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Title: The White Scalper - 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 WHITE SCALPER.

A Story of the Texan War.

BY

GUSTAVE AIMARD,

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

LONDON:

WARD AND LOCK,

168, FLEET STREET.

MDCCCLXI.



ADVERTISEMENT.

With the conclusion of the present series of GUSTAVE AIMARD'S tales, it
may be advisable to inform the readers in what succession the eleven
volumes already published should be read. It is as follows;--

First Series.

    1. BORDER RIFLES.
    2. FREEBOOTERS.
    3. WHITE SCALPER.

Second Series.

    1. TRAIL HUNTER.
    2. PIRATES OF THE PRAIRIES.
    3. TRAPPER'S DAUGHTER.
    4. TIGER-SLAYER.
    5. GOLD-SEEKERS.
    6. INDIAN CHIEF.

Third Series.

    1. PRAIRIE FLOWER.
    2. INDIAN SCOUT.

These, three Series are now complete, and in the ensuing volumes the
Author intends to introduce an entirely fresh set of characters.

Encouraged by the unexpectedly favourable reception these volumes have
met with, the Publishers have determined on producing a Magnificent
Illustrated edition. Each volume will contain twelve page Engravings,
drawn and Engraved by the First Artists of the Day, and be published at
a price which will place the series within reach of all classes.

These engravings will necessarily enhance the pleasure of the reader; as
the most careful attention has been paid to correctness of costume and
scenery, and a perfect idea can be at once formed from them of the
peculiarities of the country in which the scene is laid. In all Indian
novels that have hitherto been published with illustrations, this
important point has been neglected; but the purchasers of the
Illustrated Edition of GUSTAVE AIMARD'S works may feel assured that
whatever is offered them in the way of elucidating the text is strictly
true to Nature. When it is stated, for instance, that the Indian dresses
have been obtained from CATLIN'S elaborate work, and the distinctive
costumes of each tribe faithfully adhered to, the Publishers trust this
will prove a sufficient guarantee that no idle boast is intended. At the
same time, artistic value has not been neglected. The engraving has been
intrusted to Mr. EDMUND EVANS, who has surpassed all his former efforts
in the elaboration of these, the most perfect specimens which have yet
issued from his studio.

The Publishers, therefore, confidently anticipate that this enterprise
will render GUSTAVE AIMARD'S works of Indian life the universal
favourites they deserve to be, for the volumes will be appropriate as
gift books at all seasons of the year. For it should not be left out of
sight that, although the Author has thought proper to write his tales in
different series, each volume can be read with equal interest
separately. As he only records the incidents of his own life under
assumed characters, it is but natural that the same Individuals should
appear on the scene in a succession of volumes. But in this GUSTAVE
AIMARD merely follows the example of his master, FENIMORE COOPER, and no
complaint was ever, to our knowledge, raised to his introduction of the
same hero through a lengthened series of volumes. On the contrary, the
readers were pleased at it; and the same kind indulgence is asked for
the present Author, who, if he may have erred in an artistic sense, has
a brilliant example to fall back on.

The first volume of the New Illustrated Edition will be published in
October next, and procurable of all Booksellers throughout the kingdom.
As the demand, however, is anticipated to be very large, intending
Subscribers are requested to send in their orders early, so that any
delay or disappointment may be avoided.

_August_, 1861.



CONTENTS.

   I. A RECONNOISSANCE
   II. A BARGAIN
   III. THE RETREAT
   IV. JOHN DAVIS
   V. BEFORE THE BATTLE
   VI. THE BATTLE OF CERRO PARDO
   VII. TO THE ATEPETL
   VIII. HOSPITALITY
   IX. THE MARRIAGE
   X. RETURN TO LIFE
   XI. THE PIRATES OF THE PRAIRIES
   XII. IN THE CAVERN
   XIII. A CONVERSATION
   XIV. TWO ENEMIES
   XV. THE AMBUSCADE
   XVI. THE SCALP DANCE
   XVII. THE MEETING
   XVIII. A REACTION
   XIX. A PAGE OF HISTORY
   XX. THE BIVOUAC
   XXI. SANDOVAL
   XXII. LOYAL HEART'S HISTORY
   XXIII. THE EXPIATION
   XXIV. IN THE DESERT
   XXV. THE LAST HALT
   XXVI. SAN JACINTO

THE WHITE SCALPER



CHAPTER I.

A RECONNOISSANCE.


Colonel Melendez, after leaving the Jaguar, galloped with his head
afire, and panting chest, along the Galveston road, exciting with his
spurs the ardour of his horse, which yet seemed to devour space, so
rapid was its speed. But it is a long journey from the Salto del Frayle
to the town. While galloping, the Colonel reflected; and the more he did
so, the more impossible did it appear to him that the Jaguar had told
him the truth. In fact, how could it be supposed that this partisan,
brave and rash though he was, would have dared to attack, at the head of
a handful of adventurers, a well-equipped corvette, manned by a numerous
crew, and commanded by one of the best officers in the Mexican navy? The
capture of the fort seemed even more improbable to the Colonel.

While reflecting thus, the Colonel had gradually slackened his horse's
speed; the animal, feeling that it was no longer watched, had insensibly
passed from a gallop into a canter, then a trot, and by a perfectly
natural transition, fell into a walk, with drooping head, and snapping
at the blades of grass within its reach.

Night had set in for some time past; a complete silence brooded over the
country, only broken by the hollow moan of the sea as it rolled over the
shingle. The Colonel was following a small track formed along the coast,
which greatly shortened the distance separating him from Galveston. This
path, much used by day, was at this early hour of night completely
deserted; the ranchos that stood here and there were shut up, and no
light gleamed through their narrow windows, for the fishermen, fatigued
by the rude toil of the day, had retired to bed at an early hour.

The young officer's horse, which had more and more slackened its pace,
emboldened by impunity, at length stopped near a scrubby bush, whose
leaves it began nibbling. This immobility aroused the Colonel from his
reverie, and he looked about him to see where he was. Although the
obscurity was very dense, it was easy for him to perceive that he was
still a long distance from his destination. About a musket-shot ahead
was a rancho, whose hermetically-closed windows allowed a thin pencil of
light to filter through the interstices of the shutters. The Colonel
struck his repeater and found it was midnight. To go on would be
madness; the more so, as it would be impossible for him to find a boat
in which to cross to the island. Greatly annoyed at this obstacle,
which, supposing the Jaguar's revelations to be true, might entail
serious consequences, the young officer, while cursing this involuntary
delay, resolved on pushing on to the rancho before him, and once there,
try to obtain means to cross the bay.

After drawing his cloak tightly round him, to protect him as far as
possible from the damp sea air, the Colonel caught up his reins again,
and giving his horse the spur, trotted sharply towards the rancho. The
traveller speedily reached it, but, when only a few paces from it,
instead of riding straight up to the door, he dismounted, fastened his
horse to a larch-tree, and, after placing his pistols in his belt, made
a rather long circuit, and stealthily crept up to the window of the
rancho.

In the present state of fermentation from which people were suffering in
Texas, the olden confidence had entirely disappeared to make way for the
greatest distrust. The times were past when the doors of houses remained
open day and night, in order to enable strangers to reach the fireside
with greater facility. Hospitality, which was traditional in these
parts, had, temporarily at any rate, changed into a suspicious reserve,
and it would have been an act of unjustifiable imprudence to ride up to
a strange house, without first discovering whether it was that of a
friend. The Colonel especially, being dressed in a Mexican uniform, was
bound to act with extreme reserve.

This rancho was rather large; it had not that appearance of poverty and
neglect which are found only too often in the houses of Spanish American
Campesinos. It was a square house, with a roof in the Italian fashion,
having in front an azotea-covered portillo. The white-washed walls were
an agreeable contrast to the virgin vines, and other plants which ran
over it. This rancho was not enclosed with walls: a thick hedge, broken
through at several places, alone defended the approaches. The
dependencies of the house were vast, and well kept up. All proved that
the owner of this mansion carried on a large trade on his account.

The Colonel, as we have said, had softly approached one of the windows.
The shutters were carefully closed, but not so carefully as not to let
it be seen that someone was up inside. In vain did the Colonel, though,
place his eye at the slit, for he could see nothing. If he could not
see, however, he could hear, and the first words that reached his ear
probably appeared to him very serious, for he redoubled his attention,
in order to lose no portion of the conversation. Employing once again
our privilege as romancers, we will enter the rancho, and allow the
reader to witness the singular scene going on there, the most
interesting part of which escaped the Colonel, greatly to his annoyance.

In a rather small room, dimly lighted by a smoky candle, four men, with
gloomy faces and ferocious glances, dressed in the garb of Campesinos,
were assembled. Three of them, seated on butacas and equipals, were
listening, with their guns between their legs, to the fourth, who, with
his arms behind his back, was walking rapidly up and down, while
talking.

The broad brims of the vicuña hats which the three first wore, and the
obscurity prevailing in the room, only allowed their faces to be dimly
seen, and their expression judged. The fourth, on the contrary, was
bare-headed; he was a man of about forty, tall, and well built; his
muscular limbs denoted a far from common strength, and a forest of black
and curly hair fell on his wide shoulders. He had a lofty forehead,
aquiline nose, and black and piercing eyes; while the lower part of his
face disappeared in a long and thick beard. There was in the appearance
of this man something bold and haughty, which inspired respect, and
almost fear.

At this moment, he seemed to be in a tremendous passion; his eyebrows
were contracted, his cheeks livid, and, at times, when he yielded to the
emotion he tried in vain to restrain, his eye flashed to fiercely, that
it forced his three hearers to bow their heads humbly, and they seemed
to be his inferiors. At the moment when we entered the room, the
stranger appeared to be continuing a discussion that had been going on
for some time.

"No," he said in a powerful voice, "things cannot go on thus any longer.
You dishonour the holy cause we are defending by revolting acts of
cruelty, which injure us in the opinion of the population, and authorise
all the calumnies our enemies spread with reference to us. It is not by
imitating our oppressors that we shall succeed in proving to the masses
that we really wish their welfare. However sweet it may be to avenge an
insult received, where men put themselves forward as defenders of a
principle so sacred as that for which we have been shedding our blood
the last ten years, every man must practise self-denial, and forget all
his private animosities to absorb them in the great national vengeance.
I tell you this frankly, plainly, and with no reserve. I, who was the
first that dared to utter the cry of revolt, and inaugurate resistance:
I, who, since I have reached man's estate, have sacrificed everything,
fortune, friends, and relations, in the sole hope of seeing my country
one day free, would retire from a struggle which is daily dishonoured by
excesses such as the Redskins themselves would disavow."

The three men, who had been tolerably quiet up to this moment, then
rose, protesting simultaneously that they were innocent of the crimes
imputed to them.

"I do not believe you," he continued passionately; "I do not believe
you, because I can prove the utter truth of the accusation I am now
making. You deny it as I expected. Your part was ready traced, and you
might be expected to act so: all other paths were closed to you. Only
one of you, the youngest, the one who perhaps had the greatest right to
employ reprisals, has always remained equal to his mission; and, though
our enemies have tried several times to brand him, he has ever remained
firm, as the Mexicans themselves allow. This Chief you know as well as I
do: it is the Jaguar. Only yesterday, at the head of some of our men, he
accomplished one of the most glorious and extraordinary exploits."

All pressed round the stranger, and eagerly questioned him.

"What need for me to tell you what has occurred? You will know it within
a few hours. Suffice it for you to know for the present, that the
consequence of the Jaguar's daring achievement is the immediate
surrender of Galveston, which cannot hold out against us any longer."

"Then we triumph!" one of the Campesinos exclaimed.

"Yes; but all is not over yet: if we have succeeded in taking the town
of Galveston from the Mexicans, they have fifty others left, in which
they can shut themselves up. Hence, believe me, instead of giving way to
immoderate joy, and imprudent confidence, redouble, on the contrary,
your efforts and self-denial, if you wish to remain victors to the end."

"But what is to be done to obtain the result we desire as much as you
do?" the one who had already spoken asked.

"Follow blindly the counsels I give you, and obey without hesitation or
comment the orders I send you. Will you promise me this?"

"Yes," they exclaimed, enthusiastically; "you alone, Don Benito, can
guide us safely and ensure our victory."

There was a moment's silence. The man who had just been addressed as Don
Benito went to a corner of the room hidden behind a curtain of green
serge. This curtain he drew back, and behind it was an alabaster statue
of the Virgin Soledad, with a lamp burning in front of it, and then
turned to the others.

"On your knees, and take off your hats," he said.

They obeyed.

"Now," he continued, "swear to keep faithfully the promise you have just
made me of your own accord; swear to be merciful to the conquered in
battle, and gentle to the prisoners after the victory. At this price I
pledge myself to support you; if not, I retire immediately from a cause
which is at least dishonoured, if not lost."

The three men, after piously crossing themselves, stretched out their
right arms toward the statue, saying in a firm voice--

"We swear it, by the share we hope in Paradise."

"It is well," Don Benito replied, as he drew the curtain across again
and made them a sign to rise; "I know you are too thoroughly Caballeros
to break so solemn an oath."

The Colonel, confounded by this singular scene, which he did not at all
comprehend, did not know what to do, when he fancied he heard an
indistinct sound not far from him. Drawing himself up at once, he
concealed himself behind the hedge, rather alarmed as to the cause of
this noise, which was rapidly approaching. Almost immediately he noticed
several men coming gently up; they were four in number, as he soon made
out, and carrying a fifth in their arms. They walked straight to the
door, at which they tapped in a peculiar way.

"Who's there?" was asked from inside.

One of the newcomers replied, but in so low a tone, that it was
impossible for the Colonel to hear the word pronounced. The door was
opened, and the strangers entered; it was then closed again, but not
until the opener had cast a scrutinizing glance round him.

"What does this mean?" the Colonel muttered.

"It means," a rough voice said in his ear, "that you are listening to
what does not concern you, Colonel Melendez, and that it may prove
dangerous to you."

The Colonel, astounded at this unexpected answer, and especially at
being so well known, quickly drew a pistol from his belt, cocked it, and
turned to his strange speaker.

"On my word," he answered, "there is no worse danger to incur than that
of an immediate death, which I should not at all object to, I swear to
you."

The stranger began laughing, and emerged from the thicket in which he
was hidden. He was a powerful-looking man, and, like the Colonel, held a
pistol in his hand.

"You are aware that duelling is forbidden in the Mexican army," he said,
"so take my advice, sir, and put up that pistol, which, if it exploded,
might entail very disagreeable consequences for you."

"Lower your weapon first," the Colonel said, coldly, "and then I will
see what I have to do."

"Very good," the other remarked, still smiling, as he thrust his pistol
into his belt. The Colonel imitated him.

"And now," the stranger continued, "I have to converse with you; but, as
you can see, this spot is badly chosen for a secret interview."

"That is true," the Colonel interrupted, frankly assuming the tone of
the singular man with whom chance had so unexpectedly brought him
together.

"I am delighted that you are of my opinion. Well, Colonel, as it is so,
be kind enough to accompany me merely a few paces, and I will lead you
to a spot I know, which is perfectly adapted for the conversation we
must have together."

"I am at your orders, Caballero," the Colonel answered, with a bow.

"Come, then," the stranger added, as he made a start.

The Colonel followed him. The stranger led him to the spot where he had
tied up his horse, by the side of which another was now standing. The
stranger stopped.

"Let us mount," he said.

"What for?" the young officer asked.

"To be off, of course. Are you not returning to Galveston?"

"Certainly; still----"

"Still," the stranger interrupted, "you would have had no objection to
prowl a little longer round the rancho, I presume?"

"I confess it."

"Well, on my honour, you are wrong, for two excellent reasons: the first
is, that you will learn nothing more than you have surmised,--that is to
say, that the rancho is the headquarters of the insurrection. You see
that I am frank with you."

"I perceive it. And now, what is your second reason?"

"It is very simple: you run the risk, at any moment, of being saluted
with a bullet, and you know that the Texans are decent marksmen."

"Certainly; but you know also that this reason possesses but slight
value for me."

"I beg your pardon; courage does not consist, in my opinion, at least,
in sacrificing one's life without reason; it consists, on the contrary,
in being only killed for a good price,--that is to say, for a motive
worth the trouble."

"Thanks for the lecture, Caballero."

"Shall we be off?"

"At once, if you will be good enough to tell me who you are and where we
are going?"

"I am surprised that you did not recognise me long ago, for we have been
for some time past on excellent, if not intimate terms."

"That may be; the sound of your voice is rather familiar to me, and I
fancy I have heard it before, but it is impossible for me to recall
either when or under what circumstances."

"By Heaven, Colonel! You will allow me to remark that you have a
preciously short memory. But since our last meeting, so many events have
occurred, that it is not surprising you should have forgotten me. With
one word I will recall everything to your mind--I am John Davis, the
ex-slave dealer."

"You!" the Colonel exclaimed, with a start of surprise.

"Yes, I am that person."

"Ah! Ah!" the Colonel continued, as he crossed his arms haughtily and
looked him in the face, "In that case we have an account to settle."

"I am not aware of the fact, Colonel."

"You forget, Master Davis, in what manner you abused my confidence in
order to betray me."

"I? You are in error, Colonel. To do that I must have been a Mexican,
which is not the case, thank Heaven! I served my country as you serve
yours, that is all; each for himself in a revolution, you know."

"That proverb may suit you, Master Davis, I grant, but I only know one
way of acting honourably, with uplifted head."

"Hum! There would be a good deal to say on that head, but it is not the
question at this moment. The proof that you are mistaken and unjust
toward me is, that a few minutes ago I held your life in my hands, and
was unwilling to take it."

"You were wrong, for I swear to you that unless you defend yourself I
shall take yours in a second," he said, as he cocked a pistol.

"You are in earnest, then?"

"Most earnest, he assured."

"You are mad," said Davis, with a shrug of his shoulders; "what strange
idea is this of yours to insist on killing me?"

"Will you defend yourself; yes or no?"

"Wait a moment. What a man you are! There is no way of having an
explanation with you."

"One word, then, but be brief."

"Well, as you are aware, I am not accustomed to make long speeches."

"I am listening to you."

"Why play with the butt of your pistol so? Vengeance is only real when
complete. A shot fired would be the signal for your death, for you would
be surrounded and attacked on all sides at once before you had even
time to place a foot in the stirrup. You allow this, I suppose?"

"To the point, Master Davis, for I am in a hurry."

"You admit," the other said, with his old stoicism, "that I am seeking
no unworthy subterfuge to avoid a meeting with you?"

"I know that you are a brave man."

"Thanks! I do not discuss the validity of the reason which makes you
wish to exchange bullets with me: a pretext is nothing with men like
ourselves. I pledge my word to be at your disposal on any day, and at
any hour you please, with or without witnesses. Does that suit you?"

"Would it not be better to mount, gallop into the plain that stretches
out before us, and settle the affair at once?"

"I should like to do so, but, unfortunately, I must, for the present,
deprive myself of the pleasure. I repeat to you that we cannot fight, at
least not at this moment."

"But the reason, the reason?" the young man exclaimed, with feverish
impatience.

"The reason is this, as you absolutely insist on my telling it you: I am
at this moment entrusted with very great interests; in a word, I am
charged by the Chief of the Texan army with a mission of the utmost
importance to General Rubio, Military Governor of Galveston. You are too
much of a gentleman not to understand that this prohibits me risking a
life which does not belong to me."

The Colonel bowed with exquisite politeness and uncocked the pistol,
which he restored to his belt.

"I am confounded at what has taken place," he said. "You will excuse me,
Señor, for having allowed my passion to carry me away thus; I recognise
how worthy and delicate your conduct has been under the circumstances.
May I venture to hope you will pardon me?"

"Not another word about the past, Colonel. So soon as I have terminated
my mission, I shall have the honour of placing myself at your orders.
Now, if nothing further keeps you here, we will proceed together to
Galveston."

"I accept gladly the offer you make me. There is a truce between us: be
good enough till further orders to consider and treat me as one of your
friends."

"That is settled; I was certain we should end by understanding each
other. To horse, then, and let us start."

"I ask nothing better; still, I would observe that the night is as yet
only half spent."

"Which means?"

"That till sunrise, and perhaps later, it will be impossible for us to
find a boat in which to cross over to the island."

"That need not trouble you, Colonel; I have a boat waiting for me, in
which I shall be delighted to offer you a place."

"Hum! All the measures of you revolutionary gentlemen seem to be well
taken; you want for nothing."

"The reason is very simple; would you like to know it?"

"I confess that I am curious in the matter."

"It is because, up to the present, we have appealed to the hearts,
rather than the purses of our confidants. The hatred of the Mexican
Government renders every intelligent man a devoted partisan; the hope of
liberty gives us all we want; that is our whole secret. You are aware,
Colonel, that the spirit of opposition is innate in the heart of every
man; insurrection or opposition, whichever you like to call it, is only
that spirit organised."

"That is true," said the Colonel, with a laugh.

The two enemies, temporarily friends, mounted and set out side by side.

"You have very singular ideas and opinions," the Colonel, whom the
American's remarks amused, continued.

"Oh dear no!" the latter replied, carelessly; "Those ideas and opinions
are nothing but the fruit of lengthened experience. I do not ask of a
man more than his organisation allows him to give, and enacting these I
am certain of never making a mistake. Hence, suppose that the Mexicans
are expelled the country, and the government of Texas established and
working regularly----"

"Good," the Colonel said, with a smile; "what will happen then."

"This will inevitably happen," the American answered, imperturbably. "A
hot-headed or ambitious man will emerge from the crowd and rebel against
the Government. He will immediately have partisans, who will make a flag
of truce, and the same men who today are ready to shed their blood for
us with the most utter abnegation, will act in the same way for him; not
because they have to complain of the Government they desire to
overthrow, but merely on account of that spirit of opposition to which I
have alluded."

"Come, that is a little too strong," the Colonel exclaimed, as he burst
into a laugh.

"You do not believe me? Well, listen to this: I who am speaking to you
once knew, no matter where, a man whose whole life was spent in
conspiring. One day luck smiled on him, and chance enabled him, hardly
knowing how or why, to occupy the highest post in the
Republic--something like President. Do you know what he did, so soon as
he obtained power?"

"Canarios! He tried to hold his ground, of course."

"You are quite out. On the contrary, he went on conspiring, and so
famously that he overthrew himself and was condemned to perpetual
imprisonment."

"So that--?"

"So that, if the man who succeeded to power had not amnestied him, he
would, in all probability, have died in prison."

The two men were still laughing at John Davis's last repartee, when the
latter stopped, and made the Colonel a sign to follow his example.

"Have we arrived?" he asked.

"All but. Do you see that boat tossing about at the foot of the cliff?"

"Of course I see it."

"Well, it is the one which will convey us to Galveston."

"But our horses?"

"Don't be uneasy; the owner of that wretched rancho will take all proper
care of them."

John Davis raised a whistle to his lip and blew it twice sharply. Almost
immediately the door of the rancho opened and a man appeared; but, after
taking one step forward, he took two backward, doubtless astonished at
seeing two persons when he only expected one.

"Halloh! halloh, John!" Davis shouted, "don't go in again."

"Is it you, then?" he asked.

"Yes! Unless it be the demon who has assumed my face."

The fisherman shook his head with a dissatisfied air.

"Do not jest so, John Davis," he said; "the night is black and the sea
rough; so the demon is about."

"Come, come, old porpoise," the American continued, "get your boat
ready, for we have no time to lose. This Señor is a friend of mine. Have
you any alfalfa for our horses in your cabin?"

"I should think so. Eh, Pedriello, come hither, muchacho. Take the
horses from the Caballero, and lead them to the corral."

At this summons a tall young fellow came yawning from the rancho, and
walked up to the two travellers. The latter had already dismounted; the
peon took the horses by the bridle and went off with them, not saying a
word.

"Shall we go?" John Davis asked.

"Whenever you please," the fisherman growled.

"I hope you have men enough?"

"My two sons and I are, I should think, enough to cross the bay."

"You must know better than I."

"Then, why ask?" the fisherman said with a shrug of his shoulders, as he
proceeded toward the boat.

The two men followed him, and found that he had not deceived them. The
sea was bad, being rough and lumpy, and it required all the old sailor's
skill to successfully cross the bay. Still, after two hours of incessant
toil, the boat came alongside Galveston jetty, and disembarked its
passengers safe and sound; then, without waiting for a word of thanks,
the sailor at once disappeared in the obscurity.

"We part here," said John Davis to the Colonel; "for we each follow a
different road. Tomorrow morning, at nine o'clock, I shall have the
honour of presenting, myself at the General's house. May I hope that you
have spoken to him of me in sufficient favourable terms for him to grant
me a kind reception?"

"I will do all that depends on myself."

"Thank you, and good night."

"One word, if you please, before parting."

"Speak, Colonel."

"I confess to you, that at this moment I am suffering from extreme
curiosity."

"What about?"

"A moment before your arrival, I saw four men, carrying a fifth, enter
the rancho to which accident had brought me."

"Well?"

"Who is that man?"

"I know no more about him than you do. All I can tell you is, that he
was picked up dying on the beach, at eleven o'clock at night, by some of
our men stationed as videttes to watch the bay. Now, who he is, or where
he comes from, I do not know at all. He is covered with wounds; when
picked up, he held an axe still clutched in his hand, which makes me
suppose that he belonged to the crew of the _Libertad_ corvette, which
our friends so successfully boarded. That is all the information I am
able to give you. Is it all you wish to know?"

"One word more. Who is the man I saw at the rancho, and to whom the
persons with him gave the name of Don Benito?"

"As for that man, you will soon learn to know him. He is the supreme
Chief of the Texan revolution; but I am not permitted to tell you more.
Good bye, till we meet again at the General's."

"All right."

The two men, after bowing courteously, separated, and entered the town
from opposite sides; the Colonel proceeding to his house, and John
Davis, in all probability, to crave hospitality from one of the numerous
conspirators Galveston contained.



CHAPTER II.

A BARGAIN.


There is in the rapidity with which all news spread, a mystery which has
remained, up to the present, incomprehensible. It seems that an electric
current bears them along at headlong speed, and takes a cruel pleasure
in spreading them everywhere.

The most minute precautions had been taken by the Jaguar and El Alferez
to keep their double expedition a secret, and hide their success until
they had found time to make certain arrangements necessary to secure the
results of their daring attempts. The means of communication were at
that period, and still are, extremely rare and difficult. Only one man,
Colonel Melendez, was at all cognizant of what had happened, and we have
seen that it was impossible for him to have said anything. And yet,
scarce two hours after the events we have described were accomplished, a
vague rumour, which had come no one knew whence, already ran about the
town.

This rumour, like a rising tide, swelled from instant to instant, and
assumed gigantic proportions; for, as always happens under similar
circumstances, the truth, buried in a mass of absurd and impossible
details, disappeared almost entirely to make way for a monstrous
collection of reports, each more absurd than the other, but which
terrified the population, and plunged it into extreme anxiety.

Among other things, it was stated that the insurgents were advancing on
the town with a formidable fleet of twenty-five ships, having on board
ten thousand troops, amply provided with cannon and ammunition of every
description. Nothing less was spoken of than the immediate bombardment
of Galveston by the insurgents, large parties of whom, it was stated,
were scouring the country to intercept all communication between the
town and the mainland.

Terror never calculates or reasons. In spite of the material
impossibility of the insurgents being able to collect so considerable a
fleet and army, no one doubted the truth of the rumour, and the
townspeople, with their eyes anxiously fixed on the sea, fancied in each
gull whose wing flashed on the horizon, they saw the vanguard of the
Texan fleet.

General Rubio was himself very much alarmed. If he did not place entire
faith on these stupid rumours, still one of those secret forebodings,
that never deceive, warned him that grave events were preparing, and
would soon burst like a thundercloud over the town. The Colonel's
prolonged absence, whose motive the General was ignorant of, added still
further to his anxiety. Still the situation was too critical for the
General not to try to escape from it by any means, or dispel the storm
that was constantly menacing.

Unfortunately, through its position and commerce, Galveston is a
thoroughly American town, and the Mexican element is found there in but
very limited proportions. The General was perfectly aware that the
North. Americans who represented the mercantile houses, sympathized with
the revolution, and only waited for a favourable opportunity to raise
the mask and declare themselves overtly. The Mexican population itself
was not at all desirous of running the risk of a siege: it preferred to
a contest, which is ever injurious to commercial interests, an
arrangement, no matter its nature, which would protect them. Money has
no country, and hence, politically regarded, the population of Galveston
cared very little whether it was Texan or Mexican, provided that it was
not ruined, which was the essential point.

In the midst of all this egotism and vexation, the General felt the more
embarrassed, because he possessed but a very weak armed force, incapable
of keeping the population in check, if they felt any desire to revolt.
After vainly awaiting the Colonel's return till eleven o'clock, the
General resolved to summon to his house the most influential merchants
of the town, in order to consult with them on the means to protect
individuals, and place the town in a posture of defence, were that
possible. The merchants responded to the General's summons with an
eagerness which, to any man less thoroughly acquainted with the American
character, would have seemed a good omen, but which produced a
diametrically opposite effect on the General. At about half-an hour
after midnight, the General's saloon was crowded: some thirty merchants,
the elite of Galveston, were collected there.

His Excellency, Don José Maria Rubio, was essentially a man of action,
frank, loyal, and convinced that in all cases the best way of dealing is
to go straight to the point. After the first compliments, he began
speaking, and without any tergiversation or weakness, explained clearly
and distinctly the state of their situation, and claimed the assistance
of the notable inhabitants of the town to ward off the dangers that
threatened it, promising, if that help were assured him, to hold out
against the whole revolutionary army, and compel it to retire. The
merchants were far from expecting such a requests which literally
stunned them. For some minutes they knew not what answer to give; but at
last, after consulting in whispers, the oldest and most influential of
them undertook to reply in the names of all, and began speaking with
that feigned frankness which forms the basis of the Anglo-American
character--a frankness which conceals so much duplicity, and by which
only those who are unacquainted with the inhabitants of the United
States are at times entrapped.

This merchant, a native of Tennessee, had in his youth carried on nearly
all those trades more or less acknowledgeable, by means of which men in
the new world contrive in so short a time to raise the scaffoldings of a
large fortune. Coming to Texas as a slave-dealer, he had gradually
extended his trade; then he became a speculator, corn-dealer, and all
sorts of things. In a word, he worked so well, that in less than ten
years he was in possession of several millions. Morally, he was an old
fox, without faith or law; a Greek by instinct, and a Jew by
temperament. His name was Lionel Fisher; he was short and stout, and
appeared scarce sixty years of age, although he was in reality close on
seventy.

"Señor General," he said in an obsequious voice, after bowing with that
haughty humility which distinguishes parvenus, "we are extremely pained
by the sad news your excellency has thought it right to communicate to
us, for none are more affected than ourselves by the calamities of our
hapless country. We deplore in our hearts the situation into which Texas
is suddenly cast, for we shall be the first assailed in our fortunes and
affections. We should be glad to make the greatest sacrifices in order
to prevent disasters and ward off the fearful catastrophe that menaces
us. But, alas! What can we do?--nothing. In spite of our good will and
warm desire to prove to your excellency that you possess all our
sympathies, our hands are tied. Our assistance, far from helping the
Mexican Government, would, on the contrary, injure it, because the
populace and vagabonds who flock to all seaports, and who are in a
majority at Galveston, delighted at having found a pretext for disorder,
would immediately revolt, apparently to defend the insurrection, but in
reality to plunder us. This consideration, therefore, compels us most
reluctantly to remain neutral."

"Reflect, Señores," the General answered, "that the sacrifice I ask of
you is but a trifle. Each of you will give me a thousand piastres; it is
not too much, I suppose, to guarantee the security of your money and
goods? For with the sum you collect, I pledge myself to preserve you
from all harm by collecting a sufficient number of men to foil any
expedition made against the town by the insurgents."

At this point-blank appeal the merchants made a frightful grimace, which
the General did not appear to notice.

"The offering I claim from you at such a moment," he continued, "is not
exorbitant; is it not just that in the hour of need you should come to
the aid of a government under whose protection you have grown rich, and
which, although it would have been perfectly justified in doing so, has,
up to this day, demanded nothing from you?"

Caught in this dilemma, the merchants did not know what to answer. They
were not all desirous to give their money in the defence of a cause
which their secret efforts tended on the contrary to destroy, but when
thus pressed by the General, their embarrassment was extreme; they did
not dare openly to refuse, and wished still less to say yes. It is a
singular fact, though perfectly true, that those men who have grown rich
with the greatest facility, cling the most to their fortunes. Of all the
natives of the New World, the North American is the one who most craves
money. He professes a profound love for the precious metals; with him
money is everything, and to gain it he would sacrifice relatives and
friends without remorse and without pity. It is the North American who
invented that egotistic and heartless proverb, which so thoroughly
displays the character of the people, _time is money_. Ask what you will
of a North American, and he will give it you, but do not try to burrow a
dollar of him, for he will bluntly refuse, however great the obligations
he owes you may be.

The great American bankruptcies which a few years back terrified the Old
World by their cynical effrontery, edified us as to the commercial
honesty of this country, which in its dealings never says, yes, and is
so afraid of letting; its thoughts be penetrated, that even in the most
frivolous conversations the people, through fear of compromising
themselves by an affirmative, say at each sentence, "I suppose," "I
believe," "I think."

General Rubio, who had been a long time in Texas, and accustomed to
daily dealings with the Americans, was perfectly well aware in what way
he should treat them, hence he was not at all disturbed by their
embarrassed denials, their protestations of devotion, or their downcast
faces. After leaving them a few moments for reflection, seeing that they
could not make up their minds to answer him, he continued in his calmest
voice and with his most pleasant air--

"I see, Señores, that the reasons I have had the honour of laying before
you have not had the good fortune to convince you, and I am really vexed
at it. Unfortunately, we are in one of those fatal crises where long
deliberations are impossible. Ever since the President of the Republic
appointed me Military Chief of this State, I have ever been anxious to
satisfy you, and not make you feel too heavily the weight of the power
entrusted to me, taking on myself on several occasions, to modify any
harshness in the orders I received from high quarters with reference to
you. I venture to believe that you will do me the justice of saying that
you have always found me kind and complaisant toward you."

The merchants naturally burst into affirmations as the General
continued.

"Unfortunately it can no longer be so. In the face of this obstinate and
unpatriotic refusal you so peremptorily give me, I am, to my great
regret, constrained to carry out literally the orders I have
received,--orders that concern you, Señores, and whose tenor, I repeat,
I find myself utterly unable to modify."

At this declaration, made in a sarcastic voice, the merchants began
shivering; they understood that the General was about to take a
brilliant revenge, although they did not know yet what was about to
happen. For all that, they began to repent having accepted the
invitation, and placed themselves so simply in the wolf's mouth. The
General kept smiling, but the smile had something bitter and mocking in
its expression, which was far from reassuring them. At this moment a
clock, standing on a bracket, struck two.

"Caramba," said the General, "is it so late as that already? How quickly
time passes in your agreeable company. Señores, we must wind up the
business. I should be in despair if I kept you longer from your
homes--the more so, as you must be desirous of rest."

"In truth," stammered the merchant who had hitherto spoken in the name
of all, "whatever pleasure we feel at being here----"

"You would feel greater still at being elsewhere," the General
interrupted, with a laugh; "I perfectly understand that, Don Lionel,
hence I will not abuse your patience much longer. I only ask you for a
few minutes more, and then I will set you at liberty, so be kind enough
to sit down again."

The merchants obeyed, while exchanging a glance of despair on the sly.
The General seemed on this night to be deaf and blind, for he saw and
heard nothing. He struck a bell; at the summons a door opened, and an
officer walked in.

"Captain Saldana," the General asked, "is all ready?"

"Yes, General," the Captain answered, with a respectful bow.

"Señores," the Governor continued, "I have received from the Mexican
Government orders to lay on the rich merchants of this town a war tax of
sixty thousand piastres in cash. As you are aware, Señores a soldier can
only obey. Still, I had taken on myself to reduce this contribution by
one-half, desiring, as far as in me lay, to prove to you up to the last
moment, the interest I take in you. You would not understand me; I am
vexed at it, but nothing is now left me save obedience. Here is the
order," he added, as he took a paper from the table and unfolded it, "it
is peremptory; still, I am ready to grant you five minutes to make up
your minds; but when that period has elapsed, I shall be compelled to do
my duty, and you are sufficiently well acquainted with me, Señores, to
know that I shall do it at all hazards."

"But, General," the old merchant hazarded, "your Excellency will permit
me to observe, that the sum is enormous."

"Nonsense, Señores; there are thirty of you--it only amounts to two
thousand piastres per head, which is only a trifle to you. I made you an
offer to knock off half, but you were not willing."

"Business has been very flat for some years, and money is becoming
excessively scarce."

"To whom do you say that, Don Lionel? I fancy I am better aware of that
fact than anybody else."

"Perhaps if you were to grant us a delay of a month or a fortnight, by
collecting all our resources and making enormous sacrifices, we might
manage to scrape together one-half the amount."

"Unfortunately, I cannot even grant you an hour."

"In that case, General, it is impossible."

"Nonsense! I feel certain that you have not reflected. Besides, that is
no affair of mine: in asking you for this money, I carry out the orders
I have received, it is for your to judge whether you will consent or
not. I, personally, am completely out of the affair."

"Really, General," the old merchant continued, deceived, in spite of all
his craft, by the Governor's tone, "really, it is impossible for us to
pay the smallest amount."

All bowed in affirmation, supporting the remarks of their spokesman.

"Very good," the General continued, still in a coolly mocking tone,
"that is clearly understood, then. Still, you will not, I trust, render
me responsible for the consequences which this refusal may entail on
you."

"Oh, General, you cannot suppose that!"

"Thanks. You heard, Captain?" he added, turning to the officer, who was
standing motionless by the door; "order in the detachment."

"Yes, General."

And the officer quitted the room. The merchants gave a start of terror,
for this mysterious order caused them to reflect seriously, and their
anxiety became the greater, when they heard the clang of arms in the
patios, and the heavy footfalls of approaching troops.

"What is the meaning of this, General?" they cried in terror, "Can we
have fallen into a trap?"

"What do you mean?" the General said. "Oh, I beg your pardon, but I
forgot to communicate to you the end of this order, which concerns you
particularly, however, that will be soon done. I am instructed to have
all persons shot, who refuse to subscribe to the loan demanded by the
government, in order to get over the serious embarrassments the
malcontents occasion it."

At the same instant, the doors were thrown wide open, and a detachment
of fifty men silently surrounded the American merchants. The latter were
more dead than alive--they fancied they were having a frightful dream,
or suffering from a horrible nightmare. Certain that the General would
not hesitate to execute the threat he had made them, the merchants did
not know how to get out of the scrape. The Governor himself had made no
change in his demeanour--his face was still gracious, and his voice
gentle.

"Come, Señors," he said, "pray accept my heartfelt sympathy. Captain,
lead away these gentlemen, and treat them with all the kindness their
sad position claims."

He then bowed, and prepared to leave the room.

"One moment," the old merchant said, quite appalled by the approach of
death; "are there no means of settling this business, General?"

"I only know one--paying."

"I am well aware of that," he said with a sigh; "but, alas! we are
ruined."

"What can I do? You know, and yourselves allowed, that I am quite
unconnected with this unhappy affair."

"Alas," the poor merchants exclaimed in chorus, "you will not kill us,
surely, General; we are fathers of families, what will become of our
wives and children?"

"I pity you, but, unfortunately, can do no more than that."

"General," they cried, falling at his knees, "in the name of what you
hold dearest, have pity on us, we implore you."

"I am really in despair at what has occurred, and should like to come to
your aid; unhappily I do not see my way, and then, again, you do
nothing to help me."

"Alas!" they repeated, sobbing and clasping their hands desperately.

"I am well aware that you have not the money, and there is the
insurmountable difficulty, believe me. However, let us see," he added,
apparently reflecting.

The poor devils, who felt themselves so near death, looked at him with
eyes sparkling with hope. There was a rather lengthened silence, during
which you might have heard the heart throbs of these men, who knew that
life and death depended on the man who held them panting under his eye.

"Listen," he continued, "this is all I can do for you, and believe me,
that, in acting thus, I assume an enormous responsibility; there are
thirty of you, I think?"

"Yes, Excellency," they exclaimed unanimously.

"Well, only ten of you shall be shot. You shall select them yourselves,
and those you designate will be immediately led into the patio and
executed. But now ask me for nothing further, as I shall be constrained
to refuse you; and that you may have time to make your selection
carefully, I grant you ten minutes."

This was a proof of incontestable cleverness on the part of the General.
By breaking, through this decision, the agreement that had hitherto
prevailed among the merchants, by opposing them to one another, he was
certain of obtaining the result which, without, he would probably not
have secured. For we prefer to suppose, for the honour of the General,
whose career up to this day had been so free from excesses, and acts of
this nature, that the threat of death was only a mode employed to cause
these men, whom he knew to be opposed to the government he represented,
into undoing their purse strings, and that he would not have been so
cruel as to carry matters to extremities, and shoot in cold blood thirty
of the most respectable townsmen.

Whatever General Rubio's intentions might have been, however, the
Americans believed him, and acted accordingly. After two or three
minutes' hesitation, the merchants came one after the other, to give
their consent to the loan. But their tergiversation had cost them a
thousand dollars a-piece. It was dear, hence we must allow that they
consented with very ill grace. But the soldiers were there ready to obey
the slightest sign from their chief; the muskets were loaded, and the
patio two paces off. There was no chance of getting out of it.

Still, the General did not let them off so cheaply. The Americans were
led home one after the other by four soldiers and an officer, whose
instructions were to shoot the prisoner at the slightest attempted
escape, and it was not till the General had the two thousand piastres in
his hands that a second prisoner was sent home in the same fashion. This
went on until the whole sum was collected, and the only persons
remaining in the saloon were the General and old Lionel.

"Oh, Excellency!" he said, reproachfully, "How is it possible that you,
who have hitherto been so kind to us, could have had the thought of
committing such an act of cruelty?"

The General burst out laughing.

"Do you imagine I would have done it?" he said, with a shrug of his
shoulder.

The merchant struck his forehead with a gesture of despair.

"Ah!" he exclaimed, "We were idiots."

"Hang it, did you have such a bad opinion of me? Caramba, Señor, I do
not commit such acts as that."

"Ah," the merchant said, with a laugh, "I have not paid yet."

"Which means?"

"That now I know what I have to expect. I shall not pay."

"Really, I believed you cleverer than that."

"Why so?"

"What? You do not understand that a man may hesitate to execute thirty
persons, but when it comes to only one man, who, like yourself, has a
great number of misdeeds on his conscience, his execution is considered
an act of justice, and carried out without hesitation?"

"Then, you would shoot me?"

"Without the slightest remorse."

"Come, come, General, you are decidedly stronger than I am."

"You flatter me, Señor Lionel."

"No, I tell you what I think; it was cleverly played."

"You are a judge."

"Thanks," he answered, with a modest smile. "To spare you the trouble of
having me executed, I will execute myself," he added, good temperedly,
as he felt his coat pocket.

He drew out a pocketbook crammed with Bank of England notes, and made up
the sum of two thousand piastres, which he laid on the table.

"I have now only to thank you," the General said, as he picked up the
notes.

"And I you, Excellency," he answered.

"Why so?"

"Because you have given me a lesson by which I shall profit when the
occasion offers."

"Take care, Señor Lionel," the General said, meaningly; "you will not,
perhaps, come across a man so good-natured as myself."

The merchant restored the portfolio to his pocket, bowed to the General,
and went out. It was three o'clock; all had been finished in less than
an hour; it was quick work.

"Poor scamps, after all, those gringos," the General said, when he was
alone; "oh, if we had not to deal with mountaineers and campesinos we
should soon settle this population."

"General," said an aide-de-camp, as he opened the door, "Colonel
Melendez asks whether you will deign to receive him, in spite of the
late hour?"

"Is Colonel Melendez here?" the General asked in surprise.

"He has this instant arrived, General; can he come in?"

"Of course; show him in at once."

In a few minutes the Colonel appeared.

"Here you are at last," the General cried, as he went to meet him; "I
fancied you were either dead or a prisoner."

"It was a tossup that one of the two events did not happen."

"Oh, oh! Then you have something serious to tell me."

"Most serious, General."

"Hang it, my friend, take a chair and let us talk."

"Before all, General," the Colonel remarked, "do you know our position?"

"What do you mean?"

"Only, General, that you may possibly be ignorant of certain events that
have happened."

"I think I have heard grave events rumoured, though I do not exactly
know what has happened."

"Listen, then! The _Libertad_ corvette is in the hands of the
insurgents."

"Impossible!" the General exclaimed, bounding in his chair.

"General," the young officer said, in a mournful voice, "I have to
inform you of something more serious still."

"Pardon me, my friend, perhaps I am mistaken, but it seems to me highly
improbable that you could have obtained such positive news during the
pleasure trip you have been making."

"Not only, General, have the insurgents seized the _Libertad_, but they
have also made themselves masters of the Fort of the Point."

"Oh!" the General shouted, as he rose passionately, "this time, Colonel,
you are badly informed; the Fort of the Point is impregnable."

"It was taken in an hour by thirty Freebooters, commanded by the
Jaguar."

The General hid his face in his hands, with an expression of despair
impossible to render.

"Oh! It is too much at once," he exclaimed.

"That is not all," the Colonel continued, sharply.

"What have you to tell me more terrible than what you have just said?"

"A thing that will make you leap with rage and blush with shame,
General."

The old soldier laid his hand on his heart, as if wishful to arrest its
hurried beating, and then said to the Colonel, in a tone of supreme
resignation--

"Speak, my friend; I am ready to hear all."

The Colonel remained silent for some minutes; the despair of the brave
old soldier made him shiver.

"General," he said, "perhaps it would be better to defer till tomorrow
what I have to say to you; you appear fatigued, and a few hours, more or
less, are not of much consequence."

"Colonel Melendez," the General said, giving the young officer a
searching glance, "under present circumstances a minute is worth an age.
I order you to speak."

"The insurgents request a parley," the Colonel said, distinctly.

"To parley with me?" the General answered, with an almost imperceptible
tinge of irony in his voice. "These Caballeros do me a great honour. And
what about, pray?"

"As they think themselves capable of seizing Galveston, they wish to
avoid bloodshed by treating with you."

The General rose, and walked sharply up and down the room for some
minutes. At length he stopped before the Colonel.

"And what would you do in my place?"

"I should treat," the young officer replied, unhesitatingly.



CHAPTER III.

THE RETREAT.


After this frankly expressed opinion there was a rather lengthened
silence, and the Colonel was the first to resume the conversation.

"General," he went on, "you evidently know nothing of the events that
have occurred during the last four and twenty hours."

"How could I know anything? These demons of insurgents have organised
Guerillas, who hold the country and so thoroughly intercept the
communications, that out of twenty spies I have sent out, not one has
returned."

"And not one will return, be assured."

"What is to be done, then?"

"Do you really wish for my advice, General?"

"On my honour, I desire to know your real opinion; for you are the only
one among us, I fancy, who really knows what is going on."

"I am aware of it. Listen to me, then, and do not feel astonished at
anything you may hear, for all is positively true. The information I am
about to have the honour of communicating to you was given me, by the
Jaguar himself, scarce three hours back, at the Salto del Frayle,
whither he invited me to come to converse about some matters in no way
connected with politics."

"Very good," the General remarked, with a slight smile. "Go on, I am
listening to you with the deepest attention."

The Colonel felt himself blush under his chief's slightly ironical
smile; still he recovered himself, and continued--

"In two words, this is our position: while a few bold men, aided by a
privateer brig under the American flag, carried by surprise the
_Libertad_--"

"One of the finest ships in our navy!" the General interrupted, with a
sigh.

"Yes, General, but unhappily it is now an accomplished fact. While this
was taking place, other insurgents, commanded by the Jaguar in person,
got into the Fort of the Point, and carried it almost without a blow."

"But what you tell me is impossible!" the old soldier interrupted with a
burst of passion.

"I tell you nothing that is not rigorously true, General."

"The vague rumours that have reached me, led me to suppose that the
insurgents had dealt us a fresh blow but I was far from suspecting such
a frightful catastrophe."

"I swear to you, on my honour, as, a soldier, General, that I only tell
you the most rigid truth:"

"I believe you, my friend, for I know how brave and worthy of confidence
you are. Still, the news you give me is so frightful, that, in spite of
myself, I should like to be able to doubt it."

"Unhappily, that is impossible."

The General, suffering from a fury which was the more terrible as it was
concentrated, walked up and down the room, clenching his fists, and
muttering broken sentences. The Colonel looked after him sadly, not
dreaming of offering him any of those conventional consolations which,
far from offering any relief to pain, only render it sharper and more
poignant. At the end of some minutes, the General succeeded so far in
mastering his emotion as to draw back to his heart the annoyance he
felt. He sat down again by the Colonel's side, and took his hand kindly.

"You have not yet given me your advice," he said with a ghost of a
smile.

"If you really insist on my speaking, I will do so, General," the young
man answered, "though I am convinced beforehand that our ideas are
absolutely similar on this question."

"That is probable. Still, my dear Colonel, the opinion of a man of your
merits is always precious, and I should be curious to know if I really
agree with you."

"Be it so, General. This is what I think: we have but insufficient
forces to sustain an assault effectively. The town is very badly
disposed toward us: I am convinced that it only wants an opportunity to
rise and make common cause with the insurgents. On the other hand, it
would be a signal act of folly to shut ourselves up in a town with an
issue, where we should be forced to surrender--an indelible stain for
the Mexican army. For the present, we have no succour to expect from the
government of Mexico, which is too much engaged in defending itself
against the ambitious men of every description who hold it continually
in check, to dream of coming effectively to our assistance, either by
sending us reinforcements, or carrying out a diversion in our favour."

"What you say is unfortunately only too true; we are reduced to reckon
on ourselves alone."

"Now, if we obstinately shut ourselves up in the town, it is evident to
me that we shall be compelled eventually to surrender. As the insurgents
are masters of the sea, it is a mere question of time. On the other
hand, if we quit it of our free will, the position will be singularly
simplified."

"But, in that case, we shall be compelled to treat with these
scoundrels?"

"I thought so for an instant; but I believe we can easily avoid that
misfortune."

"In what way? speak, speak, my friend."

"The flag of truce the insurgents send you, will not arrive at the
cabildo till nine in the morning; what prevents you, General,
evacuating the town, ere he makes his appearance?"

"Hum!" said the General, growing more and more attentive to the young
man's remarks. "Then you propose flight to me?"

"Not at all," the Colonel retorted; "remember, General, that the
position is admitted, that in war, recoiling is not flying. If we render
ourselves masters of the country by leaving the town to the insurgents,
by this skilful retreat we place them in the difficult position in which
we are today. In the open plains, and through our discipline, we shall
be enabled to hold our own against a force four times our strength,
which would not be possible here; then, when we have obtained those
reinforcements Santa Anna will probably himself bring us ere long, we
will re-enter Galveston, which the insurgents will not attempt to defend
against us. Such is my opinion, General, and the plan I should adopt,
had I the honour to be Governor of this State."

"Yes," the General answered, "the advice you offer would have some
chance of success, were it possible to follow it. Unluckily, it would be
madness to reckon on Santa Anna's support: he would allow us to be
crushed, not perhaps of his own will, but compelled by circumstances,
and impeded by the constant obstacles the Senate creates for him."

"I cannot share your opinion on that point, General; be well assured
that the Senate, ill-disposed though it may be to the President of the
Republic, is no more desirous to lose Texas than he is. Besides, under
the present circumstances, we must make a virtue of necessity; it would
be great madness for us to await here the enemy's attack."

The General seemed to hesitate for some minutes, then, suddenly forming
a determination, he rang a bell. An aide-de-camp appeared.

"Let all the general officers assemble here within half an hour," he
said. "Begone."

The aide-de-camp bowed, and left the room.

"You wish it," the General continued, turning to the Colonel; "well, be
it so. I consent to follow your advice. Besides, it is, perhaps, the
only chance of safety left us at this moment."

In Europe, where we are accustomed to see great masses of men come in
contact on the field of battle, it would cause a smile to hear the name
of army given to what, among us, would not even be a regiment. But we
must bear in mind that the new world, excepting North America, is very
sparely populated; the inhabitants are scattered over immense districts,
and the most imposing regular forces rarely attain the number of five or
six thousand men. An army is usually composed of fifteen to eighteen
hundred troops, all told, infantry, cavalry, and artillery. And what
soldiers! ignorant, badly paid, badly armed, only half obeying their
Chiefs, whom they know to be as ignorant as themselves, and in whom they
naturally have not the slightest confidence.

In Mexico, the military profession, far from being honoured as it is in
Europe, is, on the contrary, despised, so that the officers and soldiers
are generally blemished men to whom every other career would be closed.
The officers, with a few honourable exceptions, are men ruined by debt
and in reputation, whose ignorance of their profession is so great, that
one of our sergeants could give them lessons. As for the soldiers, they
are only recruited among the leperos, thieves, and assassins. Hence the
army is a real scourge for the country. It is the army that makes and
unmakes the Governments, which succeed each other with perfectly
headlong rapidity in Mexico; for, since its pretended emancipation, this
unhappy country has witnessed nearly three hundred pronunciamentos, all
organised in the army, and carried through for the benefit of the
officers, whose only object is to be promoted.

Still, what we say is not absolute. We have known several Mexican
officers, highly educated and honourable men; unluckily their number is
so limited, that they are impotent to remedy the evil, and are
constrained to put up with what they cannot prevent. General Rubio was
undeniably one of the most honourable officers in the Mexican army.
Still, we have seen that he did not hesitate to plunder the very persons
whom his duty obliged him to protect against all annoyance. My readers
can judge by this example, selected from a thousand, what tricks the
other Generals play.

The corps d'armée placed under the command of General Rubio, and shut up
with him in Galveston, only amounted to nine hundred and fifty officers
and men, to whom might be found at a given signal some three hundred
lanceros scattered in little posts of observation along the coast.
Though incapable of effectually defending the town, this force, well
directed, might hold in check for a long time the worse armed, and
certainly worse disciplined insurgents.

The General had rapidly seen the value of the Colonel's advice. The plan
the latter proposed was, in truth, the only practicable one, and hence
he accepted it at once. Still, it was necessary to act with vigour; the
sun was rising, and the coming day was Sunday; hence it was important
that the army should have evacuated the town before the end of mass,
that is to say, eleven in the morning, for the following reason:

In all the slave states, and especially in Texas, a strange custom
exists, reminding us distantly of the Lupercalia of ancient Rome. On a
Sunday masters grant their slaves entire liberty; one day in seven is
certainly not much; but it is a great deal for the Southern States,
where slavery is so sternly and strictly established. These poor slaves,
who seek compensation for six days of hard servitude, enjoy with
childish delight their few holiday hours: not caring a whit for the
torrid heat that transforms the streets into perfect ovens, they spread
over the town singing, dancing, or galloping at full speed in carts
belonging to their masters which they have appropriated. On this day the
town belongs to them, they behave almost as they please, no one
interfering or trying to check their frolic.

General Rubio rightly feared lest the merchants of Galveston, whom he
had so cleverly compelled to disgorge, might try to take their revenge
by exciting the slaves to mutiny against the Mexicans, and they would
probably be ready enough to do so, delighted at finding a pretext for
disorder, without troubling themselves further as to the more or less
grave results of their mutiny. Hence, while his aide-de-camp performed
the commission he had entrusted to him, General Rubio ordered Colonel
Melendez to take with him all the soldiers on duty at the Cabildo, place
himself at their head, and seize the requisite number of boats for the
transport of the troops to the main land.

This order was not difficult to execute. The Colonel, without losing a
moment, went to the port, and not experiencing the slightest opposition
from the captains and masters of the vessels, who were well aware,
besides, that a refusal would not be listened to, assembled a flotilla
of fifteen light vessels, amply sufficient for the transport of the
garrison. In the meanwhile, the aide-de-camp had performed his duties
with intelligence and celerity, so that within twenty minutes all the
Mexican officers were collected at the General's house.

The latter, without losing a moment, explained to them in a voice that
admitted of no reply, the position in which the capture of the fort
placed the garrison, the necessity of not letting the communication with
the mainland be cut off, and his intention of evacuating the town with
the least possible delay. The officers, as the General expected, were
unanimous in applauding his resolution, for in their hearts they were
not at all anxious to sustain a siege in which only hard blows could be
received. Taking the field pleased them, on the contrary, for many
reasons: in the first place, the pillage of the estancias and the
haciendas offered them great profits, and then they had a hope of taking
a brilliant revenge on the insurgents for the numerous defeats the
latter had inflicted on them since they had been immured in the town.

Orders were therefore immediately given by the General to march the
troops down to the quay with arms and baggage; still, in order to avoid
any cause for disorder, the movement was executed very slowly, and the
Colonel, who presided over the embarkation, was careful to establish
numerous posts at the entrance of each street leading to the port, so
that the populace were kept away from the soldiers, and no disputes were
possible between them. So soon as one boat had its complement of troops
on board it pushed off, though it did not start, as the General wished
the entire flotilla to leave the town together.

It was a magnificent day, the sun dazzled, and the bay sparkled like a
burning-glass. The people, kept at a distance by the bayonets of the
soldiers, watched in gloomy silence the embarkation of the troops.
Alarmed by this movement, which they did not at all understand, and were
so far from suspecting the departure of the Mexican garrison, that they
supposed, on the contrary, that the General was proceeding with a
portion of his troops to make an expedition against the insurgents.

When all the soldiers, with the exception of those intended to protect
the retreat of their comrades, had embarked, the General sent for the
alcade mayor, the Juez de letras, and the corregidor. These magistrates
came to the General, concealing, but poorly, under a feigned eagerness,
the secret alarm caused them by the order they had just received. In
spite of the rapidity with which the troops effected their embarkation,
it was by this time nearly nine o'clock. At the moment when the General
was preparing to address the magistrates whom he had so unexpectedly
convened, Colonel Melendez entered the cabildo, and after bowing
respectfully to the Governor, said--

"General, the person to whom I had the honour of referring last night is
awaiting your good pleasure."

"Ah! Ah!" the General replied, biting his moustache with an ironical
air, "Is he there, then?"

"Yes, General; I have promised to act as his introducer to your
Excellency."

"Very good. Request the person to enter."

"What!" the Colonel exclaimed, in surprise, "Does your Excellency intend
to confer with him in the presence of witnesses?"

"Certainly, and I regret there are not more here. Bring in the person,
my dear Colonel."

"Has your Excellency carefully reflected on the order you have done me
the honour to give me?"

"Hang it! I should think so. I am sure you will be satisfied with what I
am about to do."

"As you insist, General," the Colonel said with marked hesitation, "I
can only obey."

"Yes, yes, my friend, obey; do not be uneasy, I tell you."

The Colonel withdrew without any further remark, and in a few moments
returned, bringing John Davis with him. The American had changed his
dress for one more appropriate to the circumstances. His demeanour was
grave, and step haughty, though not arrogant. On entering the room he
bowed to the General courteously, and prepared to address him. General
Rubio returned his bow with equal courtesy, but stopped him by a sign.

"Pardon me, sir," he said to him, "be kind enough to excuse me for a few
moments. Perhaps, after listening to what I shall have the honour of
saying to these Caballeros, you will consider your mission to me as
finished."

The American made no further reply than a bow, and waited.

"Señores," the General then said, addressing the magistrates, "orders I
have this moment received compel me to leave the town at once with the
troops I have the honour to command. During my absence I entrust the
direction of affairs to you, feeling convinced that you will act in all
things prudently and for the common welfare. Still, you must be cautious
not to let yourselves be influenced by evil counsels, or led by certain
passions to which I will not allude now, particularly here. On my
return, which will not be long delayed, I shall ask of you a strict
account of your acts during my absence. Weigh my words carefully, and be
assured that nothing you may do will be concealed from me."

"Then, General," the Alcade said, "that is the motive of the movement of
the troops we have witnessed this morning. Do you really intend to
depart?"

"You have heard me, Señor."

"Yes, I have heard you, General; but in my turn, in my capacity as
magistrate, I will ask you by what right you, the military governor of
the state, leave one of its principal ports to its own resources in the
present critical state of affairs, when the revolution is before our
gates, and make not the slightest attempt to defend us? Is it really
acting as defenders of this hapless town thus to withdraw, leaving it,
after your departure, a prey to that anarchy which, as you are aware,
only the presence of your forces has hitherto prevented breaking out?
The burden you wish to lay upon us, General, we decline to accept; we
will not assume the responsibility of so heavy a task; we cannot bear
the penalty of another person's faults. The last Mexican soldier will
scarcely have left the town, ere we shall have handed in our
resignations, not being at all desirous to sacrifice ourselves for a
government whose conduct toward us is stamped with egotism and
cold-blooded cruelty. That is what I have to say to you in my name and
in that of my colleagues. Now, in your turn, you will act as you think
proper, but you are warned that you can in no way reckon upon us."

"Ah, ah, Señores!" the General exclaimed, with an angry frown, "Is that
the way you venture to act? Take care, I have not gone yet; I am still
master of Galveston, and can institute a severe example before my
departure."

"Do so, General, we will undergo without a murmur any punishment you may
please to inflict on us, even were it death."

"Very good," the General replied, in a voice quivering with passion; "as
it is so, I leave you free to act, according to circumstances. But you
will have a severe account to render to me, and that perhaps shortly."

"Not we, Excellency, for your departure will be the signal of our
resignation."

"Then you have made up your mind to plunge the country into anarchy?"

"What can we do? What means have we to prevent it? No, no, General, we
are not the persons who deserve reproach."

General Rubio in his heart felt the logic of this reasoning; he saw
perfectly well how egotistic and cruel his conduct was toward the
townsmen, whom he thus surrendered, without any means of defence, to the
fury of the popular passion. Unfortunately, the position was no longer
tenable--the town could not be defended, hence he must depart, without
answering the decade; for what reply could he have made him? The General
gave his aides-de-camp a sign to follow him, and prepared to leave the
cabildo.

"Pardon me for detaining you for a moment, General," John Davis said:
"but I should have liked to have a short conversation with your
Excellency, prior to your departure."

"For what good object, sir?" the General answered, sharply; "did you not
hear what was said in this room? Return to those who sent you, and
report to them what you have seen, that will be sufficient."

"Still, General," he urged, "I should have desired--"

"What?" the General interrupted, and then added, ironically, "To make me
proposals, I presume, on the part of the insurgents. Know, sir, that
whatever may happen, I will never consent to treat with rebels. Thank
Colonel Melendez, who was kind enough to introduce you to my presence.
Had it not been for his intervention I should have had you hung as a
traitor to your country. Begone!--or stay!" he added, on reflection; "I
will not leave you here after I am gone. Seize this man!"

"General, take care," the American replied. "I am intrusted with a
mission; arresting me is a violation of the law of nations."

"Nonsense, sir," the General continued, with a shrug of his shoulders,
"why, you must be mad? Do I recognize the right of the persons from whom
you come to send me a flag of truce? Do I know who you are? Viva Dios!
In what age are we living, then, that rebels dare to treat on equal
terms with the government against which they have revolted? You are my
prisoner, sir! But be at your ease I have no intention of ill-treating
you, or retaining you any length of time. You will accompany us to the
mainland, that is all. When we have arrived there you will be free to go
wherever you please; so you see, sir, that those Mexicans, whom you
like to represent in such dark colours, are not quite so ferocious as
you would have them supposed."

"We have always rendered justice to your heart and loyalty, General."

"I care very little for the opinion you and yours have of me. Come on,
sir."

"I protest, General, against this illegal arrest."

"Protest as much as you please, sir, but follow me!"

As resistance would have been madness, Davis obeyed.

"Well," he said, with a laugh, "I follow you, General. After all, I have
not much cause to complain, for everything is fair in war."

They went out. In spite of the dazzling brilliancy of the sun, whose
beams spread a tropical heat through the town, the entire population
encumbered the streets and squares. The multitude was silent, however;
it witnessed with calm stoicism the departure of the Mexican army; not
an effort was attempted by the people to break the cordon of sentries
drawn up on the fort. When the General appeared, the crowd made way
respectfully to let him pass, and many persons saluted him.

The inhabitants of Galveston detested the Mexican Government; but they
did justice to the Governor, whose honest and moderate administration
had effectually protected them during the whole time he remained among
them, instead of taking advantage of his authority to plunder and
tyrannize over them. They saw with pleasure the departure of the troops,
with sorrow that of the General. The old soldier advanced with a calm
step, talking loudly with his officers, and courteously returning the
bows he received, with smiling face and assured demeanour. He reached
the port in a few minutes, and at his order the last soldiers embarked.
The General, with no other weapon but his sword, remained for some
minutes almost alone in the midst of the crowd that followed him to the
quay. Two aides-de-camp alone accompanied him. John Davis had already
entered a boat, which took him on board the schooner, in which the
General himself intended to cross.

"General," one of the aides-de-camp said, "all the troops have embarked,
and we are now only waiting your Excellency's pleasure."

"Very good, Captain," he answered. He then turned to the magistrates,
who had walked by his side from the cabildo. "Farewell, señores," he
said, taking off his hat, whose white plumes swept the ground,
"farewell, till we meet again. I pray Heaven, from my heart, that,
during my short absence, you will be enabled to avoid the scenes of
disorder and anarchy which the effervescence of parties too often
occasions. We shall meet again sooner than you may possibly suppose.
Long live Mexico!"

"Long live Mexico!" the two officers shouted.

The crowd remained dumb; not a man took up the General's shout. He shook
his head sadly, bowed for the last time, and went down into the boat
waiting for him. Two minutes later the Mexican flotilla had left
Galveston.

"When shall we return?" the General muttered, sadly, with eyes fixed on
the town, whose buildings were slowly disappearing from sight.

"Never!" John Davis whispered in his ear; and this prophetic voice
affected the old soldier to the depth of his heart, and filled it with
bitterness.



CHAPTER IV.

JOHN DAVIS.


The Mexican flotilla, impelled by a favourable breeze, accomplished the
passage from the island to the mainland in a comparatively very brief
period. The brig and corvette, anchored under the battery of the fort,
made no move to disturb the General; and it was evident that the Texans
did not suspect the events taking place at this moment, but awaited the
return of their Envoy ere making any demonstration.

Colonel Melendez had seized the few boats capable of standing out to sea
in Galveston harbour, so that the magistrates could not, had they wished
it, have sent a boat to the Texans to inform them of the precipitate
departure of the Mexican garrison. The General's resolution had been
formed so suddenly, and executed with such rapidity, that the partisans
of the revolution in the town, and who were ignorant of the cause of
that retreat, felt singularly embarrassed by the liberty so singularly
granted them, and did not know what arrangements to make, or how to
enter into communication with their friends, whose position they were
ignorant of. Only one man could have enlightened them, and he was John
Davis. But General Rubio, foreseeing what would have inevitably happened
had he left the ex-slave dealer behind him, had been very careful to
carry him off with him.

The landing of the troops was effected under the most favourable
conditions. The point they steered for was in the hands of the Mexicans,
who had a strong detachment there, so that the army got ashore without
arousing the slightest suspicion, or any attempt to prevent the
landing. The General's first care, so soon as he reached the mainland,
was to send off spies in every direction, in order to discover, were it
possible, the enemy's plans, and whether they were preparing to make a
forward movement.

The boats which had been used to convey the troops were, till further
orders, drawn up on the beach, through fear lest the insurgents might
make use of them. Two schooners, however, on each of which two guns were
put, received orders to cruise in the bay, and pick up all boats the
inhabitants of Galveston might attempt to send off to the Chief of the
Texan army.

The banks of the Rio Trinidad are charming and deliciously diversified,
bordered by rushes and reeds, and covered with mangroves, amid which
sport thousands of flamingoes, cranes, herons, and wild ducks, which
cackle noisily as they swim about in tranquil and transparent waters.
About four miles from the sea, the banks rise gradually with insensible
undulations, and form meadows covered with a tall and tufted grass, on
which grow gigantic mahogany trees with their oblong leaves, and Peru
trees with their red fruit, and magnolias, whose large white flowers
shed an intoxicating perfume. All these trees, fastened together by
lianas which envelop them in their inextricable network, serve as a
retreat for a population of red and grey squirrels, that may be seen
perpetually leaping from branch to branch, and of cardinal and mocking
birds. The centzontle, the exquisite Mexican nightingale, so soon as
night arrives, causes this picturesque solitude to re-echo with its
gentle strains.

On the side of a hill that descends in a gentle slope to the river,
glisten the white walls of some twenty cottages, with their flat roofs
and green shutters, hanging in clusters from the scarped side of the
hill, and hidden like timorous birds amid the foliage. These few
cottages, built so far from the noise of the world, constitute the
rancho of San Isidro.

Unfortunately for the inhabitants of this obscure nook, General Rubio,
who felt the necessity of choosing for the site of his camp a strong
strategic position, came suddenly to trouble their peace, and recall
them rather roughly to the affairs of this world. In fact, from this
species of eagles' nests, nothing was easier than for the General to
send his columns in all directions. The Mexican army, therefore, marched
straight on the rancho of San Isidro, where it arrived about midday. At
the unexpected appearance of the troops, the inhabitants were so
terrified that, hastily loading themselves with their most valuable
articles, they left their houses and fled to hide themselves in the
woods.

Whatever efforts the General might make to prevent them, or bring them
back to their houses, the poor Indians offered a deaf ear to all, and
were resolved not to remain in the vicinity of the troops. The Mexicans
therefore remained sole possessors of the rancho, and at once installed
themselves in their peaceful conquest, whose appearance was completely
changed within a few hours. Tall trees, flowers, and lianas, nothing was
respected. Enormous masses of wood lay that same evening on the ground,
which they had so long protected with their beneficent shadow. The very
birds were constrained to quit their pleasant retreat, to seek a shelter
in the neighbouring forest.

When all the approaches to the forest had been cleared for a radius of
about twelve hundred yards, the General had the place surrounded by
powerful barricades, which transformed the peaceful village into a
fortress almost impregnable, with the weak resources the insurgents
possessed. The trees on the interior of the rancho were alone left
standing, not for the purpose of affording, but to conceal from the
enemy the strength of the corps encamped at this spot.

The house of the Indian Alcade, somewhat larger and more comfortably
built than the rest, was selected by the General as headquarters. This
house stood in the centre of the pueblo; from its azotea the country
could be surveyed for a great distance, and no movement in Galveston
roads escaped notice. The Texans could not stir without being
immediately discovered and signaled by the sentry, whom the General was
careful to place in this improvised observatory.

At sunset all the preliminary preparations were finished, and the rancho
rendered safe against a coup de main. About seven in the evening the
General, after listening to the report of the spies, was sitting in
front of the house in the shadow of a magnificent magnolia, whose
graceful branches crossed above his head. He was smoking a papillo,
while conversing with several of his officers, when an aide-de-camp came
up and told him that the person who had come to him that morning from
the rebels, earnestly requested the favour of a few minutes'
conversation. The General gave an angry start, and was about to refuse,
when Colonel Melendez interposed, representing to the General that he
could not do so without breaking his word, which he had himself pledged
in the morning.

"As it is so," the General said, "let him come."

"Why," the Colonel continued, "refuse to listen to the propositions this
man is authorized to offer you?"

"What good is it at this moment? There is always a time to do so if
circumstances compel it. Now our situation is excellent; we have not to
accept proposals, but, on the contrary, are in a position to impose
those that may suit us."

These words were uttered in a tone that compelled the Colonel to
silence; he bowed respectfully, and withdrew softly from the circle of
officers. At the same moment John Davis arrived, led by the
aide-de-camp. The American's face was gloomy and frowning; he saluted
the General by raising his hand to his hat, but did not remove it; then
he drew himself up haughtily and crossed his hands on his chest. The
General regarded him for a moment with repressed curiosity.

"What do you want?" he asked him.

"The fulfilment of your promise," Davis replied drily.

"I do not understand you."

"What do you say? When you made me a prisoner this morning, in contempt
of the military code and the laws of nations, did you not tell me that
so soon as we reached the mainland, the liberty you had deprived me of
by an unworthy abuse of strength, would be immediately restored to me?"

"I did say so," the General answered meekly.

"Well, I demand the fulfilment of that promise; I ought to have left
your camp long ago."

"Did you not tell me that you were deputed to me by the rebel army, in
order to submit certain propositions?"

"Yes, but you refused to hear me."

"Because the moment was not favourable for such a communication.
Imperious duties prevented me then giving your words all the attention
that they doubtless deserve."

"Well, and now?"

"Now I am ready to listen to you."

The American looked at the officers that surrounded him.

"Before all these persons?" he asked.

"Why not? These Caballeros belong to the staff of my army, they are as
interested as I am in this interview."

"Perhaps so: still, I would observe, General, that it would be better
for our discussion to be private."

"I am the sole judge, Señor, of the propriety of my actions. If it
please you to be silent, be so; if not, speak, I am listening."

"There is one thing I wish to settle first."

"What is it?"

"Do you regard me as an envoy, or merely as your prisoner?"

"Why this question, whose purport I do not understand?"

"Pardon me, General," he said with an ironical smile, "but you
understand me perfectly well, and so do these Caballeros--if a prisoner,
you have the right to force silence upon me; as a deputy, on the other
hand, I enjoy certain immunities, under, the protection of which I can
speak frankly and clearly, and no one can bid me be silent, so long as I
do not go beyond the limits of my mission. That is the reason why I wish
first to settle my position with you."

"Your position has not changed to my knowledge. You are an envoy of
rebels."

"Oh, you recognise it now?"

"I always did so."

"Why did you make me a prisoner, then?"

"You are shifting the question. I explained to you a moment ago, for
what reason I was, to my great regret, compelled to defer our interview
till a more favourable moment, that is all."

"Very good, I am willing to admit it. Be kind enough, General, to read
this letter," he added, as he drew from his pocket a large envelope,
which, at a sign from the General, he handed to him.

Night had fallen some time before, and two soldiers brought up torches
of acote-wood, which one of the aides-de-camp lit. The General opened
the letter and read it attentively, by the ruddy light of the torches.
When he had finished reading, he folded up the letter again pensively,
and thrust it into the breast of his uniform. There was a moment's
silence, which the General at last broke.

"Who is the man who gave you this letter?"

"Did you not read his signature?"

"He may have employed a go-between."

"With me, that is not necessary."

"Then, he is here?"

"I have not to tell you who sent me, but merely discuss with you the
proposals contained in the letter."

The General gave a passionate start.

"Reply, Señor, to the questions I do you the honour of asking you," he
said, "if you do not wish to have reasons for repenting."

"What is the use of threatening me, General? You will learn nothing from
me," he answered firmly.

"As it is so, listen to me attentively, and carefully weigh your answer,
before opening your mouth to give it."

"Speak, General."

"This moment,--you understand, this moment, Señor, you will confess to
me, where the man is who gave you this letter, if not--"

"Well?" the American nominally interrupted.

"Within ten minutes you will be hanging from a branch of that tree,
close to you."

Davis gave him a disdainful glance.

"On my soul," he said ironically, "you Mexicans have a strange way of
treating envoys."

"I do not recognise the right of a scoundrel, who is outlawed for his
crimes, and whose head is justly forfeited, to send me envoys, and treat
with me on an equal footing."

"The man whom you seek in vain to brand, General, is a man of heart, as
you know better than anybody else. But gratitude is as offensive to you
as it is to all haughty minds, and you cannot forgive the person to whom
we allude, for having saved, not only your life, but also your honour."

John Davis might have gone on speaking much longer, for the General, who
was as pale as a corpse, and whose features were contracted by a
terrible emotion he sought in vain to master, seemed incapable of
uttering a syllable. Colonel Melendez had quietly approached the circle.
For some minutes he had listened to the words the speakers interchanged,
with gradually augmenting passion; judging it necessary, therefore, to
interpose ere matters had reached such a point as rendered any hope of
conciliation impossible, he said to John Davis, as he laid his hand on
his shoulder:

"Silence! You are under the lion's claw, take care that it does not rend
you."

"Under the tiger's claw you mean, Colonel Melendez," he exclaimed, with
much animation. "What! Shall I listen calmly to an insult offered the
noblest heart, the greatest man, the most devoted and sincere patriot,
and not attempt to defend him and confound his calumniator? Come,
Colonel, that would be cowardice, and you know me well enough to feel
assured that no consideration of personal safety would force me to do
so."

"Enough," the General interrupted him, in a loud voice, "that man is
right; under the influence of painful reminiscences I uttered words that
I sincerely regret. I should wish them forgotten."

John Davis bowed courteously.

"General," he said, respectfully, "I thank you for this retraction; I
expected nothing less from your sense of honour."

The General made no answer; he walked rapidly up and down, suffering
from a violent agitation.

The officers, astonished at this strange scene, which they did not at
all understand, looked restlessly at each other, though not venturing to
express their surprise otherwise. The General walked up to John Davis
and stopped in front of him.

"Master Davis," he said to him, in a harsh and snapping voice, "you are
a stout-hearted and rough-spoken man. Enough of this; return to the man
who sent you, and tell him this: 'General Don José Maria Rubio will not
consent to enter into any relations with you; he hates you personally,
and only wishes to meet you sword in hand. No political question will be
discussed between you and him until you have consented to give him the
satisfaction he demands.' Engrave these words well in your memory,
Señor, in order to repeat them exactly to the said person."

"I will repeat them exactly."

"Very good. Now, begone, we have nothing more to say to each other.
Colonel Melendez, be good enough to give this Caballero a horse, and
accompany him to the outposts."

"One word more, General."

"Speak."

"In what way shall I bring you the person's answer?"

"Bring it yourself, if you are not afraid to enter my camp a second
time."

"You are well aware that I fear nothing, General. I will bring you the
answer."

"I wish it; good-bye."

"Farewell," the American answered.

And bowing to the company, he withdrew, accompanied by the Colonel.

"You played a dangerous game," the latter said, when they had gone a few
steps; "the General might very easily have had you hung."

The American shrugged his shoulders.

"He would not have dared," he said, disdainfully.

"Oh, oh! and why not, if you please?"

"How does that concern you, Colonel; am I not free?"

"You are."

"That must be sufficient for you, and prove to you that I am not
mistaken."

The Colonel led the American to his quarters, and asked him to walk in
for a moment, while a horse was being got ready.

"Master Davis," he said to him, "be good enough to select from those
weapons, whose excellence I guarantee, such as best suit you."

"Why so?" he remarked.

"Confound it! you are going to travel by night; you do not know whom you
may meet. I fancy that under such circumstances it is prudent to take
certain precautions."

The two men exchanged a glance; they understood each other.

"That is true," the American said, carelessly; "now that I come to think
of it, the roads are not safe. As you permit me, I will take these
pistols, this rifle, machete, and knife."

"As you please, but pray take some ammunition as well; without that your
firearms would be of no service."

"By Jove! Colonel, you think of everything, you are really an excellent
fellow," he added, while carelessly loading his rifle and pistols, and
fastening to his belt a powder flask and bullet pouch.

"You overwhelm me, Master Davis; I am only doing now what you would do
in my place."

"Agreed. But you display a graciousness which confuses me."

"A truce, if you please, to further compliments. Here is your horse,
which my assistant is bringing up."

"But he is leading a second; do you intend to accompany me beyond the
advanced posts?"

"Oh, only for a few yards, if my company does not seem to you too
wearisome."

"Oh, Colonel, I shall always be delighted to have you for a companion."

All these remarks were made with an accent Of excessive courtesy, in
which, however, could be traced an almost imperceptible tinge of fun and
biting raillery. The two men left the house and mounted their horses.
The night was limpid and clear; millions of stars sparkled in the sky,
which seemed studded with diamonds; the moon spread afar its white and
fantastic light; the mysterious night breeze bowed the tufted crests of
the trees, and softly rippled the silvery waters of the Rio Trinidad, as
they died away amorously on the bank.

The two men walked side by side, passing without being challenged by the
sentinels, who, at a signal from the Colonel, respectfully stepped back.
They soon descended the hill, passed the main guard, and found
themselves in the open country. Each of them yielded to the voluptuous
calmness of nature, and seemed no longer to be thinking of his comrade.
They proceeded thus for more than an hour, and reached a spot where two
paths, in crossing, formed a species of fork, in the centre of which
stood a cross of evil omen, probably erected in memory of a murder
formerly committed at this solitary spot.

As if by common accord, the two horses stopped and thrust out their
heads, while laying back their ears and snorting loudly. Suddenly
aroused from their reveries and recalled to actual life, the two riders
drew themselves up in the saddle, and bent a scrutinising glance around.
No human sound disturbed the silence; all around was calm and deserted
as in the first days of creation.

"Do you intend, my dear Colonel," the American asked, "to honour me with
your charming society any longer?"

"No," the young man answered, bluntly; "I shall stop here."

"Ah!" John Davis continued, with feigned disappointment, "shall we part
already?"

"Oh no," the Colonel answered, "not yet."

"In spite of the extreme pleasure I should feel in remaining longer in
your company, I am obliged to continue my journey."

"Oh, you will surely grant me a few moments, Master Davis?" the other
said, with an emphasis on each syllable.

"Well, a few moments, but no more; for I have a long distance to go, and
whatever pleasure I feel in conversing with you--"

"You alone," the Colonel interrupted him, "shall decide the time we
shall remain together."

"It is impossible to display greater courtesy."

"Master Davis," the Colonel said, raising his voice, "have you forgotten
the last conversation we had together?"

"My dear Colonel, you must know me well enough to be sure that I only
forget those things which I ought not to remember."

"Which means?"

"That I perfectly well remember the conversation to which you allude."

"All the better. In that case your excellent memory spares me half the
trouble, and we shall soon come to an understanding."

"I believe so."

"Do you not find the spot where we are admirably adapted for what we
have to do?"

"I consider it delicious, my dear Colonel."

"Then, with your consent, we will dismount?"

"At your orders; there is nothing I detest so much as a lengthened
conversation on horseback."

They leaped to the ground and tied up their horses.

"Do you take your rifle?" the American inquired.

"Yes, if you have no objection."

"Not at all. Then we are going to see some sport?"

"Oh yes, but on this occasion the game will be human."

"Which will add greatly to the interest of the sport."

"Come, you are a delightful comrade, Master Davis."

"What would you, Colonel? I never was able to refuse my friends
anything."

"Where shall we place ourselves?"

"I trust to you entirely for that."

"Look! On each side the road are bushes, which seem to have grown for
the express purpose."

"That is really singular. Well, we will each hide behind one of the
bushes, count ten, and then fire."

"First-rate; but suppose we miss? I am perfectly well aware that we are
both first-rate marksmen, and that is almost impossible; but it might
happen."

"In that case nothing is more simple: we will draw our machetes and
charge each other."

"Agreed. Stay, one word more; one of us must remain on the ground, I
suppose?"

"I should think so. If not, what would be the use of fighting?"

"That is true; so promise me one thing."

"What is it?"

"The survivor will throw the body into the river."

"Hum! Then you are very desirous that I should not come to life again?"

"Well, you can understand--"

"All right, that is agreed."

"Thank you."

The two men bowed, and then went off in opposite directions, to take up
their stations. The distance between them was about seventy yards; in a
few seconds a double detonation burst forth like a clap of thunder, and
woke up the echoes. The two adversaries then rushed on each other,
machete in hand. They met nearly half way, and not uttering a word,
attacked each other furiously.

The combat lasted a long time, and threatened to continue longer,
without any marked advantage for either of the champions, for they were
nearly of equal strength, when all at once several men appeared, and,
aiming at the two adversaries, ordered them to lay down their arms
immediately. Each fell back a step, and waited.

"Stop!" the man shouted, who seemed to be the Chief of the newcomers;
"do you, John Davis, mount your horse and be off!"

"By what right do you give me that order?" the American asked, savagely.

"By the right of the stronger," the leader replied. "Be off, if you do
not wish a misfortune to happen to you!"

John Davis looked around him. Any resistance was impossible--for what
could he have done alone, merely armed with a sabre, against twenty
individuals? The American stifled an oath, and mounted again, but
suddenly reflecting, he asked, "And who may you be, who thus pretend to
dictate to me?"

"You wish to know?"

"Yes."

"Well, I am a man to whom you and Colonel Melendez offered an atrocious
insult. I am the Monk Antonio!"

At this name the two adversaries felt a thrill of terror run through
their veins; without doubt the monk was about to avenge himself, now
that in his turn he had them in his power.



CHAPTER V.

BEFORE THE BATTLE.


John Davis recovered almost immediately.

"Ah, ah!" he said, "Then it is you, my master?"

"It astonishes you to meet me here."

"On my honour, no. Your place, in my opinion, is wherever a snare is
laid; hence nothing is more natural than your presence."

"It is wrong, John Davis, for a man to take advantage of his weakness to
insult people, especially when he is ignorant of their intentions."

"Ah, they appear to me tolerably clear at this moment."

"You might be mistaken."

"I do not believe it. However, I shall soon be certain."

"What are you doing?"

"As you see, I am dismounting."

In fact, the American leapt from his horse, drew his pistols from the
holsters, and walked toward the monk with a most quiet step and
thoroughly natural air.

"Why do you not go, as I advised you to do?" Fray Antonio continued.

"For two reasons, my dear Señor. The first is, that I have no orders or
advice to receive from you; the second, because I shall not be sorry to
be present at the pretty little act of scoundrelism you are of course
meditating."

"Then your intention is--"

"To defend my friend, by Heaven!" the American exclaimed, warmly.

"What! your friend?" the monk said, in amazement: "why, only a minute
ago you were trying to take his life."

"My dear Señor," Davis remarked, ironically, "there are certain remarks
whose sense you unhappily never catch. Understand me clearly: I am ready
to kill this gentleman, but I will not consent to see him assassinated.
That is clear enough, hang it all!"

Fray Antonio burst into a laugh.

"Singular man!" he said.

"Am I not?" Then turning to his adversary, who still stood perfectly
quiet, he continued: "My dear Colonel, we will resume, at a later date,
the interesting interview which this worthy Padre so untowardly
interrupted. For the present, permit me to restore you one of the
pistols you so generously lent me; it is undoubted that these scamps
will kill us; but, at any rate, we shall have the pleasure of settling
three or four of them first."

"Thank you, Davis," the Colonel answered, "I expected nothing less from
you. I accept your proposition as frankly as you make it."

And he took the pistol, and cocked it. The American took his place by
his side, and bowed to the stranger with mocking courtesy.

"Señores," he said, "you can charge us whenever you think proper, for we
are prepared to sustain your charge bravely."

"Ah, ah!" said Fray Antonio, "Then you really mean it?"

"What!--mean it? The question seems to me somewhat simple; I suppose you
think the hour and place well chosen for a joke?"

The monk shrugged his shoulders, and turned to the men who accompanied
him.

"Be off!" he said. "In an hour I will join you again, you know where."

The strangers gave a nod of assent, and disappeared almost
instantaneously among the trees and shrubs. The monk then threw his
weapons on the ground, and drew so near to the men as almost to touch
them.

"Are you still afraid?" he said; "It is I now who am in your power."

"Halloh!" Davis said, as he uncocked his pistol, "why, what is the
meaning of this?"

"If, instead of taking me as a bandit, as you did, you had taken the
trouble to reflect, you would have understood that I had but one object,
and that was, to prevent the resumption of the obstinate fight which my
presence so fortunately interrupted."

"But how did you arrive here so opportunely?"

"Accident did it all. Ordered by our Commander-in-chief to watch the
enemy's movements, I posted myself on the two roads, in order to take
prisoner all the scouts who came in this direction."

"Then you do not owe either the Colonel or myself any grudge?"

"Perhaps," he said, with hesitation, "I have not quite forgotten the
unworthy treatment you inflicted on me; but, at any rate, I have given
up all thoughts of vengeance."

John Davis reflected for a moment, and then said, as he offered him his
hand, "You are a worthy monk. I see that you are faithful to the pledge
of amendment you made. I am sorry for what I did."

"I will say the same, Señor," the Colonel remarked; "I was far from
expecting such generosity on your part."

"One word, now, Señores."

"Speak," they said, "we are listening."

"Promise me not to renew that impious duel, and follow my example by
forgetting your hatred."

The two men stretched out their hand with a simultaneous movement.

"That is well," he continued, "I am happy to see you act thus. Now let
us separate. You, Colonel, will mount and return to camp--the road is
free, and no one will try to oppose your passing. As for you, John
Davis, please to follow me. Your long absence has caused a degree of
alarm which your presence will doubtless dissipate. I had orders to try
and obtain news of you."

"Good-bye for the present," the Colonel said; "forget, Señor Davis, what
passed between us at the outset of our meeting, and merely remember the
manner in which we separate."

"May we, Colonel, meet again under happier auspices, when I may be
permitted to express to you all the sympathy with which your frank and
loyal character inspires me."

After exchanging a few words more, and cordially shaking hands, the
three men separated. Colonel Melendez set off at a gallop in the
direction of the rancho, while the monk and Davis started at an equal
pace in exactly the opposite direction. It was about midnight when the
Colonel reached the main guard, where an aide-de-camp of the General was
waiting for him. A certain degree of animation appeared to prevail in
the rancho. Instead of sleeping, as they might be expected to be doing
at so late an hour, the soldiers were traversing the streets in large
numbers; in short, an extreme agitation was visible everywhere.

"What is the matter?" the Colonel asked the aide-de-camp.

"The General will tell you himself," the officer answered, "for he is
impatiently expecting you, and has already asked several times for you."

"Oh, then, there is something new."

"I believe so."

The Colonel pushed on ahead, and in a few minutes found himself before
the house occupied by the General. The house was full of noise and
light; but so soon as the General perceived the young man, he left the
officers with whom he was talking, and walked quickly toward him.

"Here you are at last," he said; "I was impatiently expecting you."

"What is the matter then?" the Colonel asked, astounded at this
reception, which he was far from expecting, for he had left the camp so
quiet, and found it on his return so noisy.

"You shall know, Señores," the General added addressing the officers in
the room: "be kind enough not to go away. I shall be with you in an
instant. Follow me, Colonel."

Don Juan bowed, and passed into an adjoining room, the door of which the
General shut after him. Hardly were they alone, ere the General took the
young man affectionately by one of his coat buttons, and fixed on him a
glance that seemed trying to read the depths of his heart.

"Since your departure," he said, "we have had a visit from a friend of
yours."

"A friend of mine?" the young man repeated.

"Or, at any rate, of a man who gives himself out as such."

"I only know one man in this country," the Colonel replied distinctly,
"who, despite the opinions that divide us, can justly assume that
title."

"And that man is?"

"The Jaguar."

"Do you feel a friendship for him?"

"Yes."

"But he is a bandit."

"Possibly he is so to you, General; from your point of sight, it is
possible that you are right. I neither descry his character, nor condemn
him; I am attached to him, for he saved my life."

"But you fight against him, for all that."

"Certainly; for being hurled into two opponent camps, each of us serves
the cause that appears to him the better. But, for all that, we are not
the less attached to each other in our hearts."

"I am not at all disposed to blame you, my friend, for our inclinations
should be independent of our political opinions. But let us return to
the subject which at this moment is the most interesting to us. A man, I
say, presented himself during your absence at the outposts as being a
friend of yours."

"That is strange," the Colonel muttered, searching his memory; "and did
he mention his name?"

"Of course; do you think I would have received him else? However, he is
in this very house, for I begged him to await your return."

"But his name, my dear General?"

"He calls himself Don Felix Paz."

"Oh," the Colonel exclaimed eagerly, "he spoke the truth, General, for
he is really one of my dearest friends."

"Then we can place in him----"

"Full and entire confidence; I answer for him on my head," the young
officer interrupted warmly.

"I am the more pleased at what you tell me, because this man assured me
that he held in his hands means that would enable us to give the rebels
a tremendous thrashing."

"If he has promised it, General, he will do so without doubt. I presume
you have had a serious conversation with him?"

"Not at all. You understand, my friend, that I was not willing, till I
had previously conversed with you, to listen to this man, who after all
might have been a spy of the enemy."

"Capital reasoning; and what do you propose doing now?"

"Hearing him; he told me enough for me, in the prevision of what is
happening at this moment, to have everything prepared for action at a
moment's notice; hence no time will have been lost."

"Very good! We will listen to him then."

The General clapped his hands, and an aide-de-camp came in.

"Request Don Felix to come hither, Captain."

Five minutes later, the ex-Major-domo of the Larch-tree hacienda entered
the room where the two officers were.

"Forgive me, Caballero," the General said courteously as he advanced to
meet him, "for the rather cold manner in which I received you; but
unfortunately we live in a period when it is so difficult to distinguish
friends from enemies, that a man involuntarily runs the risk of
confounding one with the other, and making a mistake."

"You have no occasion to apologise to me, General," Don Felix answered;
"when I presented myself at your outposts in the way I did, I
anticipated what would happen to me."

The Colonel pressed his friend's hand warmly. A lengthened explanation
was unnecessary for men of this stamp; at the first word they understood
each other. They had a lengthened conversation, which did not terminate
till a late hour of the night, or rather an early hour of the morning,
for it struck four at the moment when the General opened the door of the
room in which they were shut up, and accompanied them, conversing in
whispers, to the _saguan_ of the house.

What had occurred during this lengthened interview? No one knew; not a
syllable transpired as to the arrangements made by the General with the
two men who had remained so long with him. The officers and soldiers
were suffering from the most lively curiosity, which was only increased
by the General's orders to raise the camp.

Don Felix was conducted by the Colonel to the outermost post, where they
separated after shaking hands and exchanging only one sentence--

"We shall meet again soon."

The Colonel then returned at a gallop to his quarters, while Don Felix
buried himself in the forest as rapidly as his horse could carry him. On
returning to camp, the Colonel at once ordered the boot and saddle to
be sounded, and without waiting for further orders, put himself at the
head of about five hundred cavalry, and left the rancho.

It was nearly five in the morning, the sun was rising in floods of
purple and gold, and all seemed to promise a magnificent day. The
General, who had mounted to his observatory, attentively followed with a
telescope the movements of the Colonel, who, through the speed at which
he went, not only got down the hill within a quarter of an hour, but had
also crossed, without obstacle, a stream as wide as the Rio Trinidad
itself. The General anxiously watched this operation, which is so
awkward for an armed body of men; he saw the soldiers close up, and
then, at a sign from the leader, this column stretched out like a
serpent undoing its rings, went into the water, and cutting the rather
strong current diagonally, reached the other bank in a few minutes,
when, after a moment of inevitable tumult, the men formed their ranks
again and entered a forest, where they were speedily lost from sight.

When the last lancero had disappeared, and the landscape had become
quite desolate, the General shut up his glass, and went down again,
apparently plunged in serious thought. We have said that the garrison of
Galveston consisted of nine hundred men; but this strength had been
raised to nearly fourteen hundred by calling in the numerous small posts
scattered along the coast. Colonel Melendez had taken with him five
hundred sabres the General left at the rancho, which he determined on
retaining at all hazards as an important strategical point, two hundred
and fifty men under the orders of a brave and experienced officer; and
he had at his disposal about six hundred and fifty men, supported by a
battery of four mountain howitzers.

This force, small as it may appear, in spite of the smile of contempt it
will doubtless produce on the lips of Europeans accustomed to the shock
of great masses, was more than sufficient for the country. It is true
that the Texan army counted nearly four thousand combatants, but the
majority of these men were badly-armed peasants, unskilled in the
management of the warlike weapons which a movement of revolutionary
fanaticism had caused them to take up, and incapable of sustaining in
the open field the attack of skilled troops. Hence, in spite of his
numerical inferiority, he reckoned greatly on the discipline and
military education of his soldiers, to defeat this assemblage of men,
who were more dangerous through their numbers than for any other reason.

The start from the rancho was effected with admirable regularity; the
General had ordered that the baggage should be left behind, so that
nothing might impede the march of the army. Each horseman, in accordance
with the American fashion, which is too greatly despised in Europe, took
up a foot soldier behind him, so that the speed of the army was doubled.
Numerous spies and scouts sent out to reconnoitre in every direction,
had announced that the Insurrectionary army, marching in two columns,
was advancing to seize the mouth of the Trinidad and cover the
approaches to Galveston, a movement which it was of the utmost
importance to prevent; for, were it successful, the Insurgents would
combine the movements of the vessels they had so advantageously seized
with those of their army, and would be masters of a considerable extent
of the seaboard, from which possibly the Mexican forces would not be
strong enough to dislodge them. On the other hand, General Rubio had
been advised that Santa Anna, President of the Republic, had left
Mexico, and was coming with forced marches, at the head of twelve
hundred men, to forcibly crush the Insurrection.

General Santa Anna has been very variously judged; some make him a
profound politician and a thunderbolt of war; and he seems to have that
opinion about himself, as he does not hesitate to say that he is the
Napoleon of the New World; his enemies reproach him for his turbulence
and his unbounded ambition; accuse him of too often keeping aloof from
danger, and consider him an agitator without valour or morality. For our
part, without attempting to form any judgment of this statesman, we will
merely say in two words, that we are convinced he is the scourge of
Mexico, whose ruin he accelerates, and one of the causes of the
misfortunes which have for twenty years overwhelmed that ill-fated
country.

General Rubio understood how important it was for him to deal a heavy
blow before his junction with the President, who, while following his
advice, would not fail, in the event of defeat, to attribute the
reverses to him, while, if the Mexicans remained masters of the field,
he would keep all the honour of victory to himself.

The Texan insurgents had not up to this moment dared to measure
themselves with the Mexican troops in the open field, but the events
that had succeeded each other during the last few days with lightning
speed, had, by accelerating the catastrophe, completely changed the
aspect of affairs. The Chiefs of the revolutionary army, rendered
confident by their constant advantages, and masters without a blow of
one of the principal Texan seaports, felt the necessity of giving up
their hedge warfare, and consolidating their success by some brilliant
exploit.

To attain this end, a battle must be gained; but the Texan Chiefs did
not let themselves be deceived by the successes they had hitherto met
with, successes obtained by rash strokes, surprises, and unexampled
audacity; they feared with reason the moment when they would have to
face the veteran Mexican troops with their inexperienced guerillas.
Hence they sought by every means to retard the hour for this supreme and
decisive contest, in which a few hours might eternally overthrow their
dearest hopes, and the work of regeneration they had been pursuing for
the last ten years with unparalleled courage and resignation. They
desired, before definitively fighting the regulars, that their
volunteers should have acquired that discipline and practice without
which the largest and bravest army is only an heterogeneous compound of
opposing elements, an agglomeration of men, possessing no consistency or
real vitality.

After the capture of the fort a grand council had been held by the
principal Texan Chiefs, in order to consult on the measures to be taken,
so as not to lose, by any imprudence, results so miraculously obtained.
It was then resolved that the army should occupy Galveston, which its
position rendered perfectly secure against a surprise; that the
freebooters should alone remain out to skirmish with the Mexicans and
harass them; while the troops shut up in the town were being drilled,
and receiving a regular and permanent organization.

The first care of the Chiefs, therefore, was to avoid any encounter with
the enemy, and try to enter Galveston without fighting the Mexicans. The
following was the respective position of the two armies; the Texans were
trying to avoid a battle, which General Rubio was lodging, on the
contrary, to fight. The terrain on which the adversaries would have to
manoeuvre was extremely limited, for scarce four leagues separated the
videttes of the two armies. From his observatory the General could
clearly distinguish the camp fires of the rebels.

In the meanwhile Colonel Melendez had continued to advance; on reaching
the cross where he and John Davis had fought so furiously on the
previous evening, the Colonel himself examined the ground with the
utmost care, then, feeling convinced that none of the enemy's flankers
had remained ambushed at this spot, which was so favourable for a
surprise, he gave his men orders to dismount. The horses were thrown
down, secured, and their heads wrapped in thick blankets to prevent
their neighing, and after all these precautions had been taken, the
soldiers lay down on their stomachs among the shrubs, with instructions
not to stir.

General Rubio had himself effected a flank march, which enabled him to
avoid the crossways; immediately after descending the hill, he marched
rapidly upon the river bank. We have said that the Rio Trinidad, which
is rather confined at certain spots, is bordered by magnificent forests,
whose branches form on the bank grand arcades of foliage overhanging the
mangroves; it was among the latter, and on the branches of the forest
trees, about two gunshots from the spot where he had landed, that the
General ambuscaded about one-third of his infantry. The remainder,
divided into two corps, were echeloned along either side of the road the
Insurgents must follow, but it was done in the American fashion, that is
to say, the men were so hidden in the tall grass that they were
invisible.

The four mountain howitzers crowned a small hill which, through its
position, completely commanded the road, while the cavalry was massed in
the rear of the infantry. The silence momentarily disturbed was
re-established, and the desert resumed its calm and solitary aspect.
General Rubio had taken his measures so well that his army had suddenly
become invisible.

When it was resolved in the council of the Texan Chiefs that the
Insurrectionary army should proceed to Galveston, a rather sharp
discussion took place as to the means to be adopted in reaching it. The
Jaguar proposed to embark the troops aboard the corvette, the brig, and
a few smaller vessels collected for the purpose. Unfortunately this
advice, excellent though it was, could not be followed, owing to General
Rubio's precaution of carrying off all the boats; collecting others
would have occasioned an extreme loss of time; but as the boats the
Mexicans had employed were now lying high and dry on the beach, and the
guard at first put over them withdrawn a few hours later, the Texans
thought it far more simple to set them afloat, and use them in their
turn to effect the passage.

By a species of fatality the council would not put faith in the
assertions of John Davis, who in vain assured them that General Rubio,
entrenched in a strong position, would not allow this movement to be
carried out without an attempt to prevent it; so that the abandonment of
the boats by the Mexicans was only fictitious, and a trap adroitly laid
to draw the Revolutionists to a spot where it would be easy to conquer
them.

Unfortunately, the mysterious man to whom we have alluded had alone the
right to give orders, and the reasons urged by Davis could not convince
him. Deceived by his spies, he persuaded himself that General Rubio,
far from having any intention of recapturing Galveston, wished to effect
his junction with Santa Anna before attempting any fresh offensive
movement, and that the halt at the rancho had been merely a feint to
embarrass the rebels.

This incomprehensible error was the cause of incalculable disasters. The
chiefs received orders to march forward, and were constrained to carry
them out. Still, when this erroneous resolution had been once formed,
the means of execution were selected with extreme prudence. The corvette
and brig were ordered to get as near land as they could, in order to
protect, by their cross fire, the embarkation of the troops, and sweep
the Mexicans, if they offered any opposition. Flying columns were sent
off in advance and on the flanks of the army, to clear the way, by
making prisoners of any small outposts the enemy might have established.

Four principal chiefs commanded strong detachments of mounted
freebooters. The four were the Jaguar, Fray Antonio, El Alferez, and Don
Felix Paz, whom the reader assuredly did not expect to find under the
flag of the rebels, and whom he saw only a few hours back enter the
Mexican camp, and hold a secret conference with General Rubio and
Colonel Melendez. These four chiefs were ordered by the
Commander-in-Chief to prevent any surprise, by searching the forests and
examining the tall grass. El Alferez was on the right of the army, Fray
Antonio on the left, the Jaguar had the rear guard, while Don Felix,
with six hundred sabres, formed the van. One word as to the guerillas of
the ex-Mayor-domo of the Larch-tree hacienda. The men who composed his
band, raised on lands dependent on the hacienda, had been enlisted by
Don Felix. They were Indios _mansos_, vaqueros, and peons, mostly half
savages, and rogues to a certain extent, who fought like lions at the
order of their leader, to whom they were thoroughly devoted, but only
recognising and obeying him, while caring nothing for the other leaders
of the army. Don Felix Paz had joined the insurgents about two months
previously, and rendered them eminent service with his guerillas. Hence,
he had in a short time gained general confidence. We shall soon see
whether he was worthy of it.

By a singular coincidence, the two armies left their camp at the same
time, and marched one against the other, little suspecting that two
hours later they would be face to face.



CHAPTER VI.

THE BATTLE OF CERRO PARDO.


The battle of Cerro Pardo was one of those sanguinary days, whose memory
a nation retains for ages as an ill-omened date. In order to explain to
the reader thoroughly how the events happened which we are about to
narrate, we must give a detailed account of the ground on which they
took place.

The spot selected by the Mexicans to effect their landing after leaving
Galveston, had been very cleverly chosen by General Rubio. The stream,
which, for some distance, is enclosed by high banks, runs at that spot
through an extensive plain, covered with tall grass and clumps of trees,
the last relics of a virgin forest, which the claims of trade have
almost destroyed. This plain is closed by a species of _cañón_, or very
narrow gorge, enclosed between two lofty Mils, whose scarped flanks are
carpeted at all seasons with plants and flowers. These two hills are the
Cerro Pardo and the Cerro Prieto,--that is to say, the Red Mountain and
the Black Mountain.

At the canyon begins a road, or, to speak more correctly, a rather wide
track, bordered by bogs and morasses, and running to the cross we have
before visited. This road is the only one that can be followed in going
from the interior to the seashore. A little in advance of the two hills,
whose summit is covered with dense wood and scrub, extend marshes, which
are the more dangerous, because their surface is perfidiously covered
with close green grass, which completely conceals from the traveller the
terrible danger to which he is exposed if he venture on to this moving
abyss. The Cerro Pardo, which is much higher than the other hill, not
only commands the latter, but also the surrounding country, as well as
the sea.

After what we have said, the reader will easily perceive that the
enterprise attempted by the Texans was only possible in the event of the
coast being entirely undefended; but under the present circumstances,
the inconceivable obstinacy of the Commander-in-Chief was the more
incomprehensible, because he was not only thoroughly acquainted with the
country, but at the moment when the army was about to begin its forward
movements, several spies came in in succession, bringing news which
entirely coincided with the positive reports already made by John Davis.

Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first blind. This wise and
thoughtful man, who had ever acted with extreme prudence, and whose
conceptions up to this day had been remarkable for their lucidity, was
deaf to all remonstrances, and the order was given to march. The army at
once set out; Don Felix Paz went on ahead with his guerillas, while the
Jaguar's cuadrilla, on the contrary, remained in the rear. Tranquil, in
spite of the wounds he had received, would not remain in the fort; he
came along lying in a cart, having at his side Carmela and Quoniam, who
paid him the utmost attention; while Lanzi, at the head of a dozen
picked Freebooters given him by the Jaguar, escorted the cart, in the
event of the army being disturbed during the march.

The Jaguar was sorrowful, a gloomy presentiment seemed to warn him of a
misfortune. This daring man, who carried out as if in sport the maddest
and most venturesome deeds, now advanced reluctantly, hesitating and
constantly looking about him suspiciously, and almost timidly.
Assuredly, he feared no personal danger; what did he care for an attack?
What alarm did he feel about dying? Peril was his element; the heated
atmosphere of battle, the odour of powder intoxicated him, and made him
feel strange delight; but at this moment Carmela was near him; Carmela,
whom he had so miraculously found again, and whom he feared to lose
again. This strong man felt his heart soften at the thought, hence he
insisted on taking the rear guard, in order to watch more closely over
the maiden, and be in a position to help her if necessary.

The superior Commander had not dared to refuse the bold partisan this
post, which he asked for as a favour. This condescension on the part of
the Chief had terrible consequences, and was partly the cause of the
events that happened a few hours later.

The Texan troops, in spite of the various element of which they were
composed, advanced, however, with an order and discipline that would
have done honour to regulars. Don Felix Paz had thrown out to the right
and left of the road flankers ordered to investigate the chaparral, and
guarantee the safety of the route; but in spite of these precautions,
whether the Mexicans were really ambushed in inaccessible places, or for
some other reason, the flankers did not discover them, and the vanguard
advanced at a pace which heightened the security of the main body, and
gradually induced the Chiefs to relax their previous watchfulness.

The vanguard reached the cross, and nothing had as yet happened in any
way to trouble the march of the army. Don Felix, after allowing his
cuadrilla to halt for twenty minutes, resolutely entered the road that
led to the spot where the Mexicans had landed. From the cross to the Rio
Trinidad was no great distance, and could be covered in less than two
hours by troops marching at the ordinary pace. The road, however, after
passing the cross, insensibly becomes narrower, and soon changes into a
very confined track, in which three persons can scarce walk abreast.

We have said that trembling prairies extend on either side of this road.
We will explain, in a few sentences, what these trembling prairies are,
which are met with in several parts of America, but principally in Texas
and Louisiana. These prairies, if we may trust to the frequently false
theories of science, have a similar organ to that of Artesian springs,
for the earth does in one case what water does in the other. Through the
action of geological dynamics, the earthy matter which constitutes the
trembling prairies ascends to the surface of lakes and ponds, while in
Artesian wells the water rushes up from the depths through the pressure
of the strata by which it was held down.

Nothing is more dangerous than those trembling prairies, covered with a
perfidious vegetation that deceives the eye. The Rio Trinidad flows at a
few hundred yards from the prairie we have just described, conveying
into the Gulf of Mexico the sedimentary deposits which would consolidate
this shifting soil. Nature has already traced canals intersecting the
prairie, and which run between banks formed by mysterious forces. The
wild beasts, whose admirable instinct never deceives them, have for ages
past formed tracks across these dangerous zones, and the path followed
by the Texan army was no other than one of those trails trodden by the
wild beasts when they go down at night to water.

I know not whether, since Texas has gained its liberty and been
incorporated with the United States, any attempt has been made to drain
these prairies. And yet, I believe that it would require but a very
slight effort to complete the work so intelligently sketched out by
nature. It would be sufficient to dig a series of _colmates_, or
aqueducts, which would introduce into the trembling prairie the turbid
waters of the river, and convey to it the sedimentary matter; and,
before all, the vegetation growing on the prairie should not be burnt,
as is the unfortunate custom. With these two conditions, a firm, rich,
and fertile soil would soon be attained in the line of these slimy and
pestilential marshes that poison the air, produce contagious diseases,
and cause the death of so many unfortunate travellers, deceived by the
luxuriant appearance of these prairies, and who perish miserably, by
being swallowed up in their fetid mud.

But in America it is not so much land that is wanting as men. Probably,
the trembling prairies will remain for a long time what they are at the
present day, for no one has a really personal interest in draining and
getting rid of them.

We will now take up our story at the point where we broke it off,
begging the reader to forgive us the long digression in which we
indulged, but which has its value, we think, in a work intended to make
known a country which is destined ere long to assume an important part
in the trade of the world.

The Texan Vanguard passed the cross at about nine A.M. It had halted for
about twenty minutes and then resumed its march. Still, without any
apparent motive, after crossing without obstacle the defile of the Cerro
Pardo, instead of advancing in the direction of the river, on the bank
of which the stranded boats could already be seen, Don Felix ordered his
cuadrilla to wheel at about two hundred yards from the defile, and
formed a front of fifty horses by ten deep. After commanding a halt, he
dug his spurs in and returned to the gorge, but on this occasion alone.

While galloping, the partisan looked searchingly around him. As far as
the eye could see, the road was entirely deserted. Don Felix halted and
bent over his horse's neck, as if wishing to arrange some buckle, but
while patting his noble animal he twice repeated the croak of a rook. At
once the harsh cry of the puffin rose from the bushes that bordered the
right hand side of the road; the branches were then parted--a man
appeared--it was Colonel Don Juan Melendez de Gongora. Don Felix did not
appear at all surprised at seeing him; on the contrary, he advanced
hurriedly towards him.

"Return to your ambush, Colonel," he said, "you know that there is an
eye in every leaf. If I am seen alone on the road my presence will
arouse no suspicions; but you, Cuerpo de Cristo! You must not be seen.
We can converse equally well at a distance, as the ears able to overhear
us are those of friends."

"You are always prudent, Don Felix."

"I, not at all; I merely wish to avenge myself on those bandits who have
plundered so many magnificent haciendas, and hatred renders a man
prudent."

"Whatever be the motive that impels you, it gives you good inspirations,
that is the main point. But let us return to our business: what do you
want with me?"

"Merely to know two things."

"What are they?"

"Whether General Rubio is really satisfied with the plan I submitted to
him?"

"You have a proof of it before you; if he were not so, should I be
here?"

"That is true."

"Now for the second."

"That is of an extremely delicate nature."

"Ah, ah! You pique my curiosity," the Colonel said, laughingly.

Don Felix frowned and lowered his voice, as it were involuntarily.

"It is very serious, Don Juan," he continued; "I wish, before the
battle, to know if you have retained towards me that esteem and
friendship with which you deigned to honour me at the Larch-tree
hacienda?"

The Colonel turned away in embarrassment.

"Why ask that question at this moment?" he remarked.

Don Felix turned pale and fixed a flashing glance upon him.

"Answer me, I implore yon, Don Juan," he said, pressingly. "Whatever you
may think, whatever opinion you may have of me, I wish to know it; it
must be so."

"Do not press me, I beg, Don Felix. What can you care for any opinion I
may have, which is isolated and unimportant?"

"What can I care, do you ask?" he exclaimed, hotly; "but it is, indeed,
useless to press you farther, for I know all I wish to know. Thank you,
Don Juan, I ask no more. When a man of so noble a character and such a
loyal heart as yours condemns the conduct of another man, it is because
that conduct is really blameable."

"Well, be it so; since you absolutely insist, I will explain my views,
Don Felix. Yes, I blame but do not condemn you, for I cannot and will
not be your judge. Don Felix, I am internally convinced in my soul and
conscience that the man who makes himself, no matter the motive that
impels him, the agent of treachery, commits worse than a crime, for he
is guilty of an act of cowardice! Such a man I can pity, but no longer
esteem."

The ex-Mayor-domo listened to these harsh words with a forehead dripping
with perspiration, but with head erect and eye sparkling with a gloomy
fire. When the officer stopped he bowed coldly and took the hand which
Don Juan did not attempt to draw from his grasp.

"It is well," he said; "your words are rude, but they are true. I thank
you for your frankness, Don Juan; I know now what remains for me to
do."

The Colonel, who had involuntarily allowed his feelings of the moment to
carry him away, fancied that he had gone too far, and was alarmed at the
consequences of his imprudence.

"Don Felix," he added, "forgive me; I spoke to you like a madman."

"Come, come, Don Juan," he replied, with a bitter smile, "do not attempt
to recall your words, you were but the echo of my conscience; what you
have said aloud my heart has often whispered to me. Fear not that I
shall let myself be overcome by a passing feeling of passion. No! I am
one of those men who, when they have once entered a path, persevere in
it at all hazards. But enough of this; I notice a dust, which probably
announces our friends," he added, with a poignant irony. "Farewell, Don
Juan, farewell."

And, not waiting for the answer Don Juan was preparing to give him, Don
Felix spurred his horse, turned hastily round, and went off as rapidly
as he had come. The Colonel looked after him for a moment thoughtfully.

"Alas!" he muttered, "that man is now more unhappy than culpable, or I
am greatly mistaken; if he be not killed today it will not be for want
of seeking death."

He then buried himself again in the chaparral with a melancholy shake of
his head. In the meanwhile, the Texan army rapidly advanced; like the
Mexicans, each mounted man had a foot soldier behind him. At about a
gunshot from the cross roads, the Texans came upon the edge of the
trembling prairie; they were consequently obliged to halt in order to
call in their flankers, scattered on the right and left, which naturally
produced a momentary disorder, promptly repaired, however, by the
activity of the chief, then they started again.

The order of march was necessarily altered, the path grew narrower at
every step, and the cavalry were unable to keep their ranks any longer.
However, from the moment of the start, the vanguard had not announced
any danger. The army, trusting in the experience of the officer detached
to clear the way, marched in perfect security, which was augmented by
the hope of speedily reaching the mouth of the Rio Trinidad, and at once
embarking for Galveston.

The Jaguar alone did not share the general confidence: accustomed for a
long period to a war of ambushes, the ground he now trod seemed to him
so suitable in every way for a surprise, that he could not persuade
himself that they would reach the seashore without an attack. In a word,
the young Chief had an intuition of approaching danger. He guessed it,
felt it, so to speak, though he could not tell from what quarter it
would come, and suddenly burst on his comrades and himself.

There is nothing so terrible as such a situation, where a man is obliged
to stand on his defence against space. The desert tranquilly surrounds
him on all sides, in vain does he interrogate the air and earth, to find
a clue which constantly escapes him, and yet he has in his heart a
certainty for which he finds it impossible to account! He can only
answer questions with the enigmatical, though strictly logical phrase,
"I do not know, and yet I am sure of it."

The Jaguar resolved, whatever the consequences might be, to avoid
personally a surprise, whose results would be disastrous to those he had
vowed to protect and defend, that is to say, to Tranquil and Carmela.
Gradually slackening the pace of his detachment, he succeeded in leaving
a sufficiently wide distance between himself and the main body, to
regain almost entirely his liberty of action. His first care was to
collect round the cart the men in whom he placed most confidence. Then
selecting those of his comrades whom he supposed most conversant with
Indian tricks, he placed them under the command of John Davis, with
orders to force their way, as well as they could, through the chaparral
that skirted both sides of the track, and enclosed it so completely,
that it was impossible to see anything beyond.

It could not enter the Jaguar's mind that the Mexicans would not profit
by the opportunity offered them by the imprudence of the Texans, to try
and take their revenge for the defeats they had suffered. In this view
he was entirely supported by Davis, who, it will be remembered, had
urgently, though vainly, begged the Commander-in-Chief to give up his
plan. The two men, who had been so long acquainted, understood each
other at the first word, and John Davis immediately spread out his men,
as a forlorn hope, on either side of the road. The Jaguar proceeded to
the cart after this, and addressed the hunter.

"Well, Tranquil," he said to him, "how do you find yourself?"

"Better," the other answered; "I hope within a few days to be
sufficiently recovered to give up this wearisome position."

"And your strength?"

"Is rapidly returning."

"All the better. Would you be capable of firing in your own defence,
without leaving the cart?"

"I think so. But do you fear any trap? The spot where we now are,
appears most favourable for it."

"Does it not! Well, you have spoken the truth, I fear an ambuscade. Here
is a rifle, and if needs must, make use of it."

"Trust to me. Thanks," he added, as he clutched the weapon with a
delight he did not attempt to conceal.

The Jaguar then placed himself at the head of his troop, and gave orders
to set out again. Long before this, the main body of the army had passed
the cross, the heads of the columns were already entering the defile, a
movement which, owing to the narrowness, produced some disorder the
leaders were trying to repress, when suddenly a shower of canister burst
from the Cerro Pardo, and made wide gaps in the crowded ranks of the
Texans. At the same instant a terrible, shout was heard from the other
end of the gorge, and Don Felix Paz' cuadrilla appeared galloping at
full speed toward the main body.

At the first moment the Texans had to make way for these horsemen, whom
they supposed to be closely pursued by a still invisible enemy; but
their surprise changed into terror and stupor when they saw this
vanguard dash at them and mercilessly sabre them with shouts of "Mejico!
Mejico! Federación!"

The Texans were betrayed! Suffering from a terror that almost attained
to madness, unable to form in this limited spot, decimated by the
canister incessantly discharged at them, and sabred by Don Felix'
cuadrilla, they had but one thought--that of flight. But at the moment
when they tried to turn, the terrible cry of "Mejico! Mejico! mueran los
rebeldes!" resounded like a funeral knell in their rear, and Colonel
Melendez, at the head of his five hundred horses, dashed at the Texans,
who were thus caught between two fires.

The medley then assumed the fearful proportions of one of those mediæval
butcheries in which man, having attained the paroxysm of fury,
intoxicated by the sharp smell of blood, the powder, smoke, and the din
of battle, kills for the sake of killing with the pleasure of a wild
beast, growing excited by the massacre of every victim that falls, and
far from satiating his hatred, finds it increase in proportion to the
corpses piled up on the blood-stained ground.

Flight was impossible, and resistance seemed the same. At this supreme
hour, when all appeared lost and the cause of liberty was about to be
eternally buried under the pile of corpses, an irresistible movement
suddenly took place in the terrified crowd, which opened like a ripe
fruit through the bloody track thus made by main force. The Jaguar now
dashed forward, splendid in his wrath and despair, brandishing his
machete above his head, and followed by his brave cuadrilla. A cry of
delight saluted the arrival of the daring freebooter, who had been
obliged to cut his way through Colonel Melendez' Mexicans, as they
vainly strove to stop his passage.

"My lads!" the Jaguar shouted, in a voice that rose above the din of
battle, "We are surrounded by the enemy, and have been betrayed and led
into a trap by a coward. Let us show these Mexicans, who believe us
already conquered, and are congratulating themselves on their easy
victory, what men like ourselves are capable of. Follow me--forward!
Forward!"

"Forward!" the Texans vociferated, electrified by these daring words.

The Jaguar made his horse bound, and dashed at the side of the mountain.
His military instinct had not deserted him, for that was, in fact, the
key of the battle. The Texans rushed after him, brandishing their
weapons and uttering yells of fury. But at this moment the troops of
General Rubio made their appearance, who had hitherto remained ambushed
behind the trees and bushes; they crowned the heights, lined the sides
of the road, and the fight began again more terrible and obstinate than
before. The efforts were useless; the Texans returned eight times to the
assault of the Cerro Pardo, and eight times were driven back in disorder
to the foot of the mountain, which they were unable to scale.

In vain did the Jaguar, Davis, Fray Antonio, El Alferez, and the other
Chiefs perform prodigies of valour; the Mexican bullets decimated their
soldiers, who at length growing discouraged, refused any longer to
continue an impossible contest. The Commander-in-Chief of the army, who
by his imprudence had caused this grave disaster, resolved to make a
final and supreme effort. Collecting around him all the willing men who
still attempted resistance, he formed them into a column of attack, and
dashed like a whirlwind at the Mexican guns, the artillerymen of which
were cut down without yielding an inch. Surprised by this sudden and
furious charge, the Mexicans broke and abandoned the battery; this
audacious attempt might change the issue of the battle. Already the
Texans, who were almost masters of the plateau, were preparing to take
advantage of this fortuitous and unhoped-for success; but unfortunately,
the revolutionary army, nearly entirely demoralized, did not support
with the necessary vigour the heroic effort of these few chosen braves;
the Mexicans had time to recover from their surprise and compare their
strength with that of their foes. Ashamed at the check they had
suffered, they rushed upon the enemy, and after a frightful hand-to-hand
fight, they succeeded in driving the Texans from the plateau at the
moment when the latter formed hopes of holding it.

Colonel Melendez and Don Felix Paz had at length effected their
junction; the Texans had not even the possibility of flight left them,
but the Jaguar did not yet despair; still, since he could no longer
conquer, he would at least save Carmela. But between her and him stood a
human wall, through which he must clear a road. The young man did not
hesitate; turning like a wounded lion, he bounded into the midst of the
enemy's ranks, summoning his comrades, and waving round his head the
terrible machete he had employed so well during the action. A man boldly
rushed to meet him with uplifted sabre.

"Ah! the traitor Don Felix!" the Jaguar shouted, on recognising him, and
split his skull open.

Then he rushed like an avalanche down the mountain side, overthrowing
every one he came across; and followed by a few of his most devoted
companions, the ranks of the Mexicans opened to let them pass.

"Thanks, brother," the Jaguar shouted with considerable emotion to
Colonel Melendez, who had given his soldiers a sign to let him pass.

The Colonel turned away and made no answer. The carnage lasted a long
time yet, as the Texans would not accept quarter. Six hundred Texans
fell into the hands of the victors, while eight hundred found death on
the field of battle.

The same evening General Rubio re-entered Galveston at the head of his
victorious army; the insurrectionists fled in terror in all directions,
without hope of ever again collecting. The cause of Texan liberty seemed
lost for a long time, if not for ever.

The Jaguar, on reaching the cross roads, found the cart smashed, and
most of its defenders lying dead on the ground. Singular to say, they
had all been scalped. Tranquil, Quoniam, Carmela, and Lanzi had
disappeared. What terrible drama could have been performed at this spot?



CHAPTER VII.

THE ATEPETL.


Texas is intersected by two lines of continuous forests, which run from
the north, near the sources of the Rio Trinidad to the Arkansas river.
These forests are called the "Cross Timbers;" behind them commence the
immense prairies of Apacheria, on which countless herds of buffaloes and
wild horses wander about at liberty.

In the centre of a narrow valley, enclosed on three sides by the denuded
and serrated crests of the mountains--and on the banks of the Rio
Sabina, a little above its confluence with the Vermejo, where it still
flows wide and transparent between undulating banks, bordered by clumps
of cotton-wood trees and dwarf palms--an Indian village was deliciously
scattered among the trees. The latter formed a dense dome of foliage
over the callis, which they sheltered from the hot beams of the southern
sun, and protected from the cold gusts which at times descend from the
mountains in the winter season. This village was a winter atepetl of the
Comanche Indians, belonging to the Antelope tribe. We will describe in a
few words this village, where several important scenes connected with
our narrative will take place.

Although, built to the fancy of the Redskins, the callis affected a
certain regularity of construction, as they all converged on a common
point, which formed a species of grand square in the heart of the
village. In the centre of this square could be seen a large unhooped
barrel, deeply buried in the ground, and covered with lichens and
stonecrop. It was the "ark of the first man." It was here that the war
stake was planted before the great medicine lodge; and here, under grave
circumstances, the Sachems lit the council fire, and smoked the sacred
calumet ordinarily placed before the entrance of the calli of the chief
Sachem, and supported on two forked sticks, as it must never touch the
ground.

The Indian callis are generally constructed in a spherical shape, built
on piles covered with mud, over which buffalo hides sewn together, and
displaying numerous pictures of animals painted in vermilion, are
thrown. On a scaffolding standing in front of the calli, Indian corn,
forage for the horses, and the winter provisions of each inhabitant were
stored. At intervals could be seen tall poles, from which waved, at the
slightest breath of air, blankets, harness, and fragments of stuffs of
every description, the homage raised by the superstitious Redskins to
the Master of Life, a species of _ex voto_ torn from them by their
fears, and named the "Medicine of Hope."

The village, excepting on the side turned to the Sabina river, was
surrounded by a strong palisade about fifteen feet high, made of
enormous trunks of trees, fastened together with strips of bark and
wooden cramp hooks. At about five or, six hundred yards from the atepetl
was the cemetery, the exhalations from which, by disagreeably affecting
the traveller's sense of smell, advised him that he was approaching an
Indian tribe. The natives of America, like most of those in Polynesia,
have a very singular mode of burial. As a general rule, they do not
inter their dead, but suspend them between earth and sky. After wrapping
them carefully in blankets and buffalo robes, they place them on
platforms supported on four poles some fifty feet high, and leave them
exposed to the rain and sun to decompose gradually. The birds of prey
incessantly hover over these strange tombs, uttering shrill and
discordant cries, while making a disgusting meal on the putrefying
flesh.

Two months after the battle of the Cerro Pardo, on the day when we
resume our narrative, and about an hour before sunset, on a delicious
afternoon of September,--which the Indians call the Moon of the Wild
Oats--several riders, mounted on fiery mustangs, harnessed in the desert
fashion, that is to say, painted of several colours, and adorned with
plumes and bells, were following, while conversing together rather
eagerly, a winding path, which runs for several leagues along the
winding course of the Rio Sabina, and terminates at the winter atepetl
of the Antelope Comanches, which we described at the beginning of this
chapter.

These horsemen, five in number, were armed with rifles, tomahawks, and
machetes. They wore the cotton hunting shirt of the wood rangers
fastened round the waist, _mitasses_, or trousers, in two pieces tied at
the ankles, fur caps, and Indian mocassins. Still, although this costume
was almost identical with that worn by the majority of the Indian
tribes, in whom constant contact with the Americans has produced a sort
of bastard civilization, it was easy to recognise these riders as white
men, not only through the ease of their manners, but also through the
clearness of their complexion, which the hot sunbeams had been impotent
to render so dusky as that of the aboriginals.

About two hundred yards behind the horsemen, came a sixth, mounted and
dressed like them, but who was assuredly a Redskin. His head, instead of
being covered by a fur cap, was bare; his hair, pulled up at the top of
his head, and stained with red ochre, was fastened with strips of
snakeskin; a falcon feather stuck in above his right ear, near his
war-scalp lock, indicated his claim to high rank among his countrymen,
while the numerous wolf tails fastened to his heels, proved that he was
a renowned warrior; in his right hand he held a fan made of the entire
wing of an eagle, and in his left he waved the short-handled and
long-lashed whip, peculiar to the Comanche and Sioux Indians.

These riders employed none of the precautions usual on the prairie to
avoid surprises, or foil the enemies generally ambushed in the track of
hunters. From the way in which they conversed together, and the absent
glances they at times took across the country, rather through habit than
any prudential motive, it might easily be guessed that these men were
reaching a spot perfectly well known to them, and where they felt
certain of not falling into a trap. Still, had they not been absorbed in
their conversation, and could their glances have pierced the dense
curtain of verdure that formed a fragrant wall on their right, they
would have seen amid the shrubs and lower branches of the trees an
agitation not at all natural, and doubtless produced by the passage of a
wild beast; at times, too, they might have noticed two eyes flashing
among the leaves, which were fixed upon them with a savage expression
of passion and hatred.

But, we repeat, these men, who, however, were wood rangers, renowned in
these parts for their almost miraculous sagacity and skill, were so
completely absorbed in their conversation; they felt so sure of having
no snare to apprehend, their eyes and ears were so thoroughly closed,
that they appeared blind and deaf, although ordinarily not the slightest
noise, or the most futile object escaped their notice, but was analyzed
with the searching and investigating spirit of individuals whose life
may hang on a false step or a badly calculated movement.

On coming within pistol shot of the village, the horsemen stopped to
give the Indian behind them time to rejoin them. So soon as the latter
perceived this halt, he whipped his horse, and almost immediately ranged
up alongside his comrades. He stopped his horse, and waited silently and
calmly till he should be addressed.

"What are we to do now, Chief?" one of the travellers asked. "So soon as
we have passed that projecting point we shall be at the valley."

"Our Pale brothers are brave; the Antelope Comanches will be happy to
receive them and burn powder in their honour. A Chief will go alone to
the village to announce their arrival to the Sachems."

"Go then, Chief, we will await you here."

"Wah! My brother has spoken well."

The Indian vigorously lashed his horse, which bounded ahead and speedily
disappeared behind the peak to which the hunter had pointed. The
horsemen drew up in line and waited motionless with their hands on their
weapons. In a very few minutes a noise was heard resembling the rolling
of thunder, and suddenly a crowd of mounted Indians appeared, coming up
at full speed, brandishing their weapons, discharging their guns,
howling and whistling in the long _iskochéttas_ made of human thigh
bones, which they wore hanging from their necks.

On their side, the hunters, at a sign from the man who appeared to be
their leader, made their horses curvet, and discharged their weapons
with repeated shouts and demonstrations of joy. For half an hour there
was a deafening noise, augmented by the yells of the squaws and children
who flocked up, blowing shells and rattling _chichikouès_, and the
barking of the thousands of savage and half-tamed dogs which the Indians
constantly take about with them. It was plain that the strangers to whom
the Redskins, generally so haughty and retiring, offered so warm and
friendly a reception, were great friends of the tribe; for, had it been
otherwise, a deputation of Chiefs would have met them at the entrance of
the village to do them the honours of the atepetl, but the brave and
renowned warriors would not have thought it requisite to get under arms.

All at once the noise ceased as if by enchantment, and the Indian
horsemen ranged themselves in a semicircle in front of the white
hunters. A few paces before the line, four principal Chiefs, mounted on
magnificent mustangs, formed a separate group. These warriors,
completely armed and painted for war, wore the great cap of feathers
which only renowned warriors who have raised many scalps are entitled to
assume; their shoulders were decked with superb necklaces of grizzly
bears' claws, five inches long and white at the tips; behind them
floated the wide white buffalo robe, painted red inside, and on which
their exploits were designed; in one hand they held their guns, in the
other a fan made of the wing of a white-headed eagle. These Indian
warriors, clothed in such a magnificent costume, had something majestic
and imposing about them that inspired respect.

For some ten minutes the Indians and hunters stood thus, motionless and
silent, in presence of each other, when suddenly a fresh horseman
appeared, coming at full speed from the village. He was evidently a
white man; he was dressed in the garb of a wood ranger, and two
magnificent _rastreros_, or greyhounds, leaped up playfully on either
side of his horse. At the appearance of the newcomer the Indians burst
into yells of joy, and shouted--

"The great brave of the Antelope Comanches! Loyal Heart, Loyal Heart!"

The warrior was really the Mexican hunter, who has already made his
appearance several times during the course of our narrative. He saluted
the warriors by a wave of the hand, and took his place among the Chiefs,
who respectfully made way for him.

"My brother Black-deer has informed me of the arrival of great friends
of our nation," he said, "and I have hurried up in all haste to witness
their reception and bid them welcome."

"Why has not the Black-deer accompanied our brother the great Brave of
the tribe?" one of the Chiefs asked.

"The Sachem wished to remain in the village and watch the preparation of
the medicine lodge."

The Chief bowed, but said nothing further. Loyal Heart then put his
horse at a gallop and advanced toward the hunters, who, on their sides,
made a move to meet him.

"You are welcome here, Tranquil," Loyal Heart said; "yourself and your
comrades were impatiently expected."

"Thank you," Tranquil answered, pressing the hand the hunter offered
him; "many events have happened since our separation, and it certainly
did not depend on us that we did not arrive sooner."

The five white hunters were all old acquaintances--Tranquil, Lanzi,
Quoniam, John Davis, and Fray Antonio. How was it that the American and
the Monk had joined the three wood rangers! We shall explain that to the
reader in the proper place. Loyal Heart took Tranquil's right hand, and
both advanced at an amble towards the Chiefs.

"Sachems of the Antelope tribe," he said, "this Pale hunter is my
brother; his heart is good, his arm strong, and his tongue is not
forked; he loves the red men; he is renowned as a great brave in his
nation, he is wise at the council fire; love him, for the Master of Life
sustains him and has removed the skin from his heart, in order that his
blood may be pure and the words he utters such as a wise warrior ought
to pronounce."

"Wah!" one of the Sachems answered, with a graceful bow to the hunter;
"the Comanches are great warriors; who can tell the extent of the
hunting grounds the great spirit has given them? They are the masters of
the red man because they are all great braves, whose heels are adorned
with numerous wolf tails. My Pale brother and his warriors will enter
the atepetl; they will receive callis, horses, and squaws to clean their
arms and prepare their food, and the tribe of Antelope Comanches will
count five braves more. I have spoken; have I said right, powerful
Chiefs?"

"Chief," Tranquil replied, "I thank you for the hearty reception you are
pleased to offer me. My brother, Loyal Heart, has told you the truth
about my feelings towards your nation. I love the Red men, and
especially the Comanches, who, of all the nations dwelling on the
prairies, are the noblest and most courageous, and rightly call
themselves the Queen Nation of the prairies, because their war horses
and braves traverse it in all directions, and no one dares to oppose
them. In my own name and that of my comrades I accept your frank and
cordial hospitality, and we shall requite so great a favour by our wise
and moderate conduct."

The principal Sachem then took off his buffalo robe, with a gesture full
of dignity, and placed it on the shoulders of the hunter, while the
other Chiefs did the same to his comrades.

"Warriors and braves of the powerful Antelope tribe," he said, turning
to the Indians, who were still motionless and silent, "these Palefaces
are henceforth our brothers. Woe to the man who insults them!"

At these words the shouts and yells recommenced with fresh vigour, and
the Indians displayed signs of the liveliest joy. Possibly this joy was
not so real as it appeared, and was not equally shared by all present.
But those who might feel annoyed at the admission of the wood rangers
into the tribe, carefully concealed their displeasure, and were,
perhaps, the very men whose demonstrations of delight were the most
vociferous.

Indian policy, very logical in this as in many other things, orders the
natives to seek at any price an alliance with the whites, whose
recognized skill in the management of arms, and profound knowledge of
the manners of their countrymen, may at a given moment be of great
service to the Indians, either in the interminable wars they wage
against each other, or to defend them against the soldiers, _civicos_,
and armed colonists, whom the civilized governments surrounding them
frequently send to take vengeance for incursions on the territories of
the White men, incursions in which the Indians indulge only too
frequently, and during which they are guilty of deeds of unheard-of
cruelty, and cause irreparable misfortunes.

After the final ceremony we have described, the Indian Sachems took the
White hunters in their midst, and placing themselves at the head of
their warriors, started at a gallop for the village, which they reached
in less than a quarter of an hour. At the entrance Black-deer was
waiting for them, surrounded by the most important and wisest Sachems of
the tribe. Without uttering a syllable, he took the head of the column
and led it to the centre of the village, near the Ark of the first man.
On reaching it the Indians suddenly halted, as if the feet of their
horses were imbedded in the ground. Black-deer then stationed himself at
the doorway of the medicine lodge, between the hachesto, who held in his
hand the totem of the tribe, and the pipe bearer, who supported the
sacred calumet.

"Who are the Pale men who thus enter as friends the atepetl of the
Antelope Comanches?" he asked, addressing Loyal Heart.

"They are brothers, who ask leave to sit by the hearth of the Red men,"
the latter answered.

"It is well," Black-deer continued; "these men are our brothers. The
Council fire is lighted; they will enter with us the lodge of the Great
Medicine, sit down by the fire and smoke _morichee_ from the sacred
calumet with the Sachems of the nation."

"Let it be as my brother has decided," Loyal Heart responded.

Black-deer gave a wave of the hand, upon which the hachesto raised the
curtained door of the lodge, and the Chiefs entered, followed by the
hunters. The medicine lodge, much larger than the other callis of the
village, was also built with greater care. The buffalo skins that
covered it entirely were painted red with a profusion of black designs,
a species of sacred hieroglyphics, only understood by the medicine men
and the most renowned Sachems of the tribe, who possessed the scent of
the war trail. The interior of the lodge was perfectly empty. In the
centre was a round hole dug in the earth to a depth of about two feet;
in this hole the requisite wood and charcoal were prepared.

When all the Chiefs had entered the lodge, the hachesto let the curtain
fall again that formed the entrance. A band of picked warriors
immediately surrounded the lodge to keep off the curious, and insure the
secrecy of the deliberations. The Indians are excessively strict about
the laws of etiquette; with them everything is regulated with a
minuteness we should be far from expecting among a semi-barbarous
nation; and each is bound by the severest penalties to conform to the
ceremonial. In order to make our readers thoroughly understand their
strange manners, we thought it best to give them in their fullest
detail.

Thus Black-deer was perfectly well aware who the Palefaces were that
reached the village, since he had acted as their guide. But etiquette
demanded that he should receive them as he had done, for otherwise the
other Chiefs might have been scandalized by such a breach of custom, and
the strangers would, in all probability, have questions to discuss. In
the first place, it was proposed to organise a great expedition against
the Buffalo Apaches, a plundering tribe, who had several times stolen
horses from the very villages of the Comanches, and on whom the Sachems
desired to take exemplary revenge. Secondly, Tranquil, through the
medium of Loyal Heart, whose influence was great with the tribe,
requested that a band of picked braves, amounting to fifty, and placed
under the command of Loyal Heart, should be entrusted to him for an
expedition, the object of which he could not divulge at the moment, but
its success would benefit his allies as much as himself.

The first question was, after several speeches, unanimously resolved in
the affirmative. The council was proceeding to discuss the second, when
a loud noise was heard outside, the curtain of the medicine lodge was
raised, and the hachesto walked in. Let us shortly explain what the
hachesto of an Indian village is, and the nature of his duties. The
hachesto is a man who must be gifted with a loud and powerful voice. He
represents among the Redskins the town crier, and his duty is to make
news public, and convene the Chiefs to council. When he made his
appearance in the lodge, Black-deer gave him an angry glance.

"When the Chiefs are assembled in the Medicine lodge, they must not be
disturbed," he said to him.

"My father, Wah-Rush-a-Menec, speaks well," the Indian answered with a
respectful bow; "his son knows it."

"Then, why has my son entered without the orders of the Sachems?"

"Because five warriors of the Buffalo Apaches have arrived at the
village."

"Wah! And who is the brave that has made them prisoners? Why has he not
taken their scalps? Does he prefer fastening them to the stake of
torture?"

The hachesto shook his head.

"My father is mistaken," he said; "these warriors have not been made
prisoners by any of our braves, they are free."

"Ooehst!" said Black-deer with a degree of surprise he could not
entirely conceal; "How then did they enter the village?"

"Openly, in the sight of all; they call themselves ambassadors."

"Ambassadors! And who is the Chief that marches at their head?"

"Blue-fox."

"Blue-fox is a great brave. He is a terrible warrior in fight; his arm
has raised many scalps belonging to my sons; his hand has robbed them of
many horses. But his presence is disagreeable to the Comanches. What
does he want?"

"To enter the Medicine lodge, and explain to the Sachems the mission
with which he is entrusted."

"It is well," said Black-deer, giving an enquiring glance to the members
of the council.

The latter replied by a nod of assent. Loyal Heart rose--

"My Pale brothers, I must not be present at the deliberation that is
about to take place," he remarked; "will the Chief permit me to retire?"

"Loyal Heart is a son of the Comanches," Black-deer answered; "his place
is among us, for, if he be young in years, his experience and wisdom are
great. But he can do as he pleases--the Pale hunters can retire. If the
Chiefs require Loyal Heart, they will request his return."

The young man bowed ceremoniously, and withdrew, followed by the
hunters, who, we must confess, were delighted at getting away from the
Medicine lodge, for they felt the need of rest after the fatigue they
had undergone in making a long journey by almost impracticable roads.



CHAPTER VIII.

HOSPITALITY.


We have said that some callis had been got ready for the hunters. These
callis, built like those of the Indians, were, however, comfortable
enough for men who, accustomed to desert life, despise the superfluities
of towns, and are contented with what is strictly necessary. On quitting
the Medicine lodge, Loyal Heart led the travellers to two callis
communicating with each other; then, making Tranquil a sign to follow
him, he left the four hunters to make themselves as jolly as they could.

"As for you, my friend," he said to Tigrero, "I hope you will accept the
hospitality my modest abode permits me to offer you."

"Why put yourself to trouble for me?" the Canadian replied, "the
slightest thing suffices me. I assure you that I should be all right
with my comrades."

"I do not put myself out at all; on the contrary, I feel a real pleasure
in giving you a place at my fireside."

"As it is so, I no longer insist: do what you please with me."

"Thanks! Come on then."

Without further remark, they crossed the village square, which was
almost deserted at this moment, for night had fallen some time
previously, and most of the Indians had retired to their wigwams. Still,
from the interior of the callis, songs and laughter could be heard,
proving that if the inhabitants had shut themselves up, they were not
the less awake for all that. We will remark in passing, that many
travellers who have only seen Indians, and have not been in a position
to study their character, represent them as gloomy, mournful men,
speaking but little, and never laughing. This is a grave error; the
Redskins, on the contrary, are generally very jovial when together, and
are specially fond of telling stories. But with the strangers, whose
language they do not understand, and who do not understand theirs, they
maintain a reserve, and only speak when absolutely compelled, because,
as they are extremely susceptible, they fear giving their listeners an
opportunity of ridiculing them.

Loyal Heart, after walking for some minutes through the streets, stopped
before a calli of sufficiently singular appearance to surprise Tranquil,
although he was not easily astonished. This calli, which anywhere else
would have been quite commonplace, justly appeared strange in an Indian
village. It was a rather large rancho, built in the Mexican fashion, of
planks painted of a dazzling whiteness. It formed a parallelogram, the
roof was flat, and in front of the door was a porch formed of six
enormous trees fastened together, and covered with an azotea. On either
side the door, three windows were pierced in the frontage, and these
windows had glass panes, a most singular thing at a spot so remote from
all towns.

A man of about fifty years of age, tall and thin, and dressed in the
Mexican garb, was smoking a cigarette as he sat on an equipal in the
porch. This man, whose hair was turning grey, had the placid though
resolute look of men who have suffered greatly. On seeing him, the
rastreros, which hitherto had not left Loyal Heart a yard, rushed toward
him with a joyous bark, and leaped up at him caressingly.

"Ah," the man said, as he rose and bowed respectfully to the hunter, "it
is you, mi amo! You return home very late."

These words were uttered in that affectionate tone which is so pleasing
in the mouth of an old and faithful servant.

"That is true, No Eusebio," the young man answered with a smile, as he
squeezed the hand of the old man, whom those of our readers who have
perused the "Trappers of Arkansas" have doubtless recognised, "I bring a
friend."

"He is welcome," No Eusebio answered; "we will try to give him as hearty
a welcome as he deserves, to the best of our ability."

"Oh, oh, gossip!" Tranquil remarked, gaily; "I am no troublesome guest,
I shall not put you out of your way much."

"Come in, my friend," said Loyal Heart; "I should not like to keep my
mother waiting any longer."

"The Señora is so restless when you are out late."

"Announce us; No Eusebio, we follow you."

The servant turned to obey, but the rastreros had long ago announced the
hunter's return to his mother, by rushing madly into the house, hence
the lady appeared in the doorway at the moment when the three men
prepared to enter. At the moment when we meet Doña Garillas again, she
was no longer the young and charming woman, with such pure and soft
beauty, whom we saw in the prologue of the "Trappers;" eight years had
pasted over her; eight long years of agony, alarm, and grief. She was
still young and lovely, it is true, but this beauty had ripened beneath
the burning blast of adversity. Her pale forehead and calm features won
that expression of crushing resignation which the old sculptor succeeded
in rendering on the admirable bust of Melancholy. When she saw her son
her eyes sparkled, but that was all.

"Caballero," she said, in a gentle and melodious voice as she smiled on
the Canadian, "enter this modest abode, where you have been impatiently
expected for a long time. Although our hearth be small, we always keep a
nook for a friend."

"Señora," the hunter replied with a bow, "your reception overcomes me
with joy. I trust I shall prove deserving of the kindness you show me."

They entered the rancho, whose interior corresponded exactly with the
exterior. A candil, suspended from a beam, illumined a rather large
room, the furniture of which consisted merely of a few equipals, two
butacas, and a chiffonier, all clumsily made with the hatchet. On the
white-washed walls hung four of those coloured engravings with which
Parisian commerce inundates both hemispheres. The first represented
Napoleon at the St. Bernard; the second, Iturbide, that Mexican general
who was for six months emperor, and died, like Murat, shot by his own
subjects; the third, our Saviour on the cross between the two thieves;
and the fourth, Nuestra-Señora-de-los-Dolores. Before the last two hung
lamps that burned night and day.

During our lengthened wanderings we have been enabled to discover a
singular fact; it is, that in Asia, America, Africa, and the heart of
Polynesia, among the most savage tribes the name of Napoleon the First
has not only penetrated, but is venerated like a god; and I even found
his portrait among the Botocudos, that untameable horde hidden in the
forests of Brazil. What is the magic influence exerted on humanity by
this extraordinary man? It is vain to seek the solution of this problem,
vain to try to discover by what remarkable concourse of events the name
of the great Emperor penetrated beneath the grand domes of foliage,
where all the rumours of civilization expire without an echo.

A European rarely visits an Indian tribe in which the Chiefs do not ask
him news of Napoleon, and beg him to tell anecdotes about his reign; and
strangely enough, their primitive natures will not allow that the great
man is dead. When told so, the Chiefs content themselves with smiling
cunningly. One day, after a lengthened hunt in Apacheria, I demanded
hospitality of a party of Opata Indians. The Chief, on hearing that I
was a Frenchman, did not fail to speak to me about the Emperor. After a
long conversation, I concluded by describing, in a way that the men who
surrounded and listened to me with the most profound attention could
understand, the death of the great man after long and painful
sufferings. The Chief, an old man of venerable appearance, interrupted
me, and laying his left hand on my arm to attract my attention, while
with the right he pointed to the sun, whose fiery disc was sinking in
the horizon in clouds of vapour, asked me with a most significant
smile--

"Is the sun about to die?"

"Certainly not," I answered, not knowing what the Redskin was driving
at.

"Wah!" he continued, "If the sun never dies, how can the great pale
Chief be dead, who is the son of that planet?"

The Indians applauded this conclusion; I tried to alter their opinion in
vain, and at length grew so tired, that I allowed them to be right. All
my efforts had only produced the result of convincing them still more of
the immortality of the hero whom they are accustomed to regard as a
divinity. However, I believe that if a person would take the trouble to
seek carefully, he would find in France peasants whose opinion is
precisely similar. Asking the reader's pardon for this long digression,
we will resume our narrative at the point where we interrupted it.

By the care of Doña Garillas and No Eusebio, a frugal meal was prepared
for the travellers, who now sate down to table. Tranquil, especially,
who had made a long journey, experienced that feeling of internal
comfort which is produced after long fatigue, by finding, during a
desert halt, a fugitive reflex of civilisation.

The meal was most simple; it consisted of pigoles with pimento, a lump
of venison, and maize tortillas, the whole washed down with smilax water
and a few mouthfuls of pulque, a wonderful luxury in these regions, and
among the Comanches, the only Indians who never drink strong liquors. No
Eusebio sate down with the hunter. The lady waited on them, and did the
honours of her house with that kindly and graceful attention so rarely
met with in our civilized countries, where everything is so expensive,
even a kind reception. When the meal was ended, which was not long
first, the three men rose from table and seated themselves round a
copper brasero full of hot ashes, when they began smoking. The dogs,
like vigilant sentries, had lain down across the door, with outstretched
heads and pricked-up ears.

The greatest silence prevailed in the village; the songs and laughter
had gradually died out; the Indians were asleep or appeared to be so.
Doña Garillas had made in the corner of the room a bed of furs, which
would seem delicious to a man accustomed, during the course of his
adventurous life, to sleep most nights on the bare ground, and she was
about to invite the hunter to rest his weary limbs, when the dogs raised
their heads sharply and began growling; at the same instant, two slight
taps were given on the door of the rancho.

"Tis a friend," Loyal Heart said; "open, no Eusebio."

The old servant obeyed, and an Indian stalked in; it was Black-deer. The
Chiefs face was gloomy; he bowed slightly to the company, and, without
saying a syllable, sat down on an equipal placed for him near the
brasero. The hunters were too conversant with the Indian character to
question the Chief, so long as he was pleased to keep silence. Tranquil,
however, drew his pipe from his lips, and handed it to Black-deer, who
began smoking, after thanking him with one of those emphatic gestures
usual with the Redskins. There was a long silence, but at last the Chief
raised his head.

"The Chiefs have left the Council lodge," he said.

"Ah!" Loyal Heart replied, for the sake of saying something.

"No determination was formed, no answer given the Envoy?"

"The Sachems are prudent, they wished to reflect."

The Sachem nodded in affirmation,

"Does my brother Loyal Heart wish to learn what happened at the Council
after his departure?" he asked.

"My brother is thoughtful, his heart is sad; let him speak, the ears of
a friend are open."

"The Chief will eat first," Doña Garillas remarked, "he remained late at
the Council; the squaws have not prepared his evening meal."

"My mother is good," he replied with a smile, "Black-deer will eat; he
is here in the wigwam of the brother of his heart: the warriors have
exchanged horses and weapons."

Who taught the Indians this affecting custom, which makes them select a
friend, with whom they exchange arms and horses, and who, from that
moment, is dearer to them than if blood ties attached them? Black-deer
and Loyal Heart had really made the exchange referred to by the Sachem.

"My mother will retire to sleep," said Loyal Heart. "I will wait on my
brother."

"Be it so," the Redskin answered; "my mother needs rest--the night is
advanced."

Doña Garillas understood that the three men had to talk about secret
affairs, so, after bidding her guests good-night, she withdrew without
offering any objection. As for No Eusebio, considering his presence
unnecessary, he went to bed after the Indian's arrival, that is to say,
lay down on a hammock, suspended in the porch of the house, with the two
rastreros at his feet, so that no one could enter or leave the house
without awakening him. After hurriedly eating a few mouthfuls, rather
through politeness than want, Black-deer spoke again.

"My brother Loyal Heart is young," he said, "but his wisdom is great;
the Chiefs have confidence in him, and would not decide anything till
they had heard his opinion."

"My brothers know that I am devoted to them. If my brother will explain,
I will answer him."

"Blue Fox arrived at the village today."

"I saw him."

"Good; he came on the part of the Chiefs of his nation; Blue-fox has put
on the skin of the timid asshatas, his words are gentle and his mouth
distils honey; but the buffalo cannot leap like the elk, or the hawk
imitate the dove. The Chiefs did not put faith in his words."

"Then they answered him in the negative?"

"No, they wished first to consult my brother."

"Wah! On what subject?"

"My brother will listen. The Palefaces on the other side of the
Meche-chebe dug up the war hatchet against each other some moons ago, as
my brother is aware."

"I know it, Chief and so do you. But how does it concern us? A quarrel
among the whites cannot affect us in any way. So long as they do not
invade our hunting grounds, do not steal our horses or burn our
villages, we can only congratulate ourselves at seeing them destroy each
other."

"My brother speaks like a wise man; the Sachems are of the same
opinion."

"Good; I cannot understand, then, what reason can have determined the
Chiefs to discuss such a subject."

"Wah! My brother can speedily understand if he will listen."

"Chief, you Redskins have an unhappy knack of wrapping up your thoughts
in so many words, that it is impossible to guess the point you are
aiming at."

Black-deer broke into that silent laugh peculiar to Indians.

"My brother knows how to discover a trail better than anyone," he said.

"Certainly; but to do so I must be shown a footstep or trace, however
feeble it may be."

"And my brother has discovered the trail, which I merely indicated to
him?"

"Yes."

"Oh! I should be curious to know my brother's thoughts."

"Then, listen to me in your turn, Black-deer--I shall be brief. Blue Fox
was sent by the Buffalo Apaches to the Antelope Comanches to propose to
them an offensive and defensive alliance against one of the two nations
of the Palefaces which have dug up the hatchet against each other."

In spite of all the phlegm which nature and Indian training had endowed
him with, the Chief could not conceal the amazement he experienced on
hearing these words.

"It is well," he said; "my brother is not only a great, brave, and
daring warrior, but is also a man inspired by the Wacondah. His medicine
is irresistible, he knows everything. Blue Fox made this proposition to
the Sachems."

"And have they accepted it?"

"No; I repeat to my brother that they would not give any answer till
they heard his opinion."

"Very good, then. This is my opinion, and the Chiefs can follow it or
not, as they please. The Comanches nation are the Queen of the Prairies;
the most invincible warriors assemble beneath its totem; its hunting
ground extends over the whole earth; the Comanches alone are
indomitable. Why should they ally themselves with the Apache thieves?
Are they desirous of exchanging their lances and guns for weavers'
shuttles? Are they tired of being redoubtable warriors? Do they wish to
put on women's petticoats? Why should they league with their most
obstinate enemies against men who are fighting to obtain their liberty?
Blue Fox is a renegade from the Snake-Pawnees; my brother knows him,
since he is his personal enemy. Any peace proposed by such an ambassador
must conceal a trap; sooner war than such an alliance."

There was a rather lengthened silence, during which the Chief reflected
deeply on what he had just heard.

"My brother is right," he said at last; "wisdom resides in him, his
tongue is not forked, the words he utters are inspired by the Wacondah!
The Comanches will not treat with the plundering Apaches. The council
has asked for three suns to reflect on this grave question; in three
suns Blue Fox will return with a categorical refusal to those who sent
him. The Comanches will dig up the war hatchet sooner than ally
themselves with their enemies."

"My brothers, if they do that, will act like wise men."

"They will do it. I have now to speak to my brother on a matter that
interests me personally."

"Good. Sleep does not yet weigh down my eyelids, so I will listen to my
brother.

"Loyal Heart is a friend of Blackbird," the Chief continued, with some
hesitation.

The hunter smiled knowingly.

"Blackbird is one of the most renowned braves of the tribe," he
answered; "his daughter, Bounding Fawn, will count fourteen autumns at
the fall of the leaves."

"Black-deer loves Bounding Fawn."

"I know it; my brother has already confessed to me that the virgin of
the first love placed, during his sleep, a four-leaved shamrock under
his head. But has the Chief assured himself as to Bounding Fawn's
feelings?"

"The young virgin smiles when the Chief returns from an expedition with
scalps hanging from his girdle; she trembles when he departs; she feeds
his horse in secret, and her greatest pleasure is to clean his weapons.
When the maidens of the tribe dance at night to the sound of the drum
and chichikouè, Bounding Fawn gazes thoughtfully in the direction of
Black-deer's calli, and forgets to dance with her companions."

"Good! And does the maiden recognise the sound of my brother's war
whistle, and run joyfully to the meeting the Chief grants her? Tonight,
for instance, were the Chief to call her, would she rise from her bed to
obey his summons?"

"She would rise," the Chief answered, laconically.

"Good! Now, what does the Chief wish to ask of me? Blackbird is rich."

"Black-deer will give six mares which have never felt a bit, two guns,
and four hides of the white she-buffalo; tomorrow the Chief's mother
will give them to my brother."

"Good. And does my brother intend to carry off the woman he loves this
night?"

"Black-deer suffers from being so long separated from her; since the
death of his well-beloved wife, Singing-bird, the Chief's calli is
solitary. Bounding Fawn will prepare the venison for the Chief; what
does my brother think of it?"

"My horse is ready; if my brother say yes, I will accompany him, if it
be that he desires, as I suppose."

"Loyal Heart knows everything; nothing escapes his discernment."

"Let us go without loss of time. Will you accompany us, Tranquil? Two
witnesses are required, as you are aware."

"I wish for nothing better, if my presence be not disagreeable to the
Chief."

"On the contrary; the Pale hunter is a great brave. I shall be pleased
to know that he is by my side."

The three men rose and quitted the house. No Eusebio raised his head.

"We shall return in an hour," Loyal Heart said, as he passed.

The old servant made no objection, and fell back in his hammock. The
Chief's horse was tied up near the rancho; he leaped into the saddle and
waited for the two hunters, who had gone to fetch theirs from the
corral. In a few minutes they arrived. The three men slowly traversed
the village, whose streets were completely deserted at this late hour of
the night. At times, however, dogs got up as they passed, and barked
furiously after their horses' heels. Like all the winter villages, this
one was carefully guarded. Numerous sentries, placed at different
points, watched over the common safety; but, either that they recognised
the three horsemen, or for some other motive, they did not challenge,
but allowed them to pass apparently unnoticed.

After leaving the village, Black-deer, who rode in front, made a sharp
turn to the right, and the horsemen almost immediately disappeared in a
thick chaparral, where men and horses concealed themselves with the
utmost care. The night was magnificent, the sky studded with a profusion
of glistening stars; the moon shed a pale and soft light, which, owing
to the purity of the atmosphere, allowed objects to be distinguished for
a great distance. A solemn silence brooded over the forest, and a gentle
breeze sighed through the treetops.

Black-deer advanced to the edge of the covert, and, raising his fingers
to his lips, imitated the cry of the raven thrice with such perfection,
that the two hunters concealed in the rear looked up mechanically to
discover the bird that uttered the note. A few minutes after, the cry of
the Blue-jay, borne on the breeze expressed like a plaintive sigh on the
ears of the attentive hunters. Black-deer repeated his signal. This time
the note of the sparrowhawk was mingled almost instantaneously with that
of the jay. The Indian started, and looked in the direction where his
friends were concealed.

"Is my brother ready?" he said.

"I am," Loyal Heart simply answered.

Almost immediately, four riders could be seen leaving the village at a
gallop, and advancing rapidly toward the spot where the Chief stood
motionless. The rider who galloped at the head of the band was a woman;
she made her horse bound with feverish impatience, and compelled it to
gallop in a straight line, clearing all the obstacles that were in its
way. The three other riders were about a bow-shot behind her. This race
had something fantastic about it in the night, amidst this grand
scenery. Bounding Fawn, for it was she, fell panting into Black-deer's
arms.

"Here I am! Here I am!" she cried in a joyous voice, choked, however, by
emotion.

The Indian pressed her lovingly to his wide chest, and lifting her from
the ground with that irresistible strength that passion produces, he
leaped with her on to his horse, into whose flank he dug his spurs, and
started at full speed in the direction of the desert. At the same
moment, the horsemen arrived, uttering yells of anger, and brandishing
their weapons; but they found before them the two hunters, who
resolutely barred their passage.

"Stay, Blackbird," Loyal Heart shouted; "your daughter belongs to my
brother. Black-deer is a great Chief, his calli is lined with scalps--he
is rich in horses, arms, and furs; Bounding Fawn will be the _cihuatl_
of a great brave, whose medicine is powerful."

"Does Black-deer mean, then, to carry off my daughter?" Blackbird asked.

"He does mean it, and we his friends will defend him. Your daughter
pleases him, and he will have her. In defiance of you, and all who may
attempt to oppose it, he will take her as his wife."

"Wah!" the Indian said, turning to the horsemen who accompanied him, "My
brothers have heard: what do they say?"

"We have heard," the Redskins answered; "we say that Black-deer is truly
a great Chief, and since he is powerful enough to seize the woman he
loves in spite of her father and relatives, he ought to keep her."

"My brothers have spoken well," Loyal Heart remarked. "Tomorrow I will
come to Blackbird's calli and pay him the purchase money for the maiden
the Chief has robbed him of."

"Good! Tomorrow I shall expect Loyal Heart and his friend, the other
Paleface warrior," Blackbird said with a bow.

After these remarks, the three Indian, warriors returned to the village,
closely followed by the two hunters. As for Black-deer, he had buried
himself with his booty in the thickest part of the forest, where no one
attempted to disturb him. The preliminaries of a Comanche marriage had
been strictly carried out on both sides.

A strange nation this Comanche, whose warriors love like wild beasts,
and who think themselves obliged to carry off the woman they love,
instead of obtaining her by the voluntary consent of her family! Is
there not something grand and noble in their haughty and indomitable
character?

As Loyal Heart told No Eusebio, he was hardly an hour absent.



CHAPTER IX.

THE MARRIAGE.


When the two hunters returned to the rancho, Tranquil looked at Loyal
Heart.

"Well," he said to him, "and what are you going to do?"

"Well," the other replied with a smile, "the same as you are going to do
yourself, I suppose, sleep--for it is close on two o'clock." But
noticing the Canadian's anxious air, he hurriedly added--"Pardon me,
friend, I forget that you have made a long journey to find me here, and
that, probably, you have important matters to communicate to me. Well!
if you do not feel too fatigued, I will rekindle the fire, we will sit
down by the brasero, and I will listen to you; I do not feel at all
disposed for sleep, and the present hour is admirably adapted for
confidence."

Tranquil gently shook his head.

"I thank you for your kindness, my friend," he said; "but, on
reflection, I prefer deferring the conversation till tomorrow; I have no
serious motive that compels me to speak at this moment, and a few hours,
more or less, will have no influence in the events I have cause to
fear."

"You know better than I do the conduct best suited to you under the
circumstances. I merely repeat that I am quite at your service whatever
you may be pleased to do."

"Let us sleep," the Canadian answered, with a smile. "Tomorrow, after
our visit to Blackbird, we will hold a palaver."

"Be it so, my friend, I will not press you; here is your bed," he added,
pointing to the pile of furs.

"It is rare for me to have so good a one in the desert," said Tranquil.

The two men then lay down fraternally side by side, placed their weapons
within reach, and ere long the calmness of their breathing indicated
that they were asleep. Nothing disturbed the repose they enjoyed, and
the night passed quietly. A few minutes before sunrise Loyal Heart
awoke; a feeble light was beginning to penetrate into the rancho,
through the windows, which had no sheltering or curtains. The hunter
rose, and at the moment when he was going to awake his comrade, the
latter opened his eyes.

"Ah, ah!" Loyal Heart said, "You are a very light sleeper, my friend."

"It is an old hunter's habit, which I think I should find it difficult
to get rid of, unless I remained a long time with you."

"What prevents your doing so? Such a determination would cause great
pleasure to my mother and myself."

"Do not form plans, my boy; you know that with us wood rangers we can
hardly call the present moment our own, and it would be utter madness
for us to enter on the future. We will revert to this subject; but now
believe we have something more important to attend to."

"We have to perform the commission Black-deer entrusted to us; are you
still of a mind to help me?"

"Certainly: the Chiefs of the tribe received me with too much courtesy
for me not to eagerly take the first opportunity that offers to testify
to them the lively sympathy I feel for them."

"Well, as it is so, go to your comrades, get ready to mount, and wait
for me; I shall join them directly at their calli."

"All right," Tranquil answered.

The two men left the house; No Eusebio had deserted his hammock, and was
probably attending to household duties. The Canadian went straight to
the calli lent his comrades by the Indians.

Day had by this time entirely broken; the curtains of the callis were
raised one after the other, and the Indian squaws were beginning to
emerge to go in quest of the necessary wood and water for the
preparation of breakfast. Small parties of warriors were going off in
different directions, some to indulge in the pleasures of the chase,
others to beat the forest and be certain that there was no enemy's trail
in the vicinity of the village.

At the moment when the Canadian passed in front of the Medicine lodge,
the sorcerer of the tribe came out of it. He held in his hand a
calabash filled with water, in which a bunch of wormwood was dipped. The
sorcerer ascended to the roof of the Medicine lodge, and turned to the
rising sun. At the same instant the hachesto shouted three different
times in a powerful voice, "The sun! The sun! The sun!"

A warrior then came out of each calli, holding in his hand, like the
sorcerer, a calabash of water with a bunch of wormwood. The sorcerer
began an incantation by murmuring mysterious words which he alone
comprehended, and sprinkling the four cardinal points with the wormwood,
an operation imitated exactly by the warriors. Then, at a signal given
by the sorcerer, all the men threw the contents of the calabash towards
the sun, shouting at the same time, "Oh, sun! Thou visible
representative of the Invisible Master of Life! protect us on this
commencing day! Give us water, air, and fire, for the earth belongs to
us, and we can defend it!"

After this haughty prayer the warriors re-entered their callis, and the
sorcerer descended from his elevated post. Tranquil, who was perfectly
conversant with Indian customs, had stopped and waited, in a respectful
attitude, the end of the ceremony. When the sorcerer had disappeared in
the Medicine lodge, the hunter resumed his walk. The inhabitants of the
village, already affected to regard him as one of themselves; they
saluted him with a smile and a pleasant word as he passed, and the
children ran up laughing to bid him good-day. When Tranquil entered the
calli his comrades were still asleep, but he soon roused them.

"Hilloh!" John Davis said, good-humouredly, "You are very early, old
hunter. Are we going to make any expedition?"

"Not that I know of, for the present, at any rate," the Canadian
answered; "we are merely going to accompany Loyal Heart, while he
accomplishes a ceremony."

"What is up, then?"

"The marriage of our friend Black-deer. I supposed it to be good policy
not to refuse our aid, especially as you, Davis, have an interest in
getting into the good graces of the Indians."

"I should think so. But tell me, old hunter, have you consulted with our
friend on the matter that brings me here?"

"Not yet: various reasons urged me to wait for a favourable moment."

"As you please; but you know the matter is pressing."

"I know it, and you can trust to me."

"Oh! I leave you to act entirely as you please. What are we to do now?"

"Nothing but mount our horses, and wait till Loyal Heart comes to fetch
us. He has undertaken the management of the ceremony."

"Well, that is not very difficult," the American said, with a laugh.

In an instant the hunters were up, performed their ablutions, and
saddled their horses. They had scarce mounted, ere a great noise of
shells, drums, and chichikouès, mingled with shouts of joy, shots, and
the sharp barking of all the dogs in the village, announced the arrival
of Loyal Heart. The young Chief advanced at the head of a numerous
procession of Indian warriors, dressed in their most magnificent
costumes, armed and painted for war, and mounted on superb mustangs,
which they caused to curvet with marks of the most lively delight. The
procession halted before the calli.

"Well," Loyal Heart asked, "are you ready?"

"We are waiting for you," Tranquil answered.

"Come on, then."

The five hunters placed themselves by the side of their friend, and the
procession started once more. The Indians saw with a lively feeling of
pleasure the strange hunters join them; the part Loyal Heart and
Tranquil took in the ceremony especially caused them great joy, and
inspired them with considerable pride, by proving to them that their
Paleface friends, far from despising their customs, or displaying an
indifference towards them, took an interest in the ceremony, and
evidenced their sympathy with the Comanches by accepting a place in the
procession.

Loyal Heart proceeded straight to Blackbird's calli, in front of which a
fire had been lighted, and the Chief's family were seated silent and
motionless round it. Blackbird, dressed in his grand warpaint, and
mounted on his battle charger, rode at the head of some twenty warriors
of his family, whom it was easy to recognize as renowned warriors and
great braves by the numerous wolf tails with which their heels were
adorned. At the moment when the procession reached the great square, a
solitary horseman, with a gloomy air and haughty demeanour, was crossing
it, and proceeding toward the council lodge. It was Blue-fox. At the
sight of the procession a smile of undefinable meaning played round his
lips, and he halted to let the Comanche warriors defile before him.
Tranquil whispered to Loyal Heart--

"Be on your guard against that man; if I am not greatly mistaken, his
mission is only a trap, and he meditates some treachery."

"That is my notion too," the hunter replied; "that gloomy face forebodes
nothing good; but the council are warned, and watch him closely."

"I have known him for a long time, he is a thorough-paced villain. I
would not let him out of my sight, were I in your place. But we have
reached our destination, so let us attend to our own business."

Loyal Heart raised his arm; at this signal the music, if such a name can
be given to the abominable row made by all these instruments, which,
held by unskilful hands, produced the most discordant sounds, was silent
as if by enchantment. The warriors then seized their war whistles, and
produced a shrill and prolonged note thrice. A similar whistle was
immediately given by Blackbird's party. When the procession halted, a
vacant space of about twenty yards was left between the two bands, and
Loyal Heart and Tranquil advanced alone into this space, making their
horses prance and brandishing their weapons, amid the joyous applause of
the crowd, which admired their skill and good countenance. Blackbird and
two of his comrades then left their party and rode to meet the hunters,
and the five men halted at about halfway. Loyal Heart, after saluting
the Chief respectfully, was the first to speak.

"I see that my father is a great Chief," he said; "his head is covered
by the sacred feathered cap of the band of the old dogs; numerous
exploits are painted on his broad chest; the wolf tails fastened to his
heels make a hole in the ground, so many are they. My father must be one
of the greatest braves of the Antelope Comanches: he will tell us his
name, that I may remember it as that of a Chief of renown in the
council, and brave and terrible in combat."

The Chief smiled proudly at this point-blank compliment; he bowed with
dignity, and answered--

"My son is young, and yet wisdom dwells in him; his arm is strong in
fight, and his tongue is not forked; his renown has reached me; my
brothers call him Loyal Heart. Blackbird is happy to see him. What
motive brings Loyal Heart to Blackbird with so large a party, when the
heart of the Chief is sad, and a cloud has spread over his mind?"

"I know," Loyal Heart answered, "that the Chief is sad, and am aware of
the motive of his grief. I have come with the braves who accompany me to
restore tranquillity to the mind of the Chief, and change his sorrow
into joy."

"My son Loyal Heart will then explain himself without further delay; he
knows that a man of heart never plays with the grief of an aged man."

"I know it, and will explain myself without further delay. My father is
rich, the Wacondah has always regarded him with a favourable eye; his
family is numerous, his sons are already brave warriors, his daughters
are virtuous and lovely; one of them, the fairest, perhaps, but
certainly the one most beloved, was violently carried off last night by
Black-deer."

"Yes," the Chief answered, "a Comanche warrior bore away my daughter
Bounding Fawn, and fled with her into the forest."

"That warrior is Black-deer."

"Black-deer is one of the most celebrated warriors and wisest Chiefs of
my nation. My heart leaped toward him. Why did he carry off my child?"

"Because Black-deer loves Bounding Fawn; a great brave has the right to
take anywhere the wife who pleases him, if he is rich enough to pay her
father for her. Blackbird cannot object to that."

"If such be Black-deer's intention, if he offer me a ransom such as a
warrior like him ought to pay to a Chief like myself, I will allow that
he has acted in an honourable way, and that his intentions were pure; if
not, I shall be an implacable enemy to him, because he will have
betrayed my confidence and deceived my hopes."

"Blackbird must not hastily judge his friend; I am ordered by Black-deer
to pay for Bounding Fawn such a ransom as few Chiefs have ever before
received."

"What is the ransom? Where is it?"

"The warriors who accompany me have brought it with them; but before
delivering it to my father, I will remark, that he has not invited me to
sit down by his fire, or offered me the calumet."

"My son will sit down by my fire, and I will share the calumet with him
when the mission he is intrusted with is finished."

"Be it so; my father shall be immediately satisfied."

Loyal Heart, turning to the warriors, who during this conversation,
which was sternly demanded by the laws of Indian etiquette, had stood
silent and motionless, raised his hand. At once several horsemen left
the procession and pranced up to him, brandishing their weapons.

"The ransom!" he merely said.

"One moment," Blackbird objected; "of what does this ransom consist?"

"You shall see," Loyal Heart replied.

"I know that, but should prefer being informed beforehand."

"For what reason?"

"Wah! That I may be in a position to refuse it if I find it unworthy of
you."

"You ought not to have such a fear."

"That is possible, still I adhere to what I said."

"As you please," said Loyal Heart.

We must here disclose one of the bad sides of the Indian character. The
Redskins are extraordinarily rapacious and avaricious. With them wealth
is everything--not wealth as we understand it in our country, for they
know not the value of gold: that metal, so precious to us, is as nothing
in their eyes; but furs, arms, and horses constitute for these warriors
veritable wealth, which they appreciate at its full value. Hence the
transactions between the white men and natives become daily more
difficult, from the fact that the Indians, seeing with what ardour the
peltry dealers seek furs, have attached so high a value to that
merchandise, that it is almost impossible for the traders to obtain it;
hence arises, to a great extent, the hatred of the whites for the
Redskins, who track, scalp, and kill the trappers whenever they meet
with them, in order to destroy competition.

Blackbird was an Indian of the old school, gifted with a smart dose of
avarice. The worthy Chief was not sorry, before pledging his word, to
know what he had to depend on, and if he would make as good a bargain as
was stated. This is why he had insisted on the objects comprising the
ransom being shown him. Loyal Heart was perfectly acquainted with his
man, and hence was not much affected by his demand; he merely ordered
the bearers of the ransom to approach.

This ransom had been prepared for a long period by Black-deer, and was
really magnificent; it consisted of four mares in foal, four others
which had never bred, a three-year old charger, a mustang with slim legs
and flashing eye, four muskets, each with twelve charges of powder; and
four white female buffalo hides, a colour very rare, and greatly
esteemed in this country. As the several articles were presented to the
old Chief, his eye dilated under the influence of joy, and flashed with
a wild lustre. He required to make extraordinary efforts to preserve the
decorum necessary under such circumstances, and confine in his heart the
pleasure he felt. When all the presents had been given and placed by him
under the immediate guard of his relatives and friends, Loyal Heart
spoke again.

"Is my father satisfied?" he asked him.

"Wah!" the old Chief shouted with delight. "My son, Black-deer, is a
great brave; he did right to carry off Bounding Fawn, for she is really
his."

"Will my father bear witness to that?" the hunter pressed him.

"This very moment," the Chief answered eagerly; "and before all the
warriors here present."

"Let my father do so, then, that all may know that Black-deer is no
false-tongued thief; and when he declares that Bounding Fawn is his
squaw, no one will have the right to say that it is not true."

"I will do so," Blackbird answered.

"Good! my father will follow us."

"I will follow you."

Blackbird then placed himself at the right of Loyal Heart, the band of
warriors who accompanied him joined the procession, and all proceeded
toward the ark of the first man, at the foot of which the hachesto was
standing, holding in his hand the totem of the tribe. The sorcerer was
standing in front of the totem, having on either side of him two Sachems
chosen from among the wisest of the nation.

"What do you want here?" the sorcerer asked loyal Heart, when the latter
halted about two yards from him with the procession.

"We demand justice," the hunter replied.

"Speak! We will give you that justice, whatever the consequences may
be," the sorcerer said. "Well reflect before speaking, lest you may
presently regret your precipitation."

"We shall only have to repent of one thing, and that is not having
appeared before you earlier."

"My ears are open."

"We wish that justice should be done to a warrior, whose reputation
attempts have been made to tarnish."

"Who is the warrior?"

"Black-deer."

"Is his medicine good?"

"His medicine is good."

"Is he a brave?"

"He is a great brave."

"What has he done?"

"Last night he carried off Bounding Fawn, the daughter of Blackbird here
present."

"Good! Has he paid a fine ransom?"

"Let Blackbird himself answer."

"Yes," the old Chief here said, "I will answer. Black-deer is a great
warrior, he has paid a noble ransom."

"In that case," said the sorcerer, "my son is satisfied?"

"I am satisfied."

There was a momentary silence, during which the sorcerer consulted in a
whisper with the Sachems who acted as assessors. At length he spoke
again.

"Black-deer is a great warrior," he said in a loud voice. "I, the
medicine man, standing beneath the totem of the tribe, declare, that he
has employed the right all renowned warriors possess of seizing their
property wherever they may find it. From this moment Bounding Fawn is
the squaw of Black-deer, to prepare his food, clean his weapons, carry
his burdens, and take care of his war-chargers, and whoever says the
contrary speaks falsely! Black-deer has the right to convey Bounding
Fawn to his calli, and no one can prevent it; he is empowered, if she
deceive him, to cut off her nose and ears. Blackbird will give two
female buffalo hides to be hung up in the great medicine lodge."

At this final clause, known beforehand, however, for everything is
strictly regulated by the code of etiquette in the matter of marriage,
Blackbird made a frightful grimace. It seemed to him hard to part with
two of the hides he had received but a few moments previously. But Loyal
Heart came to his assistance, and interposed in a way that brought the
smile back to his lips.

"Black-deer," he said in a loud voice, "loves Bounding Fawn, and will
only owe her to himself--he alone will pay the tribute to the Wacondah;
not two, but four female buffalo hides will be given to the medicine
lodge."

He made a sign, and a warrior advanced, bearing the hides across his
horse's neck. Loyal Heart took them and offered them to the sorcerer.

"My father will receive these skins," he said; "he will make such use of
them as will be most agreeable to the Master of Life."

At this unexpected generosity, the audience burst into shouts of
frenzied joy. The shells, drums, and chichikouès recommenced their
infernal noise, and the procession set out again for Blackbird's calli.
The old chief knew too well what he owed to himself, and the son-in-law
he had just accepted, not to behave with proper decorum in spite of his
avarice. When the procession reached the calli, he therefore said, in a
loud voice--

"My brothers and friends, deign to honour with your presence the
marriage banquet, and I shall be happy to see you take part in it. My
son Black-deer will come, I feel convinced, to give the feast that
family appearance which it ought to have."

He had scarce uttered the words, when a great noise was heard. The crowd
parted violently, and in the space left free a horseman appeared,
galloping at full speed: he held a woman on his horse's neck with one
hand, while with the other he led a filly. At the sight of the horseman,
the shouts and applause were redoubled, for everybody recognised
Black-deer. On reaching the calli he leapt to the ground without
uttering a syllable; then he drew his scalping knife and buried it in
the neck of the filly. The poor brute gave a plaintive whining, trembled
violently, and sank to the ground. The chief then turned it on its back,
ripped open its chest, and tearing out the still quivering heart, he
touched Bounding Fawn's forehead with it, while shouting in a voice loud
enough to be heard by all the spectators.

"This is my squaw; woe to the man who touches her."

"I am his," the young wife then said.

The official ceremony was over: Black-deer and Bounding Fawn were
married according to the rites of Comanche law. All dismounted, and the
marriage feast began. The white men, who were not very eager to eat
their portion of this Indian meal, composed in great measure of dog,
boiled milk, and horse's flesh, had drawn on one side and tried to
escape unnoticed. Unfortunately Blackbird and Black-deer watched them,
and cut off their retreat; hence they were compelled, whether they liked
it or no, to sit down to the banquet.

Tranquil, Loyal Heart, and their comrades made up their minds to the
worst, and ate, or pretended to eat, with as good an appetite as the
rest of the guests. The repast was prolonged till late in the day; for,
though the Comanches do not drink spirits, and have not to fear
intoxication, still, like all Indians, they are extraordinarily
voracious, and eat till they can swallow no more.

The whites had hard work in declining those provisions, of more or less
suspicious appearance, which were constantly offered to do them honour.
Still, thanks to their thorough knowledge of Indian habits, they managed
to escape the greater part of the infliction and see out the truly
Homeric banquet without much annoyance. At the moment when Loyal Heart
and Tranquil rose to retire, Black-deer approached them.

"Where are my brothers going?" he asked.

"To my calli," Loyal Heart replied.

"Good! Black-deer will join them there soon; he has to speak with his
brothers on serious matters."

"Let my brother remain with his friends, tomorrow will be time enough."

The Chief frowned.

"My brother Loyal Heart must be careful," he said; "I have to consult
with him on matters of the utmost gravity."

The hunter, struck by the Chiefs anxious air, looked at him with alarm.

"What is the matter?" he asked him.

"My brother will know in an hour."

"Very good, Chief; I will await you in my calli."

"Black-deer will come there."

The Chief then withdrew, laying his finger on his lip, and the hunters
went off deep in thought.



CHAPTER X.

RETURN TO LIFE.


We are now compelled to go a little way back, and return to one of the
principal actors of our story, whom we have too long neglected; we
allude to White Scalper. The reader of the "Freebooters" will,
doubtless, remember that the terrible combat on the deck of the brig,
between Tranquil and the Scalper, was continued in the sea, into which
the ferocious old man had been hurled by the negro who followed him.

Quoniam had been in too great a hurry in telling the Canadian of the
death of his enemy; it is true, though, that the negro acted in good
faith, and really believed he had killed him. The last dagger stab dealt
by Quoniam was buried deep in the old man's chest; the wound was so
serious that the Scalper immediately left off further resistance; his
eyes closed, his nerves relaxed like broken springs; he loosed hold of
his enemy, to whom he had hitherto clung, and remained an inert mass,
tossed at the mercy of the waves.

The Negro, exhausted with fatigue and half suffocated, hastened back to
the deck of the vessel, persuaded that his enemy was dead; but it was
not so. The Scalper had merely lost his senses, and his inanimate body
was picked up by a Mexican boat. But, when this boat reached the shore,
the crew, on seeing the horrible wounds which covered the stranger's
body, his pallor and corpse-like immobility, had, in their turn, fancied
him dead, and taking no further trouble about him, threw him back into
the sea. Fortunately for the Scalper, at the moment when the crew formed
this determination the boat was close to land, so that his body,
supported by the waves, was gently deposited on the sand, the lower part
remaining submerged, while the head and chest were left dry by the
retirement of the waves.

Either through the fresh night air or the oscillating movement the sea
imparted to the lower part of his body, within an hour the old man gave
a slight start; a sigh heaved his powerful chest, and a few instinctive
attempts to change his position clearly showed that this vigorous
organisation was struggling energetically against death, and compelling
it to retire. At length the wounded man opened his eyes, but profound
gloom still enveloped him like a winding sheet. On the other hand, the
fatigue produced by the gigantic struggle he had sustained, and the
enormous quantity of blood which had escaped through his wounds, caused
him a general weakness, so great, both morally and physically, that it
was impossible for the Scalper, not merely to find out where he was, but
to remember the circumstances that had brought him there.

It was in vain that he tried to restore order in his ideas, or bring
back his fugitive thoughts; the shock had been too rude; the commotion
too strong; in spite of all his efforts he could not succeed in
refastening the broken thread of his thoughts. He saw himself, alone,
wounded, and abandoned on the seashore; he understood instinctively all
the horror and desperation of his position; but no gleam of intelligence
flashed across his brain to guide him in this fearful chaos. He was
angry with himself at the impotence to which he found himself reduced
and the impossibility of attempting anything to get only a few yards
away from the sea, at the edge of which, he was lying, and which would
infallibly swallow him up, if his weakness overcame his will and
betrayed his courage.

Then took place on that desolate shore a horrible drama, filled with
moving and startling incidents--the wild struggles of a half-dead man
striving to reconquer the existence which was ebbing from him, and
struggling with savage energy against the death whose fatal hand already
pressed heavily upon him. The slightest movement the Scalper attempted
occasioned him unheard of sufferings, not only through the numerous
wounds, whose lips were filled with sand and gravel, but also because he
was compelled to confess to himself that all his efforts would lead to
no result, and that, unless a miracle happened, he was infallibly lost.

That miracle, which the wretch did not hope for, the very thought of
which could not occur to him, Providence, whose ways are impenetrable,
and who often only appears to save a guilty man to inflict on him a more
terrible chastisement, was preparing to perform at the moment when the
wounded man, his strength and energy exhausted, was falling back
conquered on the beach, resolved to await coldly that death which he
could not avoid.

The Texans had scattered along the beach several parties of Freebooters,
who were intended to watch the movements of the Mexican cruisers. These
parties were all within hail of each other, and able to assemble at a
given point with extreme rapidity. Chance willed it that when the
Scalper's body was again thrown into the sea it touched shore not far
from a rather large rancho standing close to the beach, and in which the
most influential Chiefs of the Texan army were this night assembled, in
prevision of the great events that were preparing. Naturally the
approaches to the rancho were carefully guarded, and numerous patrols
marched around it in order to ensure the safety of the Chiefs.

One of these patrols had seen the Mexican boats land, and hurried up to
drive them off, which they easily effected, as the Mexicans were not at
all desirous to begin a fresh fight with enemies whose number and
strength they were not acquainted with, and whom they supposed, with
some appearance of reason, to be in communication with those rebels with
whom they had been fighting an hour previously. When the boats got out
to sea again, the Texans began carefully examining the beach, in order
to be certain that all their enemies had retired and left nobody behind
them. The first to discover the Scalper's body summoned his comrades,
and soon the wounded man had twenty individuals round him. At the first
moment they fancied him dead; the Scalper heard all that was said around
him, but was unable to make a move or utter a word. He felt terribly
alarmed for a moment; it was when a Freebooter, after bending over and
carefully examining him, rose again with the careless remark:

"The poor devil is dead, we have nothing to do but dig a hole in the
sand and put him in it, so that the coyotes and vultures may not devour
his corpse. Some of you go and fetch the largest stones you can find
while we dig a hole here with our machetes; it will soon be over."

At this sentence, pronounced in a perfectly calm and careless voice, as
if it were the simplest and most natural thing in the world, the Scalper
felt a cold perspiration beading at the root of his hair, and a shudder
of terror run over his body. He made a tremendous effort to speak or
shriek, but it was in vain. He was in that almost cataleptic state in
which, although the intellect retains all its lucidity, the body is an
inert and insensible mass which no longer obeys.

"Stay," said another adventurer interposing, and checking by a sign
those who were preparing to pick up the stones; "let us not be in such a
hurry. This poor wretch is a creature made after God's own image;
although his is in a pitiable state, a breath of life may still be left
in him. We shall still be in a position to bury him if we find that he
is really dead; but first let us assure ourselves that any assistance is
in vain."

"Nonsense," the first speaker continued; "Fray Antonio is always like
that; were we to listen to him, all the dead would only be wounded, and
he would make us lose precious time in giving them useless care.
However, as there is nothing to hurry us at this moment, I ask no better
than to try and bring this man round, although he appears to me as dead
as a fellow can well be."

"No matter," Fray Antonio answered, "let us try, at any rate."

"Very good," said the other with a shrug of the shoulders.

"And first let us remove him from here. When, he is perfectly dry, and
runs no further risk of being carried off by the waves, we will see what
we have to do."

The wounded man was immediately picked up by four Freebooters, and
gently carried some twenty yards off to an entirely dry spot, where it
was impossible for the sea to reach him. The worthy monk then produced a
large case bottle of rum, which he uncorked, and after explaining his
duty to each, that is to say, after ordering that the temples, wrists,
and pit of the stomach should be vigorously rubbed with rum, he bent
over him, and opening his jaws, which were tight as a vice, with the
blade of his dagger, he poured into his mouth an honest quartern of rum.
The effect of this double treatment was not long delayed. In a few
seconds the wounded man gave a alight start, opened his eyes feebly,
and, gave vent to a sigh of relief.

"Ah, ah," said Fray Antonio with a laugh: "what do you think of that, No
Ruperto? I fancy your dead man is coming to life again, eh?"

"On my word, it is true," the other answered with a grin; "well, that is
a man who can flatter himself with having his soul screwed into his
body; by Bacchus! If he recover, which I did not yet assert, he can say
that he has made a preciously long journey."

In the meantime, the friction was continued with the same vigour; the
circulation of the blood was rapidly re-established; the Scalper's eyes
became less haggard, his features were relaxed, and an expression of
comfort spread over his countenance.

"Do you feel better?" the monk asked him kindly.

"Yes," he answered in a weak, though perfectly distinct voice.

"All the better. With the help of Heaven we will get you out of the
scrape."

By a singular accident, the monk had not yet recognised the man to whom
he had himself owed his life a few months previously. The wounds were
carefully washed with rum and water, and cleared from the sand and
gravel adhering to them; they were then poulticed with pounded oregano
leaves, an extremely effective remedy for wounds, and then carefully
tied up.

"There," the monk continued with an air of satisfaction, "that is
finished. I will now have you carried to a spot where you will be much
better able than here to enjoy that repose which is indispensable for
you after so rude a shock."

"Do what you please with me," the wounded man answered with an effort;
"I owe you too much to offer the slightest objection."

"The more so," Ruperto answered with a laugh, "because it would be
perfectly useless; the reverend Father has undertaken your cure, and,
whether you like it or no, you must follow his prescriptions."

At a sign from Fray Antonio, four powerful men raised the patient in
their arms, and carried him into the rancho. It was he who Colonel
Melendez had seen go in, when led by chance to the same rancho, he had
for some minutes listened to, and surveyed what was going on inside. The
rancho belonged to a rich Texan haciendero, a devoted partisan of the
revolution, and who was delighted to place at the disposal of the Chiefs
a retreat which he had built in happier times for a summer villa. This
house, while agreeably situated, spacious, and well kept up, was
abundantly provided, not only with everything indispensable for
existence, but also with those thousand trifles and luxuries which are
conventionally called comfort, and which rich persons, through
lengthened habit, cannot do without.

The Chiefs were at first rather annoyed at the free and easy way in
which Fray Antonio, without giving them notice, had encumbered them with
a wounded stranger. But when they saw in what a pitiable state the poor
fellow was, they made no further objection, but allowed the monk to
instal him where he thought best. Fray Antonio did not allow the
permission to be repeated. Aided by the master of the rancho, he
transported the wounded man to a spacious and airy room, whose windows
looked out on the sea, and in which the Scalper was placed in an
admirably healthy condition.

So soon as the patient was laid in a bed expressly made for him--for in
these torrid climates the inhabitants are accustomed to sleep on mats,
or at the most in hammocks--the monk handed him a narcotic drink, which
he requested him to swallow. The effect was almost immediate; a few
minutes after he had drunk it, White Scalper fell into a calm and
restorative sleep. The entire night passed without any incident; the
wounded man slept for eight hours at a stretch, and when he awoke, he
was no longer the same; he felt fresh, cheerful, and reposed.

Several days passed thus, during which Fray Antonio paid him the closest
and most affectionate attention. If, at the first moment, the monk was
unable to recognise the White Scalper, it was not long ere he did so by
daylight; after carefully examining this man, whose appearance had
really something strange and remarkable about it, his recollection
returned, and he recognised the hunter so greatly feared on the prairie
by the Redskins, and even by the whites, and to whom himself owed his
life under such singular circumstances; hence, he was pleased at the
opportunity chance afforded him of repaying his debt to this man. But
as, on the other hand, the wounded man, either through obstinacy or
defective memory, did not appear at all to remember him, the monk kept
his discovery to himself, and continued his attentions to the wounded
man without permitting himself the slightest allusion which might cause
the other to suspect that he was recognised.

Things went on thus till the day of the battle of Cerro Pardo. In the
morning, as usual, Fray Antonio entered his patient's room, whose cure
was rapidly advancing, thanks to the efficacy of the oregano leaves. His
wounds were almost cicatrized, and he felt his strength returning.

"My friend," said the monk to him, "I have done all for you I morally
could; you will do me the justice of saying that I nursed you like a
brother."

"I have only thanks to offer you," the wounded man said, stretching out
his hand.

"Much obliged," said Fray Antonio, as he took this hand; "today I have
bad news for you."

"Bad news?" the other repeated in surprise.

"After all," the monk continued, "the news may be good. Still, to deal
frankly with you, I do not believe it; I augur no good from what we are
going to do."

"I must confess that I do not at all understand you, so I should feel
extremely obliged if you would explain yourself more clearly."

"That is true. Indeed, you cannot suspect anything. In two words, this
is the affair: the army has received orders to march forward this very
morning."

"So that----?" the wounded man asked.

"I am, to my great regret," the monk said with a crafty smile,
"compelled to leave you behind."

"Hum!" the White Scalper mattered in some alarm.

"Unless," Fray Antonio continued, "as I dare not hope, we beat the
Mexicans, in which case you are certain to see me again."

The patient seemed to grow more and more restless about the position in
which he ran a risk of being left.

"Did you come solely to tell me that?" he asked.

"No. I wished to make you a proposal."

"What is it?" the other eagerly asked.

"Listen. I picked you up in a most desperate state."

"That is true: I allow it."

"Although some people say," Fray Antonio continued, "that you received
your wounds in fighting against us, and, indeed, some of our men declare
themselves certain of the fact, I would not put faith in their words. I
know not why, but since I have been nursing you, I have grown to take an
interest in you; I should not like the cure I have carried on hitherto
so successfully, to break down. This is what I propose: about one
hundred miles from the spot where we now are, there is an encampment of
white men and half-breeds, over whom I possessed considerable influence
some time back. I believe that they have not yet quite forgotten me, and
that anyone joining them as from me, would meet with a kindly reception.
Will you go there? It is a risk to run."

"How could I perform this journey in my present state of weakness and
prostration?"

"That need not trouble you. Four men, who are devoted to me, will
conduct you to my old friends."

"Oh, if that be the case," the Scalper exclaimed eagerly, "I gladly
accept. If I perished on the road, I would prefer that to remaining here
alone."

"I trust that you will not perish, but reach your destination all right.
So that is agreed. You will go?"

"With the greatest pleasure. When do we start?"

"At once, there is not a moment to lose."

"Good! Give the necessary orders, I am ready."

"I must warn you, however, that the men to whom I am sending you, are
slightly of a scampish nature, and you must not assume any high moral
tone with them."

"What does it concern me? if they were even pirates of the prairies,
believe me, I should attach no importance to the fact."

"Bravo! I see that we understand each other, for I believe these worthy
gentlemen dabble a little in all trades."

"Good, good!" the Scalper gaily answered; "Do not trouble yourself about
that."

"In that case, get ready to start; I shall return in ten minutes at the
latest."

With these words, the monk left the room. The old man, who had not many
preparations to make, was soon in a position to take the road. As he had
stated, within ten minutes the monk returned, followed by four men.
Among them was Ruperto, who, it will be remembered, offered the advice
to bury the wounded man in the sand. The Scalper was still very weak,
and incapable of either walking or sitting a horse. The monk had
remedied this inconvenience, as far as possible, by having a clumsy
litter prepared for the wounded man, carried by two mules, and in which
he could recline. This mode of transport was very slow, and extremely
inconvenient, especially for the guides, in a country such as they had
to cross; but it was the only one practicable at the moment, and so they
must put up with it. The wounded man was carried to the litter, and laid
on it as comfortably as was possible.

"And now," said the monk, "may Heaven direct you; do not feel at all
alarmed, Ruperto has many instructions, and I know him well enough to be
convinced that he will not depart from them, whatever may happen. So you
can trust to him. Good bye!"

And, after giving the wounded man his hand, Fray Antonio made a movement
to retire.

"One moment," said the old man, as he held the hand he had taken; "I
wish to say but one word to you."

"Speak, but be brief. I have the weightiest reasons for desiring your
immediate departure; in a few minutes some wounded men will arrive here,
who have hitherto been kept in the fort, and whom you would probably not
be at all pleased to meet."

"I fancy I can understand to whom you allude; but that is not the
question. I wish, before parting with you, and not knowing whether I
shall ever see you again, to express to you the gratitude I feel for
your conduct toward me, a gratitude which is the greater because I am
convinced you have recognised me."

"And suppose I have?"

"You needed only to say one word to surrender me to my most inveterate
enemies; and yet you did not utter that word."

"Certainly not; for even supposing, as you seem to believe, that I have
recognised you, I was only discharging a debt I had incurred with you."

The old man's face writhed; his eye became moist; he warmly squeezed the
monk's hand, which he had till now held in his own, and it was with
much emotion and tenderness that he added--

"Thanks. This kindness will not be lost; the events of the last few days
have greatly modified my way of looking at certain things; you shall
never regret having saved my life."

"I hope so; but be gone, and may Heaven guard you!"

"We shall meet again."

"Who knows?" the monk muttered, as he gave the guides a signal.

The latter flogged their mules, and the litter began moving. About an
hour after the start, it met a covered cart, in which lay Tranquil, but
they passed without seeing each other. The monk had only spoken the
truth about Ruperto. The worthy adventurer was most attentive to the
sick man, carefully watching over him, and trying to while away the
tedium of the journey. Unluckily, the party had to cross an essentially
primitive country, in which there were no roads, and where the guides
were generally obliged to cut a path with their axes. The litter
advanced but slowly, and with unheard of difficulty, along the
abominable tracts, and, despite the most minute precautions, the wounded
man suffered horribly from the jolting and shakes the mules gave the
litter almost every moment.

Ruperto, to fatigue the patient as little as possible, only travelled by
night, or very early in the morning, ere the sun had acquired its full
strength. They marched thus for a fortnight, during which the country
grew wilder, and the ground gradually ascended; the scenery became more
abrupt and stern, the virgin forests closed in, and they could see that
they were approaching the mountains.

One evening, when the little party had established their night bivouac
on the banks of a rapid stream that flowed into the Arkansas, the
Scalper, who, in spite of the privations and fatigue to which he had
been constantly exposed since his departure from the rancho, felt his
strength gradually returning, asked his guide how many days their
journey would still last--which as yet he had been unwilling to do,
through a feeling of delicacy. At this question, Ruperto smiled
cunningly.

"Our journey has been finished for the last four days," he said.

"What do you mean?" the Scalper asked with a start of surprise.

"The people we are going to see," the adventurer went on, "do not like
to receive visits without being previously advised; surprises do not
agree with them. In order to avoid any misunderstanding, which is always
to be regretted between old friends, I employed the only means in my
power."

"And what is it?"

"Oh, it is very simple. Just look at our camp--do people guard
themselves in this way on the desert? Instead of being at the top of a
hill, we are at the watering place of the wild beasts; the smoke from
our fire, instead of being concealed, is, on the contrary, visible for a
great distance. Do all these acts of imprudence committed purposely
teach you nothing?"

"Ah, ah," the old man said, "then you wish your friends to surprise us?"

"Quite right. In that way the recognition will be effected without
striking a blow. And stay! If I am not mistaken, we are about to receive
visitors."

At this moment the branches of a neighbouring thicket were roughly
parted and several men rushed into the camp, with the machete in one
hand, the rifle in the other.



CHAPTER XI.

THE PIRATES OF THE PRAIRIES.


The White Scalper gave an imperceptible start at the unexpected
apparition of the strangers; but he had sufficient power over himself
apparently to preserve that coolness and stoicism which the Redskins and
wood rangers make a point of honour. He did not alter the careless
attitude he was in, and though he appeared to look at the newcomers
absently, he, however, examined them attentively.

They were at least twenty in number, for they had risen from all sides
at once, and in a twinkling surrounded the travellers. These men, mostly
clad in the trapper's hunting shirt and fox skin cap, had a vigorous
appearance, and a ferocious look, not at all adapted to inspire
confidence; moreover, they were armed to the teeth, not only having the
rifle and machete, but also the scalping knife and tomahawk employed by
the Indians.

The man who appeared to be their Chief was at the most thirty-five years
of age, tall, well-built and proportioned; his wide forehead, black
eyes, Grecian nose, and large mouth, made up a face pleasing at the
first glance, though on examining it more closely, you soon perceived
that his glance was false, and that a sardonic smile constantly played
round his thin and pale lips. His face was framed in by thick black
curls, which fell in disorder on his shoulders and mixed with a large
beard, which the fatigues of a wandering and adventurous life were
beginning to silver at places.

The four Texan adventurers had not made a move; the Chief of the
strangers looked at them for a moment with his hands crossed on his
rifle barrel, the butt of which rested on the ground. At length, by a
movement that was familiar to him, he threw back his curls, and
addressed Ruperto--

"Halloh, gossip," he said, "you here? What has brought you into our
parts?"

"A wish to see you, gossip," the other answered, as he carelessly struck
a light for the cigarette he had just finished rolling.

"Nonsense! Only that?" the stranger continued.

"What other motive could I have, Master Sandoval?"[1]

"Who knows?" the other said with a shake of his head; "Life has such
strange changes."

"This time you are mistaken. Nothing disagreeable forces me to pay you a
visit."

"That is more and more extraordinary. Then, you have come on your own
accord, nothing compelling you to do so?"

"I do not say that, for my visit necessarily has a motive. Still, it is
not at all of the nature you suppose."

"Canarios! I am glad to see that I am not so far from the truth as it
appeared at first."

"All the better!"

"But why did not you come straight to our encampment, if you were
seeking us, as you say?"

Ruperto burst into a laugh.

"That would have been a fine idea, to be welcomed with a shower of
slugs! No, I think I acted more wisely as I have."

"We have been on your trail for three days."

"Why did you not show yourselves sooner?"

"I was not quite certain it was you."

"Well, that is possible. Will you not sit down?"

"What for? Now that we have met, I hope you will come to our camp?"

"I did not like to propose it; you see we are not alone, but have a
stranger with us."

"What matter, if you answer for him?"

"With my life."

"Well, then, the friends of our friends are ours, and have a claim to
our attention."

"I thank you, Caballero," the Scalper replied with a bow; "I trust you
will have no cause to repent having offered me hospitality."

"The company in which I find you is an excellent guarantee to me,
Señor," the adventurer continued with a courteous smile.

"Do you intend to lead us to your camp tonight?" Ruperto asked.

"Why not? We are not more than fifteen miles from it at the most."

"That is true; but this caballero is wounded, and so long a distance
after a fatiguing day--"

"Oh, I feel very well, I assure you. My strength has almost entirely
returned; I even believe that, were it absolutely necessary, I could sit
a horse. Hence do not put yourself out of the way for me, I beg," the
old man said.

"As it is so, we will start whenever you like."

"All right," said Sandoval; "however, I will undertake to lead you by a
road which will shorten your distance one half."

All being thus arranged, the horses were saddled afresh, and they
started. The strangers were on foot; the Scalper would not enter the
litter, and even insisted on it being left behind, declaring that he did
not want it, and cutting a rather long branch, he converted it into a
staff. He then took his place by Sandoval's side, who, delighted by his
manner, gave him a glance of satisfaction.

Sandoval, as we have said, was the Chief of the men who had so suddenly
fallen on the bivouac of the adventurers. These men were pirates of the
prairies. In a previous work, we have described what they are; but as it
is probable that many of our readers do not know the book to which we
allude, we will explain, in as few words as possible, what sort of
persons these gentry are. In the United States, and most of the
countries of the new world, men are encountered who, not being
restrained by any species of moral obligation or family consideration,
yield themselves without restraint to all the violence of their evil
passions. These men, led in the first instance into debauchery by
indolence, and almost certain of impunity in countries where the police
are powerless to protect honest people and enforce the laws, at length
grow to commit the most atrocious crimes in open daylight, though this
is common enough in those countries where the strongest make the laws.

This goes on until the reprobation becomes general, and public
indignation at last growing stronger than the terror inspired by these
villains, they are compelled to fly from town to town in order to escape
the exemplary punishment of Lynch-law. Everywhere pursued like wild
beasts, abandoned by all, even by their accomplices, they draw nearer
and nearer to the Indian border, which they eventually cross, and are
henceforth condemned to live and die in the desert. But there, too,
everything is hostile to them--white trappers, wood rangers, Indian
warriors, and wild beasts--they are compelled to endure a daily and
hourly struggle to defend their life, which is incessantly assailed. But
they have before them space, the hiding places on the mountains and in
the virgin forests, and hence can sustain the combat to a certain point.
Still, if they remained isolated they would infallibly succumb to cold,
hunger, and wretchedness, even supposing they were not surprised,
scalped, and massacred by their implacable enemies.

These outlaws from society, whom every man thinks he has a right to hunt
down, frankly accept their position. They feel proud of the hatred and
repulsion they inspire, and collect in numerous bands to requite the
anathema cast upon them. Taking as their rule the pitiless law of the
prairies, eye for eye and tooth for tooth, they become formidable
through their numbers, and repay their enemies the injuries they receive
from them. Woe to the trappers or Indians who venture to traverse the
prairies alone, for the pirates massacre them pitilessly. The emigrant
trains are also attacked and pillaged by them with refined and atrocious
barbarity. Some of these men who have retained a little shame, put off
the dress of white men to assume that of Redskins, so as to make those
they pillage suppose they have been attacked by Indians; hence their
most inveterate enemies are the Indians, for whom they try to pass.
Still, it frequently happens that the pirates, ally themselves with
Redskins belonging to one nation to make war on another.

All is good for them when their object is plunder; but what they prefer
is raising scalps, for which the Government of the United States, that
patriarchal government which protects the natives, according to some
heartless optimists, are not ashamed to pay fifty dollars a-piece.
Hence, the pirates are as skilful as the Indians themselves in raising
hair; but with them all scalps are good; and when they cannot come
across Indians, they have no scruple about scalping white men; the more
so, because the United States does not look into matters very closely,
and pays without bargaining or entering into details, provided that the
hair be long and black.

Captain Sandoval's band of pirates was one of the most numerous and best
organised in Upper Arkansas; his comrades, all thorough food for the
gallows, formed the most magnificent collection of bandits that could be
imagined. For a long period, Fray Antonio, if not forming part of the
band, had taken part in its operations, and derived certain though
illegal profit by supplying the captain with information about the
passage of caravans, their strength, and the road they intended to
follow. Although the worthy monk had given up this hazardous traffic,
his conversion had not been of so old a date for the pirates to have
completely forgotten the services he had rendered them; hence, when he
was compelled to abandon White Scalper he thought at once of his old
friends. This idea occurred to him the more naturally, because White
Scalper, owing to the mode of life he had hitherto led in the desert,
had in his character some points of resemblance with the pirates, who,
like him, were pitiless, and recognised no other law than their caprice.

In the band of Freebooters the monk had organised since his reformation
were some men more beaten than the others by the tempest of an
adventurous life. These men Fray Antonio had seen at work, and set their
full value upon them; but he kept them near him, through a species of
intuition, in order to have them under his hand if some day fate desired
that he should be compelled to have recourse to an heroic remedy to get
out of a scrape, which was easy to foresee when a man entered on the
life of a partisan. Among these chosen comrades was naturally Ruperto;
hence it was to him he entrusted the choice of three sure men to escort
the wounded man to the camp of Captain Sandoval, in Upper Arkansas. We
have seen that the monk was not mistaken, and in what way Ruperto
performed the commission confided to him.

It has frequently been said that honest men always recognise each other
at the first glance; but the statement is far truer when applied to
rogues. The White Scalper and the Pirate Chief had not walked side by
side for ten minutes ere the best possible understanding was arrived at
between them. The Captain admired as an amateur, and especially as a
connoisseur, the athletic stature of his new companion. His rigid
features, which seemed carved in granite, for they were so firm and
marked, his black and sparkling eyes, and even his blunt and sharp mode
of speech, attracted and aroused his sympathy. Several times he
proposed to have him carried on the shoulders of two of his most
powerful comrades across awkward spots; but the old man, although his
ill-closed wounds caused him extreme suffering, and fatigue overpowered
him, constantly declined these kind offers, merely replying that
physical pain was nothing, and that the man who could not conquer it by
the strength of his will, ought to be despised as an old woman.

There could be no reply to such a peremptory mode of reasoning, so
Sandoval merely contented himself with nodding an assent, and they
continued their march in silence. Night had fallen for some time, but it
was a bright and starry night, which allowed them to march in safety,
and have no fear of losing their way. After three hours of a very
difficult journey, the travellers at length reached the crest of a high
hill.

"We have arrived," Sandoval then said, as he stopped under the pretext
of resting a moment, but in reality to give his companion, whom he saw
to be winded, though he made no complaint, an opportunity to draw
breath.

"What, arrived?" the Scalper said in surprise, looking round him, but
not perceiving the slightest sign of an encampment.

In fact, the adventurers found themselves on a species of platform about
fifteen hundred yards long, entirely denuded of trees, save in the
centre, where grew an immense aloe, more than sixty feet in
circumference, which looked like the king of the desert, over which it
soared. Sandoval allowed his comrade to look around him for a moment,
and then said, as he stretched out his arm to the giant tree---

"We shall be obliged to enter by the chimney. But once is not always,
and you will not feel offended at it when I tell you that I only do this
to shorten our journey."

"You know that I did not at all understand you," the Scalper answered.

"I suspected it," Sandoval said with a smile. "But come along, and you
will soon decipher the enigma."

The old man bowed without replying, and both walked toward the tree,
followed by their comrades, who were smiling at the stranger's
amazement. On reaching the foot of the tree, Sandoval raised his head--

"Ohé!" he shouted, "Are you there, Orson?"

"Where should I be if I was not?" a rough voice answered, issuing from
the top of the tree. "I was obliged to wait for you here, as you have
taken it, into your head to wander about the whole night through."

The pirates burst into a laugh.

"Always amiable!" Sandoval continued; "it is astonishing how funny that
animal of an Orson always is! Come, let down the ladder, you ugly
brute!"

"Ugly brute, ugly brute!" the voice growled, although its owner still
remained invisible; "That is the way in which he thanks me."

In the meanwhile, a long wooden ladder was let down through the
branches. Sandoval caught hold of it, secured it, and then turned to the
wounded man--

"I will go first to show you the way."

"Do so," the Scalper said resolutely; "but I swear that I will be the
second."

"Halloh!" the Captain said, turning round, "Why you are a Yankee."

"What does it matter to you?" the other said roughly.

"Not at all. Still, I am not sorry to know the fact."

"Well, you know it. What next?"

"Next?" Sandoval answered with a laugh; "You will be among countrymen,
that is all."

"It makes little difference to me."

"Canarios, and how do you suppose it concerns me?" the Captain said,
still laughing, and ascended.

The wounded man followed him step for step. The ladder was resting
against a platform about two yards in width, completely concealed in a
mass of inextricable foliage. On this platform stood the giant to whom
his Chief had given the name of Orson, a name which was exactly
suitable, so rough and savage did he appear.

"Any news?" the Captain asked, as he stepped on the platform.

"None," the other answered laconically.

"Have all the detachments returned?"

"All except you."

"Are the Gazelle and the American girl in the grotto?"

"They are."

"That is well. When all the people have come up, you will remove the
ladder and join us."

"All right, Caray, I suppose I know what I have to do."

Sandoval contented himself with shrugging his shoulders.

"Come," he said to the Scalper, who was a silent witness of this scene.

They crossed the platform. The centre of the tree was entirely hollow,
but it had not been rendered so by human agency; old age alone had
converted the heart of the tree into dust, while the bark remained green
and vigorous. The pirates, who had for many years inhabited a very large
cave that ran under the hill, had one day seen the earth give way at a
certain spot, in consequence of a storm; this was the way in which the
chimney, as they called it, had been discovered.

The pirates, like all plundering animals, are very fond of having
several issues to their lairs; this new one, supplied to them by
accident, caused them the greater pleasure, because by the same occasion
they obtained an observatory, whence they could survey an immense extent
of country, which enabled them to see any enemy who might attempt to
take them by surprise. A platform was formed at a certain height to keep
the bark intact; and by means of two ladders, fitted one inside and one
out, a communication was established.

Sandoval, in his heart, enjoyed his guest's surprise. In fact, the
pirate's ingenious arrangement seemed marvellous to White Scalper, who,
forgetting his phlegm and stoicism, allowed his surprise to be seen.

"Now," he said to him, pointing to a second ladder, which descended a
considerable depth into the ground, "we will go down."

"At your service, at your service," the stranger answered. "It is really
admirable. Go on, I follow you."

They then began descending cautiously owing to the darkness, for the
pirate placed as sentry on the _Mirador_ had, either through
forgetfulness or malice, neglected to bring torches, not supposing, as
he said, that his comrades would return so late. White Scalper alone had
followed the pirates by the strange road we have indicated. This road,
very agreeable for foot passengers, was, of course, completely
impracticable for horsemen; hence Ruperto and his three comrades quitted
Sandoval at the foot of the hill, and making a rather long detour,
sought the real entrance of the cave, with which all four had been long
acquainted.

As the two men gradually descended, the light increased, and they seemed
to be entering a furnace. On setting foot on the ground, the Scalper
found himself in an immense cavern, lighted by a profusion of torches
held by pirates, who, grouped at the foot of the ladder, seemed to find
an honour in waiting the arrival of their Chief, and offering him a
grand reception. The grotto was of an enormous size; the spot where
White Scalper found himself was a vast hall, whence radiated several
galleries of immense length, and running in diametrically opposite
directions. The scene that offered itself to the Scalper in this hall,
where he arrived so unexpectedly, would have been worthy of Callot's
pencil. Here could be seen strange faces, extraordinary costumes,
impossible attitudes, all of which gave a peculiar character to this
multitude of bandits, who were hailing their Chief with shouts of joy,
and howls like those of wild beasts.

Captain Sandoval knew too well the sort of people he had to deal with,
to be affected in any way by the reception his bandits had improvised
for him; instead of appearing touched by their enthusiasm, he frowned,
drew up his head, and looked menacingly at the attentive crowd.

"What is this, Caballeros?" he said; "How comes it that you are all here
waiting for me? _Viva Dios!_ Some mistake must have occurred in the
execution of my orders to make you collect so eagerly round me. Well,
leave me, we will clear that up on another occasion, for the present I
wish to be alone: begone!"

The bandits, without replying, bowed to the Chief, and immediately
withdrew, dispersing so promptly in the side galleries, that in less
than five minutes the hall was entirely deserted. At the same moment
Ruperto appeared; he had left his companions with old comrades who had
undertaken to do them the honours of the grotto, and now came to join
the man who had been entrusted to his care. Sandoval offered his hand
cordially to the adventurer, but it was the cordiality of a man who
feels himself at home, which the Texan noticed.

"Halloh!" he said, "We are no longer on the prairie, it strikes me."

"No," the Captain answered, seriously, and he laid some stress on the
words, "you are in my house, but," he added, with a pleasant smile,
"that must not trouble you; you are my guests, and will be treated as
you deserve to be."

"Good, good," Ruperto said, who would not let himself be imposed on by
this cavalier manner, "I know where the shoe pinches, gossip. Well, I
will find a remedy," and he turned to Orson, who at this moment came
down the ladder with his rough and savage face; "beg White Gazelle to
come hither; tell her particularly that Captain Sandoval wishes to see
her."

The Chief of the pirates smiled and offered his hand to Ruperto.

"Forgive me, Ruperto," he said to him, "but you know how I love that
girl. When I am a single day without seeing her, I fancy that I want
something, and feel unhappy."

"Canarios! I am well aware of it," Ruperto answered, with a smile;
"hence, you see, that to restore you to your right temper I did not
hesitate to give Orson orders to fetch the only person you have ever
loved."

The Captain sighed, but made no answer.

"Come," the adventurer continued, gaily, "she will come, so recover your
spirits. Caramba! It would be a fine thing for you to feel any longer
vexed about a child who probably forgot to kiss you on your return
because she was at play. Remember, we are your guests, that we have the
claims which hospitality gives us, and that you must not, under any
pretext, look black at us."

"Alas, my friends," he answered, with a stifled sigh, "you know not, you
cannot know, how sweet it is for a wretch like me, an outlaw, to be able
to say to himself that there exists in the world a creature who loves
him for himself, and without afterthought."

"Silence," Ruperto said quickly, as he laid his hand on his arm, "here
she comes."


[1] See Trail-Hunter, same publishers.



CHAPTER XII.

IN THE CAVERN.


Ruperto was not mistaken: at this moment the most exquisite little
creature imaginable came bounding up like a fawn. It was a girl of
twelve years of age at the most, fresh, smiling, and beautifully formed.
Her long black hair, her rosy-lipped mouth, with its pearly teeth, her
magnificent black hair floating into immense curls down to her knee, her
eccentric costume, rather masculine than feminine, all concurred to give
an imprint of strangeness, and render her fantastic, extraordinary,
almost angelic, so striking a contrast did her lovely head appear to the
vulgar and hideous bandits who surrounded her. So soon as the girl
perceived the Captain, a flash of delight shot from her eye, and with
one bound she was in his arms, pressed to his large and powerful chest
lovingly.

"Ah," he said, as he kissed her silken curls, and in a voice which he
tried in vain to soften, "here you are at last, my darling Gazelle,[1]
you have been long in coming."

"Father," she answered, as she repaid his caresses, and in a deliciously
modulated voice, "I was not aware of your return. It was late, I did not
hope to see you tonight, so I was about to sleep."

"Well, Niña," he said, as he put her on the ground again and gave her a
final kiss, "you must not remain here any longer. I have seen you, I
have kissed you, and my stock of happiness is laid in till tomorrow. Go
and sleep. I am not egotistic, I do not wish you to lose your healthy
cheeks."

"Oh," she said, with a little shake of her charming head, "I no longer
feel inclined for sleep; I can remain a few minutes longer with you,
father."

White Scalper gazed with growing astonishment on this admirable child,
so gay, so laughing, so loving, and who appeared so beloved. He could
not account for her presence among the pirates, or the affection their
Captain testified for her.

"You love this child very dearly," he said, as he drew her gently
towards him, and kissed her on the forehead.

She looked at him with widely opened eyes, but did not evince the
slightest fear, or try to avoid his caresses.

"You ask if I love her," the pirate answered; "that child is the joy
and happiness of our house. Do you think, then," he added, with some
bitterness, "that because we are outlawed bandits we have stifled every
generous feeling in our hearts? Undeceive yourself. The jaguar and
panther love their cubs, the grizzly bear cherishes its whelps; should
we be more ferocious than these animals, which are regarded as the most
cruel in creation? Yes, yes, we love our White Gazelle! She is our good
genius, our guardian angel; so long as she remains among us we shall
succeed in everything, for good fortune accompanies her."

"Oh, in that case, father," she said eagerly, "you will always be
fortunate, for I shall never leave you."

"Who can answer for the future?" he muttered in a choking voice, while a
cloud of sorrow spread over his manly face.

"You are a happy father," the Scalper said, with a profound sigh.

"Yes, am I not? White Gazelle is not mine alone, she belongs to us all;
she is our adopted daughter."

"Ah!" said the Scalper, without adding anything more, and letting his
head drop sadly.

"Go, child," Sandoval exclaimed, "go and sleep, for night is drawing
on."

The child withdrew, after saluting the three men with a soft glance, and
soon disappeared in the depths of a side gallery. The Captain looked
after her so long as he could perceive her, then turning to his guests,
who, like himself, had remained under the spell of this touching scene,
he said--

"Follow me, Señores; it is growing late, you must be hungry, and need
rest. The hospitality I am enabled to offer you will be modest, but
frank and cordial."

The two men bowed and followed him into a gallery, on each side of which
were cells enclosed by large mats fastened to the walls in the shape of
curtains; at regular distances torches of ocote wood, fixed in iron
rings, spread a reddish and smoky light, sufficient, however to guide
them. After walking for about ten minutes, and traversing several
passages communicating with each other and forming a regular labyrinth,
in which anyone else must inevitably have lost his way, the Captain
stopped before a cell, and raising the curtains that formed the doorway,
made his companions a sign to enter. Sandoval followed them, and let the
mat fall again behind him.

The cell into which the Captain introduced his guests was vast; the
walls were rather lofty, and allowed the air to penetrate through
invisible fissures, which rendered it pleasant, while wooden partitions
divided it into several chambers. A golden censer, probably stolen from
a church, and hanging from the roof, contained a lamp of fragrant oil,
which spread a brilliant light through the cavern. Unfortunately, the
rest of the furniture did not at all harmonize with this princely
specimen, but was, on the contrary, most modest. It was composed of a
large table of black oak, clumsily shaped, six equipals, and two
butacas, a sort of easy chair with sloping back, and which alone had any
pretensions to comfort. The walls were decorated with antlers of elks
and bighorns, buffalo horns, and grizzly bear claws, the spolia opima of
animals killed by the pirates during their chase on the desert.

The only thing that attracted attention was a magnificent rack,
containing all the weapons used in America, from the lance, arrow, and
sagaie, up to the sword, the machete, the double-barrelled gun, and the
holster pistol. It was evident that the pirate had given orders for the
reception of his guests, for wooden plates, glasses, and silver dishes
were arranged on the table among large pots of red clay containing, some
water, and others mezcal and pulque, those two favourite beverages of
the Mexicans. Orson, with his savage face and ordinary, sulky look, was
ready to wait on the guests.

"To table, Señores," Sandoval said gravely, as he drew up an equipal and
sat down on it.

The others followed his example, and each drawing his knife from his
belt, began a general and vigorous attack on a magnificent venison
pasty. The appetite of the guests, sharpened by a long day's fasting,
needed such a comforter. However, we are bound to do the Chief of the
pirates the justice of saying that his larder appeared amply supplied,
and that he did the honours of the table admirably.

The first moments of the meal were passed in silence, as the Mexicans
thought only of eating. But when the sharpest hunger was appeased, and,
according to the Anglo-American fashion generally admitted on the
prairies, the bottle circulated, the apparent coldness that had
prevailed among the company suddenly disappeared, and each began
conversing with his next neighbour; then the voices were gradually
raised, and ere long everybody was talking at the same time.

During the repast which threatened to degenerate into an orgy, two men
alone had moderately applied themselves to the bottle; they were
Sandoval and White Scalper. The Chief of the pirates, while exciting his
guests to drink, was very careful to retain his sobriety and coolness.
He examined with some anxiety the singular man whom chance had given him
as a guest; this gloomy face caused him a feeling of discomfort for
which he could not account. Still he did not dare question him, for the
law of the desert prohibits the slightest inquiry being made of a
stranger, so long as he thinks proper to maintain his incognito.

Fortunately for Sandoval, whose impatience and curiosity momentarily
increased, Ruperto had an equal desire to explain the object of his
visit to the prairies. At the moment, therefore, when the private
conversations, growing more and more animated, had become general, and
each seemed to be trying which could shout the loudest, the Texan smote
the table several times loudly with the pommel of his dagger to demand
silence. The shouts stopped instantaneously, and all heads were turned
towards him.

"What do you want, Ruperto?" Sandoval asked him.

"What do I want?" the other answered, whose tongue was growing dull
under the influence of the numerous and copious draughts he had taken;
"I want to speak."

"Silence!" the Captain shouted in a stentorian voice; "now, go on,
Ruperto! No one will interrupt you, even if you spoke till sunrise."

"Demonios!" the Texan said, with a laugh, "I have no pretence to abuse
your patience so long."

"Act as you please, gossip: you are my guest, and more than that, an old
acquaintance, which gives you the right to do whatever you please here."

"Thanks for your gallantry, Captain; I must, in the first place, in my
own name and in that of the persons who accompany me, offer you sincere
thanks for your splendid hospitality."

"Go on, go on," the Captain said, carelessly:

"No, no; on the contrary, Caramba! A table so well served as yours is
not to be found every day on the prairie. A man must be as ungrateful as
a monk not to feel thankful."

"Halloh!" the Captain said, laughingly, "Did you not tell me, when I met
you this evening, that you were sent to me by Fray Antonio?"

"I did, Captain."

"A worthy monk," Sandoval observed; "he reminds one of the Rev. John
Zimmers, a protestant minister, who was hung about ten years back at
Baton Rouge, for bigamy. He was a very holy man! I remember that at the
foot of the gallows he made the crowd an edifying speech, which drew
tears from most of his hearers. But let us return to Fray Antonio; I
hope that no accident has happened to him, and that he still enjoys good
health."

"When I left him his health was excellent. Still it is possible that he
may be dangerously ill at this moment, or even dead."

"Rayo de Dios! You alarm me, gossip. Explain yourself."

"It is very simple: Texas, wearied with the incessantly renewed
exactions of Mexico, has revolted to gain its liberty."

"Very good; I know it."

"You know too, of course, that all the men of talent have arrayed
themselves beneath the flag of Independence. Naturally Fray Antonio
raised a cuadrilla, and offered his services to the insurgents."

"That is very ingenious," the Captain said, with a smile.

"Is it not? Oh! Fray Antonio is a clever politician."

"Yes, yes, and proof of it is that at the beginning of the insurrection
it often happened that he did not know himself to which party he
belonged."

"What would you have?" Ruperto said, carelessly, "it is so difficult to
find one's way in a general upset; but now it is no longer the case."

"Ah! It seems that he is fixed?"

"Completely; he forms part of the Army of Liberation. Now, on the very
day of my departure the insurgents were marching towards the Mexican
forces to offer them battle. That is why I said to you it was possible
that Fray Antonio might be seriously indisposed, and perhaps even dead."

"I hope that misfortune has not happened."

"And so do I. A few minutes before setting out, Fray Antonio, who takes
a great interest, as it seems, in the wounded Caballero who accompanies
me, not wishing to abandon him alone and helpless in the power of the
Mexicans, should the Liberating Army unfortunately be conquered, ordered
me to lead him to you, for he felt certain you would take great care of
his friend, and treat him well, in consideration of old friendship."

"He did right to count on me; I will not deceive his confidence.
Caballero," he added, turning to the old man, who during the whole of
this conversation had remained cold and apathetic, "you know us by this
time, and are aware that we are pirates. We offer you the hospitality of
the desert, a frank and unbounded hospitality, and offer it without
either asking who you are or what you have done before setting foot on
our territory."

"On what conditions do you offer me all these advantages?" the old man
asked, as he bowed, with cold politeness, to the Chief of the bandits.

"On none, señor," he answered; "we ask nothing of you, not even your
name; we are proscribed and banished men; hence, every proscript,
whatever be the motives that bring him here, has a right to a place by
our fire. And now," he added, as he seized a bottle and poured out a
bumper, "here is to your fortunate arrival among us, señor! Pledge me!"

"One moment, señor. Before replying to your toast I have, if you will
permit me, a few words to say to you."

"We are listening to you, señor."

The old man rose, drew himself up to his full height, and looked
silently at the company. A deep silence prevailed; suffering from lively
anxiety, all impatiently waited for the Scalper to speak. At length he
did so, while his face, which had hitherto been cold and stern, was
animated by an expression of gentleness of which it would not have been
thought capable.

"Señores," he said, "your frankness challenges mine; the generosity and
grandeur of your reception compels me to make myself known. When a man
comes to claim the support of men like yourselves he must keep nothing
hidden from them. Yes, I am proscribed! Yes, I am banished! But I am so
by my own will. I could return tomorrow, if I pleased, to the bosom of
society, which has never repelled me, I make here neither allusions nor
applications. I remain in the desert to accomplish a duty I have imposed
on myself; I pursue a vengeance, an implacable vengeance, which nothing
can completely satiate, not even the death of the last of my enemies! A
vengeance which is only a wild dream, a horrible nightmare, but which I
pursue, and shall pursue, at all hazards, until the supreme hour when,
on the point of giving my last sigh, I shall die with regret at not
having sufficiently avenged myself. Such is the object of my life, the
cause which made me abandon the life of civilized men to take up with
that of wild beasts--VENGEANCE! Now you know what I am; when I have told
you my name you will be well acquainted with me."

The old man's voice, at first calm and low, had gradually mounted to the
diapason of the passions that agitated him, and had become sonorous and
harsh. His hearers, involuntarily overpowered by his impassioned
accents, listened with panting chests and, as it were hanging on his
lips, to this strange man, who, by revealing the secret of his life, had
stirred up their hearts, and caused the only sensitive fibre that still
existed there to vibrate painfully. For they, too, had but one object
left, a sole desire--vengeance on that society which had expelled them
like impure scum. These men could comprehend such a powerful and
vindictive nature, admire it, and even feel jealous of it, for it was
more complete and more vigorously tempered than their own.

When the Scalper had ceased speaking, all rose as if by common accord,
and, leaning their quivering hands on the table, bent over to him,
awaiting, with feverish impatience, the revelation of his name. But, by
a strange revolution, the wounded man seemed to have forgotten what was
taking place around him, and no longer to remember either where he was
or what he had said. His head was bowed on his chest; with his forehead
resting on his right hand and his eyes fixed on the ground, he tried in
vain to overcome the flood of bitter recollections, the ever-bleeding
wound which in a moment of excitement he had so imprudently revived.

Sandoval regarded him for a moment with an expression of sadness and
pity, and laid his hand on his shoulder. At this touch the old man,
roughly recalled to a feeling of external things, drew himself up as if
he had received an electric shock, and gazed wildly round him.

"What do you want with me?" he asked, in a hoarse voice.

"To tell you your name," the pirate answered, slowly.

"Ah!" he said, "Then you know it?"

"Ten minutes back I was ignorant of it."

"While now----?"

"Now I have guessed it."

An ironical smile curled the old man's pale lips.

"Do you think so?" he said.

"I am sure of it; there are not two men of your stamp in the desert; you
are the genius of evil if you are not White Scalper."

At this name an electric quiver traversed the limbs of the hearers. The
old man raised his head haughtily.

"Yes," he said, in a sharp voice, "I am White Scalper."

During this long conversation a number of pirates, brought up either by
idleness or curiosity, had entered the dining room one after the other.
On hearing this name uttered which they had been accustomed so long to
admire, on seeing at length this man for whom they felt a secret terror,
they burst into a formidable shout, which the resounding echoes repeated
indefinitely, and which caused the roof to tremble as if agitated by an
earthquake. The White Scalper made a signal to ask silence.

"Señores," he said, "I am very grateful for the friendly demonstrations
of which I am the object. Up to the present I have refused every species
of alliance; I obstinately resolved to live alone and accomplish,
without help, the work of destruction to which I have devoted myself.
But, after what has passed here, I must break the promise I made myself;
he who receives is bound to give! Henceforth I am one of yourselves, if
you deem me worthy to form part of your cuadrilla."

At this proposal the huzzas and shouts of joy were redoubled with
extreme frenzy. Sandoval frowned; he understood that his precarious
power was menaced. But, too skilful and crafty to let the secret fears
that agitated him be guessed, he resolved to outflank the difficulty,
and regain, by a masterstroke, the power which he felt instinctively was
slipping from his grasp. Raising the glass he held in his hand, he
shouted in a thundering voice:

"Muchachos! I drink to White Scalper!"

"To White Scalper," the bandits joined in enthusiastically.

Sandoval allowed the first effervescence time to calm down. Himself
exciting this enthusiasm, he at length requested silence at the moment
when this enthusiasm had attained its paroxysm. For a few minutes his
efforts were in vain, for heads were beginning to grow hot under the
influence of copious and incessant libations of mezcal, pulque, and
Catalonian refino. By degrees, however, and like the sea after a storm,
the cries died out, a calm was re-established, and nothing was audible
save a dull and confused murmur of whispered words. Sandoval hastened
to profit by this transient moment of silence to speak again.

"Señores," he said, "I have a proposal to make, which, I believe, will
suit you."

"Speak, speak," the pirates shouted.

"Our association," Sandoval continued, "is founded on the most entire
equality of its members, who freely elect the man they consider most
worthy to command them."

"Yes, yes," they exclaimed.

"Long live Sandoval!" some said.

"Let him speak, do not interrupt him," the majority vociferated.

Sandoval, negligently leaning on the table, followed with an apparently
indifferent glance these various manifestations, though he was suffering
from lively anxiety, and his heart beat ready to burst his chest. He was
playing for a heavy stake; he knew it, for he had, with the infallible
glance of all ambitious men, calculated all the chances for and against.
Hence, it was only by the strength of his will that he succeeded in
giving his face a marble rigidity which did not permit the supreme agony
he was suffering internally to be divined. When silence was nearly
re-established, and he might hope to be heard, he continued, in a firm
voice:

"You did me the honour to appoint me your Chief, and I believe that
hitherto I have rendered myself worthy of that honour."

He paused as if to await a reply. A murmur of assent gently tickled his
ear.

"What is he driving at?" Orson asked in a rough voice.

"You shall know," said Sandoval, who overheard him. And he continued:
"In the common interest, I consider it my duty this night to hand you
back the authority with which you entrusted me. You have at present
among you a man more capable than myself of commanding you, a man whose
mere name will inspire terror in the heart of your enemies. In a word, I
offer you my resignation, proposing that you should elect on the spot
White Scalper as your Chief!"

It was only then that Sandoval really knew the feeling of his comrades
toward him. Of two hundred pirates assembled at this moment in the
dining hall, two thirds pronounced immediately for him, energetically
refusing the resignation he offered apparently with so much self-denial;
one half the remaining third gave no sign of approval or disapproval.
Thirty or forty of the bandits alone received the proposal with shouts
of joy.

Still, as happens nearly always under similar circumstances, these
thirty or forty individuals, by their shouts and yells, would soon have
led away others, and would probably have become ere long an imposing
majority, had not White Scalper himself thought it high time to
interfere. The old adventurer did not at all desire the disgraceful
honour of being elected the Chief of this band of ruffians, whom he
despised in his heart, and whom the force of circumstances alone
compelled him to accept as companions. He was, on the contrary, resolved
to part with them so soon as his wounds were closed, and he felt capable
of recommencing his wandering life. Hence, at the moment when the shouts
and oaths crossed each other in the air with an intensity that grew more
and more menacing, when already some of the pirates, their arguments
being exhausted, were beginning to lay hands on their knives and
pistols, and a frightful battle was about to begin between these men,
among whom a moral feeling did not exist, and who were consequently
restrained by no sentiment of honour or affection; he rose, and speaking
amid the vociferations of these turbulent men, he protested
energetically against the proposal made by Sandoval, not wishing, as he
said, to accept anything but the honour of fighting by their side, and
sharing their dangers, for he felt an incompetence to command.

In the face of such an energetic refusal, all opposition necessarily
ceased. A reaction in the contrary sense set in, and the pirates
implored Sandoval to retain the command, while protesting their devotion
to him. Sandoval, after letting himself be a long time entreated, in
order to convince them thoroughly of the frankness of his conduct, at
length allowed himself to be persuaded, and consented to retain that
power which he had felt for a moment such fear of losing.

Peace was thus restored as if by enchantment, and while the pirates
drank floods of mezcal to celebrate the happy conclusion of this affair,
the Captain led his guests to a compartment separate from the grotto,
where they were at liberty at last to rest themselves. Still Sandoval,
who, rightly or wrong, had for a moment found his power threatened by
White Scalper, felt a malice for him in his heart, and promised to
avenge himself on the first opportunity.


[1] See Pirates of the Prairies, same publishers.



CHAPTER XIII.

A CONVERSATION.


Tranquil and Loyal Heart, as we have seen, withdrew immediately the
opportunity appeared favourable to them, and returned to the hunter's
rancho, where No Eusebio had made all preparations to give them a hearty
reception. Loyal Heart was too sad by nature, the Canadian too
preoccupied by a fixed idea which he had hitherto; kept in his heart,
for these two men to take the slightest interest in the coarse
festivities of the Indians. All this noise and disturbance wearied them;
they felt a desire to rest themselves.

Doña Garillas received them with that calm and radiant smile which
seemed to pass over her pale and sad face like a sunbeam passing between
two clouds. Attentive to satisfy their slightest desires, she seemed to
be thankful to them for their return, and tried, by those thousand
little attentions of which women alone possess the secret, to keep them
as long as possible by her side.

The hunter's house, so peaceful and comfortable, although in the
prejudiced sight of a European it would have seemed hardly above the
most wretched labourer's cabin in this country, formed a contrast which
was not without grandeur with the leather callis of the Redskins, those
receptacles of vermin, where the most utter neglect and complete
forgetfulness, not only of comfort, but of the most simple enjoyments of
life, were visible.

Loyal Heart, after respectfully kissing his mother's forehead, shaking
hands with No Eusebio, and patting his dogs, which leapt up at him with
joyous whines, sat down to table, making Tranquil a sign to follow his
example. Since the previous night a singular change had taken place in
the manner, and even countenance of the old hunter. He whose movements
were generally so frank and steady, seemed embarrassed; his eye had lost
the fire which illumined it and gave it so noble an expression; his
eyebrows continually met under the effect of some secret thought; his
very speech was sharper than usual.

The young man watched pensively, and with a melancholy smile, the
hunter's movements. When the meal was over, and the pipes were lit,
after making his mother and No Eusebio a sign to withdraw, he turned to
the Canadian--

"My guest," he said affectionately, "we are old friends, are we not?
Although we have known each other but a short time."

"Certainly! Loyal Heart, in the desert friendships and hatreds grow
rapidly, and we have been together under circumstances when two men,
side by side, can appreciate each other in a few minutes."

"Will you let me ask you a question?"

"Of course," the hunter answered.

"Stay," the young man continued; "do we understand each other? Will you
promise to answer me this question?"

"Why not?" Tranquil said quietly.

"Who knows--_¿quién sabe?_ as we Spanish Americans say," the young man
replied with a smile.

"Nonsense," the Canadian replied carelessly; "ask your question, mine
host; I cannot foresee the possibility of my being unable to answer
you."

"But, supposing it were so?"

"I do not suppose it; you are a man of too upright sense, and too great
intelligence, to fall into that error. So speak without fear."

"I will do so, as you authorise me; for you do so, I think."

"Understood."

"In that ease, listen to me. I know you too well, or, at least, I fancy
I know you too well to suppose that you have come here merely to pay me
a visit, as you knew you could meet me any day on the prairie. You have,
therefore, undertaken this journey with some definite object; a most
serious motive impelled you to wish to see me."

Tranquil gave a silent nod of assent. Loyal Heart went on after a
moment's silence, during which he seemed to be awaiting a reply, which
did not come.

"You have been here now two days. You have already had several
opportunities for a frank explanation, an explanation, by the way, which
I desire with my whole heart, for I foresee that it will contain a
service I can render you, and I shall be happy to prove to you the
esteem I entertain for your character. Still, that explanation does not
come; you seem, on the contrary, to fear it; your manner toward me has
completely changed; since yesterday, in a word, you are no longer the
man I knew, the man who never hesitates, and always utters his thoughts
loudly and boldly, whatever might be the consequences at a later date.
Am I mistaken? Answer, old hunter."

For some minutes the Canadian seemed considerably embarrassed; this
point-blank question troubled him singularly. At length he boldly made
up his mind, and raised his head--

"On my word," he answered, looking his questioner firmly in the face,
"I cannot contradict it; Loyal Heart, you are right--all you have said
is perfectly correct."

"Ah!" the young man said with a smile of satisfaction, "I was not
mistaken, then; I am pleased to know what I have to depend on."

The Canadian shrugged his shoulders philosophically, like a man who does
not at all understand, but who yet experiences a certain degree of
pleasure at seeing his questioner satisfied, though he is completely
ignorant why. Loyal Heart continued--

"Now, I demand in the name of that friendship that binds us--I demand, I
say, that you should be frank with me, and without reservation or
circumlocution, confess to me the motives which urged you to act as you
have done."

"These motives are only honourable, be assured, Loyal Heart."

"I am convinced of it, my friend; but I repeat to you, I wish to know
them."

"After all," the old hunter continued with the accent of a man who has
formed a resolution, "why should I have secrets from you when I have
come to claim your assistance? You shall know all. I am only a coarse
adventurer, who received all the education he has on the desert; I adore
God, and am mad for liberty; I have always tried to benefit my
neighbour, and requite good for evil as far as lay in my power; such, in
two words, is my profession of faith."

"It is rigorously true," Loyal Heart said, with an air of conviction.

"Thanks, and frankly I believe it. But, with the exception of that, I
know nothing. Desert life has only developed in me the instincts of the
brute, without giving me any of those refinements which the
civilisation of towns causes to be developed in the most savage
natures."

"I confess that I do not see at all what you are driving at."

"You will soon comprehend me. From the first moment I saw you, with the
first word you uttered, by a species of intuition, by one of those
sympathies what are independent of the will, I felt myself attracted
towards you. You were my friend during the few days we lived together,
sharing the same couch under the vault of Heaven, running the same
dangers, experiencing the same joys and sorrows. I believed that I
appreciated you at your true value, and my friendship only increased in
consequence. Hence, when I needed a sure and devoted friend, I thought
of you at once, and, without further reflection, started to go in quest
of you."

"You did well."

"I know it," said Tranquil, with simple enthusiasm; "still, on entering
this modest rancho, my ideas were completely modified; a doubt occurred
to me--not about you, for that was impossible--but about your position,
and the mysterious life you lead. I asked myself by what concourse of
circumstances a man like you had confined himself to an Indian village
and accepted all the wretchedness of a Redskin life, a wretchedness
often so cruel and opposed to our manners. On seeing your mother so
lovely and so kind, your old servant so devoted, and the way in which
you behave within these walls, I thought, without prejudging anything,
that a great misfortune had suddenly burst on you and forced you for a
time into a hard exile. But I understood that I was not your equal, that
between you and me there was a distinctly traced line of demarcation;
then I felt oppressed in your company, for you are no longer the free
hunter, having no other roof but the verdurous dome of our virgin
forests, or other fortune than his rifle; in a word, you are no longer
the comrade, the friend with whom I was so happy to share everything in
the desert I no longer recognise the right to treat as an equal a man
whom a passing misfortune has accidentally brought near me, and who
would, doubtless, at a later date, regret this intimacy which has sprung
from accident; while continuing to love and esteem you, I resume the
place that belongs to me."

"All of which means?" Loyal Heart said, distinctly.

"That, being no longer able to be your comrade, and not wishing to be
your servant, I shall retire."

"You are mad, Tranquil," the young man exclaimed, with an outburst of
impatient grief. "What you say, I tell you, has not common sense, and
the conclusions yon draw from it are absurd."

"Still----?" the Canadian hazarded.

"Oh!" the other continued, with considerable animation, "I have allowed
you to speak, have I not? I listened to whatever you had to say without
interruption, and it is now your turn. Without wishing it, you have
caused me the greatest pain it is possible for me to suffer; you have
caused an ever-living wound to bleed, by reminding me of things which I
try in vain to forget, and which will cause the wretchedness of my whole
life."

"I--I?" the hunter exclaimed, with a start of terror.

"Yes, you! But what matter? Besides, you were walking blindly, not
knowing where you were going; hence, I have no right to be angry with
you, and am not so. But there is one thing I value above all, which; I
esteem more than life, and that is your friendship. I cannot consent to
lose it. Confidence for confidence! You shall know who I am and what
motive brought me to the desert, where I am condemned to live and die."

"No," Tranquil answered, clearly, "I have no claim to your confidence.
You say that I have unintentionally caused you great suffering; that
suffering would only be increased by the confession you wish to make me.
I swear to you, Loyal Heart, that I will not listen to you."

"You must, my friend, both for your sake and my own, for in that way we
shall learn to understand one another. Besides," he added, with a
melancholy smile, "this secret which crushed me, and which I have
hitherto kept in my own bosom, it will be a great consolation to me, be
assured, to confide to a real friend. And then, you must know this: I
have no one to complain of; the terrible misfortune which suddenly fell
upon me, or chastisement, if you like that term better, was just, though
perhaps severe; I have, therefore, no one to reproach but myself. My
life is only one long expiation; unhappily I tremble lest the present
and the future will not suffice to expiate the past."

"You forget God, my son," a voice said, with an accent of supreme
majesty, "God, who cannot fail you and will judge you. When the
expiation you have imposed on yourself is completed, that God will cause
it to terminate."

And Doña Garillas, who had for some moments been listening to the
conversation of the two men, crossed the room with a majestic step, and
laid her white and delicate hand on the shoulder of her son, while
giving him a glance full of that powerful love which mothers alone
possess.

"Oh! I am a wretched ingrate!" the young man exclaimed, sorrowfully; "in
my hideous egotism I for a moment forgot you, my mother, who gave up
everything for me."

"Raphael, you are my first-born. What I did nine years ago I would do
again today. But now, let what you are about to hear be a consolation to
you. I am proud of you, my son; whatever pain you once caused me, the
same amount of joy and pride you cause me today. All the Indian tribes
that traverse the vast solitudes of the prairie have the greatest
respect and deepest veneration for you; has not the name these primitive
men have given you become the synonym of honour? Are you not, in a word,
Loyal Heart, that is to say, the man whose decisions have the strength
of law, whom all, friends and enemies, love and esteem? What more do you
want?"

The young man shook his head sadly.

"Alas, mother," he said, in a hollow voice, "can I ever forget that I
have been a gambler, assassin, and incendiary?"

Tranquil could not restrain a start of terror.

"Oh, it is impossible!" he muttered.

The young man heard him, and turning to him, said--?

"Yes, my friend, I have been a gambler, assassin, and incendiary. Well,
now," he added, with an accent of sad and bitter raillery, "do you still
fancy yourself unworthy of my friendship? Do you still consider you are
not my equal?"

The Canadian rose while the young man bent on him a searching glance; he
went up to Doña Garillas, and bowed to her with a respect mingled with
admiration.

"Señora," he said, "whatever crimes a man may have committed in a moment
of irresistible passion, that man must be absolved by all when, in spite
of his fault, he inspires a devotion so glorious, so perfect, and so
noble as yours. You are a holy woman, madam! Hope, as you said yourself
a moment back, hope. GOD, who is omnipotent, will, when the moment
arrives, dry your tears and make you forget your sorrow in immense joy.
I am but a poor man, without talent or learning, but my instinct has
never deceived me. I am convinced that if your son were ever guilty, he
is now pardoned, even by the man who condemned him under the influence
of an exaggerated feeling of honour, which he regretted at a later
date."

"Thanks, my friend," Loyal Heart answered; "thanks for words which I
feel convinced are the expression of your innermost thoughts; thanks in
my mother's name and my own! Yours is a frank and upright nature. You
have restored me the courage which at times abandons me, and have raised
me in my own sight; but this expiation to which I condemned myself,
would not be complete unless I told you, in their fullest details, all
the events of my life. No refusal," he added, with a sign to the hunter,
"it must be so! Believe me, Tranquil, this story bears its own
instruction. Just as the traveller, after a long and painful journey,
halts by the wayside, and looks with a certain degree of satisfaction at
the distance he has covered, I shall feel a mournful pleasure in
returning to the early and terrible events of my life."

"Yes," said his mother, "you are right, my son. A man must have courage
to look back, in order to acquire the strength to walk worthily forward.
It is only by reverting to the past that you can understand the present
and have hope in the future. Speak, speak, my son, and if in the course
of your narrative your memory or your courage fail you, your mother will
be here at your side, as I have ever been, and what you dare not or
cannot say, I will say."

Tranquil regarded with admiration this strange woman, whose gestures and
words harmonized so well with her majestic bearing; this mother, whose
sweet face reflected so well her noble sentiments; he felt himself very
small and wretched in the presence of this chosen nature, who, of all
the passions, knew only one, maternal love.

"Loyal Heart," he said, with an emotion he could not master, "since you
insist, I will listen to the narrative of the events which brought you
to the desert; but be assured of this, whatever I may hear, since you
are willing still to give me the title of friend, here is my hand, take
it, I will never fail you. Now, whether you speak or keep your secret,
is of no consequence. Remember one thing, however, that I belong to you,
body and soul, before and against all, today or tomorrow, tomorrow or
ten years hence, and that," he added with a certain degree of solemnity,
"I swear to you from my deepest soul, by the memory of my beloved
mother, whose ashes now rest in Quebec cemetery. Now go on, I am ready
to listen to you."

Loyal Heart warmly returned the pressure of the hunter's hand, and made
him sit down on his right hand, while Doña Garillas took her place on
his left.

"Now, listen to me," he said.

At this moment the door opened, and No Eusebio appeared.

"_Mi amo_," he said, "the Indian Chief, called Black-deer, wishes to
speak to you."

"What, Black-deer?" the hunter said with surprise; "Impossible! He must
be engaged with his marriage festivities."

"Pardon me," Tranquil observed; "you forget, Loyal Heart, that when we
left the feast the Chief came up to us, saying in a low voice that he
had a serious communication to make to us."

"That is true; in fact, I did forget it. Let him enter, No Eusebio. My
friend," he added, addressing Tranquil, "it is impossible for me at this
moment to begin a story which would be interrupted almost at the first
sentence; but soon, I hope, you shall know it."

"I will leave you to settle your Indian affairs," Doña Garillas said
with a smile, and rising, she quitted the room.

Tranquil, we are bound to confess, was in his heart delighted at an
interruption which saved him from listening to the narrative of painful
events. The worthy hunter possessed the precious quality of not being at
all curious to know the history of men he liked, for his native
integrity led him to fear seeing them break down in his esteem. Hence,
he easily accepted the unexpected delay in Loyal Heart's confession, and
was grateful to Black-deer for arriving so opportunely.

At the moment when Doña Garillas entered the room No Eusebio introduced
the Indian Chief by another door. Forgetful of that assumed stoicism so
habitual to Indians, Black-deer seemed suffering from a lively anxiety.
The warrior's gloomy air, his frowns--nothing, in a word, recalled in
him the man who had just contracted a union he had long desired, and
which, fulfilled all his wishes; his countenance, on the contrary, was
so grave and stern, that the two hunters noticed it at the first glance,
and could not refrain from remarking on it to him.

"Wah!" Loyal Heart said good-humouredly, "You have a preciously sad
face. Did you, on entering the village, perceive five crows on your
right, or did your scalping knife stick in the ground thrice in
succession, which, as everybody knows, is a very evil omen?"

The Chief, before replying, bent a piercing glance around.

"No," he at length said, in a low and suppressed voice, "Black-deer has
not seen five crows on his right; he saw a fox on his left, and a flight
of owls in the bushes."

"You know, Chief, that I do not at all understand you," Loyal Heart
said, laughing.

"Nor do I, on my honour," Tranquil observed with a crafty smile.

The Chief bravely endured this double volley of sarcasm. Not a muscle of
his face stirred; on the contrary, his features seemed to grow more
gloomy.

"My brothers can laugh," he said, "they are Palefaces; they care little
whether good or evil happens to the Indians."

"Pardon, Chief," Loyal Heart answered, suddenly becoming serious; "my
friend and myself had no intention of insulting you."

"I am aware of it," the Chief replied, "my brothers cannot suppose that
on a day like this I should be sad."

"That is true, but now our ears are open: my brother will speak, and we
listen with all the attention his words deserve."

The Indian seemed to hesitate, but in a moment he walked up to Loyal
Heart and Tranquil, seated by his side, and bent over them, so that his
head touched theirs.

"The situation is grave," he said, "and I have only a few minutes to
spare, so my brothers will listen seriously. I must return to the calli
of Blackbird, where my friends and relatives await me. Are my brothers
listening?"

"We are listening," the two men answered with one voice.

Ere going on, Black-deer walked round the room, inspecting the walls and
opening the doors, as if fearing listeners. Then, probably re-assured by
this inspection that no one could hear him, he returned to the two white
men, who curiously followed these singular operations, and said to them
in a low voice, as an additional precaution:

"A great danger menaces the Antelope Comanches."

"How so, Chief?"

"The Apaches are watching the neighbourhood of the village."

"How do you know that?"

The Chief looked around him, and then continued in the same low and
suppressed voice:

"I have seen them."

"My brother has seen the Apaches?"

The Chief smiled proudly.

"Yes," he said, "Black-deer is a great brave, he has the fine scent of
my brother's rastreros, he has smelt the enemy; smelling is seeing, with
a warrior."

"Yes, but my brother must take care! Passion is an evil counsellor,"
Loyal Heart answered; "perhaps he is mistaken."

Black-deer shrugged his shoulders with disdain.

"This night there was not a breath of air in the forest, yet the leaves
of the trees moved, and the tall grass was agitated."

"Wah! That is astonishing," said Loyal Heart; "An envoy of the Buffalo
Apaches is in the village at this moment, we must be threatened by
fearful trickery."

"Blue-fox is a traitor who has sold his people," the Indian continued
with some animation; "what can be hoped from such a man? He has come
here to count the braves, and send the warriors to sleep."

"Yes," said Loyal Heart thoughtfully, "that is possible. But what is to
be done? Has my brother warned the Chiefs?"

"Yes, while Blue-fox requested the hachesto to assemble the council,
Black-deer spoke with Bounding Panther, Lynx, and Blackbird."

"Very good, what have they resolved?"

"Blue-fox will be retained as a hostage, under various pretexts. At
sunset two hundred picked warriors, under the orders of Loyal Heart, and
guided by Black-deer, will go and surprise the enemy, who, knowing their
emissary to be in the village, will have no suspicion, but fall into the
trap they intended to set for us."

Loyal heart remained silent for a moment and reflected.

"Let my brother hear me," he said presently; "I am ready to obey the
orders of the Sovereign Council of the Sachems of the tribe, but I will
not let the warriors entrusted to me be massacred. The Buffalo Apaches
are old chattering and crying squaws, without courage, to whom we will
give petticoats, each time they find themselves face to face with us in
the prairies. But here such is not the case; they are ambushed at a spot
selected beforehand, and are acquainted with all its resources. However
well my young men may be guided by my brothers, the Apaches will come on
their trail, so that will not do."

"What does my brother propose?" Black-deer asked with some anxiety.

"The sun has run two-thirds of its course, Black-deer will warn the
warriors to proceed each by himself, to the mountain of the Blackbear,
one hour after sunset. In this way they will seem to be going hunting
separately, and excite no suspicion. No one will see them depart, and if
the enemy, as is probable, have spies in the camp, they cannot suppose
that these hunters, starting one after the other, are sent off to
surprise them. When the sun has disappeared on the horizon, in the
sacred cavern of the Red Mountain, my brother the Pale hunter and myself
will mount our horses and join the Redskins. Have I spoken well? Does
what I have said please my brother?"

While Loyal Heart was thus explaining the plan he had instantaneously
conceived, the Indian Chief gave marks of the greatest joy, and the most
lively admiration.

"My brother has spoken well," he answered; "the Wacondah is with him;
his medicine is very powerful, though his hair is black; the wisdom of
the Master of Life resides in him. It shall be done as he desires;
Black-deer will obey him; he will follow out exactly the wise
instructions of his brother, Loyal Heart."

"Good; but my brother will take care: Blue-fox is very clever!"

"Blue-fox is an Apache dog, whose ears Black-deer will crop. My brother
the hunter need not feel alarmed; all will happen as he desires."

After exchanging a few more sentences to come to a full understanding,
and make their final arrangements, Black-deer withdrew.

"You will come with me, I suppose, Tranquil?" the young man asked the
Canadian so soon as they were alone.

"Of course!" the other replied; "Did you doubt it? What the deuce should
I do here during your absence? I prefer accompanying you, especially as,
if I am not mistaken, there will be a jolly row."

"You are not mistaken. It is evident to me that the Apaches would not
have ventured so near the village, unless they were in considerable
force."

"Well, in that case, two hundred men are as nothing; you should have
asked for more."

"Why so? In a surprise the man who attacks is always the stronger; we
will try to get the first blow, that is all."

"That is true, by Jove! I am delighted at the affair; I have not smelt
powder for some time, and feel myself beginning to rust; that will
restore me."

At this outburst, Loyal Heart began laughing, Tranquil formed the
chorus, and they spoke about something else.



CHAPTER XIV.

TWO ENEMIES.


In the high American latitudes, night comes on almost suddenly, and
without sensible transition; there is no twilight, and when the sun has
disappeared on the horizon, it is perfect night; now, at the period of
the year when the events occurred which we have undertaken to describe,
the sun set at seven o'clock. Half an hour later, Tranquil and Loyal
Heart, mounted on excellent mustangs, left the rancho, followed by No
Eusebio, who insisted on joining them, and whom no entreaties or
exhortations could keep back. They had only gone a few yards across the
square, however, when the Canadian laid his hand on the young man's
bridle.

"What do you want?" the latter asked.

"Shall we not take our comrades with us?"

"Do you think it necessary?"

"Well, with the exception of the monk, who, I fear, is not worth much,
they are stout fellows, whose rifles might prove very useful to us."

"That is true; warn them in a few words, and rejoin me here."

"Do you not think the departure of so large a party may arouse the
suspicions of Blue-fox, who is doubtless prowling about the
neighbourhood?"

"Not at all, they are white men; if he saw Indian warriors departing
thus, I am sure his doubts would be aroused; but he will never suppose
that hunters have discovered his treachery."

"You may be right, but in any case it is better to run the risk; wait
for me, I shall be back in ten minutes."

"All right, go along."

Tranquil went off rapidly, while Loyal Heart and No Eusebio halted a few
yards further on. The adventurers gleefully accepted the proposal
Tranquil made them; for such men, a battle is a festival, especially
when they have Indians to fight; ten minutes scarce elapsed, therefore,
ere the Canadian rejoined the young man. The little band set out, and
silently left the village.

Loyal Heart was mistaken in supposing that Blue-fox would not be alarmed
on seeing the white hunters leave the atepetl. The Redskin, like all men
who meditate treachery, had his eyes constantly open to the movements of
the inhabitants of the village, and his watchful mind took umbrage at
the most insignificant matters. Although the Comanche Chiefs had acted
with the greatest prudence, the Apache Sachem speedily perceived that he
was watched, and that, though honourably treated, and apparently free,
he was in reality a prisoner. He pretended not to suspect what was going
on, but redoubled his attention. During the past day, he had seen
several warriors mount their horses one after the other, and set out in
groups of two, three, and even four, to bury themselves in the forest.

Not one of these warriors having re-entered the atepetl by sunset, this
circumstance caused the Redskin Chief deep thought, and he even came to
the conclusion that his plans were discovered, and that the Comanches
were attempting a countermine, that is to say, were trying to surprise
the persons who desired to lay a trap for them, and the departure of the
white hunters would have removed the Chief's final doubts, had any such
remained. The situation was growing not only very critical, but most
perilous for him; his scalp was extremely compromised; it was plain that
the Comanche warriors on their return would perform the scalp dance, and
the finest ornament of the feast would be the Apache Chief who had tried
to lead them into a cleverly-prepared trap.

Blue-fox was a warrior renowned as much for his wisdom in council as for
his bravery in fight; instances of extraordinary audacity and temerity,
were narrated about him, but the courage with which the Chief was gifted
was calm, reasoning, and ever subordinate to events; that is to say,
Blue-fox, like a true Redskin, would never hesitate, when circumstances
demanded it, to substitute craft and trickery for courage, considering
it highly absurd, and very useless, to expose his life without any hope
of profit.

Blue-fox was sitting in front of the entrance of the calli of honour the
Comanches had given him during the period of his stay with them, calmly
smoking his pipe, when the white hunters passed before him. He displayed
neither surprise nor curiosity at the sight of them, but by an almost
imperceptible movement of his head and shoulders, he looked after them
with a flashing glance till they disappeared in the darkness. We have
said that the night was dark, the village already appeared completely
deserted, the Indians had withdrawn to the interior of their callis,
while at lengthened intervals an isolated Redskin hastily crossed the
square, hurrying homewards.

Blue-fox still sat before his calli smoking; gradually the arm that
supported the calumet fell on his knees, his head bowed on his chest,
and the Apache Sachem seemed, as so often happens to the Indians, to
have yielded to the narcotic influence of the morichee; and a long time
elapsed ere he made the slightest movement. Was the Chief really asleep?
No one could have answered the question. His calm and regular breathing,
and his careless attitude, led to the supposition that he had been
overcome by sleep; but, if any sound suddenly smote his ear, an almost
imperceptible tremor ran over his limbs, and his eyelash rose, probably
through that instinct of personal prudence peculiar to the Indians, but
more probably through a desire of investigation, as we think, and as
anyone else would have thought who was in a position to see the piercing
glances he at such moments darted into the obscurity. All at once the
curtain of the calli was raised, and a hand was roughly laid on the
sleeper's shoulder. The Chief started at this touch, which he did not at
all expect, and sprang up as if a serpent had stung him.

"The nights are cold," said an ironical voice, which smote unpleasantly
on the ear of Blue-fox; "the dew is profuse, and ices the blood; my
brother is wrong to sleep thus in the open air, when he has a spacious
and convenient calli."

Blue-fox, by a powerful effort, extinguished the fire of his glance,
composed his features, and answered in the gentle voice of a man who is
really waking--

"I thank my brother for his affectionate observation; in truth, the
nights are very cold, and it is better to sleep in a calli than in the
open air."

He rose without further discussion, and re-entered the hut with the calm
step of a man delighted with the warning he has received. A great fire
was kindled in the interior of the calli, which, besides, was illumined
by a torch of ocote wood stuck in the ground, whose ruddy and
vacillating glare imparted a blood-red hue to surrounding objects. The
man whose charitable advice surprised Blue-fox, let the curtain fall
behind him, and entered after the chief. This man was Black-deer,
without uttering a syllable, he sat down before the fire, and began
arranging the logs with a certain degree of symmetry. Blue-fox gazed on
him for a moment with am undefinable expression, and then walked up and
stood by his side.

"My brothers, the Antelope Comanches," he said, with an almost
imperceptible tinge of irony in his voice, "are great warriors; they
understand the laws of hospitality better than any other nation."

"The Antelope Comanches," Black-deer answered, peaceably, "know that
Blue-fox is a renowned Chief, and one of the great braves of the Buffalo
Apaches; they are anxious to do him honour."

The Chief bowed.

"Does this honour go so far as to compel so great a warrior as my
brother to watch over my sleep?"

"My brother is the guest of the Antelopes, and in that quality has a
claim to all possible attention."

Like two experienced duellists the Chiefs had crossed swords; having
felt their blades, they perceived that they were of equal strength, and
each fell back a step to continue the engagement on new ground.

"Then," Blue-fox continued, "my brother will remain in the calli with
me."

The Chief gave a nod of assent.

"Wah! I know for what reason the Comanche Sachems treat me thus: they
are aware that Black-deer and Blue-fox, though each adopted by a
different tribe, are yet brothers of the great and powerful nation of
the Snake Pawnees; hence they suppose that the two Chiefs would be
pleased to converse together and recall their early years. My brother
will thank the Sachems of his nation for Blue-fox; I was far from
expecting so great a proof of courtesy on their part."

"My brother is rightly called the Fox," the Comanche replied, briefly,
with a bitter accent; "his craft is great."

"What does my brother mean?" the Apache went on with the greatest air of
surprise he could assume.

"I speak the truth, and my brother is well aware of it," Black-deer
answered; "why should we thus try to deceive each other? We have been
too long acquainted. Let my brother listen to me: the Antelope Comanches
are not, as the Apaches suppose them, inexperienced children, they know
for what purpose my brother has come to their winter atepetl."

"_Ohé!_" the Chief said, "I hear a mocking-bird singing in my ears, but
I do not at all understand what it means."

"Perhaps so, but to remove my brother's doubt I will speak to him
frankly."

"Can my brother do so?" the Apache continued, ironically.

"The Chief shall judge:--For some moons past the Buffalo Apaches have
been trying to take a brilliant revenge on the Comanches for a defeat
the warriors of my nation inflicted on them, but the Apaches are
chattering old women who possess no craft; the Comanches will give them
petticoats and send them to cut wood for them in the forests."

The Chief's eyebrows were almost meeting at this crushing insult; a
flash of fury burst from his eyes, but still he managed to overpower his
feelings. He drew himself up with supreme majesty and folded himself in
his buffalo robe.

"My brother, Black-deer, forgets to whom he is speaking," he said;
"Blue-fox is the envoy of his nation to the Comanches, he has sought
shelter under the totem of the Antelopes and smoked their sacred
calumet; his person must be respected."

"The Apache Chief is mistaken," Black-deer replied, with a disdainful
smile; "he is not the envoy of a brave nation, but only the spy of a
pack of savage dogs. While Blue-fox tries to deceive the Comanche
Sachems, and lull them to sleep in a treacherous serenity, the Apache
dogs are hidden like moles in the tall grass, awaiting the signal which
will surrender their defenceless enemies into their hands."

Blue-fox looked round the calli, and bounding like a jaguar, rushed on
his foeman, brandishing his knife.

"Die, dog!" he shouted.

Since the beginning of their singular conversation Black-deer had not
stirred, he had remained tranquilly crouching over the fire, but his
eyes had not lost one of the Apache's movements, and when the latter
rushed madly at him he started aside, and springing up with extreme
rapidity, seized the Chief in his nervous arms and both rolled on the
ground, intertwined like serpents. In their fall they fell on the torch,
which was extinguished; hence, the terrible and silent conflict went on
between the two men by the uncertain gleam of the fire, each striving to
stab his enemy. They were both of nearly the same age, their strength
and skill were equal, and an implacable hatred animated them; in this
horrible duel, which must evidently terminate in the death of one of
them, they disdained the usual tricks employed in such fights, as they
cared little about death so long as their enemy received the mortal blow
simultaneously.

Still, Blue-fox had a great advantage over his adversary, who, blinded
by fury, and not calculating any of his movements, could not long
sustain this deadly contest without himself becoming a victim to the
insensate rage which had urged him to attack the Comanche. The latter,
on the contrary, completely master of himself, acted with the greatest
prudence, and by the way he had seized his enemy had pinned his arms
and rendered it impossible for him to employ his weapons; all the
efforts of Black-deer tended to roll the Apache into the fire burning in
the centre of the calli.

They had been wrestling thus for a long time, foot against foot, chest
to chest, and it was as yet impossible to guess which would gain the
upper hand, when suddenly the curtain of the hut was raised, and a
brilliant light inundated the interior. Several men entered; they were
Comanche warriors. They arrived later than they should have done, for
all that took place at this moment had been arranged beforehand between
them and Black-deer, but they had been delayed by circumstances beyond
their control. Five minutes later their interference would have been
useless, as they would probably have found one of the two combatants
killed by the other, or perhaps raised two corpses, such fury and
vindictiveness were displayed in this atrocious struggle.

When Blue-fox saw the help that arrived for his enemy he judged the
position at a glance, and felt that he was lost; still, the cunning and
coolness innate with Indians did not abandon him at this supreme moment;
for Redskins, whatever may be the hatred they feel, do not kill an enemy
who openly allows that he is conquered. The Apache Chief, so soon as he
perceived the Comanches, ceased his efforts, and removed the arms which
had hitherto held Black-deer as in a vice; then, throwing back his head
and closing his eyes, he stood motionless.

Blue-fox was aware that he would be regarded as a prisoner and kept for
the stake of torture; but until the hour marked for his punishment
arrived he retained the hope of escaping, with whatever care he might be
guarded. This chance was the last left him, so he did not wish to lose
it.

Black-deer rose, greatly shaken by the rude embrace; but, instead of
striking his enemy, who lay disarmed at his feet, he returned his knife
to his belt. The Apache's calculations were correct: until the hour of
punishment arrived he had nothing to fear from his enemy.

"Blue-fox is a great brave, he fought like a courageous warrior," said
Black-deer; "as he must be fatigued he will rise, and the Comanche Chief
will show him all the consideration he deserves."

And he offered his hand to help him in rising. The Apache made no
movement to pick up his weapons, but frankly accepted the offered hand
and rose.

"The Comanche dogs will see a warrior die," he said, with an ironical
smile; "Blue-fox laughs at their tortures; they are not capable of
making one of his muscles quiver."

"Good! My brother will see," and turning to the Sachems, who stood
motionless and silent a few paces off, the Chief added; "when will this
warrior die?"

"Tomorrow at sunset," the most aged of the Indians laconically answered.

"My brother has heard," Black-deer continued; "has he any remark to
make?"

"Only one."

"My brother can speak, our ears are open."

"Blue-fox does not fear death, but ere he goes to hunt on the happy
hunting grounds, beneath the powerful eye of the Wacondah, he has
several important matters to settle on this earth."

The Comanches bowed in assent.

"Blue-fox," the Apache Chief continued, "has a necessity to return
among the warriors of his nation."

"How long will the Chief remain absent?"

"One whole moon."

"Good! What will the Chief do to insure his word, and that the Comanche
Sachems may put faith in what he says?"

"Blue-fox will leave a hostage."

"The Sachem of the Buffalo Apaches is a great brave; what warrior of his
nation can die in his stead, if he forget to liberate his pledge?"

"I will give the flesh of my flesh, the blood of my blood, the bone of
my bone. My son will take my place."

The Comanches exchanged a very meaning glance. There was a rather
lengthened silence, during which the Apache, haughtily folded in his
buffalo robe, stoically waited, and it was impossible to read in his
motionless features one of the emotions that agitated him. At length
Black-deer spoke again.

"My brother has recalled to my memory," he said, "the years of our
youth, when we were both children of the Snake Pawnees, and hunted in
company the elk and the asshata in the prairies of the Upper Missouri.
The early years are the sweetest; the words of my brother made my heart
tremble with joy. I will be kind to him; his son snail be my substitute,
though he is still very young; but he knows how to crawl like the
serpent and fly like the eagle, and his arm is strong in fight. But
Blue-fox will reflect before pledging his word. If on the evening of the
twenty-eighth sun my brother has not returned to take his place at the
foot of the stake of torture, his son will die."

"I thank my brother," the Apache replied in a firm voice, "on the
twenty-eighth sun I shall return: here is my open hand."

"And here is mine."

The two enemies clasped in cordial pressure the two hands which, a few
minutes before, had been seeking so eagerly to take each other's life;
then Blue-fox unfastened the cascabel skin that attached his long hair
in the form of a cap on the top of his head, and removed the white eagle
plume fixed above his right ear.

"My brother will lend me his knife," he said.

"My brother's knife is at his feet," the Comanche answered cautiously;
"so great a warrior must not remain unarmed. He can pick it up."

The Chief stooped, picked up his knife, and thrust it in his girdle.

"Here is the plume of a Chief," he said as he gave it to Black-deer,
cutting off a tress of the long hair, which, being no longer fastened,
fell in disorder on his shoulders; he added, "My brother will keep this
lock, it forms part of the scalp that belongs to him: the Chief will
come to ask it back on the appointed day and hour."

"Good!" the Comanche answered, taking the hair and the plume, "My
brother will follow me."

The Comanches, unmoved spectators of this scene, shook their torches to
revive the flame, and all the Indians leaving the calli, proceeded in
the direction of the Medicine Lodge, which stood, as we have seen, in
the centre of the square between the ark of the first man and the stake
of torture. It was toward the latter that the Chiefs proceeded with that
slow and solemn step they employ in serious matters. As they passed in
front of the callis, the curtains were raised, the inhabitants came out,
holding torches, and followed the procession. When the Chiefs reached
the stake, an immense crowd filled the square, but it was silent and
reflecting.

There was something strange and striking in the scenes offered at this
moment by the square, under the light of the torches, whose flame the
wind blew in all directions. The Chiefs halted at the foot of the stake
and formed a semicircle, in the centre of which Blue-fox stationed
himself.

"Now that my brother has given his pledge, he can summon his son," said
Black-deer; "the lad is not far off, I dare say."

The Apache smiled cunningly.

"The young of the eagle always follows the powerful flight of its
parent," he replied; "the warriors will part to the right and left to
grant him a passage."

At a silent sign from Black-deer there was a movement in the crowd,
which fell back and left a passage through the centre; Blue-fox then
thrust his fingers in his mouth, and imitated thrice the call of the
hawk. In a few minutes a similar but very faint cry answered him. The
Chief renewed his summons, and this time the answer was shriller and
more distinct. For the third time the Apache repeated his signal, which
was answered close at hand; the rapid gallop of a horse became audible,
and almost immediately an Indian warrior dashed up at full speed. This
warrior crossed the entire square without evidencing the slightest
surprise. He stopped short at the foot of the stake, dismounted, and
placed himself by the side of Blue-fox, to whom he merely said--

"Here I am."

This warrior was the son of the Apache Chief, a tall and nobly-built lad
of sixteen to seventeen. His features were handsome, his glance was
haughty, his demeanour simple, and noble without boasting.

"This boy is my son," Blue-fox said to the Comanche Chiefs.

"Good!" they replied, bowing courteously.

"Does my son consent to remain as a hostage in the place of his father?"
Black-deer asked him.

The young man bowed his head in assent.

"My son knows that if his father does not come to liberate his pledge,
he will die in his place?"

A smile of contempt played round the boy's lips.

"I know it," he said,

"And my son accepts?"

"I do."

"Good!" the Chief continued, "Let my son look."

He then went up to the stake and fastened to it the feather and lock of
hair Blue-fox had given him.

"This feather and this hair will remain here until the man to whom they
belong returns to claim them," he said.

The Apache Chief answered in his turn--

"I swear on my totem to come and redeem them at the appointed time."

"Wah! My brother is free," Black-deer continued; "here is the feather of
a Chief; it will serve him as a recognition if the warriors of my nation
were to meet him. Still, my brother will remember that he is forbidden
communicating in any way with the braves of his nation ambushed round
the village."

"Blue-fox will remember it."

After uttering these few words without even exchanging a look with his
son, who stood motionless by his side, the Chief took the feather
Black-deer offered him, leaped on the horse which had brought the young
man, and started at a gallop, not looking back once. When he had
disappeared in the darkness, the Chiefs went up to the boy, bound him
securely, and confined him in the Medicine Lodge under the guardianship
of several warriors.

"Now," said Black-deer, "for the others."

And mounting his horse in his turn, he left the village.



CHAPTER XV.

THE AMBUSCADE.


The European traveller, accustomed to the paltry landscapes which man
has carved out corresponding with his own stature and the conventional
nature he has, as it were, contrived to create, can in no way figure to
himself the grand and sublime aspect presented by the great American
forests, where all seems to sleep, and the ever open eye of God alone
broods over the world. The unknown rumours, without any apparent cause,
which incessantly rise from earth to sky like the powerful breathing of
sleeping nature, and mingle with the monotonous murmur of the streams,
as they rustle over the pebbles of their bed; and at intervals, the
mysterious breeze which passes over the tufted tops of the trees, slowly
bending them with a gentle rustling of leaves and branches--all this
leads the mind to reverie, and fills it with a religious respect for the
sublime works of the Creator.

We fancy we have given a sufficiently detailed account of the village of
the Antelope Comanches, to be able to dispense with further reference to
it; we will merely add that it was built in an amphitheatrical shape,
and descended with a gentle incline to the river. This position
prevented the enemy surrounding the village, whose approaches were
guarded from surprise by the trees having been felled for some distance.

Loyal Heart and his comrades advanced slowly, with their rifles on their
thigh, attentively watching the neighbourhood, and ready, at the
slightest suspicious movement in the tall grass, to execute a vigorous
charge. All, however, remained quiet round them; at times they heard a
coyote baying at the moon, or the noise of an owl concealed by the
foliage; but that was all, and a leaden silence fell again on the
savannah. At times they saw in the bluish rays of the moon indistinct
forms appear on the banks of the river; but these wandering shadows were
evidently wild beasts which had left their lurking places to come down
and drink.

The march continued thus without encumbrance or alarm of any
description, until the adventurers had reached the covert, when a dense
gloom suddenly enveloped them, and did not allow them to distinguish
objects ten yards ahead. Loyal Heart did not consider it prudent to
advance further in a neighbourhood he did not know, and where he saw the
risk at each step of falling into an ambuscade; consequently the little
band halted. The horses were made to lie down on their side, their legs
were fastened, and their nostrils drawn in with a rope, so that they
could neither stir nor make a sound, and the adventurers, concealing
themselves, waited while watching with the most profound attention.

From time to time they saw horsemen crossing a clearing, and all going
in different directions; some passed close enough to touch them without
perceiving the hunters, owing to the precautions the latter had taken,
and then disappeared in the forest. Several hours passed thus, the
hunters being quite unable to comprehend the delay, the reason for which
the reader, however, knows; the moon had disappeared, and the darkness
become denser. Loyal Heart, not knowing to what he should attribute
Black-deer's lengthened absence, and fearing some unforeseen misfortune
had burst on the village, was about to give the order for returning,
when Tranquil, who, by crawling on his hands and knees, had reached the
open plain where he remained for some time as scout, suddenly returned
to his comrades.

"What is the matter?" Loyal Heart whispered in his ear.

"I cannot say," the hunter answered, "I do not understand it myself.
About an hour back, an Indian suddenly sprung up by my side as if
emerging from the ground, and leaping on a horse of whose presence I was
equally ignorant, started at full speed in the direction of the
village."

"That is strange," Loyal Heart muttered; "and you do not know who the
Indian is?"

"Apache."

"Apache, impossible!"

"That is just the point that staggers me; how could an Apache venture to
the village alone?"

"There is something up we do not know; and then the signals we heard?"

"This man answered them."

"What is to be done?"

"Find out."

"But in what way?"

"Why, hang it, by rejoining our friends."

Loyal Heart shook his head.

"No," he said, "we must employ some other method, for I promised
Black-deer to help him in this expedition, and I will not break my
word."

"It is evident that important events have occurred among the tribe."

"That is my opinion too, but you know the prudence of the Indians, so we
will not despair yet; stay," he added, as he tapped his forehead, "I
have an idea, we shall soon know what is taking place; leave me to act."

"Do you require our help?"

"Not positively; I shall not go out of sight, but if you see me in
danger, come up."

"All right,"

Loyal heart took a long rope of plaited leather, which served him as a
picquet cord, and laying down his rifle, which might have impeded him in
the execution of the daring plan he had formed, lay down on the ground
and crawled away like a serpent. The plain was covered with dead trees
and enormous stones, while there were wide trenches at certain spots.
This open ground, so singularly broken up, offered, therefore, all the
facilities desirable for forming an ambuscade or a post of observation.

Loyal Heart stopped behind an enormous block of red granite, whose
height enabled him to stand up, in shelter on all sides save in the
direction of the forest. But he had no great risk to run from any
enemies concealed in the chaparral, for the night was so dark that it
would have been necessary to have followed the hunter's every movement,
to discover the spot where he now was.

Loyal Heart was a Mexican; like all his countrymen, whose skill is
proverbial in the management of certain weapons, from his youth he had
been familiarized with the lasso, that terrible arm which renders the
Mexican horsemen so formidable. The lasso or reata, for this weapon has
two names, is a strip of plaited leather, rendered supple by means of
grease. It is ordinarily forty-five to fifty feet in length, one of the
ends terminating in a running knot, the other being fastened to an iron
ring riveted in the saddle; the rider whirls it round his head, sets his
horse at a gallop, and on arriving within thirty or five-and-thirty
yards of the man or animal he is pursuing, he lets the lasso fly, so
that the running knot may fall on the shoulders of his victim. At the
same time that he lets the lasso go, the rider makes his horse suddenly
turn in the opposite direction, and the enemy he has lassoed is, in
spite of the most strenuous resistance, hurled down and dragged after
him. Such is the lasso and the way in which it is employed on horseback.

Afoot, matters are effected much in the same fashion, save that, as the
lassoer has no longer his horse to aid him, he is obliged to display
great muscular strength, and is often dragged along for a considerable
distance. In Mexico, where this weapon is in general use, people
naturally study the means to neutralize its effects, the most
efficacious being to cut the lasso. This is why all horsemen carry in
their boot, within arm's length, a long and sharp knife; still, as the
horseman is nearly always unexpectedly lassoed, he is strangled ere he
has had time to draw his knife. Of one hundred riders lassoed thus in a
combat or chase, seventy-five are inevitably killed, and the others only
escape by a miracle, so much skill, strength, and coolness are needed to
cut the fatal knot.

Loyal Heart had the simple idea of forming a running knot at the end of
his picquet rope, and lassoing the first rider who passed within reach.
On getting behind the rock he unrolled the long cord he had fastened
round his body; then, after making the slip knot with all the care it
demands, he coiled the lasso in his hand and waited. Chance seemed to
favour the project of the bold hunter, for, within ten minutes at the
most, he heard the gallop of a horse going at full speed. Loyal Heart
listened attentively; the sound approached with great rapidity, and soon
the black outline of a horseman stood out in the night. The direction
followed by the rider compelled him to pass within a short distance of
the block of granite behind which Loyal Heart was concealed. The latter
spread out his legs to have a firmer holdfast, bent his body slightly
forward, and whirled the lasso round his head. At the moment when the
horseman came opposite to him, Loyal Heart let the lasso fly, and it
fell with a whiz on the shoulders of the rider, who was roughly hurled
to the ground ere he knew what was happening to him. His horse, which
was at full speed, went on some distance further, but then perceiving
that its rider had left it, it slackened its pace, and presently halted.

In the meanwhile Loyal Heart bounded like a tiger on the man he had so
suddenly unsaddled. The latter had not uttered a cry, but remained
motionless at the spot where he had been hurled. Loyal Heart at first
fancied him dead, but it was not so; his first care was to free the
wounded man from the running knot, drawn so tightly round his neck, in
order to enable him to breathe; then, without taking the trouble to look
at his victim, he pinioned him securely, threw him over his shoulders,
and returned to the spot where his comrades were awaiting him.

The latter had seen, or at least heard, what had happened; and far from
dreaming of the means employed by the young man, although they were well
acquainted with it, they knew not to what they should attribute the
rough way in which the rider had been hurled from his horse.

"Oh, oh," Tranquil said, "I fancy you have made a fine capture."

"I think so too," Loyal Heart answered, as he deposited his burden on
the ground.

"How on earth did you manage to unsaddle him so cleverly?"

"Oh! In the simplest way possible. I lassoed him."

"By Jove!" the hunter exclaimed, "I suspected it. But let us see the
nature of the game. These confounded Indians are difficult to tame when
they take it into their heads not to unlock their teeth. This fellow
will not speak, in all probability."

"Who knows? At any rate we can question him."

"Yes--but let us first make sure of his identity, for it would not be
pleasant to have captured one of our friends."

"May the Lord forbid!" Loyal Heart said.

The hunters bent over the prisoner, who was apparently motionless, and
indifferent to what was said around.

"Oh," the Canadian suddenly said, "whom have we here? On my soul,
compadre, I believe it is an old acquaintance."

"You are right," Loyal Heart answered, "it is Blue-fox."

"Blue-fox?" the hunters exclaimed, in surprise.

The adventurers were not mistaken; the Indian horseman, so skilfully
lassoed by Loyal Heart, was really the Apache Chief. The shock he had
received though very rude, had not been sufficiently so to make him
entirely lose his senses; with open eyes and disdainful countenance, but
with not a word of complaint at the treatment he had suffered, he waited
calmly till it should please his captors to decide his fate, not
considering it consistent with his dignity to be the first to speak.
After examining him attentively for a moment, Loyal Heart unfastened the
bonds that held him, and fell back a step.

"My brother can rise," he said: "only old women remain thus stretched on
the ground for an insignificant fall."

Blue-fox reached his feet at a bound.

"The Chief is no old woman," he said, "his heart is large; he laughs at
the anger of his enemies, and despises the fury which is impotent to
affect him."

"We are not your enemies, Chief, we feel no hatred or anger towards you;
it is you, on the contrary, who are our enemy. Are you disposed to
answer our questions?"

"I could refrain from doing so, were it my good pleasure."

"I do not think so," John Davis remarked, with a grin, "for we have
wonderful secrets to untie the tongue of those we cross-question."

"Try them on me," the Indian observed, haughtily.

"We shall see," said the American.

"Stop!" said Loyal Heart. "There is in all this something extraordinary,
which I wish to discover, so leave it to me."

"As you please," said John Davis.

The adventurers collected round the Indian, and waited anxiously.

"How is it," Loyal Heart presently went on, "that you, who were sent by
the Apaches to treat for peace with the Comanches, were thus leaving the
village in the middle of the night, not as a friend, but as a robber
flying after the commission of a theft?"

The Chief smiled contemptuously, and shrugged his shoulders.

"Why should I tell you what has passed? It would be uselessly losing
precious time; suffice it for you to know that I left the village with
the general consent of the Chiefs, and if I was galloping, it was
probably because I was in a hurry to reach the spot I am bound for."

"Hum!" said the hunter; "You will permit me to remark, Chief, that your
answer is very vague, and anything but satisfactory."

"It is the only one, however, I am enabled to give you."

"And do you fancy we shall be satisfied with it?"

"You must."

"Perhaps so, but listen; we are awaiting Black-deer at every moment, and
he shall decide your fate."

"As it pleases the Pale hunter. When the Comanche Chief arrives, my
brother will see that the Apache Sachem has spoken truly, that his
tongue is not forked, and that the words that from his lips are
sincere."

"I hope so."

At this moment the signal agreed on between Black-deer and the hunters
was heard: the hunter said at once to his prisoner.

"Here is the Chief."

"Good," the latter simply answered.

Five minutes later, the Sachem indeed reached the spot where the
adventurers were assembled. His first glance fell on the Apache,
standing upright with folded arms in the circle formed by the hunters.

"What is Blue-fox doing here?" he asked in surprise.

"The Chief can ask the Pale warriors, they will answer," said the
Apache.

Black-deer turned to Loyal Heart; the latter, not waiting till he was
addressed, related in the fullest detail what had occurred; how he had
captured the Chief, and the conversation he had had with him: Black-deer
seemed to reflect for a moment--

"Why did not my brother show the sign of recognition I gave him?" he
asked.

"For what good, as my brother was coming?"

The Comanche frowned.

"My brother will be careful to remember that he has passed his word, and
the mere appearance of treachery will cost his son's life."

A shudder passed over the Indian's body, although his features lost none
of their marble-like rigidity.

"Blue-fox has sworn on his totem," he replied; "that oath is sacred, and
he will keep it."

"Ocht! My brother is free, he can start without farther delay."

"I must find my horse again which has escaped."

"Does my brother take us for children, that he says such things to us?"
Black-deer replied angrily. "The horse of an Indian Chief never abandons
its master; let him whistle, and it will come up."

Blue-fox made no reply; his black eye shot forth a flash of fury, but
that was all; he bent forward, seemed to be listening for a few moments,
and then gave a shrill whistle, almost immediately after which there was
a rustling in the branches, and the Chief's horse laid its fine and
intelligent head on its master's shoulder. The latter patted the noble
animal, leaped on its back, and digging in his spurs, started at full
speed without taking further leave of the hunters, who were quite
startled by this hurried departure. John Davis, by an instinctive
movement swift as thought, raised his rifle, with the evident intention
of saluting the fugitive with a bullet, but Black-deer suddenly clutched
his arm.

"My brother must not fire," he said; "the sound would betray our
presence."

"That is true," the American said, as he took down his gun. "It is
unlucky, for I should have been very glad to get rid of that
ill-favoured scoundrel."

"My brother will find him again," said the Indian with an accent
impossible to describe.

"I hope so, and if it should happen, I assure you that no one will be
able to prevent me killing that reptile."

"No one will try to do so, my brother may rest assured."

"Nothing less than that certainly was needed to console me for the
magnificent opportunity you make me lose today, Chief."

The Indian laughed, and continued--

"I will explain to yon at another moment how it happens that this man is
free to retire in peace, when we are threatened by an ambuscade formed
by him. For the present, let us not lose precious time in idle talk, for
all is ready. My warriors are at their post, only awaiting the signal to
begin the contest; do my Pale brothers still intend to accompany us?"

"Certainly, Chief, we are here for that purpose, you can count upon us."

"Good, still I must warn my brothers that they will run a great risk."

"Nonsense," Loyal Heart replied, "it will be welcome, for are we not
accustomed to danger?"

"Then to horse, and let us start, as we have to deceive the deceivers."

"But are you not afraid," Loyal Heart observed, "lest Blue-fox has
warned his comrades that their tricks are discovered?"

"No, he cannot do so, he has sworn it."

The hunters did not insist further, they knew with what religious
exactness Indians keep oaths they make to each other, and the good faith
and loyalty they display in the accomplishment of this duty. The Chiefs
answer consequently convinced them that they had nothing to apprehend
from the Apache Sachem, and, in truth, he had gone off in a direction
diametrically opposite to that where his companions were hidden.

The horses were immediately lifted on their legs, the cords removed, and
the party set out. They followed a narrow path running between two
ravines covered with thick grass. This path, after running for a mile
and a half, debouched on a species of cross roads, where the
adventurers had halted for an instant. This spot, called by the Indians
the Elk Pass, had been selected by Black-deer as the gathering place of
some forty picked warriors, who were to join the white men and act with
them. This junction was effected as the Sachem arranged. The hunters had
hardly debouched at the crossroads, ere the Comanches emerged from
behind the thicket which had hitherto concealed them, and flocked up to
Black-deer.

The band was formed in close column, and flankers went ahead, preceding
it but a few yards, and attentively examining the thickets. For many an
hour they marched on, nothing attracting their attention, when suddenly
a shot was fired in the rear of the band. Almost simultaneously, and as
if at a given signal, the fusillade broke out on both sides of the war
path, and a shower of bullets and arrows hurtled upon the Comanches and
white men. Several men fell, and there was a momentary confusion,
inseparable from an unforeseen attack.

By assent of Black-deer, Loyal Heart assumed the supreme command. By his
orders, the warriors broke up into platoons, and vigorously returned the
fire, while retreating to the crossroads, where the enemy could not
attack them without discovering themselves; but they had committed the
imprudence of marching too fast--the crossroads were still a long way
off, and the fire of the Apaches extended along the whole line. The
bullets and arrows rained on the Comanches, whose ranks were beginning
to be thinned.

Loyal Heart ordered the ranks to be broken, and the men to scatter, a
manoeuvre frequently employed in Europe during the Vendean war, and
which the Chouans unconsciously obtained from the Indians. The cavalry
at once tried to leap the ravines and ditches that bordered the path
behind which the Apaches were hidden; but were repulsed by the musketry
and the long barbed arrows, which the Indians fired with extreme
dexterity. The Comanches and Whites leaped off their horses, being
certain of recovering them when wanted, and retreated, sheltering
themselves behind trees, only giving way inch by inch, and keeping up a
sustained fire with their enemies, who, feeling certain of victory,
displayed in their attack a perseverance far from common among savage
nations, with whom success nearly always depends on the first effort.

Loyal Heart, so soon as his men reached the clearing, made them form a
circle, and they offered an imposing front to the enemy on all sides. Up
to this moment, the Apaches had maintained silence, not a single war
yell had been uttered, not a rustling of the leaves had been heard.
Suddenly the firing ceased, and silence once again brooded over the
desert. The hunters and Comanches looked at each other with a surprise
mingled with terror. They had fallen into the trap their enemies had
laid for them, while fancying they could spoil it.

There was a terrible moment of expectation, whose anxious expression no
pen could depict. All at once the conches and chichikouès were heard
sounding on the right and left, in the rear and front! At this signal,
the Apaches rose on all sides, blowing their war whistles to excite
their courage, and uttering fearful yells. The Comanches were
surrounded, and nothing was left them but to die bravely at their posts!
At this terrible sight, a shudder of fear involuntarily rose along
those intrepid warriors, but it was almost instantaneously quelled, for
they felt that their destruction was imminent and certain.

Loyal Heart and Black-deer, however, had lost none of their calmness;
they hoped then, still, but what was it they expected?



CHAPTER XVI.

THE SCALP DANCE.


Far from us the thought of making humanitarian theories with reference
to a fight in the heart of the desert between two savage tribes, for it
has too long been a principle among civilized nations that the Indians
are ferocious brutes, possessed of nothing human but the face, and who
should be destroyed, like all other noxious animals, by all possible
means, even by those which are too repugnant to humanity for us to
attempt for a single moment to defend.

Still, much might be said in favour of these unhappy peoples, who have
been oppressed ever since humanity decreed that a man of genius should
find once more their country which had so long been lost. It would be
easy for us to prove, if we thought proper, that these Peruvians and
Mexicans, treated so haughtily and barbarously by the wretched
adventurers who plundered them, enjoyed, at the period of the conquest,
a civilization far more advanced than that of which their oppressors
boasted, who had only one advantage over them in the knowledge of
firearms, and who marched cased in steel from head to foot against men
clothed in cotton and armed with inoffensive arrows. Placed beyond the
pale of society by the unintelligent fanaticism and the inextinguishable
thirst for gold which devoured the conquerors, the wretched Indians
succumbed not only to the repeated assaults of their implacable
conquerors, but were also destined to remain constantly beneath the
oppression of a calumny which made them a stupid and ferocious race.

The conquest of the New World was one of the most odious monstrosities
of the middle ages, fertile though they were in atrocities. Millions of
men, whose blood was poured out like water, were coldly killed; empires
crumbled away for ever, entire populations disappeared from the globe,
and left no trace of their passage but their whitened bones. America,
which had been so populous, was almost suddenly converted into an
immense desert, and the proscribed relics of this unfortunate race,
driven back into barbarism, buried themselves in the most remote
countries, where they resumed the nomadic life of the old days,
continually carrying on war against the whites, and striving to requite
them in detail all the evils they had received at their hands for
centuries.

It is only for a few years past that public opinion has been stirred up
as to the fate of the Indians; and various means have been
attempted--not to civilize them, though that wish has been put forward,
but to put a stop to reprisals; consequently they have been placed in
horrible deserts; which they have been forbidden to leave. A sanitary
cordon has been formed round them, and as this method was not found
sufficiently expeditious to get rid of them, they have been gorged with
spirits. We will declare here the happy results obtained from these
Anglo-American measures: ere a century has elapsed, not a single native
will be left on the territory of the Union. The philanthropy of these
worthy northern republicans is a very fine thing, but Heaven save us
from it!

In every battle there are two terrible moments for the commander who has
undertaken the great responsibility of victory: the one, when he gives
the signal of attack and hurls his columns at the enemy; the other, when
organizing the resistance, he calmly awaits the hour when the decisive
blow must be dealt in accordance with his previous combinations. Loyal
Heart was as calm and quiet as if witnessing an ordinary charge; with
flashing eye and haughty lip he recommended his warriors to save their
powder and arrows, to keep together, and sustain the charge of the
Apaches, without yielding an inch of ground. The Comanches uttered their
war yell twice, and then a deadly silence brooded over the clearing.

"Good!" the hunter said, "you are great braves; I am proud of commanding
such intrepid warriors. Your squaws will greet you with dances and
shouts of joy on your return to the village, and proudly count the
scalps you bring back at your girdle."

After this brief address the hunter returned to the centre of the
circle, and the Whites waited with their finger on the trigger, the
Redskins with levelled bows. In the meanwhile, the Apaches had quitted
their ambuscade, had formed their ranks, and were marching in excellent
order on the Comanches. They had also dismounted, for a hand-to-hand
fight was about to begin between these irreconcilable enemies.

The night had entirely slipped away; by the first beams of day, which
tinged the tops of the trees, the black and moving circle could be seen
drawing closer and closer round the weak group formed by the Comanches
and the adventurers. It was a singular thing in prairie fashions that
the Apaches advanced slowly without firing, as if wishing to destroy
their enemies at one blow. Tranquil and Loyal Heart shook hands while
exchanging a calm smile.

"We have five minutes left," said the hunter; "we shall settle a goodly
number before falling ourselves," the Canadian answered.

Loyal Heart stretched out his hand toward the north-west.

"All is not over yet," he said.

"Do you hope to get us out of this scrape?"

"I intend," the young man answered, still calm and smiling, "to destroy
this collection of brigands to the last man."

"May Heaven grant it!" the Canadian said, with a doubtful shake of the
head.

The Apaches were now but a few yards off, and all the rifles were
levelled as if by common agreement.

"Listen!" Loyal Heart muttered in Tranquil's ear.

At the same moment distant yells were heard, and the enemy stopped with
alarmed hesitation.

"What is it?" Tranquil asked.

"Our men," the young man answered laconically.

A sound of horses and firearms was heard in the enemy's rear.

"The Comanches! the Comanches!" the Apaches shouted.

The line that surrounded the little band was suddenly rent asunder, and
two hundred Comanche horsemen were seen cutting down and crushing every
foeman within reach. On perceiving their brothers the horsemen uttered
a shout of joy, to which the others enthusiastically responded, for they
had fancied themselves lost.

Loyal Heart had calculated justly, he had not been a second wrong; the
warriors ambuscaded by Black-deer to effect a diversion and complete the
victory arrived at the decisive moment. This was the secret of the young
Chief's calmness, although in his heart he was devoured by anxiety, for
so many things might delay the arrival of the detachment. The Apaches,
thus taken by surprise, attempted for a few minutes a desperate
resistance; but being surrounded and overwhelmed by numbers, they soon
began flying in all directions. But Black-deer's measures had been taken
with great prudence, and a thorough knowledge of the military tactics of
the prairies: the Apaches were literally caught between two fires.

Nearly two-thirds of the Apache warriors, placed under the command of
Blue-fox to attempt the daring stroke he had conceived, fell, and the
rest had great difficulty in escaping. The victory was decisive, and for
a long long time the Apaches would not dare to measure themselves again
with their redoubtable enemies. Eight hundred horses and nearly five
hundred scalps were the trophies of the battle, without counting some
thirty wounded. The Comanches had only lost a dozen warriors, and their
enemies had been unable to scalp them, which was regarded as a great
glory. The horses were collected, the dead and wounded placed on
litters, and when all the scalps had been lifted from the Apaches who
had succumbed during the fight, their bodies were left to the wild
beasts, and the Comanche warriors, intoxicated with joy and pride,
remounted their horses and returned to the village.

The return of the Expeditionary corps was a perfect triumphant march.
Black-deer, to do honour to Loyal Heart and his comrades, whose help had
been so useful during the battle, insisted on their marching at the head
of the column, and on Loyal Heart keeping by his side, as having shared
the command with him. The sun rose at the moment when the Comanches
emerged from the forest, the day promised to be magnificent, and the
birds perched on all the branches loudly saluted the advent of day. A
large crowd, composed of women and children, could be seen running from
the village and hurrying to meet the warriors.

A large band of horsemen soon appeared, armed and painted for war, at
their head marching the greatest braves and most respected Sachems of
the tribe. This band, formed in good order, came up to the sound of
conches, drums, chichikouès, and war whistles, mingled with shouts of
joy from the crowd. On coming within a certain distance of each other,
the two bands halted, while the crowd fell back to the right and left.
Then, at a signal given by Black-deer and the Chief commanding the
second detachment, a fearful yell burst forth like a clap of thunder,
the horsemen dug in their spurs, and the two parties rushed upon one
another and began a series of evolutions, of which the Arab fantasias
can alone convey an idea.

When this performance had lasted some time, and a considerable quantity
of gunpowder had been expended, the two Chiefs gave a signal, and the
bands, up to the present commingled, separated, as if by enchantment,
and formed up about a pistol shot from each other. There was then a
perfect rest, but in a few minutes, at a signal from Blackbird, who
commanded the band that had come out of the village, the leaders of the
two detachments advanced towards each other. The salutations and
congratulations then began; for, as we have already made the
observation, the Indians are excessively strict in matters of etiquette.

Black-deer was obliged to narrate in the fullest detail, to the
assembled Chiefs, how the action had been fought, the number of the
enemy killed, how many had been scalped--in short, all that had
occurred. Black-deer performed this duty with the utmost nobility and
modesty, giving to Loyal Heart, who in vain protested, all the merit of
the victory, and only allowing himself credit for having punctually
carried out the orders the Pale warrior had given him. This modesty in a
warrior so renowned as Black-deer greatly pleased the Comanche Chiefs,
and obtained him the most sincere praise.

When all these preliminary ceremonies had been performed, the wives of
the Chiefs advanced, each leading by the bridle a magnificent steed,
destined to take the place of their husband's chargers wearied in
action. Black-deer's young and charming squaw led two. After bowing with
a gentle smile to her husband, and handing him the bridle of one of the
horses, she turned gracefully to Loyal Heart, and offered him the bridle
of the second horse:

"My brother Loyal Heart is a great brave," she said, in a voice as
melodious as a bird's song; "he will permit his sister to offer him this
courser, which is intended to take the place of the one he has tired in
fighting to save his brothers the Antelope Comanches."

All the Indians applauded this gift, so gracefully offered; Black-deer,
in spite of his assumed stoicism, could not refrain from evidencing the
pleasure which his young wife's charming attention caused her. Loyal
Heart smiled sweetly, dismounted, and walked up to her.

"My sister is fair and kind," he said, as he kissed her on the forehead;
"I accept the present she makes me; my brother Black-deer is happy in
possessing so charming a squaw to clean his arms and take care of his
horses."

The young wife withdrew, all confused and delighted, among her
companions; the Chiefs then mounted the fresh horses brought them. Each
returned to the head of his detachment, and the two bands advanced
slowly towards the village, escorted by the crowd which incessantly
filled the air with joyous shouts that mingled with the musical
instruments, whose savage harmony deafened all ears.

The Apache prisoners, on foot and disarmed, marched at the head of the
column, guarded by fifty picked warriors. These untameable Indians,
although perfectly aware of the fate that awaited them and the refined
tortures to which they were destined, walked with head erect and haughty
demeanour, as if, instead of being interested actors in the scene that
was preparing, they were only indifferent spectators.

However, this stoicism peculiar to the Red race surprised nobody. The
Comanche warriors disdained to insult the misfortunes of the intrepid
warriors, whose courage fortune had betrayed; the women alone, more
cruel than the men, especially those whose husbands were killed in the
battle, and whose bodies were now brought along in litters, rushed like
furies on the unhappy prisoners, whom they overwhelmed with insults,
casting stones and filth, and even at times trying to dig their sharp
nails into their flesh. This was carried to such a point that the guards
of the prisoners were compelled to interfere to prevent them being torn
asunder alive, and get them away, at least for a while, from the fury of
these Megeras, who grew more and more excited, and in whom wrath had
gradually attained the proportions of indescribable fury.

As for the prisoners, perfectly calm and impassive, they endured the
blows and insults without complaint; nothing moved them, and they
continued their march as peaceably as if they had been complete
strangers to what was going on. The procession, compelled to clear its
way through a crowd which was momentarily augmented, only advanced
slowly.

The day was far spent when it reached the palisade that formed the
village defences. At about ten paces from the palisade the two bands
stopped; two men were standing motionless at the entrance of the
village--they were the master of the great medicine and the hachesto: as
if by enchantment, at the sight of these men a profound silence fell on
the crowd so noisy a moment previously. The hachesto held in his hand
the totem of the tribe, and when the warriors halted the sorcerer took a
step forward.

"Who are you, and what do you want?" he asked, in a loud voice.

"We are," Black-deer answered, "the great braves of the powerful nation
of the Antelope Comanches; we ask leave to enter the village with our
prisoners and the horses we have captured, in order to perform the scalp
dance round the stake of torture."

"Good," the sorcerer answered, "I recognise you; you are, indeed, the
great braves of my nation, your hands are red with the blood of our
enemies; but," he added, taking a gloomy glance around, "all our
warriors are not present; what has become of those who are missing?"

There was a moment of mournful silence at this question.

"Answer," the sorcerer continued imperiously; "have you abandoned your
brothers?"

"No," Black-deer said, "they are dead, it is true, but we have brought
back their bodies with us, and their scalps are untouched."

"Good," said the sorcerer; "how many warriors have fallen?"

"Only ten."

"How did they die?"

"Like brave men, with their face turned to their foe."

"Good, the Wacondah has received them into the happy hunting grounds;
have their squaws bewailed them?"

"They are doing so."

The Seer frowned.

"Brave men only weep with tears of blood," he said.

Black-deer fell back a step to make room for the widows, who stood
motionless and gloomy behind him; they then advanced.

"We are ready," they said, "if our father will permit us, we will bewail
our husbands as they deserve."

"Do so," he answered; "the Master of Life sees it, and he will smile on
your grief."

Then, a strange scene occurred, which only Indian stoicism could endure
without shuddering with horror; these women, arming themselves with
knives, cut off several joints of their fingers without uttering a
complaint; then, not contented with this sacrifice, they began scarring
their faces, arms, and bosoms, so that the blood soon ran down their
whole bodies, and they became horrible to look upon. The seer excited
and encouraged them by his remarks to give their husbands this proof of
their regret, and their exaltation soon attained such a pitch of
delirium, that they would eventually have killed themselves, had not the
sorcerer checked them. Their companions then approached, took away their
weapons, and dragged them off. When they had finally left the spot, the
sorcerer addressed the warriors standing motionless and attentive before
him--

"The blood shed by the Apache warriors has been ransomed by the Comanche
squaws," he said; "the ground is saturated with it; grief can now give
way to joy, and my brothers enter their village with heads erect, for
the Master of Life is satisfied."

Then taking from the hands of the hachesto the totem which the latter
had been waving round his head, he stationed himself on the right hand
of Black-deer, and entered the village with the warriors, amid the
deafening shouts of the crowd, and to the sound of the instruments which
had recommenced their infernal charivari.

The procession marched straight to the great square where the scalp
dance was to take place. Loyal Heart and his comrades desired most
eagerly to escape this ceremony; but it would have been a great insult
to the Indians to do so, and they were compelled to follow the warriors,
whether they liked it or not. On passing before the hunter's rancho,
they noticed that all the windows were hermetically closed. Doña
Jesuita, not at all desirous to witness the cruel sight, had shut
herself up; but No Eusebio, whose nerves were probably harder, was
standing in the doorway, carelessly smoking his cigarette, and watching
the procession defile, which, by Loyal Heart's orders, he had preceded
by a few moments, in order to reassure Doña Jesuita as to the result of
the engagement.

When the whole tribe had assembled on the square, the scalp dance
commenced. In our previous works we have had occasion to describe this
ceremony, so we will say nothing of it here, except that, contrary to
the other dances, it is performed by the squaws, and that on this
occasion it was Black-deer's newly-married wife who led the dance, in
her quality of squaw of the Chief who had commanded the expedition.

The Apache prisoners had been fastened to stakes erected expressly; and
for some hours they were exposed to the ridicule, jests, and insults of
their enemies without displaying the slightest emotion. When the dance
at length ended, the time for torture arrived.

We will not dwell on the frightful sufferings inflicted on the wretched
men whom their evil destiny had delivered into the hands of their
implacable foes, for we have no desire to describe horrible scenes; we
have even felt a repugnance to allude to them, but are bound to be
faithful historians. As we have undertaken the task of making known the
manners of races hitherto almost unknown, and which are destined so
shortly to disappear, we will not fail in our duty, and in order that
our readers may thoroughly understand what Indian torture is, we will
describe the punishment inflicted on one of the prisoners, a renowned
Apache Chief.

This Chief was a young man of five-and-twenty at the most, of lofty and
well-proportioned stature; his features were noble, and his glance
stern, and though severely wounded in the action, it was only when
literally overwhelmed by numbers, that he had fallen upon the pile of
his warriors who had died bravely at his side.

The Comanches, who are judges of courage, had admired his heroic
conduct, and treated him with a certain degree of respect by the express
orders of Black-deer, who entertained a hope of making him renounce his
nation, and consent to be adopted by the Comanches, for whom so brave a
warrior would have been an excellent acquisition. My readers must not
feel surprised at this idea of the Comanche Sachem; these adoptions are
frequent among the Redskins, and it often happens that a warrior who has
fallen into the power of his enemies, ransoms his life, and escapes
torture by marrying the widow of the warrior he has killed, under the
promise of bringing up the children of the defunct, and regarding them
as his own.

The Apache Chief was called Running-elk. Instead of fastening him to the
stake like the warriors of less value made prisoners at the same time as
himself, he had been left at liberty. He was leaning his shoulder
against the stake with folded arms, and watched calmly and disdainfully
all the incidents of the scalp dance. When it was ended, Black-deer, who
had previously consulted with the other Chiefs of the tribe, and
communicated his idea, which they warmly approved of, walked up to him.
The prisoner let him come up without seeming to notice him.

"My brother, Running-elk, is a renowned Chief and great brave," he said
to him in a gentle voice; "what is he thinking of at this moment?"

"I am thinking," the Apache answered, "that I shall soon be on the happy
hunting grounds, where I shall hunt by the side of the Master of Life."

"My brother is still very young, his life only counts spring seasons,
does he not regret losing it?"

"Why should I regret it? A little sooner, or a little later, but a man
must die after all."

"Certainly; but dying thus at the stake of torture, when you have a long
future of joy and happiness before you, is hard."

The Chief shook his head mournfully, and interrupted the speaker.

"My brother need say no more," he replied; "I see his thoughts, he is
indulging in a hope which will not be realised; Running-elk will not be
a renegade to his nation to become a Comanche; I could not live among
you, for the blood of your warriors I have shed would constantly cry out
against me. Could I marry all the squaws whom my tomahawk has rendered
widows, or give you back the numerous scalps I have raised? No, I could
not. When an Apache and Comanche meet on the war trail, one must kill
the other. Cease then making me proposals which are an insult to my
character and courage; fasten me to the stake of torture, and do not
kill me at once, but gradually, by tortures, in the Indian way. Invent
the most atrocious torture, and I defy you to hear from me a complaint,
or even a sigh." And growing more excited as he spoke, he said, "You are
children who do not know how to make a man of courage suffer, you need
the death of a brave to learn how to die. Try it on me, I despise you;
you are cowardly dogs, you can only snarl, and the mere sight of my
eagle feather has ever sufficed to put you to flight."

On hearing these haughty words, the Comanches uttered a yell of anger,
and prepared to rush on the prisoner, but Black-deer checked them.

"Running-elk," he said, "is not a real brave, he talks too much; he is a
mocking-bird, who chatters because he is afraid."

The Sachem shrugged his shoulders contemptuously.

"This is the last word you shall hear from me," he said; "you are dogs!"

And biting his tongue off, he spat it into Black-deer's face. The latter
gave a leap of fury, and his rage no longer knew bounds. Running-elk was
immediately fastened to the stake; the women then tore out the nails
from his fingers and toes, and drove into the wounds little spiles of
wood dipped in inflammable matter, which they fired. The Indian remained
calm; no contraction of the muscles disturbed the harmony of his
features. The punishment endured three hours; but though his body was
one huge wound, the Sachem remained perfectly stoical. Blackbird
approached in his turn.

"Wait," he said.

Room was made for him; rushing on the Apache, he plucked out his eyes,
which he threw away with disgust, and filled the two burning cavities
with live coals. This last agony was horrible; a nervous tremor ran for
a second over the wretch's body, but that was all. The Comanche,
exasperated by this stoicism, which he could not refrain from admiring,
seized him by his long hair, and scalped him; then he lashed his face
with the blood-dripping scalp. The prisoner was horrible to look on, but
still remained erect and unmoved.

Loyal Heart could no longer endure this hideous spectacle; he dashed
through the people in front of him, and, putting a pistol to the
prisoner's forehead, blew out his brains. The Comanches, furious at
seeing their vengeance slip from them, gave a start, as if about to
rush on the White man, who had dared to rob them of their prey: but the
latter drew himself up haughtily, folded his arms on his chest, and
looked them full in the face.

"Well," he said, in a firm voice.

This one word was enough: the wild beasts were muzzled; they fell back
cursing, but did not attempt to make him account for what he had done.
The hunter then made a sign to the adventurers to follow him, and they
left the square, where for some hours longer the Indians wreaked their
fury on the hapless prisoners.



CHAPTER XVII.

THE MEETING.


We must now go back two months in our narrative, and leaving the deserts
of Upper Arkansas for the banks of the Rio Trinidad, return to Cerro
Pardo, in the vicinity of Galveston, on the very day of the battle so
fatal to the Texans, in order to clear up certain points of our
narrative, by telling the reader the fate of certain important
personages, whom we have, perhaps, neglected too long.

We have said that the Jaguar, when he saw the battle irretrievably lost,
rushed at full speed to the spot where he had left the cart, in which
were Tranquil and Carmela; that, on reaching it, a frightful spectacle
struck his sight; the cart, half broken, was lying on the ground,
surrounded by the majority of his friends, who had bravely fallen in its
defence; but it was empty, and the two persons to whose safety he
attached such, importance had disappeared. The Jaguar, crushed by this
horrible catastrophe, which he was so far from anticipating, after the
precautions he had taken, fell senseless to the ground, uttering a loud
cry of despair.

The young man remained unconscious for several hours; but his was a
nature which a blow, however terrible it might be, could not destroy
thus. At the moment when the sun was disappearing on the horizon in the
ocean, and making way for night, the Jaguar opened his eyes. He looked
round haggardly, not being yet able to comprehend the position in which
he found himself, and the circumstances owing to which he had fallen in
such a strange state of prostration. However strong a man may be,
however great the energy with which nature has endowed him, when life
has been suspended in him for several hours, the recollection of past
facts completely fails him for a period, more or less long, and he
requires some minutes to restore order in his ideas. This was what
happened to the young man; he was alone, a sorrowful silence prevailed
around him, gloom was gradually invading the landscape, and the objects
by which he was surrounded became with each moment less distinct.

Still, the atmosphere was impregnated by a warm, sickly odour of
carnage, and corpses covered the ground here and there. He saw the dark
outline of the wild beasts, which darkness drew from their lairs, and
which, guided by their sanguinary instinct, were already prowling about
the battlefield, preparing to commence their horrible repast.

"Oh!" the young man suddenly exclaimed, leaping up, "I remember!"

We have said that the plain was deserted: nothing remained but corpses
and wild beasts.

"What is to be done?" the Jaguar muttered;

"Whither shall I go? What has become of my brothers? In what direction
have they fled? Where shall I find Carmela and Tranquil again?"

And the young man, crushed by the flood of desperate thoughts that rose
from his heart to his brain, sank on a block of rock, and, paying no
further attention to the wild beasts, whose roars increased at each
second, and grew more menacing with the darkness, he buried his head in
his hands, and violently pressing his temples as if to retain that
reason which was ready to abandon him, he reflected.

Two hours passed thus--two hours, during which he was a prey to a
desperation which was the more terrible, as it was silent. This man, who
had set all his hopes on an idea, who had for several years fought,
without truce or mercy, for the realization of his dream, whose life had
been, so to speak, one long self-denial--at the moment when he was
about at last to attain that object, pursued with such tenacity, had
seen, by a sudden change of fortune, his projects annihilated for ever
perhaps, in a few hours; he had lost everything, and found himself alone
on a battlefield, seated amid corpses, and surrounded by wild beasts
that watched him. For a moment he had thought of finishing with life,
plunging his dagger into his heart, and not surviving the downfall of
his hopes of love and ambition. But this cowardly thought did not endure
longer than a flash of lightning; a sudden reaction took place in the
young man's mind, and he rose again, stronger than before, for his soul,
purified in the crucible of suffering, had resumed all its audacious
energy.

"No," he said, casting a glance of defiance around, "I will not let
myself be any longer crushed, God will not permit that a cause so
sacred as that to which I have devoted myself should fail; it is a trial
He has wished to impose on us, and I will endure it without complaint;
though conquered today, tomorrow we will be victors. To work! Liberty is
the daughter of Heaven: she is holy, and cannot die."

After uttering these words in a loud voice, with an accent of
inspiration, as if desirous of giving those who had fallen a last and
supreme consolation, the young man picked up his rifle, which had fallen
by his side, and went off with the firm and assured step of a strong
man, who has really faith in the cause he defends, and to whom
obstacles, however great they may be, are incitements to persevere in
the path he has traced. The Jaguar then crossed the battlefield,
striding over the corpses, and putting to flight the wild beasts, which
eagerly got out of his way.

The young man thus passed alone and in the darkness along the road he
had traversed by the dazzling sunlight, in the midst of an enthusiastic
army, which marched gaily into action, and believed itself sure of
victory. His resolution did not break down for a moment, he no longer
allowed the attacks of those sad thoughts which had so nearly crushed
him: he had clutched his sorrow, struggled with it and conquered it;
now, nothing more could overpower him.

On reaching the end of the plain where the battle had been fought, the
Jaguar halted. The moon had risen, and its sickly rays sadly illumined
the landscape, to which it imparted a sinister hue. The young man looked
around him: in his utter ignorance of the road followed by the fugitives
of his party, he hesitated about going along a path where he ran a risk
of falling in with a party of Mexican scouts or plunderers, who must at
this moment be scouring the plain in every direction, in pursuit of
those Texans who had been so lucky as to escape from the battlefield.

It was a long and difficult journey to the Fort of the Point, and in all
probability the victors, if they were not already masters of the
fortress, would have invested it, so as to intercept all communications
of the garrison with their friends outside, and force it to surrender.
Nor could he dream of entering Galveston, for that would be delivering
himself into the hands of his enemies. The Jaguar's perplexity was
great; he remained thus for a long time hesitating as to what road he
should follow. By a mechanical movement habitual enough to men when
embarrassed, he looked vaguely around him, though not fixing his eyes
more on one spot than another, when he gave a sudden start. He had seen,
some distance off, a faint, almost imperceptible light gleaming among
the trees. The young man tried in vain to determine the direction in
which the light was; but at length, he felt certain that it came from
the side where was the rancho, which, on the previous evening, had been
the headquarters of the staff of the Texan army.

This rancho, situated on the sea shore, at a considerable distance from
the battlefield, could not have been visited by the Mexicans, for their
horses were too tired to carry them so far: the Jaguar therefore
persuaded himself that the light he perceived was kindled by fugitives
of his party; he believed it the more easily because he desired it, for
night was advancing, and he had neither eaten nor drunk during the past
day, in which he had been so actively occupied; he began to feel not
only exhausted with fatigue, but his physical wants regaining the
mastery over his moral apprehension, he felt a degree of hunger and
thirst, that reminded him imperiously that he had been fasting for more
than fourteen hours; hence he was anxious to find a place where it would
be possible for him to rest and refresh himself.

It is only in romances that the heroes, more or less problematical,
brought on the scene, cover great distances without suffering from any
of the weaknesses incidental to poor humanity. Never stopping to eat or
drink, they are always as fresh and well disposed as when they set out;
but, unfortunately, in real life it is not, and men must, whether they
like it or no, yield to the imperious claims inherent in their imperfect
nature. The partisans and wood rangers, men in whom the physical
instincts are extremely developed, whatever moral agony they may
undergo, never forget the hours for their meals and rest. And the reason
is very simple; as their life is one continual struggle to defend
themselves against enemies of every description, their vigour must be
equal to the obstacles they have to overcome.

The Jaguar, without further hesitation, marched resolutely in the
direction of the light, which he continued to see gleaming among the
trees like a beacon. The nearer he drew to the rancho, the firmer became
his conviction that he had not deceived himself; after deep reflection
it seemed to him impossible that the Mexicans could have pushed on so
far; still, when he was but a short distance from the house, he judged
it prudent to double his precautions, not to let himself be surprised,
if, contrary to his expectations, he had to deal with an enemy.

On coming within five hundred paces of the rancho, he began to grow
restless and have less confidence in the opinion he had formed. Several
dead horses, two or three corpses lying pell-mell among pieces of
weapons and broken carts, led to the evident supposition that a fight
had taken place near the rancho. But with whom had the advantage
remained? With the Mexicans or the Texans? Who were the persons at this
moment in the house--were they friends or foes? These questions were
very difficult to solve, and the Jaguar felt extremely embarrassed.
Still he was not discouraged. The young man had too long carried on the
profession of partisan and scout, not to be thoroughly acquainted with
all the tricks of the wood ranger's difficult life. After reflecting for
a few moments, his mind was made up.

Several times, while the rancho had served as headquarters of the Texan
army, the Jaguar had gone there either to be present at councils of war,
or to take the orders of the Commander-in-Chief. As the approach to the
house was thus familiar to him, he resolved to slip up to a window, and
assure himself with his own eyes of what was going on in the rancho.
This enterprise was not so difficult as it appeared at the first glance;
for we have already seen, in a previous chapter, another of our
characters employing the same plan for a similar purpose. The young man
was quick, sharp, and strong--three reasons for succeeding.

The light still gleamed, though no sound was heard from the interior, or
troubled the deep silence of the night; the Jaguar, without quitting his
rifle, which he supposed he might require at any moment, lay down on the
ground, and crawling on his hands and knees, advanced towards the house,
being careful to keep in the shadow thrown by the thick branches of the
trees, in order not to reveal his presence, if, as it was probable, the
inhabitants, whoever they might be, of the house had placed a sentry to
watch over their safety. The reasoning of the young man, like all
reasoning based on experience, was correct; he had scarce gone fifteen
yards ere he saw, standing out from the white wall of the house, the
shadow of a man leaning on a rifle, and motionless as a statue. This man
was evidently a sentry placed there to watch the approaches to the
rancho.

The situation was growing complicated for the Jaguar; the difficulties
increased in such proportions, that they threatened soon to become
insupportable; for in order to reach the window he wanted, he would be
compelled to leave the shadow which had hitherto so fortunately
protected him, and enter the white light cast by the moon with a
profusion that did not at all please the young man. He mechanically
raised his head, hoping, perhaps, that a cloud would pass over the face
of the planet, and intercept its too brilliant light, were it but for a
moment; but the sky was of a deep azure, without the smallest cloud, and
studded with stars.

The Jaguar felt an enormous inclination to leap on the sentry and
throttle him; but supposing it were a friend? It was a knotty point. The
young man really did not know what to resolve on, and sought in vain how
to get out of the scrape, when the sentry suddenly levelled his rifle in
his direction, and aimed at him with the saucy remark:--

"Halloh! My friend, when you have crawled far enough like a snake, I
suppose you will get up?"

At the sound of this voice, which he believed he recognised, the young
man eagerly leapt to his feet.

"Caramba!" he answered with a laugh. "You are right, John Davis; I have
had enough of that crawling."

"What!" the latter replied, in surprise; "Who are you that you know me
so well?"

"A friend, _Cuerpo de Cristo!_ So raise your rifle."

"A friend, a friend!" the American replied, without changing his
position, "That is possible, and the sound of your voice is not unknown
to me; but, no matter, whether friend or foe, tell me your name, for if
you don't, I will keep you on the spot, as this is not the time for
fishing."

"Viva Dios!" the young man said with a laugh, "That dear John is always
prudent."

"I should hope so, but enough talking; your name, that I may know with
whom I have to deal."

"What, do you not recognise the Jaguar?"

The American lowered his rifle, and the butt echoed on the ground.

"By Heaven!" he said joyously, "I suspected it was you, but did not dare
believe it."

"Why not?" the young man asked as he approached.

"Hang it! Because I was assured that you were dead."

"I?"

"Yes, you."

"Who the deuce could have told you that nonsense?"

"It is not nonsense. Fray Antonio assured me that he leapt his horse
over your body."

The Jaguar reflected for a moment.

"Well," he answered, "he told you the truth."

"What?" the American exclaimed as he gave a start of terror, "Are you
dead?"

"Oh, oh! Make your mind easy," the young man answered with a laugh; "I
am as good a living man as yourself."

"Are you quite sure of it?" the superstitious American said dubiously.

"_Rayo de Dios!_ I am certain of it, though it is possible that Fray
Antonio leaped his horse over my body, for I lay for several hours
senseless on the battlefield."

"That is all right, then."

"Thanks; but what are you doing there?"

"As you see, I am on guard."

"Yes, but why are you so? Are there more of you inside?"

"There are about a dozen of us."

"All the better; and who are your comrades?"

The American looked at him for some moments fixedly, and then took his
hand, which he squeezed.

"My friend," he said with emotion, "thank heaven, for it has shown you a
great mercy this day."

"What do you mean?" the young man exclaimed, anxiously.

"I mean that those you confided to us are safe and sound, in spite of
the dangers innumerable they incurred during the terrible day we have
passed through."

"Can it be true?" he said, laying his hand on his chest, to check the
beating of his heart.

"I assure you."

"Then, they are both here?"

"Yes."

"Oh! I must see them!" he exclaimed, as he prepared to rush into the
rancho.

"Wait a moment."

"Why so?" he asked in alarm.

"For two reasons: the first being that before you enter, I must warn
them of your arrival."

"That is true; go, my friend, I will await you here."

"I have not yet told you the second reason."

"What do I care?"

"More than you fancy; do you not wish me to tell you the name of the man
who protected and eventually saved Doña Carmela?"

"I do not understand you, my friend. I entrusted the guardianship of
Tranquil and Doña Carmela to you."

"You did so."

"Then, was it not you who saved them?"

The American shook his head in denial.

"No," he said, "it was not I, I could only have died with them."

"But who saved them, then? Whoever the man may be, I swear----"

"This man," John Davis interrupted him, "is one of your dearest and most
devoted friends."

"His name? My friend, tell me his name."

"Colonel Melendez."

"Oh! I could have sworn it," the young man said impetuously; "why cannot
I thank him?"

"You will soon see him."

"How so?"

"At this moment he is busy seeking a safe retreat for the old hunter and
his daughter. For the present we shall remain at this rancho, from which
he will be able to keep the Mexican soldiers off; and so soon as he has
found another shelter, he will himself come to tell us."

"Always kind and devoted! I shall never be able to pay my debt to him."

"Who knows?" the American said philosophically; "luck will, perhaps,
turn for us, and then it will be our turn to protect our protectors of
today."

"You are right, my friend; may Heaven grant that it is so; but how did
it all happen?"

"The Colonel, who seemed, from what he said to me, to have foreboded the
danger that Doña Carmela ran, arrived just at the moment, when attacked
on all sides at once, and too weak to resist the enemies who overwhelmed
us, we were preparing, as we had promised, to die at our post; you can
guess the rest. By threats and entreaties, he drove back the soldiers
who were attacking us: then, not satisfied with having freed us from our
enemies, he desired to secure us against all danger, and accompanied us
thus far, recommending us to wait for him here, which I believe we shall
be wise in doing."

"Certainly, acting otherwise would be ungrateful. Go, now, my friend, I
will wait for you."

John Davis, understanding the anxiety from which the young man was
suffering, did not let the invitation be repeated, but entered the
rancho. The Jaguar remained alone, and was not sorry for it, for he
wished to restore some order in his ideas. He felt himself inundated
with immense joy at finding again, safe and sound, those whom he had
believed dead, and whom he so bitterly lamented; he could scarce dare
believe in such happiness, and fancied he must be dreaming, so
impossible did all this appear to him. In less than ten minutes John
Davis returned.

"Well?" the young man asked.

"Come," he answered laconically.

The American led him forward through a room in which were about a dozen
Texans, among them being Fray Antonio, Lanzi, and Quoniam, who were
sleeping on trusses of straw laid on the boards. He then pushed open a
door and the two men entered a second room not quite so large, and
lighted by a smoky candle, standing on a table, which diffused but a dim
light. Tranquil was lying on a bed of furs piled on each other, while
Doña Carmela was sitting on an equipal by his side. On seeing the young
man, she rose quickly and ran to meet him.

"Oh!" she cried, as she offered him her hand; "Heaven be praised, you
have come at last!" And bending down, she offered him her pale forehead,
on which the Jaguar imprinted a respectful kiss, the only answer he
could find, as he was suffering from such emotion. Tranquil rose with an
effort on his couch, and held out his hand to the young man, who hurried
up to him.

"Now, whatever may happen," he said timorously, "I am assured as to the
fate of my poor child, since you are near me. We have been terribly
alarmed, my friend."

"Alas!" he answered, "I have suffered more than you."

"But what is the matter?" Carmela exclaimed; "you turn pale and totter:
are you wounded?"

"No," he answered feebly; "it is the happiness, the emotion, the joy of
seeing you again. It is nothing more, so reassure yourself."

And while saying this, he fell back into a butaca half fainting.
Carmela, suffering from the most lively alarm, hurriedly attended to
him, but John Davis, knowing better than the maiden what the sick man
wanted, seized his gourd, and made him drink a long draught of its
contents. The emotion the Jaguar was suffering from, combined with the
want of food and the fatigue that oppressed him, had caused him this
momentary weakness. Tranquil was not deceived; so soon as he saw the
young man return to consciousness, he ordered his daughter to get him
food, and, as she did not seem to understand, he said with a laugh to
the Jaguar:

"I fancy, my friend, that a good meal is the only remedy you need."

The young man tried to smile as he confessed that, in truth, he was
obliged to confess, in spite of the bad opinion Doña Carmela would form
of him, that he was literally dying of hunger. The maiden, reassured by
this prosaic confession, immediately began getting him a supper of some
sort, for provisions were scanty in the rancho, and it was not an easy
matter to procure them. However, in a few minutes, Carmela returned with
some maize tortillas and a little roast meat, a more than sufficient
meal, to which the young man did the greatest honour after apologising
to his charming hostess, who now completely reassured, had resumed her
petulant character, and did not fail to tease the young Chief, who
bravely endured it.

The rest of the night was passed in pleasant conversation by these three
persons, who had believed they would never meet again, and now felt so
delighted at being together once more. The sun had risen but an hour
when the sentry suddenly challenged, and several horsemen stopped at the
gate of the rancho.



CHAPTER XVIII.

A REACTION.


After the sentry's challenge, loud shouts were raised outside the
rancho, and, ere long, the noise and confusion since his return to
honesty, the worthy monk had resumed his monastic habits of prolixity,
we will take his place and narrate the facts as briefly as possible.

We have said that on entering the rancho the Jaguar, while passing
through the first room, had perceived, among the sleepers upon straw,
Lanzi, Quoniam, and Fray Antonio. All these men were really sleeping,
but with that light sleep peculiar to hunters and wood rangers, and the
sound of the young man's footsteps had aroused them; so soon as they saw
the door of the second room close on the American they rose noiselessly,
took up their weapons, and stealthily quitted the rancho. They had done
this without exchanging a syllable, and were evidently carrying out a
plan arranged beforehand, and which the presence of the sentry had alone
impeded. Their horses were saddled in a twinkling, they leapt into their
saddles, and when John Davis returned to his post they were far out of
reach. The American, who immediately perceived their departure, gave a
start of passion, and resumed his rounds, growling between his teeth:

"The deuce take them! I only hope they may get a dose of lead in their
heads, provided they do not bring a cuadrilla of Mexican lancers down on
us."

Still, the plan of these bold rangers was far from meriting such an
imprecation, for they were about to accomplish a work of devotion.
Ignorant of Colonel Melendez' promises, and having, moreover, no sort of
confidence in the well-known Punic faith of the Mexicans, they proposed
to beat up the country, and assembled all the fugitives of their party
they came across, in order to defend Tranquil and Doña Carmela from any
insult. In the meanwhile Lanzi would swim off to the brig, which would
be cruising a cable's length from the beach, announce to Captain Johnson
the result of the battle of Cerro Pardo, tell him the critical position
in which the old hunter and his daughter were placed, and beg him to go
to the rancho and remove the wounded man on board, if circumstances
compelled it.

Fortune, which, according to a well-known proverb, always favours the
brave, was far more favourable to the plans of this forlorn hope than
they had any right to expect; they had hardly galloped ten miles across
country in no settled direction, ere they perceived numerous bivouac
fires sparkling through the night in front of a wretched fishing
village, situated on the sea shore a little distance from the Fort of
the Point. They stopped to hold a council; but at the moment they
prepared to deliberate, they were suddenly surrounded by a dozen
horsemen, and made prisoners, ere they had time to lay hands on their
arms or make an effort at defence.

Only one of the three comrades succeeded in escaping, and that was
Lanzi; the brave half-breed slipped off his horse, and passing like a
serpent between the legs of the horses, he disappeared before his flight
was noticed. Lanzi had reflected that by remaining with his comrades he
let himself be captured without profit; while if he succeeded in
escaping he might hope to accomplish the commission he had undertaken,
so that he retained a chance of safety for Tranquil and his daughter. It
was in consequence of this reasoning, made with the rapidity that
characterised the half-breed, that he attempted and accomplished his
bold flight, leaving his comrades to get as they best could out of the
awkward scrape they had fallen into.

But a thing happened to the latter which they were far from
anticipating, and which the half-breed would never have suspected. The
capture of the two men was effected so rapidly; they had been so
surprised that not a single word was exchanged on either side; but when
they were secured the Chief of the detachment ordered them to follow him
in a rough voice, and then a curious fact occurred: these men, who could
not see each other for the darkness, became old friends again so soon as
a sentence had been exchanged. Fray Antonio and his comrades had fallen
into the hands of Texan fugitives from the battle, and were the
prisoners of their own friends.

After numberless mutual congratulations, explanations came on the
carpet, and these horsemen proved to belong to the Jaguar's cuadrilla.
When their Chief left them to fly to the cart they continued to fight
for some time while awaiting his return; but pressed on all sides, and
not seeing him return, they broke and began flying in all directions. As
they were perfectly acquainted with the country, it was easy for them to
escape the pursuit of the Mexican cavalry; and each, with that instinct
peculiar to partisans and guerillas, proceeded separately to one of the
gathering places, whither the Jaguar was accustomed to summon them. Here
they nearly all came together again, for the simple reason that as their
cuadrilla formed the rearguard, it had been the last engaged, and
suffered very slightly, as it was almost immediately broken up by the
departure of its Chief.

During this flight a great number of other partisans had swelled their
ranks, so that at this moment their band formed a corps of nearly six
hundred resolute men, well mounted and armed, but who, unfortunately,
had no leader. The capture of Fray Antonio, who found many of his
soldiers among them, was, therefore, a piece of good luck for the
partisans, who, though they had been left to their own resources for
only a few hours, were already beginning to understand the difficulties
of their position, and how dangerous it would become for them if
fatality willed it that they should be discovered and attacked, by a
Mexican corps.

Still, they had acted with great prudence up to this moment. Obliged to
leave the retreat they had selected, and which offered them no
resources, they had bivouacked a little distance from the Fort of the
Point, in order to be protected both by the garrison of the fortress and
the fire of their cruisers, which they knew to be close at hand.

When Fray Antonio had picked up this information, which was precious for
him, and overwhelmed him with delight, by permitting him to dispose of
numerous and determined corps, instead of a few demoralized fugitives of
no value, he determined to requite the soldiers who had captured him for
the pleasure they caused him by telling him that the Jaguar was not dead
as they had falsely supposed--that he was not even wounded, but was in
hiding at the rancho which had for a long time served as headquarters of
the Texan army, and he would conduct them thither if they pleased. At
this proposal of the worthy monk's the joy of the Freebooters became
delirious, almost frenzied, for they adored their Chief, and longed to
place themselves under his orders again. Consequently, the camp was
immediately raised, the partisans formed in a column, Fray Antonio
placing himself at its head, and the remains of the Texan army set out
joyously for the rancho. The reader knows the rest.

The Jaguar warmly thanked Fray Antonio; he then stated that the rancho
would temporarily be headquarters, and ordered his men to bivouac round
the house. Still, there was one thing which greatly alarmed the young
man: no news had been received, of Lanzi. What had become of him?
Perhaps he had found death in accomplishing his rash enterprise, and
trying to reach, by swimming, Captain Johnson's brig. The Jaguar knew
the friendship that united Tranquil and the half-breed, and what deep
root that friendship had taken in the heart of both, and he feared the
effect on the Canadian of the announcement of a calamity which,
unhappily, was only too probable. Hence, in spite of his promise of
returning at once to the hunter, he walked anxiously up and down in
front of the rancho, gazing at intervals out to sea, and not feeling the
courage to be present when the Canadian asked after his old friend and
was told of his death.

Presently, Carmela appeared in the doorway. The old hunter, not seeing
the Jaguar return, and alarmed by the noisy demonstrations he heard
outside, at length resolved to send the girl on a voyage of discovery,
after warning her not to commit any act of imprudence, but return to his
side at the slightest appearance of danger, Carmela ran off in delight
to find the Jaguar; a few remarks she heard while passing through the
house told her what was occurring, and she had no fear about venturing
outside. On seeing her the young man checked his hurried walk and waited
for her, while trying to give his features an expression agreeing with
the lucky situation in which he was supposed to be.

"Well!" she said to him, with that little pouting air which she could
assume if necessary, and which suited her so well; "What has become of
you, deserter? We have been waiting for you with the most lively
impatience, and there you are walking quietly up and down, instead of
hurrying to bring us the good news you promised us."

"Forgive me, Carmela," he replied; "I was wrong to appear thus to forget
you, and leave you in a state of anxiety; but so many extraordinary
things have occurred, that I do not really yet know whether I am awake
or dreaming."

"Everybody deserts us this morning, not excepting Lanzi and Quoniam, who
have not yet made their appearance."

"You will pardon them, Señorita, for I am the sole cause of their
absence. I found myself compelled to entrust them both with important
duties, but I trust they will soon return, and directly they do so, I
will send them to you."

"But are you not coming in, Jaguar? My father would be glad to talk with
you."

"I should like to do so, Carmela, but at this moment it is impossible;
remember that the army is utterly disorganized, at each moment fresh men
who have escaped from the battle join us; only a few Chiefs have turned
up as yet, the rest are missing. I alone must undertake to restore a
little order in this chaos; but be assured that so soon as I have a
second to myself, I will take advantage of it to join you. Alas! It is
only by your side that I am happy."

The maiden blushed slightly at this insinuation, and answered at once
with a degree of coldness in her accent, of which she immediately
repented, in seeing the impression her words caused the young man, and
the cloud they brought to his forehead.

"You are at liberty to remain here as long as you please, Caballero; in
speaking to you as I did I merely carried a message my father gave me
for you; the rest concerns me but little."

The young man bowed without replying, and turned away his head not to
let the cruel girl see the sorrow she caused him by this harsh and so
unmerited apostrophe. Carmela walked a few steps toward the house, but
on reaching the threshold she ran back and offered her little hand to
the young Chief with an exquisite smile.

"Forgive me, my friend," she said to him, "I am a madcap. You are not
angry with me, I trust?"

"I angry with you?" he replied, sadly, "Why should I be so, by what
right? What else am I to you than a stranger, an indifferent being, a
stranger too happy to be endured without any great display of impatience
on your part."

The maiden bit her lips angrily.

"Will you not take the hand I offer you?" she said with a slight tinge
of impatience.

The Jaguar looked at her for a moment fixedly, and then seized her hand,
on which he imprinted a burning kiss.

"Why should the head ever do injustice to the heart?" he said, with a
sigh.

"Am I not a woman?" she replied with a smile that filled his heart with
joy; "We are waiting for you, so come soon," she added, and shaking her
finger at him, she ran back into the house like a startled fawn, and
laughing like a madcap.

The Jaguar gazed after her until she at length disappeared in the
interior of the rancho.

"She is but a coquettish child," he murmured in a low voice; "has she a
heart?"

A stifled sigh was the sole answer he found for the difficult question
he asked himself, and he bent his eyes again on the sea. Suddenly, he
uttered a cry of joy; he had just seen, above the rocks which terminated
on the right, the small bay on which the cuadrilla was encamped, the
tall masts of the _Libertad_ corvette, followed or rather convoyed by
the brig. The two ships, impelled by a favourable breeze, soon doubled
the point, and entered the bay; while the corvette made short tacks not
to run ashore on the dangerous coast, the brig shortened sail and
remained stationary. A boat was immediately let down, several persons
seated themselves in it, and the sailors, letting their oars fall
simultaneously into the water, pulled vigorously for the shore.

The distance they had to row was nearly half a mile, and hence the
Jaguar was unable to recognise the persons who were arriving. Anxious to
know, however, what he had to depend on, he mounted the first horse he
came across, and galloped toward the boat, followed by some twenty
Freebooters; who, seeing their Chief set out, formed him a guard of
honour. The young man reached the coast at the precise moment when the
bows of the boat ran up into the sand. There were three sailors in the
boat: Captain Johnson and the person we have met before under the name
of El Alferez, and lastly, Lanzi. On perceiving the latter, the young
Chief could not restrain a shout of joy, and without thinking of even
saluting the other two, he seized the half-breed's hand and pressed it
cordially several times.

The Captain and his companion, far from being annoyed at this apparent
want of politeness, seemed, on the contrary, to witness with pleasure,
this frank and spontaneous manifestation of an honourable feeling.

"Bravo, Cabellero!" said the Captain; "By Heaven! You do right to press
that man's hand, for he is a loyal and devoted fellow; ten times during
the past night he risked his life in trying to reach my ship, which at
length came aboard, half drowned and dead with fatigue."

"Nonsense," the half-breed said negligently; "it was nothing at all; the
main point was to reach you, as my poor comrades had the ill-luck to be
taken prisoners."

The Jaguar began laughing.

"Don't be alarmed, my brave fellow," he said to him; "your comrades are
as free as yourself, and you will soon see them; there was a mistake in
all this which they will have the pleasure of explaining to you."

Lanzi opened his eyes in amazement at this partial revelation, which he
did not at all understand, but he made no answer, contenting himself
with shrugging his shoulders several times. The Jaguar then offered the
Captain and his two companions horses on which they could proceed to the
rancho, and which they accepted. The partisans who had followed their
Chief, on hearing this offer, hastened to dismount, and courteously
presented their horses to the strangers. The latter, without stopping to
make a choice, mounted the horses nearest to them, and started.

While galloping along, the three newcomers looked about them with
surprise, not at all comprehending what they saw; for a time, the Jaguar
paid no great attention to their manoeuvres, and continued to talk about
indifferent topics; but their preoccupation soon became so marked that
he perceived it, and could not refrain from asking them the cause of it.

"On my word, Caballeros," the Captain said, all at once taking the ball
at the rebound; "if you had not asked me that question, I was on the
point of asking you one, for I frankly confess that I understand nothing
of what is happening to us."

"What is happening, pray?"

"Why, I learned last night from this worthy lad, the frightful defeat
you experienced yesterday; the total loss and the utter dispersion of
your army; I hurried up to offer you and yours, whom I supposed tracked
like wild beasts and without shelter of any sort, an asylum aboard my
vessel, and I have barely set foot on land, ere I find myself in the
midst of this army which I supposed to be swept away like autumn leaves
by a storm; and this army is as firm and well disciplined as before the
battle. Explain to me, I beg, the meaning of this riddle, for I have
really given it up, as impossible to guess."

"I am ready to satisfy your curiosity," the Jaguar answered with a
smile; "but first of all I crave some valuable news from you."

"Very good; but answer me this first."

"Go on."

"Has the battle really taken place?"

"Certainly."

"And you have been whipped?"

"To our heart's content."

"That is strange, I understand leas than ever; well, speak, I am
listening to you."

"Is the Fort of the Point still in the hands of our friends?"

"Yes; our ships have left it an hour at the most. Ever since you so
daringly surprised it, the Mexicans have not come within gunshot."

"May Heaven be praised!" the young man exclaimed impetuously; "nothing
is lost in that case, and all can be repaired. Yes, Captain, we have
been beaten, we have suffered a frightful defeat; but, as you know,
during the ten years we have been struggling against the Mexican power,
our oppressors have often believed us crushed, and it is the same this
time, thanks be to Heaven! Two of our best cuadrillas have escaped
almost in safety the horrible massacre of the other corps, and they are
those you see assembled here. At each moment straggling fugitives join
us, so that within a week we shall probably be able to resume the
offensive. GOD is on our side, for the cause we defend is sacred; we are
the soldiers of an idea, and must conquer. The defeat of yesterday will
be of use to us in the future."

"You are right, my friend," the Captain answered warmly. "This
revolution in truth resembles no other; ever conquered, and ever up in
arms, you are stronger today, after your numerous defeats, than when you
began the struggle. The finger of Heaven is there, and a man must be mad
not to perceive it. Hence your losses are limited to men and arms?"

"To men and arms solely; we have not lost an inch of ground. I seek in
vain the reason that prevented the victorious Mexicans pursuing us, for
we have kept all our positions, and are scarce ten miles from the battle
field."

"Many of our Chiefs, I presume, have fallen, or are in the hands of the
enemy?"

"I fear so; still, several have already come in, and others will
probably still join us. There is one, unfortunately, about whom we have
no news--you know to whom I refer; if the day pass without his making
his appearance, I shall start in search of him."

The Jaguar had spoken the truth; each moment soldiers who had escaped
from the battlefield arrived. During the short hour that had elapsed
since he left the rancho, more than two hundred had joined the camp.

"You see," said the young Chief, looking around him proudly, "that, in
spite of our defeat, nothing has really changed for us, as we have
retained our head quarters, and the banner of Texan Independence still
floats from its azotea."

The horsemen then dismounted, and entered the rancho.



CHAPTER XIX.

A PAGE OF HISTORY.


The Jaguar was mistaken, or rather flattered himself, when he said that
the defeat of Cerro Pardo had caused but an insignificant loss to the
revolutionary party; for Galveston, too weak to attempt resistance to
the attack of the Mexican army, surrendered on the first summons, and
did not even attempt a useless demonstration. Still, the young Chief was
rightly astonished that General Rubio, an old experienced soldier, and
one of the best officers in the Mexican army, had not attempted to
complete his victory by definitively crushing his enemies, and pursuing
them to the death. General Rubio really intended not to give those he
had beaten breathing time, but his will was suddenly paralysed by
another more powerful than his own.

The facts that then occurred are so strange, that they deserve to be
described in their fullest details. Besides; they are intimately related
to the facts we have undertaken to narrate, and throw a new light on
certain events connected with the revolution of Texas, which are but
little known.

We ask our reader's pardon; but we must go back once again, and return
to General Rubio, at the moment when the Texans, broken by Colonel
Melendez' charge, and understanding that victory was hopelessly slipping
from their grasp, began flying in every direction, without trying to
defend themselves longer, or keep the ground they held. The General had
stationed himself on an eminence whence he surveyed the whole
battlefield, and followed the movements of the various corps engaged. So
soon as he saw the disorder produced in the enemy's ranks, he understood
the advantage he could derive from this precipitate flight, by closely
pursuing the fugitives up to the Fort of the Point, where he could
certainly enter pell-mell without striking a blow. But haste was needed,
not to give the enemy time to re-form a little further on, which the
chiefs who commanded them would not fail to attempt, if but an hour's
respite were granted them.

The General turned to an aide-de-camp by his side, and was just going to
send Colonel Melendez orders to start all his cavalry in pursuit of the
Texans, when a platoon of a dozen lancers suddenly appeared, commanded
by an officer who galloped at full speed to the spot where the General
was, making signs and waving his hat. The General looked in surprise at
this officer, whom he knew did not belong to his army. A minute later he
gave a start of surprise and disappointment, took, a sorrowful glance
at the battlefield, and stood biting his moustache and muttering, in a
low voice,

"Confound this saloon officer and sabre clunker! Why did he not remain
in Mexico? What does the President mean by sending us this gold plumaged
springald, to make us lose all the profits of the victory?"

At this moment the officer came up to the General, bowed respectfully,
drew a large sealed envelope from his breast, and handed it to him. The
General coldly returned the salutation, took the letter, opened it, and
looked at it with a frown; but almost immediately he crumpled the letter
up passionately, and addressed the officer, who was standing motionless
and stiff before him.

"You are the aide-de-camp of the President General of the Republic?" he
said, roughly.

"Yes, General," the officer answered, with a bow.

"Hum! Where is the President at this moment?"

"Four leagues off at the most, with two thousand troops."

"Where has he halted?"

"His Excellency has not halted, General, but, on the contrary, is
advancing with forced marches to join you."

The General gave a start of anger.

"It is well," he continued, presently. "Return at full gallop to his
Excellency, and announce to him my speedy arrival."

"Pardon me, General, but it seems to me that you have not read the
despatch I had the honour of handing you," the officer said,
respectfully, but firmly.

The General looked at him askance.

"I have not time at this moment to read the despatch," he said, drily.

At the period when our history takes place, General Don Antonio Lopez de
Santa Anna was thirty-nine to forty years of age; he was tall and finely
built; he had a lofty and projecting forehead, rounded chin, and
slightly aquiline nose, large black eyes, full of expression, and a
flexible mouth, which gave him an air of remarkable nobility, while his
black and curly hair, which formed a contrast to the yellowish tinge of
his complexion, covered his temples and his high-boned cheeks. Such,
physically, was the man who, for thirty years, has been the evil genius
of Mexico, and has led it to infallible ruin by making himself the cause
or pretext of all the wars and revolutions which, since his first
assumption of power, have incessantly overwhelmed this unhappy country.

We must now ask our reader's pardon, but we must talk a little politics,
and describe cursorily the facts which preceded and led to the
denouement of the too lengthy story we have undertaken to narrate.

If the Mexicans had gained an important advantage over the Texans, in
another portion of the revolted territory they had experienced a check,
whose consequences must prove immense for them. The Mexican General Cos
was besieged in the town of Bejar by the Texans; the latter, with that
want of foresight so natural to volunteers of all countries, believing
that they had only a campaign of a few days, had laid in no provisions
or winter clothing, though the rainy season was at hand, hence they were
beginning to grow discouraged and talk about raising the siege; when El
Alferez, that mysterious personage we have come across several times,
went to the General in Chief and pledged himself to compel the Mexicans
to capitulate, if three hundred men were given him.

The young partizan's reputation for intrepidity had long been famed
among the Texans, and hence his offer was accepted with enthusiasm. El
Alferez performed his promise. The town was captured after four terrible
assaults; but the young Chief, struck by a bullet in the forehead, fell
in the breach, with his triumph as his winding sheet. A fact was then
ascertained which had hitherto been only vaguely suspected:--El Alferez,
the daring and formidable partisan, was a woman. General Cos, his staff,
and one thousand five hundred Mexicans laid down their arms, and all
filed, in the presence of the handful of insurgents who had survived the
assaults and the corpse of their intrepid Chieftain, which was clothed
in feminine attire, and seated in a chair covered with the flags taken
from the vanquished. The Mexicans left the territory of the New
Republic, after pledging their word of honour not to oppose the
recognition of independence.

Santa Anna received news of the defeat at Bejar while stationed at San
Luis de Potosi. Furious at the affront the Mexican arms had received,
the President, after flying into a furious passion with the generals who
had hitherto directed the military operations, swore to avenge the
honour of Mexico, which was so disgracefully compromised, and finally
finish with these rebels whom no one had yet been able to conquer. The
President organized an army of six thousand men, a truly formidable
army, if we take into account the resources of the country in which
these events occurred. The preparations, urged on by that vigour
produced by wounded pride and the hope of vengeance, were soon
completed, and Santa Anna entered Texas, after dividing his army into
three corps, under the orders of Filisola, Cos, Urrea, and Garrey.
After effecting his junction with General Rubio, to whom he had sent an
aide-de-camp with orders to remain in his quarters and not risk a battle
before his arrival, an order which the General received too late, the
President determined to deal a decisive blow by recapturing Bejar and
seizing on Goliad.

Bejar and Goliad are two Spanish towns; roads run from them to a common
centre, the heart of the Anglo-American settlements. The capture of
these two towns, as the basis of operations, was, consequently, of the
highest importance to the Mexicans. The Texans, weakened and demoralized
by their last defeat, were unable to resist so formidable an invasion as
the one with which they saw themselves menaced. The Mexican army carried
on a true war of savages, passing like a flood over this hapless
country, plundering and burning the towns. The two first months that
followed Santa Anna's arrival in Texas were an uninterrupted series of
successes for the Mexicans, and seemed to justify the new method
inaugurated by the President, however barbarous and inhuman it might be
in its results. The Texans found themselves in a moment reduced to so
precarious a condition, that their ruin appeared to competent men
inevitable, and merely a question of time.

Let us describe, in a few words, the operations of the Mexican army.
Before resuming our narrative at the point where we left it, we have
said already that the Mexican forces had been divided into three corps.
Three thousand men, that is to say, one moiety of the Mexican army,
commanded by Generals Santa Anna and Cos, and well supplied with
artillery, proceeded to lay siege to Bejar. This town had only a feeble
garrison of one hundred and eighty men, but this garrison was commanded
by Colonel Travis, one of the greatest and purest heroes of the War of
Independence. When completely invested, Travis withdrew to the citadel,
not feeling at all alarmed by the numbers he had to fight. He was
summoned to surrender.

"Nonsense!" he answered with a smile; "we will all die, but your victory
will cost you so dearly that a defeat would be better for you."

And he loyally kept his word, resisting for a whole fortnight with
unexampled bravery, and incessantly exhorting his comrades. Thirty-two
Texans managed to throw themselves into the fort, after traversing the
entire Mexican army.

"We have come to die with you," the chief of this heroic forlorn hope
said to him.

"Thanks," was all the answer.

Santa Anna, whose strength had been more than doubled during the siege,
summoned Colonel Travis for the last time, saying there would be madness
in risking an assault with a practicable breach.

"We will fill it up with our dead bodies," the Colonel nobly answered.

The President ordered the assault, and the Texans were killed to the
last man. The Mexicans then entered the citadel, not as conquerors, but
with a secret apprehension, and as if ashamed of their triumph. They had
lost fifteen hundred men.[1]

"Oh!" Santa Anna exclaimed bitterly, "another such victory and we are
lost!"

So soon as Bejar was reduced, attention was turned to Goliad. But here
one of those facts occurred which history is compelled to register, were
it only to stigmatize and eternally brand the men who have been guilty.
Goliad is an open town, without walls or citadel to arrest an enemy, and
Colonel Fanni had abandoned it, as he had only five hundred Texan
Volunteers with him. Compelled to leave his ammunition and baggage
behind, in order to effect his retreat with greater speed, he was
suddenly attacked on the prairie by General Urrea's Mexican division,
nineteen hundred strong. Obeying their Colonel's orders, the Texans
formed square, and for a whole day endured the attack of the foe without
flinching. The Mexicans involuntarily admiring the desperate heroism of
these men, who had no hope of salvation, implored them to surrender,
while offering them good and honourable conditions. The Texans hesitated
for a long time, for, as they did not dare trust the word of their
enemies, they preferred to die. Still, when one hundred and forty Texans
had fallen, the Colonel resolved to lay down his arms, on the condition
that his soldiers and himself should be regarded as prisoners of war,
treated as such, and that the American Volunteers should be embarked for
the United States at the charges of the Mexican Government. These
conditions having been accepted by General Urrea, the Texans
surrendered.

Santa Anna, who was still at Bejar, refused to ratify the treaty; and by
his _express orders_, in spite of the prayers and supplications of all
his generals, he directed the massacre of the prisoners. The three
hundred and fifty prisoners were murdered in cold blood, on a prairie
situated between Goliad and the sea. General Urrea, whom this infamous
treason dishonoured, broke his sword, weeping with rage. This horrible
massacre was the signal for a general upheaval, and all ran to arms;
despair restored the energy of the Insurgents, and a new army seemed to
spring from the ground as if by enchantment. General Houston was
appointed Commander-in-Chief, and on both sides preparations were made
for the supreme and decisive struggle.


[1] It was at this marvellous siege, better known as that of the Alamo,
that Colonels Crockett and Bowie were killed.--L.W.



CHAPTER XX.

THE BIVOUAC.


As we have already said, Texas had reached a decisive epoch:
unfortunately, her future seemed as gloomy as that of the conquered: in
spite of the heroic efforts attempted by the Insurgents, the rapid
progress of the invasion was watched with terror, and no possible means
of resistance could be seen. Still it was this moment, when all appeared
desperate, which the Convention, calm and moved by a love of liberty
more ardent than ever, selected to hurl a last and supreme defiance at
the invaders. Not allowing itself to be intimidated by evil fortune, the
convention replied to the menaces of the conquerors by a statement of
rights, and the definitive declaration of the independence of a country
which was almost entirely occupied by, and in the power of the Mexicans.
It improvised a constitution, created a provisional executive authority,
decreed all the measures of urgency which the gravity of circumstances
demanded, and finally nominated General Sam Houston Commander-in-Chief,
with the most widely extended powers.

Unhappily the Texan army no longer existed, for its previous defeats
had completely annihilated it. But if military organization might be
lacking, the enthusiasm was more ardent than ever. The Texans had sworn
to bury themselves under the smoking ruins of their plundered towns and
villages, sooner than return beneath the detested yoke of their
oppressors. And this oath they were not only prepared to keep, but had
already kept at Bejar and Goliad: however low a people may appear, and
is really in the sight of its tyrants, when all its acting strength is
concentrated in the firm and immutable will, to live free or die, it is
certain to recover from its defeats, and to rise again one day a
conqueror, and regenerated by the blood of the martyrs who have
succumbed in the supreme struggle of liberty against slavery.

General Houston had scarce been appointed ere he prepared to obey, and
he reached the banks of the Guadalupe three days after the capture of
the Alamo. The Texan troops amounted to _three hundred_ men, badly
armed, badly clothed, almost dying of hunger, but burning to take their
revenge. General Houston was a stern and sincere patriot; his name is
revered in Texas, like that of Washington in the United States, or of
Lafayette in France. Houston was a precursor, or one of those geniuses
whom it pleases God to create when He desires to render a people free.
At the sight of this army of three hundred men, Houston was not
discouraged; on the contrary, he felt his enthusiasm redoubled, the
heroic relics of the ten thousand victims who had succumbed since the
beginning of the war had not despaired of the salvation of their
country: like their predecessors, they were ready to die for her. It was
a sacred phalanx with which he would achieve miracles.

Still, it was not with these three hundred men, however brave and
resolute they might be, that General Houston could entertain a hope of
defeating the Mexicans, who, rendered presumptuous by their past
successes, eagerly sought the opportunity to finish once for all with
the Insurgents, by crushing the last relics of their army. General
Houston, before risking an action on which the fate of his new country
would doubtless depend, resolved to form an army once more; for this
purpose, instead of marching on the enemy, he fell back on the Colorado,
and thence on the Brazos, burning and destroying everything in his
passage, in order to starve the Mexicans out.

These clever tactics obtained all the success the General expected from
them; for a very simple reason: as he fell back on the Mexican frontier,
his army was daily augmented by fresh recruits, who, on the report of
his approach, left their houses or farms to enlist under his banner;
while the contrary happened to the Mexicans, who at each march they made
in pursuit of the Insurgents, left a few laggards behind, who by so much
diminished their strength.

The Texan General had a powerful motive for falling back on the American
frontier; he hoped to obtain some help from General Gaines, who, by the
order of President Jackson, had advanced on Texan territory as far as
the town of Nagogdoches. Such was the state of affairs between Houston
and Santa Anna, the one retreating, the other continually advancing;
though ere long they must meet face to face, in a battle which would
decide the great question of a nation's emancipation or servitude.

On the day when we resume our narrative it was about eight in the
evening, the heat had been stifling throughout the day, and although
night had fallen long before, this heat, far from diminishing, had but
increased; there was not a breath of air, the atmosphere was oppressive,
and low lightning-laden clouds rolled heavily athwart the sky; all, in
fact, foreboded a storm.

On the banks of a rather wide stream, whose yellowish and turbid waters
flowed mournfully between banks clothed with cotton-wood trees, the
bivouac fires of a small detachment of cavalry might be seen glistening
like stars in the darkness. This stream was a confluent of the Colorado,
and the men encamped on its banks were Texans. They were but twenty-five
in number, and composed the entire cavalry of the Army of Independence:
they were commanded by the Jaguar.

While the horsemen were sadly crouching over the fires, not far from
which their horses were hobbled, and conversing in a low voice; their
Chief, who had retired to a jacal made of branches and lighted by a
smoky candil, was sitting on an equipal with his back leant against a
tree trunk, with his arms folded on his chest and gazing at vacancy. The
Jaguar was no longer the young and ardent man we introduced to our
readers; his face was pale, his features contracted, and eyes blood-shot
with fever, and, though faith still dwelt in his heart, hope was dead.

The truth was that death had begun to make frightful gaps around him;
his dearest friends, the most devoted supporters of the cause he
defended, had fallen one after the other in this implacable struggle. El
Alferez, Captain Johnson, Ramirez, Fray Antonio, were lying in their
bloody graves; of others he received no news, nor knew what had become
of them; he therefore stood alone, like an oak bowed by the wind and
beaten by the storm, resisting intrepidly, but foreseeing his
approaching fall.

General Houston, in his calculated retreat, had confided the command of
the rear guard, that is to say, the most honourable and dangerous post,
to the Jaguar; a post he had accepted with gloomy joy, as he felt sure
that he would fall gloriously, while watching over the safety of all.

In the meantime the night became blacker and blacker, the horizon more
menacing; a white and sharp rain began piercing the grey fog; the storm
was rapidly approaching, and must soon burst forth. The soldiers watched
with terror the progress of the storm, and instinctively sought shelter
against this convulsion of nature, which was far more terrible than the
other dangers which menaced them. For no one, who has not witnessed it,
can form even a remote idea of an American hurricane, which twists trees
like wisps of straw, fires forests, levels mountains, drives streams
from their bed, and in a few hours convulses the surface of the soil.

Suddenly a dazzling flash furrowed the darkness, and a crashing burst of
thunder broke the majestic silence that brooded over the landscape. At
the same instant the sentry stationed a few paces in front of the
bivouac challenged. The Jaguar sprang up as if he had received an
electric shock, and bounding forward, as he mechanically seized the
weapons lying within reach, listened. The dull sound of horses' hoofs
could he heard on the soddened ground.

"Who's there?" the sentry challenged a second time.

"Friends," a voice replied.

"_¿Qué gente?_"

"Texas."

The Jaguar emerged from the jacal.

"To arms!" he shouted to his men, we must not let ourselves be
surprised.

"Come, come," the voice continued, "I see that I have not diverged from
the track, since I can hear the Jaguar."

"Halloh!" the latter said in surprise, "who are you, that you know me so
well?"

"By Jove! A friend whose voice should be familiar to you, at any rate."

"John Davis!" the young man exclaimed with a joy he did not attempt to
conceal.

"All right!" the American continued gaily. "I thought that we should
understand one another presently."

"Come, come; let him pass, men, he is a friend."

Five or six horsemen entered the camp and dismounted.

At this moment the storm burst forth furiously, passing like a whirlwind
over the plain, the twisted trees on which were in a second uprooted and
borne away by the hurricane. The Texans had made their horses lie down,
and were themselves lying down by their side on the Wet soil, in the
hope of offering a smaller surface to the gusts that passed with a
mournful howl above their heads. It was a spectacle full of wild
grandeur, presented by this ravaged plain, incessantly crossed by
flashes which illuminated the landscape with fantastic hues, while the
thunder rolled hoarsely in the depths of the Heavens, and the clouds
scudded along like a routed army, dashing against each other with
electric collisions.

For nearly three hours the hurricane raged, levelling everything in its
passage; at length, at about one in the morning, the rain became less
dense, the wind gradually calmed, the thunder rolled at longer
intervals, and the sky, swept clean by a final effort of the tempest,
appeared again blue and star-spangled; the hurricane had gone away to
vent its fury in other regions. The men and horses rose; all breathed
again, and tried to restore a little order in the camp. This was no easy
task, for the jacal had been carried away, the fires extinguished, and
the logs dispersed in all directions; but the Texans were tried men,
long accustomed to the dangers and fatigues of desert life. The tempest,
instead of crushing them, had, on the contrary, restored their strength
and patience, though not their courage, for that had never failed them.

They set gaily to work, and in two hours all the injury caused by the
tempest was repaired as well as the precarious resources they had at
their disposal permitted; the fires were lighted again, and the jacal
reconstructed. Any stranger who had entered the camp at this moment
would not have supposed that so short a time previously they had been
assailed by so fearful a hurricane. The Jaguar was anxious to talk with
John Davis, whom he had only seen since his arrival, and had found it
impossible to exchange a syllable. When order was restored, therefore,
he went up to him and begged him to enter the jacal.

"Permit me," the American said, "to bring with me three of my comrades
whom I am convinced you will be delighted to meet."

"Do so," the Jaguar answered; "who are they?"

"I will not deprive you," Davis, said, with a smile, "of the pleasure of
recognizing them yourself."

The young Chief did not press the matter, for he knew the ex-slave
dealer too well not to place the most perfect confidence in him. A few
minutes later, according to his promise, Davis entered the jacal with
his comrades; the Jaguar gave a start of joy at seeing them, and quickly
walked up to offer his hand. These three men were Lanzi, Quoniam, and
Black-deer.

"Oh, oh!" he exclaimed, "Here you are, then. Heaven be praised! I did
not dare hope for your return."

"Why not?" Lanzi asked; "As we are still alive, thanks to God! You ought
to have expected us."

"So many things have happened since our parting, so many misfortunes
have assailed us, so many of our friends have fallen not to rise again,
that, on receiving no news of you, I trembled at the thought that you
might also be dead."

"You know, my friend," the American said, "that we have been absent a
very long time, and are consequently quite ignorant of what has happened
since our departure."

"Well, I will tell you all. But first one word."

"Speak."

"Where is Tranquil?"

"Only a few leagues from here, and you will soon see him; he sent me
forward, indeed, to warn you of his speedy arrival."

"Thanks," the young man replied, pensively.

"Is that all you desire to know?"

"Nearly so, for of course you have received no news of ----?"

"News of whom?" the American asked, seeing that the Jaguar hesitated.

"Of Carmela?" he at length said, with a tremendous effort.

"Of Carmela?" John Davis exclaimed, in surprise: "How could we have
received any news? Tranquil, on the contrary, hopes to hear some from
you."

"From me?"

"Hang it! You must know better than any of us how the dear child is."

"I do not understand you."

"And yet it is very clear. I will not remind you in what way we
succeeded, after the capture of the Larch-tree, in saving the poor girl
from that villain who carried her off; I will merely remind you that on
the very day when Tranquil and I, by your express orders, started to
join Loyal Heart, the maiden was confided in your presence to Captain
Johnson, who would convey her to the house of a respectable lady at
Galveston, who was willing to offer her a shelter."

"Well?"

"What do you mean by, well?"

"Yes, I knew all that, so it was useless to tell it me. What I ask you
is, whether, since Carmela went to, Galveston, you have received any
news of her?"

"Why, it is impossible, my friend; how could we have received any?
Remember that we proceeded to the desert."

"That is true," the young man replied, disconsolately; "I am mad.
Forgive me."

"What is the matter? Why this pallor, my friend, this restlessness I see
in your eyes?"

"Ah!" he said, with a sigh, "It is because I have received news of
Carmela, if you have not."

"You, my friend?"

"Yes, I."

"A long time ago, I presume?"

"No--yesterday evening," he said, with a bitter smile.

"I do not at all understand you."

"Well, listen to me. What I am going to tell you is not long, but it is
important, I promise you."

"I am listening."

"We form, as you are doubtless aware, the extreme rear guard of the Army
of Liberation."

"Yes, I know that, and it helped me in finding your trail."

"Very good; hence hardly a day passes in which we do not exchange musket
shots and sabre cuts with the Mexicans."

"Go on."

"Yesterday--you see it is not stale--we were suddenly charged by forty
Mexican Horse; it was about three in the afternoon, when General Houston
was crossing the river with the main body. We had orders to offer a
desperate resistance, in order to protect the retreat. This order was
needless; at the sight of the Mexicans we rushed madly upon them, and
the action at once commenced. After a few minutes' fighting the Mexicans
gave way, and finally fled, leaving three or four dead on the
battlefield. Too weak to pursue the enemy, I had given my soldiers
orders to return, and was myself preparing to do the same, when two
flying Mexicans, instead of continuing their flight, stopped, and
fastening their handkerchiefs to their sabre blades, made me a signal
that they desired to parley. I approached the two men, who bore a
greater likeness to bandits than to soldiers; and one of them, a man of
tall stature and furious looks, said to me at once, when I asked them
what they wanted--

"'To do you a service, if you are, as I suppose, the Jaguar.'

"'Yes, I am he,' I answered, 'but what is your name? Who are you?'

"'It is of little consequence who I am, provided that my intentions are
good.'

"'Still, I must know them.'

"'Hum!' he said, 'you are very distrustful, Comirado.'

"'Come, Sandoval,' the other horseman said, in a voice gentle as a
woman's, as he suddenly joined in the conversation, 'do not beat about
thus, but finish your business.'

"'I ask nothing better than to finish,' he replied, coarsely; 'it is
this gentleman who compels me to swerve, when I wished to go straight
ahead.'

"The second rider, shrugged his shoulders with a disdainful smile, and
turned to me.

"'In a word, Caballero, here is a paper, which a person, in whom you
take great interest, requested us to deliver to you.'"

"I eagerly seized the paper, and prepared to open it, for a secret
foreboding warned me of misfortune.

"'No,' the Mexican continued eagerly arresting my hand, 'wait till you
have joined your men again, to read that letter.'

"'I consent,' I said, 'but I presume you do not intend to do me a
gratuitous service, whatever its nature may be?'

"'Why so?'

"'Because you do not know me, and the interest you take in me must be
very slight.'

"'Perhaps so,' the rider answered; 'still, pledge yourself to nothing, I
warn you, till you know the contents of that letter.'

"Then he made a signal to his comrade, and after bowing slightly, they
started at a gallop, and left me considerably embarrassed at the way in
which this singular interview had ended, and twisting in my fingers the
letter I did not dare open."

"Well," the American muttered, "what did you, so soon as the men left
you alone?"

"I looked after them a long time, and then, suddenly recalled to my duty
by several carbine shots whose bullets whizzed past my ears, I bent down
over my horse's neck and regained the bivouac at full gallop. On
arriving, I opened the letter, for I was burning with impatience and
curiosity."

"And it was?"

"From Carmela."

"By Heavens!" the American said, as he slapped his thigh; "I would have
wagered it."



CHAPTER XXI.

SANDOVAL.


"Yes," the Jaguar continued presently in a broken voice; "this letter
was entirely in Carmela's handwriting. Would you like to know the
contents?"

The American looked around him.

"Well, what matter?" the Jaguar exclaimed with some violence; "Are not
these brave lads our friends, faithful and devoted friends? Why keep
secret from them a thing I should be forced to tell them, perhaps
tomorrow?"

John Davis bowed.

"You did not understand my thought," he said. "I am not afraid about
them, but of those who may be possibly listening outside."

The young man shook his head.

"No, no," he said, "fear nothing, John Davis, my old friend; no one is
listening to us."

"Read the letter in that case, for I am anxious to know its contents."

Although the dawn was beginning to tinge the horizon with all the
prismatic colours, the light was not sufficient yet for it to be
possible to read by it. Lanzi, therefore, seized the candil, whose smoky
wick smouldered without spreading any great light, snuffed it intrepidly
with his fingers, and held it in a line with the Jaguar's face. The
latter, after a moment's hesitation, drew from the pocket of his velvet
jacket a dirty and crumpled piece of paper, unfolded it, and read:

"_To the Chief of the Texan Freebooters, surnamed the Jaguar._"

"If you really take that interest in me you have so often offered to
prove to me, save me, save the daughter of your friend! Having left
Galveston to go in search of my father, I have fallen into the hands of
my most cruel enemy. I have only hope in two men in this world, yourself
and Colonel Melendez. My father is too far for me to be allowed to hope
effectual assistance from him. And besides, his life is too precious to
me for me to consent to him risking it. Whatever may happen, I trust in
you as in God; will you fail me?

"The disconsolate CARMELA."

"Hum!" the American muttered; "Is that all?"

"No," the young man answered, "there is a second note written below the
first."

"Ah, ah! By Carmela?"

"No."

"By whom, then?"

"I do not know, for it is not signed."

"And do you suspect nobody?"

"Perhaps I do--but before telling you whom I suspect, I had better read
you the second letter."

"For what reason?"

"In order to know whether you share in my suspicions, and if they
corroborate mine."

"Good, I understand you. Read!"

The Jaguar took up the paper again and read:

"This letter, written in duplicate, is addressed by Doña Carmela to two
persons, Señor El Jaguar and Colonel Melendez; but the second copy has
not yet been delivered, as I am awaiting the Jaguar's answer ere doing
so. It depends on him not only to save a young lady, interesting in
every respect, but also, if he will, to secure the triumph of the cause
for which he is combating so valiantly. For this purpose, he has only an
easy thing to do: he will proceed, between eight and nine o'clock in the
morning, to the Cueva del Venado; a man will issue from the grotto, and
tell him on what conditions he consents to aid him in this double
enterprise."

The Jaguar folded up the paper, and placed it in his jacket pocket.

"Is that all?" the American asked a second time.

"This time, yes, it is all," the young man answered; "now what do you
think of this epistle?"

"Why, I think that the man who wrote it is the same who handed you the
letter."

"We are agreed, for I think so too. And what, in your opinion, ought I
to do?"

"Ah, that is a more difficult question than the first; the case is
serious."

"Remember that it concerns Carmela."

"I am well aware of it. But reflect that this rendezvous may conceal a
snare."

"For what object?"

"Why, to seize you."

"Well, and what then?"

"What do you mean?"

"Why, supposing that it is a trap, what will be the result of it?"

"In the first place that you will be a prisoner, and Texas be deprived
of one of her most devoted defenders. In short, in your place I would
not go, that is my brief and candid opinion. And," turning to his
auditors, who had remained silent and motionless since their entrance,
he asked them, "and you, Señores, what do you think of it?"

"It would be madness for the Jaguar to trust a man he does not know, and
whose intentions may be bad," said Lanzi.

"He must remain here," Quoniam backed his friend up.

"The antelope is the wildest of animals, and yet its instinct makes it
escape the hunters," the Comanche Chief said sententiously; "my brother
will remain with his friends."

"The Jaguar walked up and down the jacal with visible annoyance and
febrile impatience, while each thus gave his opinion.

"No," he said, with some violence, as he suddenly stopped; "no, I will
not abandon Doña Carmela when she claims my assistance, for it would be
an act of cowardice, which I will not commit, whatever the consequences
may be: I will go to the Cueva del Venado."

"You will reflect, my friend," John Davis remarked.

"My reflections are all made; I will save Doña Carmela, even at the risk
of my life."

"You will not do that, my friend," the American continued gently.

"Why shall I not?"

"Because honour forbids you; because, besides the heart, there is duty;
besides private feelings, public interests. Stationed at the rear-guard,
you are responsible for the safety of the army; and if you are killed or
made prisoner, the army is perhaps lost, or, at any rate, in danger;
that is why you will not do so, my friend."

The Jaguar let his head droop and sank quite crushed into an equipal.

"What is to be done; my God! What is to be done?" he murmured in
despair.

"Hope!" John Davis answered. And, making a signal to his friends which
the latter understood, for they immediately rose and left the hut, he
continued:

"Jaguar, my friend, my brother, is it for me to restore your
courage--you, a man with a lion's heart, and so strong in battle; whom
adversity has never forced to bow his head? Do you dare to place your
love for a woman and your devotion to the country on the same level? Do
you dare to lament your lost love, Carmela, a prisoner, or even dead,
when your native land is succumbing beneath the repeated blows of its
oppressors? Do you forget that if you grow weak, or even hesitate to
accomplish your glorious sacrifice, tomorrow, perhaps, that country,
which is so dear to you for so many reasons--which has shed its best and
most precious blood in a hopeless struggle, will be buried eternally, by
your fault, beneath the corpses of the last of its children? Brother,
brother, the hour is supreme; we must conquer or die for the salvation
of all. The general welfare must put down all paltry or selfish
passions. To hesitate is to act as a traitor. Up, brother, and do not
dishonour yourself by a cowardly weakness!"

The young man started up as if a serpent had stung him on hearing these
harsh words; but he suddenly subdued the wild flash of his eye, while a
sad smile covered his handsome face like a winding sheet.

"Thanks, brother," he replied, as he seized John Davis's hand, and
pressed it convulsively; "thanks for having reminded me of my duty. I
will die at my post."

"Ah, I find you again at length," the American exclaimed joyfully. "I
felt certain that your heart would not remain deaf to the call of duty,
and that you would carry out your glorious sacrifice to the end."

The young man heaved a deep sigh; but he did not feel within him the
strength to respond to the praise which in his heart he knew he did not
deserve. At this moment the clang of arms and the sound of horses was
audible without.

"What is the matter now?" the Jaguar asked.

"I do not know," the American answered; "but I fancy that we shall soon
be informed."

In fact, the sentry had challenged; and, after an apparently
satisfactory reply, a horseman entered the camp.

"A flag of truce!" Lanzi said, appearing in the doorway of the jacal.

"A flag of truce!" the Jaguar repeated, giving John Davis a glance of
surprise.

"Perhaps it is the help you expect from heaven, and which has been sent
you," the American answered.

The young man smiled incredulously, but turned to Lanzi and said,

"Let him enter."

"Come, señor," said the half-breed, addressing a person who was still
invisible; "the Commandant is ready to receive you."

Lanzi fell back, and made room for an individual who at once entered.
The Jaguar started on recognising him. It was Sandoval, who had
delivered him the letter on the previous day. The Pirate Chief bowed
politely to the two persons in whose presence he found himself.

"You are surprised to see me, I think, Caballeros," he said, with a
smile to the Jaguar.

"I confess it," the latter said, with a bow no less polite than the one
made to him.

"The matter is clear enough, however. I like a plain and distinct
understanding. In the letter I delivered to you myself yesterday, I gave
you the meeting at the Cueva del Venado, to discuss grave matters; as
you will remember."

"I allow it."

"But," Sandoval continued, with the calmness and intrepid coolness that
characterised him, "we had hardly separated ere I made a reflection."

"Ah! And would it be indiscreet to ask its nature?"

"Not at all. I reflected that, under the circumstances, regarding the
position in which we stand to each other, and as I had not the honour of
your acquaintance, it might possibly happen that you would place in me
all the confidence I deserve, and that you might leave me to kick my
heels in the grotto."

The two insurgents exchanged a smiling glance, which Sandoval
intercepted.

"Ah, ah!" he said, with a laugh; "it appears that I guessed right. In
short, as I repeat that we have serious matters to discuss, I resolved
to come direct to you, and so cut this difficulty."

"You did well, and I thank you for it."

"It is not worth while, for I am working as much for myself as for you
in this business."

"Be it so; but that does not render your conduct less honourable. Then
you are not a flag of truce?"

"I; not a bit in the world. It was merely a title I thought it better to
assume, in order to find my way to you more easily."

"No matter; so long as you remain with us you shall be treated as such,
so do not feel alarmed."

"I alarmed! About what, pray? Am I not under the safeguard of your
honour?"

"Thanks for the good opinion you are kind enough to have of me, and I
will justify it. Now, if you think proper, we will come to the point."

"I ask nothing better," Sandoval answered with some hesitation, and
looking dubiously at the American.

"This caballero is my intimate friend," the Jaguar said, understanding
his meaning; "you can, speak frankly before him."

"Hum!" said Sandoval, with a toss of the head. "My mother, who was a
holy woman, repeated to me frequently, that when two are enough to
settle a matter, it is useless to call in a third."

"Your mother was right, my fine fellow," John Davis said, with a laugh;
"and since you are so unwilling to have me as an auditor, I will
retire."

"It is perfectly indifferent to me whether you hear me or not," Sandoval
said, carelessly; "I only said so for the sake of the Señor, who may not
wish a third party to hear what I have to say."

"If that be really your sole motive," the Jaguar continued, "you can
speak, for I repeat to you I have no secrets from this Caballero."

"All right then," said Sandoval.

He seated himself on an equipal, rolled a husk cigarette, lit it by the
candil, whose light had become quite unnecessary, owing to the daylight
becoming each moment brighter, and then turned easily to his two
hearers.

"Señores," he said, puffing out a large quantity of smoke from his mouth
and his nostrils, "it is as well for you to know that I am the
recognised Chief of a numerous and brave band of banished men, or
proscripts, whichever you may call them, whom the so-called honest
townsfolk fancied they branded by calling them skimmers of the Savannah,
or pirates of the prairies, both of which titles are equally false."

At this strange revelation, made with such cool cynicism, the two men
gave a start and regarded each other with considerable surprise. The
pirate watched this double movement, and probably satisfied mentally by
the effect he had produced, he continued:

"I have reasons that you should know my social position," he said, "for
you to understand what is going to follow."

"Good," John Davis interrupted; "but what motive urged you to take the
present step?"

"Two important reasons," Sandoval answered, distinctly; "the first is,
that I wish to avenge myself; the second, the desire of gaining a large
sum of money by selling you in the first battle, for the highest price I
can obtain, the co-operation of the cuadrilla I have the honour to
command, a cuadrilla composed of thirty well armed and famously mounted
men."

"Now go on, but be brief, for time presses."

"Do not be frightened, I am not fond of chattering; how much do you
offer me for my cuadrilla?"

"I cannot personally make a bargain with you," the Jaguar said; "I must
refer the matter to the General in Chief."

"That is perfectly true."

"Still, you can tell me the price you ask; I will submit it to the
General and he will decide."

"Very good; you will give me fifty thousand piastres,[1] half down, the
rest after the battle is won. You see that I am not exorbitant in my
demands."

"Your price is reasonable; but how can we communicate?"

"Nothing is easier; when you desire to speak to me you will fasten red
pendants to the lances of your cavalry, and I will do the same when I
have any important communication to make to you."

"That is settled; now for the other matter."

"It is this: one day a monk of the name of Fray Antonio sent me a
wounded man."

"The White Scalper?" John Davis exclaimed.

"Do you know him?" the pirate asked.

"Yes, but go on."

"He is a pretty scamp, I think?"

"I am quite of your opinion."

"Well, I greeted him as a brother and gave him the best I had; do you
know what he did?"

"On my word, I do not."

"He tried to debauch my comrades and supplant me."

"Oh, oh! That was rather strong."

"Was it not? Fortunately I was watching, and managed to parry the blow;
about this time General Santa Anna offered to engage us as a Free
Corps."

"Oh!" the Jaguar uttered, in disgust.

"It was not very tempting," the pirate continued, being mistaken in the
young man's exclamation, "but I had an idea."

"What was it?"

"The one I had the honour of explaining to you a moment back."

"Ah! very good."

"Hence, I selected thirty resolute men from my band and started to join
the Mexican army; of course, you understand, I was paid."

"Of course, nothing could be more fair."

"I was careful to bring this demon of a man with me, for you can
understand that I did not care to leave him behind."

"I should think so."

"We went on very quietly till a day or two back, when, in beating up the
country, I captured a girl, who, only escorted by three men, who fled
like cowards at the first shot, was trying to join the Texan army."

"Poor Carmela!" the Jaguar murmured.

"Do not pity her, but rejoice, on the contrary, that she fell into my
hands; who knows what might have happened with anyone else?"

"That is true, go on."

"I was willing enough to let the poor girl continue her journey, but the
Scalper opposed it. It seemed that he knew her, for on seeing her he
exclaimed--'Oh, oh! This time she shall not escape me;' is that clear,
eh?"

The two men bowed their assent.

"However, the prisoner was mine, as I had captured her."

"Ah!" said the Jaguar, with a sigh of relief.

"Yes, and I would not consent to surrender her to the Scalper at any
price."

"Good, very good! You are a worthy man."

The pirate smiled modestly.

"Yes," he said, "I am all right, but my comrade, seeing that I would not
give up the girl to him, offered me a bargain."

"What was its nature?"

"To give me twenty-five gold onzas, on condition that I never restored
my prisoner to liberty."

"And did you accept?" the Jaguar asked, eagerly.

"Hang it! Business is business, and twenty ounces are a tidy sum."

"Villain!" the young man exclaimed, as he rose furiously.

John Davis restrained him, and made him sit down again.

"Patience," he said.

"Hum!" Sandoval muttered, "You are deucedly quick; I allow that I
promised not to set her at liberty, but not to prevent her flight; did I
not tell you that I was a man of ideas?"

"That is true."

"The girl interested me, she wept. It is very foolish, but I do not like
to see women cry since the day when----but that is not the point,"--he
caught himself up--"she told me her name and story; I was affected in
spite of myself, and the more so, as I saw a prospect of taking my
revenge."

"Then you propose to me to carry her off?"

"That's the very thing."

"How much do you want for that?"

"Nothing," the Pirate answered with a magnificent gesture of
disinterestedness.

"How, nothing?"

"Dear me, no."

"That is impossible."

"It is so, however, though I will propose two conditions."

"Ah! Ah! There we have it."

The pirate smiled in reply.

"Let us hear them," the young man continued.

"In order not to compromise myself unnecessarily, you will carry off the
girl during the first battle, when I come over to your side. Do not be
frightened, it will not be long first, if I may believe certain
forebodings."

"Good, that is granted. Now for the second."

"The second is, that you swear to free me from the White Scalper, and
kill him, no matter in what way."

"Done again--I swear it. But now permit me one question."

"Out with it."

"How is it that as you hate this man so deeply, you have not killed him
yourself, as there could have been no lack of opportunity?"

"Certainly not, I could have done it a hundred times."

"Well, why did you not do it?"

"Are you desirous of knowing?"

"Yes."

"Well, it was because the man has been my guest and slept under my roof
by my side, eaten and drank at my table; but what it is not permitted me
to do, others can do in my place. But now good bye, Señores, when will
you give me a definite answer?"

"This very evening; I shall have seen the General in a few hours."

"This evening, then."

And bowing politely to the two men, he quietly left the jacal, mounted
his horse, and set out at a gallop, leaving the two men terrified at his
imperturbable effrontery and profound perversity.


[1] About £10,000.



CHAPTER XXII.

LOYAL HEART'S HISTORY.


After the scene of torture we described a few chapters back, Loyal Heart
returned to his rancho with his friends, Tranquil, Lanzi, and the
faithful Quoniam. Fray Antonio had left the village the same morning to
convey to the Jaguar the news of the good reception given his companions
by the Comanches. The Whites sat down sorrowfully on equipals, and
remained silent for some minutes. The horrible tortures inflicted on
Running-elk had affected them more than they liked to say. In fact, it
was a frightful and repulsive spectacle for men accustomed to fight
their enemies bravely, and, when the battle was over, help the wounded
without distinction of victors or vanquished.

"Hum!" Quoniam muttered, "the Red race is a brutal race."

"All races are the same," Tranquil answered "when abandoned without
restraint to the violence of their passions."

"The Whites are men more cruel than the Redskins," Loyal Heart observed,
"because they act with discernment."

"That is true," John Davis struck in, "but that does not prevent the
scene we have just witnessed being a horrible one."

"Yes," said Tranquil, "horrible is the word."

"Come," Loyal Heart remarked, for the purpose of changing the
conversation, "did you not tell me, my friend, that you were entrusted
with a message for me? I fancy the moment has arrived for an
explanation."

"In truth, I have delayed too long in delivering it; besides, if my
presentiments do not greatly deceive me, my return must be anxiously
expected."

"Good! Speak, nobody will disturb you; we have all the time necessary
before us."

"Oh, what I have to say to you will not take long; I only wish to ask
you to lay a final hand to a work for which you have already striven?"

"What is it?"

"I wish to claim your help in the war of Texas against Mexico."

The young hunter frowned, and for some minutes remained silent.

"Will you refuse?" Tranquil asked, anxiously.

Loyal Heart shook his head.

"No," he said; "I merely feel a repugnance to mingle again with white
men, and--shall I confess it? to fight against my countrymen."

"Your countrymen?"

"Yes, I am a Mexican, a native of Sonora."

"Oh!" the hunter said with an air of disappointment.

"Listen to me," Loyal Heart said, resolutely, "after all, it is better I
should speak frankly to you; when you have heard me, you will judge and
tell me what I ought to do."

"Good! Speak, my friend."

"You have, I think, been several times surprised at seeing a white man,
like myself, dwelling with his mother and an old servant among an Indian
tribe; you have asked yourself what reason could be powerful enough, or
what crime was sufficiently great, to compel a man like myself, of
gentle manners, gifted with a pleasant exterior, and possessing some
degree of education, to seek a refuge among savages? This appeared to
you extraordinary. Well, my friend, the cause of my exile to these
remote regions was a crime I committed: on the self-same day I became an
incendiary and an assassin."

"Oh!" Tranquil exclaimed, while the other hearers gave an incredulous
glance; "you an incendiary and assassin, Loyal Heart! it is simply
impossible."

"I was not Loyal Heart then," the hunter continued with a melancholy
smile; "but it is true that I was only a lad, just fourteen years of
age. My father was a Spaniard of the old race, with whom honour was a
sacred inheritance, which he ever kept intact. He succeeded in saving me
from the hands of the Juez de Letras, who had come to arrest me; and
when the magistrate had left the house, my father assembled his tenants,
formed a court, of which he constituted himself president, and tried me.
My crime was evident, the proofs overwhelming, and my father himself
uttered my sentence in a firm voice: I was condemned to death."

"To death?" his hearers exclaimed, with a start of horror.

"To death!" Loyal Heart repeated. "The sentence was a just one. Neither
the supplications of his servants, nor the tears nor entreaties of my
mother, succeeded in obtaining a commutation of my punishment. My father
was inexorable, his resolution was formed, and he immediately proceeded
to execute the sentence. The death my father reserved for me was not
that vulgar death, whose sufferings endure a few seconds; no, he had
said that he had determined to punish me, and designed a long and cruel
agony for me. Tearing me from the arms of mother, who was half fainting
with grief, he threw me across his saddle-bow, and started at a gallop
in the direction of the desert.

"It was a long journey, for it lasted many hours ere my father checked
the speed of his horse or uttered a syllable. I felt the trembling
sinews of the wearied horse give way under me; but still it went on at
the same rapid and dizzy speed. At length it stopped; my father
dismounted, took me in his arms, and threw me on the ground. Within a
moment, he removed the bandage that covered my eyes; I looked anxiously
around me, but it was night, and so dark that I could see nothing. My
father regarded me for a moment with an indefinable expression, and then
spoke. Although many long years have elapsed since that terrible night,
all the words of that address are still imprinted on my mind.

"'See,' he said to me in a quick voice, 'you are here more than twenty
leagues from my hacienda, in which you will never set foot again, under
penalty of death. From this moment you are alone--you have neither
father, mother, nor family. As you are a wild beast, I condemn you to
live with the wild beasts. My resolution is irrevocable, your entreaties
cannot alter it, so spare me them.'

"Perhaps in the last sentence a hope was concealed; but I was no longer
in a condition to see the road left open for me, for irritation and
suffering had exasperated me.

"'I do not implore you,' I replied; 'we do not offer entreaties to a
hangman.'

"At this insulting outrage, my father started; but almost immediately
after every trace of emotion disappeared from his face, and he
continued:

"'In this bag,' he said, to a rather large pouch thrown down by my side,
'are provisions for two days; I leave you this rifle, which in my hands
never missed its mark; I give you also these pistols, this machete,
knife, and axe, and gunpowder and bullets in these buffalo horns. You
will find in the provision bag a flint and steel, and everything
necessary for lighting a fire; I have also placed in it a Bible that
belonged to your mother. You are dead to society, where you must never
return; the desert is before, and it belongs to you: for my part, I have
no longer a son--farewell! May the Lord have mercy on you! All is
finished between us on this earth; you are left alone and without
family; you have a second existence to begin, and to provide for your
wants. Providence never abandons those who place their trust in it:
henceforth it will watch over you.'

"After uttering these words coldly and distinctly, to which I listened
with deep attention, my father cut with his knife the bonds that held my
limbs captive, and leaping info the saddle, started at a gallop without
once turning his head. I was alone, abandoned in the desert in the midst
of the darkness, without hope or help from anywhere. A strange
revolution then took place in me, and I felt the full extent of the
crime I had committed; my heart broke at the thought of the solitude to
which I was condemned; I got up on my knees, watching the fatal outline
that was constantly getting further from me, and listening to the
hurried gallop of the horse with feverish anxiety. And then, when I
could hear no more, when all noise had died out in the distance, I felt
a furious grief wither my heart; my courage all at once abandoned me,
and I was afraid; then, clasping my hands with an effort, I exclaimed
twice in a chocking voice:

"Oh, my mother--my mother!"

"Succumbing to terror and despair, I fell back on the sand and fainted."

There was a moment's silence. These men, though accustomed to the
affecting incidents of their rough life, felt moved to pity at this
simple and yet so striking recital. The hunter's mother and his old
servant had silently joined the hearers, while the dogs, lying at his
feet licked his hands. The young man had let his head sink on his chest,
and hid his face in his hands, for he was suffering from terrible
emotion. No one dared to risk a word of consolation, and a mournful
silence prevailed in the rancho; at length Loyal Heart raised his head
again.

"How long I thus remained unconscious," he continued in a broken voice,
"I never knew; a feeling of coolness I suddenly experienced, made me
open my eyes; the abundant morning dew, by inundating my face, had
recalled me to life. As I was frozen, my first care was to collect some
dry branches, and light a fire to warm me; then I began reflecting.

"When a great suffering does not kill on the spot, a reaction
immediately takes place; courage and will resume their empire, and the
heart is strengthened. In a few moments I regarded my position as less
desperate. I was alone in the desert, it was true; but though still very
young, as I was hardly fourteen, I was tall and strong, gifted with a
firm character like my father, extremely tenacious in my ideas and will;
I had weapons, ammunition, and provisions, and my position was,
therefore, far from being desperate; frequently when I had been still
living at my father's hacienda, I had gone hunting with the tigrero and
vaqueros of the house, and during these hunts had slept under the open
air in the woods; I was now about to begin a fresh hunt, though this
time it would be much longer, and last for life. For a moment I had the
thought of returning to the hacienda, and throwing myself at my father's
knees; but I knew his inflexible character, and feared being
ignominiously expelled a second time. My pride revolted, and I repulsed
this thought, which was, perhaps, a divine inspiration.

"Still, being slightly comforted by the reflections I had just made, and
crushed by the poignant emotions of the last few hours, I at length
yielded to sleep, that imperious need of lads of my age, and fell off,
after throwing wood on the fire to make it last as long as possible. The
night passed without any incident, and at daybreak I awoke. It was the
first time I saw the sun rise in the desert, and the majestic and grand
spectacle I now had before me filled me with admiration.

"This desert, which seemed to me so gloomy and desolate in the darkness,
assumed an enchanting aspect in the dazzling sunbeams: the night had
taken with it all its gloomy fancies. The morning breeze, and the sharp
odours exhaled from the ground inflated my chest, and made me feel
wondrously comforted; I fell on my knees, and with eyes and hands raised
to heaven, offered up an ardent prayer.

"This duty accomplished, I felt stronger, and rose with an infinite
sense of confidence and hope in the future. I was young and strong;
around me the birds twittered gaily, the deer and the antelopes bounded
carelessly across the savannah: that God, who protected these innocent
and weak creatures, would not abandon me, I felt, if by a sincere
repentance I rendered myself worthy of His protection, whose goodness is
infinite. After making a light meal, I put my weapons in my belt, threw
my bag on one shoulder, my rifle on the other, and after looking back
for the last time with a sigh of regret, I set out, murmuring the name
of my mother--that name which would henceforth be my sole talisman, and
serve me in good as in evil fortune.

"My first march was long; for I proceeded toward a forest which I saw
glistening in the horizon, and wished to reach before sunset. Nothing
hurried me, but I wished at once to discover my strength, and know of
what I was capable. Two hours before nightfall I reached the spurs of
the forest, and was soon lost in the ocean of the verdure. My father's
tigrero, an old wood ranger, who had left his footmarks in every
American desert, had told me during the long hunting nights we have
spent together, many of his adventures on the prairies, thus giving me,
though neither of us suspected it at the time, lessons which the moment
had now arrived for me to profit by.

"I formed my bivouac on the top of a hill, lit a large fire, and after
supping with good appetite, said my prayer, and fell asleep. All at once
I woke up with a start: two rastreros were licking my hands with whines
of joy, while my mother and my old Eusebio were bending over and
carefully examining me, not knowing whether I were asleep or in a
fainting fit.

"'Heaven be praised!' my mother exclaimed, 'he is not dead.'

"I could not express the happiness that suddenly flooded my soul at the
sight of my mother, whom I never hoped to see again in this world, at my
pressing to her heart, and hanging round her neck, as if afraid she
would escape me again. I gave way to a feeling of immense joy; when our
transports were somewhat calmed, my mother said to me--

"'And now, what do you intend doing? We shall return to the hacienda,
shall we not? Oh! If you but knew how I suffered through your absence!'

"'Return to the hacienda?' I repeated.

"'Yes; your father, I am certain, will pardon you, if he has not done so
already in his heart.' And while saying this, my mother looked at me
anxiously, and redoubled her caresses.

"I remained silent.

"'Why do you not answer me, my child?' she said to me.

"I made a violent effort over myself. 'Mother,' I at length answered,
'the mere thought of a separation fills my heart with sorrow and
bitterness. But before I inform you of my resolution, answer me frankly
one thing.'

"'Speak, my child.'

"'Has my father sent you to me?'

"'No,' she answered, sorrowfully.

"'But, at any rate, you believe that he approves the step you are now
taking?'

"'I do not believe--' she said, with even greater sorrow than before,
for she foresaw what was about to happen.

"'Well, my mother,' I answered, 'God will judge me. My father has denied
me, he has abandoned me in the desert. I no longer exist for him, as he
himself told me--and I am dead to all the world. I will never set foot
in the hacienda again, unless God and my father forgive my crime--and I
am able to forgive myself. A new existence commences for me from today.
Who can say whether the Deity, in permitting this great expiation, may
not have secret designs with me? His will be done,--my resolution is
immoveable.'

"My mother looked at me fixedly for a moment; she knew that once I had
categorically expressed my will, I never recalled my words. Two tears
silently coursed down her pale cheeks. 'The will of God be done,' she
said; 'we will remain, then, in the desert.'

"'What!' I exclaimed, with joyous surprise, 'Do you consent to remain
with me?'

"'Am I not thy mother?' she said, with an accent of ineffable kindness,
as she pressed me madly to her heart."



CHAPTER XXIII.

THE EXPIATION.


Outside the rancho the yells of the Comanches still went on. After a
momentary silence, Loyal Heart continued his narrative, which emotion
had compelled him to interrupt.

"It was in vain," he said, "that I implored my mother to leave me to the
care of Heaven, and return to the hacienda with No Eusebio. Her
resolution was formed--she was inflexible.

"'Ever since I married your father,' she said to me, 'however unjust or
extraordinary his demands might be, he found in me rather a submissive
and devoted slave than a wife, whose rights were equal to his. A
complaint has never passed my lips; I have never attempted to oppose one
of his wishes. But today the measure is full; by exiling you as he has
done coldly repulsing my prayers, and despising my tears, he has at
length allowed me to read his heart, and the little egotism and cruel
pride by which he allows himself to be governed. This man, who coldly
and deliberately had the barbarity to do what he has done to the
firstborn of his children, possesses not a spark of good feeling. The
condemnation he pronounced against you I pronounce, in my turn, against
him. It is the law of retaliation, the law of the desert in which we are
going henceforth to live. Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'

"Like all timid natures, accustomed to bow their heads timidly beneath
the yoke, my mother, when the spirit of revolt entered her heart,
assumed an obstinacy at the least equal to her ordinary docility. The
way in which she uttered those words proved to me that all my prayers
would be useless, and that it was better to yield to her determination.
I therefore turned to No Eusebio; but at the first word I addressed to
him the worthy man laughed in my face, saying distinctly and
peremptorily that he had seen me born, and meant to see me die.

"As there was nothing to be gained on this side, I gave up the contest.
I merely observed to my mother that, so soon as my father noticed her
departure, he would probably start, at the head of all his tenants, in
pursuit of her, and that we should be inevitably discovered, if we did
not start at once. My mother and No Eusebio had come on horseback, but
unhappily one of the animals had foundered, and was incapable of
following us; saddle and bridle were removed, and we left it to its
fate; my mother mounted the other horse, No Eusebio and myself following
on foot, while the rastreros cleared the way.

"We knew not whither we were going, and did not trouble ourselves at all
about it; plains succeeded forests, streams rivers, and we continued our
forward march, hunting to support life, and camping wherever night
surprised us, without regret for the past or anxiety for the future. We
advanced thus straight ahead for nearly a month, avoiding, as far as
possible, any encounter with the wild beasts, or the savages, whom we
believed to be as ferocious as them.

"One day--a Sunday--the march was interrupted, and we spent it in pious
conversation, and my mother read the Bible and explained it to No
Eusebio and myself. About three in the afternoon, when the great heat of
the day was beginning to yield, I rose and took my gun, with the
intention of killing a little game, as our provisions were nearly
exhausted, and I was absolutely compelled to renew them. My mother made
no objection, though, as I have stated, Sundays were generally
consecrated to rest: and I went off with the two rastreros. I went on
for a long distance without seeing anything deserving powder and shot,
and was thinking of turning back, when my two dogs, which were running
on ahead, according to their wont, came to halt, while evidencing
unusual signs of terror and restlessness.

"Although I was still a novice in the wood ranger's art, I judged it
necessary to act with prudence, as I did not know what enemy I might
find before me. I therefore advanced step by step, watching the
neighbourhood closely, and listening to the slightest noise. My
uncertainty did not last long, for terrible cries soon reached my ear.
My first impulse was flight, but my curiosity restrained me, and,
cocking my rifle, so as to be ready for all events, I continued to
advance in the direction whence the cries came, now louder and more
desperate than before.

"Ere long all was revealed to me; I perceived through the trees, in a
rather spacious clearing, five or six Indian warriors, fighting with the
fury of despair, against a threefold number of enemies. These Indians
had doubtless been surprised in their camp, for their horses were
hobbled, their fire was just going out, and several corpses, already
robbed of their scalps, lay on the ground. These warriors, in spite of
the numerical superiority of their foes, fought with desperate courage,
not yielding an inch, and boldly replying with their war yell to that
of their opponents.

"The Indian who appeared the Chief of the weaker party, was a tall young
man, of twenty, at the most, powerfully built, with a leonine face, and
who, while dealing terrible blows, did not cease exciting his men to
resist to the death. Neither of the parties had firearms, they were
fighting with axes and long barbed lances. All at once, several men
rushed simultaneously on the young Chief, and, despite his desperate
efforts, succeeded in throwing him down, then a hand seized his long
scalp lock, and I saw a knife raised above his head.

"I know not what I felt on seeing this, or what dizziness seized upon
me, but, by a mechanical movement, I raised my rifle and fired; then,
rushing into the clearing with loud cries, I discharged my pistols at
the men nearest me. An extraordinary thing occurred, which I was far
from expecting, and certainly had not foreseen. The Indians, terrified
by my three shots, followed by my sudden apparition, believed that help
was arriving to their adversaries, and without dreaming of resisting,
they began flying with that intuitive rapidity peculiar to Indians, at
the first repulse they meet with.

"I thus found myself alone with those I came to deliver. It was the
first time I had been engaged in a fight, if such a name can be given to
the share I took in the struggle, hence I felt that emotion inseparable
from a first event of this nature; I neither saw nor heard anything. I
was standing in the centre of the clearing, like a statue, not knowing
whether to advance or retire, flanked by my two bloodhounds, which had
not left me, but showed their teeth with hoarse growls of anger.

"I know not who was the first to say that ingratitude was a white vice,
and gratitude an Indian virtue; but, whoever he was, he spoke the truth.
The Chief I had so miraculously saved, and his comrades, pressed around
me, and began overwhelming me with marks of respect and gratitude. I let
them do so, mechanically replying as well as I could, in Spanish, to the
compliments the Indians lavished on me in their sonorous language, of
which I did not understand a syllable. When a little while had elapsed,
and their joy was beginning to grow more sedate, the Chief, who had been
slightly wounded in the fight, made me sit down by the fire; while his
comrades conscientiously raised the scalps of their enemy who had
fallen, and he began questioning me in Spanish, which language he spoke
clearly.

"After warmly thanking me, and repeating several times that I was a
great brave, he told me that his name was Nocobotha, that is to say, the
Tempest; that he belonged to the great and powerful nation of the
Comanches, surnamed the Queen of the Prairies, and was related to a
renowned Sachem called Black-deer. Having set out with a few warriors to
chase antelopes, he had been surprised by a detachment of Apaches, the
sworn enemies of his nation, and if the Master of Life had not brought
me to their help, he and his comrades would infallibly have succumbed,
an opinion the justice of which I was compelled to recognise. The Chief
then asked me who I was, saying to me that he should henceforth regard
me as his brother, that he wished to conduct me to his tribe, and that
he would never consent to separate from the man who had saved his life.

"Nocobotha's words suggested an idea to me; I was greatly alarmed about
the existence I led, not for myself, for this free and unrestrained
life charmed me to the highest degree, but for my poor mother, who,
accustomed to all the comforts of civilization, would not, I feared,
endure for long the fatigues she undertook through her affection for me.
I immediately resolved to profit by the gratitude and goodwill of my new
acquaintance, to obtain my mother an asylum, where, if she did not find
the comfort she had lost, she would run no risk of dying of want. I
therefore frankly told Nocobotha the situation I was placed in, and by
what accident I had providentially arrived just in time to save his
scalp. The Chief listened to me with the most earnest attention.

"'Good,' he said with a smile, when I had ended, and squeezed my hand.
'Nocobotha is the brother of Loyal Heart. (Such was the name he gave me,
and I have retained ever since.) Loyal Heart's mother will have two
sons.'

"I thanked the Chief, as I was bound to do, and remarked to him that, as
I had now left my mother for some time, I was afraid she might feel
alarmed at my lengthened absence, and that, if he permitted me, I would
return to her side to reassure her, and tell her all that had happened;
but the Comanche shook his head.

"'Nocobotha will accompany his brother,' he said; 'he does not wish to
leave him.'

"I accepted the proposition, and we at once started to return to my
encampment. We did not take long in going, for we were mounted; but on
seeing me arrive with six or seven Indians, my poor mother was terribly
alarmed, for she fancied me a prisoner, and menaced with the most
frightful punishment, I soon succeeded, however, in reassuring her, and
her terror was converted into joy on hearing the good tidings I brought
her. Moreover, Nocobotha, with that graceful politeness innate in
Indians, soon entirely comforted, and managed to gain her good graces.
Such, my dear Tranquil, is the manner in which I became a wood ranger,
trapper, and hunter.

"On reaching the tribe, the Indians received me as a friend, a brother.
These simple and kind men knew not how to prove their friendship. For my
part, on growing to know them better, I began to love them as if they
had been my brothers. I was adopted by the Sachems collected round the
council fire, and from that moment regarded as a child of the nation.
From this time I did not leave the Comanches again. All longed to instal
me into the secrets of desert life. My progress was rapid, and I was
soon renowned as one of the best and bravest hunters of the tribes. In
several meetings with the enemy, I had opportunities to render them
signal service. My influence increased; and now I am not only a warrior
but a Sachem, respected and beloved by all. Nocobotha, that noble lad,
whom his courage ever bore to the front, at length fell in an ambuscade
formed by the Apaches. After an obstinate struggle, I managed to bear
him home, though covered with wounds. I was myself dangerously wounded.
On reaching the village, I fell senseless with my precious burden. In
spite of the most devoted and assiduous care my mother lavished on my
poor brother, she was unable to save him, and he died thanking me for
not having left him in the hands of his foes, and having kept his scalp
from being raised, which is the greatest disgrace for a Comanche
warrior.

"In spite of the marks of friendship and sympathy the Sachems did not
cease to bestow on me for the manner in which I had defended my brother.
I was for a long time inconsolable at his loss; and even now, though so
long a period has elapsed since that frightful catastrophe, I cannot
speak of him without tears coming into my eyes. Poor Nocobotha! Kind and
simple soul! Noble and devoted heart! Shall I ever find again a friend
so certain and so devoted?"

"Now, my dear Tranquil, you know my life as well as I do myself. My kind
and revered mother, honoured by the Indians, to whom she is a visible
Providence, is happy, or at least seems to be so. I have completely
forgotten my colour, to live the life of the Redskins, who, when my
brethren spurned me, received me as a son, and their friendship has
never failed me. I only remember my origin when I have to assist any
unhappy man of my own complexion. The white trappers and hunters of
these regions affect, I know not why, to regard me as their Chief, and
eagerly seize the opportunity to show me their respect, whenever it
offers. I am therefore in a position relatively enviable; and yet, the
more years slip away, the more lively does the memory of the events that
brought me to the desert recur to my mind, and the more I fear never to
obtain the pardon of my crimes."

He was silent. The hunters looked at each other with a mingled feeling
of admiration and respect for this man, who confessed so simply a crime
which so many others would have regarded at the utmost as a pecadillo,
and who repented of it so sincerely.

"By Jove!" Tranquil exclaimed all at once, "Heaven will be careful not
to pardon you if it has not been done so long ago. Men like you are
somewhat rare in the desert, comrade!"

Loyal Heart smiled gently at this simple outburst of the hunter.

"Come, my friend, now that you know me thoroughly, give me your advice
frankly; whatever it may be, I promise you to follow it."

"Well, my advice is very simple; it is that you should come with us."

"But I tell you I am a Mexican."

The Canadian burst into a laugh.

"Eh, eh," he said; "I fancied you stronger than that, on my honour."

"What do you mean?"

"Hang it, it is as clear as day."

"I am convinced, my friend, that you can only offer me honourable
advice, so I am listening to you with the most serious attention."

"Well, you shall judge; I shall not take long to convince you."

"I ask nothing better."

"Well, let us proceed regularly. What is Mexico?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well; is it a kingdom or an empire?"

"It is a Confederation."

"Very good; that is to say, Mexico is a republic, formed of several
Confederated States."

"Yes," Loyal Heart said, with a smile.

"Better still; then Sonora and Texas, for instance, are free States, and
able to separate from the Confederation, if they think proper?"

"Ah, ah," said Loyal Heart, "I did not expect that."

"I thought you did not. Well, you see, my friend, that the Mexico of
today, which is neither that of Motecuhzoma nor that of the Spaniards,
since the first merely comprised the plateau of Mexico, and the second,
under the name of New Spain, a part of central America, is only
indirectly your country, since you were born neither in Mexico nor
Veracruz, but in Sonora. You said so yourself. Hence, if you, a
Sonorian, assist the Texans, you only follow the general example, and
are no traitor to your country. What have you to answer to that?"

"Nothing; save that your reasoning, though specious, is not without a
certain amount of logic."

"Which means that you are convinced?"

"Not the least in the world. Still, I accept your proposition, and will
do what you wish."

"That is a conclusion I was far from expecting, after the beginning of
your sentence."

"Because, under the Texan idea, there is another, and it is that I wish
to help you in carrying out."

"Ah!" the Canadian remarked, in surprise.

Loyal Heart bent over to him.

"Have you not a certain affair to settle with the White Scalper, or have
you forgotten it?"

The hunter started, and warmly pressed the young man's hand.

"Thanks," he said.

At this moment Black-deer entered the rancho.

"I wish to speak with my brother," he said to Loyal Heart.

"Is my brother willing to speak before my friends the pale hunters?"

"The pale hunters are the guests of the Comanches; Black-deer will speak
before them," the Chief answered.



CHAPTER XXIV.

IN THE DESERT.


The news Black-deer brought must be very important, for, in spite of
that stoicism which the Indians regard as a law, the Chief's face was
imprinted with the most lively anxiety. After sitting down at an equipal
to which Loyal Heart pointed, instead of speaking, as he had been
invited to do, he remained gloomy and silent The hunters looked at him
curiously, waiting with impatience till he thought proper to explain. At
length Loyal Heart, seeing that he obstinately remained silent, resolved
to address him.

"What is the matter, Chief?" he asked him. "Whence comes the anxiety I
see on your features? What new misfortune have you to announce?"

"An enormous misfortune," he answered, in a hollow voice; "the prisoner
has escaped."

"What prisoner?"

"The son of Blue-fox."

The hunters gave a start of surprise.

"It is impossible," Loyal Heart said; "did he not surrender himself as a
hostage? Did he not pledge his word? And an Indian warrior never breaks
that; only white men do so," he added, bitterly.

Black-deer looked down in embarrassment.

"Come," Loyal Heart went on, "let us be frank, Chief; tell us clearly
what things happened."

"The prisoner was bound and placed in the great medicine lodge."

"What!" Loyal Heart exclaimed, in indignation; "A hostage bound and
imprisoned! You are mistaken, Chief, the Sachems have not done such a
thing, or thus insulted a young man protected by the law of nations."

"I relate things exactly as they happened, Loyal Heart."

"And who gave the order?"

"I," the Chief muttered.

"The hatred you feel for Blue-fox led you astray, Black-deer; you
committed a great fault in despising the word pledged by this young man;
by treating him as a prisoner you gave him the right to escape; the
opportunity offered itself, he profited by it, and acted rightly."

"My young men are on his trail," the Chief said, with a hateful smile.

"Your young men will not capture him, for he has fled with the feet of
the gazelle."

"Is the misfortune irreparable, then?"

"Perhaps not. Listen to me: one way is left us of capturing our enemy
again. The Pale hunters, my brothers, have asked my help in the war the
Whites are carrying on at this moment against each other; ask of the
council of the Chiefs one hundred picked warriors, whom I will command,
and you can accompany me; tomorrow at sunset we will set out; the
Apaches are burning to take their revenge for the defeat we inflicted on
them, so be assured that ere we join our brothers the Palefaces, we
shall see our road barred by Blue-fox and his warriors. This is the only
chance left us to finish with this implacable enemy--do you accept it?"

"I do accept it, Loyal Heart; your medicine is good, it has never
deceived you, the words your chest utters are inspired by the Wacondah!"
the Chief said, eagerly, as he rose. "I am going to the council of the
Chiefs, will you accompany me?"

"What to do? It is better that the proposition should come from you,
Black-deer, for I am only an adopted son of the tribe."

"Good, I will do what my brother desires; I will return shortly."

"You see, my friend," Loyal Heart said to Tranquil, when the Chief had
left, "that I have not delayed in fulfilling my promises; perhaps, of
the hundred warriors we take with us one half will remain on the way,
but the survivors will not be the less of great assistance to you."

"Thanks, my friend," Tranquil answered; "you know that I have faith in
you."

As Loyal Heart had foreseen, the Indian warriors sent in pursuit of the
prisoner returned to the village without him; they had beaten up the
country in vain, the whole night through, without discovering any trace
of his passage. The young man had disappeared from the medicine lodge,
and it was impossible to find out what means he had employed to effect
his escape. The only remark the Comanches made--but it had considerable
importance--was that, at a spot in the forest exactly opposite to that
where the battle with the Apaches had taken place, the soil was trampled
and the bark of the trees nibbled, as if several horses had been
standing there for some time, but there was no mark of human feet.

The warriors, consequently, returned completely disappointed, and thus
augmented the anger of their countrymen. The moment was well selected
for the request Black-deer wished to make of the Council of Sachems. He
requested the expedition projected by Loyal Heart, not as an
intervention in favour of the Whites, for that was only secondary, but
as an experiment he desired to attempt, not merely to recapture the
fugitive, but his father, who, doubtless, would be posted in ambush at a
little distance from the village. As the question thus brought before
them was acceptable, the Sachems authorised Black-deer to select one
hundred of the most renowned warriors of the nation, who would make the
expedition under his orders and those of Loyal Heart.

Black-deer spoke to the hachesto, who mounted on the roof of a calli and
immediately convened the members of the tribe. When the braves knew that
an expedition was meditated, under the command of two such renowned
Chiefs, they eagerly offered to join the war party, so that the Chief
really had a difficulty in selection. Shortly before sunset one hundred
horsemen, armed with lances, guns, axes, and knives, wearing their war
moccasins, from the heel of which hung numerous coyote tails, and having
round their neck their long ilchochetas, or war whistles, made of a
human thigh bone, formed one imposing squadron, drawn up in the finest
order on the village square, in front of the ark of the first man. These
savage warriors, with their symbolic paint and quaint dresses, offered a
strange and terrific appearance.

When the white hunters ranged themselves by their side they were greeted
with shouts of joy and unanimous applause. Loyal Heart and Black-deer
placed themselves at the head of the band, the oldest Sachems advanced
and saluted the departing warriors, and at a signal from Loyal Heart the
troop defiled at a walking pace before the members of the council and
quitted the village.

At the moment when they entered the plain the sun was setting in a mass
of purple and golden clouds. Once on the war trail the detachment fell
into Indian file, the deepest silence prevailed in the ranks, and they
advanced rapidly in the direction of the forest. The Indians, when they
start on a dangerous expedition, always throw out as flankers
intelligent men, ordered to discover the enemy and protect the
detachment from any surprise. These spies are changed every day, and,
though afoot, they always keep a great distance ahead and on the flanks
of the body they have undertaken to lead. Indian warfare in no way
resembles ours; it is composed of a series of tricks and surprises, and
Indians must be forced by imperious circumstances to fight in the open;
attacking or resisting without a complete certainty of victory is
considered by them an act of madness. War, in their sight, being only an
opportunity for acquiring plunder, they see no dishonour in flight when
they have only blows to gain by resisting, reserving to themselves the
right of taking a brilliant revenge whenever the chance may offer.

During the first fortnight the march of the Comanches was in no way
disquieted, and the scouts, since they left the village, had discovered
no human trail. The only individuals they met were peaceful hunters,
travelling with their squaws, dogs, and children, and returning to their
village; all agreed with the statement that they had seen no suspicious
trail. Two days after, the Comanches entered on Texan territory.

This apparent tranquillity greatly perturbed the two Chiefs of the
detachment; they fancied themselves too well acquainted with the
vindictive character of the Apaches to suppose that they would let them
travel thus peacefully without attempting to check them. Tranquil, too,
who had long known Blue-fox, completely shared their opinion. One
evening the Comanches, after making a long day's march, bivouacked on
the banks of a small stream upon the top of a wooded hill which
commanded the course of the river and the surrounding country. As usual,
the scouts had returned with the assertion that they had discovered no
sign; when supper was over, Loyal Heart himself stationed the sentries,
and each prepared to enjoy, during a few hours, a repose which the
fatigues of the day rendered not only agreeable, but necessary.

Still, Tranquil, agitated by a secret presentiment, felt a feverish and
apparently causeless anxiety which robbed him of sleep; in vain did he
close his eyes with the firm intention of sleeping, they opened again in
spite of his will; wearied with this sleeplessness, for which he could
find no plausible reason, the hunter rose, resolved to keep awake and
take a turn in the neighbourhood. The movement he made in picking up his
rifle woke Loyal Heart.

"What is the matter?" he asked at once.

"Nothing, nothing," the hunter answered, "go to sleep."

"Then why do you get up?"

"Because I cannot sleep, that's all, and intend to profit by my
wakefulness to take a walk round the camp."

These words completely aroused Loyal Heart, for Tranquil was not the man
to do anything without powerful reasons.

"Come my friend," he said to him, "there is something, tell me.

"I know nothing," the hunter answered, "but I am sad and restless; in a
word, I know not what I fancy, but I cannot help thinking an approaching
danger menaces us; what it is I cannot say, but I noticed today two
flocks of flamingoes flying against the wind, several antelopes, deers,
and other animals running madly in the same direction; the whole day
through I have not heard a single bird sing, and as all that is not
natural, I am alarmed."

"Alarmed?" Loyal Heart said with a laugh.

"Alarmed of a snare, and that is why I wish to make a round; I suppose I
shall discover nothing, I believe and hope it, but no matter, I shall at
any rate be certain that we have nothing to fear."

Loyal Heart, without saying a word, wrapped himself in his zarapé and
seized his rifle.

"Let us go," he said.

"What do you mean?" the hunter asked.

"I am going with you."

"What nonsense, my undertaking is only the fancy of a sick brain; do you
remain here and rest yourself."

"No, no," Loyal Heart answered with a shake of his head, "I think
exactly the same as you have just told me; I also feel anxious, I know
not why, and wish to be certain."

"In that case come along; perhaps, after all, it will be the better
course."

The two men quitted the bivouac. The night was fresh and light, the
atmosphere extremely transparent, the sky studded with stars, the moon
seemed floating in æther, and its light, combined with that of the
stars, was so great, that objects were as visible as in open day. A
profound calm brooded over the landscape, which the hunters could
perfectly survey from the elevation on which they were standing; at
times a mysterious breath passed over the leafy tops of the trees, which
it bent with a hoarse murmur. Tranquil and Loyal Heart carefully
examined the plain which stretched an enormous distance before them.
Suddenly the Canadian seized his friend's arms, and by a sharp and
irresistible movement, drew him behind the trunk of an enormous larch
tree.

"What is it?" the hunter asked eagerly.

"Look!" his comrade answered laconically, as he stretched out his arm in
the direction of the plain.

"Oh, oh, what does that mean?" the young man muttered a moment later.

"It means that I was not mistaken, and that we shall have a fight, but
fortunately this time again it will be diamond cut diamond; warn John
Davis, and let him take the villains in the rear, while we face them."

"There is not a moment to be lost," Loyal Heart muttered, and he bounded
toward the camp.

The two experienced hunters had noticed a thing which would certainly
have been passed over by the eyes of men less habituated to Indian
customs. We have said that at intervals a capricious breeze passed over
the tops of the trees; this breeze blew from the South West over the
plain for a distance of some few hundred yards, and yet the same breeze
ran along the tall grass, incessantly approaching the hill where the
Comanches were encamped, but, extraordinary to say, it blew from the
North East, or a direction diametrically opposed to the former. This was
all the hunters had perceived, and yet it sufficed them to guess the
stratagem of their foes, and foil it.

Five minutes later, sixty Comanches, commanded by Tranquil and Loyal
Heart, crawled like serpents down the sides of the hill, and on reaching
the plain stood motionless, as if converted into statues. John Davis,
with the rest of the band, turned the hill. All at once a terrible cry
was heard--the Comanches rose like a legion of demons, and rushed
headlong on their enemies. The latter, once again surprised when they
hoped to surprise, hesitated for a moment, and then, terrified by this
sudden attack, they were seized by a panic terror, and turned to fly,
but behind them rose suddenly the American's band.

They must fight, or surrender to the mercy of an implacable foe; hence
the Apaches closed up shoulder to shoulder, and the butchery commenced.
It was horrible, and lasted till day. These deadly enemies fought
without uttering a cry, and fell without giving way to a sigh. As the
Apaches fell, their comrades drew closer together, while the Comanches
contracted the circle of steel in which they were enclosed.

The sun, on rising, illuminated a horrible scene of carnage; forty
Comanches had fallen, while of the Apaches ten men, all more or less
severely wounded, alone stood upright. Loyal Heart turned away in sorrow
from this fearful sight, for it would have been useless for him to
interfere to save the last victims. The Comanches, intoxicated by the
smell of blood and powder, furious at the resistance their enemies had
offered, did not listen to his orders, and the remaining Apaches were
killed and scalped.

"Ah!" Black-deer exclaimed, pointing with a gesture of triumph to a
mutilated and almost unrecognizable corpse, "the Sachems will be
pleased, for Blue-fox is dead at last."

In truth, the formidable Chief lay on a pile of Comanche corpses; his
body was literally covered with wounds, and his son, a poor lad scarce
adolescent yet, was lying at his feet. Curiously enough, for the Indians
only take the scalps of their enemies usually, a fresh cut-off head was
fastened to the Chiefs girdle--it was that of Fray Antonio. The poor
Monk, who had quitted the village a few days before Tranquil, had
doubtless been surprised and massacred by the Apaches.

So soon as the carnage, for we cannot call it a battle, was over, the
Indians prepared to pay the last rites to those of their friends who had
found death in this sanguinary struggle. Deep graves were dug, and the
bodies were thrown in without the usual funeral ceremonies, which
circumstances prevented, still they were careful to bury their arms with
them, and then stones were piled on the graves to defend them from wild
beasts. As for the Apaches, they were left at the spot where they had
fallen. After this, the war party, diminished by nearly one-half,
started again sadly for Texas.

The victory of the Comanches was complete, it is true, but too dearly
bought for the Indians to think of rejoicing at it. The massacre of the
Apaches was far from compensating them for the death of forty Comanche
warriors, without counting those who, in all probability, would perish
on the journey from the wounds they had received.



CHAPTER XXV.

THE LAST HALT.


Now that we are approaching the last pages of our book, we cannot
repress a feeling of regret on thinking of the scenes of blood and
murder which, in order to be truthful, we were compelled to unfold
before our readers. If this narrative had been a fable, and we had been
able to arrange our subject at our pleasure, most assuredly many scenes
would have been cut down and altered. Unhappily, we have been obliged to
narrate facts just as they happened, although we have frequently been
careful to tone down certain details whose naked truth would have
scandalized the reader.

Were we to be reproached with the continual combats in which our heroes
are engaged, we should reply; we describe the manners of a race which is
daily diminishing in the convulsive grasp of the civilization against
which it struggles in vain; this race is called upon by the fatal decree
of fate to disappear ere long eternally from the face of the globe; its
manners and customs will then pass into the condition of a legend and
being preserved by tradition, will not fail to be falsified and become
incomprehensible. It is therefore our duty, who have become the unworthy
historian of this unhappy race, to make it known as it was, as it is
still, for acting otherwise would have been a felonious deed on our
part, of which our readers would have been justified in complaining.

Finishing this parenthesis, which is already too long, but which we
believe to be not merely necessary but indispensable, we will resume
our narrative at the point where we left it.

We will now lead the reader to the extreme outposts of the Mexican army.
This army, six thousand strong on its entrance into Texas, now amounted
to no more than fifteen hundred, including a reinforcement of five
hundred men, which General Cos had just brought up. The successive
victories gained by Santa Anna over the Texans had therefore cost him
just five thousand men. This negative triumph caused the President of
the Mexican Republic considerable reflection. He began to understand the
extraordinary difficulties of this war against an exasperated people,
and he speculated with terror on the terrible consequences a defeat
would have for him, if those intractable enemies he had been pursuing so
long resolved at last to wait for him and succeeded in defeating him.
Unluckily, whatever Santa Anna's apprehensions might be, it was too late
to withdraw, and he must try his fortune to the end.

A space of five leagues at the most separated the two belligerent
armies, and that space was diminished nearly one-half by the position of
their videttes. The vanguard of the Mexican army, composed of two
hundred regulars, was commanded by Colonel Melendez, but a league
further ahead was encamped a forlorn hope, which had to clear the way
for the movements of the army. These were simply the pirates of the
prairies, commanded by our old acquaintance Sandoval, whom we saw a
short time back introduce himself to the Jaguar, and make so singular a
bargain with him.

In spite of the extremely slight esteem in which the Mexican army held
the honesty of the said Sandoval and his myrmidons, General Santa Anna
found himself constrained to place a certain amount of confidence in
these thorough-paced scoundrels, owing to their incontestable capability
as guides, and above all, as flankers. The General, consequently, found
himself obliged almost to close his eyes to the crimes they committed
nearly daily, and to let them act as they pleased. Let us add, that the
pirates conscientiously abused the liberty conceded them, and did not
hesitate to indulge in the most extraordinary caprices, which we had
better pass over in silence.

These worthy men, then, were bivouacked, as we have said, about a league
in advance of the Mexican army, and as they liked to take their ease
whenever the opportunity offered, they had found nothing better than
quartering themselves in a pueblo, whose inhabitants had naturally fled
at their approach, and the houses of which the pirates pulled down, in
order to procure wood for their campfires. Still, either by accident or
some other reason, one house, or rather hut, had escaped the general
ruin, and alone remained standing. It was not only untouched, but shut
up, and a sentry was stationed before the door. This sentry, however,
did not appear to trouble himself much about the orders given him; for
being probably annoyed by the sun, whose beams fell vertically on his
head, he was lying cozily in the shade of a stall luckily standing
opposite the house, and with his musket within reach, was smoking,
sleeping, and dreaming, while waiting till his term of duty was over,
and a comrade came to take his place.

As this house served at this moment as the abode of Doña Carmela, we
will ask the reader to enter it with us. The maiden, sad and pensive,
was reclining in a hammock suspended before a window, open, in spite of
the heat of the day, and her eyes, red with weeping, were invariably
fixed on the desolate plain, which the sun parched, and whose sand
flashed like diamonds. Of what was the poor girl thinking, while the
tears she did not dream of wiping away, coursed down her pallid cheeks,
where they traced a furrow?

Perhaps at this age, when recollections do not go back beyond yesterday,
she remembered in bitterness of spirit the happy days of the Venta del
Potrero, where with Tranquil and Lanzi, those two devoted hearts to
protect her, all smiled upon her, and the future appeared to her so
gentle and calm. Perhaps, too, she thought of the Jaguar, for whom she
felt such friendship, or of Colonel Melendez, whose respectful and
profound love had made her so often dream involuntarily, in the way
maidens dream.

But, alas! all this had now faded away; farewell to the exquisite
dreams! Where were Tranquil and Lanzi, the Jaguar and Colonel Melendez?
She was alone, unfriended, and defenceless, in the power of a man the
mere sight of whom filled her with terror. And yet, let us add, the man
whom we have represented under such gloomy colours, this White Scalper,
seemed to have become completely metamorphosed. The tiger had become a
lamb in the presence of the maiden, he offered her the most delicate
attentions, and did everything she wished--not that she ever expressed a
desire, for the poor girl would not have dared to have done so, but he
strove to divine what might please her, and then did it with unexampled
eagerness. At times he would stand for hours before her, leaning against
a wall, with his eyes fixed on her with an undefinable expression,
without uttering a word. Then he would withdraw with a shake of the
head, stifle a sigh, and murmur--"Good God! If it were she!" There was
something touching in the timid and humble grief of this terrible man,
who made all tremble around him, and yet himself trembled before a girl;
although Doña Carmela, unaffected by the egotism of suffering persons,
did not seem to perceive the influence she exercised over this powerful
and stern nature.

The door opened, and White Scalper entered. He was still dressed in the
same garb, he was still as upright, but his face no longer wore that
expression of haughty and implacable ferocity which we have seen on it.
A cloud of sorrow was spread over his features, and his deep sunken eyes
had lost that fire which had given his glance so strange and magnetic a
fixity. The maiden did not turn at the sound of the Scalper's footsteps:
the latter halted, and for a long time remained motionless, waiting,
doubtless, till she would notice his presence. But the girl did not
stir, and hence he resolved to speak.

"Doña Carmela!" he said in a voice whose roughness he tried to smooth.

She made no reply, but continued to gaze out on the plain. The Scalper
sighed, and then said in a louder key:

"Doña Carmela!"

This time the maiden heard him, for a nervous tremor agitated her, and
she turned quickly round.

"What do you want with me?" she asked.

"Oh!" he exclaimed, on perceiving her face bathed in tears, "you are
weeping."

The maiden blushed and passed her handkerchief over her face with a
feverish gesture.

"What matter?" she muttered, and then, striving to recover herself, she
asked, "What do you want with me, señor? Heavens, since I am condemned
to be your slave, could you not at any rate allow me the free enjoyment
of this room?"

"I thought I should cause you pleasure," he said, "by announcing to you
the visit of an acquaintance."

A bitter smile contracted the maiden's lips.

"Who cares for me?" she said with a sigh.

"Pardon me, Señorita, my intention was kind. Frequently, while you sit
pensively as you are doing today, unconnected words and names have
passed your lips."

"Ah! That is true," she answered; "not only is my person captive, but
you will also like to enchain my thoughts."

This sentence was uttered with such an accent of concentrated anger and
bitterness, that the old man started, and a livid pallor suddenly
covered his face.

"It is well, Señor," the girl continued, "for the future I will be on my
guard."

"I believed, I repeat," he replied with an accent of concentrated scorn,
"that I should render you happy by bringing to you Colonel Melendez; but
since I am mistaken, you shall not see him, Señorita."

"What!" she exclaimed, bounding up like a lioness; "What did you say,
Señor? What name did you pronounce?"

"That of Colonel Melendez."

"Have you summoned him?"

"Yes."

"Is he here?"

"He is awaiting your permission to enter."

The maiden gazed at him for a moment with an indescribable expression of
amazement.

"Why, you must love me!" she at length burst forth.

"She asks that question!" the old man murmured sadly. "Will you see the
Colonel?"

"One moment, oh, one moment; I want to know you, to understand you, and
learn what I ought to think of you."

"Alas, I repeat to you, señorita, that I love you, love you to
adoration; oh! Do not feel alarmed; that love has nothing of an
insulting nature: what I love in you is an extraordinary, supernatural
likeness to a woman who died, alas! On the same day that when my
daughter was torn from me by the Indians. The daughter I lost, whom I
shall never see again, would be your age, señorita: such is the secret
of my love for you, of my repeated attempts to seize your person. Oh,
let me love you, and deceive myself; in looking at you I fancy I see my
poor dear child, and that error renders me so happy. Oh señorita! If you
only knew what I have suffered, what I still suffer, from this miserable
wound which burns my heart--oh! You would have pity on me."

While the old man spoke with an impassioned accent, his face was almost
transfigured; it had assumed such an expression of tenderness and
sorrow, that the maiden felt affected, and by an involuntary impulse
offered him her hand.

"Poor father!" she said to him in a gentle and pitiful voice.

"Thanks for that word," he replied in a voice choking with emotion,
while his face was inundated with tears; "thanks, señorita, I feel less
unhappy now."

Then, after a moment's silence, he wiped away his tears.

"Do you wish him to come in?" he asked softly.

She smiled: the old man rushed to the door and threw it wide open. The
Colonel entered and ran up to the maiden. White Scalper went out and
closed the door after him.

"At last," the Colonel exclaimed joyously, "I have found you again, dear
Carmela!"

"Alas!" she said.

"Yes," he exclaimed with animation, "I understand you, but now you have
nothing more to fear; I will free you from the odious yoke that
oppresses you, and tear you from your ravisher."

The maiden softly laid her hand on his arm, and shook her head with an
admirable expression of melancholy.

"I am not a prisoner," she said.

"What?" he exclaimed with the utmost surprise, "Did not this man carry
you off?"

"I do not say that, my friend. I merely say that I am not a prisoner."

"I do not understand you," he remarked.

"Alas, I do not understand myself."

"Then, you think that if you wished to leave this house and follow me to
the camp, this man would not attempt to prevent you?"

"I am convinced of it."

"Then we will start at once, Doña Carmela; I will manage to obtain you
respectable shelter till your father is restored to you."

"No, my friend, I shall not go, I cannot follow you."

"Why, what prevents you?"

"Did I not tell you that I do not understand myself; an hour agone I
would have followed you gladly, but now I cannot."

"What has happened, then, during that period?"

"Listen, Don Juan, I will be frank with you. I love you, as you know,
and shall be happy to be your wife; but if my happiness depended on my
leaving this room, I would not do it."

"Pardon what I am going to say, Doña Carmela, but this is madness."

"No it is not, I cannot explain it to you, as I do not understand it
myself; but I feel that if I left this place against the wishes of the
man who retains me here, I should commit a bad action."

The Colonel's amazement at these strange words attained such a height
that he could not find a word to reply, but he looked wildly at the
maiden. The man who loves is never mistaken as to the feelings of the
woman he loves. The young man felt instinctively that Carmela was
directed by her heart in the resolution she had formed. At this moment
the door opened, and White Scalper appeared. His appearance was a great
relief to the pair, for they were frightfully embarrassed, and the young
man especially understood that this unexpected arrival would be of great
help to him. There was in the demeanour and manner of the old man a
dignity which Carmela had never before remarked.

"Pardon me disturbing you," he said, with a kindly accent, that made his
hearers start.

"Oh," he continued, pretending to be mistaken as to the impression he
produced; "excuse me, Colonel, for speaking in this way, but I love Doña
Carmela so dearly that I love all she loves; though old men are
egotistic, as you are aware, I have been busy on your behalf during my
absence."

Carmela and the Colonel looked their amazement. The old man smiled.

"You shall judge for yourselves," he said. "I have just heard, from a
scout who has come in, that a reinforcement of Indians has turned our
lines, and joined the enemy, among them being a wood ranger, called
Tranquil."

"My father!" Carmela exclaimed, in delight.

"Yes," the Scalper said, suppressing a sigh.

"Oh, pardon me!" the maiden said, as she offered him her hand.

"Poor child! How could I feel angry with you? Must not your heart fly
straight to your father?"

The Colonel was utterly astounded.

"This is what I thought," the old man continued. "Señor Melendez will
ask General Santa Anna's authority to go under a flag of truce to the
enemy. He will see Doña Carmela's father, and, after reassuring him
about her safety, if he desire that his daughter should be restored to
him I will take her to him myself."

"But that is impossible!" the maiden quickly exclaimed.

"Why so?"

"Are you not my father's enemy?"

"I was the enemy of the hunter, dear child, but never your father's
enemy."

"Señor," the Colonel said, walking a step toward the old man, "forgive
me; up to the present I have misunderstood you, or rather, did not know
you; you are a man of heart."

"No," he answered; "I am a father who has lost his daughter, and who
consoles himself by a sweet error;" and he uttered a deep sigh, and
added, "time presses; begone, Colonel, so that you may return all the
sooner."

"You are right," the young man said. "Farewell, Carmela, for the
present."

And, without waiting for the maiden's reply, he rushed out. But when
the Colonel joined his men again, he learned that the order for the
forward march had arrived. He was obliged to obey, and defer his visit
to the General for the present.



CHAPTER XXVI.

SAN JACINTO.


The news told White Scalper by the scout was true; Tranquil and his
comrades, after turning the Mexican lines with that craft characteristic
of the Indians, had effected their junction with the Texan army; that is
to say, with the vanguard, commanded by the Jaguar. Unfortunately, they
only found John Davis, who told them that the Jaguar had gone to make an
important communication to General Houston.

If the American had spoken to Tranquil about his daughter, and given him
news of her, he would have been forced to reveal the bargain proposed by
the Chief of the Pirates, and he did not feel justified in divulging a
secret of that importance which was not his own. The Canadian
consequently remained ignorant of what was going on, and was far from
suspecting that his daughter was so near him; besides, the moment was a
bad one for questioning; the march had begun again; and during a retreat
the officers who command the rearguard have something else to do than
talk.

At sunset the Jaguar rejoined his cuadrilla. He was delighted at the
arrival of the Comanches, and warmly pressed Tranquil's hand; but as the
order had been given to advance by forced marches, and the enemy was at
hand, the young man had no time either to tell his old friend anything.

The General had combined his movement with great cleverness, in order
to draw the enemy after him by constantly refusing to fight. The
Mexicans, puffed up by their early successes, and burning with the
desire to crush what they called a revolt, did not require to be excited
to pursue their unseizable enemy.

The retreat and pursuit continued thus for three days, when the Texans
suddenly wheeled, and advanced resolutely to meet the Mexicans. The
latter, surprised by this sudden return, which they were far from
expecting, halted with some hesitation, and formed their line of battle.

It was the twenty-first of August, 1836, a day ever memorable in the
annals of Texas. The two armies were at length face to face on the
plains of San Jacinto, and were commanded in person by the chiefs of
their respective republics, Generals Santa Anna and Houston. The
Mexicans numbered seventeen hundred well armed, veteran soldiers; the
Texans amounted to only seven hundred and eighty-three, of whom
sixty-one were cavalry.

General Houston had been compelled, on the previous evening, to detach
the Jaguar's cuadrilla, which the Comanches and the hunters had joined;
for, contrary to Sandoval's expectations, his men had refused to ratify
the bargain he had made in their names with the Jaguar. Not that they
were actuated by any patriotic feeling, we are bound to state, but
merely because they had come across a hacienda, which seemed to offer
them the prospect of splendid plunder. Hence, without caring for either
party, they had shut themselves up in the hacienda, and refused to quit
it, in spite of the entreaties and threats of the Chief, who, seeing
that they had made up their minds, at length followed their example. The
Jaguar was therefore detached by the General to dislodge these dangerous
visitors, and the young man obeyed, though, unwillingly, for he foresaw
that he should miss the battle.

General Houston gave Colonel Lamar, who was at a later date President of
Texas, the command of the sixty horsemen left him, and resolutely
prepared for action, in spite of the numerical disproportion of his
forces. The two armies, whose struggle would decide the fate of a
country, were hardly as numerous as a French regiment. At sunrise the
battle commenced with extreme fury. The Texans, formed in square,
advanced silently, within musket shot of the enemy.

"Boys!" General Houston suddenly shouted, as he drew his sword, "Boys!
REMEMBER THE ALAMO!"

A terrible fire answered him, and the Texans rushed on the enemy, who
were already wavering. The battle lasted eighteen minutes! At the
expiration of that time, the Mexicans were broken, and in full flight;
their flags, their camp, with arms, baggage, provisions, and equipage,
fell into the hands of the victors. Considering the limited number of
combatants, the carnage was immense, for six hundred Mexicans, including
a General and four Colonels, were killed, two hundred and eighty-three
wounded, and seven hundred made prisoners; only sixty men, among them
being Santa Anna, succeeded in effecting their escape.

As for the Texans, owing to the impetuosity of their attack, they had
only two men killed and twenty-three wounded, though six of these died
afterwards--an insignificant loss, which proves once again, the
superiority of resolution over hesitation, for most of the Mexicans were
killed during the rout.

The Texans slept in the field of battle. General Houston, when sending
off the Jaguar against the pirates, had said to him:--

"Finish with those villains speedily, and perhaps you will return in
time for the battle."

These words were sufficient to give the Chief of the partisans wings;
still, however great his speed might be, night surprised him, when still
ten leagues from the hacienda, and he was compelled to halt, for both
men and horses were utterly worn out. On the morrow, at the moment when
he was about to start again, he received news of the battle of the
previous day, in a very singular manner.

John Davis, while prowling among the chaparral according to his wont,
discovered a man hidden in the tall grass, who was trembling all over.
The American, taking him naturally enough for a Mexican spy, ordered him
to get up. The man then fell on his knees, _kissed his hands_, and
implored him to let him go, offering him all the gold and jewels he had
about him. These supplications and intreaties produced no other effect
on the American than converting his suspicions into certainty.

"Come, come," he said roughly to his prisoner, as he cocked a pistol,
"enough of this folly; go on before me, or I will blow out your brains."

The sight of the weapon produced all the effect desired on the stranger,
he bowed his head piteously, and followed his captor to the bivouac,
with no further attempts to seduce him.

"Who the deuce have you brought us?" the Jaguar asked sharply.

"On my word," the American answered, "I do not know. He's a scamp I
found in the tall grass, who looks to me precious like a spy."

"Ah, ah!" the Jaguar said with an ugly smile, "His business will soon be
settled: have him shot."

The prisoner started, and his face assumed an earthy hue.

"One moment, Caballeros," he exclaimed, while struggling in the utmost
terror with the men who had already seized him--"one moment; I am not
what you suppose."

"Nonsense," the Jaguar said with a grin, "you are a Mexican, and that is
sufficient."

"I am," the prisoner exclaimed, "Don Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna,
President of the Mexican Republic."

"What?" the Jaguar exclaimed in amazement, "You are Santa Anna."

"Alas! Yes," the President answered, piteously, for it was really he.

"What were you doing concealed in the grass?"

"I was trying to fly."

"Then you have been defeated?"

"Oh, yes! My army is destroyed. Oh, your General is not born for common
things, for he has had the glory of conquering the _Napoleon of the
West_."[1]

At this absurd claim, especially in the mouth of such a man, his
hearers, in spite of the respect due to misfortune, could not refrain
from bursting into a loud and contemptuous laugh. To this manifestation
the haughty Mexican was completely insensible; for, now that he was
recognized, he felt sure of not being shot--he cared little for all
else. The Jaguar wrote to General Houston, describing the facts, and
sent off the prisoner to him, under the escort of twenty men, commanded
by John Davis, to whom this honour belonged by right, as he had been the
first to discover the prisoner.

"Well," the Jaguar muttered, as he looked after the escort along the
winding road, "fortune does not favour me--I succeed in nothing."

"Ingrate that you are!" Loyal Heart said to him; "To complain when the
most glorious trophy of the victory was reserved to you; through the
capture of that prisoner, the war is over, and the Independence of Texas
assured for ever."

"That is true," the Jaguar shouted, as he leapt with joy; "I did not
think of that. Viva Dios! You are right, my friend, and I thank you for
having put me on the track. By Jove! I should not have thought of that
without you. Come, come," he gently exclaimed, "let us be off to the
hacienda, comrades! We shall deal the last blow!"

The cuadrilla started under the guidance of its Chief; we will leave the
adventurers to follow their road, and preceding them for a few moments,
enter the hacienda.

The pirates, according to the custom of people of that stamp, had
immediately made themselves at home in the hacienda, whose owner had
fled on seeing the approach of war, and from which Sandoval and his men
expelled the peons and servants. The pillage was immediately organized
on a great scale, and they had naturally begun with the cellars, that is
to say, with the French and Spanish wines and strong liquors, so that
two hours after their arrival, all the villains were as full as butts,
and yells and songs rose from all sides.

Naturally the White Scalper had been compelled to follow the pirates,
and carry Carmela with him. In spite of the precautions taken by the old
man, the maiden heard from the chambers in which she sought shelter the
cries of these raging fellows which reached her, threatening and
sinister as the rolling of thunder in a tempest. Sandoval had not
renounced his plan of revenging himself on the man he regarded as his
enemy, and the intoxication of his men seemed to him an excellent
opportunity for getting rid of him.

White Scalper tried by all the means in his power to oppose this
gigantic orgy, for he knew that these rough and rebellious men, very
difficult to govern when sober, became utterly undisciplined so soon as
intoxication got hold of them. But the pirates had already tasted the
wines and spirits, and, excited by Sandoval, they only answered the
Scalper's representations with murmurs and insults. The latter,
despairing of making them listen to reason, and wishing to spare the
maiden the odious and disgusting spectacle of an orgie, hastened to
return to her, and after trying to calm her, he stationed himself before
the door of the room that served as her refuge, resolved to smash the
first pirate who attempted to approach her.

Several hours passed, and no one thought about disturbing the old man.
He was beginning to hope that all would pass over quietly, when he
suddenly heard a great noise, followed by yells and oaths, and a dozen
pirates appeared at the entrance of the long corridor at the end of
which he was standing sentry, brandishing their weapons and uttering
threats. At the sight of these furious men, whom intoxication rendered
deaf to all remonstrances, the old man understood that a terrible and
deadly struggle was about to begin between them and him. He was alone
against all, but yet he did not despair; a sinister light gleamed in his
eye, his eyebrows met under the might of an implacable will; he drew
himself up to his full height before the door he had sworn to defend,
and in an instant became once more the ferocious and terrible demon who
had so long been the terror of the Western countries.

However, the Scalper's position was not so desperate as it might appear.
Foreseeing all that occurred at this moment, he had taken all the
precautions in his power to save the maiden; the window of the room in
which she was only a couple of feet from the ground, and opened on the
yard of the hacienda, where a ready saddled horse was standing, in the
event of flight becoming necessary. After giving Carmela, who was
kneeling in the middle of the room and praying fervently, a final hint,
the old man prepared to resist his aggressors.

The pirates, at the sight of this man who was awaiting them so
menacingly, stopped involuntarily; the front men even took a timid
glance back, as if to see whether a chance of retreat were left them;
but the passage was interrupted by those who came behind them and thrust
them on. Sandoval, who was well aware with what sort of a man his
comrades would have to deal, had prudently abstained from showing
himself, and remained with some of his friends in the banqueting hall,
drinking and singing.

The delay in the pirates' advance had suggested to the Scalper the idea
of setting the door ajar, so that he might escape with greater facility
when the moment arrived. But the period of hesitation did not last a
second; the yells burst forth again louder than before, and the bandits
prepared to rush on the old man. The latter was still calm, and cold as
a marble statue; he had placed his rifle against the wall, within reach,
and stood with his pistols in his hands awaiting the opportunity to deal
a decisive blow.

"Stop, or I fire!" he shouted, in a thundering voice.

The yells were doubled, and the bandits drew nearer. Two shots were
fired, and two men fell; the Scalper discharged his rifle at the mob,
then taking it by the barrel and using it like a club, he rushed on the
bandits, who were startled by this sudden attack, and ere they could
dream of resistance he drove them to the end of the corridor and down
the stairs. Out of ten pirates six were killed, and four, dangerously
wounded, fled with shrieks of terror.

The Scalper lost no time; bounding like a wild beast, he rushed into the
room, the door of which he closed after him, took in his arms Carmela,
who was lying senseless on the floor, leaped out of window, threw the
girl across his saddle bow, and darting on the horse's back he started
across country with headlong speed. All this took place in less time
than we have required to describe it, and the pirates had not recovered
from their terror ere the Scalper had disappeared.

"Viva Dios!" Sandoval shouted, striking the table with his fist; "Shall
we let him escape? To horse, comrades, to horse!"

"To horse!" the bandits yelled, as they rushed to the corrals, where
their horses were put up. Ten minutes later the pirates dashed off in
pursuit of White Scalper, and the hacienda was thus freed of its
unwelcome guests.

In the meanwhile White Scalper was flying at full speed, without
following any settled direction; he had only one object, thought, or
desire--to save Carmela. The maiden, revived by the fresh air, was
setting up in the saddle, and, with her arms clasped round the old man's
body, constantly repeated, in a voice choking with emotion, while
looking with terror round her:

"Fly, fly! quicker, oh quicker!"

And the horse redoubled its speed, and thus ran with the rapidity of the
stag pursued by a pack of hounds. All at once the old man perceived a
band of horsemen debouching from a hollow way just ahead of him.

"Courage, Carmela!" he shouted; "We are saved."

"Go on, go on," the maiden replied.

This band was the Jaguar's; the young Chief in his impatience to reach
the hacienda, was galloping a long distance ahead of his men. All at
once he perceived the horseman coming towards him.

"Oh!" he exclaimed, with a feeling of deep hatred; "White Scalper."

He at once stopped his horse, so suddenly that the noble animal all but
fell, and raised his rifle.

"Stop, stop, do not fire! In Heaven's name do not fire!" the Canadian
shouted, who was spurring his horse and coming up at full speed,
followed by Loyal Heart and the main body.

But, before the hunter could reach the Jaguar, the latter, who had not
heard, or, probably, had not understood him, pulled the trigger. White
Scalper, struck in the middle of the chest, rolled in the sand, dragging
Carmela down with him in his fall.

"Ah!" Tranquil said, in despair, addressing Loyal Heart, "The unhappy
man has killed his father!"

"Silence!" the latter exclaimed, placing his hand on his mouth;
"Silence, in Heaven's name!"

The Scalper was not dead, however; the Jaguar approached him, probably
to finish him, but Carmela, who was inspecting his wound, drew herself
up like a lioness and repulsed him with horror.

"Back, assassin!" she shrieked.

In spite of himself the young man recoiled, astonished and confounded.
Tranquil rushed toward the wounded man, while Loyal Heart took hold of
the Jaguar, and speaking gently to him, led him from the spot where
White Scalper was writhing in agony. The old man held the maiden's
hands in his own, which were already bathed in a death sweat.

"Carmela, poor Carmela!" he said to her, in a broken voice; "Oh, Heaven,
what will become of you now that I am dying."

"No, no, it is not possible, you will not die," the girl exclaimed,
stifling her sobs.

The old man smiled sadly.

"Alas, poor child!" he had said, "I have but a few moments to live; who
will protect you when I am gone?"

"I!" said the hunter, who had come up.

"You!" the wounded man replied; "you, her father?"

"No, her friend," the hunter remarked, with a melancholy accent, and
drawing from his bosom the necklace Quoniam had torn from the Scalper
during the fight in Galveston Bay, he said with supreme majesty, "James
Watt,[2] embrace your daughter; Carmela, embrace your father."

"Oh!" the wounded man exclaimed, "My heart did not deceive me, then?"

"My father, my father, bless me!" the maiden murmured, falling on her
knees.

White Scalper, or Major Watt, drew himself up as if he had received an
electric shock, and laid his hands on the head of the kneeling girl.

"Bless you, my child!" he said; then after a moment of silence, he
muttered in an almost indistinct voice, "I had a son too."

"He is dead," the hunter answered, as he looked sorrowfully at the
Jaguar.

"May Heaven pardon him!" the old man muttered. And falling back, he
breathed his last sigh.

"My friend," Carmela said to the hunter, "you, whom I no longer dare to
call my father, what do you order me to do in the presence of this
corpse?"

"Live!" the Canadian answered hoarsely, as he pointed to a horseman who
was coming up at full speed, "for you love and are beloved; life is
scarce beginning for you, and you may still be happy."

The rider was Colonel Melendez.

Carmela let her head fall in her hands, and burst into tears.

       *       *       *       *       *

During my last visit to Texas, I had the honour of being presented to
Doña Carmela, then married to Colonel Melendez, who retired from the
service after the battle of San Jacinto.

Tranquil lived with them, but Loyal Heart had returned to the desert.
The Jaguar, after the events we have described, resumed his adventurous
life, and a year had scarce elapsed ere his death was heard of.
Surprised by Apache Indians, from whom he might easily have escaped, he
insisted on fighting them, and was massacred by these pitiless enemies
of the white race.

Did the Jaguar know that he had killed his father, or was it his despair
at seeing his love despised by Carmela, that determined him to seek
death?

That remained a mystery which no one was ever able to solve. Let us hope
that a merciful and just God pardoned this son his involuntary
parricide!


[1] The sentence is literally true, but was said by Santa Anna to
Houston himself.

[2] See Border Rifles, same publishers.


THE END.





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