes.

"Well," said Pepe, when Bois-Rose came to the surface to take breath,
"are we firmly fixed?"

"All is well, I think," replied Bois-Rose, "I see at present but one
thing that keeps the islet at anchor.  Have patience a while."

"Take care not to get too far under," said Fabian, "or you may be caught
in the roots and branches."

"Have no fear, child; a whale may sooner remain fixed to a fishing-boat
which it can toss twenty feet into the air, than I under an islet that I
could break to pieces with a blow."

The river closed again over his head, and a tolerably long space of time
elapsed during which the presence of Bois-Rose was indicated only by the
eddies formed round the islet, which now tottered on its foundation.
His comrades felt that the giant was making a powerful effort, and
Fabian's heart sank as he thought that he might be struggling with
death; when a crash was heard under their feet, like that of a ship's
timbers striking against a rock, and Bois-Rose reappeared above the
surface, his hair streaming with water.  With one bound he regained the
island, which began to move slowly down the river.  An enormous root,
some depth in the water, had given way to the vigorous strength of the
colossus, and the islet was set free.

"God be praised!" cried he, "the last obstacle is vanquished and we are
afloat."  As he spoke the island could be perceived advancing down
stream, slowly it is true, but surely.

"Now," continued he, "our life rests in the hands of God.  If the island
floats down the middle of the stream we shall soon, thanks to the fog,
be out of sight or reach of the Indians.  Oh! my God," added he,
fervently, "a few hours more of darkness and your creatures will be
saved."



CHAPTER FORTY FOUR.

THE FLOATING ISLET.

The three men kept silence as they followed with anxious eyes the
movement of the floating island.  Day would soon break, but the
freshness of the night, which always increases an hour or two before
sunrise, had condensed more and more the vapours which rose from the
water.  The fires on the bank appeared only like stars, which grow pale
in the heavens at the approach of dawn.  From this source, therefore,
they had little to fear; but another danger menaced the three hunters.
The island followed the stream, but turned round as it went, and they
feared that in this continual rotation it might deviate from the centre
of the liver and strike on one of the banks on which the Indians were
encamped.

Like the sailor who, with a heart full of anguish, follows the movements
of his ship, almost disabled by the storm, and contemplates with terror
the breakers into which he is perhaps destined to be driven, thus the
three hunters--a prey to the most cruel anxiety--regarded in silence the
uncertain progress of their island.  When sometimes the border of osiers
and reeds which surrounded the island trembled in the breeze which
proceeded from one of the banks, it seemed then to be driven towards the
opposite side.  Sometimes it went straight along with the current, but
in any event, the efforts of those who were on it could do nothing to
direct it.  Luckily the fog was so thick that the very trees which
bordered the river were invisible.

"Courage," muttered Pepe; "as long as we cannot see the trees it is a
sign that we are going on rightly.  Ah! if God but favour us, many a
howl will resound along these banks, now so peaceful, when at daybreak
the Indians find neither the island nor those it sheltered."

"Yes," replied Bois-Rose, "it was a grand idea, Pepe; in the trouble of
my mind I should not have thought of it, and yet it was such a simple
thing."

"Simple ideas are always the last to present themselves," rejoined Pepe.
"But do you know, Bois-Rose," added he, in a low voice, "it proves that
in the desert it is imprudent to venture with one whom you love more
than life, since fear for him takes away a man's senses.  I tell you
frankly, Bois-Rose, you have not been like yourself."

"It is true; I scarcely recognise myself," replied the Canadian, simply;
"and yet--"

He did not finish, but fell into a profound reverie, during which, like
a man whose body only is present, and his soul absent, he appeared no
longer to watch the movements of the island.  For the hunter who, during
twenty years has lived the free life of the desert, to renounce this
life seemed like death; but to renounce the society of Fabian, and the
consolation of having his eyes closed by his adopted son, was still
worse than death.  Fabian and the desert were the two dominant
affections of his life, and to abandon either seemed impossible.

His reverie, however, was soon interrupted by Pepe, who had for some
minutes been casting uneasy glances towards one of the banks.  Through
the fog he fancied he could perceive the fantastic forms which trees
appear to take in a mist.  They looked like indistinct phantoms, covered
with long draperies, hanging over the river.

"We are going wrong, Bois-Rose," said he, "are not those the tops of the
willows on the bank?"

"It is true," cried Bois-Rose, rousing himself; "and by the fires being
still visible it is evident how little progress we have made in the last
half hour."

At that moment the island began to move more rapidly, and the trees
became more distinct.  The hunters looked anxiously at each other.  One
of the fires was more clearly seen, and they could even distinguish an
Indian sentinel in his frightful battle-costume.  The long mane of a
bison covered his head, and above that waved a plume of feathers.
Bois-Rose pointed him out to Pepe, but luckily the fog was so thick that
the Indian, rendered himself visible by the fire, near which he stood,
could not yet see the island.  However, as if an instinct had warned him
to be watchful, he raised his head and shook back the flowing hair which
ornamented it.

"Can he have any suspicion?" said Bois-Rose.

"Ah! if a rifle made no more noise than an arrow, with what pleasure I
should send that human buffalo to mount guard in another world," replied
Pepe.

Just then they saw the Indian stick his lance in the ground, and leaning
forward, shade his eyes with his hands so as to concentrate their power.
A keen anxiety was in their hearts as they watched him.  The ferocious
warrior bending down like a wild beast ready to spring, his face half
covered with the straggling hair, was hideous and terrible to look upon;
but the fugitives would only have laughed at the spectacle had they not
had so much to dread.  All at once, the Apache after remaining a few
minutes in this attentive attitude, walked towards the bank and
disappeared from sight--for nothing was visible except in the circle of
light thrown by the fire.  It was a moment of intense anxiety for the
fugitives, as the island continued to glide silently on.

"Has he seen us?" murmured Pepe.

"I fear so."

A doleful cry now caused them to start.  It was repeated from the
opposite side; it was the signal of the sentinels one to the other, but
all became again silent.  Bois-Rose uttered a murmur of relief, as he
saw the man return to his former place and attitude.  It was a false
alarm.

Still the island continued to approach the bank.

"At this rate," said Bois-Rose, "in ten minutes we shall fall into the
hands of the Indians.  If we could but paddle a little with that great
branch, we should soon be in the right direction again, but the noise, I
fear, would betray us."

"Nevertheless," replied Pepe, "it is what we must do, it is better to
run the chance of betraying ourselves, than be drifted into the hands of
our enemies.  But first, let us see if the current in which we now are,
runs towards the bank.  If it does, we must hesitate no longer, and
although the branch of a tree is more noisy in the water than an oar, we
must do our best to paddle in silence."

Pepe then gently broke off a piece of wood and placed it on the water,
and leaning over the edge, he and Bois-Rose watched it anxiously.  There
was in that place a violent eddy, caused by some deep hole in the bed of
the river.  For a moment the wood turned round as though going to sink,
then it took a direction opposite to the bank, towards which they were
driving.  Both uttered a stifled exclamation of joy, as their island
also, after a moment's stoppage, began to float away from the shore, and
the increasing thickness of the fog assured them that they were taking
the right course.

About an hour passed thus, amidst poignant alternatives of fear and
hope; then the bivouac fires were lost in the distance, and the
fugitives perceived that they were nearly out of danger.  Reassured by
this belief Bois-Rose placed himself at one end of the islet, and
paddled vigorously, until the raft, ceasing to gyrate, advanced more
swiftly down the current, like a horse long abandoned to his own
caprices, who feels at last the hand and spur of an able rider.  Keeping
where the water was deepest, they now proceeded at a considerable rate
of speed, and began to think themselves entirely out of danger.

"Daylight will not be long in appearing," said Bois-Rose, "and we must
now land and endeavour to get on faster; we shall go twice as fast on
foot as on this island, which sails slower than a Dutch lugger."

"Well! land where you like, Bois-Rose, and we will follow.  Let us wade
down the stream a bit, so as to hide our traces from the Indians; and
even if we have to carry the wounded man, we can manage two leagues an
hour.  Do you think, Don Fabian, that the Golden Valley is far off?"

"You saw the sun go down behind the foggy mountains which shut in this
valley," replied Fabian.  "It lies at their foot--we cannot be many
hours' march from it."

Bois-Rose now gave to the island an oblique direction, and in about a
quarter of an hour, it struck violently against the bank.  While Pepe
and Fabian jumped ashore, the Canadian took the wounded man in his arms,
and laid him gently down.  This awoke him, and opening his eyes and
throwing round him an astonished glance, he murmured, "Virgen Santa!
shall I again hear those frightful howls which troubled my sleep?"

"No, my lad, the Indians are far off now, and we are in safety.  Thank
God, who has permitted me to save all that are dear to me--my child
Fabian and my old friend."

They then prepared to continue their course.

"If you are not able to walk," said Pepe to Gayferos, "we shall
construct a kind of litter to carry you on.  We have no time to lose if
we wish to escape these wretches, who, as soon as daylight appears, will
begin to chase us as eagerly as ever they chased a white enemy."

So great was the desire of Gayferos to escape, that he almost forgot the
pain he was enduring, and declaring that he would follow his liberators
as quickly as they could go themselves, he begged them to set off at
once.

"We have some precautions to take first," said Bois-Rose; "rest a few
minutes while we break to pieces and commit to the current this raft,
which has been so useful to us.  It is important the Indians should not
trace us."

All three set to work, and already disjointed by the breaking of the
root which held it, and by the shock it had received on touching the
shore, the floating island opposed no great resistance to their efforts.
The trunks of the trees which composed it, were torn asunder and pushed
into the current--which carried them quickly away--and there soon
remained no vestige of what it had taken years to construct.  When the
last branch had disappeared from their eyes, Bois-Rose and Pepe busied
themselves in raising up the stalks of the plants, to efface the marks
of their feet, and then all prepared to start.  They first entered the
water and walked along the edge, so as to leave no footmarks, and to
lead the Indians to suppose that they had remained on the island.  It
was too fatiguing for them to walk very quickly; but, in about an hour,
just as their wounded feet were about to force them to make halt, they
arrived at the fork of two rivers which formed a delta.  In this delta
lay the Golden Valley.  Daylight was just beginning to appear in the
horizon, and a grey tint upon the sky was taking the place of darkness.
Luckily the arm of the river that they had to cross was not deep, the
mass of the water flowing in the opposite direction.  This was
fortunate, for the wounded man could not swim.  Bois-Rose lifted him on
his shoulders, and all three waded through the water, which scarcely
reached to their knees.  The chain of mountains was only about a league
off, and after a short rest, all resumed their way with renewed ardour.

Soon the country changed its aspect.  To the fine sand--for the triangle
formed by the junction of the two rivers was inundated during part of
the year--succeeded deep ruts, and then dry beds of streams, hollowed
out by the torrents in the rainy season.  Instead of the narrow border
of willows and cotton-trees which shaded the deserted banks, green oaks
rose up, and the landscape terminated in the line of the foggy
mountains.  All looked strange and imposing, and rarely had the foot of
a white man pressed this desert clothed in its virgin wildness.  Perhaps
Marcos Arellanos and Cuchillo were the only white men who had ever
wandered to this remote place.  A vague sentiment of awe caused the
hunters involuntarily to lower their voices before the supernatural
charm of this austere landscape.  Those hills, enveloped in mist--even
when the plains shone with the blazing rays of the sun--seemed to hide
some impenetrable mystery.  It might be fancied that the invisible
guardians of the treasures, the lords of the mountains according to
Indian superstition, were hidden under this veil of eternal vapour.



CHAPTER FORTY FIVE.

THE FINGER OF GOD.

After a short journey, fatigue and suffering overcame the wounded man;
and as it was imperative that he should not become acquainted with the
situation of the Golden Valley, or even be made aware of its existence,
Bois-Rose and Pepe resolved, now that he was in safety, to leave him for
some hours and employ the time in reconnoitring the places described to
Fabian by his adopted mother.

"Listen, my lad!" said Bois-Rose to Gayferos, "we have given you quite
sufficient proofs of devotion, and now we must leave you for half or
perhaps a whole day.  We have some business in hand which requires three
determined men; if this evening or to-morrow morning we are still alive,
you shall see us return; if not, you know it will not be our fault.
Here is water and dried meat, and twenty-four hours will soon pass."

It was not without regret that Gayferos consented to this separation;
however, reassured by a new promise from the generous hunters, to whom
he owed so much, he resigned himself to being left behind.

"I have one last word to say to you," said Bois-Rose.  "If chance bring
here any of the companions from whom you so unluckily separated, I exact
from you, as the sole return for the service which we have rendered to
you, that you will reveal to none of them our presence here.  As for
your own, you can account for it in any way you like."

Gayferos made the required promise, and they then took leave of him.

On the point of accomplishing one of his most ardent desires, that of
enriching the child of his affection and adding immense treasures to his
future fortune, Bois-Rose seemed to forget that it would raise an
additional barrier between Fabian and himself.

Pepe, anxious to repair as far as possible the involuntary injury that
he had caused to the Mediana family, walked along with an elastic step.
Fabian alone did not seem happy, and after a quarter of an hour he
stopped, saying that he needed rest.  All three sat down on a little
hillock, and Pepe, pointing to the mountains, cried, in a tone of gay
reproach, "What!  Don Fabian! does not the neighbourhood of those
places, so fertile in gold, give new vigour to your limbs?"

"No," replied Fabian, "for I shall not go a step further in that
direction till sunrise."

"Ah!" said Bois-Rose, "and why not?"

"Why?  Because this is a cursed place--a place where he--whom before you
I loved as a father--was assassinated; because a thousand dangers
surround you, and I have already exposed you too much by making you
espouse my cause."

"What are these dangers that we three together cannot brave?  Can they
be greater than what we have just passed through?  And if it please Pepe
and I to incur them for you, what then?"

"These dangers are of all kinds," replied Fabian, "why deceive oneself
longer?  Does not everything prove that Don Estevan knows also of the
existence of the Golden Valley?"

"Well, and what do you conclude from that?"

"That three men cannot prevail against sixty."

"Listen, my child," replied Bois-Rose with some impatience, "it was
before engaging in this enterprise that we should have made these
reflections; now they are too late, and why do you not think to-day as
you did yesterday?"

"Because yesterday I was blinded by passion; because affection has now
taken its place; because I do not hope to-day what I hoped yesterday."

The contradictory passions which agitated his heart did not permit
Fabian to explain more clearly to the Canadian the alternations of his
wishes.

"Fabian," said Bois-Rose solemnly, "you have a holy but terrible duty to
perform, and duty must be done; but who tells you that the expedition
commanded by Don Estevan will take the same path as ourselves?  And, if
it does, so much the better; the murderer of your mother will fall into
your hands."

"The guide conducting them," replied Fabian, seeking to hide his real
sentiments, "can only be that miserable Cuchillo.  Now, if I am not
wrong, the valley must be known to him; in any case, we should await the
return of daylight before entangling ourselves in a country we know
nothing about, and in which these adventurers may prove enemies as
formidable as the Indians.  Do you not think so, Pepe?"

"Nearly all night, the wind has brought to our ears," replied he, "the
sound of filing, which proves that the troop has been engaged with the
Indians; it is not therefore probable that any one can be in advance of
us.  I must say that my opinion is, that we should without loss of time
gain some place in the mountains where we may engage in a last
inevitable struggle with our enemies; some well chosen spot where we can
defend ourselves with a chance of success."

"It is this unequal struggle that I wish to avoid," replied Fabian,
warmly.  "As long as I could hope to overtake, before they readied
Tubac, those whom Providence seemed to point out for my vengeance, and
attack them while they were only five against three, I pursued them
without reflection; as long as I could believe that this expedition had,
like so many others, entered the desert only in search of some unknown
spot, I followed them.  But what has happened?  After four days in which
we took a different path, do we not find them near these mountains?
Their aim is therefore the same as ours.  Three men cannot fight against
sixty; therefore God forbid that to further either my vengeance or my
cupidity, I should sacrifice two generous friends whose lives are more
precious to me than my own!"

"Child," cried Bois-Rose, "do you not see that every one is here for
himself, and yet that our three interests are but one?  When for the
second time, God sent you to my arms, were we not already pursuing the
man who was ruining your hopes, and had already assassinated your
mother, and stolen your name?  For ten years Pepe and I have been but
one; the friends of one have been the friends of the other, and you are
Pepe's son, because you are mine, Fabian my child; and thanks be to God
that in serving our own cause we are also serving yours.  Whatever
happens, then we shall not take a step backwards."

"Besides," said Pepe, "do you count for nothing, Don Fabian, heaps of
gold, and a whole life of abundance for an imaginary peril? for I repeat
we must reach the valley first, and a day--an hour--in advance may
enrich us forever; you see then that _we_ are egotists trying to
sacrifice _you_ to our personal interest."

"Pepe is right," said Bois-Rose, "we want gold."

"What will you do with it?" asked Fabian, smiling.

"What will I do with it? the child asks what I will do with it!" cried
Bois-Rose.

"Yes, I wish to know."

"What will I do with it?" replied the honest Canadian, whom this
question embarrassed much, "parbleu--I will do--many things, I will give
my rifle a golden barrel," cried he, triumphantly.

Pepe smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

"You laugh," said Bois-Rose.  "Do you think that when you finish off an
Apache, a Sioux, or a Pawnee with a blow of your knife, it would not be
grand to say to him, `Dog, the ball that broke your head came from a
rifle of solid gold!'  Few hunters can say as much."

"I agree to that," said Fabian; then added he seriously, "No, my
friends!  Don Estevan escapes my vengeance, and the gold that I believe
would be mine escapes me also, for it is surrounded by soldiers.  What
matters? have I not still, if I should become ambitious, the name and
fortunes of my forefathers to reclaim?  Are there not in Spain tribunals
which dispense justice to all?  God will do the rest, but I will not
madly expose two noble lives.  I do not speak of mine; young as I am, I
have drunk the cup of bitterness to the dregs.  You have done enough,
and your generous subterfuges cannot impose upon me."

So saying, Fabian held out his hands to the two hunters, who pressed
them in an affectionate grasp.  The Canadian looked silently for a
minute at the noble face of him whom he was proud to call his son, and
then said:

"Fabian, my child, all my life has been passed on the sea or in deserts,
but I have preserved sufficient remembrance of cities and their customs
to know that justice is rather sold than given.  This gold we shall
employ in making of you what you were intended to be; this gold, will
smooth all the obstacles against which your rightful cause might break
down.  Pepe can tell you, like me, that we shall gladly expose our lives
in the hope of restoring to you the property of your ancestors, and the
illustrious name that you are so worthy to bear."

"Yes," said Pepe, "I have told you that the early part of my life was
not such as I should wish.  It was a little the fault of the Spanish
Government, which never paid me for my services; still it is a weight
upon my heart.  Often, I think sadly of my past life, but God always
pardons the repentant sinner, and gives him opportunity of repentance.
That day has arrived; my pardon is near, and it is but justice that I
should assist in restoring to you what I helped to take away."

"Let us go on then!" said Bois-Rose, "God has hitherto shown us our path
and will continue to aid us.  If you stay, Fabian, we shall go alone."

So saying, the Canadian rose, and throwing his rifle over his shoulder
began his march.  Fabian was forced to yield, and all proceeded towards
the mountains.

Daylight had not yet quite appeared when a new actor advanced in his
turn towards the same scenes.  He came alone; his horse in its impetuous
course made the sand fly under his feet, and the rider, who was no other
than Cuchillo, showed symptoms on his sinister countenance of some
secret terror.  His flight might not have been unobserved even in the
tumult of action, or some of the Indians might have noticed his
desertion, and hence his fears.  But Cuchillo was not a man to undertake
a bold stroke without calculating the chances.  As a hunter wishing to
take the lion's whelps, throws him some bait to distract his attention,
so Cuchillo had delivered to the lords of the desert his companions as a
prey.  He had calculated that the struggle would last a great part of
the night, and that conquered or conquering, the adventurers would not
dare, during the following day, to leave their intrenchments.  He would
therefore have long hours before him in which to seize on some of the
treasures of the Golden Valley, with which he would afterwards return to
the protection of his companions, and when they all reached the place he
could still claim his share as soldier and as guide.  Pretexts would not
fail him for this second absence, but he had forgotten to calculate on
Don Estevan's suspicions concerning him.  To conclude his bargain with
him he had been forced to give such a precise account of the situation
of the valley that Don Estevan could scarcely miss the right road.
After Cuchillo, followed by his horse, had glided out from the camp he
had ridden straight towards the mountains, and cupidity, the most
blinding of passions, had closed his eyes to the danger of his plan.

His heart palpitating with alternate hopes and fears, he had advanced
rapidly, and only stopped occasionally to listen to the vague murmurs of
the desert.  Then recognising the groundlessness of his apprehensions,
he had continued his road with renewed ardour.

Sometimes also the aspect of the places he had seen before, awakened
gloomy souvenirs.  On that hillock, he had rested with Marcos Arellanos;
that nopal had furnished them with refreshing fruit; they had both
contemplated with mysterious terror the strange aspect of the Misty
Mountains, and his horse in its rapid course carried the murderer to the
spot where his victim had fallen beneath his blows!  Then to the fear of
enemies succeeded that inspired by conscience, which while it often
sleeps by day, awakes and resumes its empire during the night.  The
bushes--the thorny nopals--rose before him like accusing phantoms,
opposing his advance with extended arms; a cold perspiration stood on
his brow, but cupidity, stronger than fear, spurred him on towards the
valley, and he began to laugh at his own apprehensions.

"Phantoms," said he, "are like alcaldes, who never address poor devils
like me; but let me only get one or two arrobas of gold, and I shall
have so many masses said for the soul of Arellanos, that he will be glad
to have met his death in such generous hands."

He laughed at this quaint conceit, and then rode on quickly.  In a few
minutes he stopped and listened again, but heard no noise save the loud
breathing of his horse.

"I am alone," thought he; "those brutes whom I have guided are fighting
to give me leisure to despoil the sands of some of that precious gold.
Who is to prevent me presently, when daylight appears, from picking up
as much as I can carry without betraying my secret?  This time, it will
not be as when along with Arellanos; I shall not have to fly from the
Indians: they are busy.  Afterwards I can come back with such of my
companions as escape the Apaches.  How many will remain to partake with
me?  Oh! the thought of these treasures makes the blood boil in my
veins.  Is it not gold that gives glory, pleasure, and every good of
this world? our priests say its power extends even beyond the tomb!"

While Cuchillo was advancing blindly to where his destiny led him, Don
Estevan and Pedro Diaz were also on their way.  Although the hills were
but six leagues from the camp, yet, uncertain of the time of his
absence, Don Estevan had left orders to his people to await his return.
The two advanced silently, full of desire for the gold, but equally
desirous of intercepting the traitor.  Two hours' quick riding had
produced no result.  Thanks to his advance, Cuchillo was invisible; and
the darkness would have hidden his track even from the eye of an Indian.

"There is no doubt," said Pedro Diaz, breaking silence, "that the knave
must have profited by the confusion to fly towards the valley, and seize
on a part of the treasures which he has sold to us."

"That is not what I fear most," said Don Estevan.  "If Cuchillo has not
exaggerated the riches of the place, there will be plenty left for all
of us.  But now so near attaining that for which I have crossed the
desert--after having left a position envied by all, to brave the dangers
of an expedition like this--a vague fear of failing agitates me.  The
desert is like the sea, abounding in pirates, and the soul of Cuchillo
is full of treason: it seems to me that the villain will be fatal to
us."

Suddenly Diaz dismounted, and picked up off the sand a dark object; it
was a kind of valise, which Diaz at once recognised as belonging to
Cuchillo.

"This shows you, Senor," said he, "that we are in the right path, and
that the coming day will bring us into the presence of the traitor."

"It shall then be his last treason," said Don Estevan; and they now rode
silently on with the certainty that Cuchillo was before them.

Strange chain of coincidences!  When the sun appeared in the horizon,
the different actors in this drama, apparently drawn together by
accident, but in truth impelled onwards by the hand of God, had met in
the most inaccessible part of the great American desert.



CHAPTER FORTY SIX.

THE GOLDEN VALLEY.

The darkness was no longer that of midnight--the outlines of the
different objects began to be visible, and the peaks of the hills looked
like domes or fantastic turrets in the half-light.  Detached from the
mass of the mountains, a rock in the form of a truncated cone towered up
like an outwork.  A cascade fell noisily from an adjacent hill into a
deep gulf below, and in front of the rock a row of willows and
cotton-trees indicated the neighbourhood of a stream.  Then the immense
plain of the delta formed by the two arms of the Rio Gila (which from
east to west cuts for itself a double passage through the chain of the
Misty Mountains) displayed itself in all its sombre majesty.  Such were
the striking points of the landscape which opened before the travellers.

Soon the blue light of morning replaced the darkness, and the summits of
the hills one by one became visible.  On the top of the rock two pines
could now be seen, their bending stems and dark foliage extending over
the abyss.  At their foot the skeleton of a horse, held up by hidden
fastenings, showed upon his whitened bones the savage ornaments with
which he had been embellished, and fragments of the saddle still rested
upon his back.  The increasing light soon shone on more sinister
emblems: on posts raised in different places, and human scalps floating
on them.  These hideous trophies indicated the burial-place of an Indian
warrior.  In fact a renowned chief reposed there; and his spirit
overlooked, like the genius of plunder, those plains where his war-cry
had so often resounded, and which he had ridden over on that
battle-horse whose bones were whitening by his tomb.  Birds of prey flew
over his grave, uttering their shrill cries, as if they would awaken him
who slept there forever, and whose cold hand would no longer prepare for
them their bloody feasts.

A few minutes later the horizon became tinted with pale rose-coloured
clouds, and soon after, like the first spark of a fire, a ray of
sunlight struck like a golden arrow on the thick fog, and floods of
light inundated the depths of the valley.  Day had come in all its
glory, but wreaths of vapour still hung capriciously on the leaves of
the trees or clung around the trunks.  Soon were displayed wild
precipices, with falls of water foaming down their sides; then deep
defiles, at the entrance of which fantastic offerings of Indian
superstition were suspended.

Above the tomb of the Indian chief rose the spray of the cascade, in
which was reflected the colours of the rainbow; and lastly, a valley was
visible, closed on one side by peaked rocks, from which hung long
draperies of verdure, and on the other by a lake, whose waters were
half-hidden by the aquatic plants on its surface: this was the Golden
Valley.

At the first glance the whole scene only offered the sombre features of
a wild nature; but the scrutinising eye would soon have divined the
treasures concealed there.  Nothing betrayed the presence of living
things in that deserted place, when the three hunters made their
appearance on the spot.

"If the devil has an abode anywhere on the earth," said Pepe, pointing
to the mountains, "it must surely be among those wild denies!

"But if it be true," continued he, "that it is gold which is the cause
of most crimes, it is more probable that the old fellow has chosen the
Golden Valley for his abode, which contains, according to you, Don
Fabian, enough to ruin an entire generation."

"You are right," said Fabian, who looked pale and grave, "it was here
perhaps that the unlucky Marcos Arellanos was assassinated.  Ah! if this
place could speak, I should know the name of him whom I have sworn to
pursue: but the wind and the rain have effaced the traces of the victim
as well as those of the murderer."

"Patience, my child!" replied Bois-Rose; "I have never in the course of
a long life known crime to go unpunished.  Often we recover the traces
that were believed to have been long effaced, and even solitude
sometimes raises its voice against the guilty.  If the assassin be not
dead, cupidity will doubtless bring him again to this place, and before
long; for no doubt he is one of those in the Mexican camp.  Now, Fabian,
shall we wait for the enemy here, or shall we fill our pockets with gold
and return?"

"I know not what to decide," replied Fabian; "I came here almost against
my will.  I obey your wishes, or else a will stronger than either yours
or mine.  I feel that an invisible hand impels me on--as it did on that
evening when, scarcely knowing what I did, I came and sat down by your
fire.  Why should I, who do not know what to do with this gold, risk my
life to obtain it?  I know not.  I know only that here I am, with a sad
heart and a soul filled with cruel uncertainty."

"Man is but the plaything of Providence, it is true," said Bois-Rose;
"but as for the sadness you feel, the aspect of these places
sufficiently accounts for it; and as for--"

A hoarse cry, that scarcely appeared human, interrupted the Canadian.
It seemed to come from the Indian tomb, as if it were an accusing voice
against the invaders of this abode of the dead.  The three hunters
glanced simultaneously towards the tomb, but no living creature was
visible there.  The eye of one of the birds of prey, that were sailing
above the rock, could alone have told where the cry came from.  The
imposing solemnity of the place, the bloody souvenirs evoked by it in
Fabian's mind, and the superstitious ones in that of Pepe, joined to the
strange and mysterious sound, inspired in both a feeling akin to terror.
There was something so inexplicable in the sound, that for a moment
they doubted having heard it.

"Is it really the voice of a man?" said Bois-Rose, "or only one of those
singular echoes which resound in these mountains?"

"If it were a human voice," asked Fabian, "where did it come from? it
seemed to be above us, and yet I see no one on the top of the hill!"

"God send," said Pepe, crossing himself, "that in these mountains which
abound in inexplicable noises, and where lightning shines under a calm
sky, we have only men to fight against!  But if the fog contained a
legion of devils--if the valley really contains, as you say, several
years' income of the king of Spain, please, Senor Don Fabian, to recall
your recollections, and tell us if we are still far off it."

Fabian threw a glance around him; the landscape was just what had been
so minutely described to him.

"We must be close to the spot," said he, "for it should be at the foot
of the tomb of the Indian chief--and these ornaments indicate that the
rock is the tomb.  We have no time to lose.  You and Bois-Rose walk
around the rock, while I go and examine those cotton-trees and willows."

"I am suspicious of everything in this mysterious place," said
Bois-Rose; "that cry indicates the presence of a human being; and
whether white or red, he is to be feared.  Before we separate, let me
examine the _sign_."

All three bent on the ground eyes accustomed to read there as in an open
book.  The prints of a man's feet were visible on the sand, and one of
them had trodden down the plants, whose stems were still gently rising
up again one after the other.

"What did I tell you?" cried Bois-Rose.  "Here are the tracks of a white
man's feet, and I swear it is not ten minutes since he was here.  These
footmarks lead towards yonder cotton-trees."

"In any case he is alone," suggested Fabian.

All three were advancing towards the trees, when Bois-Rose halted.

"Let me go first," said he; "this hedge may hide the enemy.  But no, the
man who has left these footprints has only pulled open the vines and
glanced through--he has not gone further in that direction."

So saying, Bois-Rose, in his turn, pulled aside the branches and the
climbing network which was interwoven with them, and after a short
examination, which had no particular result, he retired and left the
branches to reclose of themselves.  He then tried to follow the tracks
but further on the ground became stony, and all traces disappeared.

"Let us go round this conical rock," suggested Bois-Rose.

"Come, Pepe; Fabian will wait here for us."

The two hunters strode off, and Fabian remained alone and pensive.  This
Golden Valley, of whose possession he had dreamt at that time when his
heart nourished sweet hopes, was now near to him.  What had been a dream
was now a reality, and still he was more unhappy than at the time when
hopeful love caused him to scoff at poverty.  It is thus that happiness
flies just as we are about to seize it.  Sometimes in the silence of the
forest, the traveller lends a greedy ear to the notes of the
mocking-bird, and advances with precaution towards the place where,
hidden under the foliage, the bird of the solitudes utters its sweet
song.  Vain hope! he advances, and the singer flies, his voice still as
distant and himself as invisible as ever!  Thus man often hears in the
distance voices which sing to him of happiness; seduced by their charm
he rushes toward them; but they fly at his approach; and his whole life
is passed in pursuing, without ever reaching, the happiness promised by
these delusive sounds.

For Fabian, happiness lay no longer in the Golden Valley.  It existed
nowhere.  No voice now sang for him; he had no aim to pursue; no flying
but charming image which he hoped to overtake.  He was in one of those
moods that God in His mercy makes rare in our lives--during which all is
dark, as when at sea the light that guides the sailor becomes suddenly
obscured.

He advanced mechanically towards the thick row of trees that formed an
almost impenetrable hedge before him, but scarcely had he made a passage
for himself when he stopped motionless with surprise.  The sunlight
shone on the stones thick as those on a beach, and discovered
innumerable glancing objects.  Any other than a gold-seeker might have
been deceived by these stones, which looked like vitrifications at the
foot of a volcano; but the practised eye of Fabian instantly recognised
the virgin gold under its clayey envelope, as it is brought down by the
torrents from the gold-producing mountains.  Before his eyes lay the
richest treasure that was ever displayed to the view of man.

If the breeze could have brought to the ears of the young Count of
Mediana the accents of Rosarita's voice, when she recalled him back to
the hacienda, he would gladly have quitted all these treasures to run
towards her.  But the breeze was mute, and there is in gold so
irresistible an attraction that Fabian, in spite of his sadness, was for
the moment fascinated.

However, the soul of Fabian was not one to be intoxicated by success;
and after a few minutes of this enthusiasm, he called his two
companions.  They came at his call.

"Have you found him?" said Pepe.

"The treasure, but not the man.  See!" added he, pushing aside the
trees.

"What! those shining stones!"

"Are pure gold--treasures which God has hidden during centuries."

"My God!" exclaimed Pepe.

And with ardent eyes fixed upon the mass of riches before him, the
ex-carabinier fell upon his knees.  Passions long kept under seemed to
rush back into his heart; a complete transformation took place in him,
and the sinister expression of his face recalled to mind the hour of
crime, when twenty years before he had bargained for the price of blood.

"Now," said Fabian, looking sadly at the gold, as he thought that all
these riches were not worth to him a smile or look from her who had
disdained him, "I understand how these two rivers, in their annual rise,
and by their torrents that descend from the Misty Mountains, covering
this narrow valley, bring down gold with them; the position of this
valley is perhaps unique in all the world."

But the Spaniard heard him not.  Riches--which the rough lesson he had
received, and the life of independence and the savage happiness he had
enjoyed, had taught him during the last ten years to disdain--suddenly
resumed their terrible influence over his soul.

"You could not have imagined, could you, Pepe?" continued Fabian, "that
so much gold could be collected in one place?  I, who have been so long
a gold-seeker, could not have imagined it, even after all I had heard."

Pepe did not reply; his eye wandered eagerly over the blocks of gold,
and cast a strange glance on Fabian and on Bois-Rose.  The hitter,
standing in his favourite attitude, his arm resting on his rifle, amidst
all these treasures, looked only at what was dearest to him--the young
man restored to him by heaven.  Pepe had before him, on one side, his
old companion in danger--in a hundred different battles they had uttered
their war-cry together, like those brothers in arms in ancient chivalric
times, who fought always under the same banner--who shared cold, hunger,
and thirst together.

On the other side, the young man, partly orphaned by his crime--a crime
which had occasioned him remorse through so many years--the love and
sole thought of his only friend in the world; and the demon of cupidity
at his heart effaced all these souvenirs, and he already began to
think--

A shudder passed through his frame as strange thoughts crossed his mind.
A struggle took place within him, a struggle of the feelings of youth
with the more noble ones developed by the life of nature, where man
seems brought near to God; but this struggle was short: the old outlaw
disappeared, and there remained only the man purified by repentance and
solitude.  Still kneeling on the ground, Pepe had closed his eyes, and a
furtive tear, unperceived by his companions, stole from his eyes, and
rolled down his bronzed cheeks.

"Senor Don Fabian de Mediana!" cried he, starting up, "you are now a
rich and powerful lord, for all this gold belongs to you alone."

So saying, he advanced and bowed respectfully to Fabian, who appeared
somewhat surprised by the manner of his salutation.

"God forbid," cried Fabian, "that you, who have shared the peril, should
not share the treasure.  What do you say, Bois-Rose? do you not rejoice
to become in your old age rich and powerful?"

But Bois-Rose, unmoved before all the riches, contented himself with
shaking his head, while a smile of tenderness for Fabian testified to
the only interest that he took in that marvellous spectacle!

"I think like Pepe," said he, after a pause, "what could I do with this
gold that the world covets?  If it has for us an inestimable value, it
is because it is to belong to you; the possession of the least of these
stones would take away in our eyes from the value of the service we have
rendered you.  But the time for action has arrived; for certainly we are
not alone in these solitudes."

Pepe now began to pull aside the branches, but scarcely had he entered
the valley when the sound of a gun was distinctly heard.  In a moment
his voice reassured his anxious comrades.

"It is the devil," cried he, "forbidding us to encroach on his domains;
but at all events it is a devil whose aim is not infallible."

Before entering the valley Bois-Rose and Fabian raised their eyes to the
top of the hill, whence the shot as well as the voice had proceeded.
But the remains of the fog at that moment covered the top of the rock,
and all three rushed simultaneously towards the isolated mass where they
believed their enemy to be hidden.  The sides, although steep, were
covered with brushwood, which rendered them easier to climb; but it was
a dangerous attempt, for the fog prevented them from seeing what enemies
were above.  Fabian wished to go first, but the vigorous arm of the
Canadian held him back, and meanwhile Pepe was half-way towards the
summit.  Bois-Rose followed, begging Fabian to keep behind him.

Pepe mounted boldly, undismayed by the foes that might be concealed
behind that mass of vapour, and soon disappeared under the mist.  A cry
of triumph soon warned his friends that he had arrived in safety.  Both
hastened to join him, but found no one on the rock except Pepe himself!
Just as, disappointed at their want of success, they were preparing to
descend again, a sudden gust of wind drove off the fog, and allowed them
to see to a distance.  To the right and left the plain presented the
most complete picture of the desert in its dreary sadness.  They beheld
arid steppes over which whirled clouds of sand, a burnt and sterile
ground, everywhere silence, everywhere solitude.  At some distance off
two men on horseback were seen advancing towards the rock, but at the
distance at which they were, it was impossible to distinguish either
their dress or the colour of their skin.

"Must we sustain a new siege here?" said Bois-Rose.  "Are these white
men or Indians?"

"White or red, they are enemies," said Pepe.

While the three friends bent down, so as not to be observed, a man,
until then invisible, cautiously entered the lake.  He lifted with care
the floating leaves of the water lilies, and forming of them a shelter
over its head, remained motionless, and the surface of the lake soon
after appeared as if undisturbed.  This man was Cuchillo, the jackal,
who, led by his evil destiny, had ventured to hunt on the ground of the
lion.



CHAPTER FORTY SEVEN.

THE PUNISHMENT OF TANTALUS.

Cuchillo, after reaching the mountains, had halted.  He had not
forgotten the appearance of the place, and his heart trembled with fear
and joy.  After a few minutes he looked around him more calmly.  It was
then dark, and when he arrived at the rock, the damp vapours from the
lake enveloped with a thick veil both the valley and the tomb.  The
sound of the waterfall put an end to his uncertainties; he remembered
that it fell into a gulf close by the golden placer.

He had dismounted his horse, and sat down to wait for daylight; but
scarcely had he done so when he bounded up as though bitten by a
serpent.  A fatal chance had led him to sit down on the very spot where
he had struck Marcos Arellanos, and quick as lightning, every detail of
the mortal struggle passed through his mind.  However this feeling of
terror was of short duration.

In that part of America, superstition has not established its empire as
in the old countries of Europe, where the evening mists give to objects
fantastic aspects, and tend naturally to reflections upon the
supernatural.  From this arises the sombre poesy of the north, which has
peopled our land with ghosts and phantoms.  In the American solitude
people fear the living more than the dead, and Cuchillo had too much to
fear from men to waste many thoughts upon the ghost of Arellanos, and he
had soon quite banished the thought from his mind.

Although he felt nearly certain that no one had seen him leave the camp,
or had followed him, he resolved to climb the rock and look out over the
desert.  The two pines, whose sombre verdure crowned the summit,
appeared marvellously fit to shelter him from the eyes of the Indians
should any be near.  As he advanced, however, he could not resist taking
a glance at the valley; for a sudden fear took possession of his mind:
was it still untouched as he had left it?

One glance reassured him.  Nothing was changed in the valley; there were
still the heaps of the shining metal.

The traveller, devoured with thirst in the sandy desert, does not more
gladly catch sight of the oasis at whose waters he desires to drink than
did Cuchillo the sight of the gold gleaming through the leaves of the
trees.

Any other man would have hastened to seize as much of it as he could
carry, and make off with his booty.  But with Cuchillo, cupidity was a
passion carried to its utmost limits; and before seizing it, the outlaw
wished to feast his eyes on the treasure of which he had dreamed for two
years, and for which he would not hesitate to sacrifice the lives of all
his companions.  After some moments of ecstatic contemplation, Cuchillo
led his horse forward by the bridle, and having tied him to a tree, in a
defile where the animal would be hidden from all eyes, he himself
mounted the rock.

Arrived there, he looked around to assure himself that he was alone.  He
was soon satisfied, for at that moment neither of the other two parties
were visible.  Assured by the silence that reigned around, he looked
towards the cascade.  The water, which seemed as it fell to form a curve
of running silver, opened at one place, and displayed a block of gold,
sparkling in the rays of the sun.  The most enormous cocoanut that ever
hung on a tree did not surpass this block in size.  Continually washed
by the spray of the cascade, this gold appeared in all its brilliance,
as if ready to escape from the silica which held it, and thus perhaps
for centuries this king's ransom had hung menacingly over the abyss!

At the sight of this block, which looked as though it might be seized by
stretching out his hands, a thrill of joy passed through Cuchillo's
heart; and hanging over the precipice with extended arms, he gave
utterance to the cry which had been heard by the three hunters below.

Soon, however, a spectacle, that Cuchillo was far from expecting to
witness, drew from him another cry, but this time of rage.  He had seen
a man, possessor like himself of the secret of the valley, treading with
profane foot on the treasure that he had believed wholly his.  Bois-Rose
and Fabian were hidden behind the trees; and thinking that Pepe was
alone, Cuchillo had fired at him, without taking time for a proper aim,
and thus Pepe had escaped the ball that whistled past him.

It would be impossible to paint his rage and stupefaction, when hidden
behind the pine trees, he saw two men join Pepe, especially when in one
of them he recognised the terrible hunter whom he had seen engaged with
the tigers at Poza, and in the other, Fabian, who had already twice
escaped his vengeance.  A mortal fear chilled his heart; he almost fell
to the ground.  Must he again fly from that Golden Valley, from which
fate seemed always to drive him?

Lucky for Cuchillo, the fog had hidden him from his enemies, and by the
time they had reached the top he had descended on the opposite side--
after having just caught a glance of Don Estevan and his companion in
the distance.  Here was a fresh subject of fear and surprise for
Cuchillo who, gliding like a serpent along the rocks, hid himself, as we
have seen, amid the leaves of the water lilies, to await the denouement
of this strange adventure.  Hidden from all eyes, he held himself in
readiness to profit by the approaching conflict between Don Estevan and
Fabian, and a shudder of diabolical joy mingled with that caused by the
gold; he was like the rapacious bird which awaits the issue of the
battle to seize upon its prey.  If the three hunters were victorious he
had little he thought to fear from Fabian, who was still in his eyes
Tiburcio Arellanos.  The lower class of Mexicans think little of a blow
with the dagger, and he hoped that the one he had given might be
pardoned, if he were to throw the blame upon Don Estevan.  If this last
remained master of the field, he trusted to find some plausible excuse
for his desertion.  He decided therefore upon letting them begin the
struggle, and then, at the decisive moment, should come to the
assistance of the strongest.

While Cuchillo was endeavouring to console himself by these reasonings,
Bois-Rose was able to distinguish the complexion of the new-comers.

"They are from the Mexican camp," said he.

"I foresaw," said Fabian, "that we should have the whole troop on our
hands, and be caught like wild horses in a stockade."

"Hush!" said Bois-Rose, "and trust to me to protect you.  Nothing yet
shows that there are any others behind, and in any case we could not be
better placed than on this rock; from here we might defy a whole tribe
of savages.  Besides, we do not yet know that they will stop here.  Both
of you crouch down.  I shall watch them."

So saying, he lay flat down, hiding his head behind the stones which
surrounded the top like turrets, but without losing sight of the
horsemen.  They began now to hear the sound of the horses' feet on the
plain.  The old hunter saw them stop and converse, but could not hear
what they were saying.

"Why this halt, Diaz?" said Don Estevan, impatiently, "we have lost time
enough already."

"Prudence exacts that we should look about us before proceeding.  The
knave may be hidden about here, as we have tracked him up to the rock;
he may not be alone, and we have everything to fear from him."

Don Estevan made a gesture of disdain.

"Ah!" said Bois-Rose, in a low voice, "I recognise Don Estevan, or
rather Don Antonio de Mediana, who is at last in our power."

"Don Antonio de Mediana!  Is it possible?  Are you sure?" cried Fabian.

"It is he, I tell you."

"Ah! now I see that it was the hand of God which brought me here.  Shade
of my mother, rejoice!" cried Fabian.

Pepe kept silence, but at the name of Don Antonio, hatred shone also in
his glance.  He raised his head, and his eye seemed to measure the
distance between him and the object of his vengeance, but even the long
rifle of Bois-Rose could scarcely reach them at such a range.

"Do not rise up, Pepe!" cautioned the Canadian; "you will be seen."

"Do you observe any others behind?" inquired Fabian.

"No one; from the point where the river divides to this place I see no
living being; if," added he, after an instant's pause, "that black mass
that I see floating on the river be only the trunk of a tree--but at any
rate it is floating away from us."

"Never mind that," said Fabian, "describe to me the man who accompanies
Don Antonio; perhaps I shall recognise him."

"He is tall and straight as a cane; and what a beautiful horse he
rides!"

"A bay horse? and has he gold lace on his hat, and a fine face?"

"Precisely."

"It is Pedro Diaz.  Now it would be a cowardice not to show ourselves,
when heaven sends us Don Antonio almost alone."

"Patience," said Pepe; "I am as interested as you are in not letting him
escape, but haste may ruin all.  When one has waited for twenty years,
one may easily wait a few minutes longer.  Are you sure they are alone,
Bois-Rose?"

"The sand whirls down there, but it is only the wind that is stirring
it.  They are alone, and now they stop and look about them."

So saying, Bois-Rose rose slowly, like the eagle who agitates before
completely unfolding his wings--those powerful wings the rapid flight of
which will soon bring him down to the plain.

"Senor Don Estevan," said Pedro Diaz, "I think we should return to the
camp."

Don Antonio hesitated a moment.  The counsel was good, but it was too
late to follow it.

From the top of the rock the three hunters watched their every movement.

"It is time," said Bois-Rose.

"I must take Don Antonio alive," said Fabian.  "Arrange that, and I care
for nothing else."

Bois-Rose now rose to his fall height, and uttered a cry which struck on
the ears of the new-comers.  They uttered an exclamation of surprise,
which surprise was still further increased at sight of the gigantic
Canadian upon the rock.

"Who are you, and what do you want?" cried a voice, which Fabian
recognised as that of Don Antonio.

"I shall tell you," replied the hunter; "it will recall to you a truth--
never contested either in my country or in the desert--that the ground
belongs to the first occupants; we were here before you, and are the
sole masters of this place.  We therefore wish one of you to retire with
a good grace, and the other to surrender himself, that we may teach him
a second law of the desert, `blood for blood.'"

"It is some anchorite whose brain is turned by solitude," said Pedro
Diaz; "I shall terminate the conference with a bullet from my rifle."

"No!" cried Don Estevan, stopping him, "let us see first how far this
folly will go.  And which of us is it, friend," continued he, with an
ironical air, "to whom you wish to teach this law?"

"To you," cried Fabian, rising.

"What! you here!" cried Don Estevan with mingled rage and surprise.

Fabian bowed.

"And here am I, who have been following you for the last fortnight,"
said Pepe, "and who thanks God for the opportunity of paying off a debt
of twenty years' standing."

"Who are you?" asked Don Estevan, trying to remember who it was, for
years and difference of costume had altered the aspect of the old
coast-guardsman.

"Pepe the Sleeper, who has not forgotten his residence at Ceuta."

At this name, which explained Fabian's words at the bridge of Salto de
Agua, Don Estevan lost his air of contempt.  A sudden presentiment
seemed to warn him that his fortunes were waning, and he cast around him
an anxious glance.  The high rocks, which on one side shut in the
valley, might protect him from the fire of his enemies; a short space
only separated him from their foot, and prudence counselled him to fly
there, but his pride forbade him.

"Well then!" cried he proudly after a pause, "revenge yourself on an
enemy who disdains to fly."

"Have we not said that we wish to take you alive?" replied Pepe, coldly.



CHAPTER FORTY EIGHT.

THE KING-MAKER A CAPTIVE.

In the whole course of his adventurous life, Don Estevan had never been
in such danger.  The plain offered him no protection against the rifles
of his enemies--two at least of whom had an infallible eye and steady
aim--and who had also the advantage of an impregnable position, and
turrets of rock behind which to intrench themselves.  Don Estevan did
not conceal from himself the extent of his danger; but neither did his
courage give way.

"Let us have done with this trifling," cried the sonorous voice of
Bois-Rose, whose generosity made him averse to profit by his advantages,
and who scrupled always to shed blood if he could avoid it.  "You have
heard that we wish no harm to any but your chief, and you must make up
your mind to let us take him.  Retire then willingly, if you do not wish
us to treat you as we intend to treat him."

"Never!" cried Diaz, "shall I commit such a cowardice?  You are the
first comers; so be it; we will yield the ground to you, but Don Estevan
must be allowed to go with me."

"_We_ refuse," cried Pepe; "we particularly want the man you call Don
Estevan."

"Do not oppose the justice of God," added Fabian; "your cause is only
that of man.  We give you five minutes to reflect, after which our
rifles and our good cause shall decide between us."

"You have but two minutes to decide," said Bois-Rose; "listen to me and
avoid needless bloodshed."

Mediana kept silence and preserved his haughty air.  Unshakable in his
notions of chivalric honour, Pedro Diaz resolved to die with the chief,
whose life he believed to be so precious to his country.  He consulted
Don Estevan by a look.

"Return to the camp," said the latter; "abandon to his fate a man
henceforth useless to your cause, and come back to avenge my death."

Diaz was not to be moved, but gradually drew his horse close to Don
Estevan, and when their knees touched, with his face still turned toward
his enemies, he murmured, with scarcely a movement of his lips:

"Keep steady in your stirrups, have your horse ready, and let me act."

Don Estevan made signs with his hand as though to demand a truce; but he
had taken a desperate determination.

"Bend down, Fabian; he is going to fire," cried Bois-Rose.

"Before my mother's murderer?  Never!" cried Fabian.  Quick as thought,
the hand of the Canadian giant on his shoulder, forced him down.  Don
Estevan vainly sought for an aim for his double-barrelled piece.  He
could see nothing but the formidable rifle of Bois-Rose directed towards
him, although in obedience to Fabian's wishes, Bois-Rose would not
finish the combat by striking his foe to the ground.

With as much courage as agility, Diaz now jumped up behind Don Estevan
on his horse, and throwing his arms around him to steady him after the
shock, seized the bridle, turned the animal round, and galloped off,
covering with his body, as with a buckler, the chief whose life he was
willing to save at the expense of his own.  While Fabian and Pepe rushed
down the rock, at the risk of breaking their necks, Bois-Rose followed
the movements of the horse glancing along the barrel of his rifle.

The two men appeared to make but one body: the back of the horse and the
shoulders of Diaz were the only objects at which Bois-Rose could aim;
only now and then the head of the animal was visible.  To sacrifice Diaz
would be a useless murder; and Don Estevan would still escape.  A moment
more and the fugitives would be out of range; but the Canadian was of
that class of marksmen who lodge a ball in the eye of a beaver, that he
may not injure its skin; and it was the horse he wished to aim at.  For
a single moment the head of the noble animal showed itself entirely--but
that moment was sufficient; a shot was heard, and the two men and the
death-stricken horse rolled over together on the ground.

Bruised by the violence of their fall, both men rose with difficulty;
while, their poignards in their teeth, and their rifles in their hands,
Fabian and Pepe advanced upon them.  Bois-Rose followed with great
gigantic strides, loading his rifle as he went.  When he had finished,
he again stopped.

Pedro Diaz, devoted to the last, rushed towards the gun which had fallen
from Don Estevan's hands, picked it up, and returned it to him.

"Let us defend ourselves to the last!" cried he, drawing his long knife.

Don Estevan steadied himself and raised his piece, undecided for a
moment whether to aim at Fabian or at Pepe; but Bois-Rose was watching,
and a bullet from his rifle broke the weapon of the chief in his hands,
just where the barrel joins the stock, and Don Estevan himself, losing
his balance, fell forward on the sand.

"At last, after twenty years!" cried Pepe, rushing towards him, and
placing his knee upon his breast.

Don Estevan vainly tried to resist; his arm, benumbed by the violence of
the blow which had broken his gun, refused its service.  In an instant
Pepe had untied the woollen scarf which was wound several times round
his body, and bound with it the limbs of his enemy.  Diaz could offer no
assistance, for he had himself to defend against the attacks of Fabian.

Fabian scarcely knew the Indian fighter; he had seen him only for a few
hours at the Hacienda del Venado; but the generosity of his conduct had
awakened in the heart of the young man a warm sympathy, and he wished to
spare his life.

"Surrender, Diaz!" cried he, parrying a dagger blow slimed at him; but
Diaz resolved not to yield, and for the few minutes during which Pepe
was engaged in binding Don Estevan, there was a contest of skill and
ability between him and Fabian.  Too generous to use his rifle against a
man who had but a dagger to defend himself with, Fabian tried only to
disarm his adversary; but Diaz, blinded by rage, did not perceive the
generous efforts of the young man, who, holding his rifle by the barrel,
and using it as a club, tried to strike the arm which menaced him.  But
Fabian had to deal with an antagonist not less active and vigorous than
himself.  Bounding from right to left, Diaz avoided his blows, and just
as Fabian believed he was about to succeed, he found himself striking in
the air, and the knife menacing him afresh.  Bois-Rose without waiting
to reload, ran up to put an end to the struggle--in which Fabian's
generosity placed him at a disadvantage--and Pepe, having fast bound his
enemy, advanced also.

Thus menaced by three men, Diaz determined not to die without vengeance.
He drew his arm back, and made a rapid thrust at Fabian; but the latter
had been carefully watching the movement, and his rifle met the
murdering weapon on its way.  The dagger fell to the ground; and Pepe,
seizing Diaz round the body just as Fabian struck him, cried, "Fool!
must we kill you, then?  If not, what shall we do with you?"

"What you have done to that noble gentleman," replied Diaz, pointing to
Don Estevan.

"Do not ask to share his fate," said Pepe; "that man's days are
numbered."

"Whatever his fate is to be, I wish to share it," cried Diaz, vainly
trying to free himself.  "I accept from you neither quarter nor mercy."

"Do not play with our anger!" said Pepe, whose passions were roused; "I
am not in the habit of offering mercy twice."

"I know how to make him accept it," said Fabian, picking up the fallen
knife.  "Let him go, Pepe; with a man like Diaz, one can always come to
terms."

Fabian's tone was so firm, that Pepe opened his arms and loosened the
iron grasp in which the Mexican was bound.

"Here, Diaz," said Fabian, "take your weapon, and listen to me."

So saying, Fabian advanced and offered him his knife without any attempt
at guarding himself.  Diaz took the weapon, but his adversary had not
presumed too far; at the heroic simplicity of Fabian his anger vanished
on the instant.

"I listen," said he, flinging his knife to the ground.

"I knew it would be so," replied Fabian, with a smile.  "You interposed
unknowingly between crime and the just vengeance which pursued it.  Do
you know who is the man for whom you wish to expose your life? and who
are those who have spared it?  Do you know whether or not we have the
right to demand from him, whom you doubtless know only as Don Estevan, a
terrible account of the past?  Reply honestly to the questions that I
shall put to you, and then decide on which side justice lies."

Astonished at these words, Diaz listened in silence, and Fabian went on:

"If you had been born in a privileged class, heir to a great fortune; if
a man had taken from you your fortune and your name, and reduced you to
the rank of those who have to work for their daily bread, should you be
the friend of that man?"

"No, I should be his enemy."

"If that man, to destroy the last souvenir of your birth, had murdered
your mother, what would he deserve from you?"

"Blow for blow--blood for blood."

"If, after a long and difficult pursuit, fate had at last delivered the
spoiler into your hands, what would you do?"

"I should think myself guilty towards God and man if I spared him."

"Well, then, Diaz," cried Fabian, "there is a man who has taken from me
my name, my fortune, and murdered my mother; I have pursued this
murderer and spoiler--fate has delivered him into my hands, and there he
lies!"

A cloud passed over the eyes of Diaz at the sight of the chief whose
doom was thus pronounced, for the sentiment of inexorable justice that
God has implanted in the heart of man told him that Don Estevan merited
his fate, if Fabian spoke truly.  He sighed, but offered no reply.

While these events were taking place in the midst of the plain, the
actors of the scene might have observed Cuchillo raise with precaution
the leaves which covered his head, cast an eager glance on the Golden
Valley, and then glide out of the lake.  Covered with mud, and his
garments streaming with water, they might have mistaken him for one of
the evil spirits whom the Indians believed to dwell in these solitudes.
But their attention was completely absorbed by what was taking place
among themselves.



CHAPTER FORTY NINE.

THE TWO MEDIANAS FACE TO FACE.

Pedro Diaz speedily roused himself from the deep depression and
astonishment which had for a moment overpowered him.

"According to the rules of war, I am your prisoner," said he, raising
his head, "and I am anxious to know your decision concerning me."

"You are free, Diaz," replied Fabian, "free without conditions."

"Not so! not so!" said the Canadian, quickly interrupting him.  "We
must, on the contrary, impose a rigorous condition upon your liberty."

"What is it?" asked the adventurer.

"You have now, in common with us," replied Bois-Rose, "become possessed
of a secret which we have long since known.  I have my reasons for
wishing that the knowledge of this secret should expire with those whose
evil destiny makes them acquainted with it.  You only," added the
Canadian, "will be an exception to the rule, because a brave man like
yourself should be a slave to his word.  I demand, then, before
restoring you your liberty, a promise upon your honour, never to reveal
to human being, the existence of the Golden Valley."

"I never indulged any hope in acquiring this treasure," replied the
noble adventurer, in a melancholy tone, "beyond that of the freedom and
aggrandisement of my country.  The sad fate which threatens the man, to
whom I looked for the realisation of my hopes, proves to me that in both
cases I have entertained a delusive dream.  Even should all the riches
of the Golden Valley remain forever buried in these deserts, what would
it avail me now?  I swear then, and you may rely upon my honour, that I
shall never reveal its existence to a living soul.  I shall try to
forget that I have ever, for an instant, beheld it."

"It is well," said Bois-Rose, "you are now free to go."

"Not yet, with your permission," replied the prisoner.  "In all that has
taken place, there is a mystery which I do not seek to penetrate--but--"

"Carramba! it is very simple," answered Pepe.  "This young man," said
he, pointing to Fabian--

"Not yet, Pepe," replied the latter solemnly, making a sign to the
hunter to postpone his explanations.  "In the court of justice which is
about to be convened--in the presence of the Supreme Judge (Fabian
pointed to heaven), by the accusation as well as the defence, all will
become clear to Diaz, if he will remain a short while with us.  In the
desert, time is precious; and we must prepare ourselves, by meditation
and silence, for the terrible deed which we are now compelled to
accomplish."

"I am most anxious to obtain permission to stay.  I do not know if this
man be innocent or guilty; but, I do know that he is the chief whom I
have freely chosen; and I will remain with him to the last, ready to
defend him against you at the cost of my own life, if he is innocent--
ready to bow before the sentence which condemns him, if he is guilty."

"Be it so," rejoined Fabian.  "You shall hear and judge for yourself."

"This man is of noble birth," continued Diaz, sadly, "and he lies yonder
in the dust, bound like the meanest criminal."

"Unloose him, Diaz!" replied Fabian, "but do not endeavour to shield him
from the vengeance which a son must claim for his mother's murderer.
Require from him a promise that he will not attempt to escape; we shall
rely upon you in this matter."

"I pledge my honour that he will not do so," said the adventurer, "nor
would I assist him in the attempt."  And Diaz, as he said this,
proceeded towards Don Estevan.

In the mean time Fabian, oppressed by sad and anxious thoughts, seated
himself at some distance, and appeared to deplore his unfortunate
victory.

Pepe turned away his head, and for a while stood as if attentively
observing the mists as they floated above the crests of the mountains.

Bois-Rose reclined in his usual attitude of repose, while his eyes,
expressive of deep anxiety, were centred upon the young man, and his
noble physiognomy seemed to reflect the clouds which gathered upon the
brow of his beloved protege.

Meanwhile Diaz had rejoined the prostrate captive.

Who can guess how many conflicting thoughts crowded upon the mind of the
Spanish nobleman, as he lay upon the ground?  His expression retained as
much pride as when in his more prosperous days he had imagined the
possibility of conquering, and bestowing, a throne upon the deposed heir
of the Spanish monarchy.  At the sight of Diaz, who, he believed had
abandoned his cause, an expression of deep melancholy came over his
countenance.

"Do you come as an enemy, or a friend, Diaz?" said he.  "Are you one of
those who take a secret pleasure in contemplating the humiliation of the
man whom, in the days of his prosperity, you, like others, would have
flattered?"

"I am one of those who flatter only the fallen," replied Diaz, "and who
are not offended by the bitterness of speech which is dictated by great
misfortune."

As he uttered these words, which were confirmed by the dejection of his
manner, Diaz hastened to remove the cords with which the captive's arms
were bound.

"I have given my word that you will not endeavour to escape the fate,
whatever it may be, which awaits you at the hands of these men, into
whose power we have fallen by an unlucky chance.  I believe you have not
even thought of flight."

"And you are right, Diaz," replied Don Estevan; "but can you guess what
fate these fellows have reserved for me?"

"They talk of a murder to be avenged, of an accusation, and a judgment."

"A judgment!" replied Don Antonio with a haughty and bitter smile, "they
may assassinate, but they shall never judge me."

"In the former case, I shall die with you," said Diaz, simply, "in the
latter--but of what use is it to speak of that which cannot be? you are
innocent of the crime of which they accuse you?"

"I have a presentiment of the fate which awaits me," replied Don Estevan
without answering the adventurer's interrogation.  "A faithful subject
will be lost to his king--Don Carlos the First.  But you will carry on
my work? you will restore the prosperity of Sonora.  You will return to
the Senator Tragaduros--he knows what he has to do, and you will support
him?"

"Ah!" cried Diaz, sadly, "such a work cannot be attempted but by you.
In your hands I might have proved a powerful instrument; without you I
shall sink into insignificant obscurity.  The hope of my country expires
with you."

During this interval, Fabian and Bois-Rose had quitted the spot where
the preceding scenes had so rapidly taken place.  They had reached the
base of the pyramid.  It was there that the solemn assizes were to be
held, in which Fabian and the Duke de Armada were about to act the parts
of judge and criminal.

Pepe made a sign to Diaz; Don Estevan saw and understood it.

"It is not enough to have remained a prisoner," said Diaz, "you must
meet your fate; the conquered must obey the conqueror--come!"

As Diaz ceased speaking, the Spanish nobleman, armed with the pride
which never deserted him, approached the pyramid with a firm step.  Pepe
had rejoined his two companions.

Don Estevan's looks, as he advanced, displayed a dauntless composure
equally removed from bravado or weakness--which won a glance of
admiration from his three enemies--all of them excellent judges of
courage.

Fabian rose and stepped forward to meet his noble prisoner.  A few paces
behind, Diaz also advanced--his head bowed low, and his mind oppressed
by gloomy thoughts.  Everything in the manner of the conquerors
convinced him that, on this occasion, right would be on the side of
power.

"My Lord of Mediana," said Fabian, as, with head uncovered, he paused a
few steps in advance of the noble Spaniard who had approached him, "you
perceive that I recognise you, and you also know who I am."

The Duke de Armada remained upright and motionless without responding to
his nephew's courtesy.

"I am entitled to keep my head covered in the presence of the King of
Spain; I shall use that privilege with you," he replied; "also I claim
the right of remaining silent when I think proper, and shall now
exercise that right if it please you."

Notwithstanding this haughty reply, the younger son of the Medianas
could not but remember how he, a trembling and weeping child, had,
twenty years before, in the castle of Elanchovi quailed beneath the
glance of the man whom he now presumed to judge.

The timid eaglet had now become the eagle, which, in its turn, held the
prey in its powerful talons.

The glances of the two Medianas crossed like two swords, and Diaz
contemplated, with mingled astonishment and respect, the adopted son of
the gambusino Arellanos, suddenly transformed and raised above the
humble sphere in which he had for an instant known him.

The adventurer awaited the solution of this enigma.  Fabian armed
himself with a pride which equalled that of the Duke de Armada.

"As you will," said he, "yet it might be prudent to remember, that here
the right claimed by power is not an empty boast."

"It is true," replied Don Antonio, who, notwithstanding his apparent
resignation, trembled with rage and despair at the total failure of his
hopes.  "I ought not to forget that you are doubtless inclined to profit
by this right.  I shall answer your question then when I tell you that I
am aware of but one fact concerning you, which is that some demon has
inspired you continually to cast some impediment in the way of the
object I pursue--I know--"

Here rage stifled his utterance.

The impetuous young man listened with a changing countenance to the
words uttered by the assassin of his mother, and whom he even now
suspected was the murderer of his adopted father.

Truly it is the heroism of moderation, at which those who do not know
the slight value attached to human life in the deserts, cannot be
sufficiently astonished--for here law cannot touch the offender--but the
short space of time which had elapsed since Fabian joined Bois-Rose was
sufficient, under the gentle influence of the old hunter, to calm his
feelings immeasurably.

He was no longer the young man whose fiery passions were the instruments
of a vengeance to which he yielded blindly.  He had learnt that power
should go hand in hand with justice, and may often be combined with
mercy.

This was the secret of a moderation, hitherto so opposed to his
temperament.  It was not, however, difficult to trace, in the changing
expression of his countenance, the efforts he had been compelled to make
to impose a restraint upon his anger.

On his side, the Spanish noble concealed his passion under the mask of
silence.

"So then," resumed Fabian, "you know nothing more of me?  You are not
acquainted either with my name or rank?  I am nothing more to you than
what I seem?"

"An assassin, perhaps!" replied Mediana, turning his back to Fabian to
show that he did not wish to reply to his question.

During the dialogue which had taken place between these two men of the
same blood, and of equally unconquerable nature, the wood-rangers had
remained at some distance.

"Approach," said Fabian to the ex-carabinier, "and say," added he, with
forced calmness, "what you know of me to this man whose lips have dared
to apply to me a name which he only deserves."

If any doubt could still have remained upon Don Estevan's mind with
regard to the intentions of those into whose hands he had fallen, that
doubt must have disappeared when he beheld the gloomy air with which
Pepe came forward in obedience to Fabian's command.

The visible exertion he made to repress the rancorous feelings which the
sight of the Spanish noble aroused in him, filled the latter with a sad
presentiment.

A shudder passed through the frame of Don Estevan, but he did not lower
his eyes, and by the aid of his invincible pride, he waited with
apparent calmness until Pepe began to speak.

"Carramba!" exclaimed the latter in a tone which he tried in vain to
render agreeable.  "It was certainly worth while to send me to catch
sea-fish upon the borders of the Mediterranean, so that, at the end of
my journey, I might, three thousand leagues from Spain, fall in with the
nephew whose mother you murdered.  I don't know whether Don Fabian de
Mediana is inclined to pardon you, but for my part," added he, striking
the ground with the butt end of his rifle, "I have sworn that I will not
do so."

Fabian directed a haughty glance towards Pepe, as though to command his
submission; then addressing himself to the Spaniard:

"My Lord of Mediana, you are not now in the presence of assassins, but
of judges, and Pepe will not forget it."

"Before judges!" cried Don Antonio; "my peers only possess the right of
judgment, and I do not recognise as such a malefactor escaped from jail
and a beggarly usurper who has assumed a title to which he has no right.
I do not acknowledge here any other Mediana than myself, and have
therefore no reply to make."

"Nevertheless I must constitute myself your judge," said Fabian, "yet
believe me I shall be an impartial one, since I take as a witness that
God whose sun shines upon us, when I swear that I no longer entertain
any feelings of animosity or hatred against you."

There was so much truth in the manner with which Fabian pronounced these
words, that, for an instant, Don Estevan's countenance lost its
expression of gloomy defiance, and was even lit up by a ray of hope, for
the Duke de Armada recollected that he stood face to face with the heir
for whom, in his pride, he had once mourned.  It was therefore in a less
severe tone that he asked--

"Of what crime am I then accused?"

"You are about to hear," replied Fabian.



CHAPTER FIFTY.

LYNCH LAW.

On the frontiers of the America there exists a terrible law, yet it is
not this clause alone which renders it so--"Eye for eye, tooth for
tooth, blood for blood."  The application of this law is evident in all
the ways of Providence, to those who observe the course of events here
below.  "He who kills by the sword shall perish by the sword," says the
gospel.

But the law of the desert is terrible by reason of the majesty with
which it is invested, or claims to be invested.

This law is terrible in common with all laws of blood, and the more so,
since those who have recourse to it usurp a power which does not belong
to them, inasmuch as the injured party constitutes himself judge of his
own cause, and executes the sentence which he himself has pronounced.

Such is the so-called "Lynch law."

In the central parts of America, white men as well as Indians execute
this law with cruel severity against each other.  Civilised communities
adopt it in a mitigated form as applied to capital punishment, but the
untutored inhabitants of the desert continue to practise it with the
same rigour which belonged to the first ages of mankind.

And may we not here make the remark, that the similitude of feeling on
this point, between the white man and the savages, casts a stain upon
the former which for his own honour he should endeavour to wipe out?

Society has provided laws for the protection of all men.  The man who
amongst us should assume the right of judgment, and take the law into
his own hands, would thus violate it, and fall under the jurisdiction of
those whom society has appointed to try, and to condemn.

We are not without a hope that at some future time, as civilisation
advances, men will allow that they who deprive a culprit of that life
which none can recall, commit an act of sacrilege in defiance of those
divine laws which govern the universe and take precedence of all human
decrees.

A time will come, we would fain believe, when our laws may spare the
life of a guilty man, and suffer him to atone for his errors or his
crimes by repentance.  Such a law would respect the life which can never
be restored; and while another exists which casts an irretrievable stain
upon our honour, there would be a law of restoration capable of raising
the man sanctified by repentance to the dignity which punishment would
have prevented his attaining.

"There is more joy in heaven," says the gospel, "over a sinner who
repents, than a righteous man made perfect."  Why then are not human
laws a counterpart of these divine decrees?

Now, however, liberty is the only boon which society confers upon him
whose misfortunes or whose crimes have deprived him of it.

Misfortunes did we not say?  Is there not in truth a law which
assimilates the criminal with the upright though insolvent debtor, and
compels him to the same fate in prison?

So much for this subject.  Let us now return to the lynch law of the
desert.  It was before a tribunal without appeal, and in the presence of
self-constituted judges, that Don Antonio de Mediana was about to
appear.  A court assembled in a city, with all its imposing adjuncts,
could not have surpassed in solemnity the assizes which at this moment
were convoked in the desert, where three men represented human justice
armed with all its terrors!

We have described the singular and fantastic aspect presented by the
spot, in which this scene was to be enacted.  In truth, the sombre
mountains, veiled in mist, the mysterious subterranean sounds, the long
tufts of human hair agitated by every breath of wind, the skeleton of
the Indian horse exposed to view, all combined to endue the place with a
strange unearthly appearance in the eyes of the prisoner, so that he
almost believed himself under the influence of some horrible dream.

One might have imagined himself suddenly transported into the middle
ages, in the midst of some secret society, where previous to the
admission of the candidate, were displayed all the terrors of the earth,
as a means of proving his courage.

All this however was here a fearful reality.

Fabian pointed out to the Duke de Armada, one of the flat stones,
resembling tombstones, which were strewed over the plain, and seated
himself upon another so as to form with the Canadian and his companion a
triangle, in which he occupied the most prominent position.

"It is not becoming for the criminal to sit in the presence of the
judges," said the Spanish noble, with a bitter smile, "I shall therefore
remain standing."

Fabian made no reply.

He waited until Diaz, the only disinterested witness in this court of
justice, had chosen a convenient place.

The adventurer remained at some distance from the actors in the scene,
yet sufficiently near to see and hear all that passed.

Fabian began:

"You are about to be told," said he, "of what crime you are accused.
You are to look upon me as the judge who presides at your trial, and who
will either condemn or acquit you."

Having thus spoken he paused to consider.

"It will first be necessary to establish the identity of the criminal.
Are you in truth," he continued, "that Don Antonio, whom men here call
the Count de Mediana?"

"No," replied the Spaniard in a firm voice.

"Who are you then?" continued Fabian, in a mingled tone of astonishment
and regret, for he repudiated the idea that a Mediana would have
recourse to a cowardly subterfuge.

"I _was_ the Count de Mediana," replied the prisoner, with a haughty
smile, "until by my sword I acquired other titles.  At present I am
known in Spain as the Duke de Armada.  It is the name I shall transmit
to the descendant of my line, whom I may choose as my adopted son."

The latter phrase, incidentally spoken by the prisoner, proved in the
sequel his sole means of defence.

"Right," said Fabian, "the Duke de Armada shall hear of what crime Don
Antonio de Mediana is accused.  Speak Bois-Rose! tell us what you know,
and nothing more."

The rough and energetic countenance of the gigantic descendant of the
Norman race, as he stood motionless beside them, his carbine supported
on his broad shoulder, was expressive of such calm integrity, that his
appearance alone banished all idea of perjury.  Bois-Rose drew himself
up, slowly removed his fur cap, and in doing so discovered his fine open
brow to the gaze of all.

"I will only speak of what I know," said he.

"On a foggy night, in the month of November, 1808, I was a sailor on
board a French smuggling-vessel called the Albatros.

"We had landed according to a plan formed with the captain of the
carabiniers of Elanchovi, on the coast of the Bay of Biscay.  I will not
relate to you," and here Pepe could not repress a smile, "how we were
fired upon, and repulsed from the shore where we had landed as friends.
It is sufficient for you to know that when we again reached our vessel,
I was attracted by the screams of a child, which seemed to come from the
depths of the ocean.

"These cries proceeded from a boat which had been abandoned.

"I pushed out towards it at the risk of my own life, since a brisk fire
was opened upon our ship.

"In this boat I found a lady murdered, and lying in her blood.  She was
quite dead, and close to her was a little child who appeared to be
dying.

"I picked up the child--that child is now the man before us; his name is
Fabian.

"I took the child with me, and left the murdered lady in the boat.  I do
not know who committed the crime, and have nothing further to say."

As he finished speaking, Bois-Rose again covered his head, and seated
himself in silence.

A mournful silence followed this declaration.

Fabian lowered his flashing eyes for an instant to the ground, then
raised them, calm and cold, to the face of the ex-carabinier, whose turn
had now come to speak.

Fabian was prepared to act his terrible part, and the countenance as
well as the attitude of the young man, though clothed in rags, expressed
the nobility which characterised an ancient race, as well as the
collected coolness of a judge.  He cast an authoritative glance towards
Pepe, and the half savage trapper was compelled to submit to it in
silence.

Pepe at length rose, and advanced a few paces, by his manner showing a
determination only to utter that which his conscience approved.

"I understand you, Count Mediana," said he, addressing himself to
Fabian, who alone in his eyes had the right to assume this title.  "I
will try to forget that the man here present is the same who caused me
to spend so many long years among the refuse of mankind at Ceuta.  When
I appear before God He may require of me the words I have spoken, but I
should again repeat them, nor regret that they had ever been uttered."

Fabian made a gesture of approbation.

"One night in the month of November, 1808," said he, "when I belonged to
the Royal Carabiniers in the service of Spain, I was on duty upon the
coast of Elanchovi, where three men disembarked from the open sea upon
the beach.

"Our captain had sold to one of them the right of landing in a forbidden
spot.

"I reproach myself with having been this man's accomplice, and receiving
from him the price of culpable neglect of my duty.

"The following day it was discovered that the Countess Mediana and her
young son had left the castle during the night.

"The Countess was murdered--the young Count was never seen again.

"A short time after, his uncle appeared at Elanchovi and claimed his
nephew's fortune and titles.  All was given up to him, and I, who
believed that I had only sold my services to favour an intrigue or an
affair of smuggling, found that I had been the accomplice of a murderer.

"I upbraided the present Count Mediana before witnesses, and accused him
of this crime.  Five years' imprisonment at Ceuta was the reward of my
presumption.

"Here before another and more righteous tribunal, and in the presence of
God who is my witness, I again accuse the man before me.  I declare him
to be the murderer of the Countess, and the usurper of her son's titles.
He was one of the three men, who, during the night entered by escalade
the chateau which Don Fabian's mother never again beheld.

"Let the murderer refute the charge.  I have done."

"You hear him?" said Fabian, "what have you to say in your defence?"

A violent struggle between his conscience and his pride took place in
Mediana's breast.

Pride however triumphed.

"Nothing," replied Don Antonio.

"Nothing!" answered Fabian, "but you do not perhaps know what a terrible
duty I have to fulfil?"

"I can imagine it."

"And I," cried Fabian passionately, "shall not flinch in accomplishing
it.  Yet, though my mother's blood cries out for vengeance, should you
refute the charge, I would bless you still.  Swear to me then, in the
name of Mediana, which we bear in common, by your honour and the
salvation of your soul, that you are innocent, and I shall be too happy
to believe you."

Then, oppressed with an intolerable anguish, Fabian awaited his reply.

But, gloomy and inflexible as the fallen archangel, Mediana was silent.

At this moment Diaz advanced towards the judges and the prisoner.

"I have listened," said he, "with the utmost attention to your
accusation again Don Estevan de Arechiza, whom I also know to be the
Duke de Armada; may I express my thoughts freely?"

"Speak!" said Fabian.

"One point seems to me doubtful.  I do not know whether the crime you
attribute to this noble cavalier was committed by him; but, admitting
that to be the case, have you any right to condemn him?  In accordance
with the laws of our frontier, where no court may be held, it is only
the nearest relatives of the victim who are entitled to claim the blood
of the murderer.

"Don Tiburcio's youth was passed in this country.  I knew him as the
adopted son of Marcos Arellanos.

"Who can prove that Tiburcio Arellanos is the son of the murdered lady?

"How, after so many years, can it be possible for this hunter, formerly
a sailor, to recognise in the midst of these solitudes, the young man,
whom as a child he beheld only for an instant on a foggy night?"

"Answer, Bois-Rose," said Fabian, coldly.

The Canadian again rose.

"I ought, in the first place, to state," said the old hunter, "that it
was not only for a few moments on a foggy night that I saw the child in
question.  During the space of two years, after having saved him from
certain death, I kept him on board the vessel in which I was a sailor.

"The features of his son could not be more deeply impressed upon the
memory of a father than those of that child were on mine.

"How then can you affirm that it is impossible I should recognise him?

"When you are travelling in the desert, where there is no beaten track,
are you not guided by the course of streams, by the character of the
trees, by the conformation of their trunks, by the growth of the moss
which clothes them, and by the stars of heaven? and when at another
season, or even twenty years afterwards, should the rains have swelled
the streams, or the sun have dried them up, should the once naked trees
be clothed with leaves, should their trunks have expanded, and moss
covered their roots, even should the north star have changed its
position in the heavens, and you again beheld it, would you not
recognise both star and stream?"

"Doubtless," replied Diaz, "the man who has experience in the desert, is
seldom deceived."

"When you meet a stranger in the forest, who answers you with the cry of
a bird or the voice of an animal, which is to serve as a rallying signal
to you or your friends, do you not immediately say, `This man is one of
us'?"

"Assuredly."

"Well, then; I recognise the child in the grown man, just as you
recognise the small shrub in the tall tree; or the stream that once
murmured softly in the roaring and swollen torrent of to-day.  I know
this child again by a mode of speech, which twenty years have scarcely
altered."

"Is not this meeting a somewhat strange coincidence?" interrupted Diaz,
now almost convinced of the Canadian's veracity.

"God," cried Bois-Rose, solemnly, "who commands the breeze to waft
across the desert the fertilising seeds of the male palm to the female
date-tree--God, who confides to the wind which destroys, to the
devastating torrent, or to the bird of passage, the grain which is to be
deposited a thousand miles from the plant that produced it--is he not
also able to send upon the same path two human beings made in his
image?"

Diaz was silent a moment; then having nothing more to advance in
contradiction to the Canadian's truthful words whose honest manner of
speech carried with it an irresistible conviction, he turned towards
Pepe:

"Did you," said he, "also recognise in Arellanos' adopted child, the
Countess de Mediana's son!"

"It would be impossible for any one who ever saw his mother long to
mistake him.  Enough! let the Duke de Armada contradict me."

Don Antonio, too proud to utter a falsehood, could not deny the truth
without degrading himself in the eyes of his accusers, unless he
destroyed the only means of defence to which his pride and the secret
wish of his heart allowed him to have recourse.

"It is true," said he, "that this man is of my own blood.  I cannot deny
it without polluting my lips with a lie, and an untruth is the offspring
of cowardice."

Diaz inclined his head, regained his seat, and was silent.

"You have heard," said Fabian, "that I am indeed the son of the woman,
whom this man murdered; therefore I claim the right of avenging her.
What then do the laws of the desert decree?"

"Eye for eye," said Bois-Rose.

"Tooth for tooth," added Pepe.

"Blood for blood," continued Fabian; "a death for a death!"

Then he rose, and addressing Don Antonio in measured accents, said: "You
have shed blood and committed murder.  It shall therefore be done to you
as you have done to others.  God commanded it to be so."

Fabian drew his poignard from its sheath.  The sun was shedding his
first rays upon the scene, and every object cast a long shadow upon the
ground.

A bright flash shot from the naked blade which the younger Mediana held
in his hand.

Fabian buried its point in the sand.

The shadow of the poignard far exceeded its length.

"The sun," he said, "shall determine how many moments you have to live.
When the shadow disappears you shall appear before God, and my mother
will be avenged."

A deathlike silence succeeded Fabian's last words, who, overcome with
long suppressed emotions, fell, rather than seated himself upon the
stone.

Bois-Rose and Pepe both retained their seats.  The judges and the
criminal were alike motionless.

Diaz perceived that all was over, but he did not wish, to take any part
in the execution of the sentence.

He approached the Duke de Armada, knelt down before him, took his hand
and raised it to his lips.

"I will pray for the salvation of your soul," said he in a low tone.
"Do you release me from my oath?"

"Yes," replied Don Antonio, in a firm voice; "go, and may God bless you
for your fidelity!"

The noble adventurer retired in silence.

His horse had remained at some short distance.

Diaz soon reached it, and holding the bridle in his hands, walked slowly
towards the spot where the river forked.

In the mean time the sun followed its eternal course--the shadows
gradually contracted--the black vultures flew in circles above the heads
of the four actors in the terrible drama the last scene of which was now
drawing near.  From the depths of the Misty Mountains, shrouded in
vapour, might be heard, at intervals, dull rumbling sounds, like
thunder, followed by distant explosions.

Pale, but resigned, the unfortunate Count de Mediana remained standing.
Buried in deep reverie, he did not appear to notice the continually
decreasing shadow.

All exterior objects vanished from his sight.  His thoughts were divided
between the past which no longer concerned him, and the future he was
about to enter.

However, pride still struggled within him, and he maintained an
obstinate silence.

"My Lord Count," said Fabian, who was willing to try a last chance, "in
five minutes the poignard will have ceased to cast a shadow."

"I have nothing to say of the past," replied Don Antonio.  "I must now
think only of the future of my race.  Do not, therefore, misjudge the
sense of the words I am about to speak.  Whatever may be the form in
which it may come, death has no power to terrify me."

"I am listening," said Fabian gently.

"You are very young, Fabian," continued Mediana, "and the thought of the
blood that has been shed will therefore be so much the longer a burthen
to you."

Fabian's countenance revealed the anguish of his feelings.

"Why then so soon pollute a life which is scarcely begun?  Why refuse to
follow a course which the unlooked-for favour of Providence opens to
you?  Here you are poor, and without connections.  God restores you to
your family, and, at the same moment, confers wealth upon you.  The
inheritance of your race has not been squandered by me.  I have for
twenty years borne the name of Mediana, at the head of the Spanish
nobles, and I am ready to restore it to you with all the honours I have
conferred upon it.  Accept then a fortune which I joyfully restore to
you, for the isolation of my life is burthensome to me; but do not
purchase it by a crime, for which an imaginary act of justice cannot
absolve you, and which you will repent to your last hour."

Fabian replied, "A judge who presides at his tribunal must not listen to
the voice of nature.  Supported by his conscience, and the service he
renders to society, he may pity the criminal, though his duty requires
that he shall condemn him.  In this solitude, these two men and myself
represent human justice.  Refute the crime attributed to you, Don
Antonio, and I shall be the happiest of us two; for though I shudder to
accuse you, I cannot escape the fatal mission which heaven has imposed
upon me."

"Consider well, Fabian, and remember that it not pardon, but oblivion,
for which I sue.  Thanks to that oblivion, it rests with you to become,
in my adopted son, the princely heir of the house of Mediana.  After my
death my title will expire."

As he listened to these words the young man became deadly pale; but
spurning in his heart the temptation held out to him, Fabian closed his
ears to that voice which offered him so large a share of the riches of
this world, as though he had but heard the light whispers of the breeze
amid the foliage of the trees.

"Oh, Count Mediana, why did you kill my mother?" cried Fabian, covering
his face with his hands; then, glancing towards the poignard planted in
the sand, "My lord of Armada," he added, solemnly, "the poignard is
without a shadow!"

Don Antonio trembled in spite of himself, as he then recalled the
prophetic threat, which twenty years before the Countess de Mediana had
compelled him to hear.

"Perhaps," she had said, "the God whom you blaspheme will ordain, that
in the heart of a desert, untrodden by the foot of man, you shall find
an accuser, a witness, a judge, and an executioner."

Accuser, witness, and judge were all before him, but who was to be the
executioner?  However, nothing was wanting for the accomplishment of the
dreadful prophecy.

A noise of branches, suddenly torn apart, was heard at this moment.

The moment after, a man emerged from the brushwood, his habiliments
dripping with water and soiled with mud.  It was Cuchillo.

The bandit advanced with an air of imperturbable coolness, though he
appeared to limp slightly.

Not one of the four men, so deeply absorbed in their own terrible
reflections, showed any astonishment at his presence.

"Carramba! you expected me then?" he cried; "and yet I persisted in
prolonging the most disagreeable bath I have ever taken, for fear of
causing you all a surprise, for which my self-love might have suffered,"
(Cuchillo did not allude to his excursion in the mountains); "but the
water of this lake is so icy that rather than perish with cold, I would
have run a greater risk than meeting with old friends."

"Added to this I felt a wound in my leg reopen.  It was received some
time since, in fact, long ago, in my youth.

"Senor Don Estevan, Don Tiburcio, I am your very humble servant."

A profound silence succeeded these words.  Cuchillo began to feel that
he was acting the part of the hare, who takes refuge in the teeth of the
hounds; but he endeavoured by a great show of assurance to make the best
of a position which was more than precarious.

The old hunter alone glanced towards Fabian, as though to ask what
motive this man, with his impudent and sinister manner, and his beard
covered with greenish mud, could offer for thus intruding himself upon
them.

"It is Cuchillo," said Fabian, answering Bois-Rose's look.

"Cuchillo, your unworthy servant," continued the bandit, "who has been a
witness to your prowess, most worthy hunter of tigers.  Decidedly,"
thought Cuchillo, "my presence, is not so obnoxious to them as I should
have supposed."

Then feeling his assurance redoubled at the reception he had met with,
which though cold and silent as that with which every new-comer is
received in the house of death, still gave him courage to say, observing
the severe expression on every face:

"Pardon me, gentlemen!  I observe you have business in hand, and I am
perhaps intruding; I will retire.  There are moments when one does not
like to be disturbed: I know it by experience."

Saying these words, Cuchillo showed his intention of crossing a second
time the green inclosure of the valley of gold, when Bois-Rose's rough
voice arrested him.

"Stay here, as you value the salvation of your soul, master Cuchillo,"
said the hunter.

"The giant may have heard of my intellectual resources," thought
Cuchillo.  "They have need of me.  After all, I would rather go shares
with them than get nothing; but without doubt this Golden Valley is
bewitched.  You allow, master hunter," he continued, addressing the
Canadian, and feigning a surprise he did not feel at the aspect of his
chief, "I have a--"

An imperious gesture from Fabian cut short Cuchillo's demand.

"Silence!" he said, "do not distract the last thought of a Christian who
is about to die."

We have said that a poignard planted in the ground no longer cast a
shadow.

"My lord of Mediana," added Fabian, "I ask you once again, by the name
we bear, by your honour, and the salvation of your soul, are you
innocent of my mother's murder?"

To this lofty interrogation, Don Antonio replied without relaxing his
haughty demeanour--

"I have nothing to say, to my peers alone I allow the right of judgment.
Let my fate and yours be accomplished."

"God sees and hears me," said Fabian.  Then taking Cuchillo aside: "A
solemn sentence has been passed upon this man," said he to him.  "We, as
the instruments of human justice in this desert, command you to be his
executioner.  The treasures contained in this valley will remunerate you
for undertaking this terrible duty.  May you never commit a more
iniquitous act!"

"One cannot live through forty years without having a few little
peccadilloes on one's conscience, Don Tiburcio.  However, I shall not
the less object to being an executioner; and I am proud to know that my
talents are estimated at their real value.  You promise, then, that all
the gold of this valley shall be mine?"

"All--without excepting the smallest particle."

"Carramba! notwithstanding my well-known scruples, it is a good price,
therefore I shall not hesitate; and if at the same time there is any
other little favour you require of me, do not distress yourself--it
shall be done cheaply."

That which has been previously said explains Cuchillo's unexpected
appearance.

The outlaw, concealed upon the borders of the neighbouring lake, had
escaped through the prologue which preceded the fearful drama in which
he was about to perform a part.  Taking all things into consideration,
he saw that matters were turning out better than he had expected.

However he could not disguise from himself the fact that there was a
certain amount of danger in his becoming the executioner of a man who
was aware of all his crimes, and who could, by a single word, surrender
him him to the implacable justice enforced in these solitudes.

He was aware that to gain the promised recompense, and to prevent Don
Antonio from speaking, it would be necessary first to deceive him, and
he found means to whisper in the ear of the prisoner--

"Fear nothing--I am on your side."

The spectators of this terrible scene maintained a profound silence,
under a feeling of awe experienced by each of them.

A deep dejection of spirit had, in Don Fabian's case, succeeded the
energetic exercise of his will, and his face, bowed towards the earth,
was as pale and as livid as that of the man upon whom he had pronounced
sentence of death.

Bois-Rose--whom the frequent dangers which belonged to the life of a
sailor and a hunter, had rendered callous to the physical horror with
which one man looks upon the destruction of his fellow--appeared
completely absorbed in the contemplations of this young man, whom he
loved as a son, and whose dejected attitude showed the depth of his
grief.

Pepe, on his side, endeavoured to conceal under an impenetrable mask the
tumultuous feeling resulting from his now satisfied vengeance.  He, as
well as his two companions, remained silent.

Cuchillo alone--whose sanguinary and vindictive nature would have led
him to accept gratuitously the odious office of executor--could scarcely
conceal his delight at the thoughts of the enormous sum he was to
receive for the wicked service.

But in this case, for once in his life, Cuchillo was to assist in an
apparently legal proceeding.

"Carramba!" he ejaculated, taking Pepe's carbine from him, and at the
same time making a sign to Don Antonio; "this is an affair for which
even the judge of Arispe himself would be sorry to grant me absolution."

He advanced towards Don Antonio.

Pale, but with flashing eyes; uncertain whether in Cuchillo he beheld a
saviour or an executioner, Don Estevan did not stir.

"It was foretold that I should die in a desert; I am, what you are
pleased to call, convicted and condemned.  God has reserved forme the
infinite disgrace of dying by the hand of this man.  I forgive you,
Fabian; but may not this bandit prove as fatal to your life, as he will
be to that of your father's brother, as he was--"

A cry from Cuchillo--a cry of alarm, here interrupted the Duke de
Armada.

"To arms!  To arms! yonder come the Indians!" cried he.

Fabian, Bois-Rose, and Pepe rushed to seize their rifles.

Cuchillo took advantage of this short instant, and sprang towards Don
Antonio.  The latter with his neck stretched forward, was also examining
the wide extent of the plain, when Cuchillo twice plunged the poignard
into his throat.

The unfortunate Mediana fell to the ground, vomiting forth torrents of
blood.

A smile relaxed Cuchillo's lips: Don Antonio had carried out of the
world the secret which he dreaded.



CHAPTER FIFTY ONE.

THE JUDGMENT OF GOD.

An instant of stupor succeeded to the murder so suddenly accomplished.
Don Antonio did not stir; Fabian seemed to forget that the bandit had
only hastened the execution of the sentence which he himself had
pronounced.

"Wretch!" cried he, rushing towards Cuchillo, with the barrel of his
carbine in his hand, as though he did not deign to raise its butt
against the executioner.

"There, there!" said Cuchillo, drawing back, whilst Pepe, more ready to
acquit Don Antonio's murderer, interposed between them; "you are as
quick and passionate as a fighting-cock, and ready every instant to
sport your horns, like a young bull.  The Indians are too busy elsewhere
to trouble themselves about us.  It was a stratagem of war, to enable me
more speedily to render you the signal service required of me.  Do not
therefore be ungrateful; for, why not admit it? you were just now a
nephew, most unsufferably encumbered with an uncle; you are noble, you
are generous; you would have regretted all your life that you had not
pardoned that uncle?  By cutting the matter short for you, I have taken
the remorse upon myself; and so the affair is ended."

"The rascal knows what he is about, undoubtedly," remarked the
ex-carabinier.

"Yes," replied Cuchillo, evidently flattered, "I pride myself upon being
no fool, and upon having some notion of the scruples of conscience.  I
have taken your doubts upon mine.  When I take a fancy to people, I
sacrifice myself for them.  It is a fault of mine.  When I saw, Don
Tiburcio, that you had so generously pardoned me the blow--the scratch I
inflicted upon you--I did my best to deserve it: the rest must be
settled between me and my conscience."

"Ah!" sighed Fabian, "I hoped yet to have been able to pardon _him_."

"Why trouble yourself about it?" said the ex-carabinier.  "Pardon your
mother's murderer, Don Fabian! it would have been cowardice!  To kill a
man who cannot defend himself, is, I grant, almost a crime, even after
five years' imprisonment.  Our friend Cuchillo has saved us the
embarrassment of choosing: that is his affair.  What do you say,
Bois-Rose?"

"With proofs such as those we possess, the tribunal of a city would have
condemned the assassin to atone for his crime; and Indian justice could
not have done less.  It was God's will that you should be spared the
necessity of shedding the blood of a white man.  I say as you do, Pepe,
it is Cuchillo's affair."

Fabian inclined his head, without speaking, in acquiescence to the old
hunter's verdict--as though in his own heart he could not determine,
amidst such conflicting thoughts, whether he ought to rejoice, or to
grieve over this unexpected catastrophe.

Nevertheless, a shade of bitter regret overspread his countenance; but
accustomed, as well as his two companions, to scenes of blood, he
assented, though with a sigh, to their inexorable logic.

In the mean time, Cuchillo had regained all his audacity, things were
turning out well for him.

He cast a glance of satisfied hatred upon the corpse of him who could
never more speak, and muttered in a low voice:

"Why trouble one's self about human destiny?--for twenty years past, my
life has depended upon nothing more than the absence of a tree."

Then addressing himself to Fabian:

"It is, then, agreed, that I have rendered you a great service.  Ah!
Don Tiburcio, you must resolve to remain in my debt.  I think generously
of furnishing you with the means of discharging it.  There is immense
wealth yonder; therefore it would not do for you to recall a promise
given to him who, for your sake, was not afraid--for the first time, let
me tell you--to come to an open rupture with his conscience."

Cuchillo, who, notwithstanding the promise Fabian had made--to satisfy
his cupidity by the possession of the gold,--knew that to make a
promise, and to keep one, are two different things.  He waited the reply
with anxiety.

"It is true; the price of blood is yours," said Fabian to the bandit.

Cuchillo assumed an indignant air.

"Well, you will be magnificently recompensed," continued the young man,
contemptuously; "but it shall never be said that I shared it with you:--
the gold of this place is yours."

"All?" cried Cuchillo, who could not believe his ears.

"Have I not said so?"

"You are mad!" exclaimed Pepe and Bois-Rose, simultaneously, "the fellow
would have killed him for nothing!"

"You are a god!" cried Cuchillo; "and you estimate my scruples at their
real value.  What! all this gold?"

"All, including the smallest particle," answered Fabian, solemnly: "I
shall have nothing in common with you--not even this gold."

And he made a sign to Cuchillo to leave the ground.

The bandit, instead of passing through the hedge of cotton-trees, took
the road to the Misty Mountains, towards the spot where his horse was
fastened.

A few minutes afterwards he returned with his serape in his hand.  He
drew aside the interlacing branches which shut in the valley, and soon
disappeared from Fabian's sight.  The sun, in the midst of his course,
poured down a flood of light, causing the gold spread over the surface
of the valley to shoot forth innumerable rays.

A shudder passed though Cuchillo's veins, as he once more beheld it.

His heart beat quick at the sight of this mass of wealth.  He resembled
the tiger which falling upon a sheepfold cannot determine which victim
to choose.  He encompassed with a haggard glance the treasures spread at
his feet; and little was wanting to induce him, in his transports of
joy, to roll himself in these floods of gold.

Soon, however, restored to calmer thoughts, he spread his mantle on the
sand; and as he saw the impossibility of carrying away all the riches
exposed to his view, he cast around him a glance of observation.

In the meantime, Diaz, seated at some distance on the plain, had not
lost a single detail of this melancholy scene.

He had seen Cuchillo suddenly appear, he had imagined the part he would
be required to fulfil, he heard the bandit's cry of false alarm, and
even the bloody catastrophe of the drama had not been unseen by him.

Until then he had remained motionless in his place, mourning over the
death of his chief, and the hopes which that death had destroyed.

Cuchillo had disappeared from their sight, when the three hunters saw
Diaz rise and approach them.

He advanced with slow steps, like the justice of God, whose instrument
he was about to become.

His arm was passed through his horse's bridle; and his face, clouded by
grief, was turned downwards.

The adventurer cast a look full of sadness upon the Duke de Armada lying
in his blood; death had not effaced from that countenance its look of
unalterable pride.

"I do not blame you," said he; "in your place I should have done the
same thing.  How much Indian blood have I also not spilt to satisfy my
vengeance!"

"It is holy bread," interrupted Bois-Rose, passing his hand through his
thick grey hair, and directing a sympathetic glance toward the
adventurer.  "Pepe and I can say that, for our part--"

"I do not blame you, friends, but I grieve because I have seen this man,
of such noble courage, fall almost before my eyes; a man who held in his
hand the destiny of Sonora.  I grieve that the glory of my country
expires with him."

"He was, as you say, a man of noble courage, but with a heart of stone.
May God save his soul!"

A convulsive grief agitated Don Fabian's breast.  Diaz continued the
Duke de Armada's funeral oration.

"He and I had dreamed of the freedom of a noble province and days of
splendour.  Neither he, nor I, nor others, will ever now behold them
shine.  Ah! why was not I killed instead of him?  No one would have
known that I had ceased, to exist, and one champion less would not have
compromised the cause we served; but the death of our chief ruins it
forever.  The treasure which is said to be accumulated here might have
aided us in restoring Sonora; for you do not, perhaps, know that near to
this spot--"

"We know it," interrupted Fabian.

"Well," continued Diaz, "I will think no more about this immense
treasure.  I have always preferred the life of an Indian, killed by my
own hands, to a sack of gold dust."

This common feeling of hatred towards the Indians still further added to
the sympathy which Bois-Rose had felt for the disinterestedness and
courage shown by Diaz.

"We have failed at the onset," continued Diaz, in a tone of great
bitterness, "and all this through the fault of a traitor whom I wish to
deliver up to your justice--not because he deceived us, but because he
has destroyed the instrument which God was willing to grant, in order to
make my country a powerful kingdom."

"What do you say?" cried Fabian; "is it Cuchillo of whom you speak?"

"The traitor who twice attempted your life--the first time at the
Hacienda del Venado, the second in the neighbouring forest--is the one
who conducted us to this valley of gold."

"It was then Cuchillo who told you the secret.  I was almost sure of
it--but are you also certain?"

"As certain as I am that I shall one day appear before God.  Poor Don
Estevan related to me how the existence and position of the treasure
became known to Cuchillo; it was in assassinating his associate who had
first discovered it.

"And now if you decide that this man who has twice attempted your life
deserves exemplary punishment, you have only to determine upon it."

As he finished these words, Pedro Diaz tightened his horse's girths, and
prepared to depart.

"One word more!" cried Fabian, "has Cuchillo long possessed this grey
horse, which, as you may be aware, has a habit of stumbling?"

"More than two years, from what I have heard."

This last scene had escaped the bandit's observation, the thicket of
cotton-trees concealing it from his sight; besides, he was too much
absorbed in the contemplation of his treasures to turn his eyes away
from them.

Seated upon the sand, he was crouched down amidst the innumerable pieces
of gold which surrounded him, and he had already begun to pile up upon
his serape all those he had chosen, when Diaz finished his terrible
revelation.

"Ah! it is a fearful and fatal day," said Fabian, in whose mind the
latter part of this revelation left no room for doubt.  "What ought I do
with this man?  You, who both know what he has done with my adopted
father, Pepe--Bois-Rose--advise me, for my strength and resolution are
coming to an end.  I have experienced too many emotions for one day."

"Does the vile wretch, who cut your father's throat, deserve more
consideration than the noble gentleman, who murdered your mother, my
son?" answered the Canadian, resolutely.

"Whether it be your adopted father or any others who have been his
victims, this brigand is worthy of death," added Diaz, as he mounted
upon his saddle, "and I abandon him to your justice."

"It is with regret that I see you depart," said Bois-Rose to the
adventurer, "a man who like yourself is a bitter enemy to the Indians,
would have been a companion whose society I should have appreciated."

"My duty recalls me to the camp, which I quitted under the influence of
Don Estevan's unhappy star," replied the adventurer, "but there are two
things I shall never forget; they are, the conduct of generous enemies;
and the oath I have taken never to reveal to a living creature the
existence of this Golden Valley."

As he finished these words, the loyal Diaz quickly withdrew, reflecting
upon the means of reconciling his respect for his word, with the care
and safety of the expedition entrusted to him by its leader, previous to
his death.

The three friends speedily lost sight of him.

The sun shone out, and, glancing down from the Golden Valley, discovered
Cuchillo, greedily bending over his treasures, and the three hunters
holding council amongst themselves respecting him.

Fabian had listened in silence to Bois-Rose's advice, as well as that
given by Diaz previous to his departure; and he only waited the counsel
of the old carabinier.

"You have taken," said the latter, in his turn, "a vow, from which
nothing ought to release you; the wife of Arellanos received it from you
on her death-bed; you have her husband's murderer in your power; there
is nothing here to deny it."

Then, observing a look of anxious indecision in Fabian's countenance, he
added, with that bitter irony which formed a part of his character; "But
after all, if this duty is so repugnant to you, I shall undertake it;
for not having the least ill will against Cuchillo, I can bang him
without a scruple.  You will see, Fabian, that the knave will not
testify any surprise at what I am going to tell him.  Fellows who have
such a face as Cuchillo's expect to be hung every day."

As he concluded this judicious reflection, Pepe approached the green
hedge, which separated them from the outlaw.

The latter, unconscious of all that had taken place around him--dazzled,
blinded, by the golden rays, which reflected the sun's light over the
surface of the valley--had heard and seen nothing.

With fingers doubled up, he was busied rummaging amongst the sand with
the eagerness of a famished jackal disinterring a corpse.

"Master Cuchillo! a word, if you please," cried Pepe, drawing aside the
branches of the cotton shrubs; "Master Cuchillo!"

But Cuchillo did not hear.

It was only when he had been called three times that he turned around,
and discovered his excited countenance to the carabinier--after having,
by a spontaneous movement of suspicion, thrown a corner of his mantle
over the gold he had collected.

"Master Cuchillo," resumed Pepe, "I heard you a little while ago give
utterance to a philosophical maxim, which gave me the highest opinion of
your character."

"Come!" said Cuchillo to himself, wiping the sweat from his forehead,
"here is someone else who requires my services.  These gentry are
becoming imprudent, but, por Dios! they pay handsomely."

Then aloud:

"A philosophical maxim?" said he, throwing away disdainfully, a handful
of sand, the contents of which would elsewhere have rejoiced a
gold-seeker.  "What is it?  I utter many, and of the best kind;
philosophy is my strong point."

Pepe, on one side of the hedge, resting upon his rifle, in a superb
attitude of nonchalance, and the most imperturbable _sangfroid_, and
Cuchillo, on the other side, with his head stretched across the green
inclosure of the little valley, looked very much like two country
neighbours, for the moment chatting familiarly together.

No one, on seeing them thus, would have suspected the terrible
catastrophe which was to follow this pacific intercourse.  The
countenance of the ex-carabinier, only exhibited a gracious smile.

"You spoke truth," replied Pepe.  "What signifies human destiny; for
twenty years past you say you have owed your life to the absence of a
tree?"

"It is true," affirmed Cuchillo, in an absent tone, "for a long time I
preferred shrubs, but lately I have become reconciled to large trees."

"Indeed!"

"And yet it is still one of my favourite maxims, that a wise man must
pass over many little inconveniences."

"True.  And now I think of it," added Pepe, carelessly, "there are on
the summit of yonder steep hill, two magnificent pine trees which
project over the abyss, and which, twenty years ago, might have caused
you very serious anxiety."

"I do not deny it; but at present I am as easy about it as if they were
only cactus plants."

"Indeed!"

"Indeed!" repeated Cuchillo, with some impatience.  "So then, you did me
the honour to speak of me, and to what purpose?"

"Oh! a simple remark.  My two companions and myself had some reasons for
suspecting that amongst these mountains a certain valley of gold was to
be found; but nevertheless, it was only after long seeking that we found
it.  You also know it now, and even better than ourselves, since
unhesitatingly, and without losing an instant, you have appropriated to
yourself, between what you call a heap and what you have already
collected, carramba--enough to build a church to your patron saint."

Cuchillo, at the recollection of the imprudence he had been guilty of,
and at this indirect attack, felt his legs give way under him.

"It is certainly my intention not to employ this gold to any other
purpose than a godly one," said he, concealing his anguish as well as he
could.  "As to the knowledge of this wonderful valley, it is to--it is
to chance that I owe it."

"Chance always comes to the assistance of virtue," replied Pepe, coldly.
"Well, in your place, I should not, nevertheless, be without anxiety
touching the vicinity of those two pine trees."

"What do you mean?" cried Cuchillo, turning pale.

"Nothing--unless this may prove to you one of those trifling
inconveniences, about which you just now said a man should not trouble
himself.  Por Dios! you have enough booty to render a king jealous."

"But I acquired this gold legitimately--I committed no murder to obtain
it.  What I did was not worthless.  The devil!  I am not in the habit of
killing for nothing," cried Cuchillo, exasperated, and who, mistaking
the carabinier's intentions, saw only in his alarming innuendoes regret
at his defrauded cupidity.

Like the sailor, who, overtaken by a storm, throws a part of his cargo
overboard to save the rest, Cuchillo resolved with a sigh, to shun, by
means of a sacrifice, the danger with which he was threatened.

"I again repeat to you," said he, in a low voice, "chance alone gave me
a knowledge of this treasure; but I don't wish to be selfish.  It is my
intention to give you a share.  Listen," he continued, "there is in a
certain place, a block of gold of inestimable value; honest fellows
should understand one another, and this block shall be yours.  Ah! your
share will be better than mine."

"I hope so," said Pepe; "and in what place have you reserved me my
portion?"

"Up yonder!" said Cuchillo, indicating the summit of the pyramid.

"Up yonder, near the pine trees?  Ah, master Cuchillo, how glad I am to
find that you have not taken my foolish little joke amiss, and that
these trees do not affect you any more than if they were cactus plants!
Between ourselves, Don Tiburcio, whom you perceive to be deeply
absorbed, is only regretting in reality the enormous sum he has given
you, for a service which he could equally well have performed himself."

"An enormous sum! it was but a very fair price, and at any rate I should
have lost it," cried Cuchillo, recovering all his habitual impudence of
manner, on seeing the change that had taken place in the conduct and
tone of the ex-carabinier.

"Agreed," continued the latter; "but in truth, he may have repented of
the bargain; and I must avow that if he commanded me to blow your brains
out, in order to get rid of you, I should be compelled to obey him.
Allow me, then, to call him here so as to restore his confidence; or,
better still, come and show me the portion, which your munificence
destines for me.  Afterwards we each go our own way; and notwithstanding
all you have said about it, the share assigned to you will surpass all
your expectations."

"Let us set off then," resumed Cuchillo, happy to see a negotiation--the
probable result of which began to cause him serious uneasiness--
terminate so satisfactorily for him and, casting a glance of passionate
tenderness upon a heap of gold which he had piled up upon his wrapper,
he set off towards the summit of the pyramid.  He had scarcely reached
it, when, upon Pepe's invitation, Fabian and Bois-Rose began to ascend
the steep on the other side.

"No one can escape his fate," said Pepe to Fabian, "and I had already
proved to you that the rascal would testify no astonishment.  Be that as
it may remember that you have sworn to avenge the death of your adopted
father, and that in these deserts you ought to shame the justice of
cities, where such crimes go unpunished.  To show mercy towards such a
knave is an outrage to society!  Bois-Rose!  I shall need the assistance
of your arm."

The Canadian hunter, by a glance, interrogated him, for whom his blind
devotion knew no bounds.

"Marcos Arellanos craved pardon and did not obtain it," said Fabian, no
longer undecided, "and as this man did to others, so let it be done to
him."

And these three inexorable men seated themselves solemnly upon the
summit of the pyramid, where Cuchillo already awaited them.  At sight of
the severe aspect of those whom he had inwardly so many reasons to
dread, Cuchillo felt all his apprehensions renewed.  He endeavoured,
however, to recover his assurance.

"Do you see," said he, pointing out behind the sheet of water, whose
majestic torrent foamed beside them, "the spot where the block of gold
sheds forth its dazzling rays?"

But the eyes of his judges did not turn in the direction he indicated.
Fabian rose slowly; his look caused the blood to curdle in the veins of
the outlaw.

"Cuchillo!" said he, "you saved me from dying of thirst, and you have
not done this for one who is ungrateful.  I have forgiven you the stab
with which you wounded me at the Hacienda del Venado.  I have pardoned
another attempt you made near El Salto de Agua; also the shot which you
only could have fired upon us from the summit of this pyramid.  I might,
in short, have forgiven every attempt you have made to take away a life
you once saved; and with having pardoned you, I have even recompensed
you, as a king does not recompense the executioner of his justice."

"I do not deny it; but this worthy hunter, who has informed me with a
great deal of circumspection upon the delicate subject you wish to touch
upon, ought also to inform you how reasonable he found me in the
matter."

"I have forgiven you," continued Fabian, "but there is one crime,
amongst others, from which your own conscience ought not to absolve
you."

"There is a perfect understanding between my conscience and myself,"
resumed Cuchillo, with a graciously sinister smile, "but it seems to me
that we are getting away from our subject."

"That friend whom you assassinated in such a cowardly manner--"

"Disputed with me the profits of a booty, and faith, the consumption of
brandy was very considerable," interrupted Cuchillo.  "But permit me--"

"Do not pretend to misunderstand me!" cried Fabian, irritated by the
knave's impudence.

Cuchillo collected his thoughts.

"If you allude to Tio Tomas, it is an affair which was never very well
understood, but--"

Fabian opened his lips to form a distinct accusation with reference to
the assassination of Arellanos, when Pepe broke in--

"I should be curious," he said, "to learn the real facts concerning Tio
Tomas: perhaps Master Cuchillo has not sufficient leisure to recollect
himself, which would be a pity."

"I hold it necessary," continued Cuchillo, flattered at the compliment,
"to prove that men own such a susceptible conscience as mine; here then
are the facts--My friend Tio Tomas had a nephew impatient to inherit his
uncle's fortune; I received a hundred dollars from the nephew to hasten
the moment of his inheritance.  It was very little for such a capital
will.

"It was so little that I gave Tio Tomas warning, and received _two_
hundred dollars to prevent his nephew becoming his heir.  I committed a
fault in--despatching the nephew without giving him warning, as I ought
to have done, perhaps.  It was then I felt how inconvenient a
quarrelsome conscience like mine may become.  I seized upon the only
means of composition which was left me.  The nephew's money was a
continual remorse to me, and I resolved to get rid of it."

"Of the money?"

"Not so."

"And you despatched the uncle as well?" cried Pepe.

Cuchillo assented.

"From that time my conscience had but little to reproach me with.  I had
gained three hundred dollars by the most ingenious integrity."

Cuchillo was yet smiling, when Fabian exclaimed--

"Were you paid for assassinating Marcos Arellanos?"

At this astounding accusation a livid paleness overspread Cuchillo's
features.

He could no longer disguise from himself the fate that awaited him.

The bandage which covered his eyes fell suddenly; and to the flattering
delusions with which he had deceived himself succeeded a formidable
reality.

"Marcos Arellanos!" he stammered out in a weak voice, "who told you
that?  I did not kill him!"

Fabian smiled bitterly.

"Who tells the shepherd," he cried, "where the den of the jaguar is to
be found that devours his sheep?

"Who tells the vaquero where the horse that he pursues has taken refuge?

"To the Indian, the enemy he seeks?

"To the gold-seeker the ore, concealed by God?

"The surface of the lake only does not preserve the trace of the bird
which flies over its waters, nor the form of the cloud which it
reflects; but the earth, with its herbs and mosses, reveals to us sons
of the desert, the print of the jaguar's foot as well as the horse's
hoof and the Indian's track; do you not know it, even as I do?"

"I did not kill Arellanos," repeated the assassin.

"You did kill him; you cut his throat near to our common country; you
threw his corpse into the river; the earth revealed it to me--since I
noticed the defect in the horse you rode, as well as the wound in your
leg, which you received in the struggle."

"Pardon, Don Tiburcio?" cried Cuchillo, overwhelmed by the sudden
revelation of these facts, to which God alone had been witness.  "Take
back all the gold you gave me, but spare my life; and to show my
gratitude, I will kill all your enemies everywhere, and always at a sign
from you--for nothing--even my father, if you command me; but in the
name of the all-powerful God, spare my life--spare me my life!" he
continued, crawling forward and clutching at Fabian's knees.

"Arellanos also craved for mercy; did you listen to him?" said Fabian,
turning away.

"But when I killed him, it was that I might possess all this gold
myself.  Now I restore it all for my life--what can you want more?" he
continued, while he resisted Pepe's efforts, who was trying to prevent
him from kissing Fabian's feet.

With features distorted by excess of terror, a whitish foam upon his
lips, his eyes starting from his head, yet seeing nothing, Cuchillo
still sued for mercy, as he endeavoured to crawl towards Fabian.  He had
by continued efforts reached the edge of the platform.  Behind his head,
the sheet of water fell foaming downwards.

"Mercy, mercy!" he cried, "in the name of your mother--for Dona
Rosarita's sake, who loves you, for I know that she loves you--I
heard--"

"What?" cried Fabian, in his turn rushing towards Cuchillo, but the
question expired upon his lips.

Spurned along the earth by the carabinier's foot Cuchillo with head and
arms stretched back was hurled into the abyss!

"What have you done, Pepe?" exclaimed Fabian.

"The wretch," said the ex-carabinier, "was not worth the cord which
might have hung him, nor the bullet that would have sent him out of the
world."

A piercing cry,--a cry which rose from the abyss--which drowned their
voices and was heard above the roar of the cascade, caused Fabian to
stretch his head forward and withdraw it again in horror.  Hanging to
the branches of a shrub which bent beneath his weight, and which scarce
adhering to the sides of the rock, was fast giving way, Cuchillo hung
over the abyss, howling forth his terror and anguish.

"Help!" he shouted, in a voice despairing as the damned.  "Help! if you
are human beings--help!"

The three friends exchanged a glance of unutterable meaning, as each one
wiped the sweat from his brow.

Suddenly the bandit's voice grew faint, and amidst horrible bursts of
laughter, like the shrieks of a lunatic, were heard the last
inarticulate words that escaped his lips.

A moment after, and the noise of the cascade alone broke the silence of
the desert.  The abyss had swallowed up him whose life had been a long
tissue of crime.



CHAPTER FIFTY TWO.

THE MAN OF THE RED KERCHIEF.

Six months have elapsed since the three hunters, without deigning to
carry with them a single grain of the treasures of the valley of gold,
directed their steps, following the course of the Rio Gila, to the
plains of Texas.  The rainy had succeeded to the dry season, without
anything being known of their fate, or of the expedition commanded by
Don Estevan de Arechiza.

Diaz was no more, having carried with him to the tomb the secret of the
wonderful valley--and Gayferos had followed his three liberators.  What
had become of these intrepid hunters who had willingly encountered
fatigues, privations and dangers, instead of returning to civilised
life?  Were they as rich and powerful as they might have been?  Had the
desert claimed these three noble spirits, as it has done so many others?
Like the monk, who seeks in the silence of cloister forgetfulness of
the world's vain show, had Fabian in the sublimity of solitude been able
to forget the woman who loved him, and who secretly hoped for and
expected his return?

What we are about to relate will answer these questions.

One sultry afternoon, two men, mounted and armed to the teeth, pursued
the lonely road which leads from the utmost confines of the province of
Sonora to the Presidio of Tubac.  Their costume, the coarse equipment of
their steeds, and the beauty of the latter, formed on the whole a
striking contrast and seemed to indicate subalterns despatched by some
rich proprietor, either to carry or to seek information.

The first was clothed in leather from head to foot, like the vaquero of
some noble hacienda.  The second, dark and bearded like a Moor, though
less simply attired than his companion, did not appear to be of much
greater consideration.

At the end of a journey of some days the white houses of the Presidio
began to appear in the distance.  The two cavaliers had probably
exhausted every subject of conversation, for they trotted on in silence.

The scanty vegetation which covered the plains they were crossing was
again becoming parched by the sun, after the winter rains; and the dry
grass harboured innumerable grasshoppers whose shrill note was heard
incessantly, mingled with the scorching breath of the south wind.  The
foliage of the Peruvian trees drooped languidly over the burning sand,
like the willows upon the banks of a stream.

The two cavaliers arrived at the entrance of the Presidio just as the
church clock sounded the evening _angelus_.

Tubac was then a village with two cross streets, its houses built of
cement, with only a few windows in the front, as is the custom in places
exposed to the sudden excursions of the Indians.  Strong movable
barriers, formed by trunks of trees, protected the four approaches to
the village; and a piece of the artillery of the country, raised upon
its carriage, was erected behind each of these barriers.

Previous to following the new-comers into the Presidio, we must relate
an incident which, insignificant in itself, nevertheless acquired some
importance in the heart of a solitary village of Tubac.

During the space of a fortnight a mysterious personage--inasmuch as he
was unknown to the inhabitants of the Presidio--had frequently, and for
a short time, appeared there.  He was a man of about forty years of age,
thin, but rough and vigorous in appearance, whose countenance seemed to
tell of dangers overcome, but whose speech was as rare as his
physiognomy was expressive.  He replied shortly to any questions
addressed to him; but, on the other hand, he asked a great many, and
appeared particularly anxious to know what was passing at the Hacienda
del Venado.

Some of the inhabitants of the Presidency knew the rich proprietor very
well by repute, but few amongst them--or, one might rather say, none of
them--were so thoroughly acquainted with Don Augustin Pena, as to be
capable of answering the questions of the stranger.

Everybody in Tubac remembered the gold-seekers' expedition which had set
out six months previously; and according to some vague replies given by
the mysterious personage, it was suspected that he knew more upon the
matter than he chose to reveal.  He had, he pretended, encountered in
the deserts of the Apache country, a troop commanded by Don Estevan in a
very critical position, and he had reason for believing that they must
have fought a last and terrible engagement with the Indians, from the
result of which he augured no good.

The evening before the arrival of the two travellers, he had inquired
what direction he ought to take to reach Don Augustin's house; and,
above all, he had testified a great wish to learn whether Dona Rosarita
was still unmarried.

The unknown always wore on his head a red checkered handkerchief, the
folds of which hung down over his eyes; and in consequence of this
head-dress he always went by the name of the "man with the red
kerchief."

This being explained, let us now return to our two travellers.

The new-comers--whose arrival created some sensation--on entering the
presidency, directed their steps towards one of the houses of the
village, at the door of which sat a man, who was soothing his leisure
hours by playing upon the guitar.

One of the cavaliers, addressing him, said--

"_Santas tardes_! my master; will you afford hospitality to two
strangers for a day and a night?"

The musician rose and bowed courteously.

"Pray dismount, noble cavaliers," he answered, "this dwelling is at your
service as long as you please to remain."

Such is the simple ceremonial of hospitality still in vogue in these
distant countries.

The cavaliers dismounted from their horses, in the midst of an idle
group who had collected around them, and who observed the two strangers
with considerable curiosity--for in the Presidio of Tubac an arrival is
a rare event.

The host silently assisted his guests to unsaddle their horses, but the
more inquisitive of the crowd did not exercise so much discretion, and
without scruple addressed a multitude of questions to the travellers.

"Good people," said one of the cavaliers, "let us first attend to our
horses, and afterwards, when we have taken a mouthful of food, we shall
have a chat.  My comrade and myself have come here for that very
purpose."

Thus saying, the bearded cavalier unfastened his gigantic spurs, threw
them across his horse's saddle, which he deposited, together with its
woollen covering carefully folded, in the piazza attached to the house.

The two strangers did not dwell long over their repast.  They soon
rejoined their host upon the threshold, and sat down beside him.

Their questioners had not yet departed from the house.

"I am the more inclined," resumed the bearded traveller, "to inform you
all of the object of our visit to the Presidio, since we are sent by our
master to ask you a few questions.  Will that be agreeable to you?"

"Perfectly," replied several voices, "and first, may we know who your
master is?"

"He is Don Augustin Pena; you are not without some knowledge of his
name?"

"The proprietor of the great Hacienda del Venado--a man worth three
millions!  Who does not know him?" replied one of the bystanders.

"He is the same.  This cavalier, whom you see, is a vaquero, entrusted
with the care of the beasts of the hacienda; for myself, I am a
major-domo attached to the service of the proprietor.  Would you have
the kindness, my dear friend, to give me a light for my cigar?"
continued the bearded major-domo.

He paused to light his cigar of maize husk, and then resumed:

"Six months ago an expedition set out from here in search of gold dust.
This expedition was headed by one named--let me see--_carrai_!  I have
heard him called by so many names that I cannot remember any!"

"Don Estevan Arechiza!" replied one of the interlocutors, "a Spaniard,
and one such as we do not often see in this country; one who seemed, by
his noble deportment and majestic countenance, to have commanded all his
life."

"Don Estevan Arechiza: the very same," said the major-domo, "a man who
as far exceeds all others in generosity as a gamester who has just won a
fortune.  But let me return to the expedition; about how many men
composed it, do you guess?"

"More than eighty started out with it."

"More than a hundred," suggested another.

"You are mistaken--the number was not a hundred in all," interrupted a
third.

"That matters little to Don Augustin, my master.  It is far more
important to know how many returned."

Upon this point also there were two different opinions.

"Not a single one," remarked a voice.

"Yes; there was one, and but one," continued another.

The major-domo rubbed his hands with an air of satisfaction.

"Good!" said he, "then at least one is saved, provided this gentleman,
who declares that all the gold-seekers are not dead, be rightly
informed, as I hope he is."

"Do you not think," said the last who had spoken, "that the man of the
red handkerchief may not be one of those whose departure we witnessed
six months ago?  I would swear to it by the cross and Gospel."

"No! not so!" cried another, "that man never set foot in the Presidio
before the other day."

"In any case," interrupted a third, "the man of the red handkerchief has
doubtless something of interest in store for Don Augustin Pena, since he
has so often inquired about him.  With these gentlemen, he will probably
be more communicative than with us."

"That will be just what we desire," resumed the major-domo.

"You must know, then, and I may without indiscretion inform you,"
continued he, "that Don Augustin Pena, whom God preserve, was the
intimate friend of Senor Arechiza, and that he has had no news of him
for six months past, which would be natural enough if he has been
massacred by the Indians with all the rest.  But my master is anxious
for his return, that he may marry his daughter, Dona Rosarita, a
beautiful and charming person, to the Senator Don Vicente Tragaduros.
Months have elapsed, and since the hacienda is not on the main road from
Arispe to Tubac, and that we cannot gain information from any one upon
the subject of this deplorable expedition, Don Augustin determined upon
sending us here to inquire about it.  When he shall have established the
fact that Don Estevan's return is impossible--and as young girls do not
readily meet with Senators in the heart of the desert--nor do the latter
often find there girls whose marriage portion is worth two hundred
thousand piastres--"

"Carramba! that is a high figure."

"True, friend," continued the major-domo, "then the projected marriage
will take place to the mutual satisfaction of all parties.  Such is the
object of our journey to Tubac.  If, therefore, you can conduct me to
him whom you describe as the sole survivor of this expedition, we shall
perhaps learn from him what we wish to discover."

The conversation had reached this stage, when, at some distance from the
house where it was taking place, a man was seen passing, with his head
bent downwards.

"See!" said one of the party, pointing to the man in question; "there
goes your sole survivor."

"In truth, it is a person whose conduct is sufficiently mysterious,"
added the host.  "For some days past he has done nothing but come and
go, from one place to another, without informing any one of the object
of his journeyings."

"If it please you, we shall question him?" proposed one.

"Hola! friend!" cried another of the party; "come this way; here is a
gentleman who is anxious to see and speak with you."

The mysterious unknown approached at the summons.

"Senor cavalier," said the major-domo, courteously addressing him, "it
is not to gratify an idle curiosity that I now address you; but the
master whom I serve feels a natural anxiety at the disappearance of a
friend, whose death he would greatly deplore.  What do you know of Don
Estevan de Arechiza?"

"Many things.  But, pray what is the name of the master of whom you
speak?"

"Don Augustin Pena--proprietor of the Hacienda del Venado."

A ray of joy lit up the countenance of the unknown.

"I am able," he said, "to furnish Don Augustin with all the information
he may desire.  How many days' journey is it from hence to the
hacienda?"

"Three days' journey, with a good horse."

"I possess a capital one; and if you can wait for me until to-morrow
evening, I shall accompany you, and communicate with Don Augustin in
person."

"Be it so," answered the major-domo.

"Very well," added the man of the red handkerchief; "to-morrow at this
same hour we will start, so that we may travel by night, and so escape
the heat."

Saying this, he took his departure, when the major-domo remarked:

"It must be agreed, gentlemen, that nothing can exceed the complaisance
of this cavalier of the red handkerchief."

The arrangement did not satisfy the bystanders, who were thoroughly
disappointed; but their interest was renewed, on seeing the man of the
red handkerchief pass by on horseback, and depart at full speed towards
the north.

The unknown kept his promise: and on the day following he returned at
the hour of the evening _angelus_.

Don Augustin's two envoys took leave of their host, assuring him of a
kind welcome, if ever his affairs led him in the direction of the
Hacienda del Venado.  Even the poorest in this primitive country, would
blush to receive any other reward for hospitality than sincere thanks,
and a promise that they in their turn should receive it.

The three horsemen set off at full speed; the horse of the unknown
equalled in strength and mettle those of Don Augustin's envoys.  The
journey was rapidly accomplished; and at dawn of the third day, they
could trace in the distance the clock-tower of the Hacienda del Venado,
and an hour afterwards they dismounted in the court-yard.  Although it
was at that early hour when the sun sheds its most enlivening rays,
everything which surrounded this habitation bore the stamp of
melancholy.  One might have supposed that the gloomy nature of the
inmates was reflected upon its exterior.

Dona Rosarita was dying of grief; and this filled the haciendado with
the deepest anxiety.  Don Augustin's daughter could not help the belief
that Fabian yet lived.  But why, then, had not Tiburcio, as she always
called him, returned to the hacienda?  Either he was dead, or he no
longer loved her?  It was this uncertainty that gave rise to Dona
Rosarita's deep dejection.

Another source of anxiety to the haciendado, was the absence of all news
from the Duke de Armada; and to this anxiety was added impatience.  The
projected marriage between Rosarita and the Senator had been devised by
Don Estevan.  Tragaduros had urged its fulfilment.  Don Augustin had
laid the proposal before his daughter, but she replied only by tears;
and her father still hesitated.

However, at the expiration of six months, it was determined to put an
end to the uncertainty by sending to the Presidio for information
concerning the expedition commanded by Don Estevan.  It was the last
respite that poor Rosarita had ventured to demand.

The Senator had absented himself for some days from the hacienda, when
the major-domo returned, and Don Augustin was informed of the arrival of
a stranger who could remove his uncertainty.  He ordered the stranger to
be introduced into the chamber already known to the reader; and Dona
Rosarita, who had been sent for, speedily joined her father.

In a few moments the stranger presented himself.  A wide felt hat, to
which on entering he raised his hand without removing it, shaded his
face, upon which a keen anxiety was visible.  From beneath the broad
brim of his hat a red handkerchief fell so low upon his forehead as
almost to conceal his eyebrows, and from beneath its shadow he gazed
with a singular interest upon the pale countenance of the young girl.



CHAPTER FIFTY THREE.

THE STRANGER'S STORY.

Her head veiled by a silk scarf which partly concealed the luxuriant
tresses of her dark hair as they fell in luxuriant clusters upon her
bosom, Dona Rosarita's countenance gave evidence of long and secret
suffering.

As she seated herself, a look of deep disquietude increased her
paleness.  It seemed as though the young girl feared the approach of a
moment, in which she might be required to renounce those sweet dreams of
the past, for the reality of a future she dared not contemplate.

When the stranger was also seated the haciendado addressed him.

"We are indebted to you, my friend," he said, "for travelling thus far
to bring us news which I have been forewarned may prove of a very sad
nature; nevertheless we must hear all.  God's will be done!"

"My news is in truth sad; but as you say, it is necessary," and the
stranger, laying a stress upon these last words, seemed to address
himself more particularly to Dona Rosarita, "that you should hear all.
I have been witness to many things yonder; and the desert does not
conceal so many secrets as one might suppose."

The young girl trembled slightly, while she fixed upon the man of the
red handkerchief, a deep and searching glance.

"Go on, friend," said she, in her melodious voice, "we shall have
courage to hear all."

"What do you know of Don Estevan?" resumed the haciendado.

"He is dead, Senor."

A sigh of grief escaped Don Augustin, and he rested his head upon his
hands.

"Who killed him?" he asked.

"I know not, but he is dead."

"And Pedro Diaz--that man of such noble and disinterested feeling?"

"He, like Don Estevan, is no more of this world."

"And his friends Cuchillo, Oroche, and Baraja?"

"Dead as well as Pedro Diaz, all dead except--but with your leave,
Senor, I shall commence my narrative at an earlier period.  It is
necessary that you should know all."

"We shall listen to you patiently."

"I need not detail," resumed the narrator, "the dangers of every kind,
nor the various combats in which we were engaged since our departure.
Headed by a chief who inspired us with boundless confidence, we shared
his perils cheerfully."

"Poor Don Estevan!" murmured the haciendado.

"During the last halt in which I was present, a report spread through
the camp that we were in the vicinity of an immense treasure of gold.
Cuchillo, our guide, deserted us; he was absent two days.  It was
doubtless God's will that I should be saved, since it inspired Don
Estevan with the idea of sending me in search of him.  He therefore
commanded me to scour the country in the environs of the camp.

"I obeyed him, notwithstanding the danger of the mission, and went in
search of our guide's footsteps.  After some time I was fortunate enough
to find his traces; when all at once I perceived in the distance a party
of Apaches engaged in a hunt of wild horses.  I turned my horse's head
round as quickly as possible, but the ferocious yells which burst out on
every side told me that I was discovered."

The stranger, in whom the reader has doubtless recognised Gayferos, the
unfortunate man who had been scalped, paused an instant as though
overcome by horrible recollections.  Then in continuation, he related
the manner in which he was captured by the Indians, his anguish when he
thought of the torments they were preparing for him, the desperate
struggle by which he kept up in his race against them with naked feet,
and the inexpressible sufferings he endured.

"Seized by one of them," said he, "I was struck by a blow which felled
me to the earth; then I felt the keen edge of a knife trace, as it were,
a circle of fire around my head.  I heard a gun fired, a ball hissed
close to my ears, and I lost all consciousness.  I cannot tell how many
minutes passed thus.  The sound of a second shot caused me to open my
eyes, but the blood which covered my face blinded me; I raised my hand
to my head, which felt both burning and frozen.  My skull was bare, the
Indian had torn off the hair with the scalp attached to it.  In short,
they had scalped me!  That is the reason, Senor, that I now wear this
red handkerchief both by day and by night."

During his recital, a cold perspiration covered the narrator's
countenance.  His two listeners shuddered with horror.

After a momentary pause, he continued:

"I ought perhaps to spare you, as well as myself, other sad details."

Gayferos then related to his auditors the unexpected assistance he had
obtained from the three hunters who had taken refuge upon the little
island, and was describing the moment in which Bois-Rose carried him off
in the presence of the Indians, when this heroic action drew from Don
Augustin's lips a cry of admiration.

"But there were then a score on this little island?" interrupted he.

"Reckoning the giant who carried me in his arms there were but three,"
continued the narrator.

"_Santa Virgen_! they were trusty men then--but continue."

The adventurer resumed:

"The companion of him who had carried me in his arms was a man of about
the same age--that is, near five-and-forty.  There was, besides, a young
man, of a pale but proud countenance, a sparkling eye, and a sweet
smile; by my faith, a handsome young man, Senorita; such a one as a
father might with pride own as a son--such as a lady might be proud and
happy to see at her feet.  During a short interval of calm, which
succeeded the horrible agonies I had suffered, I found time to question
the preservers of my life concerning their names and occupation; but I
could learn nothing from them except that they were hunters, and
travelled for their own pleasure.  That was not very probable, still I
made no observation."

Dona Rosarita could not quite suppress a sigh: perhaps she expected to
be reminded of a familiar name.

Gayferos continued the recital of various facts with which the reader is
already acquainted.

"Alas, Senorita," he continued, "the poor young man was himself captured
by the Indians, and his punishment was to avenge the death of their
companions."

At this part of the narrative, Dona Rosarita's cheek became deadly pale.

"Well, and the young man," interrupted the haciendado, who was almost as
much moved as the daughter, on hearing these sad events, "what became of
him?"

Rosarita, who had remained silent as the narrator proceeded, returned by
a look of tender acknowledgment, the solicitude her father testified for
the young man, for whom in spite of herself, she felt so deep an
interest.

"Three days and three nights were consumed in fearful anguish, relieved
only by a feeble ray of hope.  At length on the morning of the fourth
day, we were able unawares to fall upon our sanguinary foes; and after a
desperate struggle, the warlike giant succeeded in reconquering the
youth, who, safe and sound, he again pressed to his heart, calling him
his beloved child."

"Heaven be praised!" exclaimed the haciendado, with a sigh of relief.

Rosarita remained silent, but her colour suddenly returning, testified
to the pleasure she experienced: while a joyous smile lit up her
countenance on hearing the last words of the narrator.

"Continue!" said the haciendado; "but, in your recital, which is deeply
interesting to a man who was himself during six months held captive by
the Indians, I seek in vain for any details relative to poor Don
Estevan's death."

"I am ignorant of them," continued Gayferos, "and I can only repeat the
words spoken by the youngest of the three hunters, when I questioned him
upon the subject."

"He is dead," said the young man to me, "you yourself are the last
survivor of a numerous expedition; when you shall have returned to your
own country--for," added he, with a sigh, "you have perhaps some one,
who in grief numbers the days of your absence--they will question you
concerning the fate of your chief, and the men he commanded.  You will
reply to them, that the men died fighting--as to their chief, that he
was condemned by the justice of God, and that the divine sentence
pronounced against him, was executed in the desert.  Don Estevan
Arechiza will never again return to his friends."

"Poor Don Estevan!" exclaimed the haciendado.

"And you could never learn the names of these brave, generous, and
devoted men?" asked Dona Rosarita.

"Not at the moment," continued Gayferos; "only it appeared strange to
me, that the youngest of the three hunters spoke to me of Don Estevan,
Diaz, Oroche, and Baraja, as though he knew them perfectly."

A pang shot through Dona Rosarita's heart, her bosom heaved, her cheeks
were dyed with a deep crimson, then became pale again as the flowers of
the _datura_, but she still remained silent.

"I draw towards the close of my recital," continued Gayferos.  "After
having recovered the brave warrior's son from the Apaches, we journeyed
towards the plains of Texas.  I shall not relate to you all the dangers
we encountered during six months of our wandering life, as hunters of
the otter and the beaver, nevertheless, it had its charms; but there was
one amongst us, who was far from finding this life agreeable.  This was
our young companion.

"When I saw him for the first time I was struck by the melancholy
expression of his countenance, but afterwards, as we journeyed together,
I noticed that this melancholy, instead of decreasing, seemed daily to
augment.  The old hunter, whom I believed to be his father (I know now
that he is not), took every opportunity of calling his attention to the
magnificence of the vast forest in which we lived, the imposing scenes
of the desert, or the charm of the perils we encountered.  They were
vain efforts, for nothing could banish the grief that consumed him.  He
seemed only to forget it in the midst of the dangers he eagerly sought.
One might have supposed that life to him was no more than a heavy burden
which he desired to get rid of.

"Full of compassion for him, I often said to the old hunter--`Solitude
is only suited to an advanced age, youth delights in activity, and in
the presence of its equals.  Let us return to our habitations.'  But the
giant only sighed without replying.

"Soon afterwards the manner of the two hunters, who loved their young
companion as a son, became also saddened.

"One night while the young man and I were watching, I recalled a name
which six months before he had uttered in his sleep.  I then learned the
secret of that grief which was slowly consuming him.  He loved, and
solitude had but increased a passion which he vainly sought to stifle."

Gayferos paused an instant to cast a searching glance upon the
countenances of his auditors, especially upon that of Dona Rosarita.  He
appeared to take a secret pleasure in exciting the young girl by the
recital of all the circumstances best calculated to touch the heart of a
woman.

As a warrior and a hunter, the haciendado did not attempt to conceal the
interest with which the stranger's narrative was inspiring him.

Rosarita, on the contrary, endeavoured, under a mask of studied
coldness, to conceal the charm she experienced on listening to this
romance of heart and action, whose most stirring pages were so
considerately opened to her by the intelligent narrator.

But her heightened colour and the fire in her large dark eyes completely
belied her efforts.

"Ah!" cried Don Augustin, "if these three brave men had been under Don
Estevan's command, the fate of the expedition might have been far
different."

"I am of the same opinion," replied Gayferos, "but God had ordained it
otherwise.  Meanwhile," he continued, "I felt a great longing again to
see my native land, but gratitude required that I should conceal it.
But the old warrior divined my thoughts, and one day addressed me on
this subject.

"Too generous to suffer me alone to brave the dangers of my homeward
journey, the giant hunter resolved to accompany me as far as Tubac.  His
companion did not oppose his resolution, and we set out for the
frontier.  The young man alone seemed, to follow us reluctantly in this
direction.

"I shall not describe our fatigues and the various difficulties we
surmounted, in the course of our long and perilous journey.  I wish,
however, to speak of one of our last encounters with the Indians.

"In order to reach the Presidio we were obliged to cross the chain of
the Rocky Mountains.  It was towards the approach of night that we found
ourselves amongst their gloomy solitudes, and we were obliged to halt.

"This is a spot much frequented by the Indians, and we could not encamp
without the greatest precaution.

"Nothing, as it seems to me, can better resemble the abode of condemned
souls than these mountains, where we spent the night.  At every moment
strange sounds, which appeared to proceed from the cavities of the
rocks, broke upon our ears.  At one time it was a volcano, which rumbled
with dull and heavy noise beneath us, or the distant roar of a cataract:
sometimes resembling the howling of wolves or plaintive cries; and from
time to time dreadful flashes of lightning tore aside the veil of mist
which eternally covers these mountains.

"For fear of a surprise we had encamped upon a rock which projected, in
the form of a table, above a wide open valley about fifty feet below us.
The two elder hunters were asleep; the youngest alone kept watch.  It
was his turn, and as usual he had been compelled to insist upon it--for
his companions seemed unwilling thus to allow him to share their toils.

"As for myself, sick and suffering, I was stretched upon the ground.
After many vain efforts to obtain a little rest, at length I slept, when
a frightful dream awoke me with a start.

"`Did you hear nothing?'  I asked of the young man, in a low voice.
`Nothing,' he replied, `except the rumbling of the subterranean
volcanoes in the mountains.'  `Say, rather, that we are here in an
accursed spot,' I continued, and then I related my dream to him.

"`It is, perhaps a warning,' he said gravely.  `I remember one night to
have had just such a dream, when--'

"The young man paused.  He had advanced to the edge of the rock.  I
crawled after him mechanically.  The same object arrested our attention
at the same moment.

"One of those spirits of darkness which might have inhabited such a
spot, appeared suddenly to have acquired a visible form.  It was a kind
of phantom, with the head and skin of a wolf, but erect upon its legs
like a human being.  I made the sign of the cross, and murmured a
prayer, but the phantom did not stir.

"`It is the devil,' I whispered.

"`It is an Indian,' replied the young man; `there are his companions at
some distance.'

"In short, our eyes, well practised in making out objects in the dark,
could distinguish about twenty Indians, stretched upon the ground, and
who, in truth, had no idea of our vicinity.

"Ah, Senorita!" added the narrator, addressing himself to Dona Rosarita,
"it was one of those opportunities fraught with danger, which the poor
young man sought with so much avidity; and your heart, like mine, would
have been torn at beholding the sad joy which sparkled in his eyes; for
the further we travelled in this direction the more his melancholy
seemed to increase.

"`Let us wake our friends,' I suggested.

"`No; let me go alone.  These two men have done enough for me.  It is
now my turn to run a risk for them and, if I die, I shall forget--'

"As he spoke these words the young man quitted me, made a detour, and I
lost sight of him--without, however, ceasing to behold the frightful
apparition which continued immovable in the same spot.

"All at once I saw another dusky shape, which rushed towards the phantom
and seized it by the throat.  The two forms grappled with one another.
The struggle was short and noiseless, and one might have believed them
two spirits.  I prayed to God in behalf of the poor young man who thus
exposed his life with so much indifference and intrepidity.  A short
time afterwards I saw him return; the blood was flowing over his face
from a large wound on his head.

"`Oh, Heavens!'  I cried; `you are wounded.'

"`It is nothing,' he said; `I will now wake our companions.'

"What do you think, Senorita?" continued the narrator.  "Was not my
dream a warning from God?  A party of Indians, whom we had put to flight
on the other side of the mountains--had followed our track in order to
revenge the blood of their companions, which had been spilt upon the
banks of the Gila--at the place where we had rescued the young man.

"But the Indians had to contend with terrible adversaries.  Their
sentinel was the phantom who had been killed by the courageous hunter
before he had time to utter a cry of alarm, and the rest, surprised in
their sleep, were nearly all stabbed; a few sought safety in flight.

"The night had not passed before this new exploit was accomplished.

"The tall hunter hastened to dress the wound of the young man, whom he
loved as a son; and the latter, overcome with fatigue, stretched himself
upon the ground and slept.

"In the mean time his two friends watched by his side to guide his
sleep, whilst I in sadness contemplated his altered countenance, his
reduced figure, and the bloodstained bandage with which his head was
bound."

"Poor youth," interrupted Dona Rosarita, gently, "still so young, and
yet compelled to lead a life of incessant danger.  And his father, also,
he must have trembled for the life of a beloved son?"

"Beloved, as you say, Senorita," continued the narrator.

"During a period of six months I was a daily witness to the infinite
tenderness of this father for his child.

"The young man slept tranquilly, and his lips softly murmured a name--
that of a woman--the same which had lately been revealed to me in his
slumber."

Rosarita's dark eyes seemed to question the narrator, but her words
expired upon her parted lips; she dared not utter the name her heart was
whispering in her ears.

"But I encroach upon your time," continued Gayferos, without appearing
to notice the young girl's agitation.  "I draw towards the close of my
narrative.

"The young man woke just as day began to dawn.  `Comrade,' said the
giant to me, `go down yonder and count the dead which these dogs have
left behind them.'

"Eleven corpses stretched upon the ground," continued Gayferos, "and two
captured horses, attested the victory of these intrepid hunters."

"Let all due honour be given to these formidable men," cried Don
Augustin, with enthusiasm, whilst his daughter, clapping her little
hands together, exclaimed, with sparkling eyes, and an enthusiasm which
equalled that of her father--

"That is splendid! that is sublime! so young, and yet so brave."

Rosarita only lavished her praises upon the young unknown--though
perhaps the acute perception which belongs to a woman, and which almost
resembles a second sight, may have revealed to her his name.

The narrator seemed to appreciate the praises bestowed upon his friends.

"But did you not learn their names?" asked Dona Rosarita, timidly.

"The elder was called Bois-Rose, the second Pepe.  As to the young
man--"

Gayferos appeared vainly endeavouring to recall the name without
remarking the anguish which was depicted in the young girl's agitated
frame, and visible in her anxious eyes.

By the similarity of position between Tiburcio and the unknown, she
could not doubt but that it was he; and the poor child was collecting
all her strength to listen to his name, and not to utter, on hearing it,
a cry of happiness and love.

"As to the young man," continued the narrator, "he was called Fabian."

At this name, which was unknown to the young girl, and which at once
destroyed her pleasant delusions, she pressed her hand upon her heart,
her lips became white, and the colour which hope had revived in her
cheek faded away.  She could only repeat mechanically.

"Fabian!"

At this moment the recital was interrupted by the entrance of a servant.
The Chaplain begged the haciendado to come to him for an instant, upon
some business he had to communicate to him.

Don Augustin quitted the apartment, saying that he should speedily
return.

Gayferos and the young girl were now left alone; the former observed her
some moments in silence, and with a delight he could scarcely conceal,
saw that Rosarita trembled beneath the folds of her silk scarf.  By a
secret feeling the poor child divined that Gayferos had not yet
finished.  At length the latter said gently, "Fabian bore another name,
Senorita; do you wish to hear it, while we are alone and without
witnesses?"

Rosarita turned pale.

"Another name! oh, speak it?" she cried, in a trembling voice.

"He was long known as Tiburcio Arellanos."

A cry of joy escaped the young girl, who rose from her seat, and
approaching the bearer of this good news, seized his hand.

"Thanks! thanks!" she exclaimed, "if my heart has not already spoken
them."

Then she tottered across the chamber, and knelt at the feet of a
Madonna, which, framed in gold, hung against the wall.

"Tiburcio Arellanos," continued the narrator, "is now Fabian, and Fabian
is the last descendant of the Counts of Mediana--a noble and powerful
Spanish family."

The young girl continued on her knees in prayer without appearing to
listen to Gayferos' words.

"Immense possessions, a lofty name, titles and honours.  All these he
will lay at the feet of the woman who shall accept his hand."

The young girl continued her fervent prayer without turning her head.

"And, moreover," resumed the narrator, "the heart of Don Fabian de
Mediana still retains a feeling which was dear to the heart of Tiburcio
Arellanos."

Rosarita paused in her prayer.

"Tiburcio Arellanos will be here to-night."

This time the young girl no longer prayed.  It was Tiburcio and not
Fabian, Count of Mediana.  Tiburcio, poor, and unknown, for whom she had
wept.  At the sound of this name, she listened.  Honours, titles,
wealth.  What were they to her?  Fabian lived, and loved her still, what
more could she desire?

"If you will come to the breach in the wall, where, full of despair, he
parted from you, you will find him there this very evening.  Do you
remember the place?"

"Oh! my God!" she murmured, softly, "do I not visit it every evening?"

And once more bending before the image of the Virgin, Rosarita resumed
her interrupted prayer.

The adventurer contemplated for some instants this enthusiastic and
beautiful creature, her scarf partly concealing her figure, her nude
shoulders caressed by the long tresses of her dark hair, which fell in
soft rings upon their surface; then without interrupting her devotion,
he rose from his seat and silently fitted the chamber.



CHAPTER FIFTY FOUR.

THE RETURN.

When Don Augustin Pena returned, he found his daughter alone, and still
kneeling; he waited until her prayer was finished.  The news of Don
Estevan's death so entirely occupied the haciendado's mind that he
naturally attributed Dona Rosarita's pious action to another motive than
the true one.  He believed that she was offering up to Heaven a fervent
prayer for the repose of his spirit, whose mysterious end they had just
been made acquainted with.

"Every day," said he, "during the following year, the Chaplain will, by
my orders, say a mass for Don Estevan's soul, for this man spake of the
justice of God, which was accomplished in the desert.  These words are
serious, and the manner with which they were pronounced, leaves no doubt
as to their veracity."

"May God pardon him!" replied Rosarita, rising from her knees, "and
grant him the mercy he requires."

"May God pardon him!" repeated Don Augustin, earnestly, "the noble Don
Estevan was no ordinary man, or rather, that you may now know it,
Rosarita, Don Antonia de Mediana, who, in his lifetime, was Knight of
the Grand Cross, and Duke de Armada."

"Mediana, did you say, my father?" cried the young girl, "what! he must
then be his son?"

"Of whom do you speak?" asked Don Augustin, in astonishment, "Don
Antonio was never married.  What can you mean?"

"Nothing, my father, unless it be that your daughter is to-day very
happy."

As she said these words, Dona Rosarita threw her arms round her father's
neck, and leaning her head upon his breast burst into a passion of
tears; but in these tears there was no bitterness, they flowed softly,
like the dew which the American jasmine sheds in the morning from its
purple flowers.

The haciendado, but little versed in the knowledge of the female heart,
misconstrued the tears, which are sometimes a luxury to women; and he
could conceive nothing of the happiness which was drawing them from his
daughter's eyes.

He questioned her anew, but she contented herself with answering, while
her lips were parted by a smile, and her eyes were still moist.

"To-morrow I shall tell you all, my father."

The good haciendado did indeed require the explanation of this mystery,
when he was left in ignorance of the chief fact concerning it.

"We have another duty to fulfil," continued he; "the last wish expressed
by Don Antonio, on parting from me, was that you should be united to the
Senator Tragaduros.  It will be in compliance with the request of one
who is now no more, that this marriage should no longer be delayed.  Do
you see any obstacle to it, Rosarita?"

The young girl started at these words, which reminded her of the fatal
engagement she had sought to banish from memory.  Her bosom swelled, and
her tears flowed afresh.

"Well," said the haciendado, smiling, "this is another proof of
happiness, is it not?"

"Of happiness!" repeated Rosarita, bitterly.  "Oh! no, no, my father!"

Don Augustin was now more puzzled than ever; for, as he himself alleged,
his life had been spent more in studying the artifices of Indians, with
whom he had long disputed his domain, than in diving into the hearts of
women.

"Oh, my father!" cried Rosarita, "this marriage would now prove a
sentence of death to your poor child!"

At this sudden declaration, which he had not expected, Don Augustin was
quite stupefied, and it was with difficulty he subdued the anger to
which it had given rise.

"What!" he cried with some warmth, "did you not yourself consent to this
marriage only a month ago?  Did you not agree that it should be
consummated when we knew that Don Estevan could not return?  He is dead;
what then do you wish?"

"It is true, father; I did fix that period, but--"

"Well!"

"But I did not know that he still lived."

"Don Antonio de Mediana?"

"No; Don Fabian de Mediana," replied Rosarita, in a low voice.

"Don Fabian? who is this Fabian of whom you speak?"

"He whom we called Tiburcio Arellanos."

Don Augustin remained mute with surprise: his daughter took advantage of
his silence.

"When I consented to this marriage," said she, "I believed that Don
Fabian was forever lost to us.  I did not know that he still loved me;
and yet--consider whether I do not love you, my father; consider what a
grievous sacrifice I made in my affection for you--I knew well--"

As she spoke these words--her eyes moist with tears, yet shining with
their own sweet lustre--the poor girl approached, and, by a sudden
impulse, threw herself upon her father's shoulder to hide her rising
blushes.

"I knew then that I loved him only," she murmured.

"But of whom do you speak?"

"Of Tiburcio Arellanos--of the Count Fabian de Mediana--they are one and
the same person."

"Of the Count Mediana?" repeated Don Augustin.

"Yes," cried Rosarita, passionately; "I still love in him Tiburcio
Arellanos, however noble, powerful, and rich may be at this hour Count
Fabian de Mediana."

Noble, powerful, and rich, are words that sound well in the ear of an
ambitious father, when applied to a young man whom he loves and esteems,
but whom he believes to be poor.  Tiburcio Arellanos would have met with
a refusal from Don Augustin--softened, it is true, by affectionate
words--but had not Fabian de Mediana a better chance of success?

"Will you tell me how Tiburcio Arellanos can be Fabian de Mediana?"
asked Don Augustin, with more curiosity than anger.  "Who gave you this
information?"

"You were not present at the close of the stranger's narrative," replied
Dona Rosarita, "or you would have heard that the young companion of the
two brave hunters whose dangers he nobly shared, was no other than
Tiburcio Arellanos, now become the Count Fabian de Mediana.  To this day
I am ignorant of how, alone and wounded, he quitted the hacienda, and by
what circumstances he found these unexpected protectors--or what
relationship exists between Tiburcio and the Duke de Armada.  But this
man, who knows, will tell you."

"Let him be instantly sought," said Don Augustin, quickly; and he called
an attendant to whom he gave the order.

Don Augustin awaited with the greatest impatience, the return of
Gayferos; but they sought him in vain.  He had disappeared.  We shall
presently explain the motive of his departure.  Almost at the same
moment in which the haciendado and his daughter were informed of it,
another attendant entered to announce that Tragaduros was dismounting in
the court-yard of the hacienda.

The coincidence of the Senator's return with the approaching arrival of
Fabian, was one of those events in which chance, oftener than might be
supposed, sports with the events of real life.

Rosarita, in order to secure an ally in her father, hastened to embrace
him tenderly, and to testify her astonishment at a miracle, which had
converted the adopted son of a gambusino into the heir of one of the
most powerful families in Spain.  After having launched this twofold
dart against the Senator, the young girl vanished from the apartment,
leaving her father alone.

Tragaduros entered like a man who feels that the announcement of his
arrival is always welcome.  His manner was that of a future kinsman, for
he had obtained the father's promise and the daughter's consent,
although that consent was only tacitly given.  However, notwithstanding
his self-satisfaction, and his confidence in the future, the Senator
could not fail to remark the grave reserve of Don Augustin's manner.  He
thought himself at liberty to remark it.

"Don Estevan de Arechiza, the Duke of Armada, is no more," said the
haciendado; "both you and I have lost a dear and noble friend."

"What, dead?" cried the Senator, hiding his face with an embroidered
cambric handkerchief.  "Poor Don Estevan!  I do not think I shall ever
be able to console myself."

His future, nevertheless, might not have been obscured by perpetual
grief, for the regret he expressed was far from being in harmony with
his most secret thoughts.  While he acknowledged the many obligations he
owed to Don Estevan, he could not help remembering that had he lived, he
would have been compelled to spend in political intrigues the half of
his wife's marriage portion; half a million of money he must thus have
thrown to the dogs.  It is true, he said to himself, I shall neither be
a count, marquis, or duke of any kind, but to my thinking, half a
million of money is worth more than a title, and will multiply my
pleasures considerably.  This fatal event will besides hasten the period
of my marriage.  Perhaps after all Don Estevan's death is not a
misfortune.  "Poor Don Estevan," he continued aloud, "what an unexpected
blow!"

Tragaduros had yet to learn that it might have been better for him had
Don Estevan lived.  We will leave him with the haciendado, and follow
Gayferos--for perhaps the reader will be glad to hear from him again.

The adventurer had saddled his horse, and unseen by anybody had crossed
the plain and again taken the road which led to the Presidio of Tubac.

The route which he followed for some time brought him in contact with
few travellers, and when by chance some horseman appeared in the
distance, Gayferos, as he passed him, exchanged an impatient salutation,
but failed to recognise the one he sought.

The day was drawing towards a close, and it was at a late hour when
Gayferos uttered a joyful exclamation on seeing three travellers
advancing at a gallop.

These travellers were no others than the Canadian, Pepe, and Fabian de
Mediana.  The giant was mounted upon a strong mule, larger and more
vigorous than the Mexican horses.  Nevertheless this animal was somewhat
out of proportion with the gigantic stature of the rider.

Fabian and Pepe rode two excellent coursers, which they had taken from
the Indians.

The young man was greatly changed since the day when he arrived for the
first time at the Hacienda del Venado.

Painful and indelible recollections had left their traces upon his pale
and wasted cheeks, a few wrinkles furrowed his brow, though the
brilliancy of his eye was heightened by the sorrowful reflection of the
passion which consumed him.  But perhaps in the eyes of a woman his pale
and sickly appearance might render the young Count of Mediana still more
handsome and interesting than was that of Tiburcio Arellanos.

Would not that countenance, ennobled by toil and travel, remind Dona
Rosarita of the love for which she had every reason to feel proud and
happy?  Would it not tell of dangers overcome, and surround itself with
a double halo of sacrifice and suffering?

As to the rough countenances of the hunters, sun, fatigue, and danger of
every kind had left them unchanged.  If the hot winds had bronzed their
skin, six months more of the adventurous life to which they were
accustomed left no trace upon their sunburnt features.

They testified no surprise on seeing the gambusino, but a lively
curiosity was depicted in the glance of each.  A look from Gayferos,
however, soon satisfied them.  That look doubtless assured them that all
was as they wished.  Fabian alone expressed some astonishment on seeing
his old companion so near the Hacienda del Venado.

"Was if in order to precede us here that you came to take leave of us
near Tubac?" asked Fabian.

"Doubtless--did I not tell you so?" replied Gayferos.

"I did not understand you thus," said Fabian, who, without seeming to
attach much importance to that which was said or done around him,
relapsed into the melancholy silence which had become habitual to him.

Gayferos turned his horse's head round, and the four travellers
continued their journey in silence.

At the expiration of an hour, during which Gayferos and the Canadian
only exchanged a few words in a low tone, and to which Fabian, always
absorbed in thought, gave no attention, the recollections of a past, not
very remote, crowded upon the memory of the three travellers.  They were
again crossing the plain which extends beyond El Salto de Agua, and a
few minutes afterwards they reached the torrent itself which foams down
perpetually between the rocks.  A bridge, the same size as the former
one, replaced that which had been precipitated into the gulf below by
those men who now slept their last sleep in the valley of gold, the
object of their ambition.

The Canadian here dismounted.

"Now, Fabian," said he, "here Don Estevan was found; the three bandits
(I except, however, poor Diaz, the tenor of the Indians) were there.
See, here are still the prints of your horse's hoofs--when he slipped
from this rock, dragging you downwards in his fall.  Ah!  Fabian, my
child, I can even now see the water foaming around you--even now hear
the cry of anguish I uttered.  What an impetuous young man you then
were!"

"That I no longer am," said Fabian, smiling sadly.

"Oh, no! at the present time your manner is imbued with the firm
stoicism of an Indian warrior who smiles at the tortures of the stake.
In the midst of these scenes your face is calm, yet I am convinced the
recollections they recall to you must be harrowing in the extreme; is it
not so, Fabian?"

"You are mistaken, my father," replied Fabian; "my heart resembles this
rock, where, though you say so, I no longer trace my horse's hoofs; and
my memory is mute as the echo of your own voice, which you seem still to
hear.  When, before suffering me to return and live forever removed from
the inhabitants of yonder deserts, you required as a last trial that I
should again behold a spot which might recall old recollections, I told
you those recollections no longer existed."

A tear dimmed the Canadian's eye, but he concealed it by turning his
back to Fabian as he remounted his mule.

The travellers then crossed the bridge formed of the trunks of trees.

"Do you trace upon this moss which covers the ground the print of my
horse's hoofs when I pursued Don Estevan and his troop?" asked Fabian of
Bois-Rose.  "No! the dead leaves of the past winter have obliterated
them--the grass which sprung up after the rainy season has grown over
them."

"Ah! if I raised the leaves, if I tore up the grass, I should again
discover their traces, Fabian; and if I searched the depth of your
heart--"

"You would find nothing, I tell you," interrupted Fabian with some
impatience; "but I am mistaken," he added, gently, "you would find a
reminiscence of childhood, one of those in which you are associated, my
father."

"I believe it, Fabian, I believe it--you who have been the delight of my
whole life; but I have told you that I will not accept your sacrifice
until to-morrow at this hour, when you shall have seen all, even the
breach in the old wall, over which you once sprung, wounded in body and
spirit."

A shudder, like that of the condemned on seeing the last terrible
instrument of torture, passed through Fabian's frame.

The travellers halted at length, in that part of the forest situated
between the Salto de Agua and the hacienda, in the open space where
Fabian had found in the Canadian and his comrade, friends whom God
seemed to have sent to him from the extreme ends of the earth.

Now the shades of night no longer obscured the silent depths of the
American forest--a silence in which there is something awful when the
sun in its zenith sends forth burning rays like blades of crimson fire,
when the flower of the lliana closes its chalice, when the stems of the
grass drop languidly downwards, as though in search of nourishment, and
the whole face of nature, silent and inanimate, appears buried in sleep.
The distant roar of the cataract was the only sound which at this hour
broke the stillness of the forest.

The travellers unsaddled, and having removed their horses' bridles,
fastened them at some distance off.  As they had travelled all night to
escape the heat of the sun, they determined to take their siesta under
the shade of the trees.

Gayferos was the first who fell asleep.  His affection for Fabian was
not disturbed by any fears for the future.  Pepe was not long in
following his example.  The Canadian only and Fabian did not close their
eyes.

"You are not sleeping, Fabian," said Bois-Rose, in a low voice.

"No, nor you.  Why do you not take some rest, like our companions?"

"One cannot sleep, Fabian, in a spot consecrated by so many sacred
memories," replied the old hunter.  "This place is rendered holy to me.
Was it not here that, by the intervention of a miracle, I again found
you in the heart of this forest, after having lost you upon the wide
ocean?  I should be ungrateful to the Almighty if I could forget this--
even to obtain the rest which He has appointed for us."

"I think as you do, my father, and listen to your words," replied the
young Count.

"Thanks, Fabian; thanks also to that God who ordained that I should find
you with a heart so noble and so loving.  See! here are still the
remains of the fire near which I sat; here are the brands, still black,
though they have been washed by the rain of an entire season.  Here is
the tree against which I leant on the happiest evening of my life, since
it restored you to me; for now that I can again call you my son, each
day of my existence has been fraught with happiness, until I learnt what
I should have understood, that my affection for you was not that to
which the young heart aspires."

"Why so frequently allude to this subject, my father?" said Fabian, with
that gentle submission which is more cutting than the bitterest
reproach.

"As you will.  Let us not again allude to that which may pain you; we
shall speak of it after the trial to which I have submitted you."

The father and son--for we may indeed call them so--now maintained a
long silence, listening only to the voices of nature.  The sun
approached the horizon, a light breeze sprung up and rustled among the
leaves; already hopping from branch to branch, the birds resumed their
song, the insects swarmed in the grass, and the lowing of cattle was
heard in the distance.  It was the denizens of the forest who welcomed
the return of evening.

The two sleepers awoke.

After a short and substantial repast, of which Gayferos had brought the
materials from the Hacienda del Venado, the four travellers awaited in
calm meditation the hour of their great trial.

Some time passed away before the azure sky above the open clearing was
overcast.

Gradually, however, the light of day diminished on the approach of
twilight, and then myriads of stars shone in the firmament, like sparks
sown by the sun as he quitted the horizon.  At length, as on that
evening to which so many recollections belonged, when Fabian, wounded,
reached the wood-rangers by their fire, the moon illumined the summits
of the trees and the glades of the forest.

"Can we light a fire?" inquired Pepe.

"Certainly; for it may chance that we shall spend the night here,"
replied Bois-Rose.  "Is not this your desire, Fabian?"

"It matters little to me," replied the young man; "here or yonder, are
we not always agreed?"

Fabian, as we have said, had long felt that the Canadian could not live,
even with him, in the heart of towns, without yearning for the liberty
and free air of the desert.  He knew also that to live without him would
be still more impossible for his comrade; and he had generously offered
himself as a sacrifice to the affection of the old hunter.

Bois-Rose was aware of the full extent of the sacrifice, and the tear he
had that morning shed by stealth, was one of gratitude.  We shall
by-and-by enter more fully into the Canadian's feelings.

The position of the stars indicated eleven o'clock.

"Go, my son," said Bois-Rose to Fabian.  "When you have reached the spot
where you parted from the woman who perhaps loved you, put your hand
upon your heart.  If you do not feel its pulses beat quicker, return,
for you will then have overcome the past."

"I shall return, then," replied Fabian, in a tone of melancholy
firmness: "memory is to me like the breath of the wind which passes by
without resting, and leaves no trace."

He departed slowly.  A fresh breeze tempered the hot exhalations which
rose from the earth.  A resplendent moon shone upon the landscape at the
moment when Fabian, having quitted the shadow of the forest, reached the
open space intervening between it and the wall inclosing the hacienda.

Until that moment he proceeded with a slow but firm step, but when,
through the silver vapours of the night, he perceived the white wall
with the breach in the centre partly visible, his pace slackened, and
his knees trembled under him.

Did he dread his approaching defeat? for his conscience told him already
that he would be vanquished--or was it rather those recollections which,
now so painfully recalled, rose up before him like the floods of the
sea?

There was a deep silence, and the night, but for a slight vapour, was
clear.  All at once Fabian halted and stood still like the dismayed
traveller, who sees a phantom rise up in his path.  A white and airy
form appeared distinctly visible above the breach in the old wall.  It
resembled one of the fairies in the old legends of the north, which to
the eye of the Scandinavian idolaters floated amidst vapours and mists.
To the eye of Fabian it bore the angel form of his first and only love!

For one instant this lovely apparition appeared to Fabian to melt away;
but his eyes deceived him, for in spite of himself they were obscured.
The vision remained stationary.  When he had strength to move, he
advanced nearer, and still the vision did not disappear.

The young man's heart felt as if it would burst, for at this moment a
horrible idea crossed his mind.  He believed that what he saw was
Rosarita's spirit, and he would rather a thousand times have known her
living, though pitiless and disdainful, than behold her dead, though she
appeared in the form of a gentle and benignant apparition.

A voice, whose sweet accents fell upon his ear like heavenly music,
failed to dispel the illusion, though the voice spoke in human accents.

"Is it you, Tiburcio?  I expected you."

Even the penetration of a spirit from the other world could not have
divined that he would return from such a distance.

"Is it you, Rosarita?" cried Fabian, in a scarcely perceptible voice,
"or a delusive vision which will quickly disappear?"

And Fabian stood motionless, fixed to the spot, so greatly did he fear
that the beloved image would vanish from his sight.

"It is I," said the voice; "I am indeed here."

"O God! the trial will be more terrible than I dared to think," said
Fabian, inwardly.

And he advanced a step forward, then paused; the poor young man did not
entertain a hope.

"By what miracle of heaven do I find you here?" he cried.

"I come every evening, Tiburcio," replied the young girl.

This time Fabian began to tremble more with love than hope.

We have seen that Rosarita, in her last interview with Fabian, chose
rather to run the risk of death than confess that she loved him.  Since
then she had suffered so much, she had shed so many tears, that now love
was stronger than virgin purity.

A young girl may sometimes, by such courage, sanctify and enhance her
modesty.

"Come nearer, Tiburcio," she said; "see! here is my hand."

Fabian rushed forward to her feet.  He seized the hand she offered
convulsively, but he tried in vain to speak.

The young girl looked down with anxious tenderness upon his face.

"Let me see if you are much changed, Tiburcio," she continued.  "Ah!
yes.  Grief has left its traces on your brow, but honour has ennobled
it.  You are as brave as you are handsome, Tiburcio.  I learned with
pride that danger had never made your cheek turn pale."

"You heard, did you say?" cried Fabian; "but what have you heard?"

"All, Tiburcio; even to your most secret thoughts.  I have heard all,
even of your coming here this evening.  Do you understand? and I am
here!"

"Before I dare to comprehend, Rosarita,--for this time a mistake would
kill me," continued Fabian, whose heart was stirred to its very depths
by the young girl's words, and the tenderness of her manner, "will you
answer one question, that is if I dare to ask it?"

"Dare, then, Tiburcio," said Rosarita, tenderly.  "Ask what you wish.  I
came to-night to hear you--to deny you nothing."

"Listen," said the young Count: "six months ago I had to avenge my
mother's death, and that of the man who had stood in my father's place,
Marcos Arellanos; for if you know all, you know that I am no longer--"

"To me you are the same, Tiburcio; I never knew Don Fabian de Mediana."

"The wretch who was about to expiate his crime--the assassin of Marcos
Arellanos, in short, Cuchillo--begged for his life.  I had no power to
grant it; when he cried, `I ask it in the name of Dona Rosarita, who
loves you, for I heard--,' the suppliant was upon the edge of a
precipice.  I would have pardoned him for love of you; when one of my
companions precipitated him into the gulf below.  A hundred times, in
the silence of the night, I recalled that suppliant voice, and asked
myself in anguish, What did he then hear?  I ask it of you this evening,
Rosarita."

"Once, once only, did my lips betray the secret of my heart.  It was
here, in this very spot, when you had quitted our dwelling.  I will
repeat to you what I then said."

The girl seemed to be collecting all her strength, before she dared tell
the young man that she loved him, and that openly and passionately;
then--her pure countenance shining with virgin innocence, which fears
not, because it knows no ill, she turned towards Tiburcio.

"I have suffered too much," she said, "from one mistake, to allow of any
other; it is thus, then, with my hands in yours, and my eyes meeting
yours, that I repeat to you what I then said.  You had fled from me,
Tiburcio.  I knew you were far away, and I thought God alone heard me
when I cried: `_Come back, Tiburcio, come back!  I love only you_!'"

Fabian, trembling with love and happiness, knelt humbly at the feet of
this pure young girl, as he might have done before a Madonna, who had
descended from her pedestal.

At this moment he was lost to all the world,--Bois-Rose, the past, the
future--all were forgotten like a dream on awaking, and he cried in a
broken voice:

"Rosarita!  I am yours forever!  I dedicate my future life to you only."

Rosarita uttered a faint cry.  Fabian turned, and remained mute with
astonishment.

Leaning quietly upon his long carbine, stood Bois-Rose, a few paces from
them, contemplating, with a look of deep tenderness the two lovers.

It was the realisation of his dream in the isle of Rio Gila.

"Oh, my father!" cried Fabian sadly; "do you forgive me for suffering
myself to be vanquished?"

"Who would not have been, in your place, my beloved Fabian?" said the
Canadian, smiling.

"I have broken my oath, my father!" continued Fabian; "I had promised
never to love any other but you.  Pardon! pardon!"

"Child, who implores pardon, when it is I who should ask it?" said
Bois-Rose; "you were more generous than I, Fabian.  Never did a lioness
snatch her cub from the hands of the hunters, and carry it to her den,
with a more savage love than I dragged you from the habitations of men
to hide you in the desert.  I was happy, because all my affections were
centred in you; and I believed that you might also be so.  You did not
murmur; you sacrificed, unhesitatingly, all the treasures of your
youth--a thousand times more precious than those of the Golden Valley.
I did not intend it should be so, and it is I who have been selfish, and
not generous, for if you had died of grief, I should have died also."

"What do you mean?" cried Fabian.

"What I say, child.  Who watched over your slumbers during long nights,
to hear from your lips the secret wishes of your heart?  It was I, who
determined to accompany to this spot, Gayferos, whom at your
intercession I saved from the hands of the Apaches.  Who sent him to
seek this beautiful and gracious lady, and learn if in her heart, she
still treasured your memory?  It was I still, my child, for your
happiness is a thousand times more precious than mine.  Who persuaded
you to make this last trial?  It was still I, my child, who knew that
you must succumb to it.  To-morrow I had said to you, I will accept your
sacrifice; but Gayferos had even then read the most secret pages of this
lady's heart.  Why do you ask my pardon, when I tell you it is I, who
should ask yours?"

The Canadian, as he finished these words, opened his arms to Fabian, who
eagerly rushed into his embrace.

"Oh, my father," cried he, "so much happiness frightens me, for never
was man happier than I."

"Grief will come when God wills it," said the Canadian, solemnly.

"But you, what will become of you?" asked Fabian, anxiously.  "Your loss
will be to me the only bitterness in my full cup of joy."

"As God wills, my child," answered the Canadian.  "It is true, I cannot
live in cities, but this dwelling, which will be yours, is on the
borders of the desert.  Does not infinity surround me here?  I shall
build with Pepe--Ho, Pepe," said the hunter in a loud voice, "come and
ratify my promise."

Pepe and Gayferos came forward at the hunter's summons.

"I and Pepe," he continued, "will build a hut of the trunks and bark of
trees upon the spot of ground where I found you again.  We shall not
always be at home, it is true, but perhaps some time hence should you
wish to claim the name and fortune of your ancestors in Spain, you will
find two friends ready to follow you to the end of the world.  Come, my
Fabian, I have no doubt that I shall be even happier than you, for I
shall experience a double bliss in my happiness and yours."

But why dwell longer upon such scenes? happiness is so transitory and
impalpable that it will not bear either analysis or description.

"There remains but one obstacle now," resumed the hunter.  "This sweet
lady's father."

"To-morrow he will expect his son," interrupted Rosarita, who stood by,
listening with singular interest to the dialogue.

"Then let me bless mine," said the Canadian.

Fabian knelt before the hunter.

The latter removed his fur cap, and with moist eyes raised to the starry
heavens, he said--

"Oh! my God! bless my son, and grant that his children may love him as
he has been loved by old Bois-Rose."

The following day the illustrious Senator returned in sadness to Arispe.

"I was sure," he said, "that I should unceasingly mourn for poor Don
Estevan.  I might at least have possessed, besides my wife's marriage
portion, a title of honour and half a million of money.  It is certainly
a great misfortune that poor Don Estevan is dead."

Sometime afterwards a hut made of the bark and trunks of trees was built
in the forest glade so well-known to the reader.  Often Fabian de
Mediana, accompanied by Rosarita, to whom he was now united by the holy
ties of marriage, performed a pilgrimage to the dwellers in the hut.

Perhaps at a later period one of those pilgrimages might be undertaken
with the view of claiming the assistance of the two brave hunters in an
expedition to the Golden Valley or to the coast of Spain; but that is a
thing of the future.  Let us for the present be content with saying,
that if the happiness of this world is not a vain delusion, in truth it
exists at the Hacienda del Venado, enjoyed by Fabian, Rosarita, and the
brave _Wood-Rangers_--Pepe and Bois-Rose.

THE END.





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