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Title: The Freebooters - A Story of the Texan War
Author: Aimard, Gustave, 1818-1883
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE FREEBOOTERS.

A Story of the Texan War.

BY

GUSTAVE AIMARD,

AUTHOR OF "BORDER RIFLES," "THE INDIAN SCOUT," ETC.

LONDON:

WARD AND LOCK,

158, FLEET STREET.

MDCCCLXI.



PREFACE.


Apart from the thrilling interest of Aimard's new story, which I
herewith offer to English readers, I think it will be accepted with
greater satisfaction, as being an historical record of the last great
contest in which the North Americans were engaged. As at the present
moment everything is eagerly devoured that may tend to throw light on
the impending struggle between North and South, I believe that the story
of "THE FREEBOOTERS," which is rigorously true in its details, will
enable my readers to form a correct opinion of the character of the
Southerners.

The series, of which this volume forms a second link, will be completed
in a third volume, to be called "THE WHITE SCALPER," which contains an
elaborate account of the liberation of Texas, and the memorable battle
of San Jacinto, together with personal adventures of the most
extraordinary character.

L.W.

7, DRAYTON TERRACE,

WEST BROMPTON.



CONTENTS.


     I. FRAY ANTONIO
     II. INDIAN DIPLOMACY
     III. DOWN THE PRECIPICE
     IV. TWO ENEMIES
     V. GENERAL RUBIO
     VI. THE HUNTER'S COUNCIL
     VII. AN OLD FRIEND
     VIII. QUONIAM'S RETURN
     IX. HOSPITALITY
     X. THE LARCH-TREE HACIENDA
     XI. A METAMORPHOSIS
     XII. THE SUMMONS
     XIII. THE SIEGE
     XIV. THE PROPOSAL
     XV. A THUNDERBOLT
     XVI. THE CONSPIRATORS
     XVII. THE SPY
     XVIII. THE PULQUERIA
     XIX. AT SEA
     XX. THE PRIZE
     XXI. A STRANGE LEGEND
     XXII. THE SURPRISE
     XXIII. EL SALTO DEL FRAYLE
     XXIV. THE LANDING
     XXV. FORWARD!



CHAPTER I.

FRAY ANTONIO.


All the wood rangers have noticed, with reference to the immense virgin
forests which still cover a considerable extent of the soil of the New
World, that, to the man who attempts to penetrate into one of these
mysterious retreats which the hand of man has not yet deformed, and
which preserve intact the sublime stamp which Deity has imprinted on
them, the first steps offer almost insurmountable difficulties, which
are gradually smoothed down more and more, and after a little while
almost entirely disappear. It is as if Nature had desired to defend by a
belt of thorns and spikes the mysterious shades of these aged forests,
in which her most secret arcana are carried out.

Many times, during our wanderings in America, we were in a position to
appreciate the correctness of the remark we have just made: this
singular arrangement of the forests, surrounded, as it were, by a
rampart of parasitic plants entangled one in the other, and thrusting in
every direction their shoots full of incredible sap, seemed a problem
which offered a certain degree of interest from various points of view,
and especially from that of science.

It is evident to us that the circulation of the air favours the
development of vegetation. The air which circulates freely round a large
extent of ground covered with lofty trees, and is driven by the various
breezes that agitate the atmosphere, penetrates to a certain depth into
the clumps of trees it surrounds, and consequently supplies nourishment
to all the parasitical shrubs vegetation presents to it. But, on
reaching a certain depth under the covert, the air, less frequently
renewed, no longer supplies carbonic acid to all the vegetation that
covers the soil, and which, through the absence of that aliment, pines
away and dies.

This is so true, that those accidents of soil which permit the air a
more active circulation in certain spots, such as the bed of a torrent
or a gorge between two eminences, the entrance of which is open to the
prevailing wind, favour the development of a more luxuriant vegetation
than in flat places.

It is more than probable that Fray Antonio[1] made none of the
reflections with which we begin this chapter, while he stepped silently
and quietly through the trees, leaving the man who had helped him, and
probably saved his life, to struggle as he could with the crowd of
Redskins who attacked him, and against whom he would indubitably have
great difficulty in defending him.

Fray Antonio was no coward; far from it: in several critical
circumstances he had displayed true bravery; but he was a man to whom
the existence he led offered enormous advantages and incalculable
delights. Life seemed to him good, and he did all in his power to spend
it jolly and free from care. Hence, through respect for himself, he was
extremely prudent, only facing danger when it was absolutely necessary;
but at such times, like all men driven into a corner, he became terrible
and really dangerous to those who, in one way or the other, had provoked
in him this explosion of passion.

In Mexico, and generally throughout Spanish America, as the clergy are
only recruited from the poorest class of the population, their ranks
contain men of gross ignorance, and for the most part of more than
doubtful morality. The religious orders, which form nearly one-third of
the population, living nearly independent of all subjection and control,
receive among them people of all sorts, for whom the religious dress
they don is a cloak behind which they give way with perfect liberty to
their vices, of which the most venial are indubitably indolence, luxury,
and intoxication.

Enjoying a great credit with the civilized Indian population, and
greatly respected by them, the monks impudently abuse that halo of
sanctity which surrounds them, in order to shamefully plunder these poor
people under the slightest excuses.

Indeed, blackguardism and demoralisation have attained such a pitch in
these unhappy countries, which are old and decrepit without ever having
been young, that the conduct of the monks, offensive it may seem in the
sight of Europeans, has nothing at all extraordinary for those among
whom they live.

Far from us the thought of leading it to be supposed that among the
Mexican clergy, and even the monks we have so decried, there are not men
worthy of the gown they wear, and convinced of the sanctity of their
mission; we have, indeed, known many of that character; but
unfortunately they form so insignificant a minority, that they must be
regarded as the exception.

Fray Antonio was assuredly no better or worse than the other monks whose
gown he wore; but, unluckily for him, for some time past fatality
appeared to have vented its spite on him, and mixed him up, despite his
firm will, in events, not only opposed to his character but to his
habits, which led him into a multitude of tribulations each more
disagreeable than the other, and which were beginning to make him
consider that life extremely bitter, which he had hitherto found so
pleasant.

The atrocious mystification of which John Davis had rendered the poor
monk a victim, had especially spread a gloomy haze over his hitherto so
gay mind; a sad despondency had seized upon him; and it was with a heavy
and uncertain step that he fled through the forest, although, excited by
the sounds of combat that still reached his ear, he made haste to get
off, through fear of falling into the hands of the Redskins, if they
proved the victors.

Night surprised poor Fray Antonio ere he had reached the skirt of this
forest, which seemed to him interminable. Naturally anything but
hard-working, and not at all used to desert life, the monk found himself
greatly embarrassed when he saw the sun disappear on the horizon in a
mist of purple and gold, and the darkness almost instantaneously cover
the earth. Unarmed, without means of lighting a fire, half-dead with
hunger and alarm, the monk took a long glance of despair around him, and
fell to the ground, giving vent to a dull groan: he literally did not
know to what saint he should appeal.

Still, after a few moments, the instinct of self-preservation gained the
mastery over discouragement, and the monk, whose teeth chattered with
terror on hearing re-echoed through the forest the lugubrious roaring of
the wild beasts, which were beginning to awaken, and greeted in their
fashion the longed-for return of gloom--rose with a feverish energy,
and suffering from that feverish over-excitement which fear raised to a
certain pitch produces, resolved to profit by the fugitive rays that
still crossed the glade, to secure himself a shelter for the night.

Opposite to him grew a majestic mahogany tree, whose interlaced branches
and dense foliage seemed to offer him a secure retreat against the
probable attack of the gloomy denizens of the forest.

Assuredly, under any other circumstances than those in which he found
himself, the bare idea of escalading this immense forest would have
appeared to the monk the height of folly and mental aberration, owing
first to his paunch, and next to his awkwardness, of which he felt
intimately convinced.

But it was a critical point: at each instant the situation grew more
dangerous; the howling came nearer in a most alarming manner; there was
no time to hesitate; and Fray Antonio did not do so. After walking once
or twice round the tree, in order to discover the spot which offered him
the greatest facility for his ascent, he gave vent to a sigh, embraced
the enormous and rugged trunk with his arms and knees, and painfully
commenced his attempted climb.

But it was no easy matter, especially for a plump monk, to mount the
tree, and Fray Antonio soon perceived this fact at his own expense; for
each time that, after extraordinary efforts, he managed to raise himself
a few inches from the ground, his strength suddenly failed him, and he
fell back on the ground with lacerated hands and torn clothes.

Ten times already had he renewed his efforts, with the desperation
produced by despair, without seeing them crowned with success; the
perspiration poured down his face; his chest panted; he was in a state
to produce pity even in his most obstinate enemy.

"I shall never succeed in mounting it," he muttered sadly; "and if I
remain here, I am a lost man, for within an hour I shall be infallibly
devoured by some tiger in search of its supper."

This final reflection, which was incontestably true, restored a fresh
ardour to the monk, who resolved to make a new and supreme attempt But
this time he wished to take all his precautions; consequently, he began
collecting the dead wood round him and piling it at the foot of the
tree, so as to form a scaffolding high enough for him to reach, without
any great difficulty, a branch sufficiently low for him, while careful
to remain awake, to hope to spend the night without fear of being
devoured--an alternative for which the worthy monk did not feel the
slightest inclination.

Soon, thanks to the vivacity of his movements, Fray Antonio had a
considerable heap of wood piled up around him. A smile of satisfaction
lit up his wide face, and he breathed again, while wiping away the
perspiration that poured down his face.

"This time," he muttered, calculating with a glance the space he had to
cover, "if I do not succeed, I shall be preciously clumsy."

In the meanwhile the last gleams of twilight, so useful to the monk, had
entirely disappeared; the absence of the stars, which had not yet shown
themselves, left a profound obscurity in the sky, which was even more
obscure under the covert; all was beginning to be blotted out, only
allowing here and there a few clumps of trees to be distinguished, as
they designed their gloomy masses in the night, or a few patches of
water, the result of the last storm, which studded the forest with paler
spots. The evening breeze had risen, and could be heard soughing through
the foliage with a sad and melancholy plaintiveness.

The dangerous denizens of the forest had quitted their lurking places,
and crushed the dead wood, as they eagerly came on, amid a deafening
current of catlike howls. The monk had not an instant to lose, if he did
not wish to be attacked on all sides at once by the wild beasts, whom a
lengthened fast rendered more terrible still.

After taking a searching glance around him in order to assure himself
that no pressing danger threatened him, the monk devotedly crossed
himself, fervently recommended himself to Heaven with a sincerity he had
probably never evinced before, and then, suddenly making up his mind,
began resolutely climbing up the pile of wood. After several
unsuccessful attempts, he at last reached the top of this fictitious
mount.

He then stopped for a minute to draw breath; indeed, thanks to his
ingenious ideas, Fray Antonio was now nearly ten feet from the ground.
It is true that any animal could easily have overthrown this obstacle;
but for all that, this beginning of success revived the monk's courage,
the more so because, on raising his eyes he saw a few paces above him,
the blessed branch toward which he had so long extended his arms in
vain.

"Come!" he said, hopefully.

He embraced the tree once more, and recommenced his fatiguing
clambering. Either through skill or accident Fray Antonio at length
managed to seize the branch with both hands, and clung to it with all
his strength. The rest was as nothing. The monk assembled by a supreme
effort all the vigour his previous attempts had left him, and raising
himself by his arms, tried to get astride on the branch. Owing to his
energetic perseverances, he had raised his head and shoulders above the
branch, when all at once he felt a hand or a claw fasten round his right
leg, and squeeze it as in a vice. A shudder of terror ran over the
monk's body: his blood stood still in his veins; an icy perspiration
beaded on his temples, and his teeth chattered fit to break.

"Mercy!" he exclaimed in a choking voice, "I am dead. Holy virgin, have
pity on me."

His strength, paralyzed by terror, deserted him, his hands let loose the
protecting branch, and he fell in a lump at the foot of the tree.
Fortunately for Fray Antonio, the care he had taken in piling up the
dead wood to a considerable extent broke his fall, otherwise it would
probably have been mortal: but the shock he experienced was so great
that he completely lost his senses. The monk's fainting fit was long:
when he returned to life and opened his eyes again, he took a frightened
glance around, and fancied he must be suffering from a horrible
nightmare.

He had not stirred from the spot, so to speak: he still found himself
by the tree, which he had tried so long to climb up in vain, but he was
lying close to an enormous fire, over which half a deer was roasting,
and around him were some twenty Indians, crouching on their heels,
silently smoking their pipes, while their horses, picketed a few yards
off, and ready to mount, were eating their provender.

Fray Antonio had seen Indians several times before, and had stood on
such intimate terms, indeed, with them, as to be able to recognize them.
His new friends were clothed in their war garb, and from their hair
drawn off their foreheads, and their long barbed lances, it was easy to
recognize them as Apaches.

The monk's blood ran cold, for the Apaches are notorious for their
cruelty and roguery. Poor Fray Antonio had fallen from Charybdis into
Scylla; he had only escaped from the jaws of the wild beasts in order to
be in all probability martyred by the Redskins. It was a sad prospect
which furnished the unlucky monk with ample material for thoughts, each
more gloomy than the other, for he had often listened with a shudder to
the hunters' stories about the atrocious tortures the Apaches take a
delight in inflicting on their prisoners with unexampled barbarity.

Still, the Indians went on smoking silently, and did not appear to
perceive that their captive had regained his senses. For his part, the
monk hermetically closed his eyes, and anxiously preserved the most
perfect tranquillity, in order to leave his dangerous companions, so
long as he could, in ignorance of the state in which he was.

At length the Indians left off smoking, and after shaking the ash out of
their calumets, passed them again through their girdle; a Redskin
removed from the fire the half deer which was perfectly roasted, laid it
in abanijo leaves in front of his comrades, and each drawing his
scalping knife, prepared for a vigorous attack on the venison, which
exhaled an appetizing odour, especially for the nostrils of a man who,
during the whole past day, had been condemned to an absolute fast.

At this moment the monk felt a heavy hand laid on his chest, while a
voice said to him with a guttural accent, which, however, had nothing
menacing about it.

"The father of prayer can open his eyes now, for the venison is smoking,
and his share is cut off."

The monk, perceiving that his stratagem was discovered, and excited by
the smell of the meat, having made up his mind, opened his eyes, and sat
up.

"Och!" the man who had before spoken said, "My father can eat; he must
be hungry, and has slept enough."

The monk attempted to smile, but only made a frightful grimace, so
alarmed did he feel. As however, he was really hungry as a wolf, he
followed the example offered him by the Indians, who had already
commenced their meal, and set to work eating the lump of venison which
they had the politeness to set before him. The meal did not take long;
still it lasted long enough to restore a little courage to the monk, and
make him regard his position from a less gloomy side than he had
hitherto done.

In truth, the behaviour of the Apaches toward him had nothing hostile
about it; on the contrary, they were most attentive in serving him with
what he needed, giving him more food so soon as they perceived that he
had nothing before him: they had even carried their politeness so far
as to give him a few mouthfuls of spirit, an extremely precious liquid,
of which they are most greedy, even for their own use, owing to the
difficulty they experience in obtaining it.

When he had ended his meal, the monk, who was almost fully reassured as
to the amicable temper of his new friends, on seeing them light their
pipes, took from his pocket tobacco and an Indian corn leaf, and after
rolling a _pajillo_ with the skill which the men of Spanish race
possess, he conscientiously enjoyed the bluish smoke of his excellent
Havana tobacco, _costa abajo_.

A considerable space of time elapsed thus, and not a syllable was
exchanged among them. By degrees the ranks of the Redskins thinned: one
after the other, at short intervals, rolled themselves in their
blankets, lay down with their feet to the fire, and went to sleep almost
immediately. Fray Antonio, crushed by the poignant emotions of the day,
and the enormous fatigue he had experienced, would gladly have imitated
the Indians, had he dared, for he felt his eyes close involuntarily, and
found immense difficulty in contending against the sleep that
overpowered him. At last the Indian who hitherto had alone spoken,
perceiving his state of somnolency, took pity on him. He rose, fetched a
horsecloth, and brought it to the monk.

"My father will wrap himself in this fressada,[2]" he said, employing
the bad Spanish in which he had hitherto spoken; "the nights are cold,
and my father needs sleep greatly, he will, therefore, feel warmed with
this. Tomorrow, a Chief will smoke the calumet with my father in
council. Blue-fox desires to have a serious conversation with the father
of prayer of the Palefaces."

Fray Antonio gratefully accepted the horsecloth so graciously offered by
the Chief, and without attempting to prolong the conversation, he
wrapped himself up carefully, and lay down by the fire so as to absorb
the largest amount of caloric possible. Still the Indian's words did not
fail to cause the monk a certain degree of anxiety.

"Hum!" he muttered to himself, "That is the reverse of the medal. What
can this Pagan have to say to me? He does not mean to ask me to christen
him, I suppose? especially as his name appears to be Blue-fox, a nice
savage name, that. Well, heaven will not abandon me, and it will be day
tomorrow. So now for a snooze."

And with this consolatory reflection the monk closed his eyes: two
minutes later he slept as if never going to wake again.

Blue-fox, for it was really into the hands of that Chief the monk had so
unexpectedly fallen, remained crouched over the fire the whole night,
plunged in gloomy thought, and watching, alone of his comrades, over the
common safety: at times, his eyes were fixed with a strange expression
on the monk who was fast asleep, and far from suspecting that the Apache
Chief was so obstinately engaged with him.

At sunrise Blue-fox was still awake: he had remained the whole night
without once changing his position, and sleep had not once weighed down
his eyelids.


[1] See "Border Rifles," same publishers.

[2] "frazada."



CHAPTER II

INDIAN DIPLOMACY.


The night passed calm and peaceful. At the moment when the sun appeared
on the horizon, saluted by the deafening concert of the birds, hidden
beneath the foliage, Blue-fox, who had hitherto remained motionless,
extended his right arm in the direction of the monk, who was lying by
his side, and gently touched him with his hand. This touch, slight as it
was, sufficed, however, to arouse Fray Antonio.

There are moments in life when, although the body reposes, the mind
retains all its delicate perceptions and vigilance; the monk was in a
similar situation. The gentleness the Apaches displayed towards him on
the previous night was so extraordinary, and opposed to their usual
habit of treating white men, their inveterate foes, that the monk,
despite the coolness which formed the basis of his character, understood
that the strange conduct of the men into whose power he had fallen must
result from very powerful motives, and that, in spite of the pretended
friendship they showed him, he would do well to keep on his guard, in
order to be able to make head against the storm, from whatever quarter
it might come.

In consequence of this reasoning, while taking advantage of the friendly
feeling of the Indians, he craftily watched their movements, only
yielded to sleep with great circumspection, and then slept with one eye
open, to employ the vulgar expression. Hence at the first signal he was
ready to respond to the Indian's summons with a vivacity that brought an
equivocal smile upon the latter's stern features. The Redskins are
physiognomists by nature; and, in spite of the tranquillity the monk
affected, Blue-fox had, from certain signs that never deceive, guessed
the secret alarm that internally devoured him.

"Has my brother slept well?" the Indian asked in his hoarse voice; "The
Wacondah loves him, has watched over his sleep, and kept Nyang, the
genius of evil, away from his dreams."

"I have, indeed, slept well, Chief, and I thank you for the cordial
hospitality you have been pleased to grant me."

A smile played round the Indian's lips, as he continued:--

"My father is one of the Chiefs of prayer of his nation, the God of the
Palefaces is powerful, He protects those who devote themselves to His
service."

As this remark required no answer, the monk contented himself by bowing
in the affirmative. Still, his anxiety increased; beneath the Chiefs
gentle words he fancied he could hear the hoarse voice of the tiger,
which licks its lips ere devouring the booty it holds gasping in its
terrible claws.

Fray Antonio had not even the resource of pretending not to understand
the dangerous speaker, for the Chief expressed himself in bad Spanish, a
language all the Indian tribes understand, and which, despite their
repugnance to use it, they still employ in their dealings with the white
men.

The morning was magnificent; the trees, with their dew-laden leaves,
seemed greener than usual; a slight mist, impregnated with the soft
matutinal odours, rose from the ground, and was sucked up by the
sunbeams, which with each moment grew warmer. The whole camp was still
sunk in sleep; the Chief and the monk were alone awake. After a moment's
silence, Blue-fox continued:--

"My father will listen," he said; "a Chief is about to speak; Blue-fox
is a Sachem, his tongue is not forked, the words his chest breathes are
inspired by the Great Spirit."

"I am listening," Fray Antonio replied.

"Blue-fox is not an Apache, although he wears their costumes, and leads
one of their most powerful tribes on the war trail; Blue-fox is a Snake
Pawnee, his nation is as numerous as the grains of sand on the borders
of the great lake. Many moons ago, Blue-fox left the hunting grounds of
his nation, never to return to them, and became an adopted son of the
Apaches; why did Blue-fox act thus?"

The Chief interrupted himself. The monk was on the point of answering
that he did not know the fact, and cared very little about learning it,
but a moment's reflection made him understand the danger of such an
answer to a man so irritable as the one he was now talking with.

"The brothers of the Chief were ungrateful to him," he replied with
feigned interest, "and the Sachem left them; after shaking off his
moccasins at the entrance of their village."

The Chief shook his head in negation.

"No," he answered, "the brothers of Blue-fox loved him, they still weep
for his absence; but the Chief was sad, a friend had abandoned him, and
took away his heart."

"Ah!" said the monk, not at all understanding.

"Yes," the Indian continued; "Blue-fox could not endure the absence of
his friend, and left his brothers to go in search of him."

"Of course you have found the person again, Chief, to whom you devoted
yourself?"

"For a long time Blue-fox sought, but did not succeed in obtaining any
news of him; but one day he at length saw him again."

"Good, and now you are re-united?"

"My father does not understand," the Indian answered drily.

This was perfectly correct. The monk did not understand a syllable of
what it pleased the Chief to tell him--the more so, as this obscure
narrative interested him but very slightly; and while the Apache was
speaking, he was cudgelling his brains to discover the motives for this
confidence. The consequence was that most of the words uttered by the
Chief struck his ear, but only produced an empty sound, whose meaning
did not reach his mind; but the peremptory accent with which Blue-fox
uttered the last sentence, aroused him, and while recalling him to a
feeling of his present position, made him comprehend the danger of not
seeming to take an interest in the conversation.

"Pardon me, Chief," he eagerly answered; "on the contrary, I perfectly
understand; but I am subject to a certain absence of mind completely
independent of my will, which I hope you will not feel offended at, for
I assure you it is no fault of mine."

"Good, my father is like all the Chiefs of Prayer of the Palefaces, his
thoughts are constantly directed to the Wacondah."

"So it is, Chief," the monk exclaimed, delighted at the way in which his
apology was accepted; "continue your narrative, I beg, for I am now
most anxious to listen to it."

"Wah! My father constantly traverses the prairies of the Palefaces."

"Yes, for the duties of my office oblige me to--"

Blue-fox quickly interrupted him.

"My father knows the pale hunters of these prairies?"

"Nearly all."

"Very good; one of these hunters is the friend so deeply regretted by
Blue-fox."

"Who is he?" the monk asked.

The Indian did not seem to hear the question, for he went on--

"Very often the Redskin warrior has been led a short distance from his
friend by the incidents of the chase, but never near enough to make
himself known."

"That is unfortunate."

"The Chief would like to see his friend, and smoke the calumet of peace
with him at the council fire, while conversing about old times, and the
period when, as children of the same tribe, they traversed together the
hunting grounds of the Sachem's terrible nation."

"Then the hunter is an Indian?"

"No, he is a Paleface; but if his skin is white, the Great Spirit has
placed an Indian heart in his bosom."

"But why does not the Chief frankly go and join his friend, if he knows
where he is? He would be probably delighted to see him again."

At this insinuation, which he was far from anticipating, the Chief
frowned, and a cloud momentarily crossed his face; but the monk was too
little of an observer to remark this emotion: he had asked the question,
as he would have done any other, unmeaningly, and simply to show the
Chief by replying that he was an attentive listener. After a few
seconds, the Indian reassumed that apathy which the Redskins rarely put
off, and only when taken by surprise, and continued--

"Blue-fox does not go to meet his friend, because the latter is not
alone, and has with him enemies of your Chief."

"That is different, and I can understand your prudence."

"Good," the Indian added, with a sardonic smile, "wisdom speaks by the
mouth of my rather; he is certainly a Chief of prayer, and his lips
distil the purest honey."

Fray Antonio drew himself up, and his alarm was beginning to be
dissipated; he saw vaguely that the Redskin wished to ask something of
him--in short, that he wanted his help. This thought restored his
courage, and he tried to complete the effect he fancied he had produced
on his Machiavellian questioner.

"What my brother is unable to do, I can undertake," he said, in an
insinuating voice.

The Apache gave him a piercing glance.

"Wah!" he replied, "Then my father knows where to find the Chiefs
friend?"

"How should I know it?" the monk objected; "You have not told me his
name yet."

"That is true; my father is good, he will forgive me. So he does not yet
know who the Pale hunter is?"

"I know him, perhaps, but up to the present I am ignorant whom the Chief
alludes to."

"Blue-fox is rich; he has numerous horses; he can assemble round his
totem one hundred warriors, and ten times, twenty times more. If my
father is willing to serve the Sachem, he will find him grateful."

"I ask nothing better than to be agreeable to you. Chief, if it lies in
my power; but you must explain: clearly what I have to do, in order that
I may make no mistake."

"Good; the Sachem will explain everything to his father."

"In that way, nothing will be easier."

"Does my father believe so?"

"Well, I do not see what can prevent it."

"Then my father will listen. Among all the Pale hunters, whose moccasins
trample the prairie grass in all directions, there is one who is braver
and more terrible than the rest; the tigers and jaguars fly at his
approach, and the Indian warriors themselves are afraid to cope with
him. This hunter is no effeminate Yori; the blood of the Gachupinos does
not flow in his veins; he is the son of a colder land, and his ancestors
fought for a lengthened period with the Long Knives of the East."

"Good," the monk said; "from what the Chief tells me, I see that this
man is a Canadian."

"That is the name given, I think, to the nation of my friend."

"But among all the hunters I am acquainted with, there is only one who
is a Canadian."

"Wah!" said the Chief, "Only one?"

"Yes; his name is Tranquil, I think, and he is attached to the
Larch-tree hacienda."

"Wah! That is the very man. Does my father know him?"

"Not much, I confess, but still sufficiently to present myself to him."

"Very good."

"Still, I warn you, Chief, that this man, like all his fellows, leads an
extremely vagabond life, being here today and gone tomorrow; so that I
am in great doubt as to where I should seek him."

"Wah! my father need not trouble himself about that; the Sachem will
lead him to the camp of the Tiger killer."

"In that case, very good; I will undertake the rest."

"My father must carefully retain in his heart the words of Blue-fox. The
warriors are awaking; they must know nothing. When the hour arrives, the
Chief will tell my father what he wants of him."

"As you please, Chief."

The conversation broke off here. The warriors were really awaking, and
the camp, so quiet a few moments previously, had now the aspect of a
hive, when the bees prepare at sunrise to go in search of their daily
crop. At a sign from the Chief, the hachesto, or public crier, mounted a
fallen tree, and twice uttered a shrill cry. At this appeal all the
warriors, even those still lying on the ground, hastened to range
themselves behind the Chief. A deep silence then prevailed for several
minutes; all the Indians, with their arms folded on their chest, and
their faces turned to the rising sun, awaited what the Sachem was about
to do.

The latter took a calabash full of water, which the hachesto handed him,
and in which was a spray of wormwood. Then raising his voice, he
sprinkled toward the four cardinal points, saying--

"Wacondah, Wacondah! Thou unknown and omnipotent spirit, whose universe
is the temple, Master of the life of man, protect thy children!"

"Master of the life of man, protect thy children!" the Apaches repeated
in chorus, respectfully bowing.

"Creator of the great sacred Tortoise, whose skill supports the world,
keep far from us Nyang, the genius of evil! Deliver our enemies to us,
and give us their scalps. Wacondah! Wacondah! Protect thy children!"

"Wacondah! Wacondah! Protect thy children!" the warriors repeated.

The Sachem then bowed to the sun, and then towards the contents of the
calabash, saying--

"And thou, sublime star, visible representative of the omnipotent and
invincible Creator, continue to pour thy vivifying heat on the hunting
grounds of thy Red Sons, and intercede for them with the Master of life.
May this clear water I offer thee be grateful. Wacondah! Wacondah!
Protect thy children!"

"Wacondah! Wacondah! Protect thy children!" the Apaches repeated, and
followed their Chief's example by kneeling reverently. The latter then
took a medicine rod from the hachesto, and waved it several times over
his head, while shouting in a loud voice--

"Nyang, spirit of evil, rebel against the Master of life; we brave and
despise thy power, for the Wacondah protects us!"

All the congregation uttered a loud yell, and rose. When the morning
prayer had been said, and the rites performed, each man began attending
to his daily duties.

Fray Antonio had witnessed with extreme astonishment this sacred and
affecting ceremony, whose details, however, escaped his notice, for the
words uttered by the Chief had been in the dialect of his nation, and
consequently incomprehensible to the monk. Still, he experienced a
certain delight on seeing that these men, whom he regarded as
barbarians, were not entirely devoid of better feelings, and religious
faith.

The expiring campfires were rekindled, in order to prepare the morning
meal, while scouts started in every direction, to assure themselves that
the road was free, and no enemy on the watch. The monk, being now
completely reassured, and beginning to grow accustomed to his new
position, ate with good appetite the provisions offered him, and made no
objection to mount the horse the Chief indicated to him, when they
prepared to set out on the termination of the meal.

Fray Antonio was beginning to find that the savages, who had been
represented to him in such gloomy colours, were not so wicked as they
were said to be, and he was almost inclined to believe that they had
been calumniated. In truth, their hospitality had never once been in
default; on the contrary, they had apparently studied to please him.

They rode on for several hours along tracks marked by the wild beasts,
forced, through the narrowness of the paths, to go in Indian file, that
is to say, one behind the other; and although the monk perceived that
the Sachem constantly kept by his side, he did not feel at all alarmed
by it, remembering the conversation they had in the morning.

A little before midday the band halted on the bank of a small stream,
shadowed by lofty trees, where they intended to wait till the great heat
had passed over. The monk was not at all vexed at this delay, which
enabled him to rest in the cool. During the halt Blue-fox did not once
address him, and the monk made no attempt to bring on a conversation, as
he much preferred enjoying a siesta.

At about four P.M. the band mounted, and set out again; but this time,
instead of going at a walking pace, they galloped. The Indians, by the
way, only recognize these two paces; they consider trotting an
absurdity, and we confess that we are somewhat of their opinion. The
ride was long; the sun had set for more than two hours, and still the
Indians galloped. At length, at a signal from their Chief, they halted.
Blue-fox then went up to the monk, and drew him a little aside.

"We shall separate here," he said; "it would not be prudent for the
Apaches to go further: my father will continue his journey alone."

"I?" the monk said, in surprise; "You are jesting, Chief--I prefer
remaining with you."

"That cannot be," the Indian said, in a peremptory voice.

"Where the deuce would you have me go at this hour, and in this
darkness?"

"My father will look," the Chief continued, stretching out his arm to
the south-west, "does he see that reddish light scarce rising above the
horizon?"

Fray Antonio looked attentively in the direction indicated. "Yes," he
said, presently, "I do see it."

"Very good; that flame is produced by a campfire of the Palefaces."

"Oh, oh! are you sure of that?"

"Yes; but my father must listen; the Palefaces will receive my father
kindly."

"I understand; then I will tell Tranquil that his friend Blue-fox
desires to speak with him, point out where he is, and--"

"The magpie is a chattering and brainless bird, which gabbles like an
old squaw," the Chief roughly interrupted him; "my father will say
nothing."

"Oh!" the monk said, in confusion.

"My father will be careful to do what I order him, if he does not wish
his scalp to dry on the lance of a Chief."

Fray Antonio shuddered at this menace.

"I swear it, Chief," he said.

"A man does not swear," the Chief remarked, brutally; "he says yes or
no. When my father reaches the camp of the Palefaces, he will not allude
to the Apaches; but when the Pale hunters are asleep, my father will
leave the camp and come to warn Blue-fox."

"But where shall I find you?" the monk asked, piteously, beginning to
perceive that he was destined to act as the spy of the savages in one of
their diabolical machinations.

"My father need not trouble himself about that, for I shall manage to
find him."

"Very good."

"If my father is faithful, Blue-fox will give him a buffalo skin full of
gold dust; if not, he must not hope to escape the Chief; the Apaches are
crafty, the scalp of a Chief of prayer will adorn the lance of a Chief;
I have spoken."

"You have no further orders to give me?"

"No."

"Good-bye, then."

"Till we meet again," the Apache said, with a grin.

Fray Antonio made no reply, but uttered a deep sigh, and pushed on in
the direction of the camp. The nearer he drew to it, the more difficult
did it appear to him to accomplish the sinister mission with which the
Apache Chief had intrusted him; twice or thrice the idea of flight
crossed his mind, but whither could he go? And then it was probable that
the Indians placed but slight confidence in him, and carefully watched
him in the gloom.

At length the camp appeared before the monk's startled eyes, as he could
not draw back, for the hunters had doubtless perceived him already; he
decided on pushing forward, while desperately muttering--

"The Lord have mercy upon me!"



CHAPTER III.

DOWN THE PRECIPICE.


The romancer has an incontestable advantage over the historian. Not
being obliged to restrict himself to historical documents, he bases his
work chiefly on tradition, and revels in those incidents of private life
disdained by cold and severe history, which is constrained to describe
only great events, and is not permitted to descend to the frequently
trivial causes which not only prepared, but actually brought them about.

Frequently, after a long journey, the traveller, fatigued by the vast
horizons incessantly unrolled before him, and rendered giddy by the
sharp air of the elevations along which he has been riding, looks down
on the plain, and his eye rests with indescribable pleasure on those
modest points in the landscape which at the outset he despised. In the
same way the romancer halts at the familiar episodes of the great poem,
and listens to the simple stories told him by those who were actors in
the scenes merely indicated by history. Such stories complete the dry
and stern narrative of great wars, but historians dare not transcribe
them.

It is true that in these stories ignorance is nearly always perceptible,
and prejudice very frequently; but life is found in them, for if the
narrators tell inexactly what happened, they at any rate say frankly how
they felt, what they heard and saw themselves, and the errors they
sometimes involuntarily make are not falsehoods, but relative truths,
which it is the duty of the romancer to classify and put in their proper
place.

We have several times visited the narrow defile where the Border Rifles
and the Mexicans fought the action we described in a previous volume.[1]
Bending over the precipice, with our eyes fixed on the yawning abyss
beneath us, we heard the narrative of the strange incidents of that
battle of giants, and if we had not been certain of the veracity of the
narrator, we should certainly have not only doubted but completely
denied the possibility of certain facts which are, however, rigorously
true, and which we are now about to impart to the reader.

The Border Rifles saw with a shriek of horror the two men, intertwined
like serpents, roll together over the precipice; the flashes of the
fire, which was beginning to die out for want of nourishment, after
devastating the crests of the hills, threw at intervals a lurid light
over this scene, and gave it a striking aspect.

The first moment of stupor past, John Davis, mastering with difficulty
the emotion that agitated him, sought to restore courage, if not hope,
to all these men who were crushed by the terrible catastrophe. John
Davis enjoyed, and justly so, a great reputation among the Borderers.
All know the close friendship which attached the Americans to their
chief: in several serious affairs he had displayed a coolness and
intelligence which gained him the respect and admiration of these men:
hence they immediately responded to his appeal, by grouping silently
round him, for they understood intuitively that there was only one man
among them worthy of succeeding the Jaguar, and that he was the North
American.

John Davis had guessed the feelings that agitated them, but did not
allow it to be seen: his face was pale, his appearance sad: he bent a
thoughtful glance on the rude, determined men who, leaning on their
rifles, gazed at him mournfully, and seemed already tacitly to recognize
the authority with which he was, probably, about to invest himself.

Their expectations were deceived, at least, temporarily. Davis, at this
moment, had no intention of making the Borderers elect him as their
chief: the fate of his friend entirely absorbed him, and all other
considerations disappeared in the presence of the one idea.

"Caballeros," he said, in a melancholy tone, "a terrible misfortune has
struck us. Under such circumstances, we must summon up all our courage
and resignation, for women weep, but men revenge themselves. The death
of the Jaguar is not only an immense loss for ourselves, but also for
the cause we have sworn to defend, and to which he has already given
such great proof of devotion. But, before bewailing our chief, so worthy
in every respect of the sorrow which we shall feel for him, we have one
duty to accomplish--a duty which, if we neglect it, will cause us
piercing remorse at a later date."

"Speak, speak, John Davis, we are ready to do anything you order us,"
the Borderers exclaimed unanimously.

"I thank you," the American continued, "for the enthusiasm with which
you have replied to me: I cannot believe that an intellect so vast, a
heart so noble, as that of our beloved Chief can be thus destroyed. God,
I feel convinced, would not thus have broken a cause for which we have
so long been struggling with such devotion and self-denial. Heaven will
have performed a miracle in favour of our Chief, and we shall see him
reappear among us safe and sound! But whatsoever may happen, should this
last hope be denied us, at any rate, we must not abandon like cowards,
without attempting to save him, the man who twenty times braved death
for each of us. For my part, I swear by all that is most sacred in the
world, that I will not leave this spot till I have assured myself
whether the Jaguar be dead or alive."

At these words a buzz of assent ran along his hearers, and John Davis
continued, "Who knows whether our unhappy Chief is not lying crushed,
but still breathing, at the foot of this accursed abyss, and reproaching
us for our cowardly desertion of him?"

The Border Rifles declared, with the most energetic oaths, that they
would find their Chief again, dead or alive.

"Good, my friends," the American exclaimed; "if he be unhappily dead, we
will place his body in the ground and protect his remains, so dear to us
on many accounts, from the insults of wild beasts: but, I repeat to you,
one of those presentiments which never deceive, because they come from
God, tells me that he is still alive."

"May Heaven hear you, John Davis," the Borderers shouted, "and restore
us our Chief."

"I am going to descend the precipice," the American said; "I will
inspect its most secret recesses, and before sunrise we shall know what
we have to hope or fear."

This proposal of John Davis' was greeted as it deserved, by enthusiastic
shouts. When the excitement of the hearers had slightly calmed, the
American prepared to carry out his design.

"Permit me a remark," said an old wood ranger.

"Speak, Ruperto, what is it?" Davis answered.

"I have known the spot where we now are for a long time, and have often
hunted deer and antelopes here."

"Come to facts, my friend."

"You can act as you please, John Davis, on the information I am about to
give you; by turning to the right, after marching for about three miles,
you get round the hills, and what appears to us from here a precipice,
is, in fact, only a plain, very enclosed, I allow, but easy to traverse
on horseback."

"Ah, ah," John said thoughtfully, "and what do you conclude from that,
Ruperto?"

"That it would be, perhaps, better to mount and skirt the hills."

"Yes, yes, that is a good idea, and we will take advantage of it; take
twenty men with you, Ruperto, and proceed at full speed to the plain you
allude to, for we must not throw away any chance; the rest of the band
will remain here to watch the environs, while I effect the descent of
the barranca."

"You still adhere to your idea, then?"

"More than ever."

"As you please, John Davis, as you please, though you risk your bones on
such a black night as this."

"I trust in Heaven, and I hope it will protect me."

"I hope so too for your sake; but I must be off--here's luck."

"Thanks, the same to you."

Red Ruperto then went off, followed by twenty borderers, who
spontaneously offered to accompany him, and soon disappeared in the
darkness. The descent John Davis was preparing to make, was anything but
easy. The American was too experienced a wood ranger not to know, and
hence took all proper precautions. He placed in his belt next his knife
a wide and strong axe, and fastened round his waist a rope formed of
several _reatas_. Three men seized the end of the rope, which they
turned round the stem of a tree, so as to let it out without a shock,
whenever the American desired it. As a final precaution, he lit a branch
of ocote wood, which was to serve as his guide during his perilous
descent, for the sky was perfectly black, which rendered the gloom so
thick that it was impossible to see anything two paces away. His last
measures taken with the coolness that distinguishes men of his race, the
North American pressed the hands held out to him, tried once again to
restore hope to his comrades by a few hearty words, and kneeling on the
brink of the abyss, began slowly descending.

John Davis was a man of tried courage, his life had been one continued
struggle, in which he had only triumphed through his strength of will
and energy; still, when he began descending into the barranca, he felt
chilled to the heart, and could not repress a slight start of terror,
which ran over all his limbs like an electric flash. Still, he fought
against this emotion, which is nothing but that instinct of
self-preservation which duty has placed in the heart of every man, the
bravest as the most cowardly, and continued his descent.

Although he was fastened round the waist, it was no easy task to go down
this almost perpendicular wall, to which he was compelled to cling like
a reptile, clutching at every tuft of grass or shrub he came across, or
else he had been carried away by the wind, which blew furiously, and
would have crushed him like a nutshell against the sides of the abyss.

The first minutes were the most terrible to the bold adventurer; the
feet and hands must grow accustomed to the rude task imposed on them,
and they only gradually learn to find, as it were instinctively, their
resting places; and this remark, which may appear erroneous to certain
persons, who, fortunately for themselves, have never been obliged to try
the experiment, will be recognized as rigorously true by all travellers
who have been compelled to ascend or descend mountains. After a few
minutes, when the mind remains at liberty, the body assumes of its own
accord the necessary equilibrium, the feet find secure resting places,
and the hands settle unhesitatingly on the grass or roots which offer
them the indispensable degree of resistance.

John Davis had hardly gone ten yards down, ere he found himself on a
wide ledge covered with thick shrubs; hitherto the descent had been
extremely rapid. Lighting himself by the torch, the American traversed
in every direction this species of esplanade, which was about a dozen
paces in circumference; and, on carefully examining the thick shrubs
which covered it, the adventurer perceived that the tops had been broken
as if they had received a tremendous blow.

Davis looked around him. He soon concluded that this enormous gap could
only have been made by the fall of two bodies: this remark gave him good
hope, for at so slight a distance from the mouth of the abyss, the two
enemies must have been full of life; the rapidity of their fall must
have naturally been arrested by the shrubs; they might have met at
various distances similar obstacles, and consequently have undergone
several comparatively harmless falls. This hypothesis, erroneous though
it was, still might be true.

John Davis continued his descent; the slope became constantly less
abrupt, and the adventurer met within his passage, not merely shrubs,
but clumps of trees, grouped here and there. Still, as John Davis found
no further traces, a fear fell upon him, and painfully contracted his
heart; he was afraid lest the shrubs, through their elasticity, might
have hurled the two unhappy men into space, instead of letting them
follow the slope of the precipice. This thought so powerfully occupied
the American's mind, that a deep discouragement seized upon him, and for
some moments he remained without strength or will, crouching sadly on
the ground.

But Davis was a man of too stern a character, and endowed with such an
energetic will, to give way for any length of time to despair: he soon
raised his head, and looked boldly around him.

"I must go on," he said in a firm voice. But, at the moment when he
prepared to continue his descent, he suddenly gave a start of surprise,
and uttered a cry as he rushed quickly toward a black mass, to which he
had hitherto paid but slight attention.

We once again ask our readers' pardon for the improbability of the
following detail; but we repeat that we are not explaining, but
narrating, confining ourselves to telling the truth, without pretending
to discuss the greater or less possibility of facts, which, however
extraordinary they may appear, are exactly true.

The white-headed eagle, the most powerful and the best provided of the
birds, ordinarily builds its nest on the sides of barrancas, at the top
of the loftiest trees, and chiefly those denuded of branches to a
considerable height, but they are never found on rocks. This nest,
strongly built, is composed of sticks from three to five feet in length,
fastened together and covered with Spanish braid, a species of
cryptogamic plant of the lichen family, wild grass, and large patches of
turf. When the nest is completed, it ordinarily measures from six to
seven feet in diameter, and at times the accumulation of materials there
is so considerable--for the same nest is frequently occupied for a
number of years, and receives augmentations each season--that its depth
equals its diameter. As the nest of the white-headed eagle is very
heavy, it is generally placed in the centre of a fork formed by the
fortuitous meeting of several large branches.

John Davis, by the help of his torch, had just discovered a few yards
from him, and almost on a level with the spot where he was standing, an
eagle's nest, built on the top of an immense tree, whose trunk descended
for a considerable depth in the precipice.

Two human bodies were lying stretched across this nest, and the American
only required one glance to assure himself that they were those of the
Jaguar and the Mexican Captain. They were perfectly motionless, and
still fast locked in each other's arms.

It was not at all an easy undertaking to reach this nest, which was
nearly ten yards from the sides of the precipice; but John Davis did not
give in on that account; now that he had found the body of his Chief
again, he was determined to learn, at all risks, whether he were alive
or dead. But what means was he to employ to acquire this certainty? How
reach the tree, which oscillated violently with every gust? After ripe
reflection, the American recognized the fact that he could never climb
the tree alone; he therefore placed his hands funnel-wise to his month,
and gave the shout agreed on with his comrades. The latter drew up the
reata, and after half an hour of unheard of fatigue, Davis found himself
again among his comrades.

The Border Rifles crowded round him eagerly to ask the details of his
expedition, which he hastened to give them, and which were received with
shouts of joy by all. Then happened a thing which proves how great was
the affection all these men bore their Chief; without exchanging a word,
or coming to any agreement, all procured torches, and, as if obeying the
same impulse, began descending the abyss.

Through the multiplicity of torches, which spread abroad sufficient
light, and, before all, the skill of these men, accustomed since
childhood to run about the forests, and clamber up rocks and precipices
in sport, this descent was effected without any further misfortunes to
deplore, and the whole band was soon assembled at the spot whence the
American had first discovered the nest of the white-headed eagle.

All was in the same state as Davis left it: the two bodies were still
motionless, and still intertwined. Were they dead, or only in a faint?
Such was the question all persons asked themselves, and no one could
answer it. All at once a loud noise was heard, and the bottom of the
barranca was illumined by a number of torches. Ruperto's party had
arrived. Guided by the flashes they saw running along the sides of the
precipice, the latter soon discovered the nest, and the truth was
revealed to them.

The arrival of Ruperto and his comrades was a great comfort to the
Americans, for now nothing would be more easy than to reach the nest.
Four powerful adventurers, armed with axes, glided along the side of the
precipice to the foot of the tree, which they began felling with hurried
strokes, while John Davis, and the men with him, threw their reatas
round the top branches of the tree, and gradually drew it towards them.
The tree began gracefully bending, and at length lay on the side of the
barranca, without receiving any very serious shock.

John Davis immediately entered the nest, and drawing his knife from his
belt, bent over the body of the Jaguar, and put the blade to the young
man's lips. There was a moment of profound anxiety for these men; their
silence was so complete, that the beating of their hearts might be
heard. They stood with their eyes obstinately fixed on the American,
daring scarcely to breathe, and, as it were, hanging on his lips. At
length John rose, and placed the knife near a torch; the blade was
slightly tarnished.

"He lives, brothers, he lives!" he shouted.

At these news the Border Rifles broke out into such a howl of joy and
happiness, that the nightbirds, startled in their gloomy hiding places,
rose on all sides, and began flying heavily backwards and forwards,
while uttering discordant and deafening cries. But this was not all: the
next point was to get the Jaguar out of the precipice, and let him down
into the gorge. We have said that the two bodies were closely
intertwined. The adventurers felt but slender sympathy for Captain
Melendez, the primary cause of the catastrophe, which had so nearly
proved fatal to the Jaguar; hence they were not at all eager to assure
themselves whether he were dead or alive; and when the moment arrived to
find means for conveying the body of their Chief into the barranca, a
very serious and stormy discussion arose on the subject of the Mexican
officer. The majority of the adventurers were of opinion that the
easiest way of separating the two bodies was by cutting off the
Captain's arms, and throwing his body into the abyss, to serve as food
for wild beasts. Those who were more excited talked about stabbing him
at once, so as to make quite sure that he did not recover. Some even had
seized their knives and machetes to carry out this resolution, but John
Davis suddenly interfered.

"Stop!" he shouted, eagerly, "the Jaguar lives; he is still your Chief,
so leave him to treat this man as he thinks proper. Who knows whether
the life of this officer may not be more valuable to us than his death?"

The adventurers were not easily induced to spare the Captain, and
adhered for a while to their proposal of stabbing him, after cutting off
his arms. Still, owing to the influence he enjoyed with the band, Davis
succeeded in making them listen to reason, and they began arranging how
to get the bodies down.


[1] See Border Rifles, same Publishers.



CHAPTER IV.

TWO ENEMIES.


In the great work of creation, God indubitably most profoundly set the
seal of his omnipotence in the heart of forests. The ocean, despite its
immense extent, offers sailors only a despairing monotony, or sudden
upheavals, which fill the mind with a secret and invincible terror. The
mountains which stud the globe, and elevate to immense heights their
serrated peaks, covered with eternal snow, only inspire terror, and
represent to the astonished eyes of the tourist a terrific maze of chaos
and travailing nature.

But when you reach the verge of one of those splendid oases of verdure
which are called virgin forests, you undergo involuntarily an impression
of religious contemplation and gentle melancholy at the sight of these
thousand arches of foliage, intertwined like the ceiling of an old
Gothic church, in which the moss-clad trunks of centennial oaks
represent the clustered columns, rising at one spot only a few feet from
the ground, at others soaring to the skies.

Then, animated by the purer air, breathing with the full power of the
lungs, attracted and fascinated by the mobile and infinite perspectives
that open out on all sides--feeling the movement easier on the soft
carpet of soil and dust accumulated by departed ages, the traveller's
step grows freer, his glance more piercing, and his hand more firm, and
he begins sighing for the hazardous and masculine life of the desert.
The further he proceeds beneath these shifting shadows, while life is
as noisy all around as a rising tide, the more does the freshness which
circulates through the foliage purify the blood, and strengthen the
limbs; and he comprehends more and more the irresistible attractions of
the forest, and the religious love the wood rangers have for it.

Men habituated to a desert life are never willing to quit it again; for
they understand all its voices, have sounded all its mysteries, and to
them the forest is a world which they love much as the sailor does the
sea. When a glowing sun enlivens the wild and picturesque landscape,
when the glistening snow on the far-off peaks stands out like a silver
ribbon above the masses of verdure, when the birds twitter among the
leaves, the insects buzz on the grass, and the wild beasts in their
unknown lairs, add their solemn sounds to the concert;--at such a moment
all invites reverie and contemplation, and the wood rangers feel
themselves the nearer to God, because they are the further from man.

These bold explorers of the desert are picked men, and powerfully built,
kept constantly in movement, and forced each second into a contest with
the obstacles that incessantly arise before them. No danger terrifies
them, no difficulty arrests them; perils they brave, difficulties they
surmount as if in sport; for, hurled by the divine will beyond the pale
of common law, their existence is only a succession of strange incidents
and feverish adventures, which cause them to live a century in a few
moments.

The hesitation of the Border Rifles was short; for these half-savage
men, an obstacle to be overcome could only prove a stimulus for their
minds, so fertile in resources.

The two wounded men, securely fastened on cross pieces of wood by
reatas, were let down in turn to the bottom of the precipice, and laid
on the bank of a small stream, which ran noiselessly through this plain,
forming the most capricious windings. John Davis, fearing some outbreak
on the part of his angry comrades, himself undertook to let the Captain
down, in order to be certain that no accident would happen to him.

When the wounded men had been removed from the eagle's nest, which had
so miraculously saved them, the adventurers glided along the cliff with
singular address and rapidity, and the whole band was soon collected on
the bank of the stream. As is frequently the case in a mountainous
country, the bottom of the barranca was a rather wide prairie, sheltered
between two lofty hills, which enclosed it on the right and left, thus
forming a species of gorge, which, at the spot where the fight took
place, was really a gulf of great depth.

John Davis, without losing a moment, lavished on the Jaguar all the
attention his state demanded; while Ruperto, though much against the
grain, did the same for the Mexican Captain, by the American's
peremptory orders.

During the various events we have described, the whole night had slipped
away, and the sun rose at the moment the adventurers completed their
perilous descent. The country then resumed its real aspect, and what had
appeared by the flickering light of the torches a desolate and arid
desert, became a charming and smiling landscape.

The sun has enormous power over the human organisation: it not only
dispels those sombre phantoms which are produced by the darkness, but
also revives the mind and restores to the body its elasticity and
vigour, which have been neutralised by the piercing cold of night. With
day, hope and joy returned to the heart of the adventurers; a joy
rendered more lively still by the sight of the cases hurled over the
previous night by the Mexicans, and which, though crushed by their fall,
had lost none of their precious contents. Hence, the heroic courage and
devotion of the Mexicans had no other result than allowing them to die
bravely at their posts, for their sacrifice had not obtained the
anticipated result.

The prairie soon assumed a lively aspect, to which it certainly was not
accustomed; the adventurers lit fires, erected jacals, and the camp was
formed in a few minutes. For a very lengthened period Davis' efforts to
bring his friend to life remained sterile; still, the Jaguar had
received no wound; he did not seem to have a limb broken; his syncope
resulted solely from the moral effect of his horrible fall.

For all that, the American, far from giving in, redoubled his care and
attention, and at length, saw his efforts crowned with success. The
Jaguar made a weak movement, his lips parted as if he were about to
speak, he raised his hand to his brow, gave a deep sigh, and partly
opened his eyes, but closed them instantly, probably dazzled by the
brilliant sunlight.

"At length he is saved!" the American exclaimed, joyously.

The adventurers surrounded their Chief, anxiously watching his every
movement. The young man soon opened his eyes again, and, helped by
Davis, managed to sit up. A slight patch of red was visible on his
cheekbones, but the rest of his face retained an ashen and cadaverous
hue. He looked slowly round him, and the absent expression of his glance
gradually changed into a gleam of intelligence. "Drink!" he muttered in
a hollow and inarticulate voice.

John Davis uncorked his flask, bent over the wounded man, and placed it
to his lips. The latter drank eagerly for two or three minutes, and then
stopped with a sigh of relief.

"I fancied I was dead," he said.

"By Heaven!" John Davis remarked, "It was a close shave."

"Is Captain Melendez still alive?"

"Yes."

"What state is he in?"

"No worse than your own."

"All the better."

"Shall we hang him?" Ruperto remarked, still adhering to his notion.

The Jaguar started, frowned, and then shouted with greater strength than
he might be supposed to possess--

"On your life, not a hair of his head must fall; you answer for him to
me body for body."

And he added in a low voice, unintelligible by the hearers, "I swore
it--"

"'Tis a pity," Ruperto went on. "I am certain that hanging a Mexican
Captain would have produced an excellent effect through the country."

The Jaguar made a sign.

"All right, all right," the adventurer continued; "if it is not pleasant
to you, we will say no more about it. No matter, that is a funny notion
of yours."

"Enough," the young man said; "I have given my orders."

So soon as he was alone. Captain Melendez let his head fall on his
hands, and tried to re-establish the balance in his mind and arrange his
ideas, which the shock he had received had utterly disordered. Still he
gradually yielded to a species of lethargy, the natural result of his
fall, and soon fell into a deep sleep.

He slept peacefully for several hours, nothing happening to disturb his
repose; and when he awoke he found himself quite a new man; the
restorative sleep he had enjoyed had completely rested his nervous
system, his strength had returned, and it was with an indescribable
feeling of joy that he rose and walked a few steps on the prairie. With
calmness of mind courage returned, and he was ready to recommence the
contest. He noticed, too, with a certain degree of pleasure, that the
adventurers left him at perfect liberty, and did not appear to pay any
attention to him.

Ruperto returned, but this time he had put off his mocking air, and
carried some provisions in a basket. The adventurer offered them to the
Captain with rough politeness, in which, however, the desire to be
agreeable was perceptible. The Captain readily accepted the food, and
ate with an appetite that surprised himself after so serious a fall.

"Well," Ruperto remarked, "did I not tell you that you would be soon
cured? It is just the same with the Captain--he is as fresh as a
floripondio, and was never better in his life."

"Tell me, my friend," Don Juan answered, "may I be allowed to speak with
the Chief?"

"Very easily--the more so, as it seems that he has something to say to
you."

"Indeed."

"Yes, and he even ordered me to ask you if you would allow him an
interview after dinner."

"Most heartily; I am entirely at his orders; especially," the Captain
added, with a smile, "since I am his prisoner."

"That is true; well, eat quietly, and while you are doing so I will
convey your message."

Hereupon Ruperto left the Captain, who did not require the invitation to
be repeated, but vigorously attacked the provisions placed before him.
His meal was soon over, and he had been walking up and down for some
time, when he saw the Jaguar approach. The two men bowed ceremoniously,
and examined each other for some moments with the greatest attention.

Up to this moment they had hardly seen one another; their interview of
the previous evening had taken place in the darkness, and then fought
obstinately; but they had found no time to form mutual opinions as they
now did with the infallible glance of men who are accustomed to judge in
a second, persons with whom they have dealings. The Jaguar was the first
to break the silence.

"You will excuse, Caballero," he said, "the rusticity of my reception:
banished men have no other palace save the dome of the forests that
shelter them."

The Captain bowed.

"I was far from expecting," he said, "so much courtesy from--"

He stopped, not daring to utter the word that rose to his lips, through
fear of offending the other.

"From bandits, I suppose, Captain?" the Jaguar replied, with a smile.
"Oh, no denial, I know what we are called at Mexico. Yes, Caballero, at
the present day we are outlaws, border ruffians, freebooters; tomorrow,
perhaps, we shall be heroes and saviours of a people; but so the world
goes; but let us leave that. You wished to speak to me, I heard."

"Did you not also evince a desire, Caballero, to have an interview with
me?"

"I did, Captain; I have only one question to ask you, though--will you
promise me to answer it?"

"On my honour, if it be possible."

The Jaguar reflected for a moment, and then continued--

"You hate me, I suppose?"

"What makes you imagine that?"

"How do I know?" the Jaguar replied, with embarrassment; "a thousand
reasons, as, for instance, the obstinacy with which you sought to take
my life a few hours agone."

The Captain drew himself up, and his face assumed a stern expression
which it had not worn hitherto.

"I pledge you my word to be frank with you, Caballero," he said.

"I thank you beforehand."

"Between yourself and me, personally, no hatred can exist--at any rate,
not on my side; I do not know you, I only saw you yesterday for the
first time; never, to my cognizance, have you come across my path
before, hence I have no reason to hate you. But beside the man there is
the soldier; as an officer in the Mexican army--"

"Enough, Captain," the young man sharply interrupted him; "you have told
me all I desired to know; political hatreds, however terrible they may
be, are not eternal. You do your duty as I believe I do mine--that is
to say, as well as you possibly can, and to that I have no objection.
Unfortunately, instead of fighting side by side, we are in opposite
camps; fatality decrees it so; perhaps, some day these unhappy
dissensions will cease, and then, who knows whether we may not be
friends?"

"We are so already, Caballero," the Captain said, warmly, as he held out
his hand to the Jaguar.

The latter pressed it vigorously.

"Let us each follow the road traced for us," he said; "but if we defend
a different cause, let us maintain, when the contest is raging, that
esteem and friendship which two loyal enemies ought to feel, who have
measured their swords and found them of equal length."

"Agreed," said the Captain.

"One word more," the Jaguar continued. "I must respond to your frankness
by equal frankness."

"Speak."

"I presume that the question I asked surprised you?"

"I confess it."

"Well, I will tell you why I asked it."

"What good will that do?"

"I must; between us two henceforth there must be nothing hidden. In
spite of the hatred I ought to feel for you, I feel myself attracted to
you by a secret sympathy, which I cannot explain, but which urges me to
reveal to you a secret on which the happiness of my life depends."

"I do not understand you, Caballero; the language seems strange to me.
Explain yourself, in Heaven's name."

A feverish flush suddenly covered the Jaguar's face.

"Listen, Captain, if you only know me today for the first time, your
name has been ringing in my ears for many months past."

The officer fixed an inquiring glance on the young man.

"Yes, yes," the latter continued, with increasing animation, "she ever
has your name on her lips--she only speaks of you. Only a few days
back--but why recall that? Suffice it for you to know that I love her to
distraction."

"Carmela?" the Captain muttered.

"Yes," the Jaguar exclaimed, "you love her too!"

"I do," the Captain replied, simply, as he looked on the ground with an
air of embarrassment.

There was a lengthened silence between the two men. It was easy to
discover that each of them was having an internal fight; at length the
Jaguar managed to quell the storm that growled in his heart, and went
on, in a firm voice--

"Thanks for your loyal answer, Captain; in loving Carmela you take
advantage of your good right, just as I do; let this love, instead of
separating, form a stronger link between us. Carmela is worthy of the
love of an honourable man; let us each love her, and carry on an open
warfare, without treachery or trickery; all the better for the man she
may prefer. She alone must be judge between us; let her follow her
heart, for she is too pure and good to deceive herself and make a bad
choice."

"Good!" the Captain exclaimed, enthusiastically; "You are a man after my
own heart, Jaguar, and whatever may happen, I shall always think with
gladness that I have pressed your honest hand, and am worthy of being
counted among your friends. Yes, I have a deep and sincere love for
Carmela; for a smile from her rosy lips I would joyfully lay down my
life; but I swear that I will follow the noble example you give me, and
the struggle shall be as honourable on my side as on yours."

"Viva Cristo!" the young man said with frank and simple delight, "I was
sure we should end by coming to an understanding."

"To produce that," the Captain remarked, with a smile, "we only needed
the opportunity for an explanation."

"Canarios, I trust that it will not be repeated under similar
conditions, for it is a perfect miracle that we are still alive."

"I am not at all anxious to repeat the experiment."

"Nor I either, I swear to you. But the sun is rapidly declining on the
horizon: I need not tell you that you are free, and at liberty to go
wherever you please, if it is not your intention to remain any length of
time with us: I have had a horse got ready which you will permit me to
offer you."

"I gladly accept it: I do not wish to have any false pride with you, and
afoot in these regions, which are quite strange to me, I should feel
greatly embarrassed."

"That need not trouble you, for I will give you a guide to accompany
you, till you get in the right road."

"A thousand thanks."

"Where do you propose going? Of course, if my question be indiscreet, I
do not expect you to answer it."

"I have nothing to hide from you; I intend joining General Rubio as
quickly as possible, to whom I must report the accident that has
happened to the conducta de plata, and the terrible catastrophe of which
I have been the victim."

"It is the fortune of war, Captain."

"I do not reproach you; I merely say it was an unfortunate affair."

"Had it been possible to save the conducta by courage and devotion, you
would have doubtless done it, for you performed your duty worthily."

"I thank you for this praise."

"It will be easy for you to reach General Rubio's camp before sunset."

"Do you think so?"

"I am sure of it, for you are only three leagues at the most from it."

"So near as that? Had I but known it," the Captain said in a tone of
regret.

"Yes, but you were ignorant of the fact. But, nonsense, what good is it
returning to that, you will take your revenge some day or the other."

"You are right; what is done cannot be undone, so I will be off."

"Already?"

"I must."

"That is true."

The Jaguar made a signal to a borderer standing a short distance off.

"The Captain's horse," he said.

Five minutes later, this borderer, who was no other than Ruperto,
reappeared, leading two horses, one of which was a magnificent mustang,
with delicate limbs, and flashing eye. The Captain reached the saddle at
one leap, and Ruperto was already mounted. The two enemies, henceforth
friends, shook hands for the last time, and after an affectionate
parting, the Captain let his horse go.

"Mind, no tricks, Ruperto!" the Jaguar said in a peremptory voice to the
adventurer.

"All right, all right!" the latter growled in reply.

The horsemen left the prairie. The Jaguar looked after them as long as
he could see them, and then returned thoughtfully to the jacal, which
served as his tent.



CHAPTER V.

GENERAL RUBIO.


As the opportunity offers itself, let us say a few words about the
military organization of the United States of Mexico, an organization as
singular as all the rest of the machinery by means of which the strange
government of this eccentric Republic does its work.

A military uniform generally pleases the masses; a soldier's life has
something in it so independent of ordinary life, that all nations more
or less allow themselves to be carried away and seduced by the glitter
of embroidery and epaulettes, the rolling of drums, and the shrill notes
of the bugles. Young nations, especially, like to play at soldiering, to
make standards flutter, horses curvet, and mighty sabres flash.

The struggle of Mexico with Spain lasted ten years, constant, feverish,
and obstinate: it was fertile in terrible events and striking incidents.
The Mexicans, held by their oppressors in the most complete subjection,
were as simple at the beginning of the revolution as at the period of
the conquest: the majority did not know how to load a gun, and none of
them had ever had firearms in their hands. Still, excited by the ardent
desire for liberty which boiled in their hearts, their progress in
military tactics was rapid, and the Spaniards soon learned at their own
expense that these wretched guerillas, commanded by priests and curates,
who at the outset were only armed with lances and arrows, became at
length capable of responding to their platoon fire, dying bravely
without yielding an inch, and inflicting terrible defeats upon them. The
enthusiasm and hatred of the oppressors had made soldiers of all the men
capable of bearing arms.

When the independence was proclaimed and the war ended, the part played
by the army was at an end in a country which, without immediate
neighbours, had no foreign intervention to apprehend in its internal
affairs and had no invasion to fear. The army, therefore, ought to have
laid down the arms which had so valiantly achieved the liberty of the
country, and returned peaceably home. Such was its duty, and such was
expected; but this was a great mistake. The army felt itself strong and
feared; hence it wished to keep the place it had assumed, and, impose
conditions in its turn.

Having no longer enemies to combat, the Mexican army constituted itself,
or its private authority, the arbiter of the destinies of the country it
had been called out to defend: in order to secure promotion among the
officers, the army made revolutions. Then commenced that era of
pronunciamentos, in which Mexico is fatally ensnared, and which is
leading it irresistibly to that gulf in which its independence, so
dearly acquired, and even its nationality, will be finally wrecked.

From the sub-lieutenant to the general of division, each officer made a
stepping stone of a pronunciamento to gain a step--the lieutenant to
become captain; the captain, colonel; the colonel, general; and the
general, president of the Mexican Republic. There are generally three to
four presidents at once; often enough there are five, or even six; a
single president would be regarded as an extraordinary phenomenon--a
_rara avis._ We believe that since the proclamation of Independence no
single president has governed the country for six consecutive months.
The result of this state of things is, that the army has fallen into
extreme discredit; and while the profession of arms was honourable at
the period of the struggle against the Spaniards, it is exactly the
reverse now. The army is, therefore, necessarily recruited from the
lowest classes of society, that is to say, from bandits, leperos, and
even the villains condemned for robbery or assassination.

All these men, on reaching certain grades, merely change their uniform,
while retaining in the new rank where accident places them their vices
and low habits; hence young men of good family are not at all inclined
to accept an epaulette, and despise a profession regarded with so little
honour by the respectable classes of society. In a corps so badly
organised, where discipline does not exist, and military education is a
nullity, any _esprit de corps_ must be unknown, and that is the case.
And yet this army has been good, and it counts magnificent exploits on
its books; its soldiers and officers displayed great bravery in the
critical phases of the War of Independence.

But at the present day everything is dead, the feeling of duty is
despised, and honour--that powerful stimulus to the soldier--is
trampled under foot. Duelling, that necessary evil to a certain point to
make the soldier respect the cloth he wears, is forbidden under the
severest penalties; and if you horsewhip a Mexican officer, or call him
a coward or a scoundrel, the only risk you run is of being treacherously
assassinated.

It needs a lengthened apprenticeship to become a soldier and obtain the
proper spirit; it is only after long and serious study, when he has
suffered great privations, and looked death several times in the face,
that a man acquires that knowledge and coolness which enable him to
sacrifice his life without calculation, and fulfil the duties of a true
soldier.

Most of the Mexican generals would blush at their ignorance if they
found themselves face to face with the lowest non-commissioned officer
of our army; for they know absolutely nothing, and have not the least
idea of their art. With Mexican officers all is reduced to this:
changing the scarf. The colonel wears a red one, the brigadier-general's
is green, and that of the general of division white. It is for the
purpose of obtaining the last colour that all the pronunciamentos are
made.

Badly clothed, badly fed, and badly paid, the Mexican troops are a
scourge to the civilian population, whom they shamelessly and pitilessly
squeeze upon the slightest pretext. From what we have written, it is
easy to see how an armed corps thus disorganised must be dangerous to
everybody, for it knows no restraint, and lives beyond the law which it
despises. The present state of Mexico proves the incontestable truth of
our assertions.

We have not wished to enter into personalities, but treated the question
generally, seeking to show what it is really. There are, we allow, some
officers of merit--a few truly honourable men--in this unhappy army; but
they are pearls lost in the mud, and the number is so limited, that if
we quoted all their names, we should not reach a hundred. This is the
more sad, because the further Mexico goes, the nearer it approaches the
catastrophe; and, ere long, the evil that undermines this fair country
will be incurable, and it will sink for ever--not under the blows of
strangers, but assassinated by its own children.

General Don José Maria Rubio was in no way distinguished from the herd
of Mexican officers, but he possessed over those who surrounded him the
immense advantage of being a soldier of the war of Independence, and in
him experience amply compensated for his lack of education. His history
was simple, and may be told in a few words.

Son of an evangelista or public writer at Tampico, he had with great
difficulty learned a little reading and writing under the auspices of
his father; this pretence at education, slight as it was, was destined
to be of great utility to him at a later date. The great uprising, of
which the celebrated Fray Hidalgo was the promoter, and which
inaugurated the revolution, found young José Maria wandering about the
neighbourhood of Tampico, where he gained a livelihood by the most
heterogeneous trades. The young man--a little bit of a muleteer, a
little bit of a fisherman, and a good deal of a smuggler--intoxicated
by the smell of gunpowder, and fascinated by the omnipotent influence
Hidalgo exercised over all those who approached him, threw his gun over
his shoulder, mounted the first horse he came across, and gaily followed
the revolutionary band. From that moment his life was only one long
succession of combats.

He became in a short time, thanks to his courage, energy, and presence
of mind, one of the guerillas most feared by the Spaniards; always the
first in attack, the last to retreat. Chief of a cuadrilla composed of
picked men, to whom the most daring and wild expeditions appeared but
child's play, and favoured by constant good luck, for fortune ever loves
the rash, José Maria soon became a terror to the Spaniards, and his mere
name inspired them with indescribable terror. After serving in turn
under all the heroes of the Mexican war of Independence, and fighting
bravely by their side, peace found him a brigadier-general.

General Rubio was not ambitious; he was a brave and honest soldier, who
loved his profession passionately, and who needed to render him happy
the roll of the drum, the lustre of arms, and military life in its
fullest extent. When he fought, the idea never occurred to him that the
war would end some day or other; and hence he was quite surprised and
perfectly demoralised when peace was made and independence proclaimed.

The worthy General looked round him. Everybody was preparing to retire
to the bosom of his family, and enjoy a repose do dearly purchased. Don
José Maria might perhaps have desired nothing better than to follow the
example; but his family was the army, and he had, or at least was
acquainted with, no other. During the ten years' fighting which had just
elapsed, the General had completely lost out of sight all the relations
he possessed. His father, whose death he learned accidentally, was the
sole person whose influence might have brought him to abandon a
military career, but the paternal hearth was cold. Nothing attracted him
to the province, and he therefore remained under the banner, though not
through ambition. We repeat that the worthy soldier did himself justice,
and recognised the fact that he had attained a position far superior to
any he might ever have dared to desire; but he could not live alone or
abandon old friends with whom he had so long suffered, combated--in a
word, shared good and evil fortune.

The different Chiefs, who immediately began coveting power, and
succeeded each other in the presidential chair, far from fearing the
general, whose simple and honest character was known to them, on the
contrary sought his friendship, and lavished on him proofs of the most
frank and real protection; for they felt convinced that he would never
abuse their confidence in him.

At the period when the Texans began agitating and claiming their
independence, the Mexican Government, deceived at the outset by the
agents appointed to watch that state, sent insufficient forces to
re-establish order, and crush the insurgents: but the movement soon
assumed such a distinctly revolutionary character, that the President
found it urgent to make an effective demonstration. Unfortunately it was
too late; the dissatisfaction had spread: it was no longer a question of
suppressing a revolt, but stifling a revolution, which is not at all the
same thing.

The President of the Mexican Republic then learned at his own cost that,
in every human question, there is something more powerful than the brute
force of bayonets: it is the idea whose time has come and hour struck.
The troops sent to Texas were beaten and driven back on all sides; in
short, they were compelled to treat with the insurgents, and withdraw
ignominiously.

The government could not, and would not, accept such a dishonouring
check inflicted by badly-armed and undisciplined bands, and they
resolved to make a last and decisive effort. Numerous troops were massed
on the Texan frontiers; and to terrify the insurgents, and finish with
them at one blow, a grand military demonstration was made.

But the war then changed its character: the Texans, nearly all North
Americans, skilful hunters, indefatigable marchers, and marksmen of
proverbial reputation, broke up into small bands, and instead of
offering the Mexican troops a front, which would have enabled them to
outmanoeuvre and crush them, they began a hedge war, full of tricks and
ambushes, after the manner of the Vendeans, the first result of which
was to enormously fatigue the soldiers by compelling them to make
continual marches and counter-marches, and produced among them
discouragement and demoralization, by compelling to fight against a
shifting foe, whom they knew to be everywhere, and yet could never
seize.

The position became more and more critical. These outlaws, branded with
the epithets of bandits, border ruffians, and freebooters, whom they
affected to confound with the villains who congregate in these
countries, and whom they obstinately treated as such by granting them no
quarter, and shooting them without trial wherever they were captured:
these men, now disciplined, hardened, and strong in the moral support of
their fellow citizens, who applauded their successes, and put up vows
for them, had boldly raised the flag of Texan independence, and after
several engagements, in which they decimated the troops sent against
them, compelled the latter to recognize them as the avowed defenders of
an honourable cause.

Among the numerous generals of the republic, the president at length
chose the only man capable of repairing the successive disasters
undergone by the government. General Don José Maria Rubio was invested
with the supreme command of the troops detached to act against Texas.
This choice was most lucky; the general, an honest man and brave
soldier, was incapable of selling himself, however great the price
offered. Hence there was no reason to fear treachery from him, from
which others, less susceptible or more avaricious than he was, had not
recoiled. As an old soldier of the war of Independence, and ex-guerilla,
Don José Maria was thoroughly conversant with all the tricks, and was
the very man to fight with advantage against the foes that awaited him.

Unfortunately, this selection was made very late. Still, the General,
while perfectly comprehending the immense responsibility he assumed,
accepted without a murmur the rude task imposed on him. Certain men have
the incontestable privilege of being born for the positions they occupy;
their intellect seems to grow with the situation; made for great things,
they ever remain on a level with events, whatever the nature of the
latter may be. The General possessed this precious faculty; at the first
glance he judged his enemies with that coolness which renders old
soldiers so strong, and his plan was formed in a few minutes.

He immediately changed the tactics employed by his predecessors, and
adopted a system diametrically opposite. Instead of fatiguing his troops
by purposeless marches which had no result, he seized on the strongest
positions, scattered his troops through cantonments, where they
supported each other, and in case of need could all he assembled under
his orders within four-and-twenty hours.

When these precautions were taken, still keeping his forces in hand, he
prudently remained on the defensive, and instead of marching forward,
watched with indefatigable patience for the opportunity to fall on the
enemy suddenly and crush him.

The Texan Chiefs soon comprehended all the danger of these new and
skilful tactics. In fact, they had changed parts; instead of being
attacked, the insurgents were obliged to become the assailants, which
made them lose all the advantages of their position, by compelling them
to concentrate their troops, and make a demonstration of strength,
contrary to their usual habits of fighting.

To the young officers who murmured at the plan adopted by the general,
and made sarcastic remarks on his prudence, the latter replied with a
smile that there was no hurry, that war was a game of skill in which the
cleverest man won; and that he must not, for the sake of little lustre,
let himself be led away to compromise the success of an enterprise
which, with a little patience, must lead to certain success. The result
proved that the general reasoned correctly, and that his plan was good.

The insurgents, reduced to inactivity by the system the new Chief of the
Mexican army adopted, tried several times to attack his entrenchments,
and draw him out; but the general contented himself with killing as many
of them as he could, and would not move a step forward.

The conducta de plata intrusted to Captain Melendez had an immense
importance in the eyes of the needy government at the capital; the
dollars must at all hazards reach Mexico in safety; the more so, because
for some time past the arrival of coin from Texas had become desperately
irregular, and threatened to leave off altogether ere long.

General Rubio found himself reluctantly compelled to modify temporarily
the line he had traced; he did not doubt that the insurgents, advised of
the passage of the conducta, would make the greatest efforts to
intercept and seize it, for they also suffered from a great want of
money, and the millions sent to Mexico were of the utmost importance to
them. Hence their plans must be foiled, and the conducta saved. For this
purpose the General collected a large body of troops, placed himself at
their head, and advanced by forced marches to the entrance of the
defile, where, from the reports of his spies, he knew that the
insurgents were ambuscaded; then, as we have seen, he sent off a sure
man (or whom he supposed to be) to Captain Melendez, to warn him of his
approach, and put him on his guard.

We have narrated in the "Border Rifles" what took place, and how truly
worthy the General's express was of the confidence placed in him.

The Mexican camp stood in the centre of a beautiful plain, facing the
defile through which the conducta must pass, according to the General's
instructions. It was evening, and the sun had set for about an hour. Don
José Maria, rendered anxious by the Captain's delay, and beginning to
suspect a mishap, had sent off scouts in different directions to bring
him news, and a prey to an agitation, which each moment that passed
augmented, was walking anxiously about his tent, cursing and swearing in
a low voice, frowning and stopping every now and then to listen to those
thousand noises which arise at night without apparent cause, and pass as
if borne on the wings of the Djinns.

General Don José Maria Rubio was still a young man; he was about
forty-two, though he seemed older, through the fatigues of a military
life, which had left rude marks on his martial and open countenance; he
was tall and well-built; his muscular limbs, his wide and projecting
chest denoted great vigour; and though his close-shaven hair was
beginning to turn grey, his black eye had a brilliancy full of youth and
intelligence.

Contrary to the habits of Mexican general officers, who, under all
circumstances, make a great display of embroidery, and are gilded and
plumed like charlatans, his uniform had a simplicity and severity which
added to his military appearance, and gave him that aspect of reflection
and majesty which is so befitting the chief of an army.

A sabre and a pair of holster pistols were carelessly thrown across a
map on the table in the centre of the room, over which the General
frequently bent in his agitated walk. The gallop of a horse, at first
distant, but which rapidly drew nearer, was heard. The sentinel outside
the tent challenged, "Who goes there?"

The horseman stopped, leapt to the ground, and a moment later the
curtain of the tent was thrust aside, and a man appeared.

It was Captain Don Juan Melendez.

"Here you are, at last!" the General exclaimed, as his countenance grew
brighter.

But on noticing the impression of sorrow spread over the officer's
features, the General, who had walked two steps toward him, stopped, and
his face again assumed an anxious look.

"Oh, oh!" he said, "What can have happened? Captain, has any mishap
occurred to the conducta?"

The officer bowed his head.

"What is the meaning of this, Caballero?" the General continued,
angrily; "Have you suddenly grown dumb?"

The Captain made an effort. "No, General," he answered.

"The conducta! Where is the conducta?" he went on, violently.

"Captured!" Don Juan replied, in a hollow voice.

"Viva Dios!" the General shouted, as he gave him a terrible glance, and
stamped his foot: "The conducta captured, and yourself alive to bring me
the news?"

"I could not get myself killed."

"I really believe, Heaven pardon me!" the General said, ironically,
"that you have not even received a scratch."

"It is true."

The General walked up and down the tent in the utmost agitation. "And
your soldiers, Caballero," he went on, a minute later, stopping before
the officer, "I suppose they fled at the first shot?"

"My soldiers are dead, General."

"What do you say?"

"I say, General, that my soldiers fell to the last man defending the
trust confided to their honour."

"Hum, hum!" the General remarked, "Are they all dead?"

"Yes, General, all lie in a bloody grave; I am the only survivor of
fifty brave and devoted men."

There was a second silence. The General knew the Captain too well to
doubt his courage and honour. He began to suspect a mystery.

"But I sent you a guide," he at length said.

"Yes, General, and it was that guide who led us into the trap laid by
the insurgents."

"A thousand demons! If the scoundrel----"

"He is dead," the Captain interrupted him, "I killed him."

"Good. But there is something about the affair I cannot understand."

"General," the young man exclaimed, with some animation, "though the
conducta is lost, the fight was glorious for the Mexican name. Our
honour has not suffered; we were crushed by numbers."

"Come, Captain, you are one of those men above suspicion, whom not the
slightest stain can affect. If necessary, I would give bail for your
loyalty and bravery before the world. Report to me frankly, and without
any beating round the bush, all that has happened, and I will believe
you; give me the fullest details about this action, in order that I may
know whether I have to pity or punish you."

"Listen, then, General. But I swear to you that if after my report the
slightest doubt remains in your heart as to my honour and the devotion
of my soldiers, I will blow out my brains in your presence."

"Speak first, Caballero, we will see afterwards what your best course
should be."

The Captain bowed, and began an exact report of what had taken place.



CHAPTER VI.

THE HUNTER'S COUNCIL.


We will now return to Tranquil, whom we have too long neglected. The
Canadian had left his friends two musket shots from the Texan
encampment, intending, were it required, to call in Carmela: but that
was not necessary; the young man, though unwillingly, had consented to
all the Canadian asked of him, with which the latter was delighted, for
without knowing exactly why, he would have been sorry to facilitate an
interview between the young people.

Immediately after his conversation with the leader of the Freebooters,
the hunter rose, and, in spite of the Jaguar's efforts to retain him,
left the camp. He then remounted his horse, and, only half satisfied by
his conversation with the Jaguar, returned thoughtfully to the spot
where his friends were camping. The latter were awaiting him anxiously,
and Carmela especially was suffering from a terrible uneasiness.

It was a strange fact, which women alone can explain, that the maiden,
perhaps unconsciously, entertained toward the Jaguar and Captain
Melendez feelings which she was afraid to analyze, but which led her to
take an equal interest in the fate of those two men, and fear a
collision between them, whatever the result might have proved. But for
all that, it is certain that if she had been obliged to explain the
reason which impelled her to act thus, she would have been unable to
answer; and had anybody told her that she loved one or the other, she
would have energetically protested; under the honest conviction that she
spoke the truth.

Still, she felt herself, perhaps from different motives, irresistibly
attracted toward them. She started at their approach; the sound of their
voices caused her an internal thrill of happiness; if she remained long
without news of them, she grew sad, pensive, and anxious; their presence
restored her all her gaiety and birdlike freedom.

Was it friendship, or was it love? Who can answer?

Tranquil found his friends comfortably located in a narrow clearing,
near a fire, over which their next meal was cooking. Carmela, a little
apart, questioned with an impatient glance the path by which she knew
the hunter must arrive. So soon as she perceived him, she uttered a
suppressed cry of delight, and made a movement to run and meet him; but
she checked herself with a flush, let her head droop, and concealed
herself timidly behind a clump of floripondios.

Tranquil peacefully dismounted, took the bridle off his horse, which he
sent with a friendly slap on the croup to join its comrades, and then
sat down by the side of Loyal Heart.

"Ouf!" he said, "Here I am, back again, and not without difficulty."

"Did you run any dangers?" Loyal Heart asked, eagerly.

"Not at all; on the contrary, the Jaguar received me, as he was bound to
do, that is, as a friend; and I have only to complain of his courtesy;
besides, we have known each other too long for it to be otherwise."

Carmela had softly come up to the hunter; she suddenly bent her graceful
head down to him, and offered him her forehead to kiss.

"Good day, father," she said, demurely, "you have already returned?"

"Already!" Tranquil answered, as he kissed her and laughed, "Hang it,
girl, it seems as if my absence did not appear to you long."

"Pardon me, father, I did not mean that," she said, in great confusion.

"What did you mean, then, my child?"

"Oh, nothing."

"Yes you did, you little rogue! But you cannot deceive me, with all your
tricks; I am too old a fox to be taken in by a girl."

"You are unkind, father," she answered, with a pout, "you always give a
false meaning to what I say."

"Only think of that, señorita! Well, do not be in a passion, I have
brought you good news."

"Do you mean it?" she said, clasping her hands joyfully.

"Would you doubt my word?"

"Oh, no, father."

"Very good, so now sit down by my side and listen."

"Speak, speak, father," she exclaimed eagerly, as she took the seat
allotted her.

"You seem to take great interest in Captain Melendez, my child?"

"I, father!" she exclaimed with a start of surprise.

"Hang it! I fancy a young lady must feel a lively interest in a person,
to take such a step for his sake as you have done."

The maiden became serious.

"Father," she said a moment later with that little, resolute tone spoilt
children know so well how to assume; "I could not tell you why I acted
as I did; I swear that it was against my will, I was mad; the thought
that the Captain and the Jaguar were about to engage in a mortal combat,
made me chill at heart; and yet I assure you, now that I am cool, I
question myself in vain to discover the reason which urged me to
intercede with you to prevent that combat."

The hunter shook his head.

"All that is not clear, Niña," he replied; "I do not at all understand
your arguments. Hang it! I am only a poor woodranger, possessing no more
learning than I have drawn from the great scenes of nature I constantly
have before my eyes, and a woman's heart is to me a closed book, in
which I could not decipher a line. Still, girl, believe me, take care,
and do not play imprudently with weapons whose strength and mechanism
you are ignorant of; though the antelope be so light and active when it
is leaping from rock to rock on the verge of precipices, the moment
arrives when it grows giddy, its head turns, and it rolls into the
abyss--I have often seen similar catastrophes in the forests. Take care,
my girl, take care, and believe in the old hunter's experience."

Carmela pensively leant her blushing brow on the Canadian's shoulder,
and lifted to him her large blue eyes full of tears.

"I am suffering, father," she murmured sadly.

"Good Heavens! My child, you are suffering, and did not tell me--are you
ill?" he exclaimed anxiously; "How imprudent it was of you to be out in
the desert by night."

"You are mistaken, father," she replied with a faint smile; "I am not
ill, it is not that."

"What is it then?"

"I do not know, but my heart is contracted, my bosom is oppressed. Oh, I
am very unhappy!"

And hiding her head in her hands, she burst into tears. Tranquil looked
at her for a moment with an astonishment mingled with terror.

"You, unhappy!" he at length exclaimed as he smote his head
passionately. "Oh, whatever has been done to her, that she should weep
thus!"

There was a silence of some minutes' duration, when the conversation
seemed to take a confidential turn. Loyal Heart and Lanzi rose quietly,
and soon disappeared in the chaparral. Tranquil and the maiden were
hence alone. The hunter was suffering from one of those cold fits of
passion which are so terrible because so concentrated; adoring the girl,
he fancied in his simple ignorance that it was he who, without
suspecting it, through the coarseness and frivolity of his manner,
rendered her unhappy, and he accused himself in his heart for not having
secured her that calm and pleasant life he had dreamed for her.

"Forgive me, my child," he said to her with emotion; "forgive me for
being the involuntary cause of your suffering. You must not be angry
with me, for really it is no fault of mine, I have always lived alone in
the desert, and never learned how to treat natures so frail as those of
women; but henceforth I will watch myself. You will have no reason to
reproach me again. I promise you I will do all you wish, my darling
child--well, does that satisfy you?"

By a sudden reaction, the maiden wiped away her tears, and bursting into
a joyous laugh, threw her arms round the hunter's neck, and kissed him
repeatedly.

"It is you who should pardon me, father," she said in her wheedling
voice, "for I seem to take pleasure in tormenting you, who are so kind
to me; I did not know what I was saying just now; I am not unhappy, I do
not suffer, I am quite happy, and love you dearly, my good father; I
only love you."

Tranquil looked at her in alarm; he could not understand these sudden
changes of humour, whose cause escaped him.

"Good Heavens!" he exclaimed, clasping his hands in terror; "My daughter
is mad!"

At this exclamation, the laughing girl's gaiety was augmented. The
silvery sound of her laugh would have made a nightingale die of envy.

"I am not mad, father," she said, "I was so just now when I spoke to you
in the way I did, but now the crisis has past; forgive me, and think no
more about it."

"Hum!" the hunter muttered, as he raised his eyes to Heaven in great
embarrassment; "I desire nothing more, Niña; but I am no further on than
I was before, and on my word I understand nothing of what is passing
through your mind."

"What matter, so long as I love you, father? All girls are so, and no
importance must be attached to their caprices."

"Good, good, it must be so since you say it, little one. But for all
that, I suffered terribly, your words rent my heart."

Carmela lovingly kissed him.

"And the Jaguar?" she asked.

"All is arranged; the Captain has nothing to fear from him."

"Oh, the Jaguar has a noble heart; if he has pledged his word, he may be
trusted."

"He has given it to me."

"Thanks, father. Well, now that all is arranged according to our
wishes--"

"Your wishes?" the hunter interrupted.

"Mine or yours, father--is that not the same thing?"

"That is true, I was wrong--go on."

"Well, I say, call your friends, who are walking about close by, I
suppose, and let me eat, for I am dying of hunger."

"Are you?" he said eagerly.

"Indeed, I am; but I was ashamed to tell you."

"In that case you will not have long to wait."

The Canadian whistled; and the two men, who probably only awaited this
signal, made their appearance at once. The venison was removed from the
fire, laid on a leaf, and all seated themselves comfortably.

"Hilloh!" Tranquil said all at once, "Why, where is Quoniam?"

"He left us shortly after your departure," Loyal Heart made answer "to
go to the Larch-tree hacienda, as he told us."

"All right, I did not think of that; I am not anxious about my old
comrade, for he will manage to find us again."

Each then began eating with good appetite, and troubled themselves no
further about the Negro's absence. It is a noteworthy fact, that men
whom the life they lead compels to a continual employment of their
physical faculties, whatever may be the circumstances in which they are,
or the dangers that surround them--always eat with a good appetite, and
sleep soundly, so indispensable for them is the satisfaction of these
two material wants, in order that they may successfully resist the
incessant incidents of their existence, which is so varied, and full of
accidents of every description.

During the hunter's meal, the sun had set, and night invaded the forest.
Carmela, exhausted by the various events of this day, retired almost
immediately to a light jacal of leaves which Loyal Heart had built for
her. The maiden needed to restore order in her ideas, and take a few
hours' rest, the privation from which had over-excited her nervous
system, and caused the crisis which had fallen on her a few hours
previously.

When they were alone, the hunters laid in a stock of dead wood, which
would keep the fire in all night then, after throwing on some handfuls
of dry branches, they sat down in Indian fashion, that is to say, with
their back to the flame, so that their eyes might not be dazzled by the
light, and they could distinguish in the gloom the arrival of any
unwelcome guest, man or wild beast. When this precaution had been taken,
and the rifles laid within hand reach, they lit their pipes and smoked
silently.

It is specially at night, when the sounds of day die out to make room
for the mysterious rumours of the darkness, that the desert assumes a
grand and imposing appearance, which affects the mind, and leads it into
those gentle and melancholy reveries which are so full of charm. The
purer night air refreshed by the breeze which passes through the
branches and gently agitates them; the murmuring of the water among the
lilies; the confused buzz of myriads of invisible insects; the silence
of the desert interrupted by the melodious and animated sounds; and that
busy hum of the great flood of life which comes from God and passes away
incessantly to be constantly renewed--all these things plunge the
strong-hearted man involuntarily into a religious contemplation, which
those to whom the grand scenes of nature are unknown, cannot imagine.

The night was cold and clear; a profusion of light flashed from the
millions of stars that studded the dark olive sky, and the moon poured
on the earth her silvery rays which imparted a fantastic appearance to
objects.--The atmosphere was so pure and transparent that the eye could
distinguish, as in bright day, the surrounding landscape. Several hours
passed thus, and one of the three men, seduced as they were by the
splendour of the night, thought of taking that rest which, however, was
so necessary after the fatigues of the day.

"Who will keep watch tonight?" Lanzi at length asked, as he passed the
stem of his pipe through his belt; "We are surrounded by people amongst
whom it is wise to take precautions."

"That is true," said Loyal Heart; "do you sleep, and I will watch for
all."

"One moment," the Canadian said; "if sleep does not too greatly
overpower you. Lanzi, we will profit by Carmela's absence to hold a
council. The situation in which we are is intolerable for a girl, and we
must make up our minds to some course at once. Unluckily, I know not
what to do, and your ideas will hardly suffice, I fear, to get me out of
my embarrassment."

"I am at your orders, Tranquil," Lanzi answered; "let us hold a council,
and I will make up for it by sleeping faster."

"Speak, my friend," said Loyal Heart.

The hunter reflected for a moment, and then continued--

"Life is rough in the desert for delicate natures: we men, accustomed
to fatigue, and hardened to privations, not only support it without
thinking of it, but even find delight in it."

"That is true," Loyal Heart observed; "but the dangers that men such as
we can bear, it would be unjust and cruel to inflict on a woman,--a
maiden who has hardly emerged from childhood, and whose life has
hitherto passed exempt from care, privations, or fatigue of any
description."

"Yes," Lanzi supported him.

"That is the very point," Tranquil continued; "though it will cost me a
pang to part with her, Carmela can no longer remain with us."

"It would kill her," said Loyal Heart.

"It would not take long, poor little darling," Lanzi pouted.

"Yes: but to whom can I trust her now that the venta is destroyed?"

"It is a difficult point," Lanzi observed.

"Stay," said Loyal Heart, "are you not tigrero to the Larch-tree
hacienda?"

"I am."

"There you have it," the Half-breed exclaimed. "That is a good idea. It
would not have occurred to me."

"What idea?" the Canadian asked.

"The master of the hacienda," Loyal Heart continued, "will not refuse to
receive Carmela in his house."

The hunter shook his head in denial. "No, no," he said, "if I once asked
the favour of him, I feel certain he would consent; but it cannot be."

"Why?"

"Because the owner of the Larch-tree is not the man we need to protect a
girl."

"Hum!" Loyal Heart said, "Our situation is growing more complicated, for
I know nobody else who would take charge of her."

"Nor I either, and that is what vexes me. Listen!" Loyal Heart suddenly
exclaimed, "I do not know. Heaven pardon me, where my head was that I
did not think of it at once. Do not be alarmed: I know somebody."

"Speak, speak."

"Come," the half-breed said aside, "this Loyal Heart is really a capital
fellow, for he is full of good ideas."

"For reasons too long to tell you at this moment, but which I will
confide to you some day," the young man continued, "I am not alone in
the desert, for my mother and an old servant of my family live about
three hundred miles from where we now are with a tribe of Comanches,
whose Chief adopted me a few years back. My mother is kind, she loves me
madly, and will be delighted to treat your charming child as a daughter.
She will watch over her, and give her those maternal attentions which
only a woman can offer, especially when that woman is really a mother,
and constantly trembles for the safety of a son to whom she has
sacrificed everything. Every month, on the same day, I abandon the
chase, mount my mustang, and, traversing the desert with the speed of an
arrow, I go and see my mother, with whom I remain for some time among
the tribe. This is about the period when I am wont to proceed to the
village; so, will you let me guide you there? Coming with me, the
Indians will receive you kindly, and my mother will thank you for
confiding your daughter to her."

"Loyal Heart," the Canadian answered, with emotion, "your offer is that
of an honest, upright man. I accept it as frankly as you make it; by the
side of your mother my daughter will be happy, and she will have nothing
to fear. Thanks."

"Loyal Heart," the half-breed said, eagerly, "I know not who gave you
the name you bear; but, canarios, he was well acquainted with you, I
declare."

The two men smiled at Lanzi's outbreak.

"Now, that is settled," he continued, "you want me no longer, I suppose?
If so, good night; my eyelids prick as if they were full of thorns."

He wrapped himself carefully in his zarapé, stretched himself on the
ground, and a minute later was fast asleep. It is probable that the
worthy man wished to make up for lost time, for he saw plainly that he
had been of no use in the council.

"When do we start?" the Canadian asked.

"The road is a long one," Loyal Heart answered. "We have more than three
hundred miles to ride; Carmela is exhausted by the fatigue she has
endured for some time past, and perhaps we should do well to grant her a
day or two of rest to regain the requisite strength to endure the new
fatigues that await her during the long journey we are about to
undertake."

"Yes, you are right; this journey, which would be as nothing to us, is
enormous for a girl; let us remain here a couple of days--the camp is
good, and the spot well selected. There is nothing to hurry us; it is
better to act prudently, in order that we may not have at a later date
to regret precipitation, which may prove fatal to her whom we desire so
greatly to protect."

"During the time we spend here our horses will regain their fire and
vigour, and we can profit by the rest to get some provisions together."

"Well said, brother; that is settled; in two days we will set out, and I
hope that Heaven will be so merciful as to permit us to reach our
journey's end safe and sound."

"Heaven will not turn against us, brother, you may be sure."

"I am well aware of that," the Canadian answered, with that simple faith
which characterised him; "hence you see me quite happy. You cannot
imagine how anxious I feel, and what an immense service you have just
rendered me."

"Do not speak about that, for are we not sworn friends?"

"No matter, I must thank you once more, my heart is so full that it must
overflow; but now that we understand each other thoroughly, go and
sleep, my friend; night is drawing on apace, and you must need rest."

"On the contrary, you must lie down, my friend, for do you not remember
I said I would keep watch?"

"No, no."

"But you must be tired to death, my friend."

"I? Nonsense; I have a body of iron and nerves of steel; weariness has
no effect on me."

"Still, my friend, human strength, however great it may be, has its
limits, beyond which it cannot go."

"That is possible, my friend. I will not discuss that question with you,
but merely limit myself to saying that joy has robbed me of sleep. I am
as wide awake as an opossum, and in vain should I try to close my eyes.
No, I require to reflect a little on all this, and I propose doing so,
while you, who are naturally calmer, will sleep."

"As you insist on it, I will give way."

"Very good; you are becoming reasonable," Tranquil said, with a smile.
"Good night, brother."

"Good night!" Loyal Heart answered.

The young man, in the face of the resolve so clearly made by the
Canadian, thought it useless longer to resist, the more so, as he was
beginning to feel great inclination for sleep. He, therefore, lay down,
and was soon sound asleep. Tranquil had spoken the truth; he required to
isolate himself for some hours, in order to go over the events which
during the last few days had fallen upon him so unexpectedly, and broken
up that placidity of life to which he had grown gently accustomed for
some years past.

The hours passed away one after the other, but the hunter, plunged in
his reflections, felt no desire for sleep. The stars were beginning to
go out, the horizon was crossed by pale bands, the breeze grew sharper
and colder; all foreboded, in fact, the approach of dawn, when suddenly
a slight noise, resembling that produced by the fracture of a withered
branch, smote on the hunter's practised ear, and caused him to start.
The Canadian, without stirring, raised his head and listened, while
softly placing his hand on the rifle that lay by his side.



CHAPTER VII.

AN OLD FRIEND.


Tranquil was too old and too crafty a wood ranger to let himself be
surprised. With his eyes obstinately fixed on the spot whence the sound
that had aroused him came, he tried to pierce the darkness, and
distinguish any movement in the chaparral which would permit him to
form probable conjectures as to the visitors who were arriving.

For a long period the noise he had heard was not repeated, and the
desert had fallen back into silence. But the Canadian did not deceive
himself. Up to all Indian tricks, and knowing the unbounded patience of
the Redskins, he continued to keep on his guard; still, as he suspected
that in the darkness searching glances were fixed on him and spying his
slightest movements, Tranquil yawned twice or thrice, as if overcome by
sleep, drew back the hand he had laid on his rifle barrel, and
pretending to be unable to resist sleep any longer, he let his head sink
on his chest with a natural movement.

Nothing stirred. An hour elapsed ere the slightest rumour disturbed the
silence of the forest. Still, Tranquil felt confident that he had not
deceived himself. The sky grew gradually brighter, the last star had
disappeared, the horizon was assuming those fiery red tints which
immediately precede the appearance of the sun: the Canadian, weary of
this long watching, and not knowing to what he should attribute this
inaction on the part of the Redskins, resolved at last to obtain the
solution of the enigma. He therefore started suddenly to his feet and
took up his rifle.

At the moment he prepared to go on the discovery, a noise of footsteps
near him, mingled with the rustling of leaves, and the breaking of dry
branches, smote his ear.

"Ah, ah!" the Canadian muttered, "It seems they have made up their mind
at last; let us see who these troublesome neighbours are."

At the same instant, a clear feminine voice rose harmoniously and
sonorously in the silence. Tranquil stopped with a start of surprise.
This voice was singing an Indian melody, of which this was the first
verse--

"I confide my heart to thee in the name of the Omnipotent.
I am unhappy, and no one takes pity on me;
Still God is great in my eyes."

"Oh!" the hunter muttered, with a nervous quivering, "I know that song,
it is that of the betrothed of the Snake-Pawnees. How is it that these
words strike my ear so far from their hunting grounds? Can a detachment
of Pawnees be wandering in the neighbourhood? Oh, no! That is
impossible. I will see who this singer is who has awaked with the sun."

Without further hesitation, the hunter walked hurriedly toward the
thicket, from the centre of which the melody had been audible. But at
the moment he was about to enter it, the shrubs were quickly parted, and
two Redskins entered the clearing, to the amazement of the Canadian.

On coming within ten paces of the hunter the Indians stopped, and
stretched their arms out in front of them, with fingers parted in sign
of peace; then, crossing their arms on their chest, they waited. At this
manifestation of the peaceful sentiments of the newcomers, the Canadian
rested the butt of his rifle on the ground, and examined the Indians
with rapid glance.

The first was a man of lofty stature, with intelligent features and open
countenance; as far as it was possible to judge the age of an Indian,
this man seemed to have passed the middle stage of life. He was dressed
in his full warpaint, and the condor plume, fastened above his right
ear, indicated that he held the rank of a Sachem in his tribe.

The other Redskin was not a man, but a woman, twenty years of age at the
most; she was slim, active, and elegant, and her dress was decorated in
accordance with the rules of Indian coquetry: still, her worn features,
on which only the fugitive traces of a prematurely vanished beauty were
visible, shewed that, like all Indian squaws, she had been pitilessly
compelled to do all those rude household tasks, the whole weight of
which the men lay on them, regarding it as beneath their dignity to
interfere.

At the sight of these two persons, the hunter involuntarily felt an
emotion, for which he could not account; the more he regarded the
warrior standing before him, the more he seemed to find again in this
martial countenance the distant memory of the features of a man he had
formerly known, though it was impossible for him to recall how or where
this intimacy had existed; but overcoming his feelings, and
comprehending that his lengthened silence must appear extraordinary to
the persons who had been waiting so long for him to address to them the
compliments of welcome, which Indian etiquette demands, he at length
decided on speaking.

"The Sachem can approach without fear and take his seat by the fire of a
friend," he said.

"The voice of the Pale hunter rejoices the heart of the Chief," the
warrior answered; "his invitation pleases him; he will smoke the calumet
of friendship with the Pale hunter."

The Canadian bowed politely; the Sachem gave his squaw a sign to follow
him, and he crouched on his heels in front of the fire, where Loyal
Heart and Lanzi were still asleep. Tranquil and the warrior then began
smoking silently, while the young Indian squaw was busily engaged with
the household duties and preparing the morning meal. The two men allowed
her to do so, not noticing apparently the trouble she took.

There was a lengthened silence. The hunter was reflecting, while the
Indian was apparently completely absorbed by his pipe. At last he shook
the ash out of the calumet, thrust the stem through his belt, and turned
to his host--

"The Walkon and the Maukawis," he said, "always sing the same song; the
man who has heard them during the moons of spring recognizes them in the
moons of winter, it is not the same with man; he forgets quickly; his
heart does not bound at the recollection of a friend; and if he meet him
again after many moons, his eyes do not see him."

"What does the Chief mean?" the Canadian asked, astonished at these
words, which seemed to convey a reproach.

"The Wacondah is powerful," the Indian continued; "it is he who dictates
the words my breast breathes; the sturdy oak forgets that he has been a
frail sapling."

"Explain yourself, Chief," the hunter said, with great agitation; "the
sound of your voice causes me singular emotion; your features are not
unknown to me; speak, who are you?"

"Singing-bird," the Indian said, addressing the young woman, "you are
the _cihuatl_ of a Sachem; ask the great Pale hunter why he has
forgotten his friend--the man who, in happier times, was his brother?"

"I will obey," she answered, in a melodious voice; "but the Chief is
deceived; the great Pale hunter has not forgotten the Wah-rush-a-menec
of the Snake Pawnees."

"Oh!" Tranquil exclaimed, warmly, "Are you really Black-deer, my
brother? My heart warned me secretly of your presence, and though your
features had almost faded from my memory, I expected to find a friend
again."

"Wah! is the Paleface speaking the truth?" the Chief said, with an
emotion he could not quite conceal; "Has he really retained the memory
of his brother, Black-deer?"

"Ah, Chief," the hunter said, sadly; "to doubt any longer would be an
insult to me; how could I suppose I should ever meet you here, at so
considerable a distance from the wigwams of your nation?"

"That is true?" the Indian remarked, thoughtfully; "my brother will
forgive me."

"What!" Tranquil exclaimed, "Is that charming squaw I see there, the
Singing-bird, that frail child whom I so often tossed on my knee?"

"Singing-bird is the wife of a Chief," the Indian answered, flattered by
the compliment; "at the next fall of the leaves forty-five moons will
have passed since Black-deer bought her of her father for two mustangs
and a panther skin quiver."

Singing-bird smiled gracefully at the hunter, and went on with her
duties.

"Will the Chief permit me to ask him a question?" Tranquil went on.

"My brother can speak, the ears of a friend are open."

"How did the Sachem learn that he would find me here?"

"Black-deer was ignorant of it: he was not seeking the great Pale
hunter; the Wacondah has permitted him to find a friend again, and he is
grateful."

Tranquil looked at the warrior in surprise. He smiled.

"Black-deer has no secret from his brother," he said, softly; "the Pale
hunter will wait; soon he shall know all."

"My brother is free to speak or be silent; I will wait."

The conversation ceased here. The Sachem had wrapped himself in his
buffalo robe, and did not appear disposed, to give any further
explanation at present. Tranquil, restrained by the duties of
hospitality, which in the desert prohibit any interrogation of a guest;
imitated the Chiefs reserve; but the silence had lasted but a few
minutes, when the hunter felt a light hand laid on his shoulder, while a
soft and affectionate voice murmured in his ear:--"Good morning,
father."

And a kiss completed the silence.

"Good-morning, little one," the hunter replied, with a smile; "did you
sleep well?"

"Splendidly, father."

"And you have rested?"

"I no longer feel fatigued."

"Good; that is how I like to see you, my darling girl."

"Father," the inquisitive maiden said, as she looked around, "have
visitors arrived?"

"As you see."

"Strangers?"

"No, old friends, who, I hope, will soon be yours."

"Redskins?" she asked with an instinctive start of terror.

"All of them are not wicked," he answered with a smile: "these are
kind." Then, turning to the Indian woman, who had fixed her black velvet
looking eyes on Carmela with simple admiration, he called out,
"Singing-bird!"

The squaw bounded up like a young antelope. "What does my father want?"
she asked, bowing gently.

"Singing-bird," the hunter continued, "this girl is my daughter,
Carmela," and taking in his bony hand those of the two women, he clasped
them together, adding with emotion, "Love one another like sisters."

"Singing-bird will feel very happy to be loved by the White lily," the
Indian squaw replied; "for her heart has already flown towards me."

Carmela, charmed at the name which the squaw with her simple poesy had
given her, bent down affectionately to her and kissed her forehead.

"I love you already, sister," she said to her, and holding her by the
hand, they went off together twittering like two nightingales. Tranquil
looked after them with a tender glance. Black-deer had witnessed this
little scene with that Indian phlegm which nothing even disturbs: still,
when he found himself alone with the hunter, he bent over to him, and
said in a slightly shaking voice,--

"Wah! my brother has not changed: the moons of winter have scattered
snow over his scalp, but his heart has remained as good as when it was
young."

At this moment the sleeper awoke.

"Hilloh!" Loyal Heart said gaily, as he looked up at the sun, "I have
had a long sleep."

"To tell you the truth," Lanzi observed, "I am not an early bird either:
but nonsense! I will make up for it. The poor beasts of horses must be
thirsty, so I will give them water."

"Very good!" said Tranquil; "By the time you have done that, breakfast
will be ready."

Lanzi rose, leaped on his horse, and seizing the lasso of the others,
went off in the direction of the stream without asking questions
relative to the strangers. On the prairie it is so: a priest is an envoy
of God, whose presence must arouse no curiosity. In the meanwhile Loyal
Heart had also risen: suddenly his glance fell on the Indian Chief,
whose cold eye was fixed on him: the young man suddenly turned pale as a
corpse, and hurriedly approached the Chief.

"My mother!" he exclaimed in a voice quivering with emotion, "my
mother--"

He could say no more. The Pawnee bowed peacefully to him.

"My brother's mother is still the cherished child of the Wacondah," he
answered in a gentle voice; "her heart only suffers from the absence of
her son."

"Thanks, Chief," the young man said with a sigh of relief; "forgive this
start of terror which I could not overcome, but on perceiving you I
feared lest some misfortune bad happened."

"A son must love his mother: my brother's feeling is natural; it comes
from the Wacondah. When I left the Village of Flowers, the old greyhead,
the companion of my brother's mother, wished to start with me."

"Poor ño Eusabio," the young man muttered, "he is so devoted to us."

"The Sachems would not consent; greyhead is necessary to my brother's
mother."

"They were right, Chief; I thank them for retaining him. Have you
followed my trail from the village?"

"I did."

"Why did you not awake me on your arrival?"

"Loyal Heart was asleep. Black-deer did not wish to trouble his sleep:
he waited."

"Good! my brother is a Chief; he acted as he thought advisable."

"Black-deer is intrusted with a message from the Sachems to Loyal Heart.
He wishes to smoke the calumet in council with him."

"Are the reasons that have brought my brother here urgent?"

"They are."

"Good! my brother can speak, I am listening."

Tranquil rose, and threw his rifle over his shoulder.

"Where is the hunter going?" the Indian asked.

"While you tell Loyal Heart the message I will take a stroll in the
forest."

"The white hunter will remain; the heart of Black-deer has nothing
hidden from him. The wisdom of my brother is great; he was brought up by
the Redskins; his place is marked out at the council fire."

"But perhaps you have things to tell Loyal Heart which only concern
yourselves."

"I have nothing to say which my brother should not hear; my brother will
disoblige me by withdrawing."

"I will remain, then, Chief, since such is the case."

While saying these words, the hunter resumed his seat, and said: "Speak,
Chief, I am listening."

The methodical Indian drew out his calumet, and, to display the
importance of the commission with which he was entrusted, instead of
filling it with ordinary tobacco, he placed in it _morhichee_, or sacred
tobacco, which he produced from a little parchment bag he took from the
pouch all Indians wear when travelling, and which contains their
medicine bag, and the few articles indispensable for a long journey.
When the calumet was filled, he lit it from a coal he moved from the
fire by the aid of a medicine rod, decorated with feathers and bills.

These extraordinary preparations led the hunters to suppose that
Black-deer was really the bearer of important news, and they prepared to
listen to him with all proper gravity. The Sachem inhaled two or three
whiffs of smoke, then passed the calumet to Tranquil, who, after
performing the same operation, handed it to Loyal Heart. The calumet
went the round thus, until all the tobacco was consumed.

During this ceremony, which is indispensable at every Indian council,
the three men remained silent. When the pipe was out, the Chief emptied
the ash into the fire, while muttering a few unintelligible words,
which, however, were probably an invocation to the Great Spirit; he then
thrust the pipe in his girdle, and after reflecting for some moments,
rose and began speaking.

"Loyal Heart," he said, "you left the Village of Flowers to follow the
hunting path at daybreak of the third sun of the moon of the falling
leaves; thirty suns have passed since that period, and we are hardly at
the beginning of the moon of the passing game. Well, during so short a
period many things have occurred, which demand your immediate presence,
in the tribe of which you are one of the adopted sons. The war hatchet,
so deeply buried for ten moons between the prairie Comanches and the
Buffalo Apaches, has suddenly been dug up in full council, and the
Apaches are preparing to follow the war trail, under the orders of the
wisest and most experienced Chiefs of the nation. Shall I tell you the
new insults the Apaches have dared to offer your Comanche fathers? What
good would it be? Your heart is strong, you will obey the orders of your
fathers, and fight for them."

Loyal Heart bowed his head in assent.

"No one doubted you," the Chief continued; "still, for a war against the
Apaches, the Sachems would not have claimed your help; the Apaches are
chattering old women, whom Comanche children can drive off with their
dog-whips; but the situation has all at once become complicated, and it
is more your presence at the council of the nation than the aid of your
arm, though you are a terrible warrior, which your fathers desire. The
Long knives of the East and the Yoris have also dug up the hatchet, and
both have offered to treat with the Comanches. An alliance with the
Palefaces is not very agreeable to Redskins; still, their anxiety is
great, as they do not know which side to take, or which party to
protect."

Black-deer was silent.

"The situation is, indeed, grave," Loyal Heart answered; "it is even
critical."

"The Chiefs, divided in opinion, and not knowing which is the better,"
Black-deer continued, "sent me off in all haste to find my brother,
whose wisdom they are aware of, and promise to follow his advice."

"I am very young," Loyal Heart answered, "to venture to give my advice
in such a matter, and settle so arduous a question. The Comanche nation
is the queen of the prairies; its Chiefs are all experienced warriors;
they will know better than I how to form a decision which will at once
protect the interests and honour of the nation."

"My brother is young, but wisdom speaks by his mouth. The Wacondah
breathes in his heart the words his lips utter; all the Chiefs feel for
him the respect he deserves."

The young man shook his head, as if protesting against such a mark of
deference. "Since you insist," he said, "I will speak; but I will not
give my opinion till I have heard that of this hunter, who is better
acquainted with the desert than I am."

"Wah!" said Black-deer, "the Pale hunter is wise; his advice must be
good; a Chief is listening to him."

Thus compelled to explain his views, Tranquil had involuntarily to take
part in the discussion; but he did not feel at all inclined to take on
himself the responsibility of the heavy burden which Loyal Heart tried
to throw off his own shoulders. Still, he was too thoroughly a man of
the desert to refuse giving his opinion in council, especially upon so
important a question. After reflecting for some moments, he therefore at
length decided on speaking.

"The Comanches are the most terrible warriors of the prairie," he said,
"no one must try to invade their hunting grounds; if they make war with
the Apaches, who are vagabond and cowardly thieves, they are in the
right to do so; but for what good object would they interfere in the
quarrels of the Palefaces? Whether Yoris or Long knives, the Whites have
ever been, at all times, and under all circumstances, the obstinate
enemies of the Redskins, killing them wherever they may find them,
under the most futile pretexts, and for the most time simply because
they are Indians. When the coyotes are tearing each other asunder on the
prairie, do the Indians try to separate them? No. They say, let them
fight it out--the more that fall, the fewer thieves and plunderers will
there be in the desert. To the Redskins the Palefaces are coyotes
thirsting for blood. The Comanches should leave them to devour each
other; whichever party triumph, those who have been killed will be so
many enemies the fewer for the Indians. This war between the Palefaces
has been going on for two years, implacably and obstinately. Up to the
present the Comanches have remained neutral; why should they interfere
now? However great the advantages offered them may be, they will not be
equivalent to a neutrality, which will render them stronger and more
dangerous in the sight of the Whites. I have spoken."

"Yes," Loyal Heart said, "you have spoken well, Tranquil. The opinion
you have offered is the only one the Comanches ought to follow, an
interference on their part would be an act of deplorable folly, which
the Sachems would soon regret having committed."

Black-deer had carefully listened to the Canadian's speech, and it
appeared to have produced a certain impression on him; he listened in
the same way to Loyal Heart, and when the latter had ceased speaking,
the Chief remained thoughtful for a while, and then replied--

"I am pleased with the words of my brothers, for they prove to me that I
regarded the situation correctly. I gave the council of the Chiefs the
same advice my brothers just offered. My brothers have spoken like wise
men, I thank them."

"I am ready to support in council," Loyal Heart remarked, "the opinions
the white hunter has offered, for they are the only ones which should
prevail."

"I think so too. Loyal Heart will accompany the Chief to the callis of
the nation?"

"It is my intention to start on my return tomorrow; if my brother can
wait till then, we will start together."

"I will wait."

"Good; tomorrow at daybreak we will follow the return trail in company."

The council was over, yet Tranquil tried vainly to explain to himself
how it was that Black-deer, whom he had left among the Snake Pawnees,
could now be an influential Chief of the Comanche nation; and the
connection between Loyal Heart and the Chief perplexed him not a bit
less. All these ideas troubled the hunter's head, and he promised
himself on the first opportunity to ask Black-deer for the history of
his life since their separation.

As soon as Lanzi returned with the horses, the hunters and Carmela sat
down to breakfast, waited on by Singing-bird, who performed her duties
with extreme grace.



CHAPTER VIII.

QUONIAM'S RETURN.


The meal did not take long; each of the guests, busied with secret
thoughts, ate quietly and silently. Tranquil, though he did not dare ask
any questions of Black-deer or Loyal Heart, for all that, burned to
learn by what concourse of extraordinary events these two men, who had
started from diametrically opposite points, had eventually grown into
such close intimacy.

Nor did he understand any better how a white man of a pure race, young,
and who appeared to have received a certain education, had so completely
given up relations with men of his ideas, to adopt, as Loyal Heart had
done, the mode of life of the Redskins, and become, as it were, a part
of one of these nations.

But the tiger killer was too well acquainted with prairie manners to try
and lead the conversation to a topic which might perhaps have displeased
his comrades, and which, at any rate, would have displayed a curiosity
on his part unworthy of an old wood ranger; he therefore contented
himself with cudgelling his brains to try and strike a spark which might
guide him to the discovery of the truth, without permitting himself the
slightest allusion to a subject which he longed to know all about.

Carmela felt a great friendship for Singing-bird, and so soon as the
meal was ended, led her off to the jacal, where both began chattering.
In accordance with the arrangements the hunters had made, Loyal Heart
and Tranquil took their rifles, and entered the forest on opposite
sides, to go in quest of game. Black-deer and Lanzi remained behind to
protect the women in the slightly probable event of an attack.

The two men, lying on the ground side by side, slept or smoked with that
apathy and careless indolence peculiar to men who despise talking for
the sake of talking, and thus expending energy which they may require at
any moment. Several hours passed away thus, nothing occurring to trouble
the calmness and silence that reigned over the bivouac, except at
intervals the joyous laughter of the two young women, which vibrated
harmoniously on the ears of the hunters, and brought a slight smile to
their lips.

A little before sunset the hunters returned, almost simultaneously,
bending beneath the weight of the game they had killed. Loyal Heart,
moreover, had lassoed a horse, which he brought in for Black-deer, who
had not one. The sight of this animal caused the adventurers some alarm,
and numerous conjectures. It was not at all wild; it had allowed Loyal
Heart to approach it without difficulty, who made a prisoner of it
almost without opposition. Moreover, and this increased the restlessness
of its new owners, it was completely equipped in the Mexican fashion.

Tranquil concluded from this, after reflecting for a moment, that the
freebooters had attacked the conducta de plata, and the animal, whose
rider had probably been killed, had escaped during the action. But which
side had gained the day, no one was able to conjecture.

After a rather lengthy discussion, it was at last agreed that so soon as
night had completely set in, Black-deer should go reconnoitring, while
those who remained in the camp redoubled their vigilance, through fear
of a surprise, either from the border ruffians or the Mexican soldiers;
for although the adventurers were known to both parties, they justly
feared the excesses to which they might give way in the intoxication of
victory.

This fear, correct perchance as far as the troops were concerned, was
not at all so with the men commanded by the Jaguar, and merely proved
that the worst, and at the same time most erroneous opinion was
entertained of them.

The sun was just disappearing behind the dense mass of lofty mountains
that marked the horizon, when the hurried paces of a horse were heard a
short distance off. The hunters seized their weapons, and posted
themselves behind the enormous boles of the sumach trees that surrounded
them, in order to be ready for any event. At this moment the cry of the
blue jay was repeated twice.

"Take your places again at the fire," Tranquil said, "'tis a friend."

In fact, a few moments later, the branches cracked, the shrubs were
smartly thrust aside, and Quoniam made his appearance. After nodding to
the company, he dismounted, and sat down by the side of the
Panther-killer.

"Well, gossip," the latter asked him at once; "what news have you?"

"Plenty," he answered.

"Then, I suppose, you have been reconnoitring?"

"I did not have the trouble to ask questions; I only required to listen
in order to learn in an hour more news than I could have discovered in a
year."

"Oh, oh," the Canadian said, "eat something, compadre, and when your
appetite is satisfied, you will tell us all you have learnt."

"I wish for nothing better, especially as there are sundry matters it is
as well for you to know."

"Eat then without further delay, that you may be able to talk to us all
the sooner."

The Negro did not let the invitation be repeated, and began vigorously
attacking the provisions which Tranquil had put aside, and which Loyal
Heart now spread on the ground. The hunters were eager to hear the news
of which Quoniam stated himself to be the bearer; after all they had
been able to see during the past few days, they must possess
considerable importance. Still, however great their curiosity might be,
they succeeded in hiding it, and patiently waited till the Negro had
finished his meal. The latter, who suspected what thoughts were crossing
their minds, did not put their patience to a long trial; he ate with the
proverbial rapidity of hunters, and had finished in a twinkling.

"Now I am quite at your service," he said, as he wiped his mouth on the
skirt of his hunting shirt, "and ready to answer all your questions."

"We have none to ask you," Tranquil said; "we wish you, gossip, to give
us a short narrative of all that has happened to you."

"Yes, I fancy that will be the best; in that way it will be clearer and
more easy for you to show the conclusions you think the most suitable."

"Excellently reasoned, my friend; we are listening to you."

"Do you know why I left you?" Quoniam began.

"Yes, I was told, and approved of it highly."

"All the better, because I fancied for a moment that I did wrong in
going without informing you, and I was on the point of returning."

"You would have done wrong."

"At present I am convinced of that, and congratulate myself on having
pushed forward. It is not a long ride from here to the Larch-tree
hacienda in a straight line; my horse is good; I went straight ahead,
and covered the distance in eight hours."

"That was good riding."

"Was it not? But I was in a hurry to join you again, and most anxious
not to lose any time on the road. When I reached the Larch-tree, there
was a great confusion at the hacienda. The peons and vaqueros collected
in the patio were talking and shouting all together, while the Capataz,
the Major-domo, and even the Signor Haciendero himself, pale and
alarmed, were distributing arms, raising barricades before the gates,
placing cannon on their carriages--in short, taking all the precautions
of men who expect an attack at any moment. It was impossible for me to
make myself heard at first, for everybody was speaking at once--women
crying, children screaming, and men swearing. I might have fancied
myself in a madhouse, so noisy and terrified did I find everybody; at
length, however, by going from one to the other, questioning this man,
and bullying that one, I learned the following, which enabled me to
comprehend the general terror; the affair, I swear to you, was worth the
trouble."

"Out with it, friend," Loyal Heart exclaimed, with ill-restrained
impatience.

Quoniam had never during life raised any pretensions to be an orator.
The worthy Negro, who was naturally very modest, even experienced a
certain difficulty in speaking at all. The hunter's unexpected
interruption troubled him so that he stopped short, and was unable to
find a single word. Tranquil, who had so long known his comrade, hastily
interposed.

"Let him tell his story in his own way," he said to Loyal Heart; "if
not, it will be impossible for him to reach the end. Quoniam has a way
of telling things peculiar to himself; if interrupted, he loses the
thread of his ideas, and then he grows confused."

"That is true," said the Negro; "I do not know whence it comes, but it
is stronger than I: when I am stopped, it is all up with me, and I get
in such a tangle that I cannot find my way out."

"That arises from your modesty, my friend."

"Do you think so?"

"I am sure of it, so do not alarm yourself any more, but go on in the
full confidence that you will meet with no further interruption."

"I am most ready to go on, but I have forgotten where I left off."

"At the information you had succeeded in obtaining," Tranquil said,
giving Loyal Heart a look which the latter understood.

"That is true: this, then, is what I learned:--The conducta de plata,
escorted by Captain Melendez, was attacked by the Border Rifles, or the
Freebooters as they are now called, and after a desperate fight, all the
Mexicans were killed."

"Ah!" Tranquil exclaimed, in stupor.

"All," Quoniam repeated; "not one escaped; it must have been a frightful
butchery."

"Speak lower, my friend," the hunter remarked, as he looked in the
direction of the jacal, "Carmela might hear you."

The Negro gave a nod of assent.

"But," he continued, in a lower key, "this victory was not very
productive to the Borderers, for the Mexicans had been careful to hurl
the gold they carried into a barranca, whence it was impossible to get
it out."

"Well played, by Heaven!" the Canadian exclaimed; "The Captain is a
brave fellow."

"Was so, you mean," said Quoniam.

"That is true," the Canadian remarked, sadly; "but go on, my friend."

"This victory fired the mine; the whole of Texas has risen; the towns
and pueblos are in full revolt, and the Mexicans are pursued like wild
beasts."

"Is it so serious as that?"

"Much more than you suppose. The Jaguar is at this moment at the head of
a real army; he has hoisted the flag of Texan independence, and sworn
that he will not lay down arms till he has restored liberty to his
country, and driven the last Mexican beyond the frontier."

There was a moment of stupor among his audience.

"Is that all?" Tranquil at length asked.

"Not yet," Quoniam made answer.

"Have you further bad news to tell us?"

"You shall judge for yourself, my friend, when I have told you all I
know."

"Speak, then, in heaven's name!"

"This is the information I have picked up. Considering that you would
not be sorry to hear these important news as speedily as possible, I
hastened to finish my business with the Capataz. I had some difficulty
in finding him, as he was so busy; so soon as I got hold of him, instead
of giving me the money I asked him for, he answered me that I must be
off at once, and tell you to come to the hacienda as soon as you could,
for, under the circumstances, your presence there was indispensable."

"Hum!" said Tranquil, without any further explanation of his thoughts.

"Seeing," Quoniam went on, "that there was nothing more to expect of the
Capataz, I took leave of him and remounted my horse; but just as I was
leaving, a great noise was heard outside, and everybody rushed to the
gates, uttering shouts of joy. It seems that General Don José Maria
Rubio, who commands the province, considers that the position of the
hacienda is a very important point to defend."

"Of course," Tranquil said; "the Larch-tree commands the entrance of the
valley, and as long as it remains in the power of the Mexicans, insures
the entry of their troops into the state."

"That is it, though I do not remember the term they employed."

"Was it, strategetical position?"

"The very thing."

"Yes, the hacienda, built at the period of the conquest, is a perfect
fortress; its thick, battlemented walls, its situation on an elevation
which cannot be commanded, and which on one side holds under its guns
the mountain passes, and on the other the valley de los Almendrales,
render it a point of the utmost importance, which can only be carried by
a regular seige."

"That is what everybody said down there; it seems, too, that such is
General Rubio's opinion, for the cause of all the disturbance I heard
was the arrival of a large body of troops commanded by a Lieutenant
Colonel, who had orders to shut himself up in the hacienda, and defend
it to the last extremity."

"In that case war is declared?"

"Of course."

"Civil war," Tranquil continued, mournfully, "that is to say, the most
odious and horrible of all; a war in which fathers fight against sons,
brothers against brothers, in which friend and foe speak the same
tongue, issue from the same stem, have the same blood in their veins,
and through that very reason are the more inveterate and rend each other
with greater animosity and rage; civil war, the most horrible scourge
that can crush a people! May God grant in his mercy that it be short;
but, since divine patience is at length wearied, and the Omnipotent has
permitted this fratricidal struggle, let us hope that right and justice
may remain victorious, and that the oppressors, who are the cause of all
these misfortunes, may be for ever expelled from a territory which they
have too long sullied by their unworthy and odious presence."

"May God grant it!" his hearers replied, in a deep voice.

"But how did you succeed in escaping from the hacienda after the arrival
of the troops, Quoniam?" Tranquil continued.

"I saw that, if I amused myself by admiring the uniform and fine
appearance of the troops, when order was slightly restored, the gates
would be closed, and my hopes of escaping foiled for a long time.
Without saying a word, I dismounted, and leading my horse by the bridle,
glided through the mob so cleverly, that I at length found myself
outside. I then leaped into the saddle, and pushed straight ahead. I was
only just in time, I declare, for five minutes later all the gates were
closed."

"And then you came straight here?"

Quoniam smiled cunningly. "Do you think so?" he said.

"Hang it! I suppose so, at least."

"Well, you are mistaken, gossip; I did not return straight here: and yet
it was not my inclination that prevented it, I assure you."

"What happened, then?"

"You will see, for I have not finished yet."

"Go on, then; but be brief, if that is possible."

"Every man does what he can, and you have no right to ask more of him."

"That is true, speak as you think proper."

"Never," the Negro continued, "did I gallop in such good spirits; my
horse stretched out, so that it was a pleasure to see; and it seemed as
if the poor brute understood my impatience to get away from the
hacienda, so fast did it race. This ride lasted thus, without
interruption, for nearly five hours; at the end of that period I thought
it advisable to grant my horse a few minutes' rest, that it might regain
its breath, for animals are like men precisely--if you overwork them,
they break down all at once; and that would have happened to me had I
not been careful to stop in time. I therefore allowed my horse to rest
for two hours; then, after rubbing it down, I started again, but had not
yet reached the end of my adventures. I had scarce galloped an hour
longer ere I fell into a large party of horsemen, armed to the teeth,
who suddenly emerged from a ravine, and surrounded me ere I had even
time enough to notice them. The meeting was anything but agreeable--the
more so, as they did not appear at all well disposed toward me; and I do
not exactly know how I should have got out of the hobble, had not one of
the men thought proper to recognize me, though I do not remember ever to
have met him before, and burst out, 'Why, it is a friend; 'tis Quoniam,
Tranquil's comrade!' I confess that this exclamation pleased me; a man
may be brave, but there are circumstances in which he feels frightened,
and this is what happened to me at that moment."

The hunters smiled at the Negro's simple frankness, but were careful
not to interrupt him, as they felt instinctively that he had reached the
most interesting point of his long and prolix narration.

"At once," the latter continued, "the manner of these men changed
entirely; they became most polite and attentive, in proportion as they
had been, previously brutal. 'Lead him to the commandant,' said one of
them the others approved, and I gave in, because resistance would have
been folly. I followed without any remark, the man who led me to their
Chief, though inwardly cursing the wasps' nest into which I had fallen.
Fortunately I had not far to go. Can you guess, Tranquil, who this Chief
was to whom I was led?"

"The Jaguar," the hunter answered.

"What!" the Negro exclaimed, in amazement, "Have you guessed it? Well! I
swear to you that I did not suspect it in the least, and was greatly
surprised at seeing him. But I must do him the justice of saying that he
received me very well; he questioned me about a good many matters, which
I answered as well as I could--where I came from, what was doing at the
hacienda, where I was going, and so on. In short, he conversed with me
for more than an hour; then, doubtless, satisfied with the information I
had given him, he left me free to continue my journey, and began his
own. It seems that he is going straight to the Larch-tree hacienda."

"Does he intend to lay siege to it?"

"That is his intention, I believe; but, although he is at the head of
nearly twelve hundred determined bandits, I do not think his nails, and
those of his comrades, will be hard enough to dig a hole in such stout
walls."

"That is in God's hands. Have you finished your narrative?"

"Very soon."

"Go on, then."

"Before restoring me to liberty, the Jaguar inquired after you and Doña
Carmela with considerable interest. Then he wrote a few words on a piece
of paper, which he handed me, with a recommendation to be sure and give
it you so soon as I rejoined you."

"Good Heaven!" Tranquil exclaimed, in agitation, "And you have delayed
so long in executing your commission!"

"Was I not obliged to tell you first what had happened to me? But there
is no time lost, for here is the paper."

While saying this, Quoniam drew a paper from his pocket, and offered it
to Tranquil, who almost tore it out of his hands. The Negro, convinced
that he had carried out his commission excellently, did not at all
comprehend the hunter's impatience; he looked at him for a moment with
an air of amazement, then shrugged his shoulders almost imperceptibly,
filled his pipe, and began smoking, not troubling himself further about
what was going on around him.

The hunter quickly unfolded the paper; he turned it over and over in his
hands with an air of embarrassment, taking a side glance every now and
then at Loyal Heart, who had drawn a burning log from the fire, and now
held it within reading distance, for night had completely set in. This
went on for some minutes; at length, Loyal Heart, understanding the
reason of the hunter's hesitation, resolved on speaking to him.

"Well," he said, with a smile, "what does your friend Jaguar write?"

"Hum!" said the hunter.

"Perhaps," the other continued, "it is so badly written that you cannot
make out his scrawl. If you permit me, I will try."

The Canadian looked at him. The young man's face was calm; nothing
evidenced that he had a thought of making fun of the hunter. The latter
shook his head several times, and then burst into a hearty laugh.

"Deuce take all false shame!" he said, as he gave him the letter. "Why
should I not confess that I cannot read? A man whose life has been spent
in the desert ought not to fear confessing an ignorance which can have
nothing dishonouring for him. Read, read, my lad, and let us know What
our doubtful friend wishes."

And he took the log from the young man's hands.

Loyal Heart took a rapid glance at the paper. "The letter is laconic,"
he said, "but explicit. Listen:

"'The Jaguar has kept his word. Of all the Mexicans who accompanied the
conducta, only one is alive free and unwounded--Captain Don Juan
Melendez de Gongora. Will the friends of the Jaguar have a better
opinion of him?'"

"Is that all?" Tranquil asked.

"Yes."

"Well," the hunter exclaimed, "people may say as they please, but, by
Heavens! The Jaguar is a fine fellow."

"Is he not, father?" a gentle voice murmured in his ear.

Tranquil started at this remark, and turned sharply round. Carmela was
by his side, calm and smiling.



CHAPTER IX.

HOSPITALITY.


We have said that night had fallen for some time past, and it was quite
dark under covert. In the black sky a chaos of clouds, laden with the
electric fluid, rolled heavily along. Not a star glistened in the vault
of heaven; an autumnal breeze whistled gustily through the trees, and at
each blast covered the ground with a shower of dead leaves.

In the distance could be heard the dull and mournful appeals of the wild
beasts proceeding to the drinking place, and the snapping bark of the
coyotes, whose ardent eyes at intervals gleamed like incandescent coals
amid the shrubs. At times lights flashed in the forest and ran along the
fine marsh grass like will-o'-the-wisps. Large dried up sumach trees
stood at the corners of the clearing, in which the bivouac was
established, and in the fantastic gleams of the fire waved like phantoms
their winding sheets of moss and lianas. A thousand sounds passed
through the air; nameless cries escaped from invisible lairs, hollowed
beneath the roots of the aged trees; stifled cries descended from the
crests of the quebradas, and our adventurers felt an unknown world
living around them, whose proximity froze the soul with a secret terror.

Nature was sad and melancholy, as when she is in travail with one of
those terrible overthrows so frequent in these regions. In spite of
themselves, the hunters underwent the influence of this discomfort of
the desert. There are black hours in life, in which, either through the
action of external objects, or the common and mysterious disposition of
the inner being, that _me_ which cannot be defined, the strongest men
feel unconsciously mastered by a strange contagion of sadness which they
seem to breathe in the air, and which overpowers them without power of
defence. The news brought by Quoniam had further augmented this tendency
of the hunters to melancholy; hence the conversation round the fire,
ordinarily gay and careless, was sad and short. Everyone yielded to the
flood of gloomy thoughts that contracted his heart, and the few words
exchanged at lengthened intervals between the hunters generally remained
unanswered.

Carmela alone, lively as a nightingale, continued in a low voice her
conversation with Singing-bird, while warming herself, for the night was
cold, and not noticing the anxious sideglances which the Canadian at
times gave her. At the moment when Lanzi and Quoniam were preparing to
go to sleep, a slight crackling was heard in the shrubs. The hunters,
suddenly torn from their secret thoughts, raised their heads quickly.
The horses had stopped eating, and with their heads turned to the
thicket, and ears laid back, appeared to be listening.

In the desert, everything has a reason; the wood rangers, accustomed to
analyse all the rumours of the prairie, know and explain them without
ever making a mistake; the rustling of the branch on which the hand
rests, the noise of the leaf falling on the ground, the murmur of the
water over the pebbles--nothing escapes the marvellous sagacity of these
men, whose senses have acquired an extraordinary delicacy.

"Someone is prowling round us," Loyal Heart muttered in a voice not
above a breath.

"A spy, of course," said Lanzi.

"Spy or no, the man who is approaching is certainly a white," said
Tranquil, as he stretched out his arm to clutch the rifle lying by his
side.

"Stay, father," Carmela said eagerly, as she seized his arm; "perhaps it
is a poor wretch lost in the desert, who needs help."

"It may be so," Tranquil replied after a moment's reflection; "at any
rate, we shall soon know."

"What do you intend doing?" the girl exclaimed, terrified at seeing him
rise.

"Go and meet the man, and ask him what he wants, that is all."

"Take care, father."

"Of what, my child?"

"Suppose this man were one of the bandits who traverse the desert?"

"Well, what then?"

"And he were to kill you?"

The Canadian shrugged his shoulders.

"Kill me, girl, nonsense! Reassure yourself, my child, whoever the man
may be, he will not see me unless I deem it necessary. So let me alone."

The maiden tried once more to prevent his departure, but the Canadian
would listen to nothing. Freeing himself gently from Carmela's
affectionate clutch, he picked up his rifle and disappeared in the
chaparral with so light and well-measured a step, that he seemed rather
to be gliding on a cloud, than walking on the grass of the clearing.

So soon as he reached the centre of the thicket, from which the
ill-omened sound he had heard came, the hunter, ignorant as he was as to
how many enemies he had to deal with, redoubled his prudence and
precautions: after a hesitation which lasted only a few seconds, he lay
down on the ground, and began gently crawling through the grass, without
producing the slightest rustling sound.

We will now return to the monk, whom we left proceeding toward the
hunters' bivouac, accompanied by Blue-fox. The Apache Chief, after
giving him the instructions he thought best adapted to inspire him with
a wholesome terror, and compel him to serve his plans, left him alone,
and disappeared so suddenly, that the monk could not guess in what
direction he had gone. When he was alone, Fray Antonio took a timid
glance around him; his mind was perplexed, for he could not conceal from
himself how delicate and difficult of accomplishment was the mission
with which the Chief had entrusted him, especially when dealing with a
man so clever and well versed in Indian tricks as the tiger killer.

More than once the monk cursed the malignity of his planet which led him
into such traps, and seemed to take a delight in accumulating on his
head all the annoyances and tribulations possible. For a moment, he
thought of flight, but he reflected that he was doubtless carefully
watched, and that at the slightest suspicious movement he attempted, the
invisible guardians who were watching him would suddenly appear before
him, and compel him to carry out the adventure to the end.

Fortunately for himself, the monk belonged to that privileged class of
men whom even the greatest annoyances but slightly affect, and who,
after feeling wretched for a few moments, frankly make up their minds,
saying to themselves that when the moment arrives in which they run a
risk, an accident will perhaps draw them from their trouble, and turn
matters to their advantage, in lieu of crushing them.

This reasoning, false though it be, is employed more frequently than may
be supposed by a number of people, who, after saying to themselves "when
it comes, we shall see," push boldly onwards, and, extraordinary to say,
generally succeed in getting out of the hobble, without the loss of too
many feathers, and without themselves knowing what they did to have so
lucky an escape.

The monk, therefore, resolutely entered the covert, guiding himself by
the light of the fire as a beacon. For some minutes he went on at a
tolerable pace, but gradually as he approached, his alarm returned; he
remembered the rough correction Captain Melendez had administered to
him, and this time he feared even worse.

Still, he was now so near the bivouac that any backsliding would be
useless. For the purpose of granting himself a few minutes' further
respite, he dismounted, and fastened his horse to a tree with extreme
slowness: then, having no further plausible pretext to offer himself for
delaying his arrival among the hunters, he decided on starting again,
employing the most minute precautions not to be perceived too soon,
through fear of receiving a bullet in his chest, before he had time to
have an explanation with the persons he visited at so awkward an hour.

But Fray Antonio, unluckily for himself, was extremely obese; he walked
heavily, and like a man accustomed to tread the pavement of a town;
moreover, the night was extremely dark, which prevented him seeing two
yards ahead, and he could only progress with outstretched hands,
tottering at each step, and running against every obstacle that came
across his path.

Hence he did not go far, ere he aroused the persons he desired so much
to surprise, and whose practised ear, constantly on the watch, had at
once noticed the unusual sound which he had himself not noticed. Fray
Antonio, extremely satisfied with his manner of progression, and
congratulating himself in his heart at having succeeded so well in
concealing himself, grew bolder and bolder, and began to feel almost
entirely reassured, when suddenly he uttered a slight cry of terror, and
stopped as if his feet had been rooted in the ground. He had felt a
heavy hand laid on his shoulder.

The monk began trembling all over, though not daring to turn his head to
the right or left, for he was persuaded in his heart that his last hour
had arrived.

"Hilloh, Señor Padre, what are you doing in the forest at such an hour?"
a hoarse voice then said to him.

But Fray Antonio was unable to answer; terror had rendered him deaf and
blind.

"Are you dumb?" the voice went on a minute after in a friendly voice.
"Come, come, it is not wise to traverse the desert at so late an hour."

The monk did not reply.

"Deuce take me," the other exclaimed, "if terror has not rendered him
idiotic. Come, bestir yourself, canarios."

And he began shaking him vigorously.

"Eh, what?" the monk said, in whom a species of reaction was beginning
to take place.

"Come, there is some progress, you speak, hence you are not dead,"
Tranquil went on joyously, for it was he who had so cruelly frightened
the monk; "follow me, you must be frozen, don't let us remain here."

And passing his arm through the monk's, he led him away; the latter
followed him passively and mechanically, not able yet to understand what
was happening to him, but still beginning to regain a small amount of
courage. In a few minutes, they reached the clearing.

"Ah!" Carmela exclaimed in surprise; "Fray Antonio! By what accident is
he here, when he started with the conducta de plata?"

This remark made the hunter prick his ears; he examined the monk
attentively, and then compelled him to sit down by the fire.

"I trust that the good father will explain to us what has happened to
him," he muttered.

Everything, however, has an end in this world; and the monk for some
time past had seemed destined to pass, with the greatest rapidity and
almost without transition, from the extremest terror to the most
complete security. When he was a little warmed, the confusion produced
in his ideas by the sudden meeting with the hunter gradually yielded to
the cordial reception given him; and Carmela's gentle voice breaking
pleasantly on his ear, completely re-established the balance of his
mind, and dismissed the mournful apprehensions that tormented him.

"Do you feel better, holy Father?" Carmela asked him, with much
sympathy.

"Yes," he said, "I thank you, I am now quite comfortable."

"All the better. Will you eat? Would you like to take any refreshment?"

"Nothing at all, I thank you, for I have not the least appetite."

"Perhaps you are thirsty, Fray Antonio; if so, here is a bota of
refino," said Lanzi, as he offered him a skin more than half full of the
comforting liquid.

The monk permitted himself to be persuaded sufficiently to prove that he
was no lover of ardent spirits; then he allowed himself to be convinced,
and seizing the bota, drank a hearty draught of the generous fluid. This
libation restored him all his coolness and presence of mind.

"Then," he said, as he turned the bota to the half-breed, and gave vent
to a sigh of relief, "Heaven preserve me; were the Evil One to come now
in person, I feel capable of holding my own against him."

"Ah, ah!" said Tranquil, "It seems, my good father, as if you were now
completely restored to the possession of your intellectual faculties."

"Yes, and I will give you the proof whenever you like."

"Hang it! You challenge me. I did not dare cross-question you before;
but, as it is so, I will no longer hesitate."

"What do you wish to know?"

"A very simple matter: how it is that a monk finds himself at such an
hour alone in the heart of the desert?"

"Nonsense," Fray Antonio said, gaily. "Who told you that I was alone?"

"Nobody; but I suppose so."

"Do not make any suppositions, brother, for you would be mistaken."

"Indeed!"

"Yes, as I have the honour of telling you."

"Still, when I met you, you were alone."

"Granted."

"Well?"

"The others were further off, that's all."

"What others?"

"The persons who accompanied me."

"Ah! And who are they?"

"That is the question----Nonsense," he said, a minute after, as if
holding a conversation with himself, "the most disadvantageous reports
are current about me. I am accused of a number of bad actions; suppose I
were to try and do a good one, that might change my luck. Who knows
whether I may not be rewarded at a later date? At any rate, here goes."

Tranquil and his comrades listened in extreme surprise to the monologue
of the monk, not knowing exactly what to think of this man, and half
inclined to deem him mad. The latter perceived the impression he
produced on his hearers.

"Listen," he said, in a stern voice, and with a slight frown, "form what
opinion of me you like, that is a matter of indifference to me; still I
do not wish it to be said, that I requited your cordial hospitality by
odious treachery."

"What do you mean?" Tranquil exclaimed.

"Listen to me. I uttered the word treachery, and perhaps I was wrong,
for nothing proves to me that it is so; still, all sorts of reasons lead
me to suppose that it is nothing else persons tried to force me into
committing for your injury."

"Explain yourself, in Heaven's name; you speak in enigmas, and it is
impossible to understand you."

"You are right, so I will be clear: which of you gentlemen bears the
name of Tranquil?"

"It is I."

"Very good. Owing to certain circumstances, the recital of which would
not at all interest you, I unluckily fell into the hands of the
Apaches."

"Apaches!" Tranquil exclaimed, in surprise.

"Good Lord, yes," the monk continued; "and I assure you that when I
found myself in their power, I did not feel at all comfortable. Still, I
was wrong to be alarmed; far from inventing for me one of those
atrocious tortures which they mercilessly inflict on the whites who are
so unhappy as to become their prisoners, they treated me, on the
contrary, with extreme gentleness."

Tranquil fixed a scrutinising glance on the monk's placid face.

"For what purpose did they that?" he asked, with a suspicious accent.

"Ah," Fray Antonio went on, "that I could not comprehend, though I am
perhaps beginning to suspect it."

The hearers bent toward the speaker with an expression of impatient
curiosity.

"This evening," the monk went on, "the Chief of the Redskins himself
accompanied me to within a short distance of your bivouac; on coming in
sight of your fire he pointed it out to me, saying, 'Go and sit down at
that brasero. You will tell the great Pale hunter that one of his oldest
and dearest friends desires to see him.' Then he left me, after making
the most horrible threats if I did not obey him at once. You know the
rest."

Tranquil and his comrades regarded each other in amazement, but without
exchanging a word. There was a rather long silence; but Tranquil at
length took on himself to express aloud the thought each had in his
heart.

"'Tis a trap," he said.

"Yes," Loyal Heart remarked; "but for what purpose?"

"How do I know?" the Canadian muttered.

"You said, Fray Antonio," the young man continued, addressing the monk,
"that you suspected the motives of the Apaches' extraordinary treatment
of you?"

"I did say so," he replied.

"Let us know that suspicion."

"It was suggested to me by the conduct of the pagans, and by the clumsy
snare they laid for you; it is evident to me that the Apache Chief
hopes, if you consent to grant the interview he asks, to profit by your
absence to carry off Doña Carmela."

"Carry me off!" the maiden exclaimed, with a start of horror, surprised
and alarmed at once by this conclusion, which she was far from
anticipating.

"The Redskins are very fond of white women," the monk continued, coolly;
"most of the incursions they make into our territory are undertaken for
the purpose of carrying off captives of that colour."

"Oh!" Carmela exclaimed, with an accent of indomitable resolution, "I
would sooner die than become the slave of one of those ferocious
demons."

Tranquil shook his head sadly. "The monk's supposition appears to me
correct," he said.

"The more so," Fray Antonio confirmed him, "because the Apaches who made
me prisoner are the same that attacked the Venta del Potrero."

"Oh, oh," said Lanzi, "in that case I know their Chief, and his name; he
is one of the most implacable enemies of the white men. It is very
unlucky that I did not succeed in burying him under the ruins of the
venta, for Heaven is my witness that such was my intention."

"What is the fellow's name?" the hunter asked, sharply, evidently
annoyed at his verbiage.

"Blue-fox!" said Lanzi.

"Ah," Tranquil said, ironically and with a dark frown, "I have known
Blue-fox for many years, and you, Chief?" he added, turning to
Black-deer.

The name of the Apache Sachem had produced such an impression on the
Pawnee, that the hunter was startled by it. The Indians retain under all
circumstances an apathetic mask, which they consider it an honour not to
remove, whatever may happen; but the mere name of Blue-fox, pronounced
as if by accident, was sufficient to melt that indifference, and cause
Black-deer to forget Indian etiquette.

"Blue-fox is a dog, the son of a coyote," he said, as he spat on the
ground disdainfully; "the gypaètes would refuse to devour his unclean
carcase."

"These two men must have a mortal hatred for each other," the Canadian
muttered, as he took a sideglance at the inflamed features and sparkling
eyes of the Indian Chief.

"Will my brother kill Blue-fox?" the Pawnee asked.

"It is probable," Tranquil answered; "but in the first place, let us try
to play this master rogue a trick, who fancies us stupid enough to be
caught in the clumsy snares he lays in our path. Be frank, monk, have
you told us the truth?"

"On my honour."

"I should prefer any other oath," the Canadian said ironically, in a low
voice. "Can you be trusted?"

"Yes."

"Is what you said to us about your return to honest courses sincere?"

"Put me on my trial."

"That is what I intend to do; but reflect ere answering. Do you really
intend to be of service to us?"

"I do."

"Whatever may happen?"

"Whatever may happen, and whatever the consequence may be of what you
ask of me."

"That will do. I warn you that, in all probability, you will be exposed
to serious perils."

"I have told you that my resolution is formed; speak, therefore, without
further hesitation."

"Listen to me, then."

"I am doing so. Have no fear of finding me recoil, so cut it short."

"I will try to do so."



CHAPTER X.

THE LARCH-TREE HACIENDA.


Though the report made by Quoniam was in every respect true, the Negro
was ignorant of certain details of which we will now inform the reader,
because these events are closely connected with our story, and clearness
renders it indispensable that they should be made known. We will,
therefore, return to the Larch-tree hacienda.

But, in the first place, let us explain the meaning of this word
"hacienda," which we have employed several times in the course of this
narrative, and which several authors have employed before us, without
understanding its significance.

In Sonora, Texas, and all the old Spanish colonies generally, where the
land is, as it were, left to anyone who likes to take possession of it
and cultivate it, there may be found at immense distances, and broadcast
like almost imperceptible dots over the waste lands, vast agricultural
establishments, each as large as one of our counties. These
establishments are called haciendas, a word we improperly translate by
farm, which has not at all the same meaning.

Immediately after the conquest, the Cortez, Pizarros, Almagros, and
other leaders of adventurers hastened to repay their comrades by
dividing among them the lands of the conquered, following, perhaps
without suspecting it, the example which had been given them a few
centuries previously by the leaders of the Barbarians, after the
break-up and dismemberment of the Roman Empire.

The conquerors were few in number, the shares were large; and the
majority of these ragged conquerors, who in their own country had not
even a roof to shelter their heads, found themselves all at once masters
of immense domains, which they immediately set to work turning to
account, laying down the sword without regret to take the pick, that is
to say, compelling the Indians who had become their slaves to clear for
them the land they had stolen.

The first care of the new possessors of the soil was to erect, in
positions easy to defend, houses, whose lofty, thick, and embattled
walls rendered them thorough fortresses, behind which they could easily
defy any attempted revolt on the part of their slaves. The inhabitants
had been allotted like the ground; each Spanish soldier received a
considerable number as his share; arms cost nothing. There was no lack
of stone, and hence the buildings were constructed of vast proportions,
and of such extreme strength, that even at the present day, after the
lapse of several centuries, these haciendas are an object of admiration
to the traveller.

Slaves alone, for whom the measure of time no longer exists, and whose
only hope is death, can undertake and complete these Cyclopean
buildings, of which we, men of another age, cannot understand the
existence on the globe, where they stand at various spots, like dumb and
touching protests.

At the haciendas, in addition to agriculture, which, especially at the
present day, has greatly fallen off, owing to the incessant invasions of
the Indian bravos, the breeding of cattle and horses is carried on to a
considerable extent. Hence, each of these farms contains an infinity of
servants of all descriptions, peons, vaqueros, etc., and resembles a
small town.

The owners of these establishments are consequently men belonging to the
highest society, and the richest and most intelligent class in the
country. The majority prefer residing in the cities, and visit only at
long intervals their haciendas, the management of which they entrust to
the major-domo and capataz, who are themselves semi-savages, whose life
is spent in riding constantly from one end to the other of the hacienda.

The Larch-tree hacienda, but a short distance from the mountains whose
passes it commanded, was therefore of great strategetical value to both
the parties now disputing the possession of Texas. The insurgent chiefs
understood this as well as the Mexican generals did.

After the total destruction of the detachment commanded by Captain
Melendez, General Rubio hastened to throw a powerful garrison into the
Larch-tree. As an old soldier of the Independence, accustomed to the
incessant struggles of a people that desires to be free, he had divined
the revolution behind the insurrection, on seeing that for ten years
past these insurgents, though incessantly conquered, seemed to grow from
their ashes again to return more obstinate and powerful than before, and
expose their chests to the pitiless bullets of their oppressors.

He was aware that the inhabitants only awaited the announcement of a
success, even though problematical, to rise to a man, and make common
cause with the daring partisans, branded by their enemies with the name
of Border ruffians, but who in reality were only the forlorn hope of a
revolution, and apostles acting under a holy and noble idea. Far from
offering Captain Melendez reproaches, which he knew that the latter did
not deserve, the General pitied and consoled him.

"You have your revenge to take, Colonel," he said to him, for this
grade, long deserved by the young officer, had just been given him by
the President of the Republic; "your new epaulettes have not yet smelt
powder. I propose giving you a splendid opportunity for christening
them."

"You will fulfil my wishes, General," the young officer replied, "by
entrusting me with a perilous enterprise, my success in which will
serve to wipe out the shame of my defeat."

"There is no shame, Colonel," the General replied, kindly, "in being
conquered as you were. War is only a game like any other, in which
chance often declares for the weaker side; let us not despond at an
insignificant check, but try, on the contrary, to cut the comb of these
cocks who, pluming themselves on their ephemeral triumph, doubtless
imagine that we are terrified and demoralised by their victory."

"Be assured, General, that I will help you to the best of my ability.
Whatever be the post you confide to me, I will die at it before
surrendering."

"An officer, my friend, must put off that impetuosity which so well
becomes the soldier, but it is a grave fault in a Chief trusted with the
lives of his fellow men. Do not forget that you are a head, and not an
arm."

"I will be prudent, General, as far as the care for my honour will
permit me."

"That will do, Colonel--I ask no more."

Don Juan merely bowed in response.

"By-the-bye," said the General, presently, "have these partisans any
capable men at their head?"

"Very capable, General; thoroughly acquainted with guerilla fighting,
and possessing a bravery and coolness beyond all praise."

"All the better, for in that case we shall reap more glory in conquering
them. Unfortunately, they are said to wage war like perfect savages,
pitilessly massacring the soldiers that fall into their hands; indeed,
what has happened to you is a proof of it."

"You are mistaken, General. Whatever these men may be, and the cause for
which they fight, it is my duty to enlighten and disabuse you, for they
have been strangely calumniated; it was only after my repeated refusals
to surrender that the action began. Their Chief even offered me my life
at the moment when I hurled myself with him into the yawning abyss at
our feet. When I became their prisoner they restored me my sword, gave
me a horse and a guide, who brought me within musket shot of your
outposts: is that the conduct of cruel men?"

"Certainly not, and I am pleased to see you thus do justice to your
enemies."

"I merely declare a fact."

"Yes, and an unlucky one for us; these men must consider themselves very
strong to act thus. This clemency of theirs will attract a great number
of partisans to their ranks."

"I fear it."

"And I too. No matter, the moment has arrived to act with vigour; for,
if we do not take care, within a week the very stones of this country,
of which we are still the masters, will rise to expel us, and the ground
will grow so hot under our feet, that we shall be compelled to fly
before these undisciplined masses of badly armed _guasos_, who harass us
like swarms of mosquitoes."

"I await your orders, General."

"Do you feel strong enough to mount again?"

"Perfectly."

"Very good, then. I have prepared three hundred men, cavalry and
infantry; the latter will mount behind the horsemen, in order not to
delay the march, which must be rapid, for my object is that you should
reach the hacienda before the insurgents; and fortify yourself there."

"I will reach it."

"I count on you. Two mountain guns will follow your detachment, and will
prove sufficient; for, if I am rightly informed, the hacienda has six in
good condition. Still, as ammunition may run short, you will take
sufficient with you to last for a fortnight. At all risks, the hacienda
must hold out for that period against all the attacks the insurgents may
make."

"It shall hold out, I swear it to you, General."

"I trust entirely to you."

The General walked to the entrance of the tent and raised the curtain.

"Summon the officers told off for the expedition," he said.

Five minutes later the officers appeared; nine in number--two captains
of cavalry, two of infantry, two lieutenants, and two alferez or second
lieutenants, and a captain, lieutenant, and alferez of artillery. The
General looked for a moment searchingly at these men, who stood serious
and motionless before him.

"Caballeros," he at length said, "I have carefully chosen you from the
officers of my army, because I know that you are brave and experienced;
you are about to carry out, under Colonel Don Juan Melendez de Gongora,
a confidential mission, which I would not have given to others whose
devotion to their country was less known to me. This mission is most
perilous. I hope that you will accomplish it like brave men, and return
here with glory."

The officers bowed their thanks.

"Do not forget," the General continued, "that you owe your soldiers an
example of subordination and discipline; obey the Colonel as myself in
all he may order for the good of the service and the success of your
enterprise."

"We cannot desire a better Chief than the one your Excellency has
selected to lead us," one of the Captains answered; "under his orders we
are certain of performing prodigies."

The General smiled graciously.

"I count on your zeal and bravery. Now, to horse without further delay,
for you must have left the camp within ten minutes."

The officers bowed and retired. Don Juan prepared to follow them.

"Stay," the General said to him; "I have one final recommendation to
give you."

The young man walked up to him.

"Shut yourself up carefully in the place," the General went on. "If you
are invested, do not attempt any of those sallies, which often
compromise the fate of a garrison, without positive advantage. Content
yourself with vigorously repulsing attacks, sparing the blood of your
soldiers, and not expending your ammunition needlessly. So soon as my
final arrangements are made, I will march in person to your help; but
you _must_ resist till then, at any cost."

"I have already told you I will do so, General."

"I know that you will. Now, my friend, to horse, and may you be
fortunate."

"Thanks, General."

The Colonel bowed, and immediately withdrew to place himself at the head
of the small band, which, collected a short distance off, only awaited
his arrival to start. The General was standing in the doorway of his
tent to witness their departure. Don Juan mounted, drew his sabre, and
turned toward the motionless detachment.

"Forward!" he commanded.

The squadrons at once started, and began drawing out in the darkness
like the black folds of an ill-omened serpent. The General remained in
the doorway of his tent for some time, and when the last sound had died
away in the night, he pensively re-entered the tent, and let the curtain
fall behind him, muttering in a low and sad voice--

"I have sent them to death, for Heaven fights on the side of our
adversaries."

And, after shaking his head several times with an air of discouragement,
the old soldier of the war of Independence fell into an equipal, hid his
face in his hands, and plunged into serious reflections.

In the meanwhile, the detachment rapidly continued its march. Thanks to
the Mexican fashion of mounting infantry _en croupe_, the troops carried
out their movements with a rapidity that seemed almost prodigious, the
more so as American horses go very quickly, and endure great fatigue
without injury.

The Americans of the South are generally very harsh to their horses, to
which they pay no attention. Never in the interior does a horse pass the
night, whatever the weather may be, otherwise than in the open air.
Every morning it receives its ration for the whole day, marching
frequently fourteen, or even sixteen hours, without stopping or
drinking; when evening arrives, the harness is removed, and it is left
to find its food where it can. On the Indian border, where there is much
to fear from the Redskins, who are great admirers of horses, and display
admirable skill in stealing them, certain precautions are used at
night; the horses are picquetted in the interior of the bivouac, and
feed on the pea vines, the young tree shoots, and a few measures of
maize or other corn, which is given with extreme parsimony. Still, in
spite of the careless way in which they are treated, we repeat that
these horses are very handsome, vigorous, remarkably docile, and of
great speed.

Colonel Melendez arrived at an early hour in sight of the hacienda, for
his troops had made a forced march through the night. With a rapid
glance the experienced Chief of the Mexicans examined the neighbourhood,
but the plain was deserted.

The Larch-tree hacienda stood like an eagle's nest on the top of a
hillock, whose abrupt sides had never been smoothed, as the steepness of
their ascent was regarded as a means of defence in the event of an
attack. Thick walls turned yellow by time, at each angle of which could
be seen the threatening muzzles of two guns peering out, gave this
strongly-built house the appearance of a real fortress.

The Mexicans increased their already rapid pace, in order to reach the
hacienda before the gates were opened, and the ganado let out. The scene
presented by this magnificent plain at sunrise, had something imposing
about it. The hacienda, whose roof was still veiled in mist; the gloomy
forests in the distance, which ran with almost imperceptible undulations
along the spurs of the sierra; the silvery thread of a small stream,
which wound with capricious meanderings through the plain, and whose
waters sparkled in the hot sunbeams; the dumps of larches, sumachs, and
Peru trees, which rose here and there from amid the tall grass, and
agreeably broke the monotony of the plain, while from the thickets rose
the joyous song of the birds saluting the return of day--in a word, all
seemed to breathe repose and happiness in this abode momentarily so
tranquil.

The Mexicans reached the hacienda, whose gates were not opened till the
inhabitants were well assured that the newcomers were really friends.
They had already heard of the general insurrection occasioned by the
surprise of the conducta de plata, and hence the Major-domo, who
commanded in the absence of Don Felipe de Valreal, proprietor of the
hacienda, kept on his guard.

This Major-domo, whose name was Don Felix Paz, was a man of about
five-and-forty at the most, tall, well-built, and powerful; he had, in
truth, the appearance of a perfect _hombre de a caballo_, an essential
condition for fulfilling his onerous duties. This Major-domo came in
person to receive the Mexican detachment at the gate of the hacienda.
After congratulating the Colonel, he informed him that so soon as he
received the news of the general revolt of the province, he had brought
all his cattle in, armed the servants, and rendered the guns on the
platform serviceable.

The Colonel complimented him on his diligence, established his troops in
the outhouses destined for the peons and vaqueros, took military
possession of all the posts, and, accompanied by the Major-domo, made a
strict inspection of the interior of the fortress. Don Juan Melendez,
being well acquainted with the carelessness and sloth of his fellow
countrymen, expected to find the hacienda in a wretched state, but was
agreeably deceived. This large estate, situated on the limits of the
desert, as it were between civilisation and barbarism, was too exposed
to the unforeseen attacks of Redskins and bandits of every description
who congregate on the border, for its owner not to watch with the
utmost care over its defence. This wise foresight was at this moment of
a great utility for the siege which, in all probability, they would have
to withstand ere long.

The Colonel found but very little to alter in the arrangements made by
the Major-domo; he contented himself with cutting down several clumps of
trees which, being situated too near the hacienda, might shelter
sharpshooters, who could annoy their artillery men. At each entrance of
the hacienda barricades were erected by his orders, composed of branches
interlaced, and outside the walls the arms of all the healthy men were
called into requisition, to dig a deep and wide trench, the earth from
which, thrown up on the side of the hacienda, formed a breast-work,
behind which the best shots in the garrison were placed. The two
mountain guns brought by the Colonel remained horsed, so that they might
be transported to the point of danger. Finally, the Mexican flag was
haughtily hoisted on the top of the hacienda.

Counting the servants, to whom Don Felix had distributed arms, the
garrison amounted to nearly four hundred men, a sufficient force to
resist a coup de main, especially in so good a position as this; there
was plenty of ammunition and food; the Mexicans were animated by the
best spirit, and the Colonel, therefore, felt certain of being able to
hold out for a fortnight against troops more numerous and experienced
than those the insurgents had at their disposal.

The works of fortification were carried on with such great activity,
that they were completed within twenty-four hours of the Colonel's
arrival at the hacienda. The scouts, sent out in all directions, came
back without any fresh news of the insurgents, whose movements were so
cleverly veiled, that, since the affair of the conducta, they seemed to
have disappeared without leaving a trace, and buried themselves in the
bowels of the earth.

This complete want of news, far from reassuring the Colonel, on the
contrary, augmented his anxiety. This factitious tranquillity, this
gloomy silence of the landscape, seemed to him more menacing than if he
had heard of the approach of the enemy, whose masses, however, he felt,
by a species of secret intuition, were gradually drawing in round the
post he had been selected to defend.

It was the second day after the arrival of the Mexicans at the
Larch-tree; the sun was disappearing behind the mountains in masses of
gold; night would soon set in. Colonel Melendez and the Major-domo,
leaning on one of the battlements of the platform, were absently gazing
out on the immense landscape unrolled at their feet, while conversing
together. Don Juan had in a few minutes appreciated the loyalty and
intelligence of the Major-domo; hence these two men, who thoroughly
understood each other, had become friends.

"Another day past," said the Colonel, "and it has been impossible for us
yet to learn the movements of the insurgents. Does not that appear
extraordinary to you, Don Felix?"

The Major-domo sent forth a cloud of smoke from his mouth and nostril,
took his husk cigarette from his mouth, and quietly flipped away the
ash.

"Very extraordinary," he said, without turning his head, and continuing
to look fixedly at the sky.

"What a singular man you are! Nothing disturbs you," Don Juan went on
half angrily, "Have all our scouts returned?"

"All."

"And still brought no news?"

"None."

"By Heaven! Your coolness would make a saint swear! What are you looking
at so fixedly in the sky? Do you fancy you can find the information we
require there?"

"Perhaps so," the Major-domo replied seriously. Then extending his hand
in a north-east direction, he said--

"Look there."

"Well?" the Colonel said looking in the direction indicated.

"Do you see nothing?"

"On my honour, no."

"Not even those flocks of herons and flamingos flying in large circles,
and uttering shrill cries which you can hear from here?"

"Certainly I see birds; but what have they in common----?"

"Colonel," the Major-domo interrupted him, turning and drawing himself
up to his full height; "prepare to defend yourself; the enemy is there."

"What--the enemy? you are mad, Don Felix; look out in the last gleams of
day, the plain is deserted."

"Colonel, before becoming Major-domo at the Larch-tree hacienda, I was a
wood ranger for fifteen years; the desert is to me a book, every page of
which I can peruse. Watch the timid flight of those birds, notice the
numberless flocks which are constantly joining those we first perceived;
those birds, driven from their nests, are flying haphazard before an
enemy who will soon appear. That enemy is the insurgent army, whose
masses will soon be visible to us, probably preceded by fire."

"Rayo de Dios, Don Felix," the Colonel suddenly exclaimed; "you are
right, look there!"

A red line, momentarily growing wider, suddenly appeared on the extreme
verge of the horizon.

"Did the flight of the birds deceive us?" the Major-domo asked.

"Forgive me, friend, a very excusable ignorance, but we have not a
moment to lose."

They went down at once; five minutes later the defenders of the hacienda
lined the tops of the walls, and ambushed themselves behind the exterior
intrenchments. The Texan army, now perfectly visible, was deploying on
the plains in heavy columns.



CHAPTER XI.

A METAMORPHOSIS.


We must now go back for some days, and return to the encampment of the
hunters, whom we left in a most awkward position, watched by the
vigilant eye of the Apaches, and compelled to trust temporarily to Fray
Antonio, that is to say, to a man for whom, in his heart, not one of
them felt the slightest sympathy. Still, had it been possible to read
the monk's mind, their opinion about him would probably have been
completely changed.

A revolution had taken place in this man's mind, and he had been
unconsciously overcome by that influence which upright natures ever
exert over those which have not yet been entirely spoiled. However,
whatever was the cause of the change which had taken place almost
suddenly in the monk's ideas, we are bound to state that it was sincere,
and that Fray Antonio really intended to serve his new friends, whatever
the consequences might be to himself.

Tranquil, accustomed, through the desert life he led, to discover with a
certain degree of skill the true feelings of persons with whom accident
brought him in contact, thought it his duty to appear to trust, under
present circumstances, entirely on the monk, though he might not give
perfect credence to his protestations of devotion.

"Are you brave?" he asked him, continuing the conversation.

Fray Antonio, surprised by the sudden question, hesitated for a moment.

"That depends," he said.

"Good; that is the answer of a sensible man. There are moments when the
bravest is afraid, and no man can answer for his courage."

The monk gave a sign of assent.

"We have," Tranquil continued, "to cheat the cheater, and play at
diamond cut diamond with him; you understand me?"

"Perfectly. Go on."

"Very good. Return to Blue-fox,"

"What?"

"Are you afraid?"

"Not exactly; but I fancy he may proceed to extremities with me."

"That is a risk to be run."

"Well, be it so," he exclaimed resolutely, "I will run it."

The Canadian looked fixedly at him.

"That will do," he said to him. "Here, take these, and, at any rate, if
you are attacked, you will not die unavenged."

And he put a brace of pistols in his hand. The monk examined them
attentively for a moment, turning them over so as to assure himself that
they were in good state, then he hid them under his gown with a start of
joy.

"I fear nothing now," he said; "I am going."

"Still I must explain to you----"

"For what good purpose?" the monk interrupted him. "I will tell Blue-fox
that you consent to have an interview with him; but, as you do not care
to go alone to his camp, you prefer seeing him without witnesses in the
middle of the prairie."

"That will do, and you will bring him with you to the spot where I shall
be waiting."

"I will try, at any rate."

"That is what I mean."

"But where will you wait for him?"

"On the skirt of the forest."

"All right."

"One parting hint."

"Out with it."

"Keep a few paces from the Chief, not before or behind, but on his right
hand, if possible."

"Very good; I understand."

"Well, I trust you will succeed."

"Oh, now I fear nothing, as I am armed."

After uttering these words, the monk rose and walked away with a quick
and firm step. The Canadian looked after him for some time.

"Is he a traitor?" he muttered.

"I do not think so," Loyal Heart answered.

"May Heaven grant it!"

"What is your plan?"

"It is simple: we can only triumph over the enemies who surround us by
stratagem; hence, that is the only thing I intend employing. We must
escape from these red demons at all hazards."

"That is true. But, when we have succeeded in throwing them out, where
shall we go?"

"We must not dream, in the present excited state of the country, of
making a long journey across the desert with two females; it would be
running certain ruin."

"That is true; but what can we do?"

"It is my intention to proceed to the Larch-tree hacienda. There, I
fancy, my daughter will obtain the best protection for the present."

"Permit me to remind you that yourself refused to have recourse to
that."

"That is true; hence I only resolve on it when in a fix. As for you----"

"Oh, I will accompany you," Loyal Heart quickly interrupted him.

"Thanks," the Canadian exclaimed, warmly. "Still, in spite of all the
pleasure your generous offer occasions me, I cannot accept it."

"Why not?"

"Because the nation which had adopted you claims your help, and you
cannot refuse it."

"It will wait; besides, Black-deer will make my excuses."

"No," the Chief said, distinctly; "I will not leave my Pale friends in
danger."

"By Jove!" Tranquil exclaimed joyously, "As it is so, we shall have some
fun; hang it all, if five resolute and well-armed men cannot get the
best of a hundred Apaches. Listen to me, comrades: while I go ostensibly
to the meeting I have granted Blue-fox, follow me in Indian file, and be
ready to appear directly I give you the signal by imitating the cry of
the mockingbird."

"All right."

"You, Lanzi and Quoniam, will watch over Carmela."

"We will all watch over her, friend, trust to us," said Loyal Heart.

Tranquil gave his comrades a parting farewell, threw his rifle over his
shoulder, and left the encampment. He had hardly disappeared ere the
hunters lay down on the ground, and crawled on his trail, Carmela guided
by Singing-bird forming the rearguard. The maiden felt an involuntary
shudder run over her limbs as she entered the forest. This night march,
whose issue might prove so fatal, terrified her, and suggested gloomy
forebodings, which she feared to see realised at every step.

In the meanwhile Fray Antonio continued his journey, and soon emerged
from the forest. Far from his resolution being shaken, the nearer he
drew to the Apaches he felt it, on the contrary, become firmer. The monk
was eager to prove to the hunters that he was worthy the confidence they
placed in him; and if at times the thought of the dangers to which he
exposed himself crossed his mind, he drove it off, being determined to
risk his life, if needed, in saving Doña Carmela, and preventing her
falling into the hands of the cruel enemies who were preparing to seize
her.

Fray Antonio had gone hardly five hundred yards from the forest, when a
man suddenly emerged from a thicket and barred his passage. The monk
suppressed with difficulty a cry of terror at this unexpected
apparition, and started back. But immediately regaining his coolness, he
prepared to sustain the terrible contest that doubtless menaced him, for
he had recognised Blue-fox at the first glance. The Chief examined him
in silence, fixing on him his deep black eye with an expression of
suspicion which did not escape the monk.

"My father has been a long time," he at length said, harshly.

"I could not be any quicker," the monk answered.

"Wah! My father returns alone; the great Pale warrior was afraid; he did
not accompany my father."

"You are mistaken, Chief; the man you call the great Pale hunter, and
whom I call Tranquil, was not afraid, and did not refuse to accompany
me."

"Och! Blue-fox is a Sachem; his eye pierces the thickest darkness;
though he may look he sees nothing."

"That is probably because you do not look in the right direction, that's
all."

"My father will explain. Blue-fox desires to know how his Pale friend
carried out the mission the Sachem confided to him."

"I took the best advantage possible of my meeting with the hunter, in
order to carry out the orders I had received."

"My father will pardon me, I am only a poor Indian without brains;
things must be repeated to me several times before I can understand
them. Will the great Pale hunter come?"

"Yes."

"When?"

"At once."

"Where is he then?"

"I left him over there, at the verge of the forest. He is waiting for
the Chief."

Blue-fox started at this remark, and fixed on the monk a glance which
seemed trying to read the most secret thoughts of his heart.

"Why did he not accompany my father here?" he said.

The monk assumed the most simple look possible.

"On my faith, I do not know," he answered; "but of what consequence is
it?"

"It is pleasanter to converse on the prairie."

"Do you think so? Well, it is possible. For my part I do not see any
difference between here and there."

This was said with such apparent carelessness, that, in spite of all his
craft, the Chief was deceived.

"Has the great Pale hunter come alone?"

"No," Fray Antonio replied, boldly.

"If that be so, Blue-fox will not go."

"The Chief will reflect."

"What is the use of reflecting? The father has deceived his Red friend."

"The hunter could not come alone."

"Why not?"

"Because he did not wish to leave in the forest the girl who accompanies
him."

The Indian's face suddenly brightened, and assumed an expression of
extraordinary cunning.

"Wah!" he said, "And no other person but the young Pale virgin
accompanies the hunter?"

"No. It seems that the other white warriors who were with him left him
at daybreak."

"Does my father know where they are gone?"

"I did not inquire. That does not concern me. Every man has enough
business of his own without troubling himself about that of others."

"My father is a wise man."

The monk made no reply to this compliment.

These words were rapidly exchanged between the two men. Fray Antonio had
answered so naturally, and with such well-played frankness, that the
Indian, whose secret thoughts the Mexican's answers flattered, felt all
his suspicions vanish, and went, head down, into the snare so adroitly
laid for him.

"Och!" he said, "Blue-fox will see his friend."

"The father can return to the camp of the Apache warriors."

"No, thank you, Chief," the monk answered, resolutely, "I prefer
remaining with people of my own colour."

Blue-fox reflected for an instant, and then replied, with an ironical
smile playing round his thin lips--

"Good; my father is right. He can follow me, then."

"It is evident," the monk thought to himself, "that this accursed pagan
is devising some treachery. But I will watch him, and at the slightest
suspicious movement I will blow out his brains like the dog he is."

But he kept these reflections to himself, and followed the Chief with an
easy and perfectly indifferent air. In the moonbeams, which allowed
objects to be distinguished for a considerable distance, they soon
perceived, on the extreme verge of the forest, the dark outline of a man
leaning on a rifle.

"Ah," the Chief said, "we must make ourselves known."

"That need not trouble you. I take it on myself to warn the hunter when
the time arrives."

"Good," the Indian muttered, and they continued to advance.

Blue-fox, though he placed confidence in his companion, only advanced,
however, with extreme caution and prudence, examining the shrubs, and
even the smallest tufts of grass, as if assuring himself that they
concealed no enemy. But, with the exception of the man they perceived
before them, the place seemed plunged in profound solitude; all was calm
and motionless; no unusual sound troubled the silence.

"Let us stop here," said Fray Antonio, "it would be imprudent for us to
advance further without announcing ourselves, although the hunter has
probably recognized us already; for, as you perceive, Chief, he has not
made the slightest move."

"That is true, but it is as well to be cautious," the other replied.

They stopped at about twenty yards from the covert, where Fray Antonio
placed his hands funnel-wise on either side his mouth, and shouted at
the full extent of his lungs--

"Hilloh! Tranquil, is that you?"

"Who calls me?" the latter immediately answered.

"I--Fray Antonio. I am accompanied by the person you are expecting."

"Advance without fear," Tranquil replied. "Those who seek me without any
intention of treachery have nothing to fear from me."

The monk turned to the Apache Chief. "What shall we do?" he asked him.

"Go on," the latter replied, laconically.

The distance which separated them from the hunter was soon covered; and
the Mexican becoming an impromptu master of the ceremonies, presented
the two men to each other. The Sachem took a searching glance around
him.

"I do not see the young Pale girl," he said.

"Did you wish to speak to her or to me?" the Canadian answered, drily.
"I am ready to listen to you. What have you to say to me?"

The Indian frowned; his suspicions were returning; he gave a menacing
glance at the monk, who, obeying the advice given him, had insensibly
withdrawn a few steps, and was preparing to be an apparently calm
witness of the coming scene. Still, after an internal conflict of some
seconds, the Sachem succeeded in mastering the wrath that agitated him,
and assumed an affable and confiding countenance.

"I only wished to speak to my brother," he replied, in an insinuating
voice; "Blue-fox has for many moons desired to see again the face of a
friend."

"If it were really as the Chief says," the hunter continued, "nothing
could have been more easy. Many days have succeeded one to the other;
many years have been swallowed up in the immense gulf of the past, since
the period when, young and full of faith, I called Blue-fox my friend.
At that period he had a Pawnee heart; but now that he has plucked it
from his bosom, to exchange it for an Apache heart, I know him no
longer."

"The great hunter of the Palefaces is severe to his Red brother," the
Indian answered, with feigned humility, "What matter the days that have
passed, if the hunter finds again his friend of the olden time?"

The Canadian smiled disdainfully as he shrugged his shoulders.

"Am I an old woman, to be deceived by the smooth words of a forked
tongue?" he said. "Blue-fox is dead; my eyes only see here an Apache
Chief, that is to say, an enemy."

"Let my brother remove the skin from his heart, he will recognise a
friend," the Indian continued, still in a honeyed voice.

Tranquil involuntarily felt impatient at such cynical impudence.

"A truce to fine speeches, whose sincerity I do not believe in," he
said. "Was he my friend who a few days ago tried to carry off my
daughter, and at the head of his warriors attacked the calli in which
she dwelt, and which is now reduced to ashes?"

"My brother has heard the mockingbird whisper in his ear, and put faith
in its falsehoods; the mocker is a chattering and lying bird."

"You are more chattering and lying than the mocker," Tranquil exclaimed,
as he violently stamped the butt of his rifle on the ground. "For the
last time I repeat to you that I regard you not as a friend, but as an
enemy. Now, we have nothing more to say to one another, so let us
separate, for this unpleasant conference has already lasted too long."

The Indian took a piercing glance around him, and his eye sparkled
ferociously.

"We will not part thus," he said, as he walked two or three steps nearer
the hunter, who still remained motionless. The latter attentively
followed his every movement, while affecting the most perfect
confidence.

As for Fray Antonio, through certain signs that do not deceive men
accustomed to Indian tricks, he understood that the moment for acting
vigorously was fast approaching, and while continuing to feign the most
perfect indifference to the interview of which he was witness, he had
quietly drawn the pistols from under his gown, and held them cocked in
his hand, ready to employ them at the first alarm. The situation was
growing most awkward between the two speakers: each was preparing for
the struggle, although the faces were still calm and their voices
gentle.

"Yes," Tranquil continued, without displaying the slightest emotion, "we
will part thus, Chief, and may Heaven grant that we may never find
ourselves face to face again."

"Before separating, the hunter will answer one question."

"I will not, for this conversation has lasted too long already.
Farewell!"

And he fell back a pace. The Sachem stretched forth his arm to stop him.

"One word!"

"I will not," the Canadian replied.

"Then die, miserable dog of a Paleface," the Chief exclaimed, at length
throwing off the mask and brandishing his tomahawk with extreme
rapidity.

But at the same instant a man rose like a black phantom behind the
Apache Chief, threw his arms round his body, and lifting him with
wondrous strength, hurled him to the ground, and placed his knee on his
chest, ere the Sachem, surprised and alarmed by this sudden attack, had
attempted to defend himself.

At the yell uttered by Blue-fox, some fifty Apache warriors appeared as
if by enchantment, but almost at the same moment the hunter's comrades,
who, although invisible, had attentively followed the incidents of this
scene, stood by the Canadian's side. Fray Antonio, from whom they were
far from expecting such resolution, brought down two Apaches with his
pistols, and rejoined the Whites.

Two groups of implacable enemies were thus opposed; unfortunately, the
hunters were very weak against the numerous foes that surrounded them on
all sides. Still, their firm demeanour and flashing eyes evidenced their
unbending resolution to let themselves be killed to the last man, sooner
than surrender to the Redskins.

It was an imposing spectacle offered by this handful of men surrounded
by implacable foes, and who yet seemed as calm as if they were peaceably
seated round their campfire. Carmela and Singing-bird, suffering from
sharp pangs of terror, pressed all in a tremor to the side of their
friends.

Blue-fox still lay on the ground, held down by Black-deer, whose knee
compressed his chest, and neutralised all the tremendous efforts he made
to rise. The Apaches, with their long barbed arrows pointed at the
hunters, only awaited a word or a sign to begin the attack. A silence of
death brooded over the prairie: it seemed as if these men, before
tearing each other to pieces, were collecting all their strength to
bound forward and rush on each other. Black-deer was the first to break
the silence.

"Wah!" he shouted, in a voice rendered hoarse with passion, as he
brandished over his enemy's head his scalping knife, whose blade emitted
sinister gleams; "at length I meet thee, dog, thief, chicken heart; I
hold my vengeance in my hands; at last thy scalp will adorn my horse's
mane."

"Thou art but a chattering old woman; thy insults cannot affect me, so
try something else. Blue-fox laughs at thee; thou can'st not compel him
to utter a cry of pain or make a complaint."

"I will follow thy advice," Black-deer shouted, passionately, and seized
his enemy's scalp lock.

"Stop, I insist," the Canadian shouted, in a thundering voice, as he
seized the arm of the vindictive Chief.

The latter obeyed.

"Let that man rise," Tranquil continued.

Black-deer gave him a ferocious glance, but made no reply.

"It must be so," the hunter said.

The Comanche Chief bent his head, restored his enemy to liberty, and
fell back a pace. With one bound Blue-fox sprang up; but, instead of
attempting flight, he crossed his arms on his chest, resumed that mask
of impenetrable stoicism which Indians so rarely doff, and waited.
Tranquil regarded him for a moment with a singular expression, and then
said---

"I was wrong just now, and my brother must pardon me. No, the memories
of youth are not effaced like clouds which the wind bears away. When I
saw the terrible danger that menaced Blue-fox, my heart was affected,
and I remembered that we had been for a long time friends. I trembled to
see his blood flow before me. Blue-fox is a great Chief, he must die as
a warrior in the sunshine, he is free to rejoin his friends; he can
go."

The Chief raised his head.

"On what conditions?" he said, drily.

"On none. If the Apache warriors attack us, we will fight them; if not,
we will continue our journey peacefully. The Chief must, decide, for
events depend on his will."

Tranquil, in acting as he had done, had furnished an evident proof of
the profound knowledge he possessed of the character of the Redskins,
among whom any heroic action is immediately appreciated at its full
value. It was a dangerous game to play, but the situation of the hunters
was desperate, despite their courage; if the fight had begun, they must
have been naturally crushed by numbers, and pitilessly massacred. For
the success of his plan the Canadian could only calculate on a good
feeling on the part of Blue-fox, and he had staked his all.

After carefully listening to Tranquil's remarks, Blue-fox remained
silent for some minutes, during which a violent combat went on in his
heart; he felt that he was the dupe of the snare into which he had tried
to draw the hunter by reminding him of their old friendship; but the
murmurs of admiration, which his warriors were unable to suppress, on
seeing the Canadian's noble deed, warned him that he must dissimulate,
and feign a gratitude which he was far from experiencing.

The power of an Indian Chief is always very precarious; and he is often
constrained, in spite of himself, to bow before the demands of his
subordinates, if he does not wish to be overthrown and have a new Chief
set up immediately in his place. Blue-fox, therefore, slowly drew his
scalping knife from his belt, and let it fall at the hunter's feet.

"The great White hunter and his brothers can continue to follow their
path," he said; "the eyes of the Apache warriors are closed, they will
not see them. The Palefaces can depart, they will find no one on their
road till the second moon from this; but then they must take care; an
Apache Chief will set himself on their trail, in order to ask back from
them the knife he leaves them, and which he will require."

The Canadian stooped down and picked up the knife, which he passed
through his belt.

"When Blue-fox asks me for it, he will find it there," he said, as he
pointed to it.

"Och! I will manage to take it again. Now, we are even. Farewell!"

The Chief then bowed courteously to his enemies, made a prodigious bound
back, and disappeared in the lofty grass. The Apache warriors uttered
their war yell twice, and almost immediately their black outlines
disappeared in the gloom. Tranquil waited for a few minutes, and then
turned to his comrades.

"Now, we will set out," he said; "the road is free."

"You got out of the scrape cleverly," Loyal Heart said to him; "but it
was a terrible risk."

The Canadian smiled, but made no further reply. Then they started.



CHAPTER XII.

THE SUMMONS.


Europeans, accustomed to the gigantic wars of the Old World, in which
enormous masses of two to three hundred thousand men on both sides come
into collision on the battle field, where armies have divisions of
thirty or forty thousand men, a cavalry often of sixty to eighty
thousand sabres, and in which the guns are counted by hundreds, have a
difficulty in forming an idea of the way in which war is waged in
certain parts of America, as well as the component strength of the
armies of the New World.

In Mexico, a population of several millions can hardly collect ten
thousand men under arms, an enormous number in those countries. The
various republics which were formed on the dismemberment of the Spanish
colonies, such as Peru, Chile, New Granada, Bolivia, Paraguay, &c.,
cannot succeed in assembling more than two or three thousand men under
their banners, and that, too, with immense sacrifices; for these
countries, which, territorially speaking, are each far larger than
England, are nearly deserted, being incessantly decimated by civil war,
which gnaws at them like a hideous leprosy, and left almost
uninhabitable by the neglect of the various governments, which succeed
each other with a giddy and almost fabulous rapidity.

These governments, submitted to rather than accepted by these
unfortunate nations, although powerless for good, owing to their
precarious duration, are omnipotent for evil, and profit by it to
plunder the people, and load their creatures with riches, not troubling
themselves about the abyss they are opening beneath their feet, and
which, daily growing deeper, will eventually swallow up all these
accidental nationalities, which will be dead almost ere they are born,
and have only known liberty by name, though never in a position to
appreciate its blessings.

Texas, at the period when it claimed its independence, in a contest of
ten years, so obstinately, counted over its entire territory only a
population of six hundred thousand--a very weak and modest amount, when
compared with the seven million of the Mexican confederation. Still, as
we have remarked in a preceding chapter, the Texan population was
composed, in a great measure, of North Americans--energetic,
enterprising men, of known courage, who, annoyed by the long lasting
tyranny the Federal government exercised over them, through jealousy and
narrowness of views, had sworn to be free at any price, and took up arms
in order to guarantee the possession of their estates, and their
personal security.

The combat had been going on for ten years; at first timid and secret,
it had gradually widened, holding in check the Mexican power, and at
length attained that final and supreme period when the alternative is
victory or death.

The surprise of the conducta, so skilfully managed by the Jaguar, had
been the electric spark destined to definitively galvanize the country,
and make it rise as one man for this modern Thermopylae. The independent
chiefs, who were fighting all along the border, had, at the unexpected
news of the decisive success obtained by the Jaguar, assembled their
_cuadrillas_, and, by common agreement, and through an heroic impulse,
ranged themselves under the banners of the youthful chieftain, and
pledged him obedience, in order to carry through the liberation of their
country.

Thanks to the generous assistance on the part of all the Guerilla
leaders, the Jaguar suddenly found himself at the head of imposing
forces, that is to say, he collected an army of about eleven hundred
men. Our readers must not smile at the name of army given to what would
represent a regiment with us. Never before had Texas collected so many
fighting men under one Chief. And then, after all, everything is
relative in this world, and the greatest masses do not accomplish the
most brilliant exploits. Did we not see, a few years back, in Sonora,
the heroic and unfortunate Count de Raousset Bourbon, at the head of
only two hundred and fifty ragged Frenchmen, half dead with hunger and
fatigue, attack Hermosillo, a town of fifteen thousand souls, enclosed
with walls, and defended by twelve thousand regulars and six thousand
Indians, carry it _in an hour_, and enter it, sword in hand, at the head
of his soldiers, who did not themselves dare to believe in their
heroism?[1]

The Jaguar's army was composed of men hardened by lengthened fighting,
who burned to cope with the Mexicans, and who, before all, wished to be
free! No more was needed for them to accomplish miracles. The Jaguar was
thoroughly acquainted with the character of his soldiers; he knew that
he must only ask one thing of them--an impossibility--and this he had,
consequently, determined to attempt.

Through the wish of the new commander-in-chief, all the captains of
cuadrillas assembled in a council of war, in order to draw up a plan of
campaign. Each party gave his opinion. The debate was short, for all
entertained the same idea--and that was, to seize on the Larch-tree
hacienda, in order to cut off the communications of the Mexican army,
prevent it from receiving reinforcements from the other states of the
confederation; and, once masters of the fortress, to defeat in detail
the different Mexican detachments scattered over Texan territory. As
this plan was remarkably simple, the Jaguar resolved to carry it out
immediately. After leaving a detachment of five hundred horseman to
cover his rear, and avoid any surprise, he advanced with his main body
by forced marches on the Larch-tree, with the intention of investing and
carrying it by assault ere the Mexicans had found time to put a garrison
in it and throw up intrenchments.

Unfortunately, despite all the diligence the Jaguar had displayed in the
execution of his plan, the Mexicans, owing to the lengthened experience
and infallible glance of General Rubio, had been more prompt than he,
and the place had been in a perfect state of defence two days ere the
Texan army appeared at the foot of its walls.

This disappointment greatly annoyed the Jaguar, but did not discourage
him; he saw that he would have to lay siege to the Larch-tree, and
bravely made his preparations. The Americans dug up the soil with
wondrous rapidity, and a night was sufficient for them to finish the
preparatory works, and make breast-works and parapets. The Mexicans gave
no signs of life, and allowed the insurgents to establish themselves in
their lines without opposition; by sunrise all was finished.

It was a strange spectacle offered by this handful of men, who, without
artillery or siege material of any description, boldly traced lines
round a stoutly-built fortress, admirably situated for resistance, and
defended by a numerous garrison, which was determined not to surrender.
But what in this heroic madness produced admiration, and almost stupor,
was the conviction these men had that they would eventually take the
place. This persuasion, by doubling the strength of the insurgents,
rendered them capable of accomplishing the greatest things.

As they arrived after sunset, when the night had all but set in, the
Texans had formed an imperfect idea of the defensive state of the place
which they proposed to besiege; hence, when day broke, they eagerly
proceeded to see what enemy they would have to deal with. The surprise
was anything but agreeable to them, and they were compelled to confess
to themselves in their hearts that the job would be a tough one, and
that the intrenchments they proposed to carry had a formidable
appearance. This surprise was changed almost into discouragement when
the fortress haughtily hoisted the Mexican flag, saluting it with
several rounds of grapeshot, which fell into the centre of the camp, and
killed and wounded some fifteen men.

But this movement of weakness was but short; a reaction speedily took
place in these energetic men, and it was with hurrahs and shouts of joy
that they displayed the colours of Texan independence. For valid reasons
they did not accompany the hoisting of their flag by cannon shots, but
they saluted it with salvos of musquetry, whose well-sustained fire gave
back to the besieged the death they had scattered through the camp.

The Jaguar, after attentively examining the fortifications, resolved to
proceed according to rule, and summon the place to surrender before
beginning the siege seriously. Consequently, he hoisted a white flag on
the top of the entrenchments, and waited; a few moments later, a flag of
the same colour appeared on the breastwork thrown up outside the place.

The Jaguar, preceded by a trumpeter, followed by two or three officers,
left the camp and climbed up the hill on which the hacienda was
situated. A number of officers equal to his own had left the place and
advanced to meet him. On arriving at about an equal distance from the
two lines, the Jaguar halted, and in a few minutes the Mexican officers,
commanded by Don Felix Paz, joined him. After the usual compliments had
been exchanged with extreme politeness, the Major-domo asked--

"With whom have I the honour of speaking?"

"With the Commander-in-Chief of the Texan army," the Jaguar answered.

"We do not recognise any Texan army," the Major-domo said drily. "Texas
forms an integral portion of Mexico; her army, the only one she ought to
possess, is Mexican."

"If you do not know the one I have the honour of commanding," the Jaguar
said with a smile of superb irony, "ere long, please Heaven, it will
have made so much noise, that you will be compelled to recognise it."

"That is possible; but for the present we do not know it."

"Then, you do not wish to parley?"

"With whom?"

"Come, Caballero, suppose we are frank with one another--are you
willing?"

"I wish for nothing better."

"You know as well as I do that we are fighting for our independence."

"Very good. In that case you are insurgents?"

"Certainly, and feel proud of the title."

"Hum! We do not treat with insurgents, who are placed beyond the pale of
the law, and who, as such, cannot offer us any serious guarantee."

"Caballero," the Jaguar exclaimed with ill-disguised impatience, "I have
the honour of remarking that you insult me."

"I am very sorry for it; but what other answer than that can I give
you?"

There was a momentary silence; the vigorous resistance offered him made
the Jaguar feel seriously alarmed.

"Are you the Fort-Commandant?" he asked.

"No."

"Why did you come, then?"

"Because I was ordered to do so."

"Hum! And who is the Governor of the place?"

"A Colonel."

"Why did he not come in person to meet me?"

"Because he probably did not think it worth while to put himself out of
the way."

"Hum! That way of behaving seems to me rather lax, for war has laws
which every man is bound to follow."

"Maybe, but it is not war in this case, that must not be let out of
sight."

"What is it then, in your opinion?"

"Insurrection."

"Well, I wish to speak with your Commandant, for I can only treat with
him. Are you disposed to let me see him?"

"That does not depend on me, but on him."

"Very good. Can I trust to your delivering my message to him?"

"I do not see why I should not."

"Be kind enough, then, to return at once to him, and I will wait for you
here, unless you permit me to enter the fortress."

"That is impossible."

"As you please; I will, therefore, await your reply here."

"Very well."

The two men bowed courteously, and took leave of each other. Don Felix
Paz re-entered the fortress, while the Jaguar, sitting on the trunk of a
felled tree, examined with the greatest attention the fortifications of
the hacienda, the details of which he could easily survey from the spot
where he now was. The young man leaned his elbow on his knee, and let
his head rest on his hand; his eyes wandered over the surrounding
objects with an expression of indefinable melancholy; gradually a gloomy
sadness seized on his mind; while indulging in his thoughts, external
objects disappeared from his sight, and isolating himself completely, he
gave way to the flood of bitter recollections which rose from his heart
to his brain, and removed him from the preoccupations of his present
situation.

For a long time he had been plunged in this species of prostration, when
a friendly voice smote his ear. The Jaguar, suddenly drawn from his
reverie by the sound of a voice which he fancied he recognised, threw up
his head sharply, and gave a start of surprise on recognising Don Juan
Melendez de Gongora, for it was really the Colonel who was now
addressing him. The Texan Chief rose, and spoke to his officers.

"Back, Caballeros," he said; "this gentleman and myself have matters to
talk about which no one must hear."

The Texans withdrew out of earshot. The Colonel was alone, for on
recognising the Jaguar, he had ordered his escort to await him at the
base of the intrenchments.

"I meet you here again then, my friend," the Jaguar said sadly.

"Yes," the young officer answered; "fatality seems determined to keep us
in constant opposition."

"On examining the height and strength of your walls," the Independent
continued, "I had already recognized the difficulties of the task forced
on me; these difficulties have now grown almost into impossibilities."

"Alas, my friend, fate wills it so, we are forced to submit to its
caprices; and while in my heart deploring what takes place, I am yet
resolved to do my duty as a man of honour, and die in the breach, with
my breast turned toward you."

"I know it, brother, and cannot feel angry with you; for I too am
resolved to carry out the difficult task imposed on me."

"Such are the terrible exigencies of civil war, that the men most
inclined to esteem and love one another, are compelled to be foes."

"God and our country will judge us, friend, and our consciences will
absolve us; men are not combating, but principles fatally placed in
opposition."

"I was not aware that you were the Chief of the insurrectionary bands
that have invested the place, although a secret foreboding warned me of
your presence."

"That is strange," the Jaguar muttered, "for I also felt the foreboding
to which you allude; that is why I so strongly insisted on having an
interview with the Commandant of the hacienda."

"The same reason urged me, on the contrary, not to show myself; but I
thought I must yield to your entreaty, and hence here I am; I swear to
you that I should have wished to avoid this interview, which is so
painful to both of us, in consequence of our mutual feelings."

"It is better that it should have taken place; now that we have had a
frank explanation, we shall be better fitted to do our duty."

"You are right, friend; it is perhaps better that it should be so; let
me press your honest hand for the last time, and then each of us will
resume his part."

"Here is my hand, friend," the young Chief made answer.

The two men heartily shook hands, and then fell back a few paces, making
a signal to their respective escorts to rejoin them. When the officers
were ranged behind the Chiefs, the Jaguar ordered his bugler to sound
the summons; the latter obeyed, and the Mexican trumpet immediately
replied. The Jaguar then advanced two paces, and courteously took off
his hat to the Colonel.

"With whom have I the honour of speaking?" he asked.

"I am," the officer replied, returning the salute, "Colonel Don Juan
Melendez de Gongora, invested by General Don José Maria Rubio,
Commander-in-Chief of the Mexican forces in Texas, with the military
government of the Larch-tree hacienda, which present circumstances have
raised to the rank of a first class fortress; and who may you be,
Caballero?"

"I," the Jaguar answered, as he drew himself up, and placed his hat
again on his head, "am the Supreme Chief of the Confederated Army of
Texas."

"The men who take that name, and the person who commands them, can only
be regarded by me as traitors and fosterers of rebellion."

"We care little, Colonel, what name you give us, or the manner in which
you regard our acts. We have taken up arms to render our country
independent, and shall not lay them down till that noble task is
accomplished. These are the proposals I think it my duty to make you."

"I cannot and will not treat with rebels," the Colonel said, clearly and
distinctly.

"You will act as you please, Colonel; but humanity orders you to avoid
bloodshed, if possible, and your duty imperiously commands you to listen
to what I have to say to you."

"Be it so, Caballero, I will listen to you, and then will see what
answer I have to give you; but I must ask you to be brief."

The Jaguar leaned the point of his sabre on the ground, and giving a
clear and piercing glance at the Mexican staff, he continued, in a loud,
firm, and accentuated voice--

"I, the Commander-in-Chief of the Liberating Army of Texas, summon you,
a Colonel in the service of the Mexican Republic, whose sovereignty we
no longer recognise, to surrender to us this Larch-tree hacienda, of
which you entitle yourself the Governor, and which you hold without
right or reason. If, within twenty-four hours, the said hacienda is put
into our hands, with all it contains, guns, ammunition, material of war,
and otherwise, the garrison will quit the place with the honours of war,
under arms, with drums and fifes playing. Then, after laying down their
arms, the garrison will be free to retire to the interior of Texas,
after making oath that during a year and a day they will not serve in
Texas against the Liberating Army."

"Have you ended?" the Colonel asked, with ill-disguised impatience.

"Not yet," the Jaguar coldly answered.

"I must ask you to make haste."

On seeing these two men exchange savage glances, and placed in such a
hostile position face to face, no one would have supposed that they were
fond of each other, and groaned in their hearts at the painful part fate
compelled them to play against their will. The truth was, that in one
military fanaticism, in the other an ardent love of his country, had
imposed silence on every other feeling, and only permitted them to
listen to one, the most imperious of all--the sentiment of duty. The
Jaguar, perfectly calm and firm, continued in the same resolute accent--

"If, against my expectations, these conditions are refused, and the
place obstinately defends itself, the Army of Liberation will
immediately invest it, carry on the siege with all the vigour of which
it is capable, and when the hacienda is captured, it will undergo the
fate of towns taken by assault; the garrison will be decimated, and
remain prisoners till the end of the war."

"Very good," the Colonel replied, ironically; "however harsh these
conditions may be, we prefer them to the former; and if the fate of
arms betray us, we will endure without complaint the law of the
conquerors."

The Jaguar bowed ceremoniously.

"I have only to withdraw," he said.

"One moment," the Colonel said, "You have explained to me your
conditions, so it is now your turn to hear mine."

"What conditions can you have to offer us, since you refuse to
surrender?"

"You shall hear."

The Colonel looked round him with a glance of assurance; then, crossing
his arms on his chest, and drawing himself up with the air of sovereign
contempt for those who surrounded him, began speaking in a sharp and
sarcastic voice--

"I," he said, "Don Juan de Melendez de Gongora, Colonel in the service
of the Mexican Republic, considering that the majority of the
individuals assembled at this moment at the foot of my walls are poor,
ignorant men, whom bad example and bad counsel have led into a revolt,
which they detest in their hearts--for I know that the Mexican
Government has ever been just, kind, and paternal to them; considering,
moreover, that possibly the fear of the severe chastisement which they
have deserved by their culpable conduct keeps them, against their desire
and will, in the ranks of the rebels; employing the prerogative given me
by my title of governor of a first class fortress, and a field officer
in the Mexican army, I promise them, that if they immediately lay down
their arms, and, as a proof of sincere repentance, surrender to me the
Chiefs who deceived them and led them into revolt--I promise them, I
repeat, a complete pardon and oblivion of the faults they may have
committed up to today, but only on this condition. They have till sunset
of the present day to make their submission; when that period is passed,
they will be regarded as inveterate rebels, and treated as such---that
is to say, hanged without trial, after their identity has been proved,
and deprived in their last moments of the consolations of religion, as
being unworthy of them. As for the Chiefs, as traitors, they will be
shot in the back, and their bodies fastened by the feet on gibbets,
where they will remain as food for birds of prey, and serve as an
example to those who may venture in their track. Reflect, then, and
repent, for such are the sole conditions you will obtain of me. And now,
Caballeros," he said, turning to his officers, "we will return to the
fort, as we have nothing more to do here."

His hearers had listened with increasing surprise to this strange
address, uttered in a tone of sarcasm and haughty contempt, which had
filled the hearts of the Jaguar's comrades with gall, while the Mexican
officers looked at each other with a laugh. By a sign, the Jaguar
imposed silence on his comrades, and bowed respectfully to the Colonel.

"Your will be done," he said to him. "God will judge between us; the
bloodshed will fall on your head."

"I accept the responsibility," the Commandant remarked, disdainfully.

"Then, the words you have just uttered are serious?"

"They are."

"You are quite resolved on opposing us?"

"Of course."

"Your resolution will not change?"

"It is immovable."

"We will fight, then," the Jaguar exclaimed, enthusiastically. "_Viva la
patria, viva la Independencia!_"

This cry, repeated by his comrades, was heard in the camp, and taken up
with extraordinary enthusiasm by his comrades.

"_Viva Mejico!_" the Colonel said.

He then retired, followed by his officers. On his side, the Jaguar
returned to his camp, resolved to attempt a vigorous hand stroke on the
place. On both sides preparations were made for the implacable struggle
that was about to begin between members of the same family and children
of the same soil; a homicidal and fearful struggle, a hundredfold more
horrible than a foreign war!


[1] See the "Gold-Seekers," same publishers.



CHAPTER XIII.

THE SIEGE.


While all this was going on, the hunters, as we mentioned before,
resumed their journey, so soon as the Apaches disappeared. The night was
clear, and the hunters marched in Indian file, that is to say, one after
the other; still, through a prudential motive, Carmela was placed
pillion-wise behind Tranquil, while Singing-bird rode with Black-deer.

The Canadian had whispered a few words to Lanzi and Quoniam, upon which
the two men, without replying, dug their spurs in, and started at a
gallop.

"When you have ladies with you," Tranquil said, with a laugh to Loyal
Heart, "it is necessary to take precautions."

The hunter, however, did not ask him for any explanation, and the four
men continued their march in silence. During the whole night nothing
occurred to disturb their journey; the Apaches kept their word
faithfully, and had really withdrawn. Tranquil had not for a moment
doubted their promise. At times the hunter turned to the maiden, and
asked her with ill-disguised anxiety if she felt fatigued, but Carmela
constantly replied in the negative. A few minutes before sunrise, he
bent down to her for the last time.

"Courage," he said, "we shall soon arrive."

The girl attempted to smile, but this long night spent on horseback had
crushed her; she could not even find the courage to answer, so
annihilated was she, and Tranquil, anxious for his daughter, hurried on.
Still in the sunbeams, whose warmth caressed her, the maiden felt
newborn, her courage returned, and she drew herself up with a sigh of
relief. The journey, then, became more gay; for each, on this much
desired appearance of day, had forgotten his fatigue and the emotions of
the past night. Two hours later they reached the base of a hill, halfway
up which was a natural grotto.

"Our friends are expecting us there," said Tranquil.

A few moments later, the little band entered the grotto on horseback,
without leaving any traces of its passage. This grotto, like many others
in that country, possessed several entrances, and through this
peculiarity it often served as a refuge to the wood rangers, who, being
thoroughly conversant with all its windings, could easily escape from
the search of any enemies who might have followed their trail. It was
divided into several compartments, without visible communication with
each other, and formed a species of maze, which ran with inextricable
windings under the whole of the hill. On the prairie the name of the
Jaguar's grotto had been given it.

The two hunters, sent forward by the Canadian, were seated by an
enormous fire of heather, and quietly roasting a magnificent haunch of
venison, as they silently smoked their pipes. Although they must have
been waiting a long time for their friends, on the arrival of Tranquil
and his comrades they contented themselves with a slight bow, and did
not evince the slightest desire to know what had occurred since their
departure, for these men had lived so long on the desert, that they had
grown to assume all the Indian habits. Tranquil led the two females into
a grotto a considerable distance from the principal one.

"Here," he said in a gentle whisper, "you must speak as little as
possible, and as low as you can, for you never know what neighbours you
may have; pay great attention to this piece of advice, for your safety
depends on it. If you require me, or have an inclination to join us, you
know where we are, and it is an easy matter for you to come; good-bye."

His daughter caught him by the arm for a moment, and whispered in his
ear. He bowed in reply, and went out. When the two females found
themselves alone, their first impulse was to fall into each other's
arms. This first emotion past, they lay on the ground with that feeling
of comfort which is experienced when you have sighed during a long
period for a rest, the want of which you greatly feel. At the expiration
of about an hour, Tranquil returned.

"Are we going to start again?" Carmela asked hurriedly, with an
ill-disguised agitation.

"On the contrary, I expect to remain here till sunset."

"Heaven be praised!" the maiden exclaimed.

"I have come to tell you that breakfast is ready, and that we are only
awaiting your presence to begin our meal."

"Eat without us, my dear papa," Carmela answered; "at this moment we
have more need of sleep than anything else."

"Sleep if you like; I have brought you, however, male clothing, which I
must ask you to put on."

"What, father, dress ourselves as men?" Carmela said in surprise, and
with a slight repugnance.

"You must, child--it is indispensable."

"In that case I will obey you, father."

"Thank you, my daughter."

The hunter withdrew, and the two young women soon fell asleep. Their
sleep lasted a long time, for the sun was beginning to sink beneath the
horizon, when they awoke, completely recovered from their fatigue.
Carmela, fresh and rosy, felt no effects of the long sleeplessness of
the preceding night; and the Indian girl, stronger, or more hardened,
had not suffered so much as her companion. The two girls then began,
while chattering and laughing, to prepare everything necessary for the
disguise the hunter had recommended them.

"Let us begin our toilette," Carmela said gaily to Singing-bird.

At the moment when they were removing their dresses, they heard the
noise of footsteps near them, and turned like two startled fawns,
thinking that Tranquil was coming to see whether they were awake yet;
but a couple of words distinctly pronounced, caused them to listen, and
stand quivering with emotion, surprise, and curiosity.

"My brother has been a long time," the voice had said, which seemed to
belong to a man standing scarce three paces from them; "I have been
expecting him for two hours."

"By Heaven, Chief, your remark is perfectly correct; but it was
impossible for me to come sooner," another person immediately answered,
whose strongly pronounced accent proved to be a foreigner.

"My brother will speak without loss of tune."

"That is what I intend doing,"

At this moment Tranquil came up. The young women laid the forefinger on
their lips, recommending silence; the hunter understood what this meant,
and advanced on tiptoe to listen.

"The Jaguar," the second speaker continued, "desires most eagerly that,
in accordance with the promise you made him, you should join his army
with your warriors."

"Up to the present that has been impossible."

"Blue-fox!" Tranquil muttered.

"I warn you that he accuses you of breach of faith."

"The Pale Chief is wrong; a Sachem is not a chattering old woman who
knows not what he says. This evening I shall join him with two hundred
picked warriors."

"We shall see, Chief."

"At the first song of the mankawis, the Apache warriors will enter the
camp."

"All the better. The Jaguar is preparing a general assault on the fort,
and only awaits your arrival to give the signal of attack."

"I repeat to my brother that the Apaches will not fail."

"Those confounded Mexicans fight like demons; the man who commands them
seems to have galvanized them, they second him so well. There was only
one good officer in the Mexican army, and we are obliged to fight
against him. It is really most unlucky."

"The Chief of the Yoris is not invulnerable. The arrows of the Apaches
are long--they will kill him."

"Nonsense," the other said ill-temperedly; "this man seems to have a
charm that protects him. Our Kentuckian rifles are wonderfully true, and
our marksmen possess a far from common skill; but no bullet can hit
him."

"While coming to this grotto, Blue-fox raised the scalp of a Chief of
the Yoris."

"Ah!" the first speaker observed with indifference.

"Here it is; this man was the bearer of a necklace."

"A letter, by Heavens!" the other exclaimed anxiously; "What have you
done with it? You have not destroyed it, I trust?"

"No, the Chief has kept it."

"You did well. Show it to me, perhaps it is important."

"Wah! It is some medicine of the Palefaces; a Chief does not want it; my
brother can take it."

"Thanks!"

There was a moment's silence, during which the hearts of the three
hearers might have been heard beating in unison, so great was their
anxiety.

"By Jove!" the white man suddenly burst out; "A letter addressed to
Colonel Don Juan Melendez de Gongora, Commandant of the Larch-tree, by
General Rubio. You were in luck's way, Chief. Are you sure that the
bearer of this letter is dead?"

"It was Blue-fox who killed him."

"In that case I feel confident, for I can trust to you. Now, this is
what you must do: so soon as----"

But while speaking thus, the two men had withdrawn, and the sound of
their voices was lost in the distance, so that it was impossible to hear
the termination of the sentence, or guess its purport.

The two women turned round. Tranquil had disappeared, and they were
again alone. Carmela, after listening to this strange conversation, of
which accident allowed her to catch a few fragments, had fallen into a
profound reverie, which her companion, with that sense of propriety
innate in Indians, was careful not to disturb.

In the meanwhile, time slipped away, the gloom grew denser in the
grotto, for night had set in; the two young women, afraid to remain
alone in the obscurity, were preparing to rejoin their companions, when
they heard the sound of footsteps, and Tranquil entered.

"What!" he said to them, "Not ready yet? Make haste to put on your
masculine attire, for every minute is an age."

The girls did not allow this to be repeated; they disappeared in an
adjoining compartment, and returned a few minutes later, entirely
disguised.

"Good," the Canadian said, after examining them for a moment; "we are
going to try and enter the Larch-tree hacienda. Now follow me, and be
prudent."

The eight persons left the grotto, gliding along in the darkness like
phantoms.

No one, unless he has tried the experiment, can imagine what a night
march on the desert is, when you are afraid each moment of falling into
the hands of invisible enemies, who watch you behind every bush.
Tranquil had placed himself at the head of the little party, who marched
in Indian file, at times stooping to the ground, going on his hands and
knees, or crawling on his stomach so as to avoid notice.

Doña Carmela, in spite of the extraordinary difficulties she had to
surmount, advanced with admirable courage, never complaining, and
enduring, without seeming to notice them, the scratches of the roots and
brambles, which lacerated her hands, and caused her atrocious suffering.
After three hours of gigantic effort in following Tranquil's trail, the
latter stopped, and had them look around them. They raised their heads,
and found themselves in the camp of the Texan insurgents. All around
them, in the moonbeams, they could see the elongated shadows of Indian
sentries, leaning on their long lances, motionless as equestrian
statues, who were watching over the safety of their Paleface brothers.
The young women felt a thrill of terror run over their persons at this
sight, which was not of a nature to reassure them.

Fortunately for them, the Indians keep very bad guard, and most
generally only place sentries to frighten the enemy. On this occasion,
as they knew very well, they had no sortie to apprehend on the part of
the Larch-tree garrison, the sentinels were nearly all asleep; but the
slightest badly-calculated move, the merest false step, might arouse
them, for these men, who are habituated in keeping their senses alive,
can hardly ever be taken unawares.

At about two hundred yards at the most from the adventurers were the
advanced works of the Larch-tree, gloomy, silent, and apparently, at
least, abandoned or plunged in sleep. Tranquil had only stopped to let
his comrades fully understand the imminent danger to which they were
exposed, and urge them to redouble their caution, for, at the slightest
weakness, they would be lost. After this they started again. They
advanced thus for one hundred yards, or about half the distance
separating them from the Larch-tree, when suddenly, at the moment when
Tranquil stretched out his arms to shelter himself behind a sandhill,
several men, crawling in the opposite direction found themselves face to
face with him. There was a second of terrible anxiety.

"Who goes there?" a low and menacing voice asked.

"Oh!" he said; "We are saved! It is I--Tranquil the Tigrero."

"Who are the persons with you?"

"Wood rangers, for whom I answer."

"Very good; pass on."

The two parties separated, and crawled in opposite directions. The band
with which the hunters exchanged these few words was commanded by Don
Felix Paz, who, more vigilant than the Texans, was making a round of the
glacis to assure himself that all was quiet, and no surprise need be
feared. It was very lucky for Tranquil and his companions that the
Jaguar, in order to do honour to Blue-fox, had this night intrusted the
camp guard to his warriors, and that, confiding in the Redskins, the
Texans had gone to sleep, with that carelessness characteristic of
Americans; for, with other sentries than those through whom they had
glided unseen, the adventurers must infallibly have been captured.

Ten minutes after their encounter with Don Felix, which might have
turned out so fatally for them, the hunters reached the gates, and at
the mention of Tranquil's name a passage was at once granted them. They
were at length in safety within the hacienda, and it was high time that
they should arrive; a few minutes longer and, Carmela and her companion
would have fallen by the wayside. In spite of all their courage and
goodwill, the girls could no longer keep up, their strength was
exhausted. Hence, so soon as the danger had passed, and the nervous
excitement, which alone sustained them, ceased, they fell down
unconscious.

Tranquil raised Carmela in his arms, and carried her to the interior of
the hacienda; while Black-deer, who, in spite of his apparent
insensibility, adored his squaw, hurried up to restore her to life.

The unexpected arrival of Tranquil caused a general joy among the
inhabitants of the hacienda, who all had a deep friendship for this man,
whose glorious character they had had so many opportunities of
appreciating. The hunter was still busied with his daughter, who was
just beginning to recover her senses, when Don Felix Paz, who had
finished his rounds, entered the cuarto, with a message from the Colonel
to the Canadian, begging the latter to come to him at once.

Tranquil obeyed, for Doña Carmela no longer required his assistance--the
maiden had scarce regained her senses, ere she fell into a deep sleep,
the natural result of the enormous fatigue she had endured during
several days. While proceeding to the Colonel's apartments, Tranquil
questioned the major-domo, with whom he had been connected for several
years, and who had no scruples about answering the hunter's queries.

Matters were far from being well at the Larch-tree; the siege was
carried on with an extraordinary obstinacy on both sides, and with many
strange interludes. The insurgents, greatly annoyed by the artillery of
the fort, which killed a great many of them, and to which they could not
reply, owing to their absolute want of cannon, had adopted a system of
reprisals, which caused the besieged considerable injury. This simple
system was as follows: The insurgents, who were mostly hunters, were
exceedingly skilful marksmen, and renowned as such in a country where
the science of firing is carried to its extreme limits. A certain number
of these marksmen sheltered themselves behind the epaulments of the
camp; and each time a gunner attempted to load a piece, they infallibly
shot away his hands.

This had been carried so far, that nearly all the gunners were _hors de
combat_, and it was only at very long intervals that a gun was fired
from the fort. This isolated shot, badly aimed, owing to the
precipitancy with which the men laid the gun, through their fear of
being mutilated, caused but insignificant damage to the insurgents, who
applauded, with reason, the good result of their scheme.

On the other hand, the fort was so closely invested, and watched with
such care, that no one could enter or quit it. It was impossible for
those in the fort to understand how it was that the adventurers had
managed to slip in after traversing the whole length of the enemy's
camp. We must state, too, in order to treat everybody with justice, that
the adventurers understood it less than anybody.

The garrison of the hacienda lived, then, as if they had been roughly
cut off from the world, for no sound transpired without, and no news
reached them. This situation was extremely disagreeable to the
Mexicans; unfortunately for them, it was daily aggravated, and
threatened to become, ere long, completely intolerable. Colonel
Melendez, since the beginning of the siege, had proved himself what he
was, that is to say, an officer of rare merit, with a vigilance nothing
could foil, and a trustworthy bravery. Seeing his gunners so cruelly
decimated by the Texan bullets, he undertook to take their place,
loading the guns at his own peril, and firing them at the insurgents.

Such courage struck the Texans with so great admiration, that although
it would several times have been easy for them to kill their daring foe,
their rifles had constantly turned away from this man, who seemed to
find a delight in braving death at every moment. The Jaguar, while
closely investing the fort, and eagerly desiring to carry it, had given
peremptory orders to spare the life of his friend, whom he could not
refrain from pitying and admiring, as much for his courage as for his
devotion to the cause he served.

Although it was near midnight, the Colonel was still up; at the moment
when the hunter was brought to him, he was walking thoughtfully up and
down his bedroom, consulting from time to time a detailed plan, of the
fortifications that lay open on a table.

Tranquil's arrival caused him great satisfaction, for he hoped to obtain
from him news from without. Unfortunately, the hunter did not know much
about the political state of the country, owing to the isolated life he
led in the forests. Still, he answered with the greatest frankness all
the questions the Colonel thought proper to ask him, and gave him the
little information he had been enabled to collect; then he told him the
various incidents of his own journey. At the name of Carmela the young
officer was slightly troubled, and a vivid flush suffused his face; but
he recovered, and listened attentively to the hunter's story. When the
latter came to the incident in the grotto, and the fragment of
conversation he had overheard between the Apache Chief and the Texan,
his interest was greatly excited, and he made him repeat the story.

"Oh, that letter," he muttered several times, "that letter; what would I
not give to know its contents!"

Unhappily, that was impossible. After a moment, the Colonel begged
Tranquil to continue his story. The hunter then told him in what way he
had managed to cross the enemy's lines and introduce himself into the
fort. This bold action greatly struck the Colonel.

"You were more fortunate than prudent," he said, "in thus venturing into
the midst of your enemies."

The hunter smiled good-temperedly.

"I was almost certain of succeeding," he said.

"How so?"

"I have had a long experience of Indian habits, which enables me to make
nearly certain with them."

"Granted; but in this case you had not Indians to deal with."

"Pardon me, Colonel."

"I do not understand you, so be kind enough to explain."

"That is an easy matter. Blue-fox entered the Texan camp this evening,
at the head of two hundred warriors."

"I was not aware of it," the Colonel said, in surprise.

"The Jaguar, to do honour to his terrible allies, confided to them the
camp guard for this night."

"Hence?"

"Hence, Colonel, all the Texans are sleeping soundly at this moment,
while the Apaches are watching, or, at least, ought to be watching over
the safety of their lives."

"What do you mean by ought to be watching?"

"I mean that the Redskins do not at all understand our manner of
carrying on war, are not accustomed to sentinel duty, and so everybody
is asleep in the camp."

"Ah!" said the Colonel, as he began once more, with a thoughtful air,
the promenade he had interrupted to listen to the hunter's story.

The latter waited, taking an interrogative glance at Don Felix, who had
remained in the room till it pleased the Commandant to dismiss him. A
few minutes passed, and not a syllable was exchanged; Don Juan seemed to
be plunged in serious thought. All at once he stopped before the hunter,
and looked him full in the face.

"I have known you for a long time by reputation," he said, sharply. "You
pass for an honest man, who can be trusted."

The Canadian bowed, not understanding to what these preliminaries
tended.

"I think you said the enemy's camp was plunged in sleep?" the Colonel
continued.

"That is my conviction," Tranquil answered; "we crossed their lines too
easily for it to be otherwise."

Don Felix drew nearer.

"Yes," the young officer muttered, "we might give them a lesson."

"A lesson they greatly need," the Major-domo added.

"Ah, ah!" the Colonel said, with a smile; "Then you understand me, Don
Felix?"

"Of course."

"And you approve?"

"Perfectly."

"It is one in the morning," the Colonel went on, as he looked at a clock
standing on a console; "at this moment sleep is the deepest. Well, we
will attempt a sortie; have the officers of the garrison aroused."

The Major-domo went out: five minutes later the officers, still
half-asleep, obeyed their Chief's orders.

"Caballeros," the latter said to them, so soon as he saw them all
collected round him, "I have resolved to make a sortie against the
rebels, surprise them, and fire their camp, if it be possible. Select
from your soldiers one hundred and fifty men, in whom you can trust;
supply them with inflammable matters, and in five minutes let them be
drawn up in the Patio. Go; and before all, I recommend you the deepest
silence."

The officers bowed, and at once left the room. The Colonel then turned
to Tranquil.

"Are you tired?" he asked him.

"I am never so."

"You are skilful?"

"So they say."

"Very good. You will serve as our guide; unfortunately, I want two
others."

"I can procure them for your Excellency."

"You?"

"Yes, a wood ranger and a Comanche Chief, who entered the fort with me,
and for whom I answer with my life; Loyal Heart and Black-deer.

"Warn them, then, and all three wait for me in the Patio."

Tranquil hastened to call his friends.

"If that hunter has spoken the truth, and I believe he has," the Colonel
continued, addressing the Major-domo, "I am convinced we shall have an
excellent opportunity for repaying the rebels a hundredfold the harm
they have done us. Do you accompany me, Don Felix?"

"I would not for a fortune leave you one inch, under such
circumstances."

"Come, then, for the detachment must be ready by this time."

They went out.



CHAPTER XIV.

THE PROPOSAL.


On the same night, almost at the same hour, the Jaguar, seated on a
modest oak equipal in his tent, with his elbow leaning on the table and
his head on his hand, was reading, by the light of a candle that emitted
but a dubious light, important despatches he had just received. Absorbed
in the perusal, the young Commander of the insurgents paid no attention
to the noises without, when suddenly a rather sharp puff of wind caused
the flame of the candle to flicker, and the shadow of a man was darkly
defined on the canvas of the tent.

The young man, annoyed at being disturbed, raised his head angrily, and
looked toward the entrance of the tent, with a frown that promised
nothing very pleasant for his inopportune intruder. But at the sight of
the man who stood in the door-way, leaning on a long rifle, and fixing
on him eyes that sparkled like carbuncles, the Jaguar restrained with
difficulty a cry of surprise, and made a move to seize the pistols
placed within reach on the table.

This man, whom we have already had occasion to present to the reader
under very grave circumstances, had nothing, we must confess, in his
appearance that spoke greatly in his favour. His stern glance, his harsh
face, rendered still harsher by his long white beard, his tall stature
and strange attire, all about him, in a word, inspired repulsion and
almost terror. The Jaguar's movement produced a sinister smile on his
pale lips.

"Why take up your weapons?" he said, in a hoarse voice, as he struck the
palm of his hand against his rifle barrel; "had I intended to kill you,
you would have been dead long ago."

The young man wheeled round his equipal, which brought him face to face
with the stranger. The two men examined each other for a moment with the
most minute attention.

"Have you looked at me enough?" the stranger at length asked.

"Yes," the Jaguar answered; "now tell me who you are, what brings you
here, and how you reached me."

"Those are a good many questions at once, still I will try to answer
them. Who am I? No one knows, and there are moments when I am myself
ignorant; I am an accursed, and a reprobate, prowling about the desert
like a wild beast in search of prey; the Redskins, whose implacable
enemy I am, and in whom I inspire a superstitious terror, call me the
Klein Stoman; is this information sufficient for you?"

"What?" the young man exclaimed utterly astounded, "The White Scalper!"

"I am the man," the stranger quietly answered; "I am also known at times
by the name of the Pitiless."

All this had been said by the old man in that monotonous and hoarse
voice peculiar to men who, deprived for a long time of the society of
their fellow men, have been restricted to a forced silence, and hence
speaking has become almost a labour to them. The Jaguar gave a start of
repulsion at the sight of this sinister man, whose mournful reputation
had reached him with all its horrors. His memory immediately recalled
all the traits of ferocity and cruelty imputed to this man, and it was
under the impression of this recollection that he said to him with an
accent of disgust he did not wish to conceal--

"What is there in common between you and me?"

The old man smiled sarcastically.

"God," he answered, "connects all men to each other by invisible bonds
which render them responsible one for the other; He willed it so, in His
supreme omniscience, in order to render society possible."

On hearing this wild, solitary man pronounce the name of Deity, and
utter so strange an argument, the Jaguar felt his surprise redoubled.

"I will not discuss the point with you," he said; "everyone in life
follows the path destiny has traced for him, and it does not belong to
me to judge you either favourably or unfavourably; still, I have the
right of denying any connection with you, whatever may be your feelings
toward me, or the motives that brought you hither; up to the present, we
have been strangers to each other, and I desire to remain so for the
future."

"What do you know of it? What certainty have you that this is the first
time we have been face to face? Man can no more answer for the past than
for the future; both are in the hands of One more powerful than him, of
Him who judges of actions immediately, and for whom there is only one
weight and one measure."

"I am astonished," the Jaguar answered, involuntarily interested, "that
the name of Deity should be so often on your lips."

"Because it is deeply engraved on my heart," the old man said with an
accent of gloomy sorrow which spread a veil of melancholy over his
austere features. "You said yourself that you would not judge me;
retain, if you will, the evil impression which the probable false
statements of others have made on you. I care little for the opinion of
men, for I recognise no other judge of my actions but my conscience."

"Be it so; but permit me to remark that time is rapidly slipping away,
night is advancing. I have serious business to attend to, and need to be
alone."

"In a word, you show me the door; unluckily, I am not disposed, for the
present, to accede to your request, or, if you prefer it, obey your
orders; I wish first to answer all your questions, and then, if you
still insist on it, I will retire."

"Take care, for this obstinacy on your part may lead to dangerous
consequences for you."

"Why threaten a man who does not insult you?" the old man replied with
undiminished coolness; "Do you fancy that I put myself out of the way
for nothing? No, no, serious motives bring me to you; and if I am not
mistaken, ere long you will allow that the time you are unwilling to
grant me, could not be better employed than in listening to me."

The Jaguar shrugged his shoulders impatiently; he felt a repugnance to
employ violence against a man who, after all, had in no way infringed on
the laws of politeness, and, spite of himself, a species of secret
presentiment warned him that the visit of this singular old man would be
useful to him.

"Speak then," he said a moment after, in the tone of a man who resigns
himself to endure a thing that displeases him, but which he cannot
elude; "but pray be brief."

"I am not so used to speaking as to find pleasure in making long
harangues," the Scalper replied; "I will only say things strictly
indispensable to be properly understood by you."

"Do so then without further preamble."

"Be it so. I now return to the second question you asked me: What reason
brought me here? I will tell you presently, but first answer your third
question--How I got here?"

"In truth," the Jaguar exclaimed, "that seems to me extraordinary."

"Not so extraordinary as you suppose; I might tell you that I am too old
a hand on the prairies not to foil the most vigilant sentries; but I
prefer confessing the truth, as it will be more profitable to you. You
have this night confided the guard of the camp to Apache dogs, who,
instead of watching, as they pledged themselves to do, are asleep on
their posts, so thoroughly that the first comer can enter your lines as
he thinks proper; and this is so true, that scarce two hours back a
party of eight went through the whole length of your camp, and entered
the hacienda, without encountering opposition from anyone."

"Viva Dios!" the Jaguar exclaimed, turning livid with passion; "Can it
possibly be so?"

"I am the proof of it, I fancy," the old man answered simply.

The young Chief seized his pistols, and made a hurried movement to rush
out, but the stranger restrained him.

"What good will it do," he said, "to pick a quarrel with your allies? It
is an accomplished fact, so it is better to undergo the consequences.
Still, let it serve you as a lesson to take better precautions another
time."

"But these men who crossed the camp?" the Jaguar said sharply.

"You have nothing to fear from them; they are poor devils of hunters,
who were probably seeking a refuge for the two women they brought with
them."

"Two women?"

"Yes, a white and an Indian; although they were dressed in male attire,
I recognized them the more easily, because I have been watching them for
a long time."

"Ah," said the Jaguar thoughtfully, "do you know any of these hunters?"

"Only one, who is, I believe, tigrero to the hacienda."

"Tranquil!" the Jaguar exclaimed with aft expression impossible to
render.

"Yes."

"In that case, one of the females is his daughter Carmela'"

"Probably."

"She is now, then, at the Larch-tree?"

"Yes."

"Oh," he burst out, "I must at all hazards carry that accursed
hacienda."

"That is exactly what I came to propose to you," the Scalper said
quietly.

The young man advanced a step.

"What do you say?" he asked.

"I say," the old man replied in the same tone, "that I have come to
propose to you the capture of the hacienda."

"You! It is impossible."

"Why so?"

"Because," the Jaguar went on with agitation, "the hacienda is well
fortified: it is defended by a numerous and brave garrison, commanded by
one of the best officers of the Mexican army, and for the seventeen days
I have been investing these accursed walls, I have been unable, despite
all my efforts, to take one forward step."

"All that is correct."

"Well?"

"I repeat my proposition."

"But how will you effect it?"

"That is my business."

"That is not an answer."

"I can give you no other."

"Still?"

"When force does not avail, stratagem must be employed; is not that your
opinion?"

"Yes; but one must have the necessary means in his hands."

"Well, I have them."

"To seize the hacienda?"

"I will introduce you into the interior--the rest is your affair."

"Oh, once inside, I will not leave it again."

"Then, you accept?"

"One moment."

"Do you hesitate?"

"I do."

"When I offer you an unexpected success?"

"For that very reason."

"I do not understand you."

"I will explain myself."

"Do so."

"It is not admissible that you have come to make such a proposal for my
sake, or that of the cause I serve."

"Perhaps not."

"Let us deal frankly. Whatever your character may be, you have a manner
of looking at things which renders you perfectly indifferent to the
chances, good or bad, of the struggle going on at this moment in this
unhappy country."

"You are quite correct."

"Am I not? You care little whether Texas be free or in slavery?"

"I admit it."

"You have, then, a reason for acting as you are now doing?"

"A man always has a reason."

"Very good; well, I wish to know that reason."

"And suppose I refuse to tell it to you?"

"I shall not accept your proposition."

"You will be wrong."

"That is possible."

"Reflect."

"I have reflected."

There was a moment's silence, which the old man interrupted--

"You are a suspicious and headstrong boy," he said to him, "who,
through a false feeling of honour, risk losing an opportunity which you
will probably never find again."

"I will run the risk; I wish to be frank with you; I only know you from
very ill reports; your reputation is execrable, and nothing proves to me
that, under the pretext of serving me, you may not be laying a snare for
me."

The old man's pale face was covered by a sudden flush at these rude
words, a nervous tremor agitated all his limbs; but, by a violent
effort, he succeeded in mastering the emotion he experienced, and after
a few minutes, he replied in a calm voice, in which, however, there
remained some traces of the tempest that growled hoarsely in his heart--

"I forgive you," he said; "you had a right to speak to me as you did,
and I cannot be angry with you. Time is slipping away, it is nearly one
in the morning; it will soon be too late to execute the bold plan I have
formed; I will therefore only add one word--reflect before answering me,
for on that answer my resolution, depends. The motive that urges me to
offer to introduce you to the hacienda is quite personal, and in no way
affects or concerns you."

"But what guarantee can you offer me on the sincerity of your
intentions?"

The old man walked a step forward, drew himself up to his full height,
stamped with an accent of supreme majesty--

"My word, the word of a man who, whatever may be said about him, has
never failed in what he owes himself; I swear to you on my honour,
before that God in whose presence you and I will probably soon appear,
that my intentions are pure and loyal, without any thought of treachery.
Now, answer, what is your resolve?"

While uttering these words, the old man's attitude, gestures, and race
were imprinted with such nobility and grandeur, that he seemed
transfigured. In spite of himself, the Jaguar was affected: he felt
himself led away by this accent, which seemed to him to come straight
from the heart.

"I accept," he said in a firm voice.

"I expected it," the old man replied; "in young and generous natures
good feelings always find an echo. You will not repent the confidence
you give me."

"Here is my hand," the young man said passionately; "press it without
fear, for it is that of a friend."

"Thanks," the old man said, as a burning tear beaded on his eyelashes;
"that word repays me for much suffering and sorrow."

"Now, explain your plan to me."

"I will do so in two words; but, ere we discuss the plan we shall adopt,
collect noiselessly three or four hundred men, so that we may be able to
start immediately we have come to an understanding."

"You are right."

"I need not advise you to be prudent; your men must assemble in the
utmost silence. Take no Redskins with you, for they would be more
injurious than useful. I am not desirous to be seen by them, for you
know that I am their enemy."

"Do not trouble yourself, I will act as you wish."

The Jaguar went out, and remained away for about a quarter of an hour;
during that time the White Scalper remained motionless in the centre of
the tent, leaning pensively on his rifle barrel, the butt of which
rested on the ground. Soon could be heard outside something like the
imperceptible buzzing of bees in a hive. It was the camp awakening. The
Jaguar came in again.

"Now," he said, "the order is given; within a quarter of an hour, four
hundred men will be under arms."

"That is a longer period than I need for what I have to say to you; my
plan is most simple, and if you follow it point for point, we shall
enter the hacienda without striking a blow; listen to me attentively."

"Speak."

The old man drew an equipal up to the table at which the Jaguar was
standing, sat down, placed his rifle between his legs, and began--

"For very many years I have known the Larch-tree hacienda. Owing to
events too long to tell you, and which would but slightly interest you,
I was resident in it for nearly a year as Major-domo. At that period the
father of the present owner was still living, and for sundry reasons had
the greatest confidence in me. You are aware that at the period of the
conquest, when the Spaniards built these haciendas, they made them
fortresses rather than farmhouses, as they were compelled to defend
themselves nearly daily against the aggressions of the Redskins; now,
you must know that in such a fortress there is a masked gate, a secret
sally port, which, if necessary, the garrison employ, either to receive
reinforcements or provisions, or to evacuate the place, should it be too
closely invested."

"Oh," the Jaguar said, smiting his forehead, "can the hacienda have one
of these sally ports?"

"Patience, let me go on."

"But look," the young man objected, "here is the detailed plan of the
Larch-tree, made by a man whose family have lived there for three
generations from father to son, and there is nothing of the sort marked
on it."

The old man gave a careless glance at the plan the young man showed him.

"Because," he replied, "the secret is generally known to the owner of
the hacienda alone; but let me finish."

"Speak, speak."

"These sally ports, so useful at the time of the conquest, became
eventually perfectly neglected, owing to the long peace that reigned in
the country; then, by degrees, as they served no purpose, the
recollection of them was totally lost, and I am convinced that the
majority of the hacienderos at the present day are ignorant of the
existence of these secret gates in their habitation; the owner of the
Larch-tree is one of the number."

"How do you know? Perhaps the gate is blocked up, or at least defended
by a strong detachment."

The old man smiled.

"No," he said, "the gate is not stopped up, nor is it guarded."

"Are you certain?"

"Did I not tell you that I have been prowling about the neighbourhood
for some days?"

"I do not remember it."

"I wished to assure myself of the existence of this gate, which an
accident led me to discover in former days."

"Well?"

"I have sought it, found it, and opened it."

"Viva Dios!" the Jaguar shouted joyfully; "In that case the hacienda is
ours."

"I believe so, unless a fatality or a miracle occur--two things equally
improbable."

"But where is this gate situated?"

"As usual, at a spot where it is the most unlikely to suspect its
existence. Look," he added, bending over the plan, "the hacienda, being
built on a height, runs a risk in the event of a long siege of seeing
its wells dry up--does it not?"

"Yes."

"Very good. The river on this side runs along the foot of the rocks on
which its walls are built."

"Yes, yes," said the young man, who was eagerly following the
indications made by the old man.

"Judging rightly," he went on, "that on this side the hacienda was
impregnable, you contented yourself with establishing on the river bank
a few outposts, intended to watch the enemy's movements."

"Any flight on that side is impossible--in the first place, owing to the
height of the walls; and next, through the river, which forms a natural
trench."

"Well, the gate by which we shall enter is among those very rocks,
almost on a level with the water; it opens into a natural grotto, the
entrance of which is so obstructed by creepers, that from the opposite
bank it is impossible to suspect its existence."

"At length," the Jaguar exclaimed, "this redoubt, which has hitherto
been one of the links of the heavy chain riveted round Texas, will be
tomorrow one of the most solid barriers of her independence. May Heaven
be praised for permitting so brilliant a triumph to crown our efforts!"

"I hope to see you master of the place before sunrise."

"May Heaven hear you!"

"Now, we will start whenever you please."

"At once, at once."

They then left the tent. According to the Jaguar's orders, John Davis
had roused four hundred men, chosen from the boldest and most skilful
fellows of the force. They were drawn up a few paces from the tent,
motionless and silent. Their rifles, whose barrels were bronzed lest
they might emit any denunciatory gleams in the moonbeams, were piled in
front of them.

The officers formed a group apart. They were conversing together in a
low voice, with considerable animation, not at all understanding the
orders they had received, and not knowing for what reason the Chief had
them awakened. The Jaguar advanced toward them, and the officers fell
back. The young man, followed by the Scalper, entered the circle, which
at once closed up again. John Davis, on perceiving the old man, whom he
at once recognised, uttered a stifled cry of surprise.

"Caballeros," the Jaguar said, in a low voice, "we are about to attempt
a surprise, which, if it succeed, will render us masters of the hacienda
almost without a blow."

A murmur of surprise ran round the circle.

"A person in whom I have the most entire confidence," the Jaguar
continued, "has revealed to me the existence of a secret gate, not known
to the garrison, which will give us access to the fort. Each of you will
now take the command of his men. Our march must be as silent as that of
Indian warriors on the war trail. You have understood me fully, so I
count on your aid. In the event of separation, the watchword will be
_Texas y libertad_ To your posts."

The circle was broken up, and each officer placed himself at the head of
his men. John Davis then went up to the Jaguar.

"One word," he said to him, bending to his ear to speak. "Do you know
who that man is, standing close to you?"

"Yes."

"Are you sure?"

"It is the White Scalper."

"And you trust to him?"

"Entirely."

The American tossed his head.

"Was it he who revealed to you the existence of the sally port by which
we are to enter?"

"Yes."

"Take care."

In his turn, the Jaguar shrugged his shoulders.

"You are mad," he said.

"Well, that is possible," John replied; "but for all that, I will watch
him."

"As you please."

"Well, let us be off."

The American followed his Chief, casting a parting look of suspicion on
the old man. The latter did not seem to trouble himself at all about
this aside. Apparently indifferent to what went on around him, he
waited, quietly leaning on his rifle, till it pleased the Jaguar to give
the command for departure. At length, the word "march" ran from rank to
rank, and the column started.

These men, the majority of whom were accustomed to long marches in the
desert, placed their feet so softly on the ground, that they seemed to
glide along like phantoms, so silent was their march. At this moment, as
if the sky wished to be on their side, an immense black cloud spread
across the heavens and interrupted the moonbeams, substituting, almost
without transition, a deep obscurity for the radiance that previously
prevailed, and the column disappeared in the gloom. A few paces ahead of
the main body, the Jaguar, White Scalper, and John Davis marched side by
side.

"Bravo!" the young man muttered; "Everything favours us."

"Let us wait for the end," the American growled, whose suspicions, far
from diminishing, on the contrary were augmented from moment to moment.

Instead of leaving the camp on the aide of the hacienda, whose gloomy
outline was designed, sinister and menacing, on the top of the hill, the
Scalper made the column take a long circuit, which skirted the rear of
the camp. The deepest silence prevailed on the plain, the camp and
hacienda seemed asleep, not a light gleamed in the darkness, and it
might be fancied, on noticing so profound a calm, that the plain was
deserted; but this factitious calm held a terrible tempest, ready to
burst forth at the first signal.

These men, who walked on tiptoe, sounding the darkness around them, and
with their finger placed on the rifle trigger, felt their hearts beat
with impatience to come into collision with their enemies. It was a
singular coincidence, a strange fatality, which caused the besiegers and
besieged to attempt a double surprise at the same hour, almost at the
same moment, and send blindly against each other men who on either side
advanced with the hope of certain success, and convinced that they were
about to surprise asleep the too confident enemy, whom they burned to
massacre.

So soon as they had left the camp, the insurgents drew near the river,
whose banks, covered with thick bushes and aquatic plants, would have
offered them, even in bright day, a certain shelter from the Mexicans.
On coming within about half a league of the entrenchments, the column
halted; the Scalper advanced alone a few yards, and then rejoined the
Jaguar.

"We shall have to cross the river here," he said; "there is a ford, and
the men will only be up to their waists in water."

And, giving the example, the old man stepped into the bed of the river.
The others followed immediately, and, as the Scalper had announced, the
water was only up to their waists. They passed threes in front, and
closing up the ranks, so as to resist the rather strong current, which,
without these precautions, might have carried them away. Five minutes
later, the whole band was collected in the interior of the grotto, at
the end of which was the secret door.

"The moment has arrived," the Jaguar then said, "to redouble our
prudence; let us avoid, if it be possible, bloodshed. Not a word must be
uttered, or a shot fired, without my orders, under penalty of death."
Then, turning to the White Scalper, he said, in a firm voice--"Now, open
the door!"

There was a moment of supreme anxiety for the insurgents, who awaited
with a quiver of impatience the downfall of the frail obstacle that
separated them from their enemies.



CHAPTER XV.

A THUNDERBOLT.


We will now return to the hacienda.

The Colonel and the Major-domo went down to the Patio, where they found
assembled the one hundred and fifty men selected for the execution of
the surprise, which the Colonel proposed to attempt on the rebel camp.
Tranquil, according to the orders he had received, after assuring
himself that Carmela was enjoying a sound and refreshing sleep, hastened
to tell Loyal Heart and Black-deer what the Colonel expected from them.
The two men immediately followed their friend into the Patio, where the
soldiers were already assembled.

The Colonel divided his men into three detachments, each of fifty men:
he took the command of the first, keeping the Canadian with him; Don
Felix, having Loyal Heart for guide, had the command of the second; and
the third, at the head of which was placed a captain, an old soldier of
great experience, was directed by Black-deer. These arrangements made,
the Colonel gave the order for departure. The detachments at once
separated, and left the hacienda by three different gates.

The Colonel's plan was extremely simple; descend unheard to the rebels'
camp, enter it, and fire it on three different sides; then, profiting by
the disorder and tumult occasioned by this surprise, rush on the rebels
with shouts of "Viva Mejico!" prevent them rallying or extinguishing the
fire, massacre as many as possible, and afterwards effect an orderly
retreat on the hacienda.

At the moment when the Mexicans left the hacienda, the same thing
happened to them as to the insurgents, who left their camp at the same
moment, that is to say, they were suddenly enveloped in thick darkness.
The Colonel bent down to Tranquil, and said to him good-humouredly--

"This is a good omen for the success of our expedition."

The Jaguar was saying the same thing to White Scalper almost
simultaneously.

The three detachments silently descended the hill, marching in Indian
file, and taking the greatest care to stifle the sound of their
footsteps on the ground. On coming within a certain distance of the
Texan entrenchments, they halted, with one accord, to take breath, like
tigers, which at the moment of leaping on the prey they covet, draw
themselves up, in order to take a vigorous impetus. The soldiers
wheeled, so as to present a rather extensive line; then each lay down on
the sand, and at the signal, muttered in a low voice by the guides, they
began crawling like reptiles through the tall grass, cutting passages
through the bushes, advancing in a straight line, and clearing
obstacles, without thinking of turning them.

We have said that White Scalper, no doubt with the intention of causing
the Larch-tree garrison to feel greater security, and persuade them that
all was quiet in camp, had objected to the Apache sentries being
aroused, for he considered their vigilance quite unnecessary,--not
supposing for a moment that the Mexicans would dare to leave their
lines of defence and take the initiative in a sally. The direction the
old man had given to the detachment he guided, by drawing it away from
the approaches of the fortress, had also favoured the Colonel's plans,
which, without that, would have been, in all probability, foiled.

Still, the Canadian hunter was too prudent and accustomed to the tricks
of Indian war not to assure himself previously that there was no trap to
apprehend. Hence, on arriving about fifteen yards from the breastworks,
he ordered a halt. Then, gliding like a serpent through the shrubs and
dead trees that covered the ground at this spot, he pushed forward a
reconnoissance. Loyal Heart and Black-deer, to whom he had given
detailed instructions how to act before leaving the hacienda, executed
the same manoeuvre. The absence of the scouts was long, or, at least
appeared so to all these men, who were so impatient to bound on the
enemy and begin the the attack. At length Tranquil returned, but he was
anxious and frowning, and a gloomy restlessness seemed to agitate him.
These signs did not escape the Colonel's notice.

"What is the matter with you?" he asked him. "Are the rebels alarmed?
Have you noticed any signs of agitation in their camp?"

"No," he replied, with his eyes obstinately fixed before him, as if he
wished to pierce the gloom and read the mysteries it contained. "I have
seen nothing, noticed nothing; the deepest calm, apparently, prevails in
the camp."

"Apparently, do you say?"

"Yes; for it is impossible that this calm can be real, for most of the
Texan insurgents are old hunters, accustomed to the rude fatigues of a
desert life. I can just understand that, during the first part of the
night, they might not notice the gross neglect of the Apache sentries;
but what I cannot in any way admit is, that during the whole night not
one of these partisans, to whom prudence is so imperiously recommended,
should have got up to make the rounds and see that all was in order.
Above all, I cannot understand this of the Jaguar--that man of iron, who
never sleeps, and who, though still very young, possesses all the wisdom
and experience which are usually the appanage of men who have passed
middle life."

"And you conclude from this?"

"I conclude that we should, perhaps, do better by not continuing this
reconnoissance further, but return at full speed to the hacienda; for,
unless I am greatly mistaken, this gloomy night covers some sinister
mystery which we shall see accomplished ere long, and of which we may
fall the victims, unless we take care."

"From what you say to me," the Colonel made answer, "I see that you
rather give me the expression of your own personal opinions than the
result of important facts you may have seen during your reconnoissance."

"That is true, Colonel; but, if you will permit me to speak so, I would
observe that these opinions emanate from a man for whom, thanks to his
experience, the desert possesses no secrets, and whom his presentiments
rarely deceive."

"Yes, all that is true; and, perhaps, I ought to follow your advice. My
resolution has possibly been premature, but now, unfortunately, it is
too late to recall it. Withdrawing is an impossibility, for that would
prove to my soldiers that I was mistaken, which is not admissible. We
must, at any cost, accept the consequences of our imprudence, and push
on, no matter what happens. Still, we will redouble our prudence, and
try to accomplish our scheme without incurring too great a risk."

"I am at your orders, Colonel, ready to follow you wherever you may
please to lead me."

"Forward, then, and may Heaven be favourable to us!" the young officer
said, resolutely.

The order was whispered along the line, and the soldiers, whom this long
conference had perplexed, and who were afraid they should be obliged to
turn back, received it joyfully, and advanced with renewed ardour. The
ground that separated them from the breastwork was soon covered, and the
entrenchments were escaladed ere a single Apache sentry had given the
alarm.

Suddenly, from three different points of the camp an immense flame shot
up, and the Mexicans rushed forward, shouting "_Viva Mejico!_" as the
insurgents, who, hardly awake yet, ran hither and thither, not
understanding these flames which surrounded them, and these terrible
yells which sounded in their ears like a funereal knell.

For nearly an hour the contest was a chaos; smoke and noise covered
everything else. According to the American custom, most of the
insurgents had their wives and children with them: hence, from the first
moment the fight assumed gigantic and terrible proportions. The country
was covered with a confused medley of startled women, who called to
their husbands or brothers, Apache horsemen galloping among the
terrified foot soldiers and overthrown tents, from which rose the cries
of children and the groans of the wounded. All around the camp an
immense line of smoke bordered the flames kindled by the Mexicans, who
bounded forward like wild beasts, uttering fearful yells. All these
united sounds formed a chorus of inexpressible horror, whose echo
extended to the extreme verge of the horizon as sad and mournful as that
of the rising tide. Such are the fearful results of civil wars: they let
loose and aggravate all the evil passions of man; the latter forget
every human feeling in the hope of attaining the object they desire, and
incessantly push onward, not caring whether they stumble over ruins or
wade through blood.

Still, when the first feeling of surprise had passed, the insurgents
began gradually rallying, in spite of the incessant efforts of the
Mexicans, and the resistance was organized to a certain extent. Colonel
Melendez had gained his object, the success of his plan was complete,
the losses of the Texans in men and ammunition were immense; he did not
wish, with the few troops he had under him, to advance further into a
blazing camp, where they walked under a vault of flames, running the
risk of being struck at each moment by the ruins of the powder
magazines, which exploded one after the other with a terrible noise.

The Colonel took a triumphant glance at the ruins piled up around him,
and then ordered the retreat to be sounded. The Mexicans had allowed
their ardour to carry them in every direction; some, in spite of the
repeated warnings of their Chief, were already too far off for it to be
possible for them to fall in directly. These must be waited for,
therefore.

The three detachments formed in a semicircle, firing on the insurgents,
who profited by the moment of respite chance afforded them to become
constantly more numerous. They then noticed the small strength of their
assailants, and rushed resolutely upon them. The Mexicans, now united,
wished to effect their retreat, but at each instant their position
became more difficult, and threatened to become even critical. The
Texans, who were still the more numerous, with rage in their hearts at
having allowed themselves to be thus surprised, and burning for
vengeance, vigorously pressed the Mexicans, who, compelled to retreat
inch by inch, and keep a front constantly to the enemy, were on the
point of being outflanked, in spite of the heroic resistance they
opposed to the assailants.

Colonel Melendez, seeing the danger of the position, collected forty
resolute men, and placing himself at their head, rushed on the
insurgents with an irresistible impetuosity. The latter, surprised in
their turn by this vigorous attack, which they were far from expecting,
recoiled, and at length fell back some hundred yards to reform, closely
pursued by the Colonel.

This lucky diversion gave the main body of the Mexicans time to gain
ground, and when the Texans returned to the charge with fresh ardour,
the propitious moment had passed, and the Mexicans were definitively
protected from any assault.

"_Viva Dios!_" the Colonel said, as he rejoined his company; "the affair
was hot, but the advantage remains with us."

"I did not see the Jaguar during the whole action," the Canadian
muttered.

"That is true," the young man replied, "and is most strange."

"His absence alarms me," the hunter said sadly; "I should have preferred
his being there."

"Where can he be?" the Colonel remarked, suddenly turning thoughtful.

"Perhaps we shall learn only too soon," the Canadian replied with a
shake of the head, foreboding misfortune.

All at once, and as if chance had wished to justify the hunter's sad
forebodings, an immense noise was heard in the hacienda, amid which
could be distinguished cries of distress, and a well-sustained musketry
fire. Then, a sinister glare rose above the Larch-tree, which it
coloured with the hues of fire.

"Forward! Forward!" the Colonel cried; "The enemy have got into the
fort!"

At the first glance, the young officer understood what had taken place,
and the truth at once struck his mind. All rushed toward the hacienda,
inside which an obstinate contest seemed to be raging. They soon reached
the gates, which, fortunately for them, still remained in the hands of
their comrades, and rushed into the patio, where a horrible spectacle
offered itself to their sight. This is what had happened.

At the moment when White Scalper prepared to break in the door with the
lever, the clamour made by the Mexicans in firing the camp, reached the
ears of the Texans assembled in the grotto.

"_Rayo de Dios!_" the Jaguar shouted; "What is the meaning of that?"

"Probably the Mexicans are attacking your camp," the old man quietly
answered.

The young Chief gave him an ugly look.

"We are betrayed," said John Davis, as he cocked a pistol, and pointed
it at the old man.

"I am beginning to believe it," the Jaguar muttered, all his suspicions
coming back.

"By whom?" the White Scalper asked with a smile of contempt.

"By you, you villain!" the American answered roughly.

"You are mad," the old man said with a disdainful shrug of his
shoulders; "if I had betrayed you, should I have led you here?"

"That is true," said the Jaguar; "but it is strange, and the noise is
unceasing. The Mexicans are doubtless massacring our companions; we
cannot abandon them thus, but must hurry to their assistance."

"Do nothing of the sort," the Scalper sharply exclaimed. "Hasten, on the
contrary, to invade the fortress, which I doubt not is abandoned by the
greater part of its defenders; your companions, so soon as they have
rallied, will be strong enough to repulse their assailants."

The Jaguar hesitated.

"What is to be done?" he muttered with an undecided air, as he bent an
enquiring glance on the men as they passed round him.

"Act without loss of a moment," the old man eagerly exclaimed, and with
a vigorously dealt stroke he broke in the door, which fell in splinters
to the ground; "here is the way open, will you recoil?"

"No! No!" they shouted impetuously, and rushed into the gaping vault
before them.

This vault formed a passage wide enough for four persons to march
abreast, and of sufficient height for them not to be obliged to stoop;
it rose with a gentle incline, and resembled a species of labyrinth,
owing to the constant turns it took. The darkness was complete, but the
impulse had been given, and no other noise was audible save that of the
panting breathing of these men, and their hurried footsteps, which
sounded hollow on the damp ground they trod. After a twenty minutes'
march, which seemed to last an age, the Scalper's voice rose in the
gloom, and uttered the single word, "Halt!" All stopped.

"Here we shall have to make our final arrangements," the Scalper
continued; "but in the first place let me procure you a light, so that
you may know exactly where you are."

The old man, who seemed gifted with the precious privilege of seeing in
the darkness, walked about for some minutes in various directions,
doubtless collecting the ingredients necessary for the fire he wished to
kindle; then he struck a light, lit a piece of tinder, and almost
immediately a brilliant flame seemed to leap forth from the ground, and
illumined objects sufficiently for them to be distinguished. The Scalper
had simply lighted a fire of dry wood, probably prepared beforehand.

The Texans looked curiously around them, so soon as their eyes, at first
dazzled by the bright flames of the fire, had grown accustomed to the
light. They found themselves in a very large, almost circular vault,
somewhat resembling a crypt; the walls were lofty, and the roof was
rounded in the shape of a dome. The ground was composed of a very fine
dry sand, as yellow as gold. This room seemed cut out of the rock, for
no sign of masonry was visible.

In the background, a staircase of some twenty steps, wide, and without
bannister, mounted to the roof, where it terminated, and it was
impossible to distinguish whether there were any trapdoor or opening.
This trap doubtless existed, but time had covered its openings with the
impalpable dust, which it incessantly wears off even the hardest
granite. After attentively examining the vault by the aid of a blazing
log, the Jaguar returned to the old man, who had remained by the fire.

"Where are we?" he asked him. Each curiously extended his ear to hear
the Scalper's answer.

"We are," he said, "exactly under the patio of the hacienda; this
staircase ends in an opening I will point out to you, and which leads
into a long-deserted corral, in which, if I am not mistaken, the wood
stores of the hacienda are now kept."

"Good," the Jaguar answered; "but before venturing into what may be an
adroitly laid trap, I should like, myself, to visit the corral of which
you speak, in order to see with my own eyes, and assure myself that
things are really as you say."

"I ask nothing better than to lead you to it."

"Thank you; but I do not see exactly how we shall manage to open the
passage of which you speak, without making a noise, which will
immediately bring down on us the whole of the garrison, of which I am
excessively afraid, as we are not at all conveniently situated for
fighting."

"That need not trouble you; I pledge myself to open the trap without
making the slightest noise."

"That is better; but come, time presses."

"That is true. Come."

The two men then proceeded to the flight of stairs. On reaching the top,
the White Scalper thrust his head against the ceiling, and after several
attempts a slab slowly rose, turned over, and fell noiselessly on its
side, leaving a passage large enough for two men to pass together. White
Scalper passed through this opening. With one bound the Jaguar stood by
his side, pistol in hand, ready to blow out his brains at the first
suspicious movement. But he soon perceived that the old man had no
intention of betraying him, and, ashamed at the suspicion he had
evidenced, he hid his weapon.

As the Scalper had stated, they found themselves in an abandoned
corral--a sort of vast stall, open to the sky, in which the Americans
keep their horses; but this one was quite empty. The Jaguar went up to a
door behind which he heard the sound of footsteps and the clanking of
arms, and assured himself that nothing was more easy than to burst this
door open.

"Good," he muttered; "you have kept your word; thank you."

The Scalper did not seem to hear him; his eyes were fixed on the door
with a strange intensity, and his limbs trembled, as if he had been
attacked by ague. Without attempting to discover the cause of his old
comrade's extraordinary emotion, the Jaguar ran to the opening, over
which he bent down. John Davis was standing on the top step.

"Well?" he asked.

"All goes well. Come up, but do not make any noise."

The four hundred Texans then rose one after the other from the vault.
Each, as he came out of the trap, silently fell in. When all had entered
the corral, the Jaguar returned the slab to its place. Then, returning
to his comrades, said in a low but perfectly distinct voice:

"Our retreat is now cut off; we must either conquer or die."

The insurgents made no reply; but their eyes flashed such fire, that the
Jaguar comprehended that they would not give way an inch. It was a
moment of terrible suspense while White Scalper was forcing the door.

"Forward!" the Jaguar shouted.

All his comrades rushed after him with the irresistible force of a
torrent that is bursting its dykes.

Very different from the Texans, whose camp had so easily been invaded,
the Mexicans were not asleep, but perfectly awake. By orders of the
Commandant, so soon as he had left the hacienda the whole garrison got
under arms, and fell in the patio, ready, if need was, to go immediately
to the aid of the expeditionary corps, still, they were so far from
expecting an attack, especially in this manner, that the sudden
apparition of this band of demons, who seemed to have ascended from the
infernal regions, caused them extraordinary surprise and terror, and
during some time there was an inextricable confusion.

The Texans, skilfully profiting by the terror their presence caused,
redoubled their efforts to render it impossible for their enemies to
offer any lengthened resistance. But, shut up as they were in a court
without an outlet, the very impossibility of flight gave the Mexicans
the necessary courage to rally and fight courageously. Collected round
their officers, who encouraged them by voice and example, they resolved
to do their duty manly, and the combat began again with fresh obstinacy.

It was at this moment that Colonel Melendez and the soldiers who
followed him burst into the patio, and by their presence were on the
point of restoring to their party the victory which was slipping from
them. Unfortunately, this success arrived too late: the Mexicans,
surrounded by the Texans, were compelled, after a desperate resistance
and prodigies of valour, to lay down their arms, and surrender at
discretion.

For the second time Don Juan Melendez was prisoner to the Jaguar. As on
the first occasion, he was compelled to break his sword, conquered by
fatality rather than by his fortunate enemy.

The first care of the Jaguar, so soon as he was master of the fort, was
to give strict orders that the females should not be insulted. The
conditions imposed on the conquered by the Chief of the Texan army were
the same as he had offered them at the outset. The Mexicans, persuaded
that the Texans were no more than half savage men, were agreeably
surprised at this lenity, which they were far from expecting, and
pledged themselves without hesitation to observe scrupulously the
conditions of the capitulation. The Mexican garrison was to leave the
hacienda at daybreak.

The preliminaries of the surrender had scarce been agreed on between the
two leaders ere piercing cries were suddenly heard from the building
occupied by the women. Almost immediately the White Scalper, who had
been lost out of sight during the excitement of the combat, emerged from
these buildings bearing across his shoulders a woman whose long hair
trailed on the ground. The old man's eyes flashed, and foam came from
his mouth. In his right hand he brandished his rifle, which he held by
the barrel, and fell back step by step, like a tiger at bay, before
those who tried in vain to bar his passage.

"My daughter!" Tranquil shrieked, as he rushed toward him.

He had recognised Carmela; the poor child had fainted, and seemed dead.
The Colonel and the Jaguar had also recognised the maiden, and by a
common impulse hurried to her aid.

The White Scalper, recoiling step by step before the cloud of enemies
that surrounded him, did not reply a word to the insults poured upon
him. He laughed a dry and sharp laugh, and whenever an assailant came
too near him, he raised his terrible club, and the imprudent man rolled
with a fractured skull on the ground.

The hunters and the two young men, recognising the impossibility of
striking this man without running the risk of wounding her they wished
to save, contented themselves with gradually contracting the circle
round him, so as to drive him into a corner of the court, where they
would be enabled to seize him. But the ferocious old man foiled their
calculations; he suddenly bounded forward, overthrew those who opposed
his passage, and climbed with headlong speed up the steps leading to the
platform. On reaching the latter, he turned once again to his startled
enemies, burst into a hoarse laugh, and leaped over the breastwork into
the river, bearing with him the young girl, of whom he had not loosed
his hold.

When the witnesses of this extraordinary act of folly had recovered from
the stupor into which it threw them, and rushed on the platform, their
anxious glances in vain interrogated the river--the waters had reassumed
their ordinary limpidness. White Scalper had disappeared with the
unhappy victim whom he had so audaciously carried off. To accomplish
this unheard-of ravishment he had surrendered the Larch-tree hacienda to
the Texan army. What motive had impelled the strange man to this
unqualifiable action? The impenetrable mystery that enveloped his life
rendered any supposition impossible.



CHAPTER XVI.

THE CONSPIRATORS.


More fortunate than dramatic authors, the romancers, being bound by no
rules of time and place, can, at their pleasure, transport their action
and characters from one country to another, and then return to their
starting point, not having any account to give of the time that has
elapsed, or of the space they have traversed. Employing in our turn this
privilege, we will momentarily quit the Indian border, on the skirt of
which our story has hitherto passed, and crossing at a leap over about
two hundred miles, beg the reader to follow us to Galveston, in the
centre of Texas, four months after the events we chronicled in our last
chapter.

At the period when our story is laid, that city, in which General
Lallemand wished to found the _Champ d'Asyle_--that sublime Utopia of a
noble and broken heart--was far from that commercial prosperity which
the progress of civilization, successive immigrations, and, most of all,
the speculations of bold capitalists, have caused it to attain during
the last few years. We shall therefore describe it such as it was during
our stay in America, leaving out of sight the enormous transformations
it has since undergone.

Galveston is built on the small sandy islet of St. Louis, which almost
closes up the mouth of the Rio Trinidad. At that time the houses were
low, mostly built of wood, and surrounded by gardens planted with
fragrant trees, which impregnated the atmosphere with delicious odours.

Unfortunately there is one thing that cannot alter--the climate and the
nature of the soil. The suffocating heat that almost continually
prevails in the town corrodes the earth and changes it into an
impalpable dust, in which you sink up to the knees, and which, at the
least breath of air, penetrates into the eyes, mouth, and nostrils;
myriads of mosquitoes, whose stings are extremely painful; and, above
all, the bad quality of the water, which the inhabitants collect with
great difficulty in plank reservoirs during the rainy season, and which
the sun renders boiling--these grievous occurrences, especially for
Europeans, render a residence at Galveston insupportable, and even most
dangerous.

The Texans themselves so greatly fear the deadly influence of this
climate that, during the torrid heat of summer, rich persons emigrate by
hundreds to the mainland, so that the town, which becomes almost
suddenly deserted by this momentary departure, assumes a look of sad
desolation which is painful to behold.

About four in the afternoon, at the moment when the rising sea breeze
began to refresh the atmosphere, a little Indian canoe, made of beech
bark, left the mainland, and vigorously impelled by two men supplied
with wide sculls, proceeded toward the city and pulled alongside the
plank quay, which served at that time as the landing place. So soon as
the canoe was stationary, a third person, carelessly reclining in the
stern sheets, rose, looked round him as if to recognise the spot where
he was; then, taking a spring, he landed on the quay. The canoe
immediately turned round, though not a syllable had been exchanged
between the scullers and the passenger they had brought.

The latter then pulled his hat over his eyes, wrapped himself carefully
in the folds of a wide zarapé of Indian fabric and striking colour, and
proceeded hastily towards the centre of the city. After a walk of a few
minutes the stranger stopped in front of a house, whose comfortable
appearance and well-tended garden showed that it belonged to a person
who, if not rich, was in easy circumstances. The door was ajar; the
stranger pushed it, entered, and closed it after him; then, without any
hesitation, like a man sure of what he was about, he crossed the garden,
in which he met nobody, entered the passage of the house, turned to the
right, and found himself in a room modestly, though comfortably
furnished.

On reaching this room the stranger fell into a butaca with the air of a
tired man delighted to rest after a long journey, took off his zarapé,
which he placed on the equipal, threw his hat upon it, and then, when he
had made himself comfortable, he rolled a husk cigarette, struck a light
with a gold mechero he took from his pocket, lit his papelito, and was
soon surrounded by a dense cloud of bluish and fragant smoke, which rose
above his head and formed a species of halo.

The stranger threw his body back, half closed his eyes, and fell into
that gentle ecstasy which the Italians call the _dolce far niente_, the
Turks, _kief_, and for which we northerns, with our more powerful
constitutions, have found no name, for the simple reason that we do not
know it.

The stranger had reached about the half of his second cigarette when
another person entered the room. This man, who did not appear to take
the slightest notice of the previous arrival, behaved, however,
precisely as he had done: he also took off his zarapé, reclined on a
butaca, and lit up a cigarette. Presently the garden sand creaked
beneath the footsteps of a third visitor, followed immediately by a
fourth, and then by a fifth; in short, at the end of an hour twenty
persons were assembled in this room. They all smoked with apparent
carelessness, and since their arrival had not exchanged a syllable.

Six o'clock struck from a clock standing on a sideboard. The last stroke
of the hour had scarce ceased vibrating ere the company, as if by common
agreement, threw away their cigars, and rose with a vivacity that
certainly was little to be expected after their previous carelessness.
At the same moment a secret door opened in the wall, and a man appeared
on the threshold.

This man was tall, elegant, and aristocratic, and appeared to be young.
A half-mask of velvet concealed the upper part of his face; as for his
attire, it was exactly similar to that of the other persons in the room,
but a brace of long pistols and a dagger were passed through the girdle
of red China crape which was wound tightly round his waist. At the
appearance of the stranger a quiver ran, like an electric current,
through the lines of visitors. The masked man, with head erect, arms
crossed on his chest, and body haughtily thrown back, gave his audience
a glance, which could be seen flashing through the holes in the velvet.

"It is well," he at length said, in a sonorous voice; "you are faithful
to your promise, Caballeros, not one of you have kept us waiting. This
is the eighth time I have assembled you during the month, and each time
I have found you equally prompt and faithful; thanks, in the name of the
country, Caballeros."

His auditors bowed silently, and the stranger continued, after a slight
pause--

"Time presses, gentlemen; the situation is growing with each moment more
serious; today we have no longer to attempt an adventurous stroke; the
hour has arrived to stake our heads resolutely in a glorious and
decisive game. Are you ready?"

"We are," they all answered unanimously.

"Reflect once more before pledging yourselves further," the Mask
continued, in a thrilling voice: "this time I repeat to you, we shall
take the bull by the horns, and have a hand-to-hand fight with it; of
one hundred chances, ninety-eight are against us."

"No matter," the person who first entered the room said, haughtily; "if
two chances are left us, they will be sufficient."

"I expected no less from you, John Davis," the stranger said, "you have
ever been full of devotion and self-denial; but, perhaps, among our
comrades some may not think as you do entirely. I do not regard this as
a crime, for a man may love his country and yet not consent to sacrifice
his life to it without regret; still, I must have perfect confidence in
those who follow me; they and I must have but one heart and one thought.
Let those, then, who feel a repugnance to share in the task we have to
perform tonight withdraw. I know that if prudence urges them to abstain
this time, under circumstances less desperate I should find them ready
to support me."

There was a lengthened silence, and no one stirred; at length the
stranger said, with an expression of joy which he did not try to
conceal--

"Come, I was not mistaken; you are brave fellows."

John Davis shrugged his shoulders.

"By heaven!" he said, "The trial was useless; you ought to have known
long ago what we are."

"Certainly I knew it, but my honour commanded me to act as I have done.
Now, all is said: we shall succeed or perish together."

"Very good, that is what I call speaking," the ex-slave dealer said,
with a hearty laugh; "the partisans of Santa Anna must have to hold
their own; for, if I am not greatly mistaken, ere long we shall cut them
into stirrup leathers."

At this moment a shrill whistle, although rather remote, was heard: a
second whistle, still nearer, replied.

"Gentlemen," the stranger said, "we are warned of the approach of an
enemy; perhaps it is only a false alarm, still the interest of the cause
we defend imperiously ordains prudence. Follow John Davis, while I
receive the troublesome fellow who is intruding on us."

"Come," said the American.

The conspirators, for they were no other, displayed some hesitation, for
they felt a repugnance to hide themselves.

"Leave me," the stranger went on, "you must."

All bowed and left the room after John Davis by the secret door, which
had offered passage to their Chief, and which closed upon them without
displaying a sign of its existence, as it was so carefully hidden in the
wall. A third whistle, close by, was heard at this moment.

"Yes, yes," the Chief said, with a smile, "whoever you may be, you can
come now; if you possessed the craft of the opossum and the eyes of the
eagle, I defy you to discover anything suspicious here."

He took off his mask, concealed his weapons, and lay back in a butaca.
Almost immediately the doors opened, and a man appeared. It was Lanzi,
the half-breed; he was dressed like the sailors of the port, with
canvas trousers drawn in round the hips, a white shirt, with a blue
turned down collar, with a white edging, and a tarpaulin hat.

"Well," the Chief asked, without turning, "why did you warn us, Lanzi?"

"It is highly necessary," the other answered.

"Is it serious, then?"

"You shall judge for yourself. The governor is coming hither with
several officers and a company of soldiers."

"General Rubio?"

"In person."

"Hang it!" the conspirator said, "Are we threatened with a domiciliary
visit?"

"You will soon know, for I hear him."

"Very good; we shall see what they want of us. In the meanwhile take
this mask and these weapons."

"The weapons too?" the other said in surprise.

"What shall I do with them? That is not the way in which I must fight
them at this moment. Be off, here they are!"

The half-breed took the mask and pistols, pressed a spring, and
disappeared through the door. The garden gravel could now be heard
creaking under the footsteps of several persons. At length the door of
the saloon was thrown open, and the General entered, followed by four or
five officers, who, like himself, were in full dress. The General
stopped on the threshold, and took a piercing glance around; the Chief
had risen, and was standing motionless in the centre of the apartment.

General Rubio was a thorough man of the world. He bowed politely, and
apologized for having thus entered the house without being announced;
but he found all the doors open, and no servant had come up to him.

"These excuses are useless, Caballero," the young man answered; "the
Mexican government has for a long time accustomed us to its
unceremonious way of behaving toward us; besides, the governor of the
city has the right, I presume, to enter any house when he thinks proper,
and if he does not find the door open, to have it opened, either with a
masterkey or a crowbar."

"Your remarks, Caballero," the General answered, "breathe an irritation
that must be regretted. The state of effervescence in which Texas is at
this moment would be more than sufficient to justify the unusual step I
am taking with you."

"I know not to what you are pleased to allude, Señor General," the young
man remarked, coldly; "it is possible that Texas may be in a state of
effervescence, and the annoyances the government have put on it would
completely justify this; but as concerns myself, personally, I might
perhaps have a right to complain of seeing my house invaded by an armed
force, without any previous summons, when nothing authorizes such an
arbitrary measure."

"Are you quite sure, Caballero, that I have not the right to act as I am
doing? Do you consider yourself so free from suspicion that you really
consider this measure arbitrary?"

"I repeat to you, Caballero," the young man continued, haughtily, "that
I do not at all understand the language you do me the honour of
addressing to me. I am a peaceable citizen; nothing in my conduct has,
as far as I know, aroused the jealous solicitude of the government; and
if it pleases its agents to make me undergo ill-deserved annoyance, it
is not in my power to oppose it otherwise than by protesting
energetically against the insult offered me. You have force on your
side, General, so do as you think proper; I am alone here, and shall not
attempt in any way to resist the measures you may think proper to take."

"That language, Caballero, evidently comes from a man assured of his
safety."

"You are mistaken, General; it is that of a free man, unjustly
insulted."

"It may be so, but I shall not discuss the point with you. You will
permit me, however, to remark, that for a man so justly indignant, and
apparently solitary, you are very carefully guarded; for, if the house
be empty, as you state, the environs are guarded by friends of yours,
who, I must allow, perform admirably the commission with which they were
intrusted, by warning you sufficiently early of unexpected visits for
you to take your precautions in consequence, and render it an easy
matter to get rid in a twinkling of persons whose presence here might
compromise you."

"Instead of speaking thus in enigmas, General, it would be better,
perhaps, to have a clear explanation; then, knowing the charge brought
against me, I might attempt to defend myself."

"Nothing is more easy, Caballero; still, you will allow me to remark
that we have been talking together for some time, and you have not yet
offered me a chair."

The young chieftain gave the General an ironical glance.

"Why should I employ toward you those conventional forms of politeness,
General? From the moment when, without my authority, and against my
will, you introduced yourself into this house, you should have
considered yourself as quite at home. It is I, then, who am the stranger
here, and in that position I am no longer permitted to do the honours of
this house."

"Caballero," the General answered, with a movement of impatience, "I am
grieved to find in you this stiffness and determination to quarrel. When
I entered this house, my intentions with respect to you were, perhaps,
not so hostile as you suppose; but, since you force me to a clear and
categorical explanation, I am prepared to satisfy you, and prove to you
that I am acquainted not only with your conduct, but with the plans you
entertain and are carrying out, with a tenacity and boldness which, if I
did not take, would lead inevitably to their speedy realization."

The young man started, and a flash burst from his wild eye at this
direct insinuation, which revealed to him the danger with which he was
menaced; but immediately regaining his presence of mind, and
extinguishing the fire of his glance, he replied, coolly--

"I am listening to you, General."

The latter turned to his officers.

"Do as I do, señores," he said, as he sat down; "take seats, as this
caballero refuses to offer them to us. As this friendly conversation may
be prolonged for some time yet, it is unnecessary that you should
fatigue yourselves by listening to it standing."

The officers bowed, and seated themselves comfortably on the butacas
with which the apartment was furnished. The General continued, after a
few moments of reflection, during which the young man looked at him
carelessly, while rolling a husk cigarette:

"And in the first place, to proceed regularly, and prove to you that I
am well-informed of all that concerns you," he said, purposely laying a
stress on the words, "I will begin by telling you your name."

"In truth, General, you should have begun with that," the young man
said, negligently.

"You are," the General went on, quietly, "the famous Chief whom the
insurgents and Freebooters have christened the Jaguar."

"Ah, ah!" he remarked, ironically, "So you know that, Señor Governor?"

"And a good many more things, as you shall see."

"Go on," he said, as he threw himself back with the graceful negligence
of a friend on a visit.

"After giving a powerful organization to your revolt on the Indian
border by seizing the Larch-tree hacienda, and allying yourself with
certain Comanche and Apache tribes, you understood that, to succeed, you
must give up that guerilla warfare, which I confess you had carried on
for some time with considerable success." "Thanks," said the Jaguar,
with an ironical bow.

"You therefore entrust the temporary command of your bands to one of
your comrades, and yourself come into the heart of Texas, with your most
faithful associates, in order to revolutionize the coast, and deal a
great blow by seizing a seaport. Galveston, by its position at the mouth
of the Trinidad river, is a strategical point of the utmost importance
for your plans. For two months past you have been concealed in this
house, which you have made the headquarters of your insurrection, and
where you are making all the preparations for the audacious enterprise
you wish to attempt. You have at your disposal numerous emissaries and
faithful conspirators; the government of the United States supply you
with abundance of arms and ammunition, which you think you will soon
have need of. Your measures have been so well taken, and your
machinations carried on with such great skill; you fancy yourself so
nearly on the point of success, that hardly an hour back you convened
here the principal members of your party, in order to give them their
final instructions. Is it so? Am I correctly informed? Answer me,
Caballero."

"What would you have me answer, Caballero," the young man said, with a
delightful smile, "since you know all?"

"Then, you confess that you are the Jaguar, the Chief of the
Freebooters!"

"Canarios, I should think so."

"You also allow that you came here with the intention of seizing the
city?"

"Incontestably," the other said, with an air of mockery; "it does not
allow the shadow of a doubt."

"Take care," the General remarked drily; "it is a much more serious
matter than you seem to think."

"What the deuce would you have me do General? It is not my fault. You
enter my house, without giving me notice, with a crowd of officers and
soldiers; you surround my residence, carry it by storm, and when you
have finished this pretty job worthy of an alguazil, without showing me
the slightest scrap of paper authorising you to act in that way, you
tell me to my face that I am the Chief of the bandits, a conspirator,
and Lord knows what; and then you request me to prove it. On my faith!
Any other in my place would act as I am doing; like me, he would bow to
the weight of so great a military force and such an entire conviction.
All this seems to me so extraordinary and novel, that I am beginning to
doubt my own identity, and I ask myself if I have not been hitherto
deceived in believing myself, Martin Gutierrez, the ranchero of Santa
Aldegonida, in the State of Sonora, and if I am not, on the contrary,
the ferocious Jaguar, of whom you speak to me, and for whom you do me
the honour of taking me. I confess to you, General, that all this
perplexes me in the highest degree, and I should feel greatly obliged if
you would kindly bring me to some settled conviction."

"Then, Caballero, up to the present you have been jesting!" the General
said hastily.

The Jaguar began laughing.

"_Cuerpo de Cristo_," he replied. "I should think so. What else could I
do in the face of such accusations? Discuss them with you? You know as
well as I do, General, that it is useless to attempt to overthrow a
conviction. Instead of telling me that I am the Jaguar, prove it to me,
and then I will bow to the truth. That is very simple, it appears to
me."

"Very simple, indeed, Caballero; I hope to be able soon to give you that
certainty."

"Very good; but till then, I would observe that you entered my house in
a way contrary to law, that the domicile of a citizen is inviolable, and
that what you have done today, only a juez de letras, armed with a legal
warrant, was empowered to do."

"You would possibly be correct, Caballero, if we lived in ordinary
times; but at this moment such is no longer the case; the State is in a
state of siege, the military power has taken the place of the civil
authority, and alone has the right to command and have carried out those
measures that relate to the maintenance of order."

The young man, while the General was speaking, had taken a side glance
at the clock. When the governor ceased he rose, and bowing
ceremoniously, said:

"To be brief, be kind enough, then, to explain to me categorically, and
without further circumlocution, the motives for your presence in my
house; we have been talking a long time and I have not yet been able to
read your intentions. I should, therefore, feel obliged by your making
them known to me without delay, as important business claims my presence
abroad; and if you insist on staying here, I shall be compelled to leave
you to yourselves."

"Oh, oh! You change your tone, I fancy, Caballero," the General said,
with a little irony. "I will tell you the motives you desire to learn;
as for your leaving the house without me or my sanction, which is the
same thing, I fancy you would find it rather difficult."

"Which means, I presume, that you look upon me as a prisoner, General?"

"Nearly so, Caballero. When your house has been carefully searched, and
we are convinced there is nothing suspicious in it, I may, perhaps,
permit you to be put aboard a ship which will carry you far away from
the territory of the Mexican Confederation."

"What! Without a warrant, by your mere will?"

"By my mere will: yes, Caballero."

"_Canarios_, Señor General, I see that your government has preserved the
healthy Spanish traditions, and is deliciously arbitrary," the Jaguar
said, mockingly; "the only question is whether I shall voluntarily
submit to such treatment."

"You must have already perceived that force is not on your side, at
least for the present."

"Oh, General, when a man has right on his side, force can soon be
found."

"Try it, then, Caballero; but I warn you that it will be at your own
risk and peril."

"Then you will employ force to coerce a single, unarmed man in his own
house?"

"That is my intention."

"Oh! If that be so, I thank you, for you leave me free to act."

"What do you mean by that remark, Caballero?" the General asked, with a
frown.

"What do you mean by yours, Señor Governor? I consider that all means
are good to escape an arbitrary arrest, and that I shall employ them
without the slightest hesitation."

"Try it," the officer said, ironically,

"When the moment for action arrives, I shall not wait for your
permission to do so, General," the Jaguar replied, with equal sarcasm.

Although this was the first time General Rubio and the Jaguar had met,
the Governor of Galveston had long been acquainted with the reputation
of the man with whom he had to deal; he knew how fertile in resources
his mind was, and the audacious temerity that formed the basis of his
character; personally he owed him a grudge for carrying off the conducta
de plata, and capturing the Larch-tree, hence he entertained a lively
desire to take an exemplary revenge on his bold adventurer.

The tone in which the Jaguar uttered the last words caused the General a
moment's anxiety; but after taking a glance round him, he was reassured.
In fact, owing to the precautions taken by the old soldier, it seemed
materially impossible that his prisoner could escape, for he was alone,
unarmed, in a house surrounded by soldiers, and watched by several
resolute officers; he, therefore, regarded his answer as bravado, and
took no further notice of it.

"I absolve you beforehand," he said disdainfully, "for any efforts you
may make to escape."

"I thank you, General," the Jaguar answered, with a ceremonious bow. "I
expected nothing else from your courtesy; I make a note of your
promise."

"Be it so. Now, with your permission we are about to commence our
domiciliary visit."

"Do so, General, pray do so; if you desire it, I will myself act as your
guide."

"In my turn I thank you for this obliging offer, but I do not wish to
put your kindness to a trial; the more so, as I am thoroughly acquainted
with this house."

"Do you think so, General?"

"Judge for yourself."

The Jaguar bowed without replying, and carelessly leant his elbow on the
couch upon which the clock stood.

"We will first begin with this saloon," the General continued.

"You mean that you will finish with it," the young man remarked, with an
ironical smile.

"Let us look first at the secret door in that wall."

"What! You know it then?"

"It seems so."

"Hang it all! You are better informed than I supposed."

"You do not know all yet."

"I hope so; judging from the commencement, I expect some extraordinary
discoveries."

"Perhaps so. Will you make the spring work yourself, Caballero, or would
you prefer my doing it?"

"On my word, General, I confess that all this interests me so hugely
that, until fresh orders, I desire to remain a simple spectator, in
order not to trouble my pleasure."

This continued irony produced an involuntary impression on the General;
the calm and coldly mocking attitude of the young man troubled him in
his heart; he feared a snare, without knowing when or how it would
reveal itself.

"Pay attention, Caballero," he said in a menacing tone to the Jaguar; "I
know for a fact that when I arrived you had a large party assembled
here; on my entrance, your comrades fled by that door."

"That is true," the young man said with a nod of assent.

"Take care," the General continued, "that if assassins are hidden behind
that door, the blood shed will fall on your head."

"General," the Jaguar said seriously, "press the spring, the passage is
empty; I require no aid but my own to deliver myself from your clutches
when I think proper."

The Governor no longer hesitated; he walked resolutely to the wall, and
pressed the spring; his officers had followed him, ready to aid him if
any danger presented itself. The Jaguar did not stir. The door opened,
and displayed a long and completely deserted corridor.

"Well, General, have I kept my word?" the Jaguar said.

"Yes, Señor, I must concede it. Now, Caballeros," the General continued,
addressing his officers, "draw swords, and forward!"

"One moment, if you please," said the Jaguar.

"What do you want, Señor?"

"You will remember that I warned you you would end your domiciliary
visit with this room?"

"Well?"

"I will keep that second promise as I did the first."

At the same instant, and ere the General and his officers could account
for what was happening, they felt the flooring give way beneath their
feet, and they rolled to the bottom of a vault, of slight depth, it is
true, but buried in the most intense gloom.

"A pleasant journey!" the Jaguar said with a laugh, as he closed the
trap again.



CHAPTER XVII.

THE SPY.


While these events were occurring, the sun had set, and night almost
immediately succeeded day. So soon as the Jaguar had closed the trap on
his prisoners, he proceeded toward the masked door to rejoin his
comrades; but a sound of footsteps he heard outside, made him change his
plans; he shut the door again, and returned to his old position to await
the newcomer. The latter did not delay long. Although the night was too
dark to allow the Jaguar to recognise his features, by the sparkling of
his gold lace, and the clank of his spurs and steel scabbard on the
pavement, he saw that he was once more in the presence of a Mexican
officer high in command. At the end of a moment, however, the Jaguar's
eyes, gifted possibly with that precious quality possessed by animals of
the feline race to see through the darkness, appeared to have recognised
the stranger. The young man frowned, and gave a start of
disappointment.

"Is there no one here?" the officer asked, as he stopped in the doorway
with very excusable hesitation.

"Who are you, and what do you want?" the Jaguar answered, disguising his
voice.

"That is a curious question," the officer continued, as he stepped
forward with his hand on his sabre hilt; "first have this room lighted
up, which looks like a cut-throat's den, and then we will talk."

"It is not necessary for what we have to say to each other, you can
leave your sabre at rest; although this house is dark, it is no
cut-throat den, as you seem to believe."

"What has become of General Rubio and the officers who accompanied him?"

"Am I their keeper, Colonel Melendez?" the Jaguar asked in a sarcastic
tone.

"Who are you, who appear to know me and answer so strangely?"

"Perhaps a friend, vexed at seeing you here, and who would be glad were
you elsewhere."

"A friend would not hide himself as you are doing."

"Why not, if circumstances compel him?"

"A truce to this exchange of puerile speeches; will you answer my
question, yes or no?"

"Which question?"

"The one I asked you about the General."

"Suppose I refuse?"

"I shall know how to compel you."

"That is haughty language, Colonel."

"Which I shall support by deeds."

"I do not think so: not that I doubt your courage, Heaven forbid, for I
have long known it."

"Well! What will prevent me?"

"You have not the means to carry out your wishes."

"They are easily found."

"Try it."

While speaking, the Colonel had mechanically taken a couple of steps
into the room.

"I shall soon return," he said, as he laid his hand on the door latch.

The Jaguar only answered by a hoarse laugh. The door was closed, in vain
did the Colonel try to open it; it resisted all his efforts.

"I am your prisoner, then?" he said, addressing the young man.

"Perhaps so; it will depend on yourself."

"You wish me to fall into the same snare into which the General and his
officers probably fell before me. Try it, Señor; still I warn you that I
am on my guard, and will defend myself."

"Your words are harsh, Colonel. You gratuitously insult a man of whom,
up to the present, you have no cause to complain, and whom you will
regret having attacked when you know him."

"Tell me the fate of my companions, and what your intentions are with
regard to myself."

"My intentions are better than yours, Colonel; for, if you had me in
your power, as I have you in mine, it is probable that your General, if
not yourself, would make me pay dearly for the imprudence I have
committed; but enough of this, we have lost too much time already.
General Rubio and his officers are my prisoners, and you feel in your
heart that I can do what I please with you; withdraw the soldiers who
surround my house, pledge me your word of honour that no attempt shall
be made on me by the Mexican Government for four-and-twenty hours, and I
will immediately restore you all to liberty."

"I know not who you are, Señor; the conditions you wish to impose on me
are those a conqueror would offer to enemies reduced to impotence."

"What else are you at this moment?" the young man interrupted violently.

"Be it so; but I cannot take it on myself to accept or decline these
conditions, as the General alone has the right to form a determination
and pledge his word."

"Then, ask himself what his intentions are, and he will answer you."

"Is he here, then?" the Colonel exclaimed eagerly, as he moved a step
forward.

"It is of little consequence to you where he is, provided he hear and
answer you; do not stir from where you are; one step further, and you
are a dead man; what is your resolve?"

"I accept."

"In that case speak to him."

The Jaguar worked the spring that opened the trap, and displayed the
entrance of the vault into which the Mexican officers had been so
suddenly hurled; but the darkness was so intense, that the Colonel could
perceive nothing, in spite of his efforts to try and distinguish a
gleam; he merely heard a slight sound produced by the grating of the
trap in its groove. The Colonel understood that he must get out of the
difficulty as well as he could.

"General," he said raising his voice, "can you hear me?"

"Who speaks?" the General answered immediately.

"I, Colonel Melendez de Gongora."

"Heaven be praised!" the General shouted; "in that case all goes well."

"On the contrary, all goes ill."

"What do you mean?"

"That, like yourself, I am in the hands of the accursed insurgents who
have captured you."

"Mil Demonios!" the old soldier shouted angrily.

"Are you all right?"

"Bodily, yes; my officers and myself have received no wounds; I must
confess that the demon who played us this trick was so far civil."

"Thanks, General," the Jaguar said in a tone of mockery.

"Ah, Salteador," the General exclaimed in a rage; "I swear by Heaven
that we shall settle our accounts some day."

"I hope so too, General; but for the present, believe me, you had better
listen to what Colonel Melendez has to say to you."

"I suppose I must," the Governor muttered. "Speak, Colonel," he added
aloud.

"General, we are offered our liberty on condition," the Colonel
immediately replied, "that we pledge our word of honour to attempt
nothing against the man whose prisoner we are."

"Or against his adherents, whoever they may be," the Jaguar interrupted.

"Be it so, or against his adherents, during the next twenty-four hours,
and that the house shall be left free."

"Hum:" said the General, "that requires reflection."

"I give you five minutes."

"Demonios! That is very short; you are not at all generous."

"It is impossible for me to grant a longer period."

"And suppose I refuse?"

"You will not do so,"

"For what reason?"

"Because you are furious with me, and hope to avenge yourself some day."

"Excellently reasoned; but supposing I _do_ refuse?"

"In that case, I will treat you and yours exactly as you intended to
treat me and mine."

"That is to say?"

"You will be all shot within a quarter of an hour."

There was a mournful silence. No other sound could be heard but the dry
and monotonous one produced by the escapement of the clock. These men,
collected without seeing each other, in so narrow a space, felt their
hearts beat as if to burst their chests; they trembled with impotent
rage, for they recognised that they were really in the hands of an
implacable foe, against whom any struggle was mad, if not impossible.

"Viva Dios!" the Colonel shouted; "better to die than surrender thus!"

And he rushed forward with uplifted sabre. Suddenly a hand of iron
clutched him, threw him down, and he felt the point of his own sword,
which he had let fall, slightly prick his throat.

"Surrender, or you are a dead man," a rough voice shouted in his ear.

"No; mil Demonios!" the Colonel said, furiously; "I will not surrender
to a bandit; kill me."

"Stop," the Jaguar said, "I insist."

The man who held the Colonel down left him at liberty, and the latter
rose, ashamed and partly stunned.

"Well," the young man continued, "do you accept, General?"

"Yes, demon," the latter replied passionately; "but I shall revenge
myself."

"Then, you give me your word as a soldier that the conditions I impose
on you will be legally carried out by you?"

"I give it; but who guarantees me that you will act honourably on your
side?"

"My honour, Señor General," the Jaguar answered, proudly; "my honour,
which, as you know, is as unsullied as your own."

"Very good, Señor, I trust to you as you do to me. Must we surrender our
swords?"

"General," the Jaguar answered nobly, "a brave soldier never separates
from his weapons; I should blush to deprive you of yours. Your
companions, like yourself, can keep their swords."

"Thanks for that courtesy, Caballero, for it proves to me that every
good feeling is not dead in your heart. Now I am waiting for you to
supply me with the means for leaving the place into which you made me
fall so skilfully."

"You shall be satisfied, Señor General. As for you, Colonel, you can
retire, for the door is now open."

"Not before I have seen you," the officer answered.

"What good would that do, since you have not recognised me?" the young
man said, reassuming his natural voice.

"The Jaguar!" the Colonel ejaculated in surprise.

"Ah! I might have expected that; I shall certainly remain now," he
added, with a singular inflection in his voice.

"Very good," said the Chief, "remain."

He clapped his hands, and four peons entered with lighted candelabra. So
soon as the saloon was lit up, the young officer perceived the General
and his aides-de-camp standing up in the vault. A criado brought a
ladder to the trap, and the Mexicans ascended--half-pleased,
half-ashamed.

"Gentlemen," the insurgent continued, "you are free. Any other in my
place would, doubtless, have profited by the bad position in which you
were, to impose on you conditions far harder than those I demanded of
you; but I only understand a fair fight, steel against steel, chest
against chest. Go in peace, but take care, for hostilities have begun
between us, and the war will be rude."

"One word before separating," said the General.

"I listen, Caballero."

"Whatever may be the circumstances under which we may meet at a later
date, I shall not forget your conduct of this day."

"I dispense you from any gratitude on that account, General; the more
so, because if I acted thus it was for reasons entirely strange to you."

"Whatever be the motive of your conduct, my honour urges me to remember
your conduct."

"As you please; I only ask you to remember our conditions."

"They shall be punctually carried out."

The Jaguar, upon this, bowed to the General; the latter returned his
salute, and, making a sign to his officers to follow him, left the
room. The young Chief listened attentively to the sound of the retiring
footsteps, and then drew himself up.

"What!" he exclaimed with surprise, on perceiving the Colonel, "are you
still here, Señor Don Juan?"

"Yes, brother," the latter answered, in a sad voice, "I am still here."

The Jaguar walked rapidly up to him, and took his hand.

"What have you to say to me, brother?--have you a fresh misfortune to
announce?"

"Alas, friend, what greater misfortune could I tell you of than that
which, by ruining our dearest hopes, has plunged us into despair?"

"Have you received news of our friends?"

"None."

"Tranquil?"

"I know not what has become of him."

"Loyal Heart?"

"Has also disappeared."

"Listen, brother, this situation cannot endure long; whatever happens,
it must cease. Time fails me at this moment to explain to you certain
matters you ought to know; but we will meet tomorrow."

"Where, and at what hour?"

"At the Salto del Frayle, at two in the afternoon."

"Why so far and so late, brother?"

"Because between this and then something will happen, which I cannot
tell you at present, but which will doubtless oblige me to cross the bay
and seek shelter on the mainland."

"I have no right to ask you for an explanation, brother; but take care.
Whatever you may attempt, you will have to deal with a rude adversary;
the General is furious against you; he has his revenge to take; and if
you furnish him with the opportunity, he will not let it slip."

"I am convinced of it, friend, but the die is cast; unfortunately, we
follow different roads. Heaven will help the good cause. Your hand once
more, and good-bye."

"Good-bye, brother, and it is settled that we meet tomorrow."

"Death alone can prevent me being at the place of meeting I have
selected."

The two political enemies, so cordially attached, shook hands and
separated. The Colonel wrapped himself in his cloak, and immediately
left the room and the house. The General, as he went away, had given the
company posted round the mansion orders to follow him, and the street
was completely deserted. The Jaguar was so intimately convinced of the
fidelity with which General Rubio would fulfil his engagements, that he
did not even take the trouble to assure himself of the fact.

So soon as he was alone he closed the trapdoor, touched the spring of
the secret door, and left the saloon in his turn, to enter the dark
corridor through which, on the General's entrance, his friends had
disappeared at the heels of John Davis. This passage, after several
turnings, opened into a rather large room, in which all the conspirators
were assembled, silent and gloomy, waiting, with their hands on their
weapons, till the Chief claimed their assistance.

Lanzi was standing sentry in the doorway, to prevent any surprise: the
Jaguar resumed his mask, thrust his pistols in his girdle, and entered.
On seeing him, the conspirators gave a start of joy, which was
immediately suppressed, however, at a signal from the young man.

"My comrades," he said, in a saddened voice, "I have evil tidings to
communicate to you. Had not my measures been so well taken, we should
all have been prisoners at this moment. A traitor has slipped in among
us, and this man has given the Governor the most detailed and positive
information about our projects. A miracle has alone saved us."

A shudder of indignation ran through the ranks of the conspirators; by
an instinctive movement they separated, giving each other sinister
glances, and laying their hands on their weapons. The vast hall, only
lighted by a smoky lamp, whose reddish light threw strange reflections
at each breath of air on the energetic faces of the conspirators, had a
mournful, and yet striking aspect. After a moment's silence the Chief
went on, in a firm and marked voice--

"What matter, comrades, if a cowardly spy has stepped in among us; the
hour of fear and hesitation has passed away, and we shall now go to work
in the sight of all. No more secret meetings, no more masks," he added,
violently tearing off his own and trampling it under foot; "our enemies
must know us at length, and learn that we are really the apostles of
that liberty which is about to gleam like a brilliant beacon over our
country."

"Long live the Jaguar!" the conspirators shouted as they rushed joyfully
towards him.

"Yes, the Jaguar," he continued in a thundering voice, "the Chief of the
Freebooters, the first man in Texas who dared to rise against our
oppressors; the Jaguar, who has sworn to make you free, and who will
keep his oath, unless death prevent him; now let the coward who has sold
us complete his work by revealing my name to the Governor, who has
already almost divined it, and will be happy to acquire the certainty at
last. This final denunciation will assuredly be paid highly, but he must
make haste, for tomorrow will be too late."

At this moment a man burst through the conspirators, thrusting back
right and left those who barred his passage, and placed himself opposite
the young Chief.

"Listen," he said, turning to his comrades, "and let what you are about
to hear form a profitable lesson to you:--The man who revealed the
secret of your meetings to the Governor, the man who sold you, the man,
in a word, who wished to give you up, I know!"

"His name, his name!" all the conspirators shouted, brandishing their
weapons passionately.

"Silence!" the Jaguar ordered, "allow our comrade to speak."

"Do not give me that name, Jaguar, for I am not your comrade, and never
was such. I am your enemy, not your personal enemy, for I do not know
you; but the enemy of every man who tries to tear from the Mexican
Republic that Texas where I was born, and which is the most brilliant
gem of the union. It was I, I alone who sold you, I, Lopez Hidalgo
D'Avila, but not in the cowardly way you suppose, for when the moment
arrived for me to make myself known to you, I had sworn to do so; now
you know all, and I am in your power. There are my weapons," he added,
as he threw them disdainfully on the ground; "I shall not resist, and
you can do with me as you please."

After uttering these words with a haughty accent impossible to render,
Don Lopez Hidalgo proudly crossed his arms on his chest, drew up his
head, and waited. The conspirators had listened to this strange
revelation with an indignation and rage that attained such a pitch of
violence that their will was, so to speak, paralyzed, and in spite of
themselves they remained motionless. But so soon as Don Lopez had
finished speaking, their feelings suddenly burst out, and they rushed
upon him with tiger yells.

"Stay, stay!" the Jaguar shouted, as he rushed forward and made of his
own person a rampart for the man on whom twenty daggers were lifted;
"Stay, brothers; as this man has said, he is in our power, and cannot
escape us; although his blood be that of a traitor, let us not commit an
assassination, but try him."

"Yes, yes," the conspirators yelled, "let us try him."

"Silence," the Jaguar ordered, and then turning to Don Lopez Hidalgo,
who during their proceedings had remained as calm and quiet as if he
were a stranger to what was going on; "will you answer frankly the
questions I ask you?" he inquired.

"Yes," Don Lopez simply replied.

"Was it pure love of your country, as you call it, that urged you to
pretend to be one of us in order to betray us more securely, or was it
not rather the hope of a rich reward that impelled you to the infamous
action of which you have been guilty?"

The Mexican shrugged his shoulders with disdain.

"I am as rich as the whole of you put together," he replied; "who does
not know the wealthy Don Lopez Hidalgo d'Avila?"

"That is true," one of the company remarked; "this man, I am bound to
allow, for I have been acquainted with him for many years, does not
know the amount of his fortune."

The Jaguar's forehead was wrinkled by the effect of a little thought.

"Then, that noble and revered feeling, the love of one's country,
instead of elevating your soul and making generous feeling spring up in
it," he continued, "has made you a coward. Instead of fighting honestly
and loyally in the daylight against us, you followed the gloomy path of
espial to betray us, and assumed the mask of friendship to sell us."

"I only picked up the weapon yourselves offered me. Did you fight, pray,
in the open day? No, you conspired craftily in the darkness; like the
mole, you dug the underground mine that was to swallow us up, and I
countermined you. But what use is discussion? for you will no more
comprehend my assertions than I can yours. Now to the business, for I am
convinced that is the only point on which we shall agree."

"One moment, Don Lopez; explain to me the reason why, when no suspicion
pointed to you, when no one thought of asking you to account for your
actions, you denounced yourself and trusted to our mercy:"

"Although unseen, I overheard what passed between you and your
Governor," the Mexican coldly answered; "I saw in what way the perilous
position in which I had succeeded in placing you turned to your
advantage; I understood that all was lost, and did not wish to survive
our defeat."

"Then you know the conditions I imposed on General Rubio?"

"And which he was constrained to accept. Yes, I know them; I am aware,
also, that you are too clever and determined a man not to profit by the
twenty-four hours' respite which you have so adroitly gained; then I
despaired of the cause I was defending."

"Good! Don Lopez, that is all I wished to know. When you entered our
association you accepted all the laws?"

"I did so."

"You are aware that you have deserved death?"

"I know it and desire it."

The Jaguar turned to the conspirators, who had listened, panting with
fury and impatience, to this singular dialogue.

"Brothers," he said, "you have heard all that passed between Don Lopez
Hidalgo d'Avila and myself?"

"Yes," they answered.

"On your soul and conscience, is this man guilty?"

"He is guilty," they burst forth.

"What punishment does he deserve?"

"Death!"

"You hear, Don Lopez; your brethren condemn you to die."

"I thank them; that favour is the only one I hoped and desired to
receive from them."

There was a moment of supreme silence; all eyes were fixed on the
Jaguar, who, with his head hanging on his breast, and frowning brows,
seemed plunged in serious thought. Suddenly the young man raised his
head; a lightning glance flashed from his eyes, a strange smile curled
his lip, and he said, with a tone of bitter irony--

"Your brethren have condemned you to die; well, I, their Chief, condemn
you to live!"

Don Lopez, despite all his courage, felt himself turn pale at these
cutting words; he instinctively stooped to pick up the weapons he had
previously hurled at his feet; but the Jaguar guessed his thoughts.

"Seize that man!" he shouted.

John Davis and two or three other conspirators rushed on the Mexican,
and, in spite of his active resistance, soon rendered him powerless.

"Bind him," the Jaguar next ordered.

This command was immediately carried out.

"Now, listen to me, brothers," the Jaguar continued, in a loud
voice--"the task we have taken on ourselves is immense, and studded with
perils and difficulties of every description; we are no longer men but
lions, and those who fall into our power must eternally bear the mark of
our powerful claws. What this man has done for an object honourable in
his eyes, another might be tempted to do to satisfy a sordid passion.
Death is only the end of life, a moment to endure; many men desire it,
through weariness or disgust. Don Lopez has himself told us that he
wished to give us a profitable lesson; and he is not mistaken, for we
shall profit by it. In killing him we should but accomplish his dearest
wish, as himself said: let him live, as we desire to punish him, but let
that life he retains be such a burden to him, and so miserable, that he
may for ever regret not having fallen beneath our daggers; this man is
young, handsome, rich, and honoured by his fellow citizens; let us
deprive him, not of his riches, for that is not in our power, but of his
beauty, that flower of youth of which he is so proud, and make him the
most wretched and despicable being in creation. In that way our
vengeance will be complete; we shall have attained our object by
imprinting a just terror on the hearts of those who may be tempted
hereafter to follow his example."

The conspirators, despite all their resolution and ferocity, experienced
a secret terror on hearing the savage words of their chief, whose gloomy
countenance reflected a terrible energy.

"Don Lopez Hidalgo d'Avila," the Jaguar continued, in a hollow voice,
"traitor to your brothers, your false tongue will be plucked out and
your ears cut off. Such is the sentence which I, the Chief of the
Freebooters, pass on you; and in order that everybody may know that you
are a traitor, a T will be cut on your forehead between your eyebrows."

This sentence caused a momentary stupor among the company; but soon a
tiger-like yell burst from all their panting chests, and it was with a
tremor of ferocious joy that these men prepared to carry out the
atrocious sentence pronounced by their Chief. The prisoner struggled in
vain to burst the bonds that held him. In vain he demanded death with
loud cries. As the Jaguar had said, the lion's paw was on him; the
conspirators were inexorable, and the sentence was carried, out in all
its rigour.

An hour later, Don Lopez Hidalgo d'Avila, bleeding and mutilated, was
deposited at the door of the Governor's palace. On his chest was
fastened a large placard, on which were written in blood the two words:

COBARDE! TRAIDOR!

After this fearful execution, the conspirators continued their meeting
as if nothing extraordinary had interrupted them. But the Jaguar's
revenge was foiled--at least partially; for when the unhappy victim was
picked up at daybreak he was dead. Don Lopez had found the strength and
courage to dash out his brains against the wall of the house near which
he had been thrown as an unclean animal.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE PULQUERIA.


The same day on which we resume our narrative, on the firing of the
cannon from the fort that commands the entrance to the port of
Galveston, to announce the setting of the sun, whose glowing disk had
just disappeared in the sea, colouring the horizon with a ruddy hue for
a long distance, the town, which had, during the day, been plunged into
a mournful torpor owing to the heat, woke up all at once with lengthened
and joyous clamour.

The streets, hitherto solitary, were peopled as if by enchantment by an
immense crowd, which emerged in disorder from all the houses, so eager
were they to breathe the fresh air of evening which the sea breeze
brought up on its humid wing; the shops were opened, and lit up with an
infinite number of coloured paper lamps. Ere long there was in this
town, where, scarce an hour earlier, such silence and solitude
prevailed, a medley of individuals of all classes and
countries--English, Spaniards, Americans, Mexicans, French, Russians,
Chinese--all dressed in their national costume: women, coquettishly
wrapped in their rebozos, darting to the right and left provocative
glances; perambulating tradesmen vaunting their merchandise, and
serenos, armed to the teeth, trying to maintain good order. And all this
crowd came and went, and stopped,--pushing and elbowing and laughing,
singing, shouting, and quarrelling, making the dogs bark and the
children cry.

Two young gentlemen, dressed in the simple but graceful uniform of
officers of the United States Navy, who were coming from the interior of
the town, forced their way with some difficulty through the crowd that
impeded their every step on the port, as they proceeded toward the pier,
where a large number of boats of all shapes and sizes were tied up. They
had scarce reached the landing place ere they were surrounded by some
twenty boatmen, who offered their services, while exaggerating in their
praiseworthy fashion the surprising qualities and unparalleled speed of
their boats, doing so in the bastard patois which belongs to no
language, but is formed of words culled haphazard from all, and by means
of which, in every seaport, the people of the country and strangers
contrive to understand each other, and which is called in the Scales of
the Levant the linguafranca.

After giving a careless glance at the numerous skiffs dancing before
them, the officers abruptly dismissed the boatmen by peremptorily
declining their services; but they did not get rid of them till they had
told them they had a boat of their own, and scattered some small change
among them. The boatmen withdrew, half vexed, half satisfied, and the
officers were at length left alone on the jetty.

We have said that the sun had set for some time, and hence the night was
gloomy. Still, the two officers, in order, doubtless, to assure
themselves that the darkness concealed no spy, walked several times up
and down the jetty, while conversing together in a low voice, and
examining with the most scrupulous attention those spots which might
have afforded shelter to anyone. They were certainly alone. One of them
then drew from his breast one of those silver whistles, such as
boatswains employ on board ships, and then produced a soft and prolonged
note thrice repeated. A few moments passed, and nothing proved to the
officers that their signal had been heard. At last, a soft whistle
traversed the air and expired on the ears of the two men who were
listening, with bodies bent forward and faces turned to the sea.

"They are coming," said one.

"We will wait," his comrade answered laconically.

They carefully wrapped themselves in their cloaks to guard themselves
against the damp sea breeze; they leant against an old gun that served
to tie boats up, and remained motionless as statues, without exchanging
a syllable. A few minutes passed thus; the darkness grew gradually
denser; the noises of the town insensibly died out, and the promenaders,
driven away by the coolness of the night, quitted the seashore for the
interior of the town. The beach was soon completely deserted--the two
officers alone remained leaning against the gun.

At length a remote sound, scarcely perceptible, but which practised ears
could recognise, rose from the sea. This sound became gradually more and
more distinct; and it was easy, especially for sailors, to recognise the
sharp and cadenced sound of oars striking against the tholes and dipping
into the sea; although these oars, judging from the sound, were muffled,
and employed with the utmost caution.

In fact, the boat itself ere long became visible. Its long black outline
stood out in the luminous line traced by the moon on the waves, as it
approached the jetty at great speed. The two officers had bent forward
curiously, but did not leave the post of observation they had selected.
On coming within pistol-shot, the boat stopped. Suddenly, a rough voice,
lowered prudently, however, rose in the silence, singing the first verse
of a song well known in these parts:

     ¿Qué rumor
     Lejos suena,
     Qué el silencio
     En la serena
     Negra noche interrumpió?[1]

The man who was singing had scarce finished these five lines ere one of
the officers took up the song in a sonorous voice; doubtless, replying
to the signal made him by the steerer of the boat:

     ¿Es del caballo la veloz carrera,
     Tendido en el escape volador,
     O el aspero rugir de hambrienta fiera,
     O el silbido tal vez del aquilon?[2]

There was a delay of a few seconds, during which no other sound was
audible save the monotonous break of the waves as they died away on the
beach, or the distant twanging of some jarabés or vihuelas, playing
those seguedillas and tyranas so dear to all peoples of the Spanish
race. At length, the voice which first struck up the song continued, but
this time with an intonation approaching to a threat, although the man
who spoke did not appear to be addressing anyone in particular.

"The night is dark, it is imprudent to wander haphazard on the
seashore."

"Yes, when a man is alone, and feels his heart die out in his bosom,"
the officer who had sung answered immediately.

"Who can flatter himself with possessing a firm heart?" the voice went
on.

"The man whose arm is ever ready to support his words for the defence of
a good cause," the other at once replied.

"Come, come," the sailor exclaimed, gaily, addressing his companions
this time; "lay on your oars, lads, the Jaguars are out hunting."

"Take care of the coyotes," the officer said again.

The boat pulled up alongside the jetty; the officers had by this time
left their place of shelter, and hurried to the end of the jetty. There
a man, dressed in sailor's garb, with an oilskin souwester, whose large
brim concealed his features, was standing motionless, with a pistol in
either hand.

"Patria!" he said, sharply, when the officers were only two paces from
him.

"Libertad!" they answered, without hesitation.

"Viva Dios!" the sailor said, as he returned his pistols to the leather
belt that passed round his hips; "It is a good wind that brings you, Don
Serapio, and you too, Don Cristoval."

"All the better, Ramirez," said the officer addressed as Serapio.

"Have you any news, then?" his comrade asked, curiously.

"Excellent, Don Cristoval, excellent," Ramirez answered, as he rubbed
his hands gleefully.

"Oh, oh!" the two officers muttered, as they exchanged a glance of
satisfaction; "Tell us it, then, Ramirez."

The latter took a suspicious glance around.

"I should like to do so," he said, "but the place where we are does not
seem at all propitious for a conversation of the nature of the one we
have before us."

"That is true," said Don Serapio; "but what prevents us getting into
your boat? There we can talk at ease."

But Ramirez shook his head.

"Yes," he said; "but then we should have to push off; and I am no more
anxious than I presume you to be, to be discovered and hailed by some
guard boat."

"That is true," Don Cristoval objected; "we must find other and less
perilous means for conversing, without fear of indiscreet ears."

"What o'clock is it?" Ramirez asked.

Don Serapio struck his repeater.

"Just ten," he answered.

"Good: in that case we have time, since the affair does not come off
till midnight. Follow me. I know a pulqueria where we shall be as safe
as on the top of the Coffre de Perote."

"But the boat?" Don Cristoval objected.

"Be at your ease--it is commanded by Lucas. However clever the Mexicans
may be, he is the man to play at hide and seek with them for the entire
night; besides, he has my instructions."

The officers bowed, but made no further remark. The three men then set
out, Ramirez walking a few paces in advance of his companions. Although
the night was so dark that it was impossible to distinguish objects ten
paces off, the sailor proceeded through the narrow and winding streets
of the town with as much certainty and ease as if traversing it in broad
daylight, in the bright sunshine.

Close to the Cabildo, at the corner of the Plaza Mayor, stood a species
of cabin, built of ships' planks, clumsily nailed together, which
offered, in the stifling midday hours, a precarious shelter to the
leperos and idlers of all sorts, who collected there to smoke, drink
mezcal, or play at monte, that game so beloved by Spanish-Americans of
all classes.

The interior of this suspicious rancho, honoured with the name of
pulqueria, corresponded perfectly with the miserable aspect of the
exterior. In a large room, only lighted by the dubious gleam of a smoky
candle, a number of individuals, with ferocious countenances, dressed in
filthy rags, and armed to the teeth, were collected round a few planks
laid across empty barrels, and serving as a table. These men were
drinking, and playing with that Mexican coolness which no event, however
serious it may be, succeeds in disturbing, and staking piles of gold,
which they drew from their patched calzoneras.

It was in front of this unclean pothouse, from the broken door of which
escaped a reddish steam, laden with pestilential emanations, that
Ramirez stopped.

"Where the deuce are you taking us?" Don Serapio asked him, with an
expression of disgust he could not master at the repulsive appearance of
this den.

The sailor laid a finger on his lip.

"Silence!" he said, "You shall know. Wait for me here an instant, but be
careful to keep in the shade, so as not to be seen; the customers of
this honest establishment have such numerous reasons to distrust spies,
that if they saw you suddenly appear among them, they might be capable
of playing you a trick."

"Why enter such a den as this?"

Ramirez smiled craftily.

"Do you fancy, then," he said, "that if I had only some news to tell
you, I should have brought you here?"

"Why else, then?"

"You will soon know; but I can tell you nothing at this moment."

"Go on, then, as it is so; still, I beg you not to keep us too long at
the door of this disgusting house."

"All right, I will only go in and come out again."

Then, after again recommending the officers to be prudent, he pushed the
door of the pulqueria, which at once opened, and he went in. In the
darkest corner of the room two men, almost completely hidden by the
dense cloud of smoke that rose over the heads of the gamblers, carefully
wrapped in their zarapés of Indian manufacture, with the brim of their
hats pulled down over their eyes (a very needless precaution in the
darkness where they were), and leaning on their long rifles, whose butts
rested on the floor of the room, were whispering in each other's ear,
while taking, at intervals, anxious glances at the leperos assembled a
few paces from them.

The gamblers, fully engaged, did not dream of watching the strangers,
who, however, from their martial demeanour, and the cleanliness of their
attire, formed a striking contrast to them, and evidently did not belong
to the company that usually assembled at this rancho; hence the
strangers had very unnecessarily taken their precautions to escape from
inquisitive looks, supposing such were their object.

Eleven o'clock struck from the Cabildo; at the same moment a form
appeared in the doorway. This man stopped, took a sharp glance round the
room, and then, after a slight hesitation, doubtless caused by the
difficulty of recognizing in the crowd the persons he wished to see, he
entered the rancho, and walked hastily toward the strangers. The latter
turned at the sound of his footsteps, and gave a start of joy on
recognizing him. We need hardly say that it was Ramirez. The three men
shook hands with an expression of pleasure which proved that with them
it was not a mere act of politeness, such as are so greatly abused in
what is called the civilized life of towns.

"Well," Ramirez asked, "what have you done?"

"Nothing," one of the men answered, "we were waiting for you."

"And those scoundrels?"

"Are already more than three parts ruined,"

"All the better; they will march with greater impetuosity."

"They must soon see the bottom of their purses."

"Do you think so?"

"I am sure of it; they have been playing since eight in the morning, so
the pulquero says."

"Without leaving off?" the sailor said, in surprise.

"They have not ceased for an instant."

"All the better."

"By the bye," one of the strangers remarked, "have you come alone? Where
are the men you promised to bring?"

"They are here, and you will see them in a moment."

"Very good. Then it is still for this night?"

"You must know that better than I."

"On my honour, no."

"Then you have not seen him?"

"Seen who?"

"Why, _him._"

"No."

"Hang it all! That is annoying,"

"I did not require to see him,"

"But it is different with me."

"Why so?"

"Because I have executed his orders, as they are with me."

"That is true."

"Viva Dios! I was obliged to employ stratagem to induce them to follow
me here."

"Why did you not bring them in at once?"

"I should be very sorry to do so, at least for the present. They are
cool and steady naval officers, whose smile, under all circumstances,
resembles a grimace, so close do they keep their lips. The free-and-easy
manner of our worthy associates," he added, "might possibly displease
them."

"But when the master arrives?"

"Oh, then the affair will rest with him alone."

At the same moment a sharp whistle was heard outside, and the gamblers
sprang up as if they had received an electric shock. Ramirez bent down
to the two men.

"Here he is," he said; "I shall be back directly."

"Where are you going?" one of the strangers asked, sharply.

"To join those who are waiting for me."

And winding through the groups, the sailor left the pulqueria unnoticed.
Ramirez had hardly left the room, ere the door was burst open by a
violent blow, and a man rushed in. All present took off their hats, as
if by common agreement, and bowed respectfully.

We will give, in a few words, a portrait of this new personage, who is
destined to play a most important part in this narrative. The stranger
seemed to be twenty, or two-and-twenty at the most, though he was
probably older; he was slim and delicate, but perfectly proportioned,
and all his movements were marked by indescribable grace and nobility.
His beardless face was surrounded by magnificent black ringlets, which
escaped in profusion from under his hat, and fell in large clusters on
his shoulders.

This man had a lofty and wide forehead, intelligent and pensive, and a
deep and well-opened eye, an aquiline nose with flexible nostrils, and a
disdainful and mocking lip. All his features made up a strange, but
commanding countenance. He might be loved, but he must be feared. His
feet and hands were small, and evidenced good breeding. Dressed in the
picturesque costume of Mexican campesinos, he wore his rich clothes with
inimitable grace and ease.

Who was he?

His best friends, and he counted many such among the men in whose midst
he had suddenly appeared, could not say.

In America, especially at the period when our story is laid, it was the
easiest thing in the world to conceal one's private existence: an
intelligent man suddenly revealed himself, no one caring, whence he came
or whither he went--a brilliant meteor, he traced a luminous line on the
chaos of the revolutionary struggle, which he illumined by the strange
flashes of his extraordinary deeds. Then this man--this unknown hero
disappeared as suddenly as he had arisen: night closed in round him, the
darkness grew denser and denser, and an impenetrable mystery brooded
over his birth and his grave.

The stranger was one of these men. He and the Jaguar were thus placed in
an identical situation in the eyes of their partisans; but men live so
quickly when the hour for the supreme struggle has struck, that no one
attempted to pierce the gloom, and obtain the secret of these two young
Chieftains.

The man with whom we are now engaged was commonly called El Alferez by
his friends and enemies. This word, which in Spanish literally signifies
sub-lieutenant, had become the name of this singular person, which he
had accepted, and to which he answered.

Why had this strangely selected title been given him? This question, or
any other, it is impossible for us to answer--at any rate, for the
present.

After taking a haughty and assured glance at the persons collected in
disorderly groups around him, the young man leant against a barrel, and,
with affected carelessness, said to the individuals who surrounded
him--"Well, my scamps, have you amused yourselves properly?"

A murmur of general satisfaction ran along the ranks.

"Good, my coyotes," he continued, with the same mocking tone; "now, I
suppose, you would like to smell a little blood?"

"Yes," these sinister persons answered unanimously.

"Well, console yourselves; I will let you smell it ere long, and in a
satisfactory manner. But I do not see Ramirez among you; can he have
been so awkward as to get himself hung? Although he has deserved it a
long time. I do not think him such a fool as to let himself be
apprehended by the spies of the Mexican Government."

These words were uttered in a soft voice, harmoniously modulated, but at
the same time sharp and rather shrill.

"I heard my name," said Ramirez, as he appeared in the doorway.

"Yes, I mentioned it. Well, are you alone?"

"No."

"Are they both here?"

"Both."

"That is excellent. Now, if the Jaguar be as true to his word as I am to
mine, I answer for success."

"I hold your promise, Señor Alferez," said a man who had entered the
room some moments previously.

"Rayo de Dios! You and your comrades are welcome; for, of course, you
are not alone."

"I have twenty men, worth a hundred."

"Bravo! I recognise the Jaguar in that."

The latter began laughing.

"They only await a signal from me to come in."

"Let them come, let them come; time is precious, so let us not waste it
in trifling."

The Jaguar walked to the door, and threw away the lighted cigarette he
held in his hand. The twenty conspirators entered, and ranged themselves
silently behind their Chief. Ramirez came in immediately after, followed
by the two naval officers.

"All is clearly understood between us, Jaguar?"

"All."

"We act toward each other with all frankness and honesty of purpose?"

"Yes."

"You swear it?"

"Without hesitation, I swear it."

"Thanks, my friend. On my side I swear to be a faithful comrade."

"How many men have you?"

"As you see, thirty."

"Who, added to the twenty I bring, give the respectable amount of fifty
men; if the affair be properly managed, they are more than we require."

"Now, let us divide our parts."

"Nothing is changed, I think; I will surprise the fort, while you board
the corvette."

"Agreed; where are the guides?"

"Here," the two men said, with whom Ramirez conversed when he entered
the pulqueria the first time. El Alferez examined them attentively for
some minutes, and then turned to the Jaguar.

"You can start, I fancy."

"How many men do you keep with you?"

"Take them all; I will only keep Ramirez and the two persons to whom he
has to introduce me."

"That is true," said the sailor.

"Come, my coyotes," El Alferez continued, "follow your new Chief. I
place you temporarily under the orders of the Jaguar, to whom I
surrender all my claims upon you."

The men bowed, but made no reply.

"And now, brothers," the young man continued, "remember that you are
about to fight for the liberty of your country, and that the man who
commands you will not grudge his life for the success of the daring
stroke he is about to attempt with your aid; that ought to render you
invincible. Go."

"Do not forget the signal--one rocket, if we fail."

"Three, if we succeed; and we shall do so, brother."

"May Heaven grant it."

"Till we meet again."

The two men shook hands, and the Jaguar quitted the pulqueria, followed
by these savage men, who marched silently behind him, like wild beasts
going in quest of prey. Ere long, none remained in the room but the two
naval officers, Ramirez, and the pulquero, who, with eyes dilated by
terror, looked at and listened to all this, without understanding
anything. El Alferez remained motionless, with his body bent forward, so
long as it was possible for him to hear the slightest sound of retiring
footsteps; when all had become silent again, he drew himself up, and
turned to his comrades, who were as attentive as himself.

"May Heaven favour us!" he said, as he piously crossed himself. "Now,
Caballeros, it is our turn."

"We are ready," the three men answered.

El Alferez took a rapid glance round the room. The pulquero, either
through curiosity, want of occupation, or some other cause, was standing
motionless in a distant corner of the room, following with an attentive
glance the movements of his singular customers.

"Hilloh!" El Alferez said to him, "come hither."

The pulquero obsequiously doffed his straw hat, and hastened to obey
this injunction, which admitted of no reply.

"What do you desire, Excellency?" he asked.

"To ask you a question."

"Pray do so."

"Are you fond of money?

"Well, tolerably so, Excellency," he replied, with a crafty grimace,
which doubtless had pretensions to be a smile.

"Very good, here is an onza: when we go away, we will give you a second;
but bear in mind that you must be deaf and blind."

"That is easy," he replied, as he pocketed the gold coin, and drew
aside.

Since the Jaguar's departure, the two officers had been suffering from
an anxiety they did not attempt to conceal, but which El Alferez did not
appear to notice, for his face was quite radiant. In fact, the
expedition they were going to attempt in the company of the daring
partisan seemed to them not only rash but mad, especially since El
Alferez had so cavalierly given up to the Jaguar the thirty resolute
men, whose support they considered indispensable.

"Come, come, Señors," the young man said, with a smile, after
attentively watching them for some moments, "regain your courage; hang
it all, you look as if you had been buried and dug up again; and we are
not dead yet, I suppose."

"That is true; but we are not much better," Don Serapio said
significantly.

El Alferez frowned. "Can you be frightened?" he said, haughtily.

"We are not afraid of dying, but only of failing."

"That is my business: I answer for success on my head."

"We are perfectly aware of what you are capable, Señor; but we are only
four men, and after all----"

"And the boat's crew?"

"That is true; but they are only sixteen men."

"They will be enough."

"I wish it, but can hardly reckon on it."

"Well, say whether you are resolved to obey me at all hazards?"

"We have made the sacrifice of our lives."

"Then, whatever happens, you will act?"

"Whatever happens."

"It is well--"

El Alferez appeared to reflect for a moment, and then addressed the
pulquero, who was standing anxiously near him--"Has anything been left
with you for me?" he asked him.

"Yes, Excellency; this evening at Oración a man brought a trunk on his
shoulders."

"Where is it?"

"As the man assured me that it contained articles of considerable value,
I had the chest placed in my bedroom, in order that it might be in
safety."

"Lead me to your room."

"Whenever you please, Excellency."

"Señors," El Alferez said, addressing the two naval officers and
Ramirez, "wait for me in this room; in ten minutes I will join you
again."

And without awaiting a reply, he made a sign to the pulquero to lead the
way, and left the room with a rapid step. There was a momentary silence
with the three men; they seemed to be engaged in sad thoughts, and
looked anxiously around them. Time, which never stands still, had
rapidly advanced during the course of the events we have narrated.
Nearly the whole night had passed away, the first gleams of dawn were
beginning to whiten the smoky walls of the pulqueria, and already some
inhabitants, who had risen earlier than the others, were venturing into
the streets; ere long the sun would make its appearance.

"Day will soon be here," Don Serapio remarked, as he shook his head
anxiously.

"What matter?" Ramirez answered.

"What matter, do you say?" Don Serapio replied in amazement; "but it
seems to me that one of the most important conditions for the enterprise
we are about to attempt, is darkness."

"Certainly," Don Cristoval supported him, "if we wait till the sun has
risen, any surprise will be impossible."

Ramirez shrugged his shoulders.

"You do not know the man under whose orders you have voluntarily placed
yourselves," he answered; "impossible things are those he prefers
attempting."

"You know him better than we do then, as you speak thus of him?"

"Better than you or anyone," the sailor said with considerable
animation; "I have the greatest faith in him; for ten years I have lived
by his side, and have many times been able to appreciate all the
nobility and generosity that exist in his heart."

"Ah," the two officers said, walking quickly up to him, "who is he,
then?"

An ironical smile curled Ramirez's delicate lip.

"You know as well as I do: a warm patriot, and one of the most renowned
Chiefs of the revolutionary movement."

"Hum!" Don Sandoval remarked, "that is not what we want to know."

"What then?" he asked with almost imperceptible irony.

"Hang it, you say that you have lived ten years with this man," Don
Serapio went on; "you must know certain peculiarities about him which no
one else is acquainted with, and which we should not be sorry to know."

"That is possible; unfortunately, I am utterly unable to satisfy your
curiosity on that point; if El Alferez has not thought proper to give
you certain intimate details about his private life, it is not my place
to reveal them to you."

Don Serapio was about to reply rather sharply to the sailor, when the
door opened through which Don Alferez had gone out, and the pulquero
entered, followed by a lady. The two officers could scarce refrain from
a cry of surprise on recognising beneath this dress El Alferez himself.
The young Chief wore feminine attire with considerable grace and
reality; he walked with such ease, and appeared so accustomed to the
thousand knick-nacks of a lady's dress--in a word, the metamorphosis was
so complete, that, had it not been for the eye whose strange lustre the
young man had not quite succeeded in subduing, the three men could have
sworn that this singular being was really a woman.

The costume of El Alferez, though not rich, was elegant, and in good
taste; his face, half concealed beneath the silken folds of his rebozo,
partly hid his haughty expression; in his right hand he held a pretty
sandalwood fan, with which he played with that graceful nonchalance so
full of skill which is only possessed by Spanish women and their
American daughters.

"Well, Caballeros," the young man said mincingly, in a sweet and
harmonious voice; "do you not recognize me? I am the daughter of your
friend Doña Leonora Salcedo, Doña Mencia."

The three men bowed respectfully.

"Pardon me, Señorita," Don Serapio replied as he gravely kissed the tips
of El Alferez's fingers; "we know you perfectly well, but were so far
from anticipating the happiness of meeting you here, that----"

"Even at this moment, after hearing you speak, we dare not yet believe
in the reality of what we see."

The pulquero looked in alarm from one to the other. The worthy man
understood nothing of what was going on, and he asked himself
confidentially were he asleep or awake. In fact, he was not far from
believing himself under a spell.

"I do not understand your surprise, Caballeros," the feigned Doña Mencia
said with a stress on her words; "was it not arranged some days back
between yourselves, my mother, and my husband, that we should go this
morning and breakfast with Commandant Rodriguez, on board the _Libertad_
corvette?"

"Of course," Don Serapio quickly exclaimed; "excuse me, Señorita, but I
really do not know where my head is. How could I have forgotten that?"

"I will excuse you," El Alferez replied with a smile, "but on condition
that you repair your inexplicable forgetfulness, and rather ungallant
behaviour, by offering me your arm to go on board the corvette at once."

"The more so," Don Cristoval added, "as we have rather a long distance
to go, and I have no doubt the Commandant is expecting us."

"Canarios! I should think he was," Ramirez ejaculated; "why, Señor, he
sent me with a boat to take you aboard."

"Since that is the case, I think we shall do well by starting without
further delay."

"We are at your orders, Señorita."

"Stay, my good man," El Alferez added in a soft voice, and addressing
the pulquero, "take this in recollection of me."

The good man, half stunned by what he saw, mechanically held out his
right hand, into which the mysterious adventurer carelessly let a gold
onza fall; then, taking Don Serapio's arm, he went out, preceded by Don
Cristoval and Ramirez, who hurried to get the boat ready. The pulquero
stood in his doorway, and looked after the strange visitors who had
spent the whole night in his house, as long as he could see them; then
he went in again, shaking his head thoughtfully, and muttering, as he
jingled the coin he had received--"All this is not clear; a man who is a
woman, friends who do not recognize each other after two hours'
conversation, that is preciously queer; I am certain something is going
to happen. But hang me if I mix myself up in it; it is well, in certain
circumstances, to know how to hold one's tongue; besides, it is no
business of mine; the money they gave me is good, and I have no right to
look further."

Strengthened by this philosophic reasoning, and filled with prudence,
the pulquero closed his door, and went to bed in order to fetch up by
day the sleep his singular curiosities had made him lose during the
night.


[1] What rumour resounds in the distance which interrupts the placid
silence of the dark night?

[2] Can it be the rapid gallop of a horse urged along a narrow road--or
the ferocious howling of a starving beast of prey--or, perchance, the
whistling of the north-west wind?



CHAPTER XIX.

AT SEA.


It was about four in the morning; the dawn was beginning to mark the
horizon with wide white bands; on the extreme line of the water, a
bright red reflection, the harbinger of sunrise, announced that the sun
would soon appear. At this moment a light brig gradually emerged from
the dense fog that hid it, and could be seen sailing close to the wind
along the dangerous and rugged coast which forms the entrance of
Galveston Bay, at the mouth of the Rio Trinidad.

It was a neat vessel of three hundred tons at the most, with a
gracefully-built hull, and its tall masts coquettishly raking. The
rigging was carefully painted and tarred, the yards symmetrically
square, and more than all, the menacing muzzles of four eight-pounder
carronades which peered out of the bulwarks on either side, and the long
thirty-two pounder swivel in the bows, indicated that, although a
man-of-war pennant might not be flying from the mainmast, it was not the
less resolved, in case of necessity, to fight energetically against the
cruisers that might attempt to check its progress.

At the moment when we first notice the brig, with the exception of the
man at the wheel, and an individual walking up and down the poop smoking
his pipe, at the first glance the brig's deck seemed deserted; still, on
examining it carefully, fifteen men constituting the watch might have
been seen sleeping in the bows, whom the slightest signal would be
sufficient to awaken.

"Halloh!" the walker said suddenly, as he halted near the binnacle, and
addressed the helmsman; "I fancy the wind is shifting."

"Yes, Master Lovel," the sailor answered, as he raised his hand to his
woollen cap; "it has veered round two points."

As the individual who answered to the pleasant name of Lovel is destined
to play a certain part in the scenes we have undertaken to describe, we
ask our readers' permission to draw his portrait. Physically, he was a
man of about fifty, nearly as broad as he was tall, and bearing a
striking resemblance to a barrel mounted on feet, but for all that
gifted with far from common strength and activity; his violet nose, his
thick lips, and highly-coloured face, with large red whiskers, gave him
a jovial appearance, to which, however, two small grey and deep-set
eyes, full of fire and resolution, imparted something skeptical and
mocking.

Morally, he was an honest, worthy man, open-hearted and loyal, an
excellent sailor, and loving only two things, or rather beings, in the
world: his Captain, who had brought him up, and, as he often said, had
taught him to make his first splice by administering tobacco to him, and
his ship, which he had seen built, which he had gone aboard when ready
for sea, and had never quitted since.

Master Lovel had never known either father or mother; hence he had made
the brig and his Captain his family. All his loving faculties, a long
time driven back and slumbering in his heart, were so fully concentrated
on them, that what he felt for both went beyond the limits of a
reasonable affection, and had acquired the veritable proportions of a
gigantic fanaticism. However, the Captain, of whom we shall soon speak,
amply requited the old sailor's friendship.

"By the way, Lieutenant, I ask your pardon," the helmsman continued,
doubtless encouraged by the manner in which his officer had spoken to
him; "do you know that we have been making a precious queer navigation
the last few days?"

"Do you think so, lad?"

"Hang it, sir, these continued tacks, and that boat we sent ashore
yesterday, and has not yet returned--all that is rather singular."

"Hum!" the officer said, without any other expression of his opinion.

"Where may we be going, Lieutenant?" the sailor went on.

"Are you very anxious to know?" Lovel asked him, with a half-sweet,
half-bitter tone.

"Well," the other said, as he turned his quid in his mouth, and sent
forth a stream of blackish saliva, "I confess that I should not be sorry
to know."

"Really now?--well, my boy," the old sailor said, with a crafty smile,
"if you are asked, you will answer that you do not know; in that way you
are certain of not compromising, and, before all, of not deceiving,
yourself."

Then, after looking for an instant at the helmsman's downcast face on
receiving this strange answer, he added--"Strike eight bells, my dear;
there is the sun rising over there behind the mountains: we will call
the watch."

And, after restoring his pipe to the corner of his mouth, he resumed his
walk. The sailor seized the cord fastened to the clapper of the bell,
and struck four double strokes. At this signal they knew so well, the
men lying in the forecastle sprang up tumultuously, and rushed to the
hatchway, shouting--

"Up with you, starboard watch; up, up, it is four o'clock. Starboard
watch, ahoy!"

So soon as the watch was changed, the master gave the necessary orders
to dress the vessel. Then, as the sun was beginning to rise above the
horizon in a flood of ruddy vapour, which gradually dispersed the dense
fog, that had enveloped the brig throughout the night, like a
winding-sheet, he set a man to the foretop to look seaward, and examine
the coast they were sailing along. When all these various duties had
been discharged, the old sailor resumed his walk, taking a look every
now and then at the masts, and muttering between his teeth--"Where can
we be going? He would be very kind, if he would tell me: we are making a
regular blind man's traverse, and we shall be very lucky if we get out
of it safe and sound."

All at once his face brightened, and a glad smile spread over it. The
Captain had just left his cabin and come upon deck. Captain Johnson was
at this period a man of hardly three-and-thirty years of age, above the
middle height; his gestures were simple, graceful, and full of natural
elegance; his features were masculine and marked, and his black eyes, in
which intelligence sparkled, gave his countenance an expression of
grandeur, strength, and loyalty.

"Good morning, father," he said to Master Lovel, as he cordially offered
him his hand.

"Good morning, lad," the latter replied; "did you sleep well?"

"Very well, thank you, father. Is there anything new?"

At this question, apparently so simple, the lieutenant drew himself up,
raised his hand to his hat, and answered deferentially--

"Captain, there is nothing new on board. I tacked at three o'clock, and,
according to your orders, we have been sailing as close to the wind as
we could, at a rate of six three-quarter knots an hour, under foretop
sails, and always keeping Galveston Point on the larboard quarter."

"That is well," the Captain answered, as he took a glance at the compass
and the sails.

In all matters connected with duty, Master Lovel, in spite of the
reiterated remarks of his Chief, constantly maintained toward the latter
the tone and manner of a subordinate to his superior. The Captain,
seeing that the old sailor could not be turned from this, ended by
paying no attention to it, and left him free to speak as he thought
proper.

"By the way, Captain," the Lieutenant continued, with some hesitation,
"we are drawing near the gut; do you intend to pass through it?"

"I do."

"But we shall be sunk."

"Not such fools."

"Hum! I do not see how we shall escape it."

"You will see; besides, must we not go and pick up our boat, which has
not yet returned?"

"That is true; I did not think of it."

"Well, you see; and our passengers?"

"I have not seen them yet this morning."

"They will soon come on deck."

"A ship in sight," the watch shouted.

"That is what I was waiting for," said the Captain.

"To tack?"

"On the contrary, to pass without a shot in front of the fort that
commands the entrance of the bay."

"I do not understand."

"All right; you soon will."

And speaking to the look-out man, he said--

"In what direction is that ship?"

"To starboard, to windward of us; it is coming out of a creek, in which
it was hidden, and steering straight down on the brig."

"Very good," the Captain answered; then, turning to Lovel, he continued:
"This ship is chasing us; we shall, by constant short tacks, pass the
fort and the battery which crosses fire with it. The Mexicans, who are
watching us, feeling convinced that we cannot escape their cruiser, will
not take the trouble to fire at us, but let us pass through without
offering any obstacle."

And, leaving his lieutenant astounded at this singular line of argument,
which he did not at all comprehend, the Captain went on the quarterdeck,
and leaning over the gangway, began carefully watching the movements of
the ship signalled by the lookout. An hour passed thus, without
producing any change in the respective position of the two ships; but
the brig, which had no intention of getting too far away from the
cruiser, did not carry half the sail it could.

The men had been quietly beaten to quarters, and thirty powerful
sailors, armed to the teeth, were holding the running rigging, ready to
obey the slightest signal from their Captain. For more than an hour the
brig had been approaching the coast, and the Captain, being now
compelled to skirt a submarine reef, whose situation was not positively
known to him, ordered sail to be reduced, and advanced, sounding lead in
hand. The cruiser, on the contrary, was literally covered with canvas,
and grew momentarily larger, while assuming the imposing proportions of
a first class corvette; its black hull could be clearly distinguished,
along which ran a long white stripe, containing sixteen portholes,
through which passed the muzzles of her Paixhan guns. On the shore, to
which the brig was now close, could be seen a great number of persons of
both sexes, who, shouting, yelling, and clapping their hands, eagerly
followed the incidents of this strange chase. Suddenly a light cloud of
smoke rose from the bow of the corvette, the sound of a gun was dully
heard, and a Mexican flag was hoisted at the peak.

"Ah, ah," Captain Johnson said, as he mechanically chumped the end of a
cigarette held between his teeth, "she has at length decided on throwing
off her incognito. Come, lieutenant, politeness deserves the same; show
her our colours; hang it all, they are worth showing."

A minute later, a large star-spangled flag was majestically fluttering
at the stern of the brig. At the appearance of the United States
colours, so audaciously hoisted, a shout of fury was raised aboard the
Mexican corvette, which was taken up by the crowd assembled at the
point, though it was impossible to tell, owing to the distance, whether
they were shouts of joy or anger.

In the meanwhile the sun was beginning to rise, the morning was growing
apace, and there must be an end to the affair, especially as the
corvette, confiding in her strength, and now almost within gunshot,
would not fail to open fire on the American vessel. Strange to say, the
garrisons of the fort and the battery, as the Captain had foreseen, had
allowed the brig to double the point without trying to stop it, which it
would have been most easy for them to do, owing to the crossfire.

The Captain gave his lieutenant a sign to come to him, and bending down
to his ear, whispered something in it.

"Eh, eh!" the lieutenant said with a hearty laugh, "That is an idea! By
Jove! We may have some fun."

And, without saying another word, he proceeded forwards. On reaching
the swivel gun he had it unlashed and carefully loaded, adding a ball
and a grape shot to the ordinary charge. Bending over the sight he
seized the screw placed under the breech, then making a sign to the men
who stood on either side with handspikes, he began laying the gun slowly
and with the utmost precaution, scrupulously calculating the distance
that separated the two ships, and the deviation caused by the rolling.
At length, when he believed he had attained the desired result, he
seized the lanyard, fell back, and made a signal to the Captain, who was
impatiently awaiting the termination of his proceedings.

"Attention!" the latter shouted; "Stand by, all."

There was a moment of supreme expectation.

"Is all clear?"

"Yes," the lieutenant replied.

"Ready about," the Captain ordered; "down with the helm! Ease off the
jib sheets! Sheet home top sails! Sheet home lower sails! Haul the
bowlines taut!"

The sailors hurried to the running rigging, and the ship, obedient to
the impulse given it, majestically swung round. At the moment when it
fell, and had its bows turned toward the broadside of the corvette,
Master Lovel, who was watching for a favourable opportunity to carry out
the orders he had received, sharply pulled the lanyard and fired. The
Mexicans, confounded by this sudden aggression, which they were far from
anticipating from an enemy apparently so weak, replied furiously, and a
shower of iron and lead hurtled over the deck and through the rigging of
the American ship. The fort and battery continued to preserve the
strictest neutrality, and Captain Johnson did not take the trouble to
reply.

"Brace up closer to the wind!" he shouted. "Haul down the sheets! We
have had fun enough, lads."

The brig continued its course, and when the smoke had dispersed the
Mexican corvette could be perceived in a pitiable condition. The shot
fired by Master Lovel had carried away her bowsprit close by the head,
which naturally entailed the fall of the foremast, and the poor
corvette, half rendered unserviceable, and unable longer to pursue its
audacious enemy, bore up to repair hastily the worst of the damage.

On board the brig, owing to the hurry in which the Mexicans had returned
the fire, only one man had been killed and three slightly wounded. As
for the damage, it was trifling; only a few ropes were cut, that was
all.

"Now," the Captain said, as he came down from the quarterdeck, "in ten
minutes, father, you will tack, and when we are abreast of the fort you
will lie to, let down a boat, and let me know."

"What!" the lieutenant could not refrain from saying, "You mean to go
ashore?"

"Hang it," said the Captain; "why, I only came here for that purpose."

"Are you going to the fort?"

"Yes. Still, as it is always as well to be on the right side, you will
send into the boat the ten most resolute men of the crew, with axes,
cutlasses, muskets, and pistols. Let all be in order, and ready for
fighting."

"I fancy those precautions will be unnecessary," said a man who had just
come on deck and walked up to the spectators.

"Ah! it is you, Master Tranquil," the Captain replied, as he shook hands
with the old hunter; for it was he who had so unexpectedly interfered in
the conversation. "What do you say?"

"I say," the Canadian replied, in his calm voice, "that your precautions
will probably be unnecessary."

"Why so?"

"Hang it! I don't know, for I am not a sailor. But look for yourself. Do
you not think as I do--that something extraordinary is taking place on
board the corvette?"

The Captain quickly opened his telescope, and fixed it on the Mexican
ship.

"It is true," he said, a moment later. "Oh, oh! Can our audacious
attempt have proved successful?"

"All leads to the supposition," said the hunter, with his old stoicism.

"By Heavens! I will ascertain."

"What will you do?"

"By Jupiter! Convince myself of what is taking place."

"As you please."

"Bear up!" the Captain ordered.

The manoeuvre was executed. The sheets were let go, and the brig,
catching more wind in its sails, advanced rapidly toward the corvette,
on board which a strange scene was taking place at this moment, which
must interest Captain Johnson in the highest degree. But, in order to
make the reader thoroughly understand this scene, we must now return to
El Alferez and his comrades, whom we left at their departure from the
pulqueria.

At the moment when the four men reached the jetty, although it was about
seven in the morning, the beach was nearly deserted; only a few ships'
boats were fastened up, and landing the men who were going to buy
provisions. It was, therefore, an easy matter for the conspirators to,
embark without attracting attention to their movements. At a signal
given by Ramirez, the boat which had been pulling back and forwards
during the night, came nearer land, and when the four men were seated in
the stern sheets, and Ramirez had taken the tiller, the boat started for
a small creek situated a little distance beyond the roadstead.

The breeze, which during the night had been rather weak, had gradually
risen; the boat was easily got out to sea, sail was hoisted, and it soon
entered the creek, where the _Libertad_ was riding gently on her
anchors. Still, it was easy for a sailor to see that this ship,
apparently so quiet, was ready to slip out at a moment's notice. The
sails, though furled, were cast off, and the anchor, apeak, only needed
a turn of the capstan to be tripped. Posted craftily in this creek, like
a bird of prey in the hollow of a rock, the corvette could easily expand
its sails, and dart on any suspicious vessel signalled by the lookout.
Without uttering a syllable our friends exchanged a significant glance;
they understood one another's manoeuvring.

The boat had scarce come within hail ere a sentry, standing in the
starboard gangway, hailed it in Spanish. Ramirez replied, and, leaning
on the tiller, made the boat describe a graceful curve, and brought her
up to the starboard accommodation ladder. The officer of the watch was
standing at the top to receive the visitors. On perceiving a lady, he
hurried down the ladder to offer his hand, and do her the honours of the
ship she was about to enter.

To the right and left of the entrance, sailors, drawn up in file,
saluted by raising their hands to their caps, while a boatswain gave the
accustomed whistle. As we have already mentioned, the _Libertad_ was a
first class corvette. Don Manuel Rodriguez, her commandant, was an old
sailor, brought up in the Spanish Navy, and had retained its healthy
traditions: hence, his ship was kept with great care and coquettishness.
Don Serapio and Don Cristoval, themselves naval officers, could not
refrain from expressing to the officer of the watch the satisfaction
they experienced at seeing a vessel in such splendid order.

Commandant Rodriguez, called by a midshipman, hastened on deck to
receive his guests; the boat was fastened astern of the corvette, while
its crew went forward with the sailors of the vessel.

Like the other Spanish American Republics, the Mexican Confederation has
but few vessels; its navy is composed of but a dozen ships at the
most--consisting of corvettes, brigs, and schooners. The gravity of the
events taking place in Texas had induced the Mexican Government to send
a corvette there, in order to render themselves masters of the sea, and
prevent the United States, whose sympathies with the Texan Revolution
were notorious, from giving the insurgents help in arms, men, or money.

Commandant Rodriguez, an energetic man, and excellent sailor, had been
chosen to carry out this dangerous mission; for two months he had been
cruising off the coast of Texas, where he had established a rigorous
blockade, and owing to his intelligent arrangements, he had managed, up
to the period we have arrived at, to stop or turn back all vessels sent
from the United States to the help of the insurgents. The latter,
reduced to their own resources, and understanding that the decisive hour
would soon strike for them, had resolved to get rid of this corvette,
which did them enormous injury, and seize it at all risks.

The Chiefs of the insurgents had formed their plans to this effect.
During Commandant Rodriguez's rare visits to Galveston, he was adroitly
surrounded by persons who ostensibly professed a deep hatred for the
revolution, while in secret they were the active and devoted agents of
the insurgent Chiefs. Almost involuntarily the Commandant had been
induced to invite several persons to visit his corvette, and breakfast
on board; but the old sailor was a true Mexican, that is to say,
accustomed to all the tricks and treachery of a country where
revolutions have been counted by hundreds during the twenty years since
it proclaimed its so-called independence, and his prudence did not fail
him under the circumstances. Being not at all anxious to run the risk of
seeing his ship boarded, he left the roads, and anchored in a solitary
creek, in order to have his elbows at liberty; and then, instead of
inviting many persons at the same time, he merely requested Doña Mencia,
her father, and two of her cousins, officers in the United States'
service, to pay him a visit. We know now who the persons really were who
accepted the invitation.

The Captain frowned on seeing the number of the boat's crew; but,
reflecting that he had two hundred and fifty men aboard, he did not
think for a moment that sixteen men, apparently unarmed, would try to
seize his ship, and it was with the most smiling and affectionate air
that he received Doña Mencia and the persons who accompanied her.

After showing them all over the corvette, he led his guests to the stern
gallery, where a table had been laid, and a magnificent breakfast
awaited them. Only five persons sat down, the supposed young lady, her
pretended cousins, the commandant, and his first lieutenant, an old
sailor like himself, full of experience and bravery. The breakfast began
in the most cordial and frank manner; the Commandant regretted that Doña
Mencia's father had been unable to accompany her, as he had promised,
and a most gallant conversation went on. Presently, a warrant officer
opened the door, and, at a sign from the Commandant, whispered a few
words in his ear; the latter, after excusing himself to his guests, gave
him an order in a low voice, and the officer retired as discreetly as he
had come in.

"Señora," the Commandant said, leaning over to the young lady seated by
his side; "are you afraid of the sea?"

"I?" she replied with a smile, "Why do you ask, Commandant?"

"Because," he answered, "unless you immediately leave my vessel, which,
I confess, would greatly annoy me, you will be compelled to take a trip
to sea for some hours."

"I am the daughter and cousin of sailors, Commandant; that is as good as
saying that a trip to sea would be most pleasing to me under any
circumstances; at this moment it would be a delightful interlude, and
complete the graceful hospitality you have been kind to offer us."

"Very good," the Commandant said gaily; "you are a true heroine, Doña
Mencia; you fear nothing."

"Or, at any rate, very little," she replied with an emphasis which
escaped the notice of the Commandant.

"Will you permit me to ask, Commandant," said Don Serapio, "whether you
are starting simply to afford us the pleasure of a trip, or whether a
more serious motive obliges you to leave your anchorage?"

"I have no secrets from you," he said simply, "and a few words will
explain the affair; for about a fortnight I have been playing a game of
chess with a brig, whose appearance is most suspicious. Its rig, and
fine lines, lead us to believe that it is a North-American privateer,
trying to land arms, and possibly men, for the insurgents."

"Do you imagine," Don Cristoval objected, "that a privateer brig,
knowing you to be in these parts, would venture to force a passage?"

"Yes, I do. These demons of privateers are afraid of nothing; and,
besides, during the war of independence, I myself carried out more
daring adventures than this."

"Then, we are about to witness a sea fight?" Doña Mencia asked timidly.

"Oh, do not feel alarmed, Señorita; it will not go so far as that, I
hope; this brig, which I had lost out of sight for two days, has just
reappeared, but this time with the apparent object of getting close
enough to land to send a boat ashore. I will chase it vigorously, and do
not doubt I shall compel it to put out to sea again, for it is
impossible that it should attempt seriously to oppose us."

"Really, that is delightful!" Doña Mencia exclaimed with a laugh; "the
fête will be complete: a trip to sea, a chase, and, perhaps, the capture
of a vessel. You are really too kind, Commandant."

While the conversation became more and more friendly and lively in the
state cabin, the corvette had started, and with all sail set, was
pursuing Captain Johnson's brig.

"Halloh!" Don Cristoval suddenly asked, "What has become of our boat?"

"It was left fastened to a buoy," the Commandant said; "we will pick it
up again when we return to our anchorage."

"Well," Don Serapio remarked laughingly, "if the privateer should feel
inclined to fight, our sixteen men are quite at your disposal."

"I thank you, but do not think I shall requite their assistance."

"Who knows? No one can foresee events. Our sailors are brave, and, if it
should come to fighting, be assured they will do their share."

Only one of the guests had remained silent during the breakfast,
contenting himself with eating and drinking; while attentively listening
to what was said around him. This guest was the lieutenant. So soon as
the ship had started, he left the table, bowed to the company, and went
on deck.

"Your lieutenant is no talker, Commandant," Doña Mencia observed; "he
only opened his lips to eat and drink."

"That is true, Señorita; but pray excuse him, he is an old sailor, but
little accustomed to society--he felt embarrassed and almost in his
wrong place with you; but few men know their profession so well as he,
or are so firm and intrepid in danger."

At this moment a loud detonation made the vessel quiver. "Ah!" said Doña
Mencia with a cry of terror, "What does that mean?"

"Less than nothing, Señorita; we have merely hoisted our flag, and fired
a blank shot, to oblige the brig to show her colours."

"Would there be any danger in going on deck?" Doña Mencia asked with
curiosity.

"Not the least."

"In that case, with your permission, we will go up and see what is
happening."

"I am at your orders, Señorita."

The breakfast was over; they left the table and went up on the
quarterdeck. The ship offered to the sight of persons unacquainted with
naval affairs, a most singular and attractive appearance. The powerful
breeze had bellied the sails; the corvette bounded over the waves like a
gazelle, but did not take in a drop of water over the catheads. On deck,
the crew were standing silent and motionless by the standing rigging,
the gunners at their pieces, and the topmen at their posts. On the
forecastle Ramirez and his sixteen men were collected near the head,
apparently indifferent, but actually watching the movements of the
Mexican. At about a gunshot and a half distant, the brig could be seen,
from whose peak haughtily floated a large American flag.

"I suspected it," said the Commandant, "it is a privateer, and has
hoisted American colours to deceive us, but we are on our guard."

"Do you think, then, that ship is not American?" Don Serapio asked.

"No more than you are; it is an Argentine, or Brazilian privateer."

"Still, it appears American built,"

"That proves nothing; our ships, bought in different countries, have
nothing that causes them to be recognized, for we have no docks."

"That is true; but look, she is going to tack."

"Yes, the sails are beginning to shiver."

The Mexicans fancied themselves so secure from an attack, that most of
the crew had left their quarters to follow the manoeuvres of the brig;
the sailors, perched on the yards, or leaning out of the ports, were
curiously looking on, without dreaming of the danger such a breach of
discipline might entail. In the meanwhile the brig came round, as Don
Serapio had said. Suddenly, at the moment when it completed the
manoeuvre, a detonation was heard, a shrill whistle cut through the air,
and the corvette's bowsprit, pierced by a ball, fell into the sea,
dragging with it the foremast.

This produced an extraordinary pause and confusion on board the
corvette; the terrified sailors ran about in all directions, listening
to nothing. At length the Commandant succeeded in overcoming the tumult;
the crew recognized his voice, and at the order to fire, fifteen guns
thundered at once, in reply to the unjustifiable aggression of the
privateer.



CHAPTER XX.

THE PRIZE.


The damage sustained by the corvette was serious; the bowsprit is the
key of the ship's rigging, its loss entailed that of the foremast, which
the main-topmast, no longer stayed, speedily followed. The utmost
disorder prevailed on board, when, as nearly always happens under such
circumstances, the crew had suddenly passed from blind confidence to
profound terror.

The deck was encumbered with fragments of every description, yards,
spars, sails, stunsail-booms, and entangled rigging, in the midst of
which the sailors ran about distractedly, abandoning their posts, deaf
to the exhortations equally with the menaces of their officers, and
having only one thought: to escape from the death they believed
suspended over their heads.

Still, the officers did not at all conceal from themselves the gravity
of their position, which the brig's manoeuvres rendered more
complicated, and momentarily more precarious; they did all in their
power, therefore, to restore a little courage to all these individuals,
whom terror blinded, and induce them to sell their lives dearly.

A fresh incident occurred suddenly, which rendered the situation of the
ship, if possible, more critical and desperate. Commandant Rodriguez had
not left the quarterdeck; motionless at his post during the events we
have described, he had continued to give his orders in a firm voice,
apparently not noticing the symptoms of insubordination which, since the
catastrophe had happened, were manifest amongst the crew. With pale
face, frowning brow, and clenched teeth, the old sailor mechanically
played with the hilt of his sword, taking every now and then a cold and
resolute glance around him, while exerting his officers to redouble
their efforts to do their duty bravely.

Doña Mencia and the two supposititious officers of the American navy
were standing silent and attentive by his side, probably awaiting the
moment for action. At the tumult which suddenly broke out on the
forecastle, they all three started and drew nearer to the commandant
When the brig had so skilfully carried away the bowsprit of the
_Libertad_, Ramirez and his sailors were the first to sow and propagate
terror among the crew by uttering cries of terror; and running in all
directions. Their example was promptly followed. Then they changed their
tactics, and began openly accusing the commandant by asserting that he
was a traitor, who wished to ruin them, and surrender the corvette to
the insurgents.

There is nothing, however stupid it may be, a thinker has said, which
people may not be led to believe by a certain mode of treating them.
This remark is strictly true, and this time again received perfect
application. The sailors of the _Libertad_ forgot in an instant all they
owed to the Commandant, whose constant solicitude watched over them with
paternal care, for they were urged on and excited by the perfidious
insinuations of Ramirez and his comrades. The courage they lacked to
defend themselves and do their duty as men of honour, they found again
to accuse their chief of treachery, and seizing any arms they came
across, they rushed tumultuously toward the quarterdeck, uttering
menaces and cries of revolt.

The officers, justly alarmed, and not knowing what means to employ to
bring these men back to their duty, collected round their Commandant,
resolved to save themselves or perish with him. The old sailor was still
apparently just as calm and stoical; nothing revealed on his stern face
the agony that secretly crushed his heart. With his arms folded on his
chest, his head erect, and a steady glance, he awaited the mutineers.

The latter soon invaded the after part of the vessel; but, after passing
the mainmast, they stopped, through a remnant of that respect which is
innate in sailors for their superiors. The quarterdeck is that portion
of the deck which is exclusively reserved for the officers: the sailors,
under no consideration, are allowed to tread it, except for the purpose
of executing a manoeuvre.

On reaching the foot of the mainmast, then, the mutineers hesitated, for
they no longer felt on their own ground, and at length stopped: for the
mere fact of their invading this part of the deck constituted a grave
infraction of naval discipline. We have said that they stopped; but
they were like an angry sea which breaks against the foot of a dyke it
cannot dash over; that is to say, yelling and gesticulating furiously,
but yet without going an inch further. At the same time, however, they
did not fall back.

But this hesitation and almost timid attitude of the mutineers did not
at all suit the views of those who had urged them to insubordination.
Collected in the rear of the sailors, they shouted and gesticulated
louder than the rest, trying by all means to revive the fire which was
already threatening to expire. The corvette's deck presented at this
moment the most desolating, and yet at the same time imposing
appearance. In the midst of the fragments piled up pell-mell on this
fine ship so fatally decapitated by canister shot, these men, with their
rude and fierce features, grouped in disorderly and menacing groups;
and, scarce a few yards from them, a small band of calm and resolute
officers, collected round the Commandant, who, standing on the
quarterdeck, seemed to dominate over the men. Then, a little in the
rear, Doña Mencia and the two American officers, apparently
disinterested spectators of the events which chance compelled them to
witness, but, in reality, following with anxious glance all the
incidents of the drama that was being played before them. Assuredly a
painter would have found a magnificent subject for a picture in the
position of the different characters, and the expression that at times
lit up their masculine faces.

And then, in the distance the lofty sails of the brig could be seen
glistening, which was rapidly approaching, doubtless with the intention
of coming, like the classic _Deus ex machina_, to unravel at the right
time this situation, which every passing moment only tended to render
the more complicated.

There was a momentary truce between the two parties, who, like practised
duellists, had tried to discover their adversary's vulnerable point
before crossing swords. A deep silence prevailed on the deck of this
ship, where so many passions were fermenting in these hearts of bronze;
no other sound was audible save the hollow and monotonous moaning of the
sea, as it broke against the sides of the corvette, and the indistinct
sound of weapons clutched by eager hands.

This hesitation had something sinister and startling about it, and the
Commandant resolved to put an end to it at all hazards. He understood
that he was the only person who could make an appeal to these misguided
men, who might possibly not remain dumb to the voice of duty speaking
through the lips of a man, whose noble character they had enjoyed many
opportunities of appreciating, and whom they had been so long accustomed
to respect and love.

Commandant Rodriguez looked slowly and sadly, but yet firmly, round him,
and extending his arm in the direction of the brig, which was hugging
the wind to be able to run alongside the corvette more easily, he said,
in a loud and marked voice--

"My men, here comes the enemy. We have our revenge to take upon him:
then why are you not at your quarters? What do you want of me? Are you
afraid that I shall fail you when the hour for fighting arrives?"

At this direct and firm appeal a strange quiver ran along the ranks of
the mutineers; some of them were even going to reply, when a voice was
heard from the rear: "Who tells you that we regard that vessel as an
enemy?"

Immediately hurrahs and shouts of joy, mingled with oaths and hisses,
burst forth on all sides.

"The man who dares to speak so," the Commandant shouted, in a voice that
for a moment quelled the tumult, "is a traitor and a coward. He does not
form part of my ship's crew."

An indescribable tumult then broke out. The sailors, forgetting all
respect and discipline, rushed toward the quarterdeck with frightful
yells and vociferations. The Commandant, not at all disconcerted by this
hostile manifestation, seized a pistol, which a faithful sailor handed
him, coolly cocked it, and addressing the mutineers, said: "Take care.
The first who advances one step further I will blow out his brains."

Some men are gifted with so great a magnetic power, and their influence
over the lower classes is so real, that the two to three hundred
mutineers, at the sight of this man, who alone withstood and threatened
them with a pistol, hesitated, and finally stopped, with a vague
movement of alarm. It was evident that this pistol was little to be
feared, even under the hypothesis that the Commandant carried out his
threat, since it would only kill or wound one man; still, we repeat, all
these men stopped, surprised, perhaps terrified, but certainly not able
to account for the feelings they experienced. A smile played round the
Commandant's lips; he understood that these rough and rebellious natures
had been subdued. He determined to make sure of his triumph.

"Every man to his quarters," he said; "the topmen will get the ship
clear while the carpenters rig up a jury bowsprit."

And leaving the quarterdeck, the Commandant advanced resolutely toward
the mutineers. The latter fell back as he advanced, without speaking or
gesticulating, but only opposing that final resistance, the most
dangerous of all, the force of inertia. It was all over with the mutiny,
however; the crew, shaken by the firm and wise conduct of their chief,
were on the point of returning to their duty, when an unexpected
incident completely changed the aspect of affairs, and put the officers
once more in the critical position from which the Commandant had
extricated them with such ease.

We have said that Doña Mencia and her two companions attentively
followed the incidents of this scene, in readiness to interfere, when
the moment arrived. Commandant Rodriguez had scarcely left the
quarterdeck ere the young woman, or young man, whichever it may please
the reader to call this mysterious being, rushed forward, and seizing a
telescope, fixed it on the brig, as if to feel certain of the
privateer's position, and be assured of support if required. The brig
was now only two cables' lengths from the corvette, and within a few
minutes would be within hail.

Suddenly Doña Mencia, throwing off her feminine character, hurriedly
tore off the dress that covered her, removed her bonnet, and appeared in
the masculine attire El Alferez had worn at the pulqueria. This
transformation had been so rapid that the officers and crew had not
recovered front the astonishment this strange metamorphosis caused them,
when the young man, drawing a pistol from his belt, cocked and pointed
it at a number of cartridges the boys had brought on deck when the
Captain beat to quarters, and which they had left lying pell-mell at the
foot of the mizzenmast during the disorder that followed the fall of the
spars.

"Surrender!" El Alferez shouted in a thundering voice; "Surrender, or
you are dead men!"

Don Cristoval and Don Serapio were standing on the right and left of
the young man, holding a pistol in either hand. Ramirez, for his part,
had lost no time; by his care two of the bow carronades had been dragged
from their ports and trailed on the stern, and two sailors, match in
hand, were standing motionless by them, only awaiting the signal to
fire. Ramirez and the fourteen men left him were aiming at the Mexican
sailors. The crew was taken between two fires; two hundred and fifty men
were at the mercy of twenty. The position was desperate, and the
Commandant had not even the resource of falling honourably.

The events had occurred with such rapidity, this coup-de-main, prepared
long beforehand, had been carried out with such coolness and skill, and
all had been so thoroughly foreseen, that the Commandant, after taking a
despairing glance along the deck, was obliged to allow that he had only
one chance of escape--laying down his arms. Still he hesitated, however,
and El Alferez understood the combat that was going on in the heart of
the brave officer.

"We are not pirates," he said, "Commandant Rodriguez, we are Texans; you
can lay down your arms without shame--not to save your life, to which
the defeat you have just suffered causes you to attach but slight value,
and which you would doubtless readily sacrifice to expiate your
misfortunes--but you are responsible before Heaven for the two hundred
and fifty men forming your crew. Why needlessly shed precious blood! For
the last time I invite you to surrender."

At this moment a thick shadow covered the deck of the corvette; the
brig, which everyone had forgotten, had continued to advance; it had
come within pistol shot, and its lofty sails stretched out over the
vessel and intercepted the sunshine.

"Halloo the ship!" a voice shouted from the stern of the cruiser; "Send
a boat aboard us with your captain."

This voice sounded like a thunderclap in the ears of the Mexicans. The
brig had shortened sail, and was now lying motionless to starboard of
the corvette. There was a moment of intense silence, during which all
eyes were instinctively turned on the privateer; her yards were lined
with topmen armed with muskets and hand grenades, through the open ports
the men could be seen standing by the guns, and it literally held the
corvette under its fire.

"Well," El Alferez continued, stamping his foot impatiently, "have you
made up your mind; yes or no?"

"Sir," the Commandant answered, "by an infamous act of treachery you
have become master of my vessel; as any resistance is henceforth
useless, I surrender."

And with a gesture full of dignity the old sailor drew his sword,
snapped the blade asunder, and after throwing the pieces into the sea,
retired to the stern with a calm and resigned step.

"Captain Johnston," El Alferez shouted, "your corvette is ours; send a
boat's crew on board."

A whistle was heard from the brig's deck; a boat was let down, and a few
minutes after, twenty privateer's men, armed to the teeth, and commanded
by the Captain in person, stepped on the corvette's deck. The
disarmament of the crew was effected without the slightest resistance,
and Commandant Rodriguez and his staff were at once transferred to the
brig, in order that the Mexican sailors, who were much more numerous
than their visitors, might be without a leader in the event of their
attempting to regain possession of the corvette by a desperate effort.
But this precaution was unnecessary, for the Mexicans had not the
slightest idea of rising; on the contrary, most of them were natives of
Texas, who found among the sailors of the brig many of their old friends
and acquaintances; in a few moments the two crews were on the most
cordial terms, and mixed up together.

Captain Johnson resolved to profit by this fortunate circumstance; the
privateer was in a very difficult position, and literally experienced at
this moment an embarrassment of wealth; he had, without striking a blow,
captured a first class corvette, but that corvette required a crew, and
the sailors he could dispose of by taking them from his own ship to put
them aboard the prize were insufficient; the good understanding that had
almost suddenly sprung up between the two crews, therefore, supplied him
with the means of escape from the difficulty.

Sailors, as a general rule, are men hardened to fatigue; faithful, but
unscrupulous in politics, whose questions are much too abstract for
their intellect, which is naturally limited on all affairs relating to
land. Accustomed to be sternly governed and have all the actions of
their life directed, from the gravest down to the most trivial, sailors
are only full-grown children, who appreciate but one thing--strength. A
resolute man can always do what he likes with them, if he succeed in
proving his superiority over them.

Captain Johnson was too old a hand not to know how he should act under
the present circumstances. So soon as the disarmament was effected he
mounted the quarterdeck, took up the speaking trumpet, and making no
distinction among the sailors scattered about the deck, he ordered a
series of manoeuvres, intended to habituate the men to the sound of his
voice, and prove to them that he was a thorough sailor, which all
recognised in a few minutes.

The orders were then executed with such rapidity and eagerness that the
corvette, almost unserviceable an hour previously, was soon under jury
masts, and in a condition to sail for any port to which it pleased its
new commander to take it. The deck had been completely cleared, the
running rigging cut during the action spliced--in short, an hour before
sunset any stranger whom accident brought aboard the _Libertad_ could
have formed no idea of what had really taken place.

When he had obtained this result, Captain Johnson smiled in his
moustache, and ordered Master Lovel, who had followed him on board, to
pipe all hands on deck. At this familiar signal the sailors, who were
now quite submissive, gaily ranged themselves at the foot of the
mainmast, and waited patiently for their new Captain's orders. The
latter knew how to address rude fellows like these; after complimenting
them on the intelligent way in which they had comprehended his orders,
he told them that he had no intention of keeping them prisoners, for the
majority of them were Texans like himself, and as such had a claim to
his entire sympathy. Consequently, those sailors who did not wish to
serve the Texan Republic would be landed at the first place on Mexican
territory the corvette touched at; as for those who consented to remain
aboard and serve their country, their pay would be raised to twenty-five
piastres a month, and in order to prove to them the good intentions of
the Texan Government towards them, a month's pay would be distributed on
the spot in the shape of bounty.

This generous proposition was greeted with shouts of joy by those men
who began at once to calculate how many glasses of tafia and measures of
pulque they could consume for this fabulous sum of twenty-five dollars.

The poor fellows, ever since they had been in the Mexican service, had
only been paid in promises, and for a long time past had considered this
pay far too meagre. The Captain was aware of this circumstance, he saw
the effect he had produced, and continued in the midst of a religious
silence--

"Then, that is settled, my men. You are free not to remain on board,
where I have no desire to retain you as prisoners. Still, reflect on the
propositions I make you, in the name of the Government I have the honour
of serving, for I consider them in every way advantageous for you. Now,
let those who wish to enter on board the corvette pass to larboard,
while those who wish to be put ashore can remain where they are. The
purser will draw up the agreement, and pay the bounty at once."

The Captain had installed the purser at the foot of the mizenmast, with
a table before him, and bags of dollars at his feet. This display met
with the greatest success, nothing more was wanting, and the sight of
the piastres decided even the most irresolute. At the command of "Go,"
given by the Captain, the sailors crowded round the purser, who ere long
did not know whom to attend to first, so anxious were all to receive the
bounty. The Captain smiled at the result of his eloquence, but he
considered it advisable to go to the aid of the purser, and by his
orders, the sailors displayed a little less precipitation in presenting
themselves to him.

The enlistment lasted two hours. All the sailors entered all now
joyously clinked in their horny hands the handsome piastres they had
received; and assuredly, if a Mexican ship had come up at the moment,
the new crew would have given it a rude reception, and infallibly
captured it. The result obtained by Captain Johnson was easy to foresee:
in every sailor there is something of the privateer, and ready money is
the only available argument with him.

But Captain Johnson was a cool and methodical man, on whom enthusiasm
had but a slight effect. He was not at all intoxicated by the success he
had met with; he knew very well, that when the first effervescence had
worn off, reflection would come, and with reflection that
insubordination so natural to the sailor's character. Above all, he must
avoid giving any pretext for mutiny; and for that purpose, it was urgent
to break up the unanimity which a lengthened dwelling together had
produced among them. The means to effect this were simple, and the
Captain employed them. His own brig had a crew of one hundred and ninety
men; of these he only retained fifty, while the others went aboard the
corvette, one hundred and forty of her crew being transferred to the
brig; in this way the two crews were fused, and were completely at the
disposal of the Captain, who became their entire master.

The various events we have described, and the incidents that followed
them, had occupied a considerable period; the whole day had slipped
away, and the organisation was not completed till an hour before sunset.
Captain Johnson gave the command of the corvette to Don Serapio, with
Don Cristoval as first lieutenant, and Ramirez as master; while he
himself retained the command of the brig. Then, when all was in order,
the Captain had the Mexican flag hoisted at the peak of the corvette,
which immediately started for Galveston.

The Captain returned on board his own vessel, taking with him El
Alferez, to whose determination and coolness the Texan Revolutionary
Government owed the possession of a naval force. The result was grand,
and surpassed even the expectations of the insurgents. But that was not
enough: on getting aboard his brig, the Captain ordered the Texan flag
to be struck, turned upside down, and hoisted again with the Mexican
colours above it. The brig set sail, and kept up with the corvette,
being careful to keep under her guns, as if really captured by her.

The sailors did not at all comprehend this singular manoeuvre; but, as
they had seen the Captain laugh, they suspected some stratagem, and, in
spite of the shame they felt at seeing their colours beneath those of
Mexico, they repressed their murmurs, in the hope of a speedy revenge.

In the meanwhile, the whole population of Galveston had since morning
been plunged in the greatest anxiety. Assembled on the jetty, they had
watched the obstinate pursuit until the vessels disappeared; the sound
of cannon, repeated by the echo of the cliffs, had reached the city; a
fight had, therefore, taken place, but what the result was everybody
asked the other, and no one could answer.

The silence of the fort had also seemed inexplicable; they could not
understand why it had not sunk the brig as it passed. Suddenly there was
an outburst of shouts and cheers, for the brig and corvette reappeared
at the entrance of the passage, with the Mexican colours proudly flying
on the two ships over the Texan flag, which was disgracefully reversed.
This delight knew no bounds when the ships were seen to anchor beneath
the guns of the battery; the Mexicans were victors, and the Texan
insurgents had suffered a defeat, from which they would not so easily
recover.



CHAPTER XXI.

A STRANGE LEGEND.


We will now return to the Jaguar, whom we left departing from the
pulqueria, and proceeding at the head of his bold companions toward the
fort of the Point. But, before going further, in order to make the
reader understand the almost insurmountable difficulties which the
Jaguar would meet with on the audacious expedition he was attempting, we
ask leave to tell him the legend current about this fortress, a legend
which has survived to this day, in all its quaint simplicity.

The European traveller who visits for the first time Texas, and all the
coasts of Southern America generally, experiences a feeling of
indefinable sorrow at the sight of these gloomy and sinister shores,
which have witnessed so many accidents, and against which the dark waves
of the Pacific break with mysterious murmurs. All, in fact, disposes to
reverie in these poetic countries: the sky, which resembles a plate of
red-hot iron; the lofty denuded cliffs, whose capricious outline looks
as if it had been cut out by some artistic giant of past ages, and
bearing at times on their proud crests the still imposing ruins of an
old palace of the Incas, or a teocali, whose massive walls are lost in
the clouds--the ancient lurking places of those ferocious priests of the
Sun, who made all tremble around them, and raised their bloody titles
both afloat and ashore. Before the conquest, at the time when the
descendants of Quetzalcoatl, or the Serpent covered with feathers,
peacefully reigned in these countries, the thick walls of the teocalis
stifled many a groan, concealed and authorised many a crime.

Of all the stories told us in our last journey through Texas, about
these mournful abodes scattered over the country, we will only relate
one, which has reference to the narrative we have undertaken to tell.

It was a short while after the daring expedition, during which Columbus,
while seeking a new road to India, had found America again; the fever of
discovery had affected every imagination; each, with his eyes fixed on
the New World, which had sprung up as if by magic, rushed toward these
unknown regions with all that feverish activity we have seen suddenly
rekindled with reference to the Californian placers.

Among the adventurers who went to try their fortunes, some were only
urged by the hope of making discoveries, while others, on the contrary,
only obeyed the thirst for gold, and renewed, on another stage, the
fabulous exploits of the Scandinavians--those bold kings of the sea,
whose life was a continued combat. Among these men was one who had made,
with the unfortunate De La Salle, that unlucky expedition, during which
he crossed over the whole of Texas. This adventurer, however, Don
Estevan de Sourdis by name, caring little for the unprofitable
adventures the brave Frenchman undertook, secretly quitted his Chief
with the vessel he commanded, and sailed quietly along the coasts of the
new land so recently discovered.

The idea was excellent, and the profits were great: in a few months the
adventurer's vessel was filled with riches, more or less honourably
acquired. Still, for reasons best known to himself, Don Estevan felt no
desire to return to France. He therefore resolved to seek a spot where
it would be possible for him to build a fortress capable of protecting
him, and serve him as a secure retreat against the pirates who traversed
these seas in the same way as he did; he therefore began carefully
exploring the Texan coast, in order to find a suitable spot to carry out
his plans.

Accident led him to the mouth of the Rio Trinidad, a few miles from the
spot where Galveston was built at a later date, in a wild and
uninhabited country, whose appearance attracted him at the first glance.
Like the old pirate he was, the Count admired the magnificent block of
granite that commanded the entrance of the bay he had put into; and,
seeing the importance of a citadel built on this rock, and the power it
would eventually give his family, he resolved to form his nest there.

When his choice was made, the pirate had his vessel drawn ashore, camped
with his men at the foot of the rock, and began reflecting on the means
of carrying out his bold scheme. A good many things troubled him--in the
first place, where should he procure the stones necessary for such an
edifice; and if the stones were found, where should he get the masons to
put them together.

Count Estevan de Sourdis and his comrades were excellent
sailors--killing, pillaging, and ravishing conscientiously each time
that the opportunity offered itself; but, as a general rule, they were
very poor masons, and nothing of architects. And then again, supposing
the stones were found, squared, and brought to the foot of the rock,
how were they to be raised to the top? This was really the
insurmountable difficulty; and any other than the bold pirate would have
renounced the execution of a plan which he recognised as impossible.

But the Count was obstinate; he said to himself with a certain show of
reason, that the greater the difficulties to overcome, the stronger and
better protected from attack his castle would be.

In consequence, far from recoiling, he armed his people with iron
crowbars, and began forming in the rock a path which wound round it and
was to finish at the summit. This path, three feet wide at the most, was
so steep and abrupt, that the slightest false step sufficed to hurl
those who ventured on it down an abyss, at the bottom of which they were
crushed to death. After a year of superhuman toil, the path was formed,
and the count, scaling it on his horse, at the risk of breaking his neck
one hundred times, planted his banner on the top of the rock, with a
shout of pride and joy.

Another cry answered his, but it was so ironical and mocking that the
old pirate, whose nerves were as hard as cords, and who had never
trembled in his life, felt a shudder of terror run over all his limbs;
his hair stood erect in horror, and an icy perspiration beaded on his
temples.

The Count turned round; a man wrapped in a large black cloak, and with a
red plumed hat on his head, was standing by his side. The man's face was
ashy, his eyes glistened with a gloomy fire, and his parched up lips
grimaced a mournful smile. The Count regarded him for a moment with
surprise; but as, after all, he was a brave sailor who feared nothing in
the world, he asked the stranger, in a firm voice, who he was, and how
he happened to be at this spot. To these two questions the unknown
answered politely that he had heard say that the Count de Sourdis was
seeking an architect capable of building him a strong and handsome
castle, and that he had come to treat with him. The chieftain bowed
courteously, and the following dialogue took place between the speakers.

"Do you not think, master," the pirate said, "that this spot is
excellently chosen for the place I meditate?"

"Excellency," the stranger replied, "you could not have found a better
site all along the coast."

The pirate smiled proudly.

"Yes," he said, "and when my castle is built, no one will be able to
assail it."

"Oh, of course."

"Look here," he continued, making the stranger a sign to follow him,
"this is what I propose doing."

And walking round the plateau, he described the plan in its fullest
details: the stranger approved of it by nodding his head and smiling his
crafty smile. In the meanwhile time was passing: for about an hour day
had given way to night, and gloom had gradually invaded the rock; the
pirate, carried away by the irresistible attraction a man ever feels in
ventilating his ideas, specially to a person who seems to approve of
them, continued his demonstrations without noticing that the darkness
had grown too dense for the person he was addressing to derive great
profit from what he was saying; at length he turned to the stranger.

"Well," he asked him, "what do you think of it?"

"It is perfect," the other answered.

"Is it not?" the Chief asked, with an air of conviction.

"Yes, but--"

"Ah," said the pirate, "there is a but then?"

"There is always one," the stranger objected judiciously.

"That is true," the old pirate muttered.

"You are aware that I am an architect?"

"You told me so."

"Well, I have made a plan too."

"Indeed, indeed!"

"Yes, if you will permit me, Excellency, I shall have the honour of
submitting it to you."

"Do so, my dear fellow, do so," the Chief said with a condescending
smile, for he was convinced in his heart that his plan was the better of
the two.

"Directly."

"But I have an idea."

"What is it?"

"Why, it is rather dark, and in order to judge of your plan--"

"A light would be necessary, I suppose you mean, Excellency."

"Why yes," the pirate replied, "I fancy it would prove useful."

"Pray do not put yourself out of the way," said the stranger, "I will
procure one."

With the greatest possible coolness, he took off the feather that
adorned his hat, and stuck it in the ground, when it suddenly burst into
a flame, just as if it had been a torch. The Count was astounded at this
marvel, but as, after all, he was a good Christian, and he was beginning
to distrust his companion considerably, he mechanically prepared to
cross himself. But the stranger eagerly caught hold of his arm.

"Let us lose no time, Excellency," he said.

And drawing a roll of parchment from under his cloak he unrolled and
laid it before the pirate, who was in extasies at the magnificent plan
he saw.

"What do you, think of that, Excellency?" the architect said, in a
sweet, bitter voice.

"Sublime!" he exclaimed, transported with admiration.

"You are a judge," the other answered, "this is what I propose doing."

And in his turn he began entering into the most minute details, to which
the old sailor listened with gaping mouth and flashing eyes, never
leaving off looking at the splendid fortress drawn on the parchment.
When the architect ceased speaking, the pirate was so confounded by all
he had heard, that he remained for a moment stunned, and tried in vain
to restore the regular flow of his thoughts.

"Well," he at last asked with a certain shade of incredulity, which
involuntarily betrayed itself in his voice, "do you fancy yourself
capable of carrying out such a masterpiece?"

"Nothing is easier."

"But we have no building stones."

"I will find them."

"I have no masons."

"I will procure them."

"But iron, wood--in a word, all the articles necessary for such a
building, how to procure them?"

"I will take it on myself."

"But it will cost me a tremendous sum," said the Count, pressingly, for
fear was more and more overpowering him.

"Pooh!" the stranger said, carelessly, and thrusting out his lower lip
in disdain, "less than nothing, a trifle."

"And how long will you require to finish my fortress as it stands on the
parchment?"

"Wait," the other said, calculating on his fingers, and scratching his
forehead like a man who is seeking the solution of a difficult problem;
"it is about nine o'clock, I think?"

"About," the Count said, not at all understanding the stranger's
meaning.

"Well! By sunrise all will be ready, and you can take possession of your
new residence."

"What, why, you must be the demon!" the Count exclaimed in utter
stupefaction.

The stranger rose, bowed to the pirate courteously, and answered him
with great politeness and a most gentlemanly manner.

"In person, Excellency. On my honour," he added, "I never could leave a
worthy man in a difficulty. I was affected by your perplexity, and
resolved to come to your aid."

"You are most kind," the old sailor muttered mechanically, not knowing
what he was saying.

"That is my motive," said the other, with a modest bow.

"Thanks; and you ask me--"

"I have told you already--a mere trifle."

"Still----"

"We shall come to an agreement; besides, I am too much of the gentleman
to treat you as a greenhorn. Still, to keep things straight, just sign
this simple agreement."

"Pardon me; but I cannot read. I can sign nothing; besides, you can
easily understand that I am not at all desirous to give you my soul."

"Come, Excellency," said Mephistopheles, "you can hardly suppose that I
have any intention of taking you in?"

"What?

"Hang it all! Your soul has been mine for a long time, and I do not
require your authorization to take it."

"Nonsense," said the worthy pirate, who was quite rebuffed, "do you
think our Lord will not look twice before condemning a man of my sort?"

"Not the least in the world," the demon continued good-humouredly; "so
reassure yourself. It is not that I intend to ask of you."

"Speak, then; and, on the word of a gentleman adventurer, I will grant
it."

"Done!" said Satan, graciously stretching out his hand.

"Done!" the pirate replied.

"Come, that is settled. Well, you will surrender to me the first living
creature you address in the morning when you wake. You see that I am not
exigent, for I might have charged you much more dearly."

Don Stephen made a face, for the first person he was in the habit of
addressing in the morning was his daughter.

"Do you hesitate?" the demon asked in a sub-acid voice.

The pirate sighed. The conditions seemed hard, still he must accept
them.

"No, I don't," he said; "it is a bargain."

"Very good; now leave me to my work."

"As you please," the pirate answered, and prepared to go down; but,
suddenly reflecting, he added, "Tell me, can you not do me a service?"

"With pleasure."

"During our conversation night has fallen; it is as black as in your
domains, and I am frightfully afraid of breaking my neck in going down
to the plain."

"Do you wish to rest?"

"Yes; the day has been fatiguing, and I am desirous of sleep."

"All right; nothing is easier."

"Then, I shall have my castle tomorrow?"

"At sunrise I promised it."

"Thanks; and now, if you will help me----"

"Certainly; hold on."

And the demon, seizing the tail of the horse on which the pirate was
mounted, whirled the animal round his head, and then hurled it into
space. The pirate, slightly stunned by the rapidity of his flight, fell
without the slightest injury at the entrance of his tent; he immediately
dismounted, and prepared for bed.

His boatswain's mate was waiting to help him in taking off his harness.
The Count threw himself anxiously on his couch, but though he might
close his eyes and turn and roll in every direction, sleep shunned him.
The mate, who was lying in the doorway of the tent, was also awake, but
through another motive; he fancied he saw strange lights running along
the rock; he heard the sound of hammers and crowbars, stone being sawn,
and the creaking of pullies--in a word, those thousand rumours produced
by masons, carpenters, and blacksmiths, when at work.

The poor sailor, not knowing to what he should attribute what he fancied
he saw and heard, rubbed his eyes to assure himself that he was not
asleep, and then thrust his fingers in his ears--fearing, for good
reasons, that it must all be an illusion. At length, unable to doubt any
longer, he resolved to inform his Captain, and entered his tent.

As we have said, the Count was not asleep. He rose in haste, and
followed his boatswain's mate; then, as he placed the utmost confidence
in this worthy man, who had served him for twenty years, he did not
hesitate to tell him what had passed between him and the devil, and what
he had himself promised, adding, in the most insinuating tone he could
assume, that he counted on the mate's attachment to prevent his daughter
entering the tent the next morning, as she was accustomed to do, and to
find some means of getting him out of the scrape.

On hearing this avowal, and the proof of confidence that accompanied it,
the boatswain's mate became anxious; he was very fond of his Chief, for
he had risked his life twenty times for him; but the worthy sailor was a
Breton and excellent Christian, and was not at all desirous of placing
himself under the claws of Messire Satanas for an affair that did not at
all concern him. Still, after a few moments' reflection, his face
brightened and reassumed its ordinary look of careless gaiety, and he
said with a laugh:

"Go and sleep, my Lord; tomorrow it will be day. After all, the demon
may not be so crafty as he looks."

The pirate, comforted by the joyous air of his boatswain's mate, felt
more tranquil; he returned to his couch, and speedily fell asleep. The
sailor passed the whole night in prayer, and when the dawn began to
suffuse the sky with white tints, he went to the kennel, fetched a poor
mangy dog dying in a corner, thrust it into the tent, and letting fall
the curtain, waited for what would happen. The poor brute was no sooner
at liberty than it leaped into its master's bed and began licking his
face.

"May the demon take thee, accursed animal!" the pirate shouted, awaking
with a start, and furious at having been thus disturbed in his sleep.

A fearful blast shook the tent, a terrible yell was heard, and the dog
disappeared. The demon fled, all abashed, with the scurvy booty he had
secured. Messire Satanas had worked, however, conscientiously: a
formidable fortress now rose haughtily on the crest of the rock which on
the previous evening had been naked and deserted. The Count was
delighted, and took possession of his castle the same day.

Still, what the demon had stated about his soul put a flea in the ear of
the worthy seigneur; and hence, without loss of time, he occupied
himself about his salvation. His first care was to establish a town near
the fortress, to which he attracted, by promises, adventurers from all
countries; then he sought a monk capable of liberating him from all his
sins; and it is probable that he found one, added the worthy Franciscan
who narrated this legend to us, in which he firmly believed, for Count
Estevan de Sourdis died in a state of grace, after leaving the greater
portion of his property to the clergy, founding two monasteries, and
building three churches. In short, the ex-pirate made a fool of the
demon to the end.

Without attaching to this legend the perfect belief of the man who told
it us, still we were struck with admiration at the sight of the immense,
perpendicular block of granite, on the crest of which the castle boldly
stands, perched there like a vulture's nest, and we were compelled to
allow that the means employed to build it seemed to us entirely
incomprehensible.

It was this fortress that the Jaguar had resolved to carry by surprise.
The task, if not impossible, was at the least very difficult, and it
needed all the audacious rashness of the young Chief merely to conceive
the thought of undertaking it.

The night was dark; heavy clouds laden with electricity coursed across
the sky, and by intercepting the moonbeams rendered the gloom denser
still. The conspirators passed silently through the deserted streets of
the town like a legion of phantoms. They went on thus for a long time,
with watchful eye and finger on the rifle trigger, ready to fire at the
slightest suspicious sound; but nothing disturbed their march to the
seashore, which they reached after making a thousand windings, in order
to foil the spies who might have attempted to follow them in the
darkness. The spot where they were was a small sandy creek, sheltered on
all sides by tall cliffs; here, at a word from the Jaguar, they halted,
for the difficulties of the expedition were about to begin. The young
Chief assembled his comrades round him.

"Caballeros," he then said, in a low voice, "we are proceeding to the
fort of the Point, which we must carry before sunrise; listen to me
attentively, and remember my instructions, in order that during the
expedition we may be exposed to no misunderstanding, which, in our
present situation, would not only be mortal to us, but cause our
comrades, who on their side are attempting a hazardous enterprise, to
lose all the fruit of their labours."

The conspirators drew nearer in order to hear better. The swell died,
at their feet with a hollow murmur, and out at sea could be seen the
wares raised by the north-east wind, which would probably rise into a
tempest within an hour. The Jaguar continued--

"The fort of the Point is impregnable, or, at least, passes as such; I
have resolved to deprive it of the haughty boast, and for that purpose
have counted on you, comrades. Owing to the opinion the Mexicans have of
the strength of this citadel, they have considered it unnecessary to
keep up a numerous garrison there, convinced as they are that its
position will defend it, and that it is impossible to carry it, save by
treachery. The garrison, therefore, is only composed of thirty soldiers,
commanded by a lieutenant; it is small, and yet enormous; small, if we
force them into a hand-to-hand fight; enormous, if we are compelled to
remain at a distance. On the land side, the granite rock on which the
fort is built is so perpendicular that we could not hope to ascend
beyond one half of it; for, excepting the path cut in the rock, which is
defended at regular distances by barricades, escalading is
impracticable. We cannot, therefore, think of attacking it on that side.
But the sea is left to us, if the land fails us; if we can succeed in
landing on the narrow strip of earth which is left uncovered at low
water for about an hour at the foot of the fortress, it is probable that
we shall succeed in our enterprise; for it will never occur to the
garrison that any attempt to attack them by sea will be made on such a
night as this. That is not all--we must reach that strip of land, and
speedily too; the sea is beginning to ebb, and the moment is favourable.
This is what I propose doing."

The conspirators, collected round their Chief, paid the most earnest
attention to his words. It was for them a question of life or death.

"Now, my companions," the Jaguar continued, "we have no boat in which to
reach the base of the fort; the sound of oars striking against the
thowls would give the alarm, excite the suspicion of the garrison, and
reveal our presence; we must, therefore, cross by swimming; but it is
nearly a league to go; the tide runs out fast, and we shall have to
cross it at right angles; moreover, the night is dark, and the sea
rough. I will only remind you of the sharks and tintoreras we run a risk
of meeting on the way. You see, comrades, that it is a rude affair, and
it is certain that we shall not all reach the sand strip. Some of us
will remain on the road; but what matter, so long as we succeed? You are
brave men, so I have preferred to speak openly with you, and allow you
to see all the danger, than deceive you, for a peril if known is half
overcome."

In spite of all their courage, the conspirators felt a spasm at their
hearts; still not one of them hesitated, for they had freely offered
their lives as a sacrifice; besides, they had now gone too far to
recoil; they must proceed at all risks. We must say, in praise of the
conspirators, that of all the perils enumerated by the Jaguar, only one
really alarmed them. What they most feared was the meeting with the
tintorera.

We will explain to the reader, who is probably ignorant of the fact,
what this dangerous animal is, which possesses the privilege of
producing goose flesh in the bravest man, on the mere mention of its
name. The seas of Mexico, and especially the coasts, swarm with
dangerous fish, among which the shark holds a very honourable place.
But, though it be so dangerous, the Mexican pearl diver, who are mostly
Indians, care little for it, and bravely fight it, when the opportunity
offers. Still, there is a special sort they are extraordinarily afraid
of, and that is the tintorera.

The tintorera is a shark of the largest size, and owes its name to a
peculiarity that reveals its presence at a considerable distance. Holes
placed near the snout of the fish distil a gluey matter, which spreads
over its whole body, and renders it brilliant as fireflies. These
phosphoric gleams are the most splendid on stormy nights, when the wind
moans and the thunder growls. The same phenomenon is produced on dark
nights; the denser the gloom, the more vivid is the furrow traced by the
tintorera. This animal, fortunately, is nearly blind, and, consequently,
cannot follow its prey by sight. They are also compelled to turn their
belly completely up on seizing their prey. In the pearl islands of the
Mexican coast there are several Indian and half-breed divers, who are
not at all afraid of fighting them, and who frequently succeed in
killing them.

"Now," the Jaguar continued, after allowing his comrades some minutes
for reflection, "it is time for us to get ready. Listen to me. We are
about to attempt a surprise, and must therefore act accordingly. Let us
leave here our firearms, which would not only be useless, but might
prove dangerous, if a shot were fired imprudently and revealed our
presence; hence each will undress, only keeping on his trousers, and
carrying his dagger between his teeth; that will be sufficient, as
further clothing would only embarrass us in our long swim."

The night grew more and more dark; the sea moaned sadly, under the
impulse of the _coromuel_, which was beginning to blow in gusts; the
sea wolves howled in the darkness; the _gaviota_ groaned sadly on the
top of the rocks; and from time to time the lamantine, as if jealous to
add its mournful moan to the sinister sounds of night, mingled with the
sharp sighs of the wind its accents, melancholy and plaintive as those
of a soul in pain;--all, is short, foreboded a tempest. The hour was
well chosen for a deed of darkness.

The first emotion passed, the conspirators, galvanized, so to speak, by
the firm and confident accent of their Chief, bravely made up their
minds without observation or murmur. They threw down their weapons and
arms, and silently ranged themselves on the beach, only awaiting the
order to dash into the sea. The Jaguar, with fixed eye and frowning
brow, remained motionless for some minutes, doubtless thinking of the
immense responsibility he assumed in devoting to a probable death so
many men who placed their hopes and confidence in him. At length he made
a powerful effort over himself, a sigh escaped from his overladen
breast, and, turning to his comrades, who were calmly awaiting the order
to start, which would probably be a sentence of death to the majority,
he said in a hollow voice--

"Brothers, let us pray!"

All knelt down, and the Jaguar offered up a prayer. His powerful voice
was mingled with the howls of the wild beasts and the crash of the
tempest; his companions repeated the sentences after him, with the faith
of primitive souls, who regard the belief transmitted to them by their
ancestors as the only true one.

It was at once a touching and terrible spectacle offered by these
simple-minded, lion-hearted men, piously kneeling on this deserted shore
in the black night, while the tempest raged around them, preparing
themselves by prayer for the sacrifice of their life--alone in the
gloom, without the dazzling prestige of a brilliant sun and thousands of
spectators, but compelled to lay down their lives, and know no reward in
this world.

When the prayer was ended, all rose to their feet. They felt stronger;
as God would henceforth be on their side, what had they to fear?--they
had made Him their accomplice. The Jaguar was the last to rise; his brow
was serene, but a febrile ardour caused his eyes to flash; he believed
in the success of his enterprise. After assuring himself that all his
comrades were ready, he ordered--

"Take your daggers between your teeth: Heaven protects us. Forward,
brothers, and long live liberty!"

"Long live liberty!" the conspirators shouted.

A dull sound was heard, as they dashed simultaneously into the sea.



CHAPTER XXII.

THE SURPRISE.


The Jaguar spoke truly when he said that the task the conspirators were
about to undertake was rude. Swimming side by side, the Texans advanced
in a straight line in the direction of the fort, which the obscurity
prevented them seeing. The sea was rough and lumpy; heavy waves poured
in, and rolled at every moment on their heads; the wind redoubled its
violence; the terrible coromuel, the scourge of these coasts, where it
causes so many shipwrecks, had risen; there was not a star in the sky to
guide these determined men.

They swam on--not a cry, moan, or sigh revealing any fatigue or
discouragement on their part. At the head of the gloomy line formed by
the energetic heads of the conspirators, the Jaguar progressed alone.
Three-quarters of an hour passed, during which all the strength and
courage the human will possesses were expended in this struggle of
giants by these men, whom nothing could quell. Not one had broken down;
the line was still compact, and they advanced with the same vigour.
Before them, at about a musket shot distance, a denser shadow was
visible in the gloom, thrown out by the enormous mass of the fortress
they were approaching!

Since the departure, the conspirators, with their eyes ardently fixed
ahead, had not exchanged a syllable. What could they have said? They
were perfectly aware of the probable consequences of their mad
enterprise, and fully conscious of the danger they incurred. Besides,
what was the good of speaking, when they could act? Hence they were
silent, but they acted vigorously. Still, as all the men swam like
otters, and were accustomed to the perfidious element in which they now
were, they only expended the necessary amount of strength, and were very
careful to keep the line regular.

At length, after superhuman efforts, they succeeded in cutting through
the current that dashed with extreme rapidity and strength into the
straits. The hardest work was over; from this moment they needed only to
let themselves drift gently ashore, while careful to keep the right
direction.

"Courage!" the Jaguar said.

This word, the first the young man had uttered since the start, restored
the strength of his comrades and aroused their ardour again. The
fortress stood out gloomy and imposing a short distance ahead, and the
conspirators were already swimming in the shadow it cast. All at once a
cry disturbed the silence.

"_Tintorera!_"

A brilliant mass came to meet the conspirators, leave a long
phosphorescent trail behind it.

"Tintorera!" a second voice shouted.

In fact, another shark was advancing from the open sea and swimming
straight towards the conspirators, leaving a line of fire.

"Tintorera!" a third voice said, with an indescribable accent of agony.

Three tintoreras beset the swimmers and momentarily contracted the
circle in which they held them. The danger was serious.

"Forward, comrades," the Jaguar said, in his calm and sympathetic voice,
"swim gently and noiselessly; you know that these monsters are almost
blind, and more than half deaf, they have not seen us. John Davis?" he
added.

"Here!" the American answered.

"Where are you?"

"I am the last but one on the right."

"Good! you will take the second tintorera and I the first. Lanzi!"

"Lanzi has just disappeared," a voice answered.

"Malediction!" said the Jaguar, "Can he be dead? who shall attack the
third tintorera?"

"Do not trouble yourself, Jaguar," the well-known voice of the
half-breed answered, "I am after it."

"Good! swim on, comrades, and leave us to cope with these monsters."

The conspirators continued to advance silently, although they redoubled
their efforts. The Jaguar dived immediately and dashed toward the shark,
which was swimming at a moderate depth. The Chief and the monster were
soon so near that the brown fins of the tintorera grazed the shoulder of
the daring Texan, who saw the glassy eye of the shark, half covered by a
membrane, fixed upon him with an expression of cold malignity.

The Jaguar remounted to the surface of the water and clutched his
dagger, at the same instant the monster's silvery belly was visible, as
it opened its enormous mouth, armed with terrible teeth, close set as
those of a harrow. The Jaguar drove in his dagger with all his strength,
and ripped the belly for about one-third its length. The hideous
tintorera, wounded to death, gave an enormous bound, while wildly
beating the water, and then fell back stark dead.

The Jaguar, half blinded by the blood-stained water, and tossed about in
the whirlpool it had caused in its flurry, did not regain his senses for
more than a minute. At length, by a supreme effort, he returned to the
surface, inhaled the fresh air, and stifled a cry of triumph on seeing
near him the inanimate body of his foe the sport of the waves. Without
stopping, he took an anxious glance around.

"It's all over," a voice said near him.

"Is that you, Lanzi?"

"It is," the half-bred answered, in a voice as tranquil as if he were on
terra firma.

"Well?"

"The shark is dead."

"Now for the third, then. Where is John Davis? I do not see him."

"Let us go and see."

Not troubling themselves about their comrades, who were swimming towards
land, the two lion-hearted men dashed to the American's help. But all
was gloomy and silent around them; in vain did they cross-question the
darkness, nothing appeared, neither man nor tintorera.

"Can he be dead?" the Jaguar muttered, in a hollow voice.

"Oh, I cannot think so," Lanzi answered, "he is so brave and clever."

"Suppose we hail him? He may be wounded."

"But we shall be heard from the fort."

"No, the wind is off shore."

"Help, help!" a voice shouted at the moment close by.

"That is he," said the Jaguar; "here we are, John, so have courage."

And redoubling their efforts they proceeded in the direction whence the
cry for help had come.

"Help, help!" the voice repeated with such an expression of agony, that
the two men felt themselves shudder, although they were so inaccessible
to fears. There is in the parting cry of agony of a strong man conquered
by necessity, so poignant and crushing an expression, that it stirs the
hearer to the depths of the soul.

"Courage, courage!" the two men repeated, redoubling their already
prodigious efforts.

All at once they saw a black mass swirling at about a yard from them and
then sink. The Jaguar immediately plunged and brought it to the surface;
this mass, which they had been unable to discover in the darkness, was
the body of John Davis. It was high time for them to arrive; the
American, finding himself conquered in the obstinate struggle he had so
long sustained against death, was sinking. Still, he had not entirely
lost his senses; being held above water, he inhaled the fresh air, and
was soon in a condition to answer the questions his comrades asked him.

"Are you wounded?" said the Jaguar.

"Yes."

"What's the matter?"

"I fancy my shoulder bone is put out; the monster, in dying, dealt me a
blow with his tail which all but made me faint. Had it not been for you,
I was lost. But good bye, and thanks; lose no further time with a man
who is half dead."

"We shall not abandon you if you do not abandon yourself, John. Lanzi
and I, two powerful men, are ready to do everything to save you."

"We are too far from land."

"You are mistaken, we are almost touching it; a few more strokes and we
shall find ground; let us act."

"Be it so, as you insist on it."

"Can you support yourself in the water by putting one hand on Lanzi's
shoulder and the other on mine?"

"I will try, brother."

"Come on then."

John Davis, stifling the horrible sufferings he underwent, succeeded in
doing what the Jaguar asked him, and all three then advanced towards the
shore, which was, in truth, no great distance off, and, in spite of the
darkness, its outline could be distinctly marked. But, in spite of all
his courage, Davis's sufferings were so atrocious, that he felt his eyes
grow dim and his strength all at once fail him.

"No," he said, "it is impossible and letting loose the support that had
hitherto kept him up, he sunk.

"Cuerpo de Cristo!" the Jaguar exclaimed, with a sublime outburst of
grief, "I will save him or perish with him."

He plunged boldly seized his friend by his black hair, and mounting
again with him, held his head above water, while he swam gently with his
right hand. Lanzi had in no way attempted to oppose the heroic action of
the Chief of the Freebooters, but at the same time had not deserted him;
he swam close to him, ready to come to his aid if needed.

Fortunately for the Jaguar, the enormous mass of rock on which the fort
was built neutralized the effects of the wind, and produced a factitious
calm which allowed the young man to reach with his precious burden the
narrow tongue of land, where his comrades were already awaiting him; but
on landing he fainted. Human strength has limits which it cannot
surpass; so long as the danger endured, the Jaguar had struggled
energetically, but, once it was over, and his friend saved, he had been,
compelled to confess himself conquered, and rolled on the sand with
terror.

The conspirators were terrified at the condition in which they saw their
Chief, for what could they do without him--what would become of them?
Lanzi reassured them by stating what had happened, and then all crowded
round the young man and the American, whose condition was far more
serious, since he had received an injury.

As we have said, only fatigue and moral over-excitement had caused the
Jaguar's fainting fit. Thanks to the eager and intelligent attention of
his comrades, he speedily regained his senses, and returned to full
possession of his faculties. Time pressed, and they must act without
delay, if they did not wish to be surprised by the return of the tide.
So soon as the Jaguar had recovered, his first care was to count his
comrades; nine were missing. These nine men had died without venting a
cry or uttering a complaint; when fatigue crushed them, they had sunk
sooner than claim assistance, which would probably have occasioned the
loss of their comrades by compelling them to offer assistance, which
would have exhausted their strength in a few moments. Great causes alone
produce such acts of devotion.

The conspirators were at the very foot of the rock, at the top of which
the fort was built. It was a great step made, but it was as nothing so
long as the rock was not escaladed. But how to attempt that feat on a
dark night and with a coromuel, which every moment blew with greater
force, and threatened to hurl to destruction the man who was so rash as
to venture to attempt such an ascent!

Still, they must act, and the Jaguar did not hesitate. He had not risked
his own life and that of his comrades to be arrested by any obstacle,
whatever its nature might be; impossibilities themselves must not stay
him, for, although he might be killed, he would not recoil an inch.
Still the means he had at his disposal were extremely limited; he had
but a silken cord about a hundred fathoms in length rolled round his
body, and his comrades had no other weapons than their daggers.

The persons who have read the early scenes of this story will doubtless
remember the portrait we drew of the Jaguar. Although still very young,
or at least appearing so, he joined exceptional strength to marvellous
agility and skill; his adventurous character found delight in
extraordinary things, and impossibilities alone offered any attraction
to him. After reflecting for a few moments, he advised his comrades to
lie down at the foot of the rock, lest they should be blown away by the
coromuel, which was raging at the moment, passed two daggers through his
belt, and began examining with the most scrupulous attention the rock he
wished to attack.

This granitic mass, whose base was bathed in the sea and beaten by the
waves, had never been seriously investigated by anyone, for who had any
interest in such a thing? The Jaguar alone, since the thought had
occurred to him of carrying the fort by surprise, had, on several
occasions and for hours together, examined it with a telescope.
Unluckily, through fear of exciting suspicions, he could only inspect it
from a long distance, and hence many details escaped his notice, as he
perceived at once when he began a serious investigation.

In fact, this rock, which at a distance seemed to form an almost
perpendicular wall, was hollowed out at several points, and fissures had
been opened by time--that great demolisher, which wears away the hardest
granite. Though the ascent was still extremely difficult, it was not
impossible; the Jaguar welcomed this certainty with a quick start of
delight.

"It is all right, brothers," he said to his comrades, "so take courage;
now, I entertain firm hopes of success."

And he prepared to mount. Lanzi followed him.

"Where are you going?" the Jaguar asked him.

"With you," the half-breed answered, laconically.

"For what good? One man is sufficient for what I am going to do."

"Yes," he answered; "but two are better."

"Well, come on, then." And then, turning to his attentive comrades, he
added, "so soon as the rope falls, cling on to it without fear."

"Yes," the conspirators said.

The Jaguar then planted his dagger in a crevice above his head, and with
the help of his hands and feet, raised himself sufficiently to thrust in
a second dagger above the first. The first step was taken; from dagger
to dagger the Jaguar reached, in a few minutes, a species of platform
about two square yards in width, where it was possible to draw breath.
Lanzi arrived almost with him.

"Well," said the latter, "this trip is rather amusing; it is only a pity
that it is so dark."

"All the better; on the contrary," the Jaguar replied, "we need not fear
a dizziness."

"By my faith, that is true," said the half-breed, who cared as little
for a dizziness as he did for a grain of sand.

They examined the spot where they were. It was a species of hollow,
probably excavated by time in the sides of the rock. Unfortunately, over
this hollow the rock formed a projection, rendering any further ascent
impossible. While the Jaguar was seeking on either side the means to
continue his climb, the half-breed, thinking it useless to fatigue
himself, sat down quietly in the crevice to shelter himself from the
wind.

The end of the hollow was covered by a thick curtain of shrubs, against
which Lanzi leaned with the confiding delight of a man who is glad to
rest himself, if only for a moment, after his fatigue; but the shrubs
gave way under his weight, and the half-breed fell down at his full
length.

"Hilloa!" he said, with that magnificent coolness which never deserted
him, "What's this?"

"Will you be quiet?" the Jaguar exclaimed, as he hurried up, "or we
shall be found out. What has happened to you?"

"I do not know. Look for yourself."

The two men then advanced with outstretched arms, owing to the darkness.

"Why, it is a grotto. Viva Dios!" the Jaguar exclaimed a moment later.

"It looks to me very like one," said the half-breed, with his old
coolness.

In fact, this excavation, which at a distance appeared a narrow fissure,
concealed the entrance to a natural grotto, completely masked by the
shrubs which accident had planted there, and which an equally great
accident had enabled the half-breed to discover. What was this passage
through? Did it go up and down? And was it known to the garrison? Such
were the questions which the adventurers asked themselves, and they
naturally could not answer them.

"What shall we do?" Lanzi asked.

"Por Dios! That is not difficult to guess," the Jaguar replied; "we will
explore this cave."

"That is my opinion too; but I think there is a matter of inquiry to do
before that."

"What is it?"

"Whatever this cave may be, and no matter where it ends, it is certain
that it will, at any rate, offer us an excellent shelter. Supposing, at
any rate, as is possible, that we cannot succeed in effecting the ascent
of the rock this night, we will hide ourselves here during tomorrow, and
be ready to finish on the following night what we shall not have time
to effect during the present one."

"That is an excellent idea," the Jaguar remarked, "and we will
immediately carry it into effect."

The young man unfastened the rope round his hips, and after securely
attaching one end round a point of rock, and a stone to the other end,
that the wind might not blow it about, he let it fall. In a few minutes
the rope stiffened--the conspirators watching on the beach had seized
it. Ere long a man made his appearance, then a second, and so on till
all reached the platform. As they arrived, Lanzi sent them into the
grotto.

"And John Davis?" the Jaguar asked reproachfully; "have you abandoned
him?"

"Certainly not," the conspirator who mounted last answered. "Upon
leaving I was careful to put the rope several times round his body, in
spite of his objections. We only succeeded in overcoming his obstinacy
by persuading him that the weight of his body would keep the rope taut,
and facilitate my ascent."

"Thank you," said the Jaguar. "Now, lads, to work; we must not abandon
our brother."

At the Chiefs order, or rather entreaty, eight or ten men seized the
rope, and the American was soon hoisted on to the platform.

"What is the use of taking so much trouble about me?" he said. "I can be
of no service to you: on the contrary, I shall only be in the way, and
impede your operations. It would have been better to leave me to die;
the rising tide would have formed my winding sheet."

The Jaguar made no answer, but had him conveyed into the grotto, where
he was laid down on the ground. The young Chief then collected his
comrades, and explained to them how, by a providential accident, Lanzi
had discovered the entrance of the grotto. Still, it had not yet been
explored, and it was of urgency to find out in what direction it ran.
"Unfortunately," the young man added, "the darkness is dense, and we
have no means of procuring fire."

"Listen, Jaguar," John Davis said, who had attentively followed the
Chiefs remarks; "I will give you fire."

"You!" the young man said with a start of delight; "but no, that is
impossible."

In spite of his sufferings the American attempted to smile.

"What! You a wood ranger," he said, "did not think of that! And yet it
is very simple. Just feel in the right-hand pocket of my calzoneras, and
take out a packet."

The Jaguar hastily obeyed; he drew out a small parcel about seven inches
in length, carefully wrapped up in shagreen and tied with thread.

"What does this parcel contain?" he asked in some curiosity.

"A dozen _cabos_, which I brought with me on the chance," the American
calmly replied.

"Candles! _Viva Dios!_" the young man exclaimed with delight; "that is a
brilliant idea. You are an invaluable man, John. But," he added sadly a
moment later, "of what use will they be?"

"To light us, of course."

"Unfortunately, all our matches are damped by the sea."

"Not mine. Do you imagine, Jaguar, that I am the man to neglect any
precautions, and do things by halves? Feel in the left-hand pocket of my
calzoneras, friend."

The Jaguar did not allow the intimation to be repeated. He found a
second parcel smaller than the first, equally preserved from the wet,
containing a gold mechero with its flint and steel.

"Oh," the young Chief said, "now we are saved!"

"I hope so," the American said, as he fell back on the ground, where he
remained motionless, conquered by pain.

A few minutes later, four candles were lighted, and illumined the
interior of the grotto. The conspirators restrained with difficulty a
cry of terror, for, thanks to the precautions taken by John Davis, they
were saved, but not in the sense meant by the Jaguar. This grotto
extended a long distance; its walls were lofty, and it seemed to ascend;
but in the centre was an opening, stretching across about two-thirds of
its width, and whose depth appeared enormous: one step further into the
interior of the cavern, and the conspirators would have disappeared in
the abyss.

There are some dangers which go beyond the range of all human foresight,
and which, through that very reason, render the most intrepid man frozen
with terror. These men, who for some hours past had risked their lives
twenty times in a mad struggle, and who only lived yet through a
miracle, shuddered on thinking of the horrible danger they had escaped
by a providential accident.

"Oh!" the Jaguar exclaimed with an expression impossible to render, "It
is evident that Heaven is on our side, and we shall succeed. Follow me,
brothers, for you must be as anxious as myself to hold the clue of this
enigma."

All rushed after him. The cave took several windings, but, contrary to
what is generally found in most natural grottos, it did not appear to
have any other arteries save the one in which the conspirators found
themselves.

The latter went on, following their leader step by step. The deeper they
got into the cavern, the ruder became the ascent. The Jaguar advanced
with extreme caution and doubt, for it seemed to him impossible that
this passage should be unknown to the Commandant of the garrison. On
reflection he supposed--and with some semblance of truth--that this cave
had been excavated, in earlier times, by human hands, and that the abyss
into which he and his comrades had all but fallen, was nought else than
a well, intended to supply the garrison in the event of a siege.

He soon obtained a proof that his surmises were correct, for after
marching for a few minutes longer, the conspirators were arrested by an
iron-bound door, which barred their way. At a sign from the Jaguar, they
remained motionless, with their hands on their dagger hilts. The moment
for action had arrived: this door evidently opened into the fort.

The Jaguar examined the lock for an instant, and then ordered the lights
to be put out, which was immediately obeyed, and the conspirators were
again in darkness. This door, which was very old, and probably had not
been opened for a long series of years, could not offer any serious
resistance. The young Chieftain thrust the point of his dagger between
the bolt and the staple, and pressed on it. The staple fell to the
ground, but the door still resisted; it was fastened on the other side
by strong bolts.

There was a moment of extreme anxiety and discouragement for the
conspirators. How was the door to be opened? Must they turn back, and
lose all the profit of such perils overcome, and difficulties incurred?
The position was serious; but, as we have said, the Jaguar was a man who
only took a delight in impossibilities. He lit a candle again, and
examined the door with the most minute attention. The wood, acted upon
by age and damp, fell off in scales, and melted into dust at the
slightest effort.

When the candle had been again extinguished, the young man knelt down
before the door, and began cutting it with his dagger, taking the
greatest care to make no noise for fear of alarming the garrison; for
though he was convinced that this door opened into the fort, he could
not know to what point it led. After ten minutes of slow and continued
toil, the whole lower part of the door was removed. The Jaguar crawled
through the orifice, and, not trying to discover where he was, he got
up, felt for the bolts, drew them one after the other, and quietly
opened the door, through which his comrades silently slipped.

The conspirators then groped their way along the walls, not wishing to
light a candle, for fear of giving an alarm, and trusting to chance to
lead them in the right road. They were justified in doing so, for Lanzi
reached a door, which he mechanically pushed, and which was ajar. This
door opened into a long corridor lighted by a lamp, and the insurgents
boldly entered the passage, after taking the precaution to take down the
lamp and put it out.

It was now about half-past four in the morning, and day was beginning to
break. At the end of the passage, the Jaguar perceived a motionless
shadow leaning against the wall. At an order from his Chief, the
half-breed glided like a serpent up to this shadow, which was nothing
less than a sentry, who was quietly asleep, with his musket by his side,
and on coming within reach, the half-breed bounded like a tiger at the
throat of the sleeper, whom he threw down without giving him time to
utter a cry. The poor fellow was bound and gagged, ere he was
sufficiently awake to understand what was happening to him.

This sentry was stationed at the entrance of a guard-room, in which some
fifteen soldiers were sleeping. The post was carried, without a blow, by
the insurgents, who bound the soldiers, and took possession of their
arms. The expedition was going on famously; but unluckily, while the
scene we have referred to was taking place in the guard-room, the sentry
in the passage, who had been neglected, succeeded in loosing his bonds
and giving the alarm. The position had become serious.

"Come," the Jaguar said quickly, "it seems as if we shall have a fight
of it. Well, several of you are now armed: comrades, remember my
orders--no quarter!"

The insurgents, not at all anxious to be besieged in the guard-room,
where it would have been easy to overpower them, then went out. At the
moment when they appeared in the passage, they perceived some thirty
soldiers, at the head of whom three officers in uniform marched, coming
boldly to meet them.

"Fire!" the Jaguar thundered, "and then forward!"

Ten muskets were discharged, the three officers fell, and the Texans
rushed ferociously on the soldiers. The latter, terrified by this
furious attack, and seeing their leaders dead, offered but a weak
resistance; after a few minutes of hand-to-hand fighting, sustained
rather to save the military honour than in the hope of conquering the
assailants, they asked leave to capitulate.

The Jaguar ordered a suspension of fighting, and ordered the garrison to
lay down their arms, which they readily did. During the short fight, the
Texans had lost eight men killed at the bayonet point. The fort of the
Point, which was supposed to be impregnable, had been surprised by
twenty-five men only armed with daggers. But these twenty-five fought
for a holy and great idea--they were resolved to conquer or perish. The
Jaguar had accomplished the task which had been allotted to him in the
vast plan conceived by the Texan insurgents, and the capture of the fort
must inevitably lead to the surrender of the town, if El Alferez
succeeded in making himself master of the _Libertad_ corvette.

We have seen how, on his side, that Chief had behaved, and what result
he had achieved.



CHAPTER XXIII.

EL SALTO DEL FRAYLE.


The expeditious way in which the Jaguar had gained the capture of the
castle, by firing, without any previous summons, on the Commandant of
the garrison and his officers, was, perhaps, not strictly loyal, or
recognized by the military code; but we must not forget that the Jaguar
and his men were placed without the pale of the law by the Mexicans,
that they were regarded as wild beasts, and a considerable reward
offered for their heads.

Placed in such a position, the Texan insurgents must regard themselves
as freed from any courteous obligation toward their enemies, and in fact
were so. Until they were permitted to treat on equal terms with their
old masters, they had only one thing to regard, namely, the object to
be attained: under the present circumstances they had attained it, and
no more could be asked of them.

The Jaguar's first care, so soon as he was in possession of the
fortress, was to have John Davis installed in a comfortable and airy
room; then he sent several men to the creek whence the expedition had
started, to fetch the clothes and anything the conspirators had left
there.

During the works necessitated by the new occupation and an exact
inspection of the important fortress the Texans had succeeded in
seizing, day had broke, and the sun risen. The Jaguar, after taking all
the necessary precautions to prevent himself being surprised in his
turn, took a telescope, and went up to the platform of the castle. From
this point the eye surveyed an immense landscape, and a magnificent
panorama was unrolled. On one side were the undulating Texan plains,
which lofty mountains enclosed on the horizon; on the other, the sea
with its grand and mysterious immensity.

The Jaguar first looked carelessly through the telescope at the town of
Galveston, which was beginning to wake up, and whose streets were
growing gradually peopled; next at the mainland, and the entrance of the
Rio Trinidad, which was still plunged in a mournful solitude. Then,
turning, he fixed the glass on the sea, and attentively examined the
horizon. Lanzi, carelessly lounging on a gun carriage, was rolling a
husk cigarette with all the serious attention he generally devoted to
this important operation.

"Lanzi!" the Jaguar suddenly said, as he hurried to him.

"Well!" he answered, raising his head, but not otherwise disturbing
himself.

"Do you know what has become of the Mexican flag we found in the
commandant's room?"

"Indeed I do not."

"You must go and enquire at once, my good fellow. So soon as you have
got it, bring it to me."

"Very good."

The half-breed rose and left the platform; in the meanwhile, the Jaguar,
who was leaning over the parapet, seemed deeply interested. In fact, the
chase of the privateer by the corvette was beginning at this moment! and
the two vessels appeared under full sail.

"Oh, oh," the Jaguar muttered, "how will it end? The brig is very small
to carry so large a vessel by storm! Nonsense," he added after a little
reflection, "we have seized the fort, then why should they not capture
the corvette?"

"I see nothing to prevent it," a voice said at his elbow.

The Jaguar turned and saw the half-breed standing by his side, with a
roll of bunting under his arm.

"Well," he asked him, "where is the flag?"

"Here it is."

"Now, my friend, yon will hoist the flag on that staff; but, in order
that our comrades may not mistake our meaning, mind and fasten a dagger
to the top of the flag. The inhabitants of Galveston will not notice
this addition, while our friends, who have an interest in carefully
examining what goes on here, will immediately understand what it
signifies."

Lanzi punctually carried out the order given him, and five minutes
later, the Mexican banner, surmounted by a dagger, was majestically
floating from the flagstaff. The Jaguar soon obtained the certainty that
his signal was understood, for the brig, closely pursued by the
corvette, waited till it had come within pistol shot of the fort ere it
tacked, which it assuredly would not have done had there been any cause
of fear.

During the greater part of the day, the Jaguar followed with the
greatest interest the progress of the two ships, and witnessed the final
incidents from his observatory. At about two in the afternoon, however,
he went down into the interior of the fort, and, after recommending the
greatest vigilance to his friends, he armed himself, threw a zarapé over
his shoulders, and quitted the castle. By Lanzi's care, a horse had been
prepared for him near the foot of the rock: the Jaguar bounded into the
saddle, and after giving one glance at the fortress, he dug in the
spurs, and started at a gallop. The Jaguar was proceeding to the Salto
del Frayle, where, on the previous evening, he had appointed to meet Don
Juan Melendez de Gongora.

The coasts of Mexico are probably the most varied of all those in the
New World. The seaboard of Texas especially is so strangely broken up,
that the mind loses itself in trying to discover what accident or
antediluvian cataclysm could have been powerful enough to produce these
bold gaps and sudden fissures in the tall cliffs that border it.

Not far from Galveston, on the seashore, there is a rather wide road,
whose capricious windings follow for a considerable distance the crest
of the cliffs. This road is usually followed by the muleteers and
travellers of every description proceeding to Mexico. Being wide and
convenient, it might justly pass as excellent in a country where the
highways of communication are--or, at least, were--completely unknown,
for at the present day, Texas possesses fine carriage roads, and long
iron way. But at one spot, the road to which we allude suddenly breaks
off: the cliff, cleft as if by a giant's sabre stroke, displays a
yawning abyss, about ten feet wide, and some seven hundred feet deep. At
the base of this fissure the sea constantly breaks in fury, producing a
hollow and monotonous sound. On the other side of the gap the road
begins again.

In Europe, where government is necessarily occupied in improving the
means of communication, a remedy would easily have been found for this
interruption by throwing a bridge across the fissure, but in America it
is not so. The governments have something else to do than trouble
themselves about the general welfare: in the first place, they have to
raise as much money as they can by taxation; and next, defend themselves
against _pronunciamentos_ and ambitious men constantly on the watch to
overthrow them. The result is, that all goes on as it best can, and each
gets out of a hobble, in the best way he can contrive it.

Fortunately, the horses and mules, more intelligent than men, have
produced a remedy for this neglect, thanks to that instinct of
self-preservation which God has bestowed on them. Nothing is more
curious than to see the passage of the fissure by a recua of mules.
These animals come up gently, stretching over their necks, sounding the
ground at each step, and sniffing all around with signs of the most
lively alarm. On reaching the edge of the gap, they stiffen their front
legs, bend the hind ones, and toss their heads; then all at once they
take their spring, and fall on the other side upon all four feet,
without ever making a mistake.

Still, it is necessary that the man who is astride them should
completely lay aside his own will, and abandon them entirely to their
infallible instinct. If he attempt to guide them, it is all over: man
and steed roll to the bottom of the precipice, which both reach in small
pieces.

As for the name of the Salto del Frayle or the Monk's Leap, which this
spot bears, the following is the motive for it, according to the local
chronicle. It is stated (we affirm nothing, and in no way guarantee the
veracity of the legend)--it is stated, we say, that a few years after
the settlement of the Spaniards in Texas, a Franciscan monk, the Pater
Guardian, or Prior, of his monastery, being accused of insulting a
maiden whose confessor he was, escaped from the hands of the alguazil
sent to seize him, and fled across country. After a very long chase, and
when closely pursued by the soldiers, who were furious at their
inability to capture him, he reached the edge of this gap. Taking a
glance at the abyss, the poor monk felt he was a lost man; recommending
his soul to his patron saint, and calling Heaven to bear witness to his
innocence, he leaped boldly across. The soldiers who arrived at this
moment distinctly saw two angels supporting the monk under the arms, and
they laid him in safety upon the other bank.

The soldiers naturally fell on their knees, and implored the blessing of
the holy man, whose innocence was thus distinctly proved to them. The
latter turned to them with a radiant face, blessed them with emotion,
and then disappeared, to the sound of celestial music, in a cloud of
purple and gold. Such was the story the soldiers told on returning from
their expedition. Whether they spoke truly or falsely, no one ever knew;
but one thing is certain, that from that moment nothing more was ever
heard of the monk. The populace, who are always lovers of the
marvellous, put the most entire faith in this story, and an annual
procession was instituted, at which we had the honour of being present,
and which, at each anniversary of the worthy prior's miraculous leap, is
performed with great ceremony, in the presence of an immense crowd which
has arrived from very part of Texas.

Whatever may be thought as to the authenticity of this story, it is
certain that this spot is called the Monk's Leap, and it was here that
the Jaguar had given the meeting to Colonel Don Juan Melendez. The sun
had sunk almost level with the horizon when the young man reached the
gap. He looked around him; the road was deserted, so he dismounted,
hobbled his horse, lay down on the ground, and waited.

He had been there about a quarter of an hour, when the sound of a horse
galloping reached his ear; he rose and looked round. He soon saw a
horseman turning a corner of the road and recognized the Colonel. On
reaching the Jaguar he bowed and leaped to the ground.

"Pardon me, my friend," he said, "for having kept you waiting, but it is
a long distance from Galveston to this spot; and you and your comrades
give us so much to do, that, Viva Dios! we have not an instant to
ourselves."

The young man smiled.

"You are quite forgiven, Colonel," he said; "have you received any more
bad news?"

"Neither good nor bad, but in truth very disagreeable; we learn that a
corps of freebooters has been formed, of which you are strongly
suspected to be the Chief, and which at this moment is ravaging the
whole country."

"Have you heard no more than that?"

"Not up to the present."

"Well, before we part, I will give you some news, which, if I am not
mistaken, will deeply annoy you."

"What do you mean, my friend? Explain yourself."

"Not at this moment. We have not come here to discuss politics, but our
own affairs. Let us proceed regularly. We shall always have time enough
to return to politics."

"That is true; but answer me one question first."

"What is it?"

"Is the news you have to tell me really serious?"

The Jaguar frowned and stamped his foot on the ground with suppressed
violence.

"Extremely serious," he said.

There was a moment's silence; at length the young man walked up to the
Colonel and laid his hand on his shoulder.

"Don Juan," he said to him in a kindly voice, "listen to me for a
moment."

"Speak, my friend."

"Don Juan," he continued, "why do you so obstinately defend a lost
cause? Why shed your generous blood in the service of tyranny? Texas
wishes to be free, and will be so! Count the capable men who serve in
your ranks; with the exception of two, perhaps three, there is not
another you can mention: Mexico, exhausted by the revolutions which
incessantly overthrow it, has at its disposal neither men nor money
enough to assume a vigorous offensive: the very name of Mexican is
odious to the Texans. On all sides the people are rebelling against you;
it is a constantly rising tide, which breaks down every dyke. You are
surrounded: within a month your army will be disgracefully expelled from
our territory. Reflect, my friend, for there is yet time; return your
sword to its scabbard, and leave fate to accomplish its task."

"Listen to me in your turn, friend," the Colonel answered, in a mournful
voice. "What you have just said to me I knew as well as you do. I have
felt for a long time past that the ground trembles beneath our feet, and
that we shall ere long be swallowed up by the revolution; I therefore
form no illusion to the fate that awaits us. But I am a soldier, my
friend, I have taken an oath: that oath I must keep, at all risks.
Moreover, I am a Mexican--do not forget that fact; I must, therefore,
regard this question from a point of view diametrically opposed to
yours. Besides," he added, with feigned gaiety, "we are not yet in the
state you imagine. You have certainly taken from us a few pueblos, but
we still have the towns, and hold the sea. You sing victory too soon;
the Texan revolution is as yet only in the state of insurrection. At a
later date, when it holds a strong town, and its government is
constituted, we shall see what is to be done; but for the present there
is no cause to despair, my friend, and you have not made the progress
you fancy."

"Perhaps so," the Jaguar answered, with an equivocal accent that caused
the Colonel to reflect. "I thought it my duty to speak to you as a
friend, and give you some disinterested advice; if you will not take it,
you are quite at liberty to neglect it."

"Do not feel annoyed; my remarks can have nothing to wound your
feelings. I had no intention of vexing you when I spoke as I did. But
put yourself for a moment in my place; if I had made you the same
proposals you offered me, what would your answer have been?"

"I should have refused, by Heaven!" the young man exclaimed,
impetuously.

The Colonel began laughing.

"Well, I acted as you would have done. What harm do you see in that?"

"That is true; you were right, and I am an ass! Forgive me, my friend.
Besides, was it not agreed that political questions should never
separate us? Let us, therefore, return to the object of our interview,
which is of much greater importance to us, and temporarily leave the
Mexicans and Texans to settle matters as they can."

For some minutes the Colonel's eyes had been fixed on the sea, and he
had listened to his friend's remarks with a very absent air.

"Why," he suddenly said, "look there, my friend."

"What is it?"

"Do you not see?"

"What do _you_ see, let me ask in return?"

"Hang it! I see the _Libertad_ corvette, which has first anchored under
the guns of the Point Fort, bringing with her a privateer brig, which
she has, in all probability, captured off the coast."

"Do you think so?" the Jaguar asked, sarcastically.

"Look for yourself!"

"My friend, I am rather like St. Thomas."

"What do you mean?"

"That as long as I am not completely convinced, I shall attach but very
slight faith to the testimony of my eyesight."

These words were uttered with such a singular intonation, that, in
spite of himself, the Colonel felt ashamed. "What can you mean?" he
asked.

"Nothing but what I say," the Jaguar answered.

"Still, I fancy I cannot be mistaken. I can very distinctly see the
Mexican flag over the reversed Texan colours."

"It is true," the Jaguar said, coldly, "but what does that prove?"

"What do you say?--'What does that prove?'"

"Yes."

"Are you so ignorant of naval matters, then, as not to know what takes
place on board a vessel after an engagement?"

"I beg your pardon, friend, but I know all about it. But I know, too,
that what we see may be the result of a stratagem, and that the brig,
after capturing the corvette, may have an interest in concealing the
fact."

"Come, come," the Colonel said, with a laugh, "that is carrying optimism
a little too far. Let us leave the corvette and brig, and return to our
own affairs."

"Well, I think you are in the right; for, judging from the turn the
conversation has taken, we should presently be unable to understand one
another at all."

During this conversation the sun had set, and night completely fallen.
The two gentlemen passed their horses' bridles over their arm to prevent
them straying, and then walked slowly, side by side, in the direction of
the Rio Trinidad. The night was clear, the sky studded with a profusion
of flashing stars, and the atmosphere of marvellous transparency; it
was, in a word, one of those American nights that conduce to gentle
reverie.

The young men yielded involuntarily to the intoxicating charm of this
exquisite evening; yielding to their thoughts, neither dreamed of
resuming a conversation suddenly broken off by a bitter remark. For a
long time they walked on thus, till they reached an angle in the road,
where the track they were following divided into several branches. Here
they halted.

"We must separate here, Don Juan," the Jaguar said, "for we probably do
not follow the same road."

"That is true, friend, and I regret it," the Colonel answered, sadly,
"for I should be so happy if I had you constantly by my side."

"Thanks, friend, but you know that is impossible; let us, therefore,
profit by the few moments left us to be together. Well, what have you
done?"

"Nothing, alas! For a soldier is the slave of discipline; in a period of
war, more especially, it is impossible for him to leave his corps. I
have, therefore, been unable to obtain any information. Have you been
more fortunate?"

"I can hardly say, yet; still, I hope. Tranquil has this very night to
give me certain information, which will perfect that I have myself
obtained."

"And is Tranquil here?"

"He arrived today, but I have not yet been able to see him."

"Then you imagine----?" the Colonel said, eagerly.

"This is what I have succeeded in finding out. Remark that I assert
nothing; I am at this moment merely the echo of certain rumours, which
may be well founded, but can also be false."

"No matter; speak, my friend, in Heaven's name."

"About six weeks ago, according to what my spies tell me, a strange man
arrived in this country, bringing a girl with him. This man has
purchased a rancho, of no great value, situated a few leagues from
here, nearly on the seashore. He paid cash for it, shut himself up in
the rancho with the girl, and since then no one has seen them. The man
has immured himself in his property, to which nobody has admission; but
whether this man be the White Scalper, and the maiden Carmela, no one is
able to state positively, and I would not venture to affirm it. Several
times I have prowled round the abode of this mysterious being, but have
not succeeded in seeing him: windows and doors are constantly closed,
nothing is heard of what takes place in this strange house, which,
through its isolated position, is, to a certain extent, protected from
indiscreet visitors. This is what I had to tell you, perhaps tomorrow I
shall have learned more."

"No," Don Juan answered, pensively, "that man cannot be the White
Scalper, or the maiden Carmela."

"What makes you think so?"

"The mystery with which the man surrounds himself. The White Scalper,
you must not forget, is a man for whom the nomadic life of the desert
possesses too great charms for him to be willing to shut himself up. And
then, what would be his reason for doing so? To keep a young girl
prisoner? But Doña Carmela is no frail and timid woman, weakened by the
mephitic air of cities, without will or strength. She is a brave and
courageous maiden, with a resolute heart and strong arm, who would never
have consented thus to bow her head beneath the yoke. A man, however
strong he may be, is very weak, believe me, when he finds himself in
presence of a woman, who says to him boldly--No! Woman, through the mere
fact that she has generally only one thought at a time, is greatly
superior to us, and nearly always attains the object she desires. And
then again, for what reason can the White Scalper, who had in his hands
a thousand unknown desert hiding places to conceal his captive from
sight, have retired without any plausible motive to the vicinity of a
town, in a populous country, where he must expect to attract suspicion
and arouse attention? No, it is evident to me that you are mistaken."

"Perhaps you are right; still, it is my duty to clear up the affair, and
I will do so."

"Certainly, you will act prudently by doing so. I confess that, were it
possible, I should be happy to accompany you on your expedition. For
even supposing, as I believe, that this man is not the White Scalper, it
is probable that the mystery with which he surrounds himself conceals a
crime, and that if your expedition does not meet with the result you
suppose, it will have, at any rate, served to liberate a maiden who is
the victim of odious tyranny."

"Who knows?"

"Only one man, in my opinion, could put you on the trail of her we have
so unfortunately lost, through the numerous relations he maintains with
the Indians."

"Whom do you mean?"

"Loyal Heart--"

"That is true. He was brought up by the Indians, and one of their tribes
has adopted him. He would be better able than anybody to supply us with
information."

"Why have you not applied to him, then?"

"For the very simple reason that, on the day after the capture of the
Larch-tree hacienda, Loyal Heart left us to return to his tribe, whither
serious matters recalled him."

"That is annoying," the Colonel said thoughtfully.

"I know not why, but I feel convinced that this hunter, with whom I am
but very slightly acquainted, as I only conversed with him once, and
that but for ten minutes--I am convinced, I say, that this hunter may
prove extremely useful to us in our search for the unfortunate Carmela."

"Perhaps you are right, Colonel. This night, as I told you, I am to see
Tranquil, and shall have a serious explanation with him. He is as
interested as we are, perhaps more so, in the success of our researches.
He is a man of extreme prudence, and thoroughly conversant with the
desert; I shall see what he says to me."

"Insist, I beg, friend, on establishing a friendly connection with Loyal
Heart."

"I shall not fail; besides, Tranquil is sure to know where to find him."

"That is probable. Now, I can speak to you with open heart, my friend.
Honour alone has hitherto kept me at my post; I desire to recover my
liberty, and only await an honourable occasion to send in my
resignation. I should not like to abandon my comrades in arms at a
critical moment; but I swear to you on my honour, friend, that on the
day when I am free, and that day is approaching I hope, I will join you,
and then we shall find Carmela again, even at the risk of my life."

The Colonel uttered these words with a fire and animation which made his
friend start involuntarily, and aroused in his heart a lively feeling of
jealousy. Still, the Jaguar had sufficient power over himself to conceal
the emotion he felt, and he replied in a calm voice:

"May Heaven grant that it may speedily be so, my friend. What could we
two not do?"

"Then you intend to make the expedition you told me of this night?" the
Colonel continued.

"It is not I, though I shall probably be present, but another person who
will direct it."

"Why not you?"

"Tranquil desires it so; he is Carmela's father, and I must yield to his
wishes."

"That is true. Now, when and how shall we meet again? I have the
greatest desire to learn what may occur tonight; whatever be the result
of the expedition, I trust to be informed of what you have done.
Unfortunately, I fear it will be very difficult for us to meet again."

"Why so?"

"Why, my friend, you know as well as I do, the truce made between
General Rubio and yourself expires tonight."

"Well?"

"I presume you do not intend returning to Galveston?"

"For the present, no; but I hope to do so shortly."

"Let us not trust to probabilities, for we run too great a risk of
deceiving ourselves."

The Jaguar burst into a laugh.

"You are perfectly right," he said; "still, it is important that we
should meet within the next twenty-four hours."

"Certainly."

"If I cannot enter Galveston, you can leave it, I suppose?"

"Oh, of course."

"Well then, the matter is easily arranged; I will tell you a spot where
you will be certain of finding me."

"Take care, my friend, be prudent; I will not conceal from you that the
General is furious at having fallen into the trap you so cleverly laid
for him, and will do all in his power to seize your person."

"I expect so; but do not be alarmed, he will not succeed."

"I hope so, friend; but believe me, do not be too confident."

"I defy him to come and take me at the spot where I shall be within an
hour, and where I shall be delighted to welcome you, if you are inclined
to pay me a visit."

"And where is this privileged spot, my friend?"

"The Fort of the Point."

"What!" the Colonel said, suddenly stopping and looking him in the face;
"Of course you are joking."

"Not the least in the world."

"What! You give me the meeting at the Fort of the Point?"

"Yes."

"Why, that is impossible."

"Why so?"

"Oh, you must be mad, my friend!"

"Remember that the fort has been in my hands for the past twelve hours,"
the Jaguar coldly interrupted him. "I surprised it last night."

"Ah!" the Colonel exclaimed, in stupor.

"Did I not tell you that I had serious news to impart to you?" the young
man continued; "Would you like, now, to learn the second item?"

"The second!" the Colonel repeated, utterly astounded; "And what can the
second item be? After what I have just heard, I can expect anything."

"The second item is this: the _Libertad_ corvette has been boarded by
the privateer brig, with which it and chored at sunset beneath the guns
of the fort."

At this unexpected revelation the Colonel staggered like a drunken man;
he turned pale as a corpse, and his limbs were agitated by a convulsive
movement.

"Woe, woe!" he exclaimed in a choking voice.

The Jaguar felt moved with pity at the sight of this true and poignant
grief.

"Alas! my friend," he said gently, "it is the fortune of war."

"Oh, Galveston, Galveston!" the Colonel said in despair, "that city
which the General has sworn never to surrender!"

After a moment's silence, the Colonel mounted his horse.

"Let me go," he said; "I must immediately impart these frightful news to
the Governor."

"Go, my friend," the Jaguar answered affectionately; "but, remember,
that you will find me at the Fort of the Point."

"We are accursed!" the Colonel cried wildly, and burying his spurs in
the sides of his horse, which snorted with pain, he started at full
gallop.

"Poor friend!" the Jaguar muttered sadly, as he looked after him, "The
news has quite upset him."

After this reflection, the young man mounted and went back to the fort,
which he reached about half an hour later.



CHAPTER XXIV.

THE LANDING.


Immediately on reaching his anchorage, Captain Johnson, after conversing
for a moment privately with El Alferez, gave orders that Commandant
Rodriguez and his officers should be brought into his presence. The
Commandant, despite the politeness with which he had been treated, and
the kindness the privateer's men had shown him, could not forgive them
the way in which they had seized his vessel; he was sad, and had
hitherto only answered the questions asked him by disdainful silence, or
insulting monosyllables. When the officers of the corvette were
assembled in the cabin, Captain Johnson, turning politely to the
Mexicans, said:

"Gentlemen, I am really most sorry for what has occurred. I should be
glad to set you at liberty immediately, but your Commandant's formal
refusal to pledge himself not to serve against us for a year and a day,
obliges me, to my great regret, to keep you prisoners, at least
temporarily. However, gentlemen, be assured that you will be treated as
Caballeros, and everything done to alleviate the sorrow this temporary
captivity must occasion you."

The officers, and even the Commandant, bowed their thanks, and the
Captain continued:

"All your property has been placed in the boat I have ordered to be got
ready, to convey you ashore. You will, therefore, lose nothing that
belongs to you personally; if war has terrible claims, I have tried, as
far as lay in my power, to spare you its bitterest conditions. If
nothing retains you here, be kind enough to get ready to land."

"Would it be indiscreet, Captain, to ask you whither you have given
orders to have us taken?" Commandant Rodriguez asked.

"Not at all, Commandant," the Captain replied; "you are about to be
taken to the Port of the Point, whose walls will serve as your prison,
until fresh orders."

"What!" the old sailor exclaimed in astonishment; "The Fort of the
Point?"

"Yes," the Captain answered with a smile; "the fort which some of my
friends seized, while I had the honour of boarding your fine corvette,
Commandant."

The Captain could have gone on talking thus for some time: the old
officer, confounded by what he had just heard, was incapable of
connecting two ideas. At length, he let his head fall wearily on his
chest, and making his officers a sign to follow him, went on deck. A
boat, with a crew of ten men, was balancing at the starboard
accommodation ladder, which the Commandant, still silent, entered, and
his staff followed his example.

"Push off!" El Alferez ordered, who was holding the yoke lines.

The boat started and speedily disappeared. For some minutes the cadenced
sound of the oars dipping in the water could be heard, and then all
became silent again. The Captain had watched the departure of his
prisoners; when the boat had disappeared in the gloom, he gave Master
Lovel orders to weigh and stand out to sea, and then returned to his
cabin, where a man was waiting for him. It was Tranquil, the old
Tigrero.

"Well!" the hunter asked.

"They have gone, thank Heaven!" the Captain said, as he sat down.

"Then we are at liberty?"

"Quite."

"When shall we land?"

"This night; but is your information positive?"

"I believe so."

"Well, we shall soon know how matters stand."

"May Heaven grant that we succeed!"

"Let us hope it. Do you think the coast is guarded?"

"I fear it, for your vessel must have been signalled all along the
shore."

"Do you know whether the Mexicans have other ships observing the ports,
in addition to the corvette we have captured?"

"I think they have three more, but smaller than the _Libertad_."

"Hang it all! We must act prudently, then; however, whatever may happen,
I will not desert so old a friend as yourself when unfortunate. We have
still three hours before us, so try and sleep a little, for we shall
have a tough job."

Tranquil smiled at this recommendation; but to please his friend, who
had already laid himself down in his bunk, in the position of a man
preparing to sleep, he wrapped himself in his zarapé, leant back in his
chair, and closed his eyes.

The night, which at the beginning had been very bright and clear, had
suddenly become dark and stormy; black clouds surcharged with
electricity covered the whole of the sky; the breeze moaned sadly in the
rigging, and mingled with the dash of the waves against the sides of the
vessel. The brig was sailing slowly close to the wind, the only sails it
carried being double-reefed topsails, the fore staysail, and the
spanker.

At the moment when the helmsman struck the two double strokes on the
bell, indicating ten o'clock, Captain Johnson and Tranquil appeared on
deck. The Captain was dressed in a thick blue pilot coat, a leathern
belt, through which were passed a cutlass, a pair of pistols and an axe,
was fastened round his waist; a cloak was thrown over his shoulders, and
a broad-brimmed felt hat completely concealed his features. The
Canadian wore his hunter's garb, though, through the dangerous nature of
the affair, he had added a brace of pistols to his ordinary armament.

The Captain's orders have been carried out with that minute
consciousness which Master Lovel displayed in everything connected with
duty. The boarding netting was braced up, and the running rigging
secured as if for action. At the starboard ladder the longboat was
tossing with its crew of thirty men, all armed to the teeth, and holding
their oars aloft ready to dash into the water. They were, however,
muffled, so as to stifle, as far as possible, the sound of rowing, and
foil the vigilance of the Mexicans.

"That is well, lads," the Captain said, after giving a pleased glance at
their preparations, "let us be off. Mind, father," he added, turning to
Father Lovel, "that you keep a good watch. If we are not on board again
by four in the morning, stand out to sea, and do not trouble yourself
further about us; for it will be useless to wait for us longer, as we
shall be prisoners of the Mexicans; and any lengthened stay in these
waters might compromise the safety of the brig. Be of good cheer,
though, for I have hopes of success."

And after kindly pressing the old sailor's hand, he went down to the
boat, seated himself in the sternsheets by the side of the hunter, took
up the yoke lines, and said, in a low voice, "Push, off!"

At this command the painter was cast off, the oars dashed together into
the sea, and the boat started. When it had disappeared in the fog,
Master Lovel ran at full speed to the stern of the brig, and leaned over
the taffrail. "Are you there?" he said.

"Yes," a suppressed voice answered him.

"Get ready," the Master added, and then said to an old sailor, who had
followed him: "You know what I recommended to you, Wells," he said; "I
reckon on you, and intrust the lookout to you."

"All right, Master," the sailor answered, "you can cut your cable
without fear, I will keep a bright lookout."

"All right; get in, men, and double-bank the oars."

Some forty sailors, who were well armed, like their predecessors, let
themselves down, one after the other, by a rope that hung over the
taffrail, and got into a second boat, which Master Lovel had ordered to
be quietly got ready, and of which he took the command. He started at
once, and steered after the Captain's pinnace, whose direction he was
pretty well acquainted with, saying every now and then to the rowers, in
order to increase their speed, "Give way, my lads, give way, all!" and
he added, as he chewed his enormous quid, with a cunning smile, "It was
very likely I should let my old fellow have his face scored by those
brigands of Mexicans, who are all as crafty as caimans."

So soon as he had left the ship, the Captain, leaving on his right hand
a small fishing village, whose lights he saw flashing through the
darkness, steered for a jutting-out point, where he probably hoped to
disembark in safety. After rowing for about three-quarters of an hour, a
black line began to be vaguely designed on the horizon in front of the
boat. The Captain gave his men a sign to rest on their oars for a
moment, and taking up a long night glass, he carefully examined the
coast. In two or three minutes he shut up the glass again, and ordered
his men to give way.

All at once the keel of the pinnace grated on the sand: they had reached
land. After hurriedly exploring the neighbourhood, the crew leaped
ashore, leaving only one man as boat keeper, who at once pushed off, so
as not to be captured by the enemy. All was calm, and a solemn silence
reigned on the coast, which was apparently deserted. The Captain having
assured himself that, for the present, at any rate, he had nothing to
fear, concealed his men behind some rocks, and then addressed Tranquil.

"It is now your turn, old hunter," he said.

"Good!" the latter replied, not adding another word.

He left his hiding place, and walked forward, with a pistol in one hand,
and a tomahawk in the other, stopping at intervals to look around him,
and listen to those thousand sounds, without any known cause, which at
night trouble the silence, though it is impossible to guess whence they
come, or what produces them. On getting about one hundred yards from the
spot where the landing was effected, the hunter stopped, and began
gently whistling the first strains of a Canadian air. Another whistle
answered his, and finished the tune he had purposely broken off.
Footsteps were heard, and a man showed himself. It was Quoniam, the
Negro.

"Here I am," he said. "Where are your men?"

"Hidden behind the rocks close by."

"Call them up, for we have not a moment to lose."

Tranquil clapped his hands twice, and a moment later the Captain and his
men had rejoined him.

"Where is the person we have come to deliver concealed?" the Captain
asked.

"At a rancho about two miles from here. I will lead you to it."

There was a moment's silence, during which the Captain studied the
Negro's noble face, his black flashing eye, which glistened with
boldness and honour; and he asked himself whether such a man could be a
traitor? Quoniam seemed to read his thoughts, for he said to him, as he
laid his hand on the Canadian's shoulder--

"If I had intended to betray; you, it would have been done ere now.
Trust to me, Captain; I owe my life to Tranquil. I almost witnessed the
birth of the maiden you wish to save. My friendship and gratitude answer
to you for my fidelity. Let us start."

And without saying anything further, he placed himself at the head of
the band, which followed him along a hollow way that ran between two
hills.

While the incidents we have just described were taking place on the
beach, two persons, male and female, seated in a room, modestly, though
comfortably, furnished, were holding a conversation, which, judging from
the angry expression of their faces, seemed to be most stormy. These two
persons were Carmela and the White Scalper.

Carmela was half reclining in a hammock; she was pale and suffering, her
features were worn, and her red eyes showed that she had been weeping.
The White Scalper, dressed in the magnificent costume of a Mexican
Campesino, was walking up and down the room, champing his grey
moustaches, and angrily clanking his heavy silver spurs on the floor.

"Take care, Carmela!" he said, as he suddenly halted in front of the
young woman, "you know that I crush all who resist me. For the last time
I ask you: Will you tell me the reason of your constant refusals?"

"What good to tell you?" she answered, sadly, "for you would not
understand me."

"Oh! This woman will drive me mad," he exclaimed, clenching his fists.

"What have I done, now?" Carmela asked with ironical surprise.

"Nothing, nothing," he answered, as he resumed his hurried walk. Then at
the end of a moment, he returned to the maid and said, "You hate me
then?"

Carmela replied by shrugging her shoulders, and turning away from him.

"Speak!" he said, seizing her arm, and squeezing it fiercely in his
powerful hand.

Carmela liberated herself from his grasp, and said bitterly:

"I fancied that since you left the western prairies, you contented
yourself with ordering your slaves to torture your victims, and did not
descend to the part of hangman."

"Oh!" he said, furiously.

"Come," she continued, "this farce wearies me, so let us bring it to a
finale. I know you too well now, not to be aware that you would not
hesitate to proceed to odious extremities, if I would not submit to your
wishes. Since you insist on it, I will explain my thoughts to you."

Drawing herself up to her full height, and fixing on him a bright and
challenging glance, she continued in a firm and distinct voice--

"You ask me if I hate you? No, I do not hate you, I despise you!"

"Silence, wretched girl!"

"Yourself ordered me to speak, and I shall not be silent till I have
told you all. Yes, I despise you, because, instead of respecting a poor
girl whom you, coward as you are, carried off from her relations and
friends you, torture her, and become her executioner. I despise you,
because you are a man without a soul; an old man who might be my father,
and yet you do not blush to ask me to love you, under some ignoble
pretext of my resemblance with some woman I have no doubt you killed."

"Carmela!"

"Lastly, I despise you, because you are a furious brute, who only
possess one human feeling, 'the love of murder!' because there is
nothing sacred in your sight, and if I was weak enough to consent to
your wishes, you would make me die of despair, by taking a delight in
breaking my heart."

"Take care, Carmela!" he exclaimed furiously, as he advanced a step
toward her.

"What, threats!" she continued in a loud voice. "Do I not know that all
is ready prepared for my punishment. Summon your slaves, Master, and bid
them torture me! But know this, I will never consent to obey you. I am
not so abandoned as you may feel inclined to suppose; I have friends I
love, and who love me in return. Make haste, for who knows whether I may
not be liberated tomorrow, if you do not kill me to day?"

"Oh, this is too much," the White Scalper said in a low and inarticulate
voice, "so much audacity shall not pass unpunished. Ah! you reckon,
foolish child, on your friends! But they are far away," he said with a
bitter laugh; "we are safe here, and I shall make you yield to my
will."

"Never!" she exclaimed with exaltation, and rushing toward him, she
stopped almost within grasp, adding,--

"I defy you, coward who threaten a woman!"

"Help!" the White Scalper exclaimed, with a tiger yell.

All at once the window was noisily burst open and Tranquil entered.

"I think you called, Señor?" he said, as he leaped into the room and
advanced with a firm and measured step.

"My father! My father!" the poor girl shrieked, as she threw herself
into his arms with delight; "you are come at last!"

The White Scalper, utterly astonished and startled by the unexpected
appearance of the hunter, looked around him in alarm, and could not
succeed in regaining his coolness. The Canadian, after lovingly replying
to the maiden's warm greeting, laid her gently on the hammock, and then
turned to the White Scalper, who was beginning to come to himself again.

"I ask your pardon, Señor," he said with perfect ease, "for not having
advised you of my visit; but you are aware we are on delicate terms,
and, as it is possible that if I had written, you would not have
received me, I preferred bringing matters to the point."

"And pray what may you want with me, Señor?" the Scalper drily asked.

"You will permit me to remark, Señor," Tranquil replied still with the
same placid air, "that the question appears to me singular at the least
in your mouth. I simply wish to take back my daughter, whom you carried
off."

"Your daughter?" the other said ironically.

"Yes, Señor, my daughter."

"Could you prove to me that this young person is really your daughter?"

"What do you mean by that remark?"

"I mean that Doña Carmela is no more your daughter than she is mine;
that consequently our claims are equal, and that I am no more obliged to
surrender her than you have a right to claim her."

"That is very vexatious," the hunter said mockingly.

"Is it not?" the White Scalper said.

Tranquil gave an ironical smile.

"I fancy you are strangely mistaken, Señor," he said with his old
calmness.

"Ah!"

"Listen to me for a few moments. I will not encroach on your time, which
no doubt is valuable. I am only a poor hunter, Señor, ignorant of
worldly affairs, and the subtleties of civilization. Still, I believe
that the man who adopts a child in the cradle, takes care of it, and
brings it up with a tenderness and love that have never failed, is more
truly its father than the man who, after giving it life, abandons it and
pays no farther attention to it; such is my idea of paternity, Señor.
Perhaps I am mistaken; but, in my idea, as I have no lessons or orders
to receive from you, I shall act as I think proper, whether you like it
or no. Come, my dear Carmela, we have remained here too long as it is."

The maiden bounded to her feet, and placed herself by the hunter's side.

"One moment, Señor," the Scalper exclaimed; "you have learned how to
enter this house, but you do not yet know how to leave it."

And seizing two pistols lying on a table, he pointed them at the hunter,
while shouting--"Help! help!"

Tranquil quietly raised his rifle to his shoulder.

"I should be delighted at your showing me the road," he said peaceably.

A dozen slaves and Mexican soldiers rushed tumultuously into the room.

"Ah, ah!" said the Scalper, "I fancy I have you at last, old
Tiger-killer."

"Nonsense," a mocking voice replied; "not yet."

At this moment the Captain and his men dashed through the window which
had afforded the Canadian a passage into the room, and uttered a fearful
yell. An indescribable medley and confusion then began: the lights were
extinguished, and the slaves, mostly unarmed, and not knowing with how
many enemies they had to deal, fled in all directions. The Scalper was
carried away by the stream of fugitives, and disappeared with them. The
Texans took advantage of the stupor of their enemy to evacuate the
rancho, and effect their retreat.

"Father," the maiden exclaimed, "I felt certain you would come."

"Oh!" the hunter said with ineffable delight, "you are at length
restored to me."

"Make haste! Make haste!" the Captain shouted; "Who knows whether we may
not be crushed by superior forces in an instant?"

At his orders, the sailors, taking the maiden in their midst, ran off in
the direction of the seashore. In the distance, drums and bugles could
be heard calling the soldiers under arms, and on the horizon the black
outline of a large body of troops hurrying up, with the evident
intention of cutting off the retreat of the Texans, could be
distinguished. Panting and exhausted, the latter still ran on; they
could see the coast; a few minutes more and they would reach it. All at
once a band, commanded by the White Scalper, dashed upon them,
shouting--

"Down with the Texans! kill them! kill them!"

"Oh, my God!" Carmela exclaimed, falling on her knees, and clasping her
hands fervently; "will you abandon us?"

"Lads," the Captain said, addressing his sailors, "we cannot talk about
conquering, but we will die."

"We will, Captain," the sailors answered unanimously, as they formed
front against the Mexicans.

"Father," said Doña Carmela, "will you let me fall alive into the hands
of that tiger?"

"No," said Tranquil, as he kissed her pale forehead; "here is my dagger,
child?"

"Thanks!" she replied, as she seized it with eyes sparkling with joy.
"Oh, now I am certain of dying free."

Lest they should be surrounded, the Texans leant their backs against a
rock, and awaited with levelled bayonets the attack of the Texans.

"Surrender, dogs!" the Scalper shouted contemptuously.

"Nonsense!" the Captain answered; "you must be mad, Señor. Do men like
us ever surrender?"

"Forward!" the Scalper shouted.

The Mexicans rushed on their enemies with indescribable rage. A heroic
and gigantic struggle then began, a combat impossible to describe of
three hundred men against thirty: a horrible and merciless carnage, in
which none demanded quarter, while the Texans, certain of all falling,
would not succumb till buried under a pile of hostile corpses. After
twenty minutes, that lasted an age, only twelve Texans remained on their
legs. The Captain, Tranquil, Quoniam, and nine sailors, remained alone,
accomplishing prodigies of valour.

"At last!" the Scalper shouted, as he dashed forward to seize Doña
Carmela.

"Not yet," Tranquil said, as he dealt a blow at him with his axe.

The Scalper avoided the blow by leaping on one side, and replied with
his machete; Tranquil fell on his knee with a pierced thigh.

"Oh!" he said in despair; "She is lost! My God, lost!"

Carmela understood that no hope was left her; she therefore placed the
dagger against her bosom, and said to the Scalper--"One step further,
and I fall dead at your feet!"

In spite of himself, this savage man, terrified by the resolution he saw
flashing in the maiden's eye, hesitated for a second, but, reassuming
almost immediately his old ferocity, he shouted--"What do I care, so
long as you belong to no one else!"

And he rushed toward her, uttering a fearful yell. Terrified at the
immense danger to which his daughter was exposed, the hunter collected
all his strength, and by a superhuman effort, once more stood menacingly
before his enemy. The two men exchanged a terrible glance, and rushed on
each other.

Carmela, almost dead with terror, lay stretched out between the two
foes, forming with her person a barrier they did not dare to pass, but
over which they crossed their machetes, whose blades met with an
ill-omened clang. Unfortunately, Tranquil, weakened by his wound, could
not, despite his indomitable courage, sustain this obstinate contest for
any length of time, and consequently he only delayed for a few moments
the fearful catastrophe he wished to prevent. He understood this; for,
while wielding his machete with far from common dexterity, and not
allowing his enemy time to breathe, he looked anxiously around him:
Quoniam was fighting like a lion by his side.

"Friend!" he said in a heart-rending voice; "in the name of what you
hold the dearest, save her--save Carmela!"

"But yourself?"

"Well," the hunter said nobly, "it is no matter what becomes of me,
providing that she escapes this monster, and is happy."

Quoniam hesitated for a moment; a feeling of regret and pain rendered
his face gloomy. But at a last glance from the hunter, a glance laden
with an expression of despair impossible to describe, he at length
decided on obeying him, and lowering his axe, which was dripping with
blood, and red up to the wood, he stooped down to the maiden. But she
suddenly started up, and bounding like a lioness, shrieked frenziedly--

"Leave me! leave me! He is dying for me, and I will not abandon him."

And she resolutely placed herself by her father's side. At this movement
of the girl, for whom they were fighting so desperately, the two men
fell back a step, and lowered the points of their machetes; but this
truce was but of shout duration, for after a moment of respite, they
rushed once more on each other. Then, Texans and Mexicans recommenced
the fight with new fury, and the contest went on more terrible than
before.



CHAPTER XXV.

FORWARD!


In the meanwhile, Master Lovel made his men row vigorously, in order to
reach land as soon as possible. But whatever desire he might have for
haste, it was impossible for him to reach the shore so soon as he might
have wished, for not knowing the coast, and steering, as it were,
blindly, his boat ran several times upon submarine reefs, which caused
him to lose a considerable amount of time by forcing him to change his
course; hence, when he at last reached the shore, the Captain had landed
long before.

The old sailor had his boat tied up to the Captain's, in order that they
could be used if required, and then leaped ashore, followed by his men,
and advanced cautiously inland. He had not proceeded many yards,
however, ere a tremendous noise reached his ears, and he saw the sailors
who accompanied the Captain debouch from the hollow way in disorder, and
closely pursued by Mexican soldiers.

Master Lovel did not lose his heart under these critical circumstances:
instead of rushing into the medley, he ambushed his men behind a clump
of Peru and mahogany trees that stood a short distance off, and prepared
with perfect coolness to make a diversion in favour of his comrades when
the favourable moment arrived.

The Texans, with their backs to a rock, not ten yards from the sea, were
fighting desperately against an immense number of enemies. A minute
later, and all would have been over, but suddenly the cry of "Forward!
_Texas y Libertad!_" was raised in the rear of the Mexicans,
accompanied by a tremendous noise and a deadly discharge, almost at
point-blank range, scattered terror and disorder through their ranks. It
was Master Lovel effecting his diversion, in order to save his Captain,
or his adopted son, as he called him in his simple devotion.

The Mexicans, who already believed themselves victors, were terrified at
this unforeseen attack, which, owing to the vigour with which it was
carried out, they supposed to be made by a considerable body of these
terrible freebooters, commanded by the Jaguar, whose reputation was
already immense in the ranks of the American army. Persuaded that the
Texans had landed in force, and had only given way in order to make them
fall more surely into the trap, they hesitated, fell back in their turn,
and finally being seized with a panic terror which their officers could
not succeed in mastering, they broke and fled in all directions,
throwing their arms away.

The Texans, revived by the providential arrival of the old sailor, and
excited by their Captain's voice, redoubled their efforts. Tranquil tied
a handkerchief round his thigh, and supported by Quoniam, who, during
the action, had not left him for an instant, he retreated to the boats,
leading Carmela, and followed by the Captain and his brave sailors. The
latter, like lions at bay, turned at each instant to dash with axes and
bayonets at the few soldiers their officers had at length succeeded in
rallying, but who did not venture to press too closely the terrible
adversaries, whom, since the beginning of the action, they had learned
to appreciate and consequently to fear.

Still fighting, the sailors at length reached the boats prepared for
their reception. Captain Johnson ordered the wounded to be placed in the
launch, and getting into the other boat with Tranquil, Quoniam, and the
sound men, he put off from the shore, towing the boat that served as an
ambulance. This daring retreat, effected under the enemy's fire, was
carried out with admirable precision and skill. One part of the crew of
the pinnace fired at the Mexicans who lined the beach, while the other
portion pulled vigorously in the direction of the brig.

Ere long the coast disappeared in the fog, the shouts of the enemy
became less distinct, the shots ceased, the lights flashing on the shore
died out one after the other, and all grew silent again.

"Ah!" the Captain said with a sigh of relief, as he offered his hand to
Master Lovel, "without you, father, we were lost."

"Aha!" the old sailor answered with a hearty grin, and rubbing his hands
joyously, "I suspected that if you had a secret from me, it was because
you meditated some act of folly, so that is why I came after you."

The Captain merely replied to his worthy mate's remark by a fresh
squeeze of the hand. Carmela, with her hands clasped and eyes raised
above, was praying fervently, while returning thanks to Heaven for her
miraculous deliverance.

"This is the girl you have saved," Tranquil said; "it is to you I owe
the recovery of my daughter, and I shall not forget it, Captain."

"Nonsense, old hunter," the Captain said, laughingly, "I only kept the
promise I made you; did I not pledge myself to help you, even at the
risk of my life?"

"And you were uncommonly near losing your stake," Master Lovel observed.
"After all, though," he added gallantly, "though I am no connoisseur, I
can perfectly understand a man risking his skin to board so neat a
corvette."

This sally restored the gaiety of the sailors, which the grave events
that had occurred had temporarily dissipated.

"Are we really out of danger, father?" the maiden asked with a shudder
of fear, which she was unable to conceal.

"Yes, my child; keep your spirits up," the hunter answered, "we are now
in safety."

At this very moment, the sailors, as if wishing to confirm the
Canadian's assurance, or perhaps with the wish to mock the enemies they
had so barely escaped, struck up one of those cadenced songs which serve
to mark time, and the words of which each repeats as he lays out on his
oars. Master Lovel, after turning and returning several times the
enormous quid that swelled his right cheek, made a signal to the crew of
the pinnace, and struck up in a rough voice a stanza, which all repeated
in chorus after him. This song, which was as interminable as a sailor's
yarn, would, in all probability, have lasted much longer, if the Captain
had not suddenly ordered silence by an imperious gesture.

"Is a new danger threatening us?" Tranquil inquired anxiously.

"Perhaps so," the Captain replied, who had for some time been scanning
the horizon with a frowning brow.

"What do you mean?" the hunter asked.

"Look!" the Captain said, extending his hand in the direction of the
fishing Tillage, to which we before alluded.

Tranquil hastily took up the night glass: a dozen large boats, crowded
with soldiers, were leaving a small creek, and pulling out to sea. The
water was lumpy, the breeze blew strongly, and the over-crowded long
boat advanced but slowly, as it was compelled to tow the pinnace. The
peril which they fancied they had escaped, burst out again in a
different shape, and this time assumed really terrific proportions, for
the Mexicans were rapidly approaching, and would soon be within gunshot.

The brig, whose tall masts were visible, was, it is true, only two
cables' length, at the most, from the Texan boats, but the few men left
on board were not nearly sufficient to make the requisite manoeuvres to
enable the brig to help its boats effectually. The position grew with
each moment more critical, and the Captain sprang up.

"Lads," he said, "the ten best swimmers among you will jump into the
sea, and go to the ship with me."

"Captain," the hunter exclaimed, "what do you propose doing?"

"To save you," he simply answered, as he prepared to carry out his
design.

"Oh, oh," Master Lovel said hastily, "I will not allow such an act of
madness."

"Silence, sir," the Captain interrupted him rudely. "I am the sole
commander."

"But you are wounded!" the Master objected. In fact, Captain Johnson had
received an axe stroke, which laid open his right shoulder.

"Silence! I tell you. I allow no remarks."

The old sailor bowed his head, and wiped away a tear. After squeezing
the hunter's hand, the Captain and his ten sailors leaped boldly into
the sea, and disappeared in the darkness. At the news of fresh danger,
Carmela had fallen, completely overwhelmed, in the bottom of the boat.
Master Lovel, leaning out, tried to discover his chief. Heavy tears
coursed down his bronzed cheeks, and all his limbs were agitated by a
convulsive quivering. The Mexicans approached nearer and nearer; they
were already close enough for the number of their boats to be
distinguished, and a schooner was already leaving the creek, and coming
up under press canvas, to ensure the success of the attack.

At this moment a mournful cry, desperate as the last shriek of a dying
man, came over the waters, and terrified all the men whom no danger
could affect.

"Oh, the unhappy man!" Tranquil cried, as he rose and made a move to
leap overboard. But Lovel seized him by the waist belt, and in spite of
his resistance, compelled him to sit down again.

"What are you about?" he asked him.

"Well," Tranquil replied, "I want to pay my debt to your captain; he
risked his life for me, and I am going in return to risk mine to save
him."

"Good!" the Master exclaimed, "By heaven! You are a man. But keep quiet,
that doesn't concern you; it is my business."

And ere Tranquil had time to answer him, he plunged into the waves. The
Captain had presumed too much on his strength, he was hardly in the
water ere his wound caused him intolerable suffering, and his arm was
paralyzed. With that tenacity which formed the basis of his character,
he tried to contend against the pain, and overcome it, but nature had
proved more powerful than his will and energy, a dizziness had come
over his sight, and he felt himself slowly sinking. At this moment he
uttered that parting cry for help to which Lovel had responded by flying
to his aid. Ten minutes passed, minutes of agony, during which the
persons who remained in the boat scarce dared to breathe.

"Courage, my lads," the panting voice of Lovel was suddenly heard
saying, "he is saved!"

The sailors burst into a shout of joy, and laying on their oars,
redoubled their efforts. A frightful discharge answered them, and the
balls flattened against the sides of the pinnace and dashed up the water
around. The Mexicans, who had come within range, opened a terrible fire
on the Texans, but the latter did not reply.

A dull noise was heard, followed by cries of despair and imprecations,
and a black mass passed to windward of the long boat. It was the brig
coming to the assistance of its crew, and in passing it sunk and
dispersed the enemy's boats.

When she set foot on the deck of the brig, Carmela, at length succumbing
to her emotions, lost her senses. Tranquil raised her in his arms, and,
aided by Quoniam and the Captain, carried her hastily down to the cabin.

"Captain," a sailor shouted, as he rushed after him, "the Mexicans, the
Mexicans!"

While the Texans were engaged in taking their wounded aboard, feeling
convinced that the Mexican boats had been all, or at any rate the
majority of them, sunk by the brig, they had not dreamed of watching an
enemy they supposed crushed. The latter had cleverly profited by this
negligence to rally, and collecting beneath the bows of the brig, had
boldly boarded her, by climbing up the main chains, the spritsails, and
any ropes' ends they had been able to seize. Fortunately, Master Lovel
had the boarding nettings triced up on the previous evening, and through
this wise precaution on the part of the old sailor, the desperate
surprise of the Mexicans did not meet with the success they anticipated
from it.

The Texans, obeying the voice of their Captain, took up their weapons
again and rushed on the Mexicans, who were already all but masters of
the forepart of the ship. Tranquil, Quoniam, Captain Johnson, and Lovel,
armed with axes, had flown to the front rank, and by their example
excited the crew to do their duty properly. There, on a limited space of
ten square yards at the most, one of those fearful naval combats without
order or tactics began, in which rage and brutal strength represent
science. A horrible struggle, a fearful carnage, with pikes, axes, and
cutlasses; a struggle in which each wound is mortal, and which recalls
those hideous combats of the worst days of the middle ages, when brute
strength alone was the law.

The White Scalper had never before fought with such obstinacy. Furious
at the loss of the prey he had so audaciously carried off, half mad with
rage, he seemed to multiply himself, rushing incessantly with savage
yells into the densest part of the fight, seeking Carmela, and longing
to kill the man who had so bravely torn her from him. Accident seemed
for a moment to smile on him, by bringing him suddenly face to face with
the Captain.

"Now for my turn," he exclaimed with a ferocious shout of joy.

The Captain wised his axe.

"No, no!" said Tranquil, as he threw himself hurriedly before him; "this
victim is reserved for me; I must kill this human-faced tiger. Besides,"
he added, with a grin, "it is my profession to kill wild beasts, and
this one will not escape me."

"Ah," the White Scalper said, "it is really fatality which brings you
once more face to face with me. Well, be it so! I will settle with you
first."

"It is you who will die, villain!" the Canadian replied. "Ah, you
carried off my daughter and fancied yourself well concealed, did you?
But I was on your trail; for the last three months I have been following
you step by step, and watching for the favourable moment for vengeance."

On hearing these words the Scalper rushed furiously on his enemy. The
latter did not make a movement to avoid him; on the contrary, he seized
him in his powerful arms, and tried to throw him down, while stabbing
him in the loins with his dagger. These two men, with flashing eyes and
foaming lips, animated by an implacable hatred, intertwined breast to
breast, face to face, each trying to kill his adversary, caring little
to live provided that his enemy died, resembled two wild beasts
determined to destroy each other.

Texans and Mexicans had ceased fighting as if by common accord, and
remained horrified spectators of this atrocious combat. At length the
Canadian, who had been severely wounded before, fell, dragging his enemy
down with him. The latter uttered a yell of triumph, which was soon
converted into a groan of despair: Quoniam rushed madly upon him, but,
unfortunately, he had miscalculated his distance, and they both fell
into the sea, which closed over them with a hollow and ill-omened
sound.

The Mexicans, deprived of their Chief, now only thought of flight, and
rushed in mad disorder to their boats; a moment later, they had all
quitted the brig. Quoniam reappeared, the worthy Negro was dripping with
water. He tottered a few paces and fell by the side of Tranquil, to whom
Carmela and the Captain were paying the most assiduous attention, and
who was beginning to recover his senses. A few minutes later the hunter
felt strong enough to try and rise.

"Well!" he asked Quoniam, "Is he dead?"

"I believe so," the Negro replied; "look here," he added, as he offered
him a small object he held in his hand.

"What is it?" the hunter asked.

Quoniam shook his head mournfully. "Look at it," he said.

After having attentively regarded the Negro for an instant, whose
features expressed singular despondency, strange in a man of this stamp,
he asked him in alarm:--

"Are you seriously wounded?"

The Negro shook his head.

"No," he said, "I am not wounded."

"What is the matter, then?"

"Take this," he said, stretching his arm out a second time, "take this
and you will know."

Astonished at this singular persistence, Tranquil stretched out his arm,
too.

"Give it here," he said.

Quoniam handed him an article which he seemed anxious to conceal from
the persons present; the Canadian uttered a cry of surprise on seeing
it.

"Where did you find this?" he asked anxiously.

"When I rushed on that man, I know not how it was, but this chain and
the articles attached to it were placed, as it were, in my hand. When I
fell into the sea, I clung to the chain; there it is, do what you please
with it."

Tranquil, after again examining the mysterious object, concealed it in
his chest, and gave vent to a profound sigh. All at once, Carmela
started up in horror.

"Oh, look, look, father!" she shrieked, "Woe, woe, we are lost!"

The hunter started at the sound of the girl's voice, and his eyes filled
with tears.

"What is the matter?" he asked in a weak voice

"The matter is," the Captain said rudely, "that unless a miracle take
place, we are really lost this time, as Doña Carmela says."

And he pointed to some thirty armed boats, which were pulling up and
converging round the brig, so as to enclose it in a circle, whence it
would be impossible for it to escape.

"Oh! Fate is against us!" Carmela exclaimed in despair.

"No, it is impossible," Tranquil said quickly; "God will not abandon us
thus!"

"We are saved!" Master Lovel shouted; "we are saved! Look, look! The
boats are turning back!"

The crew burst into a shout of joy and triumph; in the beams of the
rising sun, the _Libertad_ corvette could be seen passing through
Galveston straits, hardly two cannon shots' distance from the brig. The
Mexican boats pulled at full speed in the direction of land, and soon
all had disappeared. The brig drifted down to the corvette, and both
returned to their old anchorage, which they reached an hour later.

The two ships had scarce let their anchor fall, ere a boat came
alongside the brig, from the fort, containing; the Jaguar and El
Alferez. The prisoners had been handed over to the Jaguar, who, while
ordering them to be closely watched, thought it advisable to let them
move freely about the fortress.

The success of the two hazardous expeditions attempted by the Texans,
had given the cause they defended a great impulse. In a few hours the
revolt had become a revolution, and the insurgent Chiefs men whose
existence must henceforth be recognised. The Jaguar desired to push
matters on actively, and wished to profit by the probable discouragement
of the Mexicans to secure the surrender of the town without a blow, if
it were possible.

In his conversation with Colonel Melendez, the young Chief had purposely
startled him with the news of the success of the two expeditions,
calculating for the success of future operations on the stupor General
Rubio would experience on being told of them. But ere undertaking
anything, the Jaguar desired a conference with his friends, in order to
settle definitively the way in which he must behave under such serious
circumstances, as he was not at all anxious to assume the responsibility
of the undertaking that might be formed. This was acting not only with
prudence, but also with perfect self-denial, especially after the way in
which he had behaved since the commencement of hostilities, and the high
position he had attained among his party.

But as the heart of even the purest and most honourable man is never
exempt from those weaknesses inherent in human nature, the Jaguar,
though perhaps not daring to avow it to himself had another motive that
urged him to go aboard the brig so speedily. This motive, of a
thoroughly private nature, was the desire to learn as soon as possible
the result of the expedition attempted by Captain Johnson and Tranquil
against the rancho of the White Scalper.

Hence, the young man had scarce reached the deck, ere, without returning
the salutes of his friends who hurried to greet him at the ladder, he
enquired after Tranquil, feeling justly surprised at not seeing him
among the persons assembled. The Captain gave him no other answer than a
sign to follow. The young man, not understanding this reserve, though
feeling seriously alarmed, went below, where he saw Tranquil reclining
in a berth, and a weeping female seated on a chair by his side. The
Jaguar turned pale, for in the female he recognized Doña Carmela; his
emotion was so extreme, that he was obliged to lean against the
partition lest he should fall. At the sound of his approaching
footsteps, the maiden raised her head.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, clasping her hands with joy, "It is you! You have
come at last then!"

"Thanks, Carmela," he replied in a gasping voice; "thanks for this
kindly greeting! It proves to me that you have not forgotten me."

"Forget you, to whom, next to my father, I owe everything! Oh, you know
that was impossible."

"Thank you once again. You do not, you cannot know how happy you render
me at this moment, Carmela. My whole life, employed in your service,
would not suffice to repay the good you do me. You are free at last!
Brave Tranquil, I felt sure that he would succeed!"

"Alas, my friend, this success costs him dear."

"What do you mean? I trust that he is not dangerously wounded?"

"I fear the contrary, my friend."

"Oh! We will save him."

"Come hither, Jaguar," the hunter then said in a feeble voice; "give me
your hand, that I may press it in mine."

The young man walked quickly up to him.

"Oh, with all my heart!" he said, as he held out his hand.

"The affair was a tough one, my friend," the Canadian went on; "that man
is a lion."

"Yes, yes, he is a rude adversary; but you got the better of him at
last?"

"Thanks to Heaven, yes; but I shall keep his mark all my life, if God
permit me to rise again."

"Canarios! I trust that will soon happen."

The hunter shook his head.

"No, no," he answered, "I am a connoisseur in wounds, through having
inflicted a good many, and received more than my proper share: these are
serious."

"Have you no hopes of recovery, then?"

"I do not say so, I merely repeat that many days will pass ere I can
return to the desert," the hunter replied, with a stifled sigh.

"Nonsense, who knows? Any wound that does not kill is soon cured, the
Indians say, and they are right. And what has become of that man?"

"In all probability he is dead," Tranquil said, in a hollow voice.

"That is all for the best."

At this moment Captain Johnson opened the door.

"A boat, bearing a flag of truce, is hailing the brig; what is to be
done?" he asked.

"Receive it, Sangre de Dios! my dear Johnson. This boat, if I am not
mistaken, is a bearer of good news."

"Our friends would like you to be present to hear the proposals which
will doubtless be made."

"What do you say, Tranquil?" the young Chief asked, turning to the old
hunter.

"Go, my boy, where duty calls you," the latter answered; "I feel that I
need repose. However, you will not be away long."

"Certainly not, and so soon as I am at liberty again I will return to
your side, but merely to have you carried ashore; your condition demands
attention you cannot obtain here."

"I accept, my friend, the more so as I believe the land air will do me
good."

"That is settled then," the Jaguar said, joyously; "I shall be back
soon."

"All right," Tranquil replied, and fell back in his berth.

The young man, after bowing to Carmela, who returned the salute with a
gentle and sad glance, left the cabin with the Captain and returned on
deck.

[In our next volume, "THE WHITE SCALPER," we shall again come across all
the characters of this long history, for the great stake is about to be
played for: liberty and tyranny are at length face to face, and the
destiny of a people will probably depend on the fate of a battle.]

THE END.





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search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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