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Title: The Trail-Hunter - A Tale of the Far West
Author: Aimard, Gustave, 1818-1883
Language: English
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THE TRAIL HUNTER.

A TALE OF THE FAR WEST.

BY

GUSTAVE AIMARD,

AUTHOR OF "THE PRAIRIE FLOWER," "THE INDIAN CHIEF," ETC.


LONDON:

WARD AND LOCK,

158, FLEET STREET.

1861.



PREFACE.


The present volume of Aimard's Indian Tales is devoted to the earlier
adventures of those hunters, whose acquaintance the reader has formed,
I trust with pleasure, in the preceding series. It does not become me to
say anything further in its favour, than that the sustained interest of
the narrative, which has been regarded as the charm of stories referring
to life in the desert and prairie, has not been departed from in this
instance. The stories themselves supply an innate proof of the writer's
correctness to Nature, and, in truth, many of the scenes are so
startling that they must be the result of personal observation.

In conclusion, I may be permitted to thank the Press generally for the
kindly aid they have afforded me in making the English translation of
Aimard's volumes known to the British reading public, and the hearty way
in which they have recognized the merits of the previous series. It
would be an easy task to collect paragraphs, expressing a belief that
Aimard is second to none of the writers who have hitherto described
Indian life and scenery; but I prefer to rest my hopes of success on the
inherent qualities of his stories.

                                                      LASCELLES WRAXALL.



CONTENTS.


   PART I. RED CEDAR                       PART II. EL PRESIDIO DE SANTA FE


   I.--The Virgin Forest                   I.--El Rancho de Coyote
   II.--The Contest                        II.--The Cuchillada
   III.--Don Miguel Zarate                 III.--The Hunters
   IV.--The Peccaries                      IV.--Sunbeam
   V.--The Wound                           V.--The Adoption
   VI.--The Squatter's Shanty              VI.--The Missionary
   VII.--The Rangers                       VII.--The Interview
   VIII.--The Valley of the Buffalo        VIII.--The Prison
   IX.--The Assassination                  IX.--The Embassy
   X.--The Sachem of the Coras             X.--The Presentation
   XI.--Conversation                       XI.--Psychological
   XII.--El Mesón                          XII.--Diamond Cut Diamond
   XIII--Red Cedar                         XIII.--A Stormy Discussion
   XIV.--The Two Hunters                   XIV.--The Mystery
   XV.--Fray Ambrosio                      XV.--The Ambuscade
   XVI.--Two Varieties of Villains         XVI.--A Friendly Discussion
   XVII.--El Cañon Del Buitre              XVII.--Nathan
   XVIII.--Father Seraphin                 XVIII.--The Wounded Man
   XIX.--Unicorn                           XIX.--Indian Diplomacy
   XX.--The Hunt of Wild Horses            XX--The Stranger
   XXI.--The Surprise                      XXI.--General Ventura
   XXII.--The Meeting                      XXII.--The Comanches
   XXIII.--The Abduction                   XXIII.--Negotiations
   XXIV.--The Revolt                       XXIV.--Free
                                           XXV.--The Meeting
                                           XXVI.--Doña Clara
                                           XXVII.--El Vado del Toro



TRAIL HUNTER BY GUSTAVE AIMARD.



CHAPTER I.

THE VIRGIN FOREST.


In Mexico the population is only divided into two classes, the upper and
the lower. There is no intermediate rank to connect the two extremes,
and this is the cause of the two hundred and thirty-nine revolutions
which have overthrown this country since the declaration of its
independence. Why this is so is simple enough. The intellectual power is
in the hands of a small number, and all the revolutions are effected by
this turbulent and ambitious minority; whence it results that the
country is governed by the most complete military despotism, instead of
being a free republic.

Still the inhabitants of the States of Sonora, Chihuahua, and Texas have
retained, even to the present day, that stern, savage, and energetic
physiognomy which may be sought in vain among the other States of the
Confederation.

Beneath a sky colder than that of Mexico, the winter, which frequently
covers the rivers of the region with a thick layer of ice, hardens the
muscles of the inhabitants, cleanses their blood, purifies their hearts,
and renders them picked men, who are distinguished for their courage,
their intelligence, and their profound love of liberty.

The Apaches, who originally inhabited the greater portion of New Mexico,
have gradually fallen back before the axe of the pioneers; and after
retiring into the immense deserts that cover the triangle formed by the
Rio Gila, the Del Norte, and the Colorado, they ravage almost with
impunity the Mexican frontiers, plundering, firing, and devastating all
they meet with on their passage.

The inhabitants of the countries we alluded to above, held in respect by
these ever-shifting savages, are in a state of continual warfare with
them, always ready to fight, fortifying their haciendas, and only
travelling with weapons in their hands.

El Paso del Norte may be regarded as the outpost of the civilised
portion of Mexico. Beyond that, to the north and north-west, extend the
vast unfilled plains of Chihuahua, the _bolsón_ of Mapimi, and the arid
deserts of the Rio Gila. These immense deserts, known by the name of
Apacheria, are still as little investigated as they were at the close of
the eighteenth century. El Paso del Norte owes its name to its situation
near a ford of the Rio Del Norte. It is the oldest of all the New
Mexican settlements, and its establishment dates back to the close of
the sixteenth century. The present settlement is scattered for a
distance of about ten miles along the banks of the Del Norte, and
contains four thousand inhabitants at the most. The _plaza_, or village
of the Paso, is situated at the head of the valley: at the other
extremity is the Presidio of San Elezario. All the interval is occupied
by a continuous line of white, flat-roofed houses, buried in gardens,
and surrounded by vineyards. About a mile above the ford the stream is
dammed up, and led by a canal into the valley, which it waters.
Apacheria begins only a few miles from this settlement.

It is easily seen that the foot of civilised man has only trodden
timidly and at rare intervals this thoroughly primitive country, in
which nature, free to develop herself under the omnipotent eye of the
creator, assumes an aspect of incredible beauty and fancifulness.

On a lovely morning in the month of May, which the Indians call "the
moon of the flowers," a man of high stature, with harsh and marked
features, mounted on a tall, half-tamed steed, started at a canter from
the plaza, and after a few minutes of hesitation, employed in realising
his position, resolutely buried his spurs in the horse's flanks, crossed
the ford, and after leaving behind him the numerous cottonwood trees
which at this spot cover the river banks, proceeded toward the dense
forest that flashed on the horizon.

This horseman was dressed in the costume generally adopted on the
frontiers, and which was so picturesque that we will give a short
description of it. The stranger wore a pelisse of green cloth,
embroidered with silver, allowing a glimpse of an elegantly-worked
shirt, the collar of which was fastened by a loosely-knotted black silk
handkerchief, the ends passed through a diamond ring. He wore green
cloth breeches, trimmed with silver, and two rows of buttons of the same
metal, and fastened round the hips by a red silken scarf with gold
fringe. The breeches, open on the side half way up the thigh, displayed
his fine linen drawers beneath: his legs were defended by a strip of
brown embossed and stamped leather, called _botas vaqueras_, attached
below the knee by a silver garter. On his heels enormous spurs clanked.
A _manga_, glistening with gold, and drawn up on the shoulder, protected
the upper part of his body, while his head was sheltered from the
burning sunbeams by a broad-leafed hat of brown stamped felt, the crown
of which was contracted by a large silver _toquilla_ passed twice or
thrice round it.

His steed was caparisoned with graceful luxuriousness, which heightened
all its beautiful points: a rich saddle of embossed leather, adorned
with massive silver, on the back of which the _zarapé_ was fastened;
wide Moorish silver stirrups, and handsome water bottles at the
saddle-bow; while an elegant _anquera_, made of openwork leather, and
decorated with small steel chains, entirely covered the horse's croup,
and sparkled with its slightest movement.

The stranger appeared, judging from the luxury he displayed, to belong
to the high class of society. A _machete_ hung down his right side,
two pistols were passed through his girdle, the handle of a long knife
protruded from his right boot, and he held a superbly damascened rifle
across the saddle in front of him.

Bending over the neck of his galloping steed, he advanced rapidly
without looking round him, although the landscape that lay extended
before him was one of the most attractive and majestic in those regions.

The river formed the most capricious windings in the centre of a terrain
diversified in a thousand strange ways. Here and there on the sandy
banks enormous trees might be seen lying, which, dried up by the sun,
evidenced, in their washed-out appearance, that they had been dead for
centuries. Near the shallow and marshy spots, caymans and alligators
wandered about awkwardly. At other places, where the river ran almost
straight, its banks were uniform, and covered with tall trees, round
which creepers had twined, and then struck root in the ground again,
thus forming the most inextricable confusion. Here and there small
clearings or marshy spots might be detected in the midst of the dense
wood, often piled up with trees that had died of old age. Further on,
other trees, which seemed still young, judging from their colour and the
solidity of their bark, fell into dust with the slightest breath of
wind.

At times, the earth, entirely undermined beneath, drawn down by its own
weight, dragged with it the wood which it bore, and produced a crashing,
confused sound, which was returned on all sides by the echo, and
possessed a certain degree of grandeur in this desert, whose depths no
man has ever yet ventured to scrutinise.

Still the stranger galloped on, with his eye ardently fixed before him,
and not appearing to see anything. Several hours passed thus: the
horseman buried himself deeper in the forest. He had left the banks of
the river, and only progressed with extreme difficulty, through the
entanglement of branches, grass, and shrubs, which at every step
arrested his movements, and forced him to make innumerable turnings. He
merely reined in his horse now and then, took a glance at the sky, and
then started again, muttering to himself but one word:

"_Adelante_! (Forward!)"

At length he stopped in a vast clearing, took a suspicious glance around
him, and probably reassured by the leaden silence which weighed on the
desert, he dismounted, hobbled his horse, and took off its bridle that
it might browse on the young tree shoots. This duty accomplished, he
carelessly lay down on the ground, rolled a maize cigarette in his
fingers, produced a gold _mechero_ from his waist belt, and struck a
light.

The clearing was of considerable extent. On one side the eye could
survey with ease, through the trees, the widely extending prairie, on
which deer were browsing with security. On the other side, the forest,
wilder than ever, seemed, on the contrary, an impassable wall of
verdure. All was abrupt and primitive at this spot, which the foot of
man had so rarely trodden. Certain trees, either entirely or partially
dried up, offered the vigorous remains of a rich and fertile soil;
others, equally ancient, were sustained by the twisted creepers, which
in the course of time almost equalled their original support in size:
the diversity of the leaves produced the strangest possible mixture.
Others, containing in their hollow trunk a manure which, formed of the
remains of their leaves and half-dead branches, had warmed the seeds
they had let fall, and offered, in the young shoots they contained, some
compensation for the loss of their father tree.

In the prairies, nature, ever provident, seems to have been desirous to
shelter from the insults of time certain old trees, patriarchs of the
forest which are crushed beneath the weight of ages, by forming them a
cloak of greyish moss, which hangs in festoons from the highest branches
to the ground, assuming the wildest and most fantastic shapes.

The stranger, lying on his back, with his head resting on his two
crossed hands, was smoking with that beatitude, full of ease and sloth,
which is peculiar to the Hispano-Americans. He only interrupted this
gentle occupation to roll a fresh cigarette and cast a glance around,
while muttering:

"Hum! He keeps me waiting a long time."

He emitted a puff of bluish smoke, and resumed his first position.
Several hours passed thus. Suddenly, a rather loud rustling was heard in
the thicket, some distance behind the stranger.

"Ah, ah!" he said, "I fancy my man is coming at last."

In the meanwhile, the sound became louder, and rapidly approached.

"Come on, hang it!" the horseman shouted, as he rose. "By our Lady of
Pilar! You have surely been keeping me waiting long enough."

Nothing appeared: the clearing was still deserted, although the sound
had attained a certain degree of intensity. The stranger, surprised at
the obstinate silence of the man he was addressing, and specially by his
continuing not to show himself, at length rose to see for himself the
reason. At this moment, his horse pricked up its ears, snorted
violently, and made a sudden effort to free itself from the lasso that
held it; but our new acquaintance rushed toward it and patted it. The
horse trembled all over, and made prodigious bounds in order to escape.
The stranger, more and more surprised, looked round for an explanation
of these extraordinary movements, and was soon satisfied.

Scarce twenty yards from him a magnificent jaguar, with a
splendidly-spotted hide, was crouched on the main branch of an enormous
cypress, and fixed on him two ferocious eyes, as it passed its
blood-red, rugged tongue over its lips with a feline pleasure.

"Ah, ah!" the stranger said to himself in a low voice, but displaying no
further excitement, "I did not expect you; but no matter, you are
welcome, comrade. _Caray_! We shall have a fight for it."

Without taking his eye off the jaguar, he convinced himself that his
machete quitted its scabbard readily, picked up his rifle, and, after
these precautions were taken, he advanced resolutely toward the
ferocious brute, which saw him coming without changing its position. On
arriving within ten yards of the jaguar, the stranger threw away the
cigarette he had till now held between his lips, shouldered his rifle,
and put his finger on the trigger. The jaguar drew itself together and
prepared to leap forward. At the same moment a hoarse yell was heard
from the opposite side of the clearing.

"Wait a minute," the stranger said to himself with a smile; "it seems
there are two of them, and I fancied I had to do with a bachelor jaguar.
This is beginning to grow interesting."

And he threw a glance on one side. He had not deceived himself: a second
jaguar, rather larger than the first, had fixed its flashing eyes upon
him.



CHAPTER II.

THE CONTEST.


The dwellers on the Mexican frontiers are accustomed to fight
continually with wild animals, both men and brutes, that continually
attack them. Hence the stranger was but slightly affected by the
unexpected visit of the two jaguars. Although his position between his
two ferocious enemies was somewhat precarious, and he did not at all
conceal from himself the danger he ran alone against two, he did not the
less resolve to confront them bravely. Not taking his eye off the jaguar
he had first seen, he went back a few steps obliquely, so as to have his
foes nearly opposite him, instead of standing between them. This
manoeuvre, which demanded some little time, succeeded beyond his hopes.
The jaguars watched him, licking their lips, and passing their paws
behind their ears with those graceful movements peculiar to the feline
race. The two wild beasts, certain of their prey, seemed to be playing
with it and not over eager to pounce on it.

While keeping his eye on the watch, the Mexican did not yield to any
treacherous feeling of security: he knew that the struggle he was about
to undertake was a supreme one, and he took his precautions. Jaguars
never attack a man unless forced by necessity; and the latter tried,
before all, to seize the horse. The noble animal, securely fastened by
its master, exhausted itself in efforts to break the bonds that held it,
and escape. It trembled with terror on scenting its ferocious enemies.

The stranger, when his precautions were completely taken, shouldered his
rifle for the second time. At this moment the jaguars raised their
heads, while laying back their ears and snuffing anxiously. An almost
imperceptible sound was audible in the bushes.

"Who goes there?" the Mexican asked in a loud voice.

"A friend, Don Miguel Zarate," was the reply.

"Ah! It is Don Valentine," the Mexican continued. "You have arrived just
in time to see some fine sport."

"Ah, ah!" the man who had already spoken went on. "Can I help you?"

"It is useless; but make haste if you want to see."

The branches were sharply drawn aside, and two men appeared in the
clearing. At the sight of the jaguars they stopped, not through alarm,
for they quietly placed the butts of their rifles on the ground, but in
order to give the hunter every facility to emerge victoriously from his
rash combat.

The jaguars seemed to comprehend that the moment for action had arrived.
As if by one accord, they drew themselves up and bounded on their enemy.
The first, struck in its leap by a bullet which passed through its right
eye, rolled on the ground, where it remained motionless. The second was
received on the point of the hunter's machete, who after discharging his
rifle, had fallen on his knee, with his left arm folded in his blanket
in front, and the machete in the other hand. The man and the tiger
writhed together in a deadly embrace, and after a few seconds only one
of the adversaries rose: it was the man. The tiger was dead: the
hunter's machete, guided by a firm hand, had passed right through its
heart.

During this rapid fight the newcomers had not made a sign, but remained
stoical spectators of all that was taking place. The Mexican rose,
thrust his machete in the grass to clean the blade, and turning coldly
to the strangers, said:

"What do you say to that?"

"Splendidly played," the first answered; "it is one of the best double
strokes I ever saw in my life."

The two men threw their rifles on their shoulders, and walked up to the
Mexican, who reloaded his piece with as much coolness and tranquillity
as if he had not just escaped from a terrible danger by a miracle of
skill.

The sun was sinking on the horizon, the shadow of the trees assumed a
prodigious length, and the luminary appeared like a ball of fire amid
the limpid azure of the heavens. The night would soon arrive, and the
desert was awaking. On all sides could be heard, in the gloomy and
mysterious depths of the virgin forest, the hoarse howling of the
coyotes and the other wild beasts, mingled with the song of the birds
perched on all the branches. The desert, silent and gloomy during the
oppressive heat of the day, emerged from its unhealthy torpor on the
approach of dark, and was preparing to resume its nocturnal sports.

The three men in the clearing collected dried branches, made a pile of
them and set fire to it. They doubtlessly intended to camp for a portion
of the night at this spot. So soon as the flames rose joyously, skyward
in long spirals, the two strangers produced from their game bags maize
tortillas, jerked meat, and a gourd of pulque. These various comestibles
were complacently spread out on the grass, and the three men began a
hunter's meal. When the gourd had gone the round several times, and the
tortillas had disappeared, the newcomers lit their Indian pipes, and the
Mexican rolled a papelito.

Although this meal had been short, it lasted, however, long enough for
night to have completely set in ere it was ended. Perfect darkness
brooded over the clearing, the ruddy reflections of the fire played on
the energetic faces of the three men, and gave them a fantastic
appearance.

"And now," the Mexican said, after lighting his cigarette, "I will, with
your permission, explain to you why I was so anxious to see you."

"One moment," one of the hunters answered. "You know that in the deserts
the leaves have often eyes, and the trees ears. If I am not mistaken in
your hints, you invited us here that our interview might be secret."

"In truth, I have the greatest interest in nothing of what is said here
being overheard, or even suspected."

"Very good. Curumilla, to work."

The second hunter rose, seized his rifle and disappeared noiselessly in
the gloom. His absence was rather long; but as long as it lasted, the
two men left at the fire did not exchange a syllable. In about half an
hour the hunter returned, however, and seated himself by his comrades'
side.

"Well?" the one who had sent him off asked him.

"My brother can speak," he replied laconically; "the desert is quiet."

On this assurance the three men banished all anxiety. Still prudence did
not abandon them: they took up their pipes, and turned their backs to
the fire, so that they might watch the neighbourhood while conversing.

"We are ready to listen to you," the first hunter said.

"Listen to me with the greatest attention," the Mexican began; "what you
are about to hear is of the utmost importance."

The two men bowed silently, and the Mexican prepared to speak again.

Before going further we must introduce to the reader the two men we have
just brought on the stage, and go back a few paces in order to make it
perfectly understood why Don Miguel Zarate, in lieu of receiving them at
his own house, had given them the meeting in the heart of the virgin
forest.

The two hunters seemed at the first glance to be Indians; but on
examining them more attentively, you could recognise that one of them
belonged to those white trappers whose boldness has become proverbial in
Mexico. Their appearance and equipment offered a singular medley of
savage and civilised life. Their hair was of a remarkable length; for in
those countries, where a man is frequently only fought for the glory of
lifting his scalp, it is considered the thing to wear it long and easy
to seize.

The hunters had their hair neatly plaited, and intertwined with beaver
skins and bright coloured ribbons. The rest of their garb harmonised with
this specimen of their taste. A hunting shirt of bright red calico fell
down to their knees; gaiters decorated with woolen ribbons and bells
surrounded their legs; and their feet were shod with moccasins
embroidered with beads which the squaws know so well how to make. A
striped blanket, fastened round the hips by a belt of tanned deer hide,
completed their clothing, but was not so closely drawn that at their
every movement the butt of the pistols and the hilt of the machetes
might be seen glistening. As for their rifles, useless at this moment,
and carelessly thrown on the ground by their side, if they had been
stripped of the plume-worked elk skin that covered them, it would have
been possible to see, with what care their owners had decorated them
with copper nails painted of various colours; for all about these two men
bore the imprint of Indian habits.

The first of the two hunters was a man of thirty-eight at the most, tall
and well-built; his muscular limbs denoted great bodily strength, allied
to unequalled lightness. Although he affected all the manners of the
redskins, it was an easy matter to perceive that he not only belonged to
the unmixed white race, but also to the Norman or Gaulish type. He was
fair; his large, blue and pensive eyes, adorned with long lashes, had an
expression of undefinable sadness: his nose was slightly aquiline; his
mouth large, and filled with teeth of dazzling whiteness; a thick
chestnut beard covered the lower part of his face, which revealed
gentleness, kindness, and courage without boasting, though the whole
were combined with a will of iron.

His companion evidently belonged to the Indian race, all the
characteristic signs of which he displayed; but, strange to say, he was
not coppery like the American aborigines of Texas and North America; and
his skin was brown and slightly of an olive hue. He had a lofty brow, a
bent nose, small but piercing eyes, a large mouth and square chin; in
short, he presented the complete type of the American race, which
inhabits a limited territory in the South of Chili. This hunter had
round his brow a purple-coloured fillet, in which was thrust over the
right ear a plume of the Andes Eagle, a sign which serves to distinguish
the chiefs of the Aucas.

These two men, whom the reader has doubtless already recognised, as they
played an important part in our previously published works[1], were
Valentine Guillois, an ex-noncommissioned officer in the Spahis, and
Curumilla, his friend--Ulmen of the Great Hare tribe.

We will introduce a parenthesis to explain their present position, and
which is indispensable for a right understanding of what follows. The
moment is capitally selected, by the way, for opening this parenthesis;
for the three hunters are gaily talking round their fire, the night is
gloomy, the forest quiet, and it does not appear likely that anything
will arise to disturb them.



[1] "The Chief of the Aucas," "The Tiger Slayer," "The Gold Finders,"
"The Indian Chief."



CHAPTER III.

DON MIGUEL ZARATE.


Were Mexico better governed, it would be, without contradiction, one of
the richest countries on the face of the globe. Indeed the largest
private fortunes must still be sought in that country. Since the United
States Americans have revealed to the world, by seizing one-half of
Mexico, whither their ambition tends, the inhabitants of that fine
country have slightly emerged from the torpor they enjoyed, and have
made great efforts to colonise their provinces, and summon to their
soil, which is so rich and fertile, intelligent and industrious
labourers, who might change the face of affairs, and cause abundance and
wealth to abound at spots, where, prior to their arrival, there was
naught save ruin, desolation, carelessness, and misery.

Unfortunately, the noble efforts made up to the present day have,
through an inexplicable fatality, remained without result, either owing
to the natural apathy of the inhabitants, or the fault of the Mexican
Government itself. Still the large landowners, comprehending all the
advantages of the proposed measure, and how much it is to their interest
to combat the deadly influence of the American invasions, have
generously devoted themselves to the realization of this great question
of social economy, which, unluckily is growing more and more
unrealisable.

In fact, in Northern America two hostile races--the Anglo-Saxon and the
Spanish--stand face to face. The Anglo-Saxons are devoured by an ardour
for conquest, and a rage for invasion, which nothing can arrest, or even
retard. It is impossible to see without amazement the expansive
tendencies of this active and singular people, a heterogeneous composite
of all the races which misery or evil instincts expelled from Europe
originally, and which feels restricted in the immense territory which
its numerical weakness yet prevents it entirely occupying.

Imprisoned within its vast frontiers, making a right of strength, it is
continually displacing its neighbours' landmarks, and encroaching on
territory of which it can make no use. Daily, bands of emigrants abandon
their dwellings, and with their rifles on their shoulders, their axes in
their hand, they proceed south, as if impelled by a will stronger than
themselves; and neither mountains, deserts, nor virgin forests are
sufficient obstacles to make them halt even for an instant. The Yankees
imagine themselves generally the instruments of Providence, and
appointed by the decrees of the Omnipotent to people and civilise the
New World. They count with feverish impatience the hours which must
elapse ere the day (close at hand in their ideas) arrive in which their
race and government system will occupy the entire space contained
between Cape North and the Isthmus of Panama, to the exclusion of the
Spanish republics on one side, and the English colonies on the other.

These projects, of which the Americans make no mystery, but, on the
contrary, openly boast, are perfectly well known to the Mexicans, who
cordially detest their neighbours, and employ all the means in their
power to create difficulties for them, and impede their successive
encroachments.

Among the New Mexican landowners who resolved to make sacrifices in
order to stop, or at least check, the imminent invasion from North
America, the richest, and possibly, first of all, through his
intelligence and the influence he justly enjoyed in the country, was Don
Miguel Acamarichtzin Zarate.

Whatever may be asserted, the Indian population of Mexico is nearly
double in number to the white men, and possesses an enormous influence.
Don Miguel descended in a straight line from Acamarichtzin, first king
of Mexico, whose name had been preserved in the family as a precious
relic. Possessed of an incalculable fortune, Don Miguel lived on his
enormous estates like a king in his empire, beloved and respected by the
Indians, whom he effectively protected whenever the occasion presented
itself, and who felt for him a veneration carried almost to idolatry;
for they saw in him the descendant from one of their most celebrated
kings, and the born defender of their race.

In New Mexico the Indian population has very largely increased during
the past fifty years. Some authors, indeed, assert that it is now more
numerous than prior to the conquest, which is very probable, through the
apathy of the Spaniards, and the carelessness they have ever displayed
in their struggles against it. But the Indians have remained stationary
amid the incessant progress of civilization, and still retain intact the
principal traits of their old manners. Scattered here and there in
miserable ranchos or villages, they live in separate tribes, governed by
their caciques, and they have mingled but very few Spanish words with
their idioms, which they speak as in the time of the Aztecs. The sole
apparent change in them is their conversion to Catholicism--a conversion
more than problematical, as they preserve with the utmost care all the
recollections of their ancient religion, follow its rites in secret, and
keep up all its superstitious practices.

The Indians--above all, in New Mexico--although called _Indios fideles_,
are always ready on the first opportunity to ally themselves with their
desert congeners; and in the incursions of the Apaches and Comanches it
is rare for the faithful Indians not to serve them as scouts, guides,
and spies.

The family of Don Miguel Zarate had retired to New Mexico, which country
it did not leave again--a few years after the conquests of the
adventurer Cortez. Don Miguel had closely followed the policy of his
family by maintaining the bonds of friendship and good neighbourhood
which, from time immemorial, attached it to the Indians, believers or
not. This policy had borne its fruit. Annually, in September, when the
terrible red warriors, preceded by murder and arson, rushed like a
torrent on the wretched inhabitants, whom they massacred in the farms
they plundered, without pity of age or sex, Don Miguel Zarate's estates
were respected; and not merely was no damage inflicted on them, but even
if at times a field were unwittingly trampled by the horses' hoofs, or a
few trees destroyed by plunderers, the evil was immediately repaired ere
the owner had opportunity for complaint.

This conduct of the Indians had not failed to arouse against Don Miguel
extreme jealousy on the part of the inhabitants, who saw themselves
periodically ruined by the _Indios Bravos._ Earnest complaints had been
laid against him before the Mexican Government; but whatever might be
the power of his enemies, and the means they employed to ruin him, the
rich hacendero had never been seriously disturbed: in the first place,
because New Mexico is too remote from the capital for the inhabitants to
have anything to fear from the governing classes; and secondly, Don
Miguel was too rich not to render it easy for him to impose silence on
those who were most disposed to injure him.

Don Miguel, whose portrait we drew in a previous chapter, was left a
widower after eight years' marriage, with two children, a boy and a
girl, the son being twenty-four, the daughter seventeen, at the period
when our story opens. Doña Clara--such was the daughter's name--was one
of the most delicious maidens that can be imagined. She had one of those
Murillo's virgin heads, whose black eyes, fringed with long silky
lashes, pure mouth, and dreamy brow seem to promise divine joys. Her
complexion, slightly bronzed by the warm sunbeams, wore that gilded
reflection which so well becomes the women of these intertropical
countries. She was short of stature, but exquisitely modelled. Gentle
and simple, ignorant as a Creole, this delicious child was adored by her
father, who saw in her the wife he had so loved living once more. The
Indians looked after her when she at times passed pensively, plucking a
flower before their wretched huts, and scarce bending the slants on
which she placed her delicate foot. In their hearts they compared this
frail maiden, with her soft and vaporous outline, to the "virgin of the
first loves," that sublime creation of the Indian religion which holds
so great a place in the Aztec mythology.

Don Pablo Zarate, the hacendero's son, was a powerfully built man, with
harshly marked features, and a haughty glance, although at times it was
imprinted with gentleness and kindness. Endowed with more than ordinary
strength, skilled in all bodily exercises, Don Pablo was renowned
through the whole country for his talent in taming the most spirited
horses, and the correctness of his aim when on the chase. A determined
hunter and daring wood ranger, this young man, when he had a good horse
between his legs, and his rifle in his hand, knew none, man or animal,
capable of barring his passage. The Indians, in their simple faith,
yielded to the son the same respect and veneration they entertained for
the father, and fancied they saw in him the personification of
_Huitzilopochtli_, that terrible war god of the Aztecs, to whom 62,000
human victims were sacrificed in one day, upon the inauguration of his
_teocali_.

The Zarates, then, at the period when our story opens, were real kings
of New Mexico. The felicity they enjoyed was suddenly troubled by one of
those vulgar incidents which, though unimportant in themselves, do not
fail to cause a general perturbation, and a discomfort possessing no
apparent cause, from the fact that it is impossible to foresee or
prevent them. The circumstance was as follows:--

Don Miguel possessed, in the vicinity of the Paso, vast estates
extending for a great distance, and consisting principally of haciendas,
prairies, and forests. One day Don Miguel was returning from a visit to
his haciendas. It was late, and he pressed on his horse in order to
reach ere night the ford, when, at about three or four leagues at the
most from the spot to which he was proceeding, and just as he was
entering a dense forest of cottonwood trees, through which he must pass
ere reaching the ford, his attention was attracted by cries mingled with
growls emerging from the wood he was about to enter. The hacendero
stopped in order to account for the unusual sounds he heard, and bent
his head forward to detect what was happening. But it was impossible for
him to distinguish anything through the chaos of creepers and shrubs
which intercepted vision. In the meanwhile, the noise grew louder, and
the shouts were redoubled, and mingled with oaths and passionate
exclamations.

The Mexican's horse laid back its ears, neighed, and refused to advance.
Still Don Miguel must make up his mind. Thinking that a man was probably
attacked by wild beasts, he only consulted his heart; and, in spite of
the visible repugnance of his steed, he compelled it to go forward and
enter the wood. He had scarce gone a few yards ere he stopped in
amazement at the strange spectacle that presented itself to him.



CHAPTER IV.

THE PECCARIES.


In the middle of the clearing lay a ripped up horse, which six or eight
peccaries were rending, while a dozen others were attacking with their
tusks the stem of an enormous tree, in the topmost branches of which a
man had sought shelter.

Let us explain to our readers, who probably know little about them, what
sort of animals the peccaries are. The peccaries hold the intermediate
grade between the domestic pig and the wild boar. Although this animal
does not exceed two feet in height, and is not more than three feet long
from the end of the snout to the beginning of the tail, it is
indubitably one of the most dangerous animals in North America. The
animal's jaw is provided with tusks rather like those of the boar, but
straight and sharp, their length varying between four and six inches. In
the shape of the body it resembles a pig, but the bristles scattered
over its warty hide are in colored strips; the part nearest the skin is
white, and the point of a chocolate tinge. So soon as the animal is
enraged, these bristles stand out like the quills of a porcupine.

The movements of the peccaries are as quick and sharp as those of a
squirrel. They ordinarily live in herds of fifteen, thirty, and even
fifty. The strength of the head, neck, and shoulders is so great when
they charge, that nothing can resist the impetuosity of their attacks. A
remarkable peculiarity of this genus is the clumsy wart they have on
their backs, whence a musty fluid evaporates when the animal is in a
fury.

The peccary lives in preference on acorns, roots, wheat, sugar cane, and
reptiles of every description. It is a proved fact that the most
venomous serpents are devoured by them without their feeling in the
slightest degree incommoded.

The mode in which the peccary forms its lair is very singular. This lair
is generally in the midst of tufted and impenetrable canes, found in
marshy spots round the monarchs of the forest, which still stand like
crushed giants, with their grappling lines of creepers and virgin vines.
The trunks of these trees, which at times measure forty feet in
circumference, are nearly all hollow, and thus afford a convenient
shelter for the peccaries, which retire to them every night in herds of
twenty to twenty-five, entering the cavity one after the other
backwards; so that the last has the end of its snout placed just at the
entrance of the hole, thus watching, as it were, over the rest of its
companions.

The peccaries are unboundedly ferocious: they know not danger, or at
least despise it completely. They always attack in herds, and fight with
unequalled rage until the last succumbs, no matter the nature of their
foe.

Hence men and animals all fly a meeting with these terrible beasts: the
jaguar, so strong and redoubtable, will become their prey if it be so
imprudent as to attack them. This is the way they set about conquering
this wild beast:--

When a jaguar has wounded a peccary, the latter collect, chase it, and
pursue until they can contrive to surround the common enemy. When every
issue is closed, the jaguar, believing it can thus escape, seeks refuge
up a tree. But the peccaries do not resign the vengeance; they establish
themselves at the foot of the tree, being incessantly recruited by fresh
allies, and patiently waiting till the jaguar, driven to extremities by
hunger and thirst, decides on descending from its improvised fortress.
This is almost always sure to happen at the end of two or three days at
the most. The jaguar bounds into the midst of its enemies, which boldly
await it, and attack it bravely; a terrible fight commences; and the
tiger, after covering the ground with victims, at length succumbs
beneath the efforts of its assailants, and is ripped up by their tusks.

After what we have said, it is easy to understand how precarious was the
position of the man perched on the top of the tree, and surrounded by
peccaries. His enemies seemed determined not to leave their ground; they
craftily crept round the tree, attacked its base with their tusks, and
then recognising the inutility of their onsets, they quietly lay down by
the carcass of the horse, which they had already sacrificed to their
fury. Don Miguel felt moved to pity for the poor fellow, whose position
grew momentarily more critical; but in vain did he rack his brains how
to help the unhappy man whose destruction was assured.

To attack the peccaries would have been extreme imprudence, and have
produced no other result than that of turning on himself the fury of the
animals, while not saving the man he wished to help. Still time pressed.
What was to be done? How, without sacrificing himself, save the man who
ran so great a risk?

The Mexican hesitated for a long period. It seemed to Don Miguel
impossible to leave, without help, this man whose death was certain.
This idea, which presented itself to his mind several times, he had
energetically repulsed, so monstrous did it appear to him. At length he
resolved at all risks to attempt impossibilities in favour of this
stranger, of whose death he would have eventually accused himself had he
left him to perish in the desert.

The stranger's position was the more critical because, in his haste to
defend himself from the attacks of his enemies, he had left his rifle
fall at the foot of the tree, and was consequently unable to reduce the
number of the peccaries. In spite of their fineness of scent, the latter
had not noticed Don Miguel's approach, who, by a providential accident,
had entered the wood on the side opposite the wind. The Mexican
dismounted with a sigh, patted his horse, and then took off its
accoutrements. The noble animal, habituated to its master's caresses,
shook his head joyously, and fixed its large intelligent eyes on him.
Don Miguel could not repress another sigh: a tear fell down on his
bronzed cheeks. On the point of accomplishing the sacrifice, he
hesitated.

It was a faithful companion, almost a friend, he was about to separate
from; but the life of a man was at stake. The Mexican drove back the
feelings that agitated him, and his resolution was formed. He passed a
lasso round his horse's neck, and, in spite of its obstinate resistance,
compelled it to advance to the entrance of the clearing in which the
peccaries were assembled. A frail curtain of creepers and leaves alone
hid it from their sight. On arriving here Don Miguel stopped: he had one
more moment's hesitation, but only one; for then seizing a piece of
tinder, which he lighted, he thrust it into the poor animal's ear while
caressing it.

The effect was sudden and terrible. The horse uttered a snort of pain;
and rendered mad by the burning, bounded forward into the clearing,
striving in vain to get rid of the tinder which caused it intolerable
suffering. Don Miguel had smartly leaped aside, and now followed with an
anxious glance the result of the terrible tentative he had just made to
save the stranger. On seeing the horse appear suddenly in their midst,
the peccaries rose, formed a compact group and rushed with their heads
down in pursuit of the horse, thinking no longer of the man. The animal,
spurred on still more by the sight of its ferocious enemies, shot ahead
with the speed of an arrow, breaking down with its chest all the
obstacles in its way, and followed closely by the peccaries.

The man saved; but at what a price! Don Miguel repressed a last sigh of
regret, and leaped into the clearing. The stranger had already descended
from the tree; but the emotion he had undergone was so extreme, that he
remained seated on the ground, almost in a state of unconsciousness.

"Quick, quick!" Don Miguel said to him sharply. "We have not a moment to
lose: the peccaries may alter their minds and return."

"That is true," the stranger muttered in a hollow voice, as he cast a
terrified glance around. "Let us be off--off at once."

He made an effort over himself, seized his rifle, and rose. Through a
presentiment for which he could not account to himself, Don Miguel
experienced at the sight of this man, whom he had hitherto scarce looked
at, a feeling of invincible doubt and disgust. Owing to the life he was
obliged to lead on these frontiers, frequented by people of every
description, the hacendero had been often brought into relation with
trappers and hunters whose faces were no recommendation to them; but
never ere now had chance brought him in contact with an individual of
such sinister appearance as this one.

Still he did not allow his feelings to be seen through, and invited this
man to follow him. The latter did not let the invitation be repeated;
for he was anxious to escape from the spot where he had been so near
death. Thanks to the Mexican's acquaintance with the country, the wood
was speedily traversed, and the two men, after a walk of scarce an
hour's duration, reached the banks of the Del Norte, just opposite the
village. Their speed had been so great, their anxiety so serious, that
they had not exchanged a syllable, so terrified were they of seeing the
peccaries appear at any moment. Fortunately this was not the case, and
they reached the ford without being again disturbed.

Don Miguel was burdened with his horse's trappings, which he now threw
on the ground, and looked around him in the hope of finding someone who
would help him in crossing the river. His expectations were not
deceived; for just as they reached the ford an _arriero_ was preparing
to cross to the other side of the river with his _recca_ of mules, and,
with the generosity innate in all Mexicans, he offered to carry them
both to the Paso. The two men eagerly accepted, each mounted a mule, and
half an hour later they found themselves in safety at the village. After
giving the arriero a few reals to requite him for his services, Don
Miguel took up his horse's trappings again, and prepared to start. The
stranger stopped.

"We are about to part here, caballero," he said in a rough voice, with a
very marked English accent; "but before leaving, let me express to you
my deep gratitude for the noble and generous manner in which you saved
my life at the peril of your own."

"Sir," the Mexican simply answered, "I only did my duty in saving you.
In the desert all men are brothers, and owe each other protection. Hence
do not thank me, I beg, for a very simple action: any other in my place
would have acted as I have done."

"Perhaps so," the stranger continued; "but be kind enough, pray, to tell
me your name, so that I may know to whom I owe my life."

"That is needless," Don Miguel said with a smile. "Still, as I fancy you
are a stranger in these parts, let me give you a piece of advice."

"What is it, sir?"

"Never in future to attack the peccaries. They are terrible enemies,
only to be conquered by a strong body of men; and an individual in
attacking them commits an unpardonable folly, to which he must fall a
victim."

"Be assured, sir, that I shall profit by the lesson I have received this
day, and shall never put myself in such a wasps' nest again. I was too
near paying dearly for my imprudence. But I beg you, sir, do not let us
separate ere I know the name of my preserver."

"As you insist, sir, you shall learn it. I am Don Miguel de Zarate."

The stranger took a peculiar glance at the speaker, while repressing a
movement of surprise.

"Ah!" he said in a singular tone, "Thanks, Don Miguel Zarate. Without
knowing you personally, I was already acquainted with your name."

"That is possible," the hacendero answered; "for I am well known in
this country, where my family has been established for many a long
year."

"I, sir, am the man whom the Indians call Witchasta Joute, the Maneater,
and the hunters, my companions, Red Cedar."

And after lifting his hand to his cap in salute, this man threw his
rifle on his shoulder, turned on his heel, and went off at full speed.
Don Miguel looked after him for a while, and then walked pensively
toward the house he inhabited at el Paso. The hacendero did not suspect
that he had sacrificed his favourite horse to save the life of his most
implacable enemy.



CHAPTER V.

THE WOUND.


At sunrise, Don Miguel, mounted on an excellent horse, left the Paso,
and proceeded toward the hacienda where he resided with his family. It
was situated a few miles from the Presidio of San Elezario, in a
delicious position, and was known as the _Hacienda de la Noria_ (the
Farm of the Well). The estate inhabited by Don Miguel stood in the
centre of the vast delta formed by the Del Norte and the Rio San Pedro,
or Devil's River. It was one of those strong and massive buildings which
the Spaniards alone knew how to erect when they were absolute masters of
Mexico.

The hacienda formed a vast parallelogram, supported at regular distances
by enormous cross walls of carved stone. Like all the frontier
habitations, which are rather fortresses than houses, it was only
pierced on the side of the plain with a few narrow windows resembling
loopholes, and protected by solid iron bars. This abode was begirt by a
thick wall of circumvallation, defended on the top by that fretwork
called _almenas_, which indicated the nobility of the owner. Within this
wall, but separated from the chief apartments, were the stables,
outhouses, barns and cabins for the peons.

At the extremity of the courtyard, in an angle of the hacienda, was the
tall square belfry of the chapel, rising above its terraced roof. This
chapel was served by a monk called Fray Ambrosio. A magnificent plain
closed in this splendid farm. At the end of a valley more than fifty
miles in length were cactus trees of a conical shape, loaded with fruit
and flowers, and whose stems were as much as six feet in diameter.

Don Miguel employed a considerable number of peons in the cultivation of
the sugar cane, which he carried on upon a very large scale. As
everybody knows, the cane is planted by laying it horizontally in
furrows half a foot deep. From each knot springs a shoot which reaches a
height of about three yards, and which is cut at the end of a year to
extract the juice.

Nothing can be more picturesque than the sight of a field of sugar
canes. It was one of those superb American mornings during which nature
seems to be holding a festival. The _centzontle_ (American nightingale)
frequently poured forth its harmonious notes; the red throstled
cardinals, the blue birds, the parakeets, chattered gaily beneath the
foliage; far away on the plain galloped flocks of light antelopes and
timid ashatas, while on the extreme verge of the horizon rushed startled
_manadas_ of wild horses, which raised clouds of impalpable dust beneath
the vibration of their rapid hoofs. A few alligators, carelessly
stretched out on the river mud, were drying their scales in the sun, and
in mid air the grand eagles of the Sierra Madre hovered majestically
above the valley.

Don Miguel advanced rapidly at the favourite pace of the Mexican
_jinetes,_ and which consists in making the horse raise its front legs,
while the hind ones almost graze the ground--a peculiar sort of amble
which is very gentle and rapid. The hacendero only employed four hours
in traversing the distance separating him from the hacienda, where he
arrived about nine in the morning. He was received on the threshold of
the house by his daughter, who, warned of his arrival, had hastened to
meet him.

Don Miguel had been absent from home a fortnight; hence, he received his
daughter's caresses with the greatest pleasure. When he had embraced her
several times, while continuing to hold her tightly clasped in his arms,
he regarded her attentively during several seconds.

"What is the matter, _mi querida_ Clara?" he asked with sympathy. "You
seem very sad. Can you feel vexed at the sight of me?" he added, with a
smile.

"Oh, you cannot believe that, father!" she answered quickly; "for you
know how happy your presence must render me."

"Thanks, my child! But whence, in that case, comes the sorrow I see
spread over your features?"

The maiden let her eyes sink, but made no reply.

Don Miguel threw a searching glance around.

"Where is Don Pablo?" he said. "Why has he not come to greet me? Can he
be away from the hacienda?"

"No, father, he is here."

"Well, then, what is the reason he is not by your side?"

"Because--" the girl said, with hesitation.

"Well?"

"He is ill."

"My son ill!" Don Miguel exclaimed.

"I am wrong," Doña Clara corrected herself.

"Explain yourself, in Heaven's name!"

"My father, the fact is that Pablo is wounded."

"Wounded!" the hacendero sharply said; and thrusting his daughter
aside, he rushed toward the house, bounded up the few steps leading to
the porch, crossed several rooms without stopping, and reached his son's
chamber. The young man was lying, weak and faint, on his bed; but on
perceiving his parent he smiled, and held his hand to him. Don Miguel
was fondly attached to his son, his sole heir, and walked up to him.

"What is this wound of which I have heard?" he asked him in great
agitation.

"Less than nothing, father," the young man replied, exchanging a meaning
glance with his sister, who entered at the moment. "Clara is a foolish
girl, who, in her tenderness, wrongly alarmed you."

"But, after all, you are wounded?" the father continued.

"But I repeat that it is a mere nothing."

"Come, explain yourself. How and when did you receive this wound?"

The young man blushed, and maintained silence.

"I insist on knowing," Don Miguel continued pressingly.

"Good heavens, father!" Don Pablo replied with an air of ill-humour, "I
do not understand why you are alarmed for so futile a cause. I am not a
child, whom a scratch should make frightened; and many times have I been
wounded previously, and you have not disturbed yourself so much."

"That is possible; but the mode in which you answer me, the care you
seem trying to take to keep me ignorant of the cause of this wound--in a
word, everything tells me that this time you are trying to hide
something grave from me."

"You are mistaken, father, and shall convince yourself."

"I wish nothing more: speak. Clara, my child, go and give orders to have
breakfast prepared, for I am dying of hunger."

The girl went out.

"Now it is our turn," Don Miguel continued. "In the first place, where
are you wounded?"

"Oh! I have merely a slight scratch on my shoulder: if I went to bed it
was more through indolence than any other motive."

"Hum! and what scratched your shoulder?"

"A bullet."

"What! A bullet! Then you must have fought a duel, unhappy boy!" Don
Miguel exclaimed with a shudder.

The young man smiled, pressed his father's hand, and bending toward him,
said,--

"This is what has happened."

"I am listening to you," Don Miguel replied, making an effort to calm
himself.

"Two days after your departure, father," Don Pablo continued, "I was
superintending, as you wished me to do, the cutting of the cane crop,
when a hunter whom you will probably remember having seen prowling about
the estate, a man of the name of Andrés Garote, accosted me at the
moment I was about to return home after giving my orders to the
majordomo. After saluting me obsequiously as his wont, the scamp smiled
cunningly, and lowering his voice so as not to be overheard by those
around us, said, 'Don Pablo, I fancy you would give half an ounce to the
man who brought you important news?' 'That depends,' I answered; for,
having known the man a long time, I was aware much confidence could not
be placed in him. 'Bah! Your grace is so rich,' he continued
insidiously, 'that a miserable sum like that is less than nothing in his
pocket, while in mine it would do me a deal of good.'

"Apart from his defects, this scamp had at times done us a few small
services; and then, as he said, a half-ounce is but a trifle, so I gave
it to him. He stowed it away in his pockets, and then bent down to my
ear. 'Thanks, Don Pablo,' he said to me. 'I shall not cheat you of your
money. Your horse is rested, and can stand a long journey. Proceed to
Buffalo Valley, and there you will learn something to interest you.' It
was in vain that I urged him to explain himself more clearly; I could
draw no more from him. He merely added before parting from me, 'Don
Pablo, you have good weapons; so take them with you, for no man knoweth
what may happen.' Somehow the scamp's veiled confidence aroused my
curiosity: hence I resolved to go to Buffalo Valley, and gain the clue
of this riddle."

"Andrés Garote is a villain, who laid a snare for you, into which you
fell," Don Miguel interrupted.

"No, father, you are mistaken. Andrés was honest towards me, and I have
only thanks to give him. Still he should have explained himself,
perhaps, more distinctly."

The hacendero shook his head with a doubting air.

"Go on," he said.

"I entered my house, procured the weapons, and then, mounted on Negro,
my black charger, I proceeded toward Buffalo Valley. As you are aware,
father, the place we call so, and which belongs to us, is an immense
forest of cedars and maples, nearly forty miles in circumference, and
traversed almost through its entire length by a wide confluent of the
Rio San Pedro."

"Of course I know it, and I intend next year to fell some of the wood
there."

"You need not take the trouble," the young man said with a smile, "for
someone has done it for you."

"What do you mean?" the hacendero asked wrathfully. "Who dared?"

"Oh! One of those wretched heretic squatters, as they call themselves.
The villain found the spot to suit him, and has quietly settled there
with his three whelps--three big fellows with hang-dog faces, who
laughed at me when I told them the forest was mine, and answered, while
aiming at me, that they were North Americans, who cared as little for me
as they did for a coyote; that the ground belonged to the first comer;
and that I shall afford them lively pleasure by being off at full speed.
What more shall I tell you, father? I take after you. I have hot blood,
and I cordially hate that race of Yankee pirates, who, for some years
back, have settled on our lovely country like a swarm of mosquitoes. I
saw our forest plundered, our finest trees cut down. I could not remain
unmoved in the presence of these scoundrels' insolence, and the quarrel
became so sharp that they fired at me."

"_Virgen Santísima_!" Don Miguel exclaimed in fury, "They shall pay
dearly for the affront they have offered you I swear it! I will take
exemplary vengeance."

"Why be so angry, father?" the young man replied, visibly annoyed at the
effect his story had produced. "The harm these people do us is really
very trifling. I was in the wrong to let my passion carry me away."

"On the contrary, you were right. I will not have these Northern thieves
come and commit their plunder here. I will put a stop to it."

"I assure you that, if you will leave me to act, I feel certain of
arranging this affair to your entire satisfaction."

"I forbid you taking the slightest steps, for this matter concerns me
now. Whatever may occur, I do not wish you to interfere. Will you
promise me this?"

"As you insist, I do so, father."

"Very good. Get cured as speedily as possible, and keep your mind at
rest. The Yankees shall pay me dearly for the blood they have shed."

With these words Don Miguel retired, and his son fell back on his bed
stifling a sigh, and uttering a hoarse exclamation of passion.



CHAPTER VI.

THE SQUATTER'S SHANTY.


Don Pablo had not told his father the facts in all their truth or
detail. He had fallen into a perfect ambuscade. He was suddenly attacked
by the three brothers, who would have mercilessly killed him, resolved
to lay the blame of his death on the wild beasts, had not, at the moment
when one of them lifted his knife on the young man, who was thrown down
and rendered motionless by the others, a providential succour reached him
in the person of a charming maid scarce sixteen years of age.

The courageous girl rushed from a copse with the rapidity of a fawn, and
threw herself resolutely into the midst of the assassins.

"What are you about, brother?" she exclaimed in a melodious voice, whose
harmonious notes echoed amorously in Don Pablo's ears. "Why do you wish
to kill this stranger?"

The three squatters, surprised by this apparition, which they were far
from expecting, fell back a few paces. Don Pablo profited by this truce
to jump up and regain possession of his arms, which had fallen by his
side.

"Was it not enough," the girl continued, "to rob this man, that you must
now try to take his life? Fie, brothers! Do you not know that blood
leaves on the hands of him who spills it stains which nothing can
efface? Let this man retire in peace."

The young men hesitated. Although unconsciously yielding to their
sister's influence, they were ashamed of thus executing her wishes.
Still they did not dare express their thoughts, and merely bent on their
enemy, who awaited them with a firm foot and pistols in hand, glances
laden with hatred and anger.

"Ellen is right," the youngest of her brothers suddenly said. "No, I
will not allow any harm to be done the stranger."

The others looked at him savagely.

"You would defend him, if necessary, I suppose, Shaw?" Nathan said to
him ironically.

"Why should I not, were it required?" the young man said boldly.

"Eh!" Sutter remarked with a grin, "He is thinking of the Wood
Eglantine."

This word had been scarce uttered ere Shaw, with purpled face,
contracted features, and eyes injected with blood, rushed with uplifted
knife on his brother, who awaited him firmly. The girl dashed between
them.

"Peace, peace!" she shrieked in a piercing voice, "Do brothers dare
threaten one another?"

The two young fellows remained motionless, but watching and ready to
strike in a moment. Don Pablo fixed an ardent glance on the girl, who
was really admirable at this moment. With her features animated by
anger, her head erect, and her arms stretched out between the two men,
she bore a startling likeness to those Druidesses who in olden times
summoned the warriors to combat beneath the forests of Germany.

In her whole person she offered the complete type of the gentle Northern
woman. Her hair light and golden like ripe corn; her eyes of extreme
purity, which reflected the azure of the sky; her earnest mouth, with
rosy lips and pearly teeth; her flexible and small waist; the whiteness
of her complexion, whose delicate and transparent skin still bore the
flush of adolescence--all was combined in this charming maiden to render
her the most seductive creature imaginable.

Don Pablo, a stranger to this kind of beauty, felt himself involuntarily
attracted toward the girl, and entirely subjugated by her. Forgetting
the reason that had brought him to this spot, the danger he had
incurred, and that which still menaced him, he was fascinated and
trembling before this delicious apparition, fearing at each instant to
see it vanish like a vision, and not daring to turn his glance from her
while he felt he had no strength left to admire her.

This young creature, so frail and delicate, formed a strange contrast
with the tall statures and marked features of her brothers, whose coarse
and savage manners only served to heighten the elegance and charm
exhaled by her whole person. Still this scene could not be prolonged,
and must be ended at once. The maiden walked toward Don Pablo.

"Sir," she said to him with a soft smile, "You have nothing more to fear
from my brothers; you can mount your horse again, and set out, and no
one will oppose your departure."

The young man understood that he had no pretext to prolong his stay at
this spot; he therefore let his head sink, placed his pistols in his
holsters, leaped on his horse, and set out with regret, and as slowly as
possible.

He had scarce gone a league when he heard the hasty clatter of a horse
behind him. He turned back. The approaching horseman was Shaw, who soon
caught up with Don Pablo. The pair then proceeded some distance side by
side without exchanging a syllable, and both seemed plunged in profound
thought. On reaching the skirt of the forest, Shaw checked his horse,
and softly laid his right hand on the Mexican's bridle. Don Pablo also
stopped on this hint, and waited, while fixing an inquiring glance on
his strange comrade.

"Stranger," the young man said, "my sister sends me. She implores you,
if it be possible, to keep secret what occurred between us today. She
deeply regrets the attack to which you fell a victim, and the wound you
have received; and she will try to persuade Red Cedar, our father, to
retire from your estates."

"Thank your sister for me," Don Pablo answered. "Tell her that her
slightest wish will ever be a command to me, and that I shall be happy
to execute it."

"I will repeat your words to her."

"Thanks. Render me a parting service."

"Speak."

"What is your sister's name?"

"Ellen. She is the guardian angel of our hearth. My name is Shaw."

"I am obliged to you for telling me your name, though I cannot guess the
reason that induces you to do so."

"I will tell you. I love my sister Ellen before all: she urged me to
offer you my friendship. I obey her. Remember, stranger, that Shaw is
yours to the death."

"I shall not forget it, though I hope never to be under the necessity of
reminding you of your words."

"All the worse," the American said, with a shake of his head; "but if at
any time the opportunity offers, I will prove to you that I am a man of
my word, so surely as I am a Kentuckian."

And hurriedly turning his horse's head, the young man rapidly
disappeared in the windings of the forest.

Buffalo Valley, illumined by the parting rays of the setting sun, seemed
a lake of verdure to which the golden mist of night imparted magical
tones. A light breeze rustled through the lofty crests of the cedars,
catalpas, tulip and Peru trees, and agitated the grass on the banks of
the Rio San Pedro. Don Pablo let the reins float idly on his horse's
neck, and advanced dreamily through the forest, where the birds were
leaping from spray to spray, each saluting in its language the arrival
of night.

An hour later, the young man reached the hacienda; but the wound he had
received in his shoulder was more serious than was at first supposed. He
was obliged, to his great regret, to keep his bed, which prevented him
seeking to meet again the maiden whose image was deeply engraved on his
heart.

So soon as the Mexican had gone off, the squatters continued felling
trees and sawing planks, and did not abandon this work till the night
had grown quite black. Ellen had returned to the interior of the jacal,
where she attended to the housekeeping duties with her mother. This
jacal was a wretched hut, hastily made with branches of intertwined
trees, which trembled with every breeze, and let the sun and rain
penetrate to the interior.

This cabin was divided into three compartments: the one to the right
served as the bedroom of the two females, while the men slept in the one
to the left. The central compartment, furnished with worm-eaten benches
and a clumsily-planed table, was at once keeping room and kitchen.

It was late: the squatters, assembled round the fire, over which a huge
pot was boiling, were silently awaiting the return of Red Cedar, who had
been absent since the morning. At length, a horse's hoofs sounded
sharply on the detritus collected for years on the floor of the forest,
the noise grew gradually nearer, the horse stopped in front of the
jacal, and a man made his appearance. It was Red Cedar. The men slowly
turned their heads toward him, but did not otherwise disturb themselves,
or address a syllable to him.

Ellen alone rose and embraced her father affectionately. The giant
seized the girl in his nervous arms, raised her from the ground, and
kissed her several times, saying in his rough voice, which his
tenderness sensibly softened,--

"Good evening, my dear."

Then he put her down on the ground again, and not troubling himself
further about her, fell heavily on a bench near the fire, and thrust his
feet toward the fire.

"Come, wife," he said, after the expiration of a moment, "the supper, in
the fiend's name! I have a coyote's hunger."

The wife did not let this be repeated. A few moments later an immense
dish of _frijoles_, with pimiento, smoked on the table, with large pots
of pulque. The meal was short and silent, the four men eating with
extreme rapacity. So soon as the beans had disappeared Red Cedar and his
sons lit their pipes, and began smoking, while drinking large draughts
of whiskey, though still not speaking. At length Red Cedar took his pipe
from his lips, and hit the table sharply, while saying in a rough
voice,--

"Come, women, decamp! You have nothing more to do here. You are in our
way, so go to the deuce!"

Ellen and her mother immediately went out, and entered their separate
apartment. For a few minutes they could be heard moving about, and then
all became silent again.

Red Cedar made a sign, and Sutter rose and gently put his ear to the
parting board. He listened for a few moments while holding his breath,
and then returned to his seat, saying laconically,--

"They are asleep."

"Quick, my whelps!" the old squatter said in a low voice. "We have not a
minute to lose: the others are expecting us."

A strange scene then occurred in this mean room, which was merely
illumined by the expiring light of the hearth. The four men arose,
opened a large chest, and produced from it various objects of strange
shapes--leggings, mittens, buffalo robes, collars of grizzly bear claws;
in a word, the complete costumes of Apache Indians.

The squatters disguised themselves as redskins; and when they had put on
their garments, which rendered it impossible to recognise them, they
completed the metamorphosis by painting their faces of different colours.

Assuredly the traveller whom accident had brought at this moment to the
jacal would have fancied it inhabited by Apaches or Comanches.

The garments which the squatters had taken off were locked up in the
chest, of which Red Cedar took the key; and the four men, armed with
their American rifles, left the cabin, mounted their horses, which were
awaiting them ready saddled, and started at full gallop through the
winding forest paths.

At the moment they disappeared in the gloom Ellen stood in the doorway
of the cabin, took a despairing glance in the direction where they had
gone, and fell to the ground murmuring sadly,--

"Good Heaven! What diabolical work are they going to perform this
night?"



CHAPTER VII.

THE RANGERS.


On the banks of the Rio San Pedro, and on the side of a hill, stood a
_rancheria_ composed of some ten cabins, inhabited by a population of
sixty persons at the most, including men, women and children. These
people were Coras Indians, hunters and agriculturists, belonging to the
Tortoise tribe. These poor Indians lived there on terms of peace with
their neighbours, under the protection of the Mexican laws. Quiet and
inoffensive beings, during the nearly twenty years they had been
established at this place they had never once offered a subject of
complaint to their neighbours, who, on the contrary, were glad to see
them prosper, owing to their gentle and hospitable manners. Though
Mexican subjects, they governed themselves after their fashion, obeying
their caciques, and regulating in the assembly of their elders all the
difficulties that arose in their village.

On the night when we saw the squatters leave the cabin in disguise, some
twenty individuals, armed to the teeth and clothed in strange costumes,
with their faces blackened so as to render them unrecognizable, were
bivouacked at about two leagues from the rancheria, in a plain on the
river's bank. Seated or lying round huge fires, they were singing,
laughing, quarrelling or gambling with multitudinous yells and oaths.
Two men seated apart at the foot of an enormous cactus, were conversing
in a low tone, while smoking their husk cigarettes. These two men, of
whom we have already spoken to the reader, were Fray Ambrosio, chaplain
to the Hacienda de la Noria, and Andrés Garote, the hunter.

Andrés was a tall, thin fellow, with a sickly and cunning face, who
draped himself defiantly in his sordid rags, but whose weapons were in a
perfectly good condition.

Who were the men causing this disturbance? They were "rangers," but this
requires explanation.

Immediately after each of the different revolutions which have
periodically overturned Mexico since that country so pompously declared
its independence, the first care of the new president who reaches power
is to dismiss the volunteers who had accidentally swollen the ranks of his
army, and supplied him the means of overthrowing his predecessor. These
volunteers, we must do them the justice of allowing, are the very scum
of society, and the most degraded class human nature produces. These
sanguinary men, without religion or law, who have no relations or
friends, are an utter leprosy to the country.

Roughly driven back into society, the new life they are forced to adopt
in no way suits their habits of murder and pillage. No longer able to
wage war on their countrymen, they form free corps, and engage
themselves for a certain salary, to hunt the Indios Bravos--that is to
say, the Apaches and Comanches--who desolate the Mexican frontiers. In
addition to this, the paternal government of North America in Texas, and
of Mexico in the States of the Confederation, allots them a certain sum
for each Indian scalp they bring in.

We do not fancy we are saying anything new in asserting that they are
the scourge of the colonists and inhabitants, they plunder shamelessly
in every way when they are not doing worse.

The men assembled at this moment on the banks of the Rio San Pedro were
preparing for a war party--the name they give to the massacres they
organise against the redskins.

Toward midnight Red Cedar and his three sons reached the rangers' camp.
They must have been impatiently expected, for the bandits received them
with marks of the greatest joy and the warmest enthusiasm. The dice, the
cards, and botas of mezcal and whiskey were immediately deserted. The
rangers mounted their horses, and grouped round the squatters, near whom
stood Fray Ambrosio and his friend Andrés Garote.

Red Cedar took a glance round the mob, and could not repress a smile of
pride at the sight of the rich collection of bandits of every
description whom he had around him, and who recognised him as chief. He
extended his arm to command peace. When all were silent the giant took
the word.

"Señores caballeros," he said, in a powerful and marked voice, which
made all these scamps quiver with delight at being treated like honest
people, "the audacity of the redskins is growing intolerable. If we let
them alone they would soon inundate the country, when they would end by
expelling us. This state of things must have an end. The government
complains about the few scalps we supply; it says we do not carry out
the clauses of the agreement we have formed with it; it talks about
disbanding us, as our services are useless, and therefore burdensome to
the republic. It is our bounden duty to give a striking denial to these
malevolent assertions, and prove to those who have placed confidence in
us that we are ever ready to devote ourselves to the cause of humanity
and civilisation. I have assembled you here for a war party, which I
have been meditating for some time, and shall carry out this night. We
are about to attack the rancheria of the Coras, who for some years past
have had the impudence to establish themselves near this spot. They are
pagans and thieves, who have one hundred times merited the severe
chastisement we are about to inflict on them. But I implore you, señores
caballeros, display no mistaken pity. Crush this race of vipers--let not
one escape! The scalp of a child is worth as much as that of a man; so
do not let yourselves be moved by cries or tears, but scalp, scalp to
the end."

This harangue was greeted as it deserved to be; that is, by yells of
joy.

"Señores," Red Cedar continued, "the worthy monk who accompanies me will
call down the blessing of Heaven on our enterprise; so kneel down to
receive the absolution he is about to give you."

The bandits instantaneously dismounted, took off their hats, and knelt
on the sand. Fray Ambrosio then repeated a long prayer, to which they
listened with exemplary patience, repeating _amen_ after each occasion,
and he ended by giving them absolution. The rangers rose, delighted at
being thus freed from the burden of their sins, and got into their
saddles again.

Red Cedar then whispered a few words in Fray Ambrosio's ears, who bowed
his head in assent, and immediately set out in the direction of the
Hacienda de la Noria, followed by Andrés Garote. The squatter then
turned to the rangers, who were awaiting his orders.

"You know where we are going, gentlemen," he said. "Let us start, and,
before all, be silent, if we wish to catch our game in its lair; for you
know that the Indians are as cunning as opossums."

The band started at a gallop, Red Cedar and his sons being at their
head. It was one of those calm nights which predispose the soul to
reverie, such as America alone has the privilege of possessing. The dark
blue sky was spangled with an infinite number of stars, in the centre of
which shone the majestic Southern Cross, sparkling like a king's mantle;
the atmosphere was extraordinarily transparent, and allowed objects to
be noticed at a great distance; the moon profusely spread around her
silvery rays, which gave the scenery a fantastic appearance; a
mysterious breeze sported through the tops of the great trees; and at
times vague rumours traversed the space, and were lost in the distance.

The gloomy horsemen still went on, silent and frowning, like the
phantoms of the ancient legends, which glide through the shadows to
accomplish a deed without a name. At the end of scarce an hour the
rancheria was reached. All were resting in the village--not a light
flashed in the hut. The Indians, wearied with the hard toil of the day,
were reposing, full of confidence in the sworn faith, and apprehending
no treason.

Red Cedar halted twenty yards from the rancheria, and drew up his
horsemen so as to surround the village on all sides. When each had taken
his post, and the torches were lighted, Red Cedar uttered the terrible
war cry of the Apaches, and the rangers galloped at full speed on the
village, uttering ferocious howls, and brandishing the torches, which
they threw on the cabins.

A scene of carnage then took place which the human pen is powerless to
describe. The unhappy Indians, surprised in their sleep, rushed
terrified and half naked out of their poor abodes, and were pitilessly
massacred and scalped by the rangers, who waved with a demoniac laugh
their smoking, blood-dripping scalps. Men, women, and children, all were
killed with refinements of barbarity. The village, fired by the rangers'
torches, soon became an immense funebral pile, in which victims and
murderers were huddled pell-mell.

Still a few Indians had succeeded in collecting. Formed in a compact
troop of twenty men, they opposed a desperate resistance to their
assassins, exasperated by the odour of blood and the intoxication of
carnage. At the head of this band was a half-nude, tall Indian of
intelligent features, who, armed with a ploughshare, which he wielded
with extreme force and skill, felled all the assailants who came within
reach of his terrible weapon. This man was the cacique of the Coras. At
his feet lay his mother, wife, and two children--dead. The unhappy man
struggled with the energy of despair. He knew his life would be
sacrificed, but he wished to sell it as dearly as possible.

In vain had the rangers fired on the cacique--he seemed invulnerable:
not one of the bullets aimed at him had struck him. He still fought, and
the weight of his weapon did not seem to fatigue his arm. The rangers
excited each other to finish him; but not one dared to approach him.

But this combat of giants could not endure longer. Of the twenty
companions he had round him on commencing the struggle, the cacique now
only saw two or three upright: the rest were dead. There must be an end.
The circle that inclosed the hapless Indian drew closer and closer.
Henceforth it was only a question of time with him. The rangers,
recognising the impossibility of conquering this lion-hearted man, had
changed their tactics: they no longer attacked him, but contented
themselves with forming an impassable circle round him, waiting
prudently for the moment when the strength of the prey, which could not
escape them, was exhausted, in order to rush upon him.

The Coras understood the intention of his enemies. A contemptuous smile
contracted his haughty lips, and he rushed resolutely toward these men
who recoiled before him. Suddenly, with a movement quicker than thought,
he threw with extraordinary strength the ploughshare among the rangers,
and bounding like a tiger, leaped on a horse, and clutched its rider
with superhuman vigour.

Ere the rangers had recovered from the surprise this unforeseen attack
occasioned in them, by a desperate effort, and still holding the
horseman, the chieftain drew from his girdle a short sharp knife, which
he buried up to the hilt in the flanks of the horse. The animal uttered
a shriek of pain, rushed headlong into the crowd, and bore both away
with maddening speed.

The rangers, rendered furious at being played with by a single man, and
seeing their most terrible enemy escape them, started in pursuit; but
with his liberty the Coras had regained all his energy: he felt himself
saved. In spite of the desperate efforts the rangers made to catch him
up, he disappeared in the darkness.

The cacique continued to fly till he felt his horse tottering under him.
He had not loosed his hold of the horseman, who was half strangled by
the rude embrace, and both rolled on the ground. This man wore the
costume of the Apache Indians. The Coras regarded him for an instant
attentively, and then a smile of contempt played round his lips.

"You are not a redskin," he said, in a hollow voice; "you are only a
paleface dog. Why put on the skin of the lion when you are a cowardly
coyote?"

The ranger, still stunned by the fall he had suffered, and the hug he
had endured, made no reply.

"I could kill you," the Indian continued; "but my vengeance would not be
complete. You and yours must pay me for all the innocent blood you have
shed like cowards this night. I will mark you, so that I may know you
again."

Then, with fearful coolness, the Coras threw the ranger on his back, put
his knee on his chest, and burying his finger in the socket of his eye,
gave it a sharp rotatory movement, and plucked out his eyeball. On this
frightful mutilation, the wretch uttered a cry of pain impossible to
describe. The Indian got up.

"Go!" he said to him. "Now I am certain of finding you again whenever I
want you."

At this moment the sound of hoofs could be heard a short distance off:
the rangers had evidently heard their comrade's cry, and were hurrying
to his aid. The Coras, rushed into the bushes and disappeared. A few
moments later the rangers came up.

"Nathan, my son!" Red Cedar shouted as he leaped from his horse and
threw himself on the body of the wounded man. "Nathan, my firstborn, is
dead!"

"No," one of the rangers answered; "but he is very bad."

It was really the squatter's eldest son whom the cacique had mutilated.
Red Cedar seized him in his arms, placed him before him on the saddle,
and the band started again at a gallop. The rangers had accomplished
their task: they had sixty human scalps hanging from their girdles. The
rancheria of the Coras was no longer aught save a pile of ashes.

Of all the inhabitants of this hapless village only the cacique
survived; but he would suffice to avenge his brothers.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE VALLEY OF THE BUFFALO.


Don Miguel Zarate, on leaving his son, remounted his horse and rode
straight to Paso, to the house of Don Luciano Pérez, the _juez de
letras_ (police magistrate).

The hacendero was one of the richest landed proprietors in the country;
and as he was thoroughly acquainted with the spirit of the depositaries
of justice in those parts, he had consequently been careful to line his
purse well. Here were two reasons, then, to interest the judge in his
favour, and this really happened.

The worthy Don Luciano shuddered on hearing the details of what had
occurred between Don Pablo and the squatters. He swore that he would,
without delay, take an exemplary vengeance for this starting felony on
the part of the heretic dogs, and that it was high time to bring them
reason. Confirming himself more and more in his resolution, he buckled
on his sword, gave orders to twenty well-armed alguaciles to mount, and
placing himself at the head of this numerous escort, he proceeded toward
Buffalo Valley.

Don Miguel had witnessed with secret annoyance all these formidable
preparations. He placed but slight confidence in the courage of the
policemen, and he would have preferred the judge leaving him master to
act as he pleased. He had even adroitly attempted to obtain from Don
Luciano a regular warrant, which he would have executed however he might
think proper; but the judge, burning with an unusual warlike ardor, and
spurred on by the large sum he had received, would listen to nothing,
but insisted on himself taking the head of the expedition.

Don Luciano Pérez was a plump little man of about sixty years of age,
round as a tub, with a jolly face, adorned with a rubicund nose and two
cunning little eyes. This man cordially detested the North Americans;
and, in the courageous deed he was committing at this moment, hatred was
as much the instigation as avarice.

The little band set out at a canter, and proceeded rapidly toward the
forest. The judge hurled fire and flames at the audacious usurpers, as
he called them; he spoke of nothing less than killing them without
mercy, if they attempted even the slightest resistance to the orders he
was about to give them. Don Miguel, who was much calmer, and foreboded
no good from this great wrath, sought in vain to pacify him by telling
him that he would in all probability have to do with men difficult to
intimidate, against whom coolness would be the best weapon.

They gradually approached. The hacendero, in order to shorten the
journey, had led the band by a cross road, which saved at least
one-third the distance; and the first trees of the forest already
appeared about two miles off. The mischief produced by the squatters was
much more considerable than Don Pablo had represented to his father;
and, at the first glance, it seemed impossible that, in so short a time,
four men, even though working vigorously, could have accomplished it.
The finest trees lay on the ground; enormous piles of planks were
arranged at regular distances, and on the San Pedro an already completed
raft only awaited a few more stems of trees to be thrust into the water.

Don Miguel could not refrain from sighing at the sight of the
devastation committed in one of his best forests; but the nearer they
approached the spot where they expected to meet the squatters, the more
lukewarm grew the warlike zeal of the judge and his acolytes, and the
hacendero soon found himself compelled to urge them on, instead of
restraining them as he had hitherto done. Suddenly the sound of an axe
re-echoed a few paces ahead of the band. The judge impelled by the
feeling of his duty, and shame of appearing frightened, advanced boldly
in the direction of the sound, followed by his escort.

"Stop!" a rough voice shouted at the moment the policemen turned the
corner of a lane.

With that instinct of self-preservation which never abandons them, the
alguaciles stopped as if their horses' feet had been suddenly welded to
the ground. Ten paces from them stood a man in the centre of the ride,
leaning on an American rifle. The judge turned to Don Miguel with such
an expression of hesitation and honest terror that the hacendero could
not refrain from laughing.

"Come, courage, Don Luciano," he said to him. "This man is alone; he
cannot venture to bar our passage."

"_Con mil diablos!_" the judge exclaimed, ashamed of this impression
which he could not master, and frowning portentously, "forward, you
fellows, and fire on that scoundrel if he make but a sign to resist
you."

The alguaciles set out again with prudential hesitation.

"Stop! I tell you again," the squatter repeated. "Did you not hear the
order I gave you!"

The judge, reassured by the presence of the hacendero, then advanced,
and said with a tone which he strove to render terrible, but which was
only ridiculous through the terror he revealed,--

"I, Don Luciano Pérez, _juez de letras_ of the town of Paso, have come,
by virtue of the powers delegated to me by the Government, to summon you
and your adherents to quit within twenty-four hours this forest you have
illegally entered, and which--"

"Ta, ta!" the stranger shouted, rudely interrupting the judge, and
stamping his foot savagely. "I care as much for all your words and laws
as I do for an old moccasin. The ground belongs to the first comers. We
are comfortable here, and mean to remain."

"Your language is very bold, young man," Don Miguel then said. "You do
not consider that you are alone, and that, failing other rights, we have
strength on our side."

The squatter burst into a laugh.

"You believe that," he said. "Learn, stranger, that I care as little for
the ten humbugs I now have before me as I do for a woodcock, and that
they will do well to leave me at peace, unless they want to learn the
weight of my arm at their expense. However, here is my father; settle it
with him."

And he began carelessly whistling "Yankee Doodle." At the same instant
three men, at the head of whom was Red Cedar, appeared on the path. At
the sight of these unexpected reinforcements for their arrogant enemy
the alguaciles made a movement in retreat. The affair was becoming
singularly complicated, and threatened to assume proportions very grave
for them.

"Halloh! What's up?" the old man asked roughly. "Anything wrong,
Sutter?"

"These people," the young man answered, shrugging his shoulders
contemptuously, "are talking about driving us from the forest by virtue
of some order."

"Halloh!" Red Cedar said, his eyes flashing as he cast a savage glance
at the Mexicans. "The only law I recognise in the desert," he continued
with a gesture of terrible energy as he struck his rifle barrel, "is
this. Withdraw, strangers, if you do not wish blood to be shed between
us. I am a peaceful man, wishing to do no one hurt; but I warn you that
I will not allow myself to be kicked out without striking a blow."

"You will not be turned out," the judge remarked timidly; "on the
contrary, you have seized on what belongs to other people."

"I won't listen to your arguments, which I do not understand," the
squatter roughly exclaimed. "God gave the ground to man that he might
labour on it. Every proprietor that does not fulfil this condition
tacitly renounces his rights, and the earth then becomes the property of
the man who tills it with the sweat of his brow; so go to the devil! Be
off at full speed, if you do not wish harm to happen to you!"

"We will not suffer ourselves to be intimidated by your threats," the
judge said, impelled by his anger, and forgetting for a moment his
alarm; "we will do our duty, whatever may happen."

"Try it," Red Cedar said with a grin.

And he made a sign to his sons. The latter arranged themselves in a
single line, and occupied the entire width of the path.

"In the name of the law," the judge said with energy, as he pointed out
the old man, "alguaciles, seize that person."

But, as so frequently happens under similar circumstances, this order
was more easy to give than to execute. Red Cedar and his sons did not
appear at all disposed to let themselves be collared. We must, however,
do the alguaciles the justice of stating that they did not hesitate for
a moment. They plainly refused to carry out the order they had received.

"For the last time, will you be off?" the squatter shouted. "Let them
have it."

His three sons raised their rifles. At this movement, which removed all
doubts that might still remain on their minds, and which proved to them
that the squatters would not hesitate to proceed to extremities, the
alguaciles were seized with an invincible terror. They turned bridle and
galloped off at full speed, followed by the yells of the Americans.

One man alone remained motionless before the squatters--Don Miguel
Zarate. Red Cedar had not recognised him, either owing to the distance
that separated them, or because the hacendero had purposely pulled over
his eyes his broad-brimmed hat. Don Miguel dismounted, placed the
pistols from his holsters through his belt, fastened his horse to a
tree, and coolly throwing his rifle across his shoulders, boldly
advanced toward the squatters. The latter, surprised by the courage of
this man, who alone attempted what his comrades had given up all hopes
of achieving, let him come up to them without offering the slightest
opposition. When Don Miguel was a couple of paces from the old squatter;
he stopped, put the butt of his rifle on the ground, and removing his
hat, said,--

"Do you recognise me, Red Cedar?"

"Don Miguel Zarate!" the bandit shouted in surprise.

"As the judge deserts me," the hacendero continued, "and fled like a
coward before your threats, I am obliged to take justice for myself,
and, by heavens! I will do so! Red Cedar, I, as owner of this forest, in
which you have settled without permission, order you to depart at once."

The young men exchanged a few muttered threats.

"Silence!" Red Cedar commanded. "Let the caballero speak."

"I have finished, and await your answer."

The squatter appeared to reflect deeply for a few minutes.

"The answer you demand is difficult to give," he at length said: "my
position toward you is not a free one."

"Why so?"

"Because I owe you my life."

"I dispense you from all gratitude."

"That is possible. You are at liberty to do so; but I cannot forget the
service you rendered me."

"It is of little consequence."

"Much more than you fancy, caballero. I may be, through my character,
habits, and the mode of life I lead, beyond the law of civilised beings;
but I am not the less a man, and if of the worst sort, perhaps, I no
more forget a kindness than I do an insult."

"Prove it, then, by going away as quickly as you can, and then we shall
be quits."

The squatter shook his head.

"Listen to me, Don Miguel," he said. "You have in this country the
reputation of being the providence of the unfortunate. I know from
myself the extent of your kindness and courage. It is said that you
possess an immense fortune, of which you do not yourself know the
extent."

"Well, what then?" the hacendero impatiently interrupted him.

"The damage I can commit here, even if I cut down all the trees in the
forest, would be but a trifle to you; then whence comes the fury you
display to drive me out?"

"Your question is just, and I will answer it. I demand your departure
from my estates, because, only a few days back, my son was grievously
wounded by your lads, who led him into a cowardly snare; and if he
escaped death, it was only through a miracle. That is the reason why we
cannot live side by side, for blood severs us."

Red Cedar frowned.

"Is this true?" he said, addressing his sons.

The young men only hung their heads in reply.

"I am waiting," Don Miguel went on.

"Come, the question cannot be settled thus, so we will proceed to my
jacal."

"For what purpose? I ask you for a yes or no."

"I cannot answer you yet. We must have a conversation together, after
which you shall decide to my future conduct. Follow me, then, without
fear."

"I fear nothing, as I believe I have proved to you. Go on, as you demand
it: I will follow you."

Red Cedar made his sons a sign to remains here they were, and proceeded
with long strides toward his jacal, which was but a short distance off.
Don Miguel walked carelessly after him. They entered the cabin. It was
deserted. The two females were doubtless also occupied in the forest.
Red Cedar closed the door after him, sat down on a bench, made his guest
a sign to do the same, and began speaking in a low and measured voice,
as if afraid what he had to say might be heard outside.



CHAPTER IX.

THE ASSASSINATION.


"Listen to me, Don Miguel," Red Cedar said, "and pray do not mistake my
meaning. I have not the slightest intention of intimidating you, nor do
I think of attempting to gain your confidence by revelations which you
may fairly assume I have accidentally acquired."

The hacendero regarded with amazement the speaker, whose tone and
manner had so suddenly changed.

"I do not understand you," he said to him. "Explain yourself more
clearly, for the words you have just uttered are an enigma, the key to
which I seek in vain."

"You shall be satisfied, caballero; and if you do not catch the meaning
of my words this time it must be because you will not. Like all
intelligent men, you are wearied of the incessant struggles in which the
vital strength of your country is exhausted unprofitably. You have seen
that a land so rich, so fertile, so gloriously endowed as Mexico, could
not--I should say ought not--to remain longer the plaything of paltry
ambitions, and the arena on which all these transitory tyrannies sport
in turn. For nearly thirty years you have dreamed of emancipation, not
of your entire country, for that would be too rude a task, and
unrealisable; but you said to yourself, 'Let us render New Mexico
independent; form it into a new State, governed by wise laws rigorously
executed. By liberal institutions let us give an impetus to all the
riches with which it is choked, give intellect all the liberty it
requires, and perhaps within a few years the entire Mexican
Confederation, amazed by the magnificent results I shall obtain, will
follow my example. Then I shall die happy at what I have effected--my
object will be carried out. I shall have saved my country from the abyss
over which it hangs, through the double pressure of the invasion of the
American Union and the exhaustion of the Spanish race.' Are not those
ideas yours, caballero? Do you consider that I have explained myself
clearly this time?"

"Perhaps so, though I do not yet see distinctly the point you wish to
reach. The thoughts you attribute to me are such as naturally occur to
all men who sincerely love their country, and I will not pretend that I
have not entertained them."

"You would be wrong in doing so, for they are great and noble, and
breathe the purest patriotism."

"A truce to compliments, and let us come to the point, for time
presses."

"Patience: I have not yet ended. These ideas must occur to you sooner
than to another, as you are the descendant of the first Aztec kings, and
born defender of the Indians in this hapless country. You see that I am
well acquainted with you, Don Miguel Zarate."

"Too well, perhaps," the Mexican gentleman muttered.

The squatter smiled and went on:--

"It is not chance that led me to this country. I knew what I was doing,
and why I came. Don Miguel, the hour is a solemn one. All your
preparations are made: will you hesitate to give New Mexico the signal
which must render it independent of the metropolis which has so long
been fattening at its expense? Answer me."

Don Miguel started. He fixed on the squatter a burning glance, in which
admiration at the man's language could be read. Red Cedar shrugged his
shoulders.

"What! You still doubt?" he said.

He rose, went to a box from which he took some papers, and threw them on
the table before the hacendero, saying,--

"Read."

Don Miguel hurriedly seized the papers, and ran his eye over them.

"Well?" he asked, looking fixedly at the strange speaker.

"You see," the squatter answered, "that I am your accomplice. General
Ibañez, your agent in Mexico, is in correspondence with me, as is Mr.
Wood, your agent at New York."

"It is true," the Mexican said coldly, "you have the secret of the
conspiracy. The only point left is to what extent that goes."

"I possess it entirely. I have orders to enlist the volunteers who will
form the nucleus of the insurrectionary army."

"Good!"

"Now, you see, by these letters of General Ibañez and Mr. Wood, that I
am commissioned by them to come to an understanding with you, and
receive your final orders."

"I see it."

"What do you purpose doing?"

"Nothing."

"What, nothing!" the squatter exclaimed, bounding with surprise. "You
are jesting, I suppose."

"Listen to me in your turn, and pay attention to my words, for they
express my irrevocable resolution. I know not nor care to know, by what
means, more or less honourable, you have succeeded in gaining the
confidence of my partners, and becoming master of our secrets. Still it
is my firm conviction that a cause which employs such men as yourself is
compromised, if not lost; hence I renounce every combination in which
you are called to play a part. Your antecedents, and the life you lead,
have placed you without the pale of the law."

"I am a bandit--out with it! What matter so long as you succeed? Does
not the end justify the means?"

"That may be your morality, but it will never be mine. I repudiate all
community of ideas with men of your stamp. I will not have you either as
accomplice or partner."

The squatter darted a look at him laden with hatred and disappointment.

"In serving us," Don Miguel continued, "you can only have an interested
object, which I will not take the trouble of guessing at. An
Anglo-American will never frankly aid a Mexican to conquer his liberty;
he would lose too much by doing it."

"Then?"

"I renounce forever the projects I had formed. I had, I grant, dreamed
of restoring to my country the independence of which it was unjustly
stripped: but it shall remain a dream."

"That is your last word?"

"The last."

"You refuse?"

"I do."

"Good; then I now know what is left me to do."

"Well, what is it? Let me hear," the hacendero said, as he crossed his
arms on his breast, and looked him boldly in the face.

"I will tell you."

"I am waiting for you to do so."

"I hold your secret."

"Entirely?"

"Hence you are in my power."

"Perhaps."

"Who will prevent me going to the Governor of the State and denouncing
you?"

"He will not believe you."

"You think so?"

"I am sure of it."

"Perhaps, I will say in my turn."

"Why so?"

"Oh! you shall easily see."

"I am curious to learn it."

"However rich you may be, Don Miguel Zarate, and perhaps because of
those very riches, and in spite of the kindness you sow broadcast, the
number of your enemies is very considerable."

"I know it."

"Very good. Those enemies will joyfully seize the first opportunity that
presents itself to destroy you."

"It is probable."

"You see, then. When I go to the governor and tell him you are
conspiring, and, in support of my denunciation, hand him not only these
letters, but, several others written and signed by you, lying in that
chest, do you believe that the governor will treat me as an impostor,
and refuse to arrest you?"

"Then you have letters in my hand-writing?"

"I have three, which will be enough to have you shot."

"Ah!"

"Yes. Hang it all! you understand: that, in an affair so important as
this, it is wise to take one's precautions, for no one knows what may
happen; and men of my stamp," he added, with an ironical smile, "have
more reasons than others for being prudent."

"Come, that is well played," the hacendero said, carelessly.

"Is it not?"

"Yes, and I compliment you on it: you are a better player than I gave
you credit for."

"Oh! You do not know me yet."

"The little I do know suffices me."

"Then?"

"We will remain as we are, if you will permit me."

"You still refuse?"

"More than ever."

The squatter frowned.

"Take care, Don Miguel," he muttered, hoarsely. "I will do what I told
you."

"Yes, if I allow you time."

"Eh?"

"_Caspita!_ If you are a clever scamp, I am not altogether a fool. Do
you believe, in your turn, that I will let myself be intimidated by your
threats, and that I should not find means to keep you from acting, not
for my own sake, as I care little personally for what you can do, but
for my friends, who are men of honour, and whose lives I do not wish to
be compromised by your treachery?"

"I am curious to know the means you will employ to obtain this result."

"You shall see," Don Miguel replied with perfect coolness.

"Well?"

"I shall kill you."

"Oh, oh!" the squatter said, as he looked complacently at his muscular
limbs, "That is not easy."

"More so than you suppose, my master."

"Hum! and when do you reckon on killing me?"

"At once!"

The two men were seated in front of the hearth, each at the end of a
bench: the table was between them, but a little back, so that while
talking they only leaned an elbow on it. While uttering the last word,
Don Miguel bounded like a tiger on the squatter, who did not at all
expect the attack, seized him by the throat, and hurled him to the
ground. The two enemies rolled on the uneven flooring of the jacal.

The Mexican's attack had been so sudden and well directed that the
half-strangled squatter, in spite of his Herculean strength, could not
free himself from his enemy's iron clutch, which pressed his throat like
a vice. Red Cedar could neither utter a cry nor offer the slightest
resistance: the Mexican's knee crushed his chest, while his fingers
pressed into his throat.

So soon as he had reduced the wretch to utter impotence, Don Miguel drew
from his vaquera boot a long sharp knife, and buried the entire blade in
his body. The bandit writhed convulsively for a few seconds; a livid
pallor suffused his face; his eyes closed, and he then remained
motionless. Don Miguel left the weapon in the wound, and slowly rose.

"Ah, ah!" he muttered as he gazed at him with a sardonic air, "I fancy
that rogue will not denounce me now."

Without loss of time he seized the letters lying on the table, took from
the box the few documents he found in it, hid them all in his bosom,
opened the door of the cabin, which he carefully closed after him, and
went off with long strides.

The squatter's sons had not quitted their post; but, so soon as they
perceived the Mexican, they went up to him.

"Well," Shaw asked him, "have you come to an understanding with the old
man?"

"Perfectly so," the Mexican answered.

"Then the affair is settled?"

"Yes, to our mutual satisfaction."

"All the better," the young men exclaimed joyously.

The hacendero unfastened his horse and mounted.

"Good-bye, gentlemen!" he said to them.

"Good-bye!" they replied, returning his bow.

The Mexican put his horse to a trot, but at the first turn in the road
he dug his spurs into its flanks, and started at full speed.

"Now," Sutter observed, "I believe that we can proceed to the cabin
without inconvenience."

And they gently walked toward the jacal, pleasantly conversing together.

Don Miguel, however, had not succeeded so fully as he imagined. Red
Cedar was not dead, for the old bandit kept a firm hold on life.
Attacked unawares, the squatter had not attempted a resistance, which he
saw at the first glance was useless, and would only have exasperated his
adversary. With marvellous sagacity, on feeling the knife blade enter
his body, he stiffened himself against the pain, and resolved on
"playing 'possum;" that is to say, feigning death. The success of his
stratagem was complete. Don Miguel, persuaded that he had killed him,
did not dream of repeating his thrust.

So long as his enemy remained in the jacal the squatter was careful not
to make the slightest movement that might have betrayed him; but, so
soon as he was alone, he opened his eyes, rose with an effort, drew the
dagger from the wound, which emitted a jet of black blood, and looking
at the door, through which his assassin had departed, with a glance so
full of hatred that it is impossible to describe, he muttered,--

"Now we are quits, Don Miguel Zarate, since you have tried to take back
the life of him you saved. Pray God never to bring us face to face
again!"

He uttered a deep sigh, and rolled heavily on the ground in a fainting
fit. At this moment his sons entered the cabin.



CHAPTER X.

THE SACHEM OF THE CORAS.


A few days after the events we have described in the previous chapter
there was one of those lovely mornings which are not accorded to our
cold climates to know. The sun poured down in profusion its warm beams,
which caused the pebbles and sand to glisten in the walks of the garden
of the Hacienda de la Noria. In a clump of flowering orange and lemon
trees, whose sweet exhalations perfumed the air, and beneath a copse of
cactus, nopals, and aloes, a maiden was asleep, carelessly reclining in
a hammock made of the thread of the _Phormium tenax,_ which hung between
two orange trees.

With her head thrown back, her long black hair unfastened, and falling
in disorder on her neck and bosom; with her coral lips parted, and
displaying the dazzling pearl of her teeth, Doña Clara (for it was she
who slept thus with an infantile slumber) was really charming. Her
features breathed happiness, for not a cloud had yet arisen to perturb
the azure horizon of her calm and tranquil life.

It was nearly midday: there was not a breath in the air. The sunbeams,
pouring down vertically, rendered the heat so stifling and
unsupportable, that everyone in the hacienda had yielded to sleep, and
was enjoying what is generally called in hot countries the _siesta._
Still, at a short distance from the spot where Doña Clara reposed, calm
and smiling, a sound of footsteps, at first almost imperceptible, but
gradually heightening, was heard, and a man made his appearance. It was
Shaw, the youngest of the squatter's sons. How was he at this spot?

The young man was panting, and the perspiration poured down his cheeks.
On reaching the entrance of the clump he bent an anxious glance on the
hammock.

"She is there," he murmured with a passionate accent. "She sleeps."

Then he fell on his knees upon the sand, and began admiring the maiden,
dumb and trembling. He remained thus a long time, with his glance fixed
on the slumberer with a strange expression. At length he uttered a sigh
and tearing himself with an effort from this delicious contemplation, he
rose sadly, muttering in a whisper,--

"I must go--if she were to wake--oh, she will never know how much I love
her!"

He plucked an orange flower, and softly laid it on the maiden; then he
walked a few steps from her, but almost immediately returning, he
seized, with a nervous hand, Doña Clara's _rebozo,_ which hung down from
the hammock, and pressed it to his lips several times, saying, in a
voice broken by the emotion he felt,--

"It has touched her hair."

And rushing from the thicket, he crossed the garden and disappeared. He
had heard footsteps approaching. In fact, a few seconds after his
departure, Don Miguel, in his turn, entered the copse.

"Come, come," he said gaily, as he shook the hammock, "sleeper, will you
not have finished your siesta soon?"

Doña Clara opened her eyes, with a smile.

"I am no longer asleep, father," she said.

"Very good. That is the answer I like."

And he stepped forward to kiss her; but, with sudden movement, the
maiden drew herself back as if she had seen some frightful vision, and
her face was covered with a livid pallor.

"What is the matter with you?" the hacendero exclaimed with terror.

The girl showed him the orange flower.

"Well," her father continued, "what is there so terrific in that flower?
It must have fallen from the tree during your sleep."

Doña Clara shook her head sadly.

"No," she said: "for some days past I have always noticed, on waking a
similar flower thrown on me."

"You are absurd; chance alone is to blame for it all. Come, think no
more about it; you are pale as death, child. Why frighten yourself thus
about a trifle? Besides the remedy may be easily found. If so afraid of
flowers now, why not take your siesta in your bedroom, instead of
burying yourself in this thicket?"

"That is true, father," the girl said, all joyous, and no longer
thinking of the fear she had undergone. "I will follow your advice."

"Come, that is settled, so say no more about it. Now give me a kiss."

The maiden threw herself into her father's arms, whom she stifled with
kisses. Both sat down on a grassy mound, and commenced one of those
delicious chit-chats whose charm only those who are parents can properly
appreciate. Presently a peon came up.

"What has brought you?" Don Miguel asked.

"Excellency," the peon answered, "a redskin warrior has just arrived at
the hacienda, who desires speech with you."

"Do you know him?" Don Miguel asked.

"Yes, Excellency; it is Eagle-wing, the sachem of the Coras of the Rio
San Pedro."

"Mookapec! (Flying Eagle)" the hacendero repeated with surprise. "What
can have brought him to me? Lead him here."

The peon retired and in a few minutes returned, preceding Eagle-wing.

The chief had donned the great war-dress of the sachems of his nation.
His hair, plaited with the skin of a rattlesnake, was drawn up on the
top of his head; in the centre an eagle plume was affixed. A blouse of
striped calico, adorned with a profusion of bells, descended to his
thighs, which were defended from the stings of mosquitoes by drawers of
the same stuff. He wore moccasins made of peccary skin, adorned with
glass beads and porcupine quills. To his heels were fastened several
wolves' tails, the distinguishing mark of renowned warriors. Round his
loins was a belt of elk hide, through which passed his knife, his pipe
and his medicine bag. His neck was adorned by a collar of grizzly bear
claws and buffalo teeth. Finally, a magnificent robe of a white female
buffalo hide, painted red inside, was fastened to his shoulders, and
fell down behind him like a cloak. In his right hand he held a fan
formed of a single eagle's wing, and in his left hand an American rifle.
There was something imposing and singularly martial in the appearance
and demeanor of this savage child of the forest.

On entering the thicket, he bowed gracefully to Doña Clara, and then
stood motionless and dumb before Don Miguel. The Mexican regarded him
attentively, and saw an expression of gloomy melancholy spread over the
Indian chief's features.

"My brother is welcome," the hacendero said to him. "To what do I owe
the pleasure of seeing him?"

The chief cast a side glance at the maiden. Don Miguel understood what
he desired, and made Doña Clara a sign to withdraw. They remained alone.

"My brother can speak," the hacendero then said; "the ears of a friend
are open."

"Yes, my father is good," the chief replied in his guttural voice. "He
loves the Indians: unhappily all the palefaces do not resemble him."

"What does my brother mean? Has he cause to complain of anyone?"

The Indian smiled sadly.

"Where is there justice for the redskins?" he said. "The Indians are
animals: the Great Spirit has not given them a soul, as He has done for
the palefaces, and it is not a crime to kill them."

"Come, chief, pray do not speak longer in riddles, but explain why you
have quitted your tribe. It is far from Rio San Pedro to this place."

"Mookapec is alone: his tribe no longer exists."

"How?"

"The palefaces came in the night, like jaguars without courage. They
burned the village, and massacred all the inhabitants, even to the women
and little children."

"Oh, that is frightful!" the hacendero murmured, in horror.

"Ah!" the chief continued with an accent full of terrible irony, "The
scalps of the redskins are sold dearly."

"And do you know the men who committed this atrocious crime?"

"Mookapec knows them, and will avenge himself."

"Tell me their chief, if you know his name."

"I know it. The palefaces call him Red Cedar, the Indians the Maneater."

"Oh! As for him, chief, you are avenged, for he is dead."

"My father is mistaken."

"How so? Why, I killed him myself."

The Indian shook his head.

"Red Cedar has a hard life," he said: "the blade of the knife my father
used was too short. Red Cedar is wounded, but in a few days he will be
about again, ready to kill and scalp the Indians."

This news startled the hacendero: the enemy he fancied he had got rid
of still lived, and he would have to begin a fresh struggle.

"My father must take care," the chief continued. "Red Cedar has sworn to
be avenged."

"Oh! I will not leave him the time. This man is a demon, of whom the
earth must be purged at all hazards, before his strength has returned,
and he begins his assassinations again."

"I will aid my father in his vengeance."

"Thanks, chief. I do not refuse your offer: perhaps I shall soon need
the help of all my friends. And now, what do you purpose doing?"

"Since the palefaces reject him, Eagle-wing will retire to the desert.
He has friends among the Comanches. They are redskins, and will welcome
him gladly."

"I will not strive to combat your determination, chief, for it is just;
and if, at a later date, you take terrible reprisals on the white men,
they will have no cause of complaint, for they have brought it on
themselves. When does my brother start?"

"At sunset."

"Rest here today: tomorrow will be soon enough to set out."

"Mookapec must depart this day."

"Act as you think proper. Have you a horse?"

"No; but at the first manada I come to I will lasso one."

"I do not wish you to set out thus, but will give you a horse."

"Thanks; my father is good. The Indian chief will remember--"

"Come, you shall choose for yourself."

"I have still a few words to say to my father."

"Speak, chief; I am listening to you."

"Koutonepi, the pale hunter, begged me to give my father an important
warning."

"What is it?"

"A great danger threatens my father. Koutonepi wishes to see him as soon
as possible, in order himself to tell him its nature."

"Good! My brother will tell the hunter that I shall be tomorrow at the
'clearing of the shattered oak,' and await him there till night."

"I will faithfully repeat my father's words to the hunter."

The two men then quitted the garden, and hurriedly proceeded toward the
hacienda. Don Miguel let the chief choose his own horse, and while the
sachem was harnessing his steed in the Indian fashion, he withdrew to
his bedroom, and sent for his son to join him. The young man had
perfectly recovered from his wound. His father told him that he was
obliged to absent himself for some days: he intrusted to him the
management of the hacienda, while recommending him on no consideration
to leave the farm, and to watch attentively over his sister. The young
man promised him all he wished, happy at enjoying perfect liberty for a
few days.

After embracing his son and daughter for the last time Don Miguel
proceeded to the _patio_, where in the meanwhile, the chief had been
amusing himself by making the magnificent horse he had chosen curvet.
Don Miguel admired for several moments the Indian's skill and grace, for
he managed a horse as well as the first Mexican _jinete;_ then mounted,
and the two men proceeded together toward the Paso del Norte, which they
must cross in order to enter the desert, and reach the clearing of the
shattered oak.

The journey passed in silence, for the two men were deeply reflecting.
At the moment they entered Paso the sun was setting on the horizon in a
bed of red mist, which foreboded a storm for the night. At the entrance
of the village they separated; and on the morrow, as we have seen in our
first chapter, Don Miguel set out at daybreak, and galloped to the
clearing.

We will now end this lengthy parenthesis, which was, however,
indispensable for the due comprehension of the facts that are about to
follow, and take up our story again at the point where we left it.



CHAPTER XI.

CONVERSATION.


Valentine Guillois, whom we have already introduced to the reader in
previous works[1], had inhabited, or, to speak more correctly, traversed
the vast solitudes of Mexico and Texas during the past five or six
years. We saw him just now accompanied by the Araucano chief. These two
men were the boldest hunters on the frontier. At times, when they had
collected an ample harvest of furs, they went to sell them in the
villages, renewed their stock of powder and ball, purchased a few
indispensable articles, and then returned to the desert.

Now and then they engaged themselves for a week, or even a fortnight,
with the proprietors of the haciendas, to free them from the wild beasts
that desolated their herds; but so soon as the ferocious animals were
destroyed, and the reward obtained, no matter the brilliancy of the
offers made them by the landowners, the two men threw their rifles on
their shoulders and went off.

No one knew who they were, or whence they came. Valentine and his friend
maintained the most complete silence as to the events of their life
which had preceded their appearance in these parts. Only one thing had
betrayed the nationality of Valentine, whom his comrade called
Koutonepi, a word belonging to the language of the Aucas, and signifying
"The Valiant." On his chest the hunter wore the cross of the Legion of
Honor. The deeds of every description performed by these hunters were
incalculable, and their stories were the delight of the frontier
dwellers during the winter night. The number of tigers they had killed
was no longer counted.

Chance had one day made them acquainted with Don Miguel Zarate under
strange circumstances, and since then an uninterrupted friendship had
been maintained between them. Don Miguel, during a tempestuous night,
namely, had only owed his life to the accuracy of Valentine's aim, who
sent a bullet through the head of the Mexican's horse at the moment
when, mad with terror, and no longer obeying the bridle, it was on the
point of leaping into an abyss with its master. Don Miguel had sworn
eternal gratitude to his saviour.

Valentine and Curumilla had made themselves the tutors of the
hacendero's children, who, for their part, felt a deep friendship for
the hunters. Don Pablo had frequently made long hunting parties in the
desert with them; and it was to them he owed the certainty of his aim,
his skill in handling weapons, and his knack in taming horses.

No secrets existed between Don Miguel and the hunters: they read in his
mind as in an ever open book. They were the disinterested confidants of
his plans; for these rude wood rangers esteemed him, and only required
for themselves one thing--the liberty of the desert. Still, despite the
sympathy and friendship which so closely connected these different
persons, and the confidence which formed the basis of that friendship,
Don Miguel and his children had never been able to obtain from the
hunters information as to the events that had passed prior to their
arrival in this country.

Frequently Don Miguel, impelled, not by curiosity, but merely by the
interest he felt in them, had tried, by words cleverly thrown into the
conversation, to give them an opening for confidence; but Valentine had
always repelled those hints, though cleverly enough for Don Miguel not
to feel offended by this want of confidence. With Curumilla they had
been even more simple. Wrapped in his Indian stoicism, intrenched in his
habitual sullenness, he was wont to answer all questions by a shake of
the head, but nothing further.

At length, weary of the attempt, the hacendero and his family had given
up trying to read those secrets which their friends seemed obstinately
determined to keep from them. Still the friendship subsisting between
them had not grown cold in consequence, and it was always with equal
pleasure that Don Miguel met the hunters again after a lengthened ramble
in the prairies, which kept them away from his house for whole months at
a time.

The hunter and the Mexican were seated by the fire, while Curumilla,
armed with his scalping knife, was busy flaying the two jaguars so
skillfully killed by Don Miguel, and which were magnificent brutes.

"Eh, _compadre!_" Don Miguel said with a laugh; "I was beginning to lose
patience, and fancy you had forgotten the meeting you had yourself given
me."

"I never forgot anything, as you know," Valentine answered seriously;
"and if I did not arrive sooner, it was because the road is long from my
jacal to this clearing."

"Heaven forbid that I should reproach you, my friend! Still I confess to
you that the prospect of passing the night alone in this forest only
slightly pleased me, and I should have been off had you not arrived
before sunset."

"You would have done wrong, Don Miguel: what I have to tell you is of
the utmost importance to you. Who knows what the result might have been
had I not been able to warn you?"

"You alarm me, my friend."

"I will explain. In the first place let me tell you that you committed,
a few days back, a grave imprudence, whose consequences threaten to be
most serious for you."

"What is it?"

"I said one, but ought to have said two."

"I am waiting till you think proper to express yourself more clearly,"
Don Miguel said with a slight tinge of impatience, "before I answer."

"You have quarrelled with a North American bandit."

"Red Cedar."

"Yes; and when you had him in your power you let him escape, instead of
killing him out and out."

"That is true, and I was wrong. What would you? The villain has as tough
a life as an alligator. But be at ease. If ever he fall into my hands
again, I swear that I will not miss him."

"In the meanwhile you did do so--that is the evil."

"Why so?"

"You will understand me. This man is one of those villains, the scum of
the United States, too many of whom have lived on the frontier during
the last few years. I do not know how he contrived to deceive your New
York agent; but he gained his confidence so cleverly that the latter
told him all the secrets he knew about your enterprise."

"He told me so himself."

"Very good. It was then, I suppose, that you stabbed him?"

"Yes, and at the same time I plucked out his claws; that is to say, I
seized the letters he held, and which might compromise me."

"A mistake. This man is too thorough-paced a scoundrel not to foresee
all the chances of his treason. He had a last letter, the most important
of all; and that you did not take from him."

"I took three."

"Yes, but there were four. As the last, however, in itself was worth as
much as the other three, he always wore it about him in a leathern bag
hung round his neck by a steel chain; you did not dream of looking for
that."

"But what importance can this letter, I do not even remember writing,
possess, that you should attach such weight to it?"

"It is merely the agreement drawn up between yourself, General Ibañez,
and Mr. Wood, and bearing your three signatures."

"_Con mil demonios!_" the hacendero exclaimed in terror. "In that case
I am lost; for if this man really possesses such a document, he will not
fail to employ it in order to be revenged on me."

"Nothing is lost so long as a man's heart beats in his breast, Don
Miguel. The position is critical, I allow, but I have saved myself in
situations far more desperate than the one you are now in."

"What is to be done?"

"Red Cedar has been about again for two days. His first care, so soon as
he could sit a horse, was to go to Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico,
and denounce you to the Governor. That has nothing to surprise you from
such a man."

"Then I can only fly as speedily as I can?"

"Wait. Every man has in his heart at least one of the seven deadly sins
as a bait for the demon."

"What are you driving at?"

"You will see. Fortunately for us, Red Cedar has them all seven, I
believe, in the finest stage of development. Avarice, before all, has
reached its acme with him."

"Well?"

"This happened. Our man denounced you to the governor as a conspirator,
etc., but was careful not to give up the proofs he possessed in support
of the denunciation at the outset. When General Isturitz, the governor,
asked him for these proofs, he answered that he was ready to supply them
in exchange for the sum of one hundred thousand piastres in gold."

"Ah!" the hacendero said, with a breath of relief, "and what did
Isturitz say?"

"The general is one of your most inveterate enemies, I grant, and he
would give a good deal for the pleasure of having you shot."

"That is true."

"Yes, but still the sum appeared to him, as it really is, exorbitant,
the more so as he would have to pay it all himself, as the government
does not recognise transactions of that nature."

"Well, what did Red Cedar do then?"

"He did not allow himself beaten; on the contrary, he told the general
he would give him a week to reflect, and quietly left the Cabildo."

"Hum! And on what day was this visit paid?"

"Yesterday morning; so that you have six days still left for action."

"Six days--that is very little."

"Eh?" the Frenchman said, with a shrug of his shoulders impossible to
describe. "In my country--"

"Yes, but you are Frenchmen."

"That is true: hence I allow you twice the time we should require. Come,
let us put joking aside. You are a man of more than common energy; you
really wish the welfare of your country, so do not let yourself be
crushed by the first reverse. Who knows but that it may all be for the
best?"

"Ah, my friend, I am alone! General Ibañez, who alone could help me in
this critical affair, is fifty leagues off. What can I do? Nothing."

"All. I foresaw your objection. Eagle-wing, the Chief of the Coras, has
gone from me to warn the general. You know with what speed Indians
travel; so he will bring us the general in a few hours, I feel
convinced."

Don Miguel regarded the hunter with mingled admiration and respect.

"You have done that, my friend?" he said to him as he warmly pressed his
hand.

"By Jove!" Valentine said, gaily, "I have done something else too. When
the time arrives I will tell you what it is. But let us not lose an
hour. What do you intend to do for the present?"

"Act."

"Good: that is the way I like to hear you talk."

"Yes, but I must first come to an understanding with the general."

"That is true; but it is the least thing," Valentine answered, as he
looked skyward, and attentively consulted the position of the stars. "It
is now eight o'clock. Eagle-wing and the man he brings must be at
midnight at the entrance of the _Cañon del Buitre_. We have four hours
before us, and that is more than we require, as we have only ten leagues
to go."

"Let us go, let us go!" Don Miguel exclaimed eagerly.

"Wait a moment; there is no such hurry. Don't be alarmed; we shall
arrive in time."

He then turned to Curumilla, and said to him in Araucano a few words
which the hacendero did not understand. The Indian rose without
replying, and disappeared in the density of the forest.

"You know," Valentine continued, "that I prefer, through habit,
travelling on foot; still, as under present circumstances minutes are
precious, and we must not lose them, I have provided two horses."

"You think of everything, my friend."

"Yes, when I have to act for those I love," Valentine answered with a
retrospective sigh.

There was a moment's silence between the two men, and at the end of
scarce a quarter of an hour there was a noise in the shrubs, the
branches parted, and Curumilla re-entered the clearing, holding two
horses by the bridle. These noble animals, which were nearly untamed
_mustangs_, bore a striking resemblance to the steeds of the Apaches, on
whose territory our friends now were. They were literally covered with
eagle plumes, beads, and ribbons, while long red and white spots
completed their disguise, and rendered it almost impossible to recognise
them.

"Mount!" Don Miguel exclaimed so soon as he saw them. "Time is slipping
away."

"One word yet," Valentine remarked.

"Speak."

"You still have as chaplain a certain monk by the name of 'Fray
Ambrosio.'"

"Yes."

"Take care of that man--he betrays you."

"You believe it?"

"I am sure of it."

"Good! I will remember."

"All right. Now we will be off," Valentine said, as he buried his spurs
in his horse's flanks.

And the three horsemen rushed into the darkness with headlong speed.


[1] "Tiger-Slayer," etc. Same publishers.



CHAPTER XII.

EL MESON.


The day on which our story commences the village of the Paso del Norte
presented an extraordinary appearance. The bells were ringing out full
peals, for the three hundredth anniversary of its foundation was
celebrated. The population of Paso, greatly diminished since the
proclamation of Mexican independence, was hurrying to the churches,
which flashed with silver and gold. The houses were decorated with rich
tapestry, and the streets strewn with flowers.

Toward nightfall the inhabitants, whom the intolerable heat of the
tropical sun had kept prisoners in the interior of the houses, flocked
out to inhale the sharp perfumes of the desert breeze, and bring back a
little fresh air into their parched lungs. The town, which had for
several hours appeared deserted, suddenly woke up: shouts and laughter
were heard afresh. The walks were invaded by the mob, and in a few
minutes the _mesóns_ were thronged with idlers, who began drinking
pulque and mezcal, while smoking their cigarettes, and strumming the
jarabe and vihuela.

In a house of poor appearance, built like all its neighbours, of earth
bricks, and situated at the angle formed by the Plaza Mayor and the
Calle de la Merced, some twenty-five fellows, whom it was easy to
recognise as adventurers by the feather in their hats, their upturned
moustaches, and specially by the long bronzed-hilted sword they wore on
the thigh, were drinking torrents of aguardiente and pulque at the
gambling tables, while yelling like deaf men, swearing like pagans, and
threatening at every moment to unsheathe their weapons.

In a corner of the room occupied by these troublesome guests two men,
seated opposite each other at a table, seemed plunged in deep thought,
and looked round them absently, not thinking about drinking the contents
of their glasses, which had not been emptied for more than half an hour.
These two men presented the most striking contrast. They were still
young. The first, aged twenty-five at the most, had one of those frank,
honest, and energetic faces which call for sympathy, and attract
respect. His pallid brow, his face of a delicate hue, surrounded by his
long black curls, his straight and flexible nose, his mouth filled with
a double row of teeth of dazzling whiteness, and surmounted by a slight
brown moustache, gave him a stamp of distinction, which was the more
striking owing to the strict, and perhaps common, style of his attire.

He wore the costume of the wood rangers; that is to say, the Canadian
_mitasse_, fastened round the hips, and descending to the ankle; _botas
vaqueras_ of deer skin, fastened at the knee; and a striped zarapé of
brilliant colours. A panama straw hat was thrown on the table, within
reach of his hand, by the side of an American rifle and two
double-barrelled pistols. A machete hung on his left side, and the hilt
of a long knife peeped out of his left boot.

His companion was short and thick-set; but his well-knit limbs and his
outstanding muscles indicated no ordinary strength. His face, the
features of which were commonplace enough, had a cunning look, which
suddenly disappeared to make room for a certain nobility whenever under
the influence Of any sudden emotion; his eyebrows contracted; and his
glance, ordinarily veiled, flashed forth. He wore nearly the same garb
as his comrade; but his hat stained with rain, and the colours of his
zarapé faded by the sun, evidenced lengthened wear. Like the first one
we described, he was well armed.

It was easy to see at the first glance that these two men did not belong
to the Hispano-American race, indeed, their conversation would have
removed any doubts on that head, for they spoke in the French dialect
employed in Canada.

"Hum!" the first said, taking up his glass, which he carelessly raised
to his lips. "After due consideration, Harry, I believe we shall do
better by mounting our horses again, and starting, instead of remaining
in this horrible den, amid these _gachupinos_, who croak like frogs
before a storm."

"Deuce take your impatience!" the other replied ill-temperedly. "Can't
you remain a moment at rest?"

"You call it a moment, Harry. Why, we have been here an hour."

"By Jove! Dick, you're a wonderful fellow," the other continued with a
laugh. "Do you think that business can be settled all in a moment?"

"After all, what is our game? For may the old one twist my neck, or a
grizzly give me a hug, if I know the least in the world! For five years
we have hunted and slept side by side. We have come from Canada together
to this place. I have grown into a habit--I cannot say why--of referring
to you everything that concerns our mutual interests. Still I should not
be sorry to know, if only for the rarity of the fact, why on earth we
left the prairies, where we were so well off, to come here, where we are
so badly off."

"Have you ever repented, up to today, the confidence you placed in me?"

"I do not say so, Harry. Heaven forbid! Still I think--"

"You think wrong," the young man sharply interrupted. "Let me alone, and
before three months you shall have three times your hat full of massive
gold, or call me a fool."

At this dazzling promise the eyes of Dick, the smaller of the hunters,
glistened like two stars. He regarded his comrade with a species of
admiration.

"Oh, oh!" he said in a low voice, "It is a placer, is it?"

"Hang it!" the other said, with a shrug of his shoulders, "were it not,
should I be here? But silence, our man has arrived."

In fact, a man entered at this moment. On his appearance a sudden
silence fell on the mesón; the adventurers gambling and cursing at all
the tables, rose as if moved by a spring, respectfully took off their
plumed hats, and ranged themselves with downcast eyes to let him pass.
The man remained for an instant on the threshold of the venta, took a
profound glance at the company, and then walked toward the two hunters.

This man wore the gown of a monk; he had the ascetic face, with the
harsh features and sharply-marked lines, that forms, as it were, the
type of the Spanish monks of which Titian has so admirably caught the
expression on his canvas. He passed through the adventurers, holding out
right and left his wide sleeves, which they reverentially kissed. On
approaching the two hunters he turned round.

"Continue your sports, my sons," he said to the company; "my presence
need not disturb your frolics, for I only wish to speak for a few
moments with those two gentlemen."

The adventurers did not let the invitation be repeated, but took their
places again tumultuously, and soon cries and oaths recommenced with
equal intensity. The monk smiled, took a butaca, and seated himself
between the two hunters, while bending a searching glance on them. The
latter had followed with a mocking eye all the interludes of this little
scene, and without making a movement, they let the monk seat himself by
their side. So soon as he had done so, Harry poured him out a large
glass of pulque, and placed within his reach the squares of maize leaf
and tobacco.

"Drink and smoke, señor padre," he said to him.

The monk, without any observation, rolled a cigarette, emptied the glass
of pulque at a draught, and then leaning his elbows on the table and
bending forward, said,--

"You are punctual."

"We have been waiting an hour," Dick observed in a rough voice.

"What is an hour in the presence of eternity?" the monk said with a
smile.

"Let us not lose any more time," Harry continued. "What have you to
propose to us?"

The monk looked around him suspiciously, and lowered his voice.

"I can, if you like, make you rich in a few days."

"What is the business?" Dick asked.

"Of course," the monk continued, "this fortune I offer you is a matter
of indifference to me. If I have an ardent desire to obtain it, it is,
in the first place, because it belongs to nobody, and will permit me to
relieve the wretchedness of the thousands of beings confided to my
charge."

"Of course, señor padre," Harry answered seriously. "Let us not weigh
longer on these details. According to what you told me a few days back,
you have discovered a rich placer."

"Not I," the monk sharply objected.

"No consequence, provided that it exists," Dick answered.

"Pardon me, but it is of great consequence to me. I do not wish to take
on myself the responsibility of such a discovery. If, as I believe,
people will go in search of it, it may entail the death of several
persons, and the church abhors bloodshed."

"Very good: you only desire to profit by it."

"Not for myself."

"For your parishioners. Very good; but let us try to come to an
understanding, if possible, for our time is too precious for us to waste
it in empty talk."

"_Válgame Dios_!" the monk said, crossing himself, "How you have
retained the impetuosity of your French origin! Have a little patience,
and I will explain myself."

"That is all we desire."

"But you will promise me--"

"Nothing," Dick interrupted. "We are honest hunters, and not accustomed
to pledge ourselves so lightly before knowing positively what is asked
of us."

Harry supported his friend's words by a nod. The monk drank a glass of
pulque, and took two or three heavy puffs at his cigarette.

"Your will be done," he then said. "You are terrible men. This is the
affair."

"Go on."

"A poor scamp of a gambusino, lost, I know not how, in the great desert,
discovered at a considerable distance off, between the Rio Gila and the
Colorado, the richest placer the wildest imagination can conceive.
According to his statement the gold is scattered over the surface, for
an extent of two or three miles, in nuggets, each of which would make a
man's fortune. This gambusino, dazzled by such treasures, but unable to
appropriate them alone, displayed the greatest energy, and braved the
utmost perils, in order to regain civilised regions. It was only through
boldness and temerity that he succeeded in escaping the countless
enemies who spied, and tracked him on all sides; but Heaven at length
allowed him to reach Paso safe and sound."

"Very good," Dick observed. "All this may very possibly, be true; but
why did you not bring this gambusino, instead of talking to us about the
placer, of which you know as little as we do? He would have supplied us
with information which is indispensable for us, in the event of our
consenting to help you in looking for this treasure."

"Alas!" the monk replied, hypocritically casting his eyes down, "the
unhappy man was not destined to profit by this discovery, made at the
price of so many perils. Scarce two days after his arrival at Paso, he
quarrelled with another gambusino, and received a stab which sent him a
few hours later to the tomb."

"In that case," Harry observed, "how did you learn all these details,
señor padre?"

"In a very simple way, my son. It was I who reconciled the poor wretch
in his last moments with Heaven; and," he added, with an air of
compunction splendidly assumed, "when he understood that his end was at
hand, and that nothing could save him, he confided to me, in gratitude
for the consolation I bestowed on him, what I have just told you,
revealed to me the situation of the placer, and for greater certainty
gave me a clumsy chart he had drawn out on the spot. You see that we can
proceed almost with certainty."

"Yes," Harry said, thoughtfully; "but why, instead of first applying to
the Mexicans, your countrymen, did you propose to us to help you in your
enterprise?"

"Because the Mexicans are men who cannot be trusted, and before reaching
the placer we should have to fight the Apaches and Comanches, on whose
territory it is situated."

After these words, there was a lengthened silence between the three
speakers: each was reflecting deeply on what he had just heard. The monk
tried to read with cunning eye the impression produced on the hunters by
his confidence; but his hopes were deceived. Their faces remained
unmoved. At length Dick spoke in a rough voice, after exchanging a
meaning look with his comrade.

"All that is very fine," he said; "but it is absurd to suppose that two
men, however brave they may be, can attempt such an enterprise in
unknown regions peopled by ferocious tribes. It would require at least
fifty resolute and devoted men, otherwise nothing could be possible."

"You are right, and hence I did not calculate on you alone. You will
have determined men under your orders, chosen carefully by myself, and I
shall also accompany you."

"Unluckily, if you have counted on us, you are mistaken, señor padre,"
Harry said, peremptorily. "We are honest hunters; but the trade of a
gambusino does not at all suit us. Even if we had a chance of gaining an
incalculable fortune, we would not consent to take part in an expedition
of gold seekers."

"Not even if Red Cedar were at the head of the expedition, and consented
to take the direction?" the monk said in a honeyed voice, and with a
side glance.

The hunter started, a feverish blush suffused his face, and it was in a
voice choked by emotion that he exclaimed,--

"Have you spoken with him about it?"

"Here he is; you can ask him," the monk answered.

In fact, a man was entering the mesón at this moment. Harry looked down
in confusion, while Dick tapped the table with his dagger and whistled.
A smile of undefinable meaning wandered over the monk's pallid lips.



CHAPTER XIII.

RED CEDAR.


Red Cedar was more than six feet in height; his enormous head was
fastened to his square shoulders by a short and muscular neck, like a
bull's; his bony members were covered with muscles hard as ropes. In
short, his whole person was a specimen of brute strength at its
culminating point.

A fox-skin cap, pressed down on his head, allowed escape to a few tufts
of coarse greyish hair, and fell on his little grey eyes, which were
close to a nose that was hooked like the beak of a bird of prey; his
wide mouth was filled with white, large teeth; his cheekbones were
prominent and purpled; and the lower part of his face disappeared in a
thick black beard, mingled with grey hairs. He wore a hunting shirt of
striped calico, fastened round the waist by a strap of brown leather,
through which were passed two pistols, an axe, and a long knife; a pair
of leggings of tawny leather, sewed at equal distances with hair, fell
down to his knees; while his legs were protected by Indian moccasins,
ornamented with a profusion of beads and bells. A game bag of fawn skin,
which seemed full, fell over his right hip; and he held in his hand an
American rifle, studded with copper nails.

No one knew who Red Cedar was, or whence he came. About two years prior
to the period of our story opening he had suddenly made his appearance
in the country, accompanied by a wife of a certain age--a species of
Megaera, of masculine form and repellant aspect; a girl of seventeen;
and three vigorous lads, who resembled him too closely not to be his
own, and whose age varied from nineteen to twenty-four.

Red Cedar himself appeared to be fifty-five at the most. The name by
which he was known had been given to him by the Indians, of whom he had
declared himself the implacable enemy, and boasted that he had killed
two hundred. The old woman was called Betsy; the girl, Ellen; the eldest
son, Nathan; the second, Sutter; and the last, Shaw.

This family had built a shanty in the forest, a few miles from Paso, and
lived alone in the desert, without having entered into any relations
with the inhabitants of the village; or the trappers and wood rangers,
its neighbours. The mysterious conduct of these strangers had given rise
to numerous comments; but all had remained without reply or solution,
and after two years they remained as perfect strangers as on the day of
their arrival.

Still, mournful and sad stories were in circulation on their account:
they inspired an instinctive hatred and involuntary terror in the
Mexicans. Some said in a whisper that old Red Cedar and his three sons
were nothing less than "scalp hunters;" that is to say, in the public
esteem, people placed beneath the pirates of the prairies, that unclean
breed of birds of prey which everybody fears and despises.

The entry of Red Cedar was significant; the otherwise unscrupulous men
who filled the venta hurriedly retired on his approach, and made room
for him with a zeal mingled with disgust. The old partisan crossed the
room with head erect; a smile of haughty disdain played round his thin
lips at the sight of the effect his presence produced, and he went up to
the monk and his two companions. On reaching them he roughly placed the
butt of his rifle on the ground, leaned his two crossed hands upon the
barrel, and after bending a cunning glance on the persons before him,
said to the monk in a hoarse voice,--

"The deuce take you, señor padre! Here I am: what do you want with me?"

Far from being vexed at this brutal address, the latter smiled on the
colossus, and held out his hand to him, as he graciously made answer,--

"You are welcome, Red Cedar; we were expecting you impatiently. Sit down
by my side on this butaca, and we will talk while drinking a glass of
pulque."

"The deuce twist your neck, and may your accursed pulque choke you! Do
you take me for a wretched abortion of your sort?" the other answered as
he fell into the seat offered him. "Order me some brandy, and that of
the strongest. I am not a babe, I suppose."

Without making the slightest observation, the monk rose, went to speak
with the host, and presently returned with a bottle, from which he
poured a bumper for the old hunter. The latter emptied the glass at a
draught, put it back on the table with a sonorous "hum!" and turned to
the monk with a grimacing smile.

"Come, the devil is not always so black as he looks, señor padre," he
said, as he passed his hand over his mouth to wipe his moustache. "I see
that we can come to an understanding."

"It will only depend on you, Red Cedar. Here are two worthy Canadian
hunters who will do nothing without your support."

The Hercules took a side glance at the young men.

"Eh!" he said, "what do you want with these children? Did I not promise
you to reach the placer with my sons only?"

"He, he! You are powerfully built, both you and your lads, I allow; but
I doubt whether four men, were they twice as strong as you are, could
carry out this affair successfully. You will have numerous enemies to
combat on your road."

"All the better! The more there are, the more we shall kill," he
answered with a sinister laugh.

"Señor padre," Dick interrupted, "as far as I am concerned, I care
little about it."

But he was suddenly checked by a meaning glance from his mate.

"What do you care little about, my pretty lad?" the giant asked in a
mocking voice.

"Nothing," the young man answered drily. "Suppose I had not spoken."

"Good," Red Cedar remarked; "it shall be as you wish. Here's your
health."

And he poured the rest of the bottle into his glass.

"Come," said Harry, "Let us have but few words. Explain yourself once
for all, without beating about the bush, señor padre."

"Yes," Red Cedar observed, "men ought not to waste their time thus in
chattering."

"Very good. This, then, is what I propose. Red Cedar will collect within
three days from this time thirty resolute men, of whom he will take the
command, and we will start immediately in search of the placer. Does it
suit you in that way?"

"Hum!" Red Cedar said. "In order to go in search of the placer we must
know a little in what direction it is, or deuce take me if I undertake
the business!"

"Do not trouble yourself about that, Red Cedar; I will accompany you.
Have I not got a plan of the country?"

The colossus shot at the monk a glance which sparkled under his dark
eyelash, but he hastened to moderate its brilliancy by letting his eyes
fall.

"That is true," he said with feigned indifference; "I forgot that you
were coming with us. Then you will leave your parishioners during your
absence?"

"Heaven will watch over them."

"Eh! It will have its work cut out. However, that does not concern me at
all. But why did you oblige me to come to this mesón?"

"In order to introduce you to these two hunters, who will accompany us."

"I beg your pardon," Dick observed, "but I do not exactly see of what
use I can be to you in all this: my aid, and that of my mate, do not
appear to me to be indispensable."

"On the contrary," the monk answered quickly, "I reckon entirely on
you."

The giant had risen.

"What!" he said, as he roughly laid his enormous hand on Dick's
shoulder, "You do not understand that this honourable personage, who did
not hesitate to kill a man in order to rob him of the secret of the
placer, has a terrible fear of finding himself alone with me on the
prairie? He fears that I shall kill him in my turn to rob him of the
secret of which he became master by a crime. Ha, ha, ha!"

And he turned his back unceremoniously.

"How can you suppose such things, Red Cedar?" the monk exclaimed.

"Do you fancy that I did not read you?" the latter answered. "But it is
all the same to you. Do as you please: I leave you at liberty to act as
you like."

"What! You are off already?"

"Hang it! What have I to do any longer here? All is settled between us.
In three days thirty of the best frontiersmen will be assembled by my
care at Grizzly Bear Creek, where we shall expect you."

After shrugging his shoulders once again he went off without any salute,
or even turning his head.

"It must be confessed," Dick observed, "that the man has a most
villainous face. What a hideous fellow!"

"Oh!" the monk answered with a sigh, "The exterior is nothing. You
should know the inner man."

"Why, in that case, do you have any dealings with him?"

The monk blushed slightly.

"Because it must be so," he muttered.

"All right for you," Dick continued; "but as nothing obliges my friend
and myself to have any more intimate relations with that man, you must
not mind, señor Padre, if--"

"Silence, Dick!" Harry shouted, angrily. "You do not know what you are
talking about. We will accompany you, señor padre. You can reckon on us
to defend you if necessary, for I suppose that Red Cedar is right."

"In what way?"

"You do not wish to trust your life defencelessly in his hands, and you
reckoned on us to protect you. Is it not so?"

"Why should I feign any longer? Yes, that man terrifies me, and I do not
wish to trust myself to his mercy."

"Do not be alarmed; we shall be there, and on our word as hunters, not a
hair of your head shall fall."

A lively satisfaction appeared on the monk's pale face at this generous
promise.

"Thanks," he said warmly.

Harry's conduct appeared so extraordinary to Dick, who knew the lofty
sentiments and innate honor of his comrade, that, without striving to
fathom the motives which made him act thus, he contented himself by
backing up his words by an affirmative nod of the head.

"Be assured, caballeros, that when we have reached the placer, I will
give you a large share, and you will have no cause to regret
accompanying me."

"The money question has but slight interest with us," Harry answered.
"My friend and I are free hunters, caring very little for riches, which
would be to us rather a source of embarrassment than of pleasure and
enjoyment. Curiosity alone, and the desire of exploring strange
countries, are sufficient to make us undertake this journey."

"Whatever the reason that makes you accept my proposals, I am not the
less obliged to you."

"Now you will permit us to take leave of you, and we shall hold
ourselves at your orders."

"Go, gentlemen; I will not keep you longer. I know where to find you
when I want you."

The young men took up their hats, slung their rifles on their shoulders,
and left the mesón. The monk looked after them.

"Oh!" he muttered, "I believe I can trust to those men: they have still
in their veins a few drops of that honest French blood which despises
treachery. No matter," he added, as if on reflection; "I will take my
precautions."

After this aside, he rose and looked around him. The room was full of
adventurers, who drank or played at _monte_, and whose energetic faces
stood out in the semi-obscurity of the room, which was scarce lighted by
a smoky lamp. After a moment's reflection the monk boldly struck the
table with his clenched fist, and shouted in a loud voice:

"Señores caballeros, I invite you to listen to me. I have, I fancy, an
advantageous proposal to make to you."

The company turned their heads; those who were gambling for a moment
abandoned their cards and dice; the drinkers alone kept in their hands
the glasses they held; but all approached the monk, round whom they
grouped themselves curiously.

"Caballeros," he continued, "if I am not mistaken, all present are
gentlemen whom fortune has more or less ill-treated."

The adventurers, by an automatic movement of extraordinary regularity,
bowed their heads in affirmation.

"If you wish it," he continued with an imperceptible smile, "I will
undertake to repair the wrong by it done you."

The adventurers pricked up their ears.

"Speak, speak, señor padre!" they shouted with delight.

"What is the affair?" a man with a hang-dog face said, who stood in the
front ranks.

"A war party which I intend to lead shortly into Apacheria," the monk
said, "and for which purpose I need you."

At this proposition the first ardor of the adventurers visibly cooled
down. The Apaches and Comanches inspire an invincible terror in the
inhabitants of the Mexican frontiers. The monk guessed the effect he had
produced; but he continued, as if not observing anything:--

"I take you all into my service for a month, at the rate of four
piastres a day."

At this magnificent offer the eyes of the adventurers sparkled with
greed, fear gave way to avarice, and they all exclaimed,--

"We accept, reverend father!

"But," the man continued who had already spoken, "we shall be happy,
señor padre, if, before starting, you would give us your holy
benediction, and absolve us from the few sins we may have committed."

"Yes," the company yelled, "we shall be happy if you consent to that,
reverend father."

The monk appeared to reflect: the adventurers, anxiously waited.

"Well, be it so," he answered after a moment. "As the work in which I am
about to employ you is so meritorious, I will give you my blessing, and
grant you absolution of your sins."

For a few minutes there was a shout and exclamations of joy in the room.
The monk demanded silence, and when it was restored he said,--

"Now, caballeros, give me each your name, that I may find you when I
need you."

He sat down and began enrolling the adventurers, who, with the men Red
Cedar supplied, would form the band with which he hoped to reach the
placer. We will leave the worthy monk for a few moments, and follow the
two Canadian hunters.



CHAPTER XIV.

THE TWO HUNTERS.


Harry and Dick, whom we saw seated at a table in the mesón with Red
Cedar and Fray Ambrosio, were however, very far from resembling those
two men morally. They were free and bold hunters, who had spent the
greater part of their life in the desert, and who, in the vast solitude
of the prairie, had accustomed themselves to a life free and exempt from
those vices which accompany a town residence.

For them gold was only the means to procure the necessary objects for
their trade as hunters and trappers; and they never imagined that the
possession of a large quantity of that yellow metal they despised would
place them in a position to enjoy other pleasures than those they found
in their long hunts of wild beasts--hunts so full of strange incidents
and striking joys.

Thus Dick had been to the highest degree surprised when he saw his
friend eagerly accept the monk's offer, and agree to go in search of the
placer; but what even more surprised him was Harry's insisting that Red
Cedar must take the lead of the expedition. Though no one could
positively accuse the squatter, owing to the precautions he took, of
leading a life of rapine and murder, still the mysterious conduct he
affected, and the solitude in which he lived with his family, had cast
on him a shadow of reprobation.

Every one regarded him as a scalp hunter, and yet no one would have
ventured to affirm the odious deeds of which he was accused. The result
of the general reprobation that fell on the squatter, and which we know
to be fully merited, was that he and his family were placed under a ban
by the frontier hunters and trappers, and every one fled not only their
society, but any contact with them. Dick was thoroughly acquainted with
his friend's upright character and nobility of heart. Hence his conduct
under the present circumstances seemed to him perfectly
incomprehensible, and he resolved to have an explanation with him.

They had scarce quitted the mesón ere Dick bent down to his companion,
and said, while looking at him curiously,--

"We have been hunting together for five years, Harry, and up to the
present I have ever let myself be guided by you, leaving you free to act
as you pleased for our mutual welfare. Still this evening your conduct
has appeared to me so extraordinary that I am obliged, in the name of
our friendship, which has never suffered a break up to this day, to ask
you for an explanation of what has occurred in my presence."

"For what good, my boy? Do you not know me well enough to be certain
that I would not consent to do any dishonourable deed?"

"Up to this evening I would have sworn it, Harry: yes, on my honor I
would have sworn it--"

"And now?" the young man asked, stopping and looking his friend in the
face.

"Now," Dick answered, with a certain degree of hesitation, "hang it all!
I will be frank with you, Harry, as an honest hunter should ever be. Now
I do not know if I should do so: no, indeed I should not."

"What you say there causes me great pain, Dick. You oblige me, in order
to dissipate your unjust suspicions, to confide to you a secret which is
not my own, and which I would not have revealed for anything in the
world."

"Pardon me, Harry, but in my place I am convinced you would act as I am
doing. We are very far from our country, which we shall never see again,
perhaps. We are responsible for each other, and our actions must be free
from all double interpretation."

"I will do what you ask, Dick, whatever it may cost me. I recognise the
justice of your observations. I understand how much my conduct this
night must have hurt you and appeared ambiguous. I do not wish our
friendship to receive the least wound, or the slightest cloud to arise
between us. You shall be satisfied."

"I thank you, Harry. What you tell me relieves my bosom of a heavy load.
I confess that I should have been in despair to think badly of you; but
the words of that intriguing monk, and the manners of that worthy
acolyte, Red Cedar, put me in a passion. Had you not warned me so
quickly to silence, I believe--Heaven pardon me!--that I should have
ended by telling them a piece of my mind."

"You displayed considerable prudence in keeping silence, and be assured
you will completely approve me."

"I do not doubt it, Harry; and now I feel certain I deceived myself. I
feel all jolly again."

While speaking thus the two hunters, who were walking with that rapid
step peculiar to men habituated to traverse great distances on foot, had
crossed the village, and found themselves already far in the plain. The
night was magnificent--the sky of a deep blue. An infinite number of
glistening stars seemed floating in ether. The moon spread its silvery
rays profusely over the landscape. The sharp odour of the flowers
perfumed the atmosphere. The two hunters still walked on.

"Where are we going now, Harry?" Dick asked. "I fancy we should do
better by taking a few hours' rest, instead of fatiguing ourselves
without any definite object."

"I never do anything without a reason, friend, as you know," Harry
answered; "so let me guide you, and we shall soon arrive."

"Do as you think proper, my boy; I shall say nothing."

"In the first place you must know that the French hunter, Koutonepi, has
begged me, for reasons he did not tell me, to watch Fray Ambrosio. That
is one of the motives which made me be present at this night's
interview, although I care as little for a placer as for a musk-rat's
skin."

"Koutonepi is the first hunter on the frontier; he has often done us a
service in the desert. You acted rightly, Harry, in doing what he
asked."

"As for the second reason that dictated my conduct, Dick, you shall soon
know it."

Half talking, half dreaming, the young men reached Buffalo Valley, and
soon entered the forest which served as a lair for the squatter and his
family.

"Where the deuce are we going?" Dick could not refrain from saying.

"Silence!" said the other: "We are approaching."

The darkness was profound in the forest: the density of the leafy dome
under which they walked completely intercepted the light of the
moonbeams. Still the Canadians, long accustomed to a night march,
advanced as easily through the chaos of creepers and trees tangled in
each other as if they had been in open day. On reaching a certain spot
where the trees, growing less closely together, formed a species of
clearing, and allowed an uncertain and tremorous light to pass, Harry
stopped, and made his comrade a sign to do the same.

"This is the place," he said. "Still, I as the person I have come to see
expects me to be alone, and your unexpected presence might cause alarm,
hide yourself behind that larch tree: above all, be careful not to stir
till I call I you."

"Oh, oh!" the hunter said, with a laugh, "have you perchance led me to a
love meeting, Harry?"

"You shall judge," Harry replied laconically. "Hide yourself."

Dick, greatly troubled, did not need the invitation to be repeated: he
concealed himself behind the tree his friend had indicated, and which
would have sheltered a dozen men behind its enormous stem. So soon as
Harry was alone, he raised his fingers to his lips, and at three
different intervals imitated the cry of an owl with such perfection that
Dick himself was deceived, and mechanically looked up to seek the bird
in the tall branches of the tree by which he stood. Almost immediately,
a slight noise was audible in the shrubs, and a graceful and white form
appeared in the glade. It was Ellen, who rapidly walked toward the young
man.

"Oh, it is you, Harry!" she said with joy. "Heaven be blessed, I was
afraid you would not come, as it is late."

"It is true, Ellen: pardon me. I made all possible speed, however; and
it is not my fault that I did not arrive sooner."

"How good you are, Harry, to take so much trouble for my sake! How can I
ever recognise the continual services you do me?"

"Oh! Do not speak about them. It is a happiness for me to do anything
agreeable to you."

"Alas!" the maiden murmured, "Heaven is my witness that I feel a deep
friendship for you, Harry."

The young man sighed gently.

"I have done what you asked of me," he said suddenly.

"Then it is true my father is thinking about leaving this country to go
further still?"

"Yes, Ellen, and into frightful countries, among the ferocious Indians."

The girl gave a start of terror.

"Do you know the reason of his going?" she continued.

"Yes; he is about to look for a gold placer."

"Alas! Who will protect me, who will defend me in future, if we go
away?"

"I, Ellen!" the hunter exclaimed impetuously. "Have I not sworn to
follow you everywhere?"

"It is true," she said sadly; "but why should you risk your life on the
distant journey we are about to undertake? No, Harry, remain here; I
cannot consent to your departure. From what I have heard say, the band
my father commands will be numerous--it will have scarce anything to
fear from the Indians; while, on the other hand, you, compelled to hide
yourself, will be exposed alone to terrible danger. No, Harry, I will
not permit it."

"Undeceive yourself, Ellen. I shall not be forced to conceal myself; I
shall not be alone, for I am a member of your father's band."

"Is it possible, Harry?" she exclaimed, with an expression of joy that
made the young man quiver.

"I enrolled myself this very evening."

"Oh!" she said, "Then in that case we can often meet?"

"Whenever you please, Ellen, as I shall be there."

"Oh! Now I am anxious to be away from here, and wish we had already
started."

"It will not be long first, set your mind at rest. I am convinced that
we shall start within the week."

"Thanks for the good news you bring me, Harry."

"Are your father and mother still unkind to you, Ellen?"

"It is nearly always the same thing; and yet their conduct toward me is
strange. It often seems to me incomprehensible, as it is so marked with
peculiarities. There are moments in which they seem to love me dearly.
My father especially caresses and embraces me, and then all at once, I
know not why, repulses me rudely, and looks at me in a way that causes
me to shudder."

"That is indeed strange, Ellen."

"Is it not? There is one thing above all I cannot explain."

"Tell it me, Ellen; perhaps I can do so."

"You know that all my family are Protestants?"

"Yes."

"Well, I am a Catholic."

"That is certainly curious."

"I wear around my neck a small golden crucifix. Every time accident
makes this trinket glisten before my father and mother they grow
furious, threaten to beat me, and order me to hide it at once. Do you
understand the meaning of this, Harry?"

"No, I do not, Ellen; but, believe me, leave everything to time; perhaps
it will enable us to find the clue to the mystery which we seek in vain
at this moment."

"Well, your presence has rendered me happy for a long time, Harry, so
now I will retire."

"Already?"

"I must, my friend. Believe me that I am as sad as yourself at this
separation; but my father has not yet returned, and may arrive at any
moment. If he noticed that I was not asleep, who knows what might
happen?"

While saying the last words the girl held out her delicate hand to the
hunter, who raised it to his lips passionately. Ellen withdrew it
suddenly, and bounding like a startled fawn, darted into the forest,
where she soon disappeared, giving the young man a parting word, which
caused him to quiver with joy:--

"We shall meet soon."

Harry stood for a long time with his eyes fixed on the spot where the
seductive vision had disappeared. At length he uttered a sigh, threw his
rifle over his shoulder, and turned as if to depart. Dick was before
him. Harry gave a start of surprise, for he had forgotten his friend's
presence; but the latter smiled good-humouredly.

"I now comprehend your conduct, Harry," he said to him; "you were right
to act as you did. Pardon my unjust suspicions, and count on me
everywhere and always."

Harry silently pressed the hand his friend offered him, and they walked
back rapidly in the direction of the village. As they emerged from the
forest they passed, a man who did not see them. It was Red Cedar. So
soon as he had gone a short distance Harry stopped his companion, and
pointing to the squatter, whose long black shadow glided through the
trees, said, as he laid his hand on his shoulder,--

"That man hides in his heart a horrible secret, which I am ignorant of,
but have sworn to discover."



CHAPTER XV.

FRAY AMBROSIO.


The monk remained for a long time in the room of the mesón, taking down
the names of the adventurers he wished to enrol in his band. It was late
when he left it to return to the Hacienda de la Noria; but he was
satisfied with his night's work, and internally rejoiced at the rich
collection of bandits of the purest water he had recruited.

The monks form a privileged caste in Mexico: they can go at all hours of
the night wherever they please without fearing the numerous "gentlemen
of the road," scattered about the highways. Their gown inspires a
respect which guarantees them from any insult, and preserves them better
than anything from unpleasant rencontres. Besides, Fray Ambrosio, as the
reader has doubtless already perceived, was not the man to neglect
indispensable precautions in a country where, out of ten persons you
meet on your road, you may boldly assert that nine are rogues, the tenth
alone offering any doubts. The worthy chaplain carried under his gown a
pair of double-barrelled pistols, and in his right sleeve he concealed a
long _navaja_, sharp as a razor, and pointed as a needle.

Not troubling himself about the solitude that reigned around him, the
monk mounted his mule and proceeded quietly to the hacienda. It was
about eleven o'clock.

A few words about Fray Ambrosio, while he is peacefully ambling along
the narrow path which will lead him in two hours to his destination,
will show all the perversity of the man who is destined to play an
unfortunately too important part in the course of our narrative.

One day a gambusino, or gold seeker, who had disappeared for two years,
no one knowing what had become of him, and who was supposed to be dead
long ago, assassinated in the desert by the Indians, suddenly reappeared
at the Paso del Norte. This man, Joaquin by name, was brother to Andrés
Garote, an adventurer of the worst stamp, who had at least a dozen
_cuchilladas_ (knife stabs) on his conscience, whom everybody feared,
but who, through the terror he inspired, enjoyed at the Paso, in spite
of his well-avouched crimes, a reputation and species of impunity which
he abused whenever the opportunity offered.

The two brothers began frequenting together the mesones and ventas of
the village, drinking from morn till night, and paying either in gold
dust enclosed in stout quills, or in lumps of native gold. The rumour
soon spread at Paso that Joaquin had discovered a rich placer, and that
his expenses were paid with the specimens he had brought back. The
gambusino replied neither yes nor no to the several insinuations which
his friends, or rather his boon companions, attempted on him. He
twinkled his eyes, smiled mysteriously, and if it were observed that, at
the rate he was living at, he would soon be ruined, he shrugged his
shoulders, saying:--

"When I have none left I know where to find others."

And he continued to enjoy his fill of all the pleasures which a wretched
hole like Paso can furnish.

Fray Ambrosio had heard speak, like everyone else, of the gambusino's
asserted discovery; and his plan was at once formed to become master of
this man's secret, and rob him of his discovery, were that possible.

The same evening Joaquin and his brother Andrés were drinking, according
to their wont, in a mesón, surrounded by a crowd of scamps like
themselves. Fray Ambrosio, seated at a table with his hands hidden in
the sleeves of his gown, and hanging head, appeared plunged in serious
reflections, although he followed with a cunning eye the various
movements of the drinkers, and not one of their gestures escaped him.

Suddenly a man entered, with his hand on his hip, and throwing in the
face of the first person he passed the cigarette he was smoking. He
planted himself in front of Joaquin, to whom he said nothing, but began
looking at him impudently, shrugging his shoulders, and laughing
ironically at all the gambusino said. Joaquin was not patient, he saw at
the first glance that this person wished to pick a quarrel with him; and
as he was brave, and feared nobody, man or devil, he walked boldly up to
him, and looking at him fixedly in his turn, he said to him, as he
thrust his face in his:

"Do you seek a quarrel, Tomaso?"

"Why not?" the latter said impudently, as he set his glass on the table.

"I am your man. We will fight how you please."

"Bah!" Tomaso said carelessly, "let us do things properly, and fight
with the whole blade."

"Be it so."

The combats which take place between the adventurers are truly like
those of wild beasts. These coarse men, with their cruel instincts, like
fighting beyond all else, for the smell of blood intoxicates them. The
announcement of this duel caused a thrill of pleasure to run through the
ranks of the leperos and bandits who pressed round the two men. The fun
was perfect: one of the adversaries would doubtless fall--perhaps
both--and blood flow in streams. Cries and yells of delight were raised
by the spectators.

The duel with knives is the only one that exists in Mexico, and is
solely left to the leperos and people of the lowest classes. This duel
has its rules, which cannot be broken under any pretext. The knives
usually employed, have blades from fourteen to sixteen inches in length,
and the duelists fight according to the gravity of the insult, with one,
two, three, six inches, or the entire blade. The inches are carefully
measured and the hand clutches the knife at the marked spot.

This time it was a duel with the whole blade, the most terrible of all.
With extraordinary politeness and coolness the landlord had a large ring
formed in the middle of the room, where the two adversaries stationed
themselves, about six paces from each other at the most.

A deep silence hung over the room, a moment previously so full of life
and disturbance; every one anxiously awaited the _dénouement_ of the
terrible drama that was preparing. Fray Ambrosio alone had not quitted
his seat or made a sign.

The two men rolled their zarapés round their left arm, planted
themselves firmly on their outstretched legs, bent their bodies slightly
forward and gently placing the point of the knife blade on the arm
rounded in front of the chest, they waited, fixed on each other flashing
glances. A few seconds elapsed, during which the adversaries remained
perfectly motionless: all hearts were contracted, all bosoms heaving.

Worthy of Callot's pencil was the scene offered by these men, with their
weather-stained faces and harsh features, and their clothes in rags,
forming a circle round two combatants ready to kill each other in this
mean room, slightly illumined by a smoky lamp, which flashed upon the
blue blades of the knives, and in the shadow, almost disappearing in his
black gown, the monk, with his implacable glance and mocking smile, who,
like a tiger thirsting for blood, awaited the hour to pounce on his
prey.

Suddenly, by a spontaneous movement rapid as lightning, the adversaries
rushed on each other, uttering a yell of fury. The blades flashed, there
was a clashing of steel, and both fell back again. Joaquin and Tomaso
had both dealt the same stroke, called, in the slang of the country, the
"blow of the brave man." Each had his face slashed from top to bottom
with a gaping wound.

The spectators frenziedly applauded this magnificent opening scene: the
jaguars had scented blood, and were mad.

"What a glorious fight!" they exclaimed with admiration.

In the meanwhile the two combatants, rendered hideous by the blood that
streamed from their wounds and stained their faces, were again watching
for the moment to leap on one another. Suddenly they broke ground; but
this time it was no skirmish, but the real fight, atrocious and
merciless. The two men seized each other round the waist, and entwined
like serpents, they twisted about, trying to stab each other, and
exciting themselves to the struggle by cries of rage and triumph. The
enthusiasm of the spectators was at its height: they laughed, clapped
hands, and uttered inarticulate howls as they urged the fighters not to
loose their hold.

At length the enemies rolled on the ground still enclasped. For some
seconds the combat continued on the ground, and it was impossible to
distinguish who was the conqueror. All at once one of them, who no
longer had a human form, and whose body was as red as an Indian's,
bounded to his feet brandishing his knife. It was Joaquin.

His brother rushed toward him to congratulate him on his victory, but
all at once the gambusino tottered and fainted. Tomaso did not rise
again: he remained motionless, stretched out on the uneven floor of the
mesón. He was stark dead.

This scene had been so rapid, its conclusion so unforeseen, that, in
spite of themselves, the spectators had remained dumb, and as if struck
with stupor. Suddenly the priest, whom all had forgotten, rose and
walked into the centre of the room, looking round with a glance that
caused all to let their eyes fall.

"Retire, all of you," he said in a gloomy voice, "now that you have
allowed this deed worthy of savages to be accomplished. The priest must
offer his ministry, and get back from Satan, if there be still time, the
soul of this Christian who is about to die. Begone!"

The adventurers hung their heads, and in a few moments the priest was
left alone with the two men, one of whom was dead, the other at the last
gasp. No one could say what occurred in that room; but when the priest
left it, a quarter of an hour later, his eyes flashed wildly. Joaquin
had given his parting sigh. On opening the door to go out Fray Ambrosio
jostled against a man, who drew back sharply to make room for him. It
was Andrés Garote. What was he doing with his eye at the keyhole while
the monk was shriving his brother?

The adventurer told no one what he had seen during this last quarter of
an hour, nor did the monk notice in the shade the man he had almost
thrown down.

Such was the way in which Fray Ambrosio became master of the gambusino's
secret, and how he alone knew at present the spot where the placer was.



CHAPTER XVI.

TWO VARIETIES OF VILLAINS.


Now that the reader is well informed touching Fray Ambrosio, we will
follow him on his road home from the mesón. The night was calm, silent
and serene. Not a sound troubled the silence, save the trot of the mule
over the pebbles on the road, or at times, in the distance, the snapping
bark of the coyotes chasing in a pack, according to their wont, some
straggling hind.

Fray Ambrosio ambled gently on, while reflecting on the events of the
evening, and calculating mentally the probable profits of the expedition
he meditated. He had left far behind him the last houses of the village,
and was advancing cautiously along a narrow path that wound through an
immense sugar cane field. Already the shadow of the tall hacienda walls
stood out blackly in the horizon. He expected to reach it within twenty
minutes, when suddenly his mule, which had hitherto gone so quietly,
pricked up its ears, raised its head, and stopped short.

Roughly aroused from his meditations by this unexpected halt, the monk
looked about for some obstacle that might impede his progress. About ten
paces from him a man was standing right in the middle of the path. Fray
Ambrosio was a man not easily to be frightened: besides, he was well
armed. He drew out one of the pistols hidden under his gown, cocked it,
and prepared to cross-question the person who so resolutely barred his
way. But the latter, at the sharp sound of the setting hammer, thought
it prudent to make himself known, and not await the consequences of an
address nearly always stormy under similar circumstances.

"Halloh!" he shouted in a loud voice, "Return your pistol to your belt,
Fray Ambrosio; I only want to talk with you."

"_Diavolo_!" the monk said, "the hour and moment are singularly chosen
for a friendly conversation, my good fellow."

"Time belongs to nobody," the stranger answered sententiously. "I am
obliged to choose that which I have at my disposal."

"That is true," the monk said as he quietly uncocked his pistol, though
not returning it to his belt. "Who the deuce are you, and why are you so
anxious to speak with me? Do you want to confess?

"Have you not recognised me yet, Fray Ambrosio? Must I tell you my name
that you may know with whom you have to deal?"

"Needless, my good sir, needless; but how the deuce is it, Red Cedar,
that I meet you here! What can you have so pressing to communicate to
me?"

"You shall know if you will stop for a few moments and dismount."

"The deuce take you with your whims! Cannot you tell me that as well
tomorrow! Night is getting on, my home is still some distance off and I
am literally worn out."

"Bah! you will sleep capitally by the side of a ditch, where you could
not be more comfortable. Besides, what I have to say to you does not
admit of delay."

"You wish to make a proposal to me, then?"

"Yes."

"What about, if you please?"

"About the affair we discussed this evening at the Paso."

"Why, I fancied we had settled all that, and you accepted my offer."

"Not yet, not yet, my master. That will depend on the conversation we
are about to have, so you had better dismount and sit down quietly by my
side; for if you don't do it, it will come to nothing."

"The deuce take people that change their minds every minute, and on whom
one cannot reckon more than on an old surplice!" the monk growled with
an air of annoyance, while, for all that, getting off his mule, which he
fastened to a shrub.

The squatter did not seem to remark the chaplain's ill temper, and let
him sit down by his side without uttering a syllable.

"Here I am," the monk went on, so soon as he was seated. "I really do
not know, Red Cedar, why I yield so easily to all your whims."

"Because you suspect that your interest depends on it: were it not for
that, you would not do so."

"Why talk thus in the open country, instead of going to your house,
where we should be much more comfortable?"

Red Cedar shook his head in denial.

"No," he said; "the open is better for what we have to talk about. Here
we need not fear listeners at out doors."

"That is true. Well, go on; I am listening."

"Hum! You insist upon my commanding the expedition you project?"

"Of course. I have known you a long time. I am aware that you are a sure
man, perfectly versed in Indian signs; for, if I am not mistaken, the
greater part of your life has been spent among them."

"Do not speak about what I have done? The question now concerns you, and
not me."

"How so?"

"Good, good! Let me speak. You need me, so it is to my interest to make
you pay as dearly as I can for me."

"Eh?" the monk muttered, as he made a grimace. "I am not rich, gossip,
as you are aware."

"Yes, yes; I know that, so soon as you have a few piastres or ounces,
the monte table strips you of them immediately."

"Hang it! I have always been unlucky at play."

"For that reason I do not intend asking you for money."

"Very good. If you have no designs on my purse we can easily come to an
understanding. You may speak boldly."

"I hope that we shall easily understand one another, the mere so as the
service I expect from you is almost a mere nothing."

"Come to the point, Red Cedar: with your deuced way of twining your
phrases together in the Indian way, you never make an end of it."

"You know that I have a deadly hatred against Don Miguel Zarate?"

"I have heard some say about it. Did he not lodge his knife somewhere in
your chest?"

"Yes, and the blow was so rude that I all but died of it; but, thanks to
the devil, I am on my legs again, after remaining three weeks on my back
like a cast sheep. I want my revenge."

"I can't help saying you are right: in your place, may Satan twist my
neck if I would not do the same!"

"For that I count on your help."

"Hum! that is a delicate affair. I have no cause of complaint against
Don Miguel--on the contrary: besides, I do not see how I can serve you."

"Oh! very easily."

"You believe so?"

"You shall see."

"Go on, then; I am listening."

"Don Miguel has a daughter?"

"Doña Clara."

"I mean to carry her off."

"Deuce take the mad ideas that pass through your brain-pan, gossip! How
would you have me help you in carrying off the daughter of Don Miguel,
to whom I owe so many obligations? No, I cannot do that, indeed."

"You must, though."

"I will not, I tell you."

"Measure your words well, Fray Ambrosio, for this conversation is
serious. Before refusing so peremptorily to give me the help I ask,
reflect well."

"I have reflected well, Red Cedar, and never will I consent to help you
in carrying off the daughter of my benefactor. Say what you like,
nothing will ever change my resolution on that head, for it is
inflexible."

"Perhaps."

"Oh! Whatever may happen, I swear that nothing will make me alter."

"Swear not, Fray Ambrosio, for you will be a perjurer."

"Ta, ta, ta! You are mad, my good fellow. Don't let us waste our time.
If you have nothing else to say to me, I will leave you, though I take
such pleasure in your society."

"You have become scrupulous all of a sudden, my master."

"There is a beginning to everything, compadre; so let us say no more,
but good-bye."

And the monk rose.

"You are really going?"

"_Caray_! Do you fancy I mean to sleep here?"

"Very good. You understand that you need not count on me for your
expedition?"

"I am sorry for it; but I will try to find someone to take your place."

"Thank you."

The two men were standing, and the monk had put his foot in the stirrup.
Red Cedar also appeared ready to make a start. At the moment of
separation a sudden idea seemed to occur to the squatter.

"By the way," he said carelessly, "be kind enough to give me some
information I require."

"What is it now?" the monk asked.

"Oh! a mere trifle," the squatter remarked indifferently. "It concerns a
certain Don Pedro de Tudela, whom I think you formerly knew."

"Eh!?" the monk exclaimed, as he turned, with his leg still in the air.

"Come, come, Fray Ambrosio," Red Cedar continued in a jeering voice,
"let us have a little more talk together. I will tell you, if you like,
a very remarkable story about this Don Pedro, with whom you were
acquainted."

The monk was livid; a nervous tremor agitated all his limbs; he let
loose his mule's bridle, and followed the squatter mechanically, who
seated himself tranquilly on the ground, making him a sign to follow his
example. The monk fell, suppressing a sigh, and wiping away the drops of
cold perspiration that beaded on his forehead.

"Eh, eh!" the squatter continued at the end of a moment, "we must allow
that Don Pedro was a charming gentleman--a little wild, perhaps; but
what would you have? He was young. I remember meeting him at Albany a
long time ago--some sixteen or seventeen years ago--how old one
gets!--at the house of one--wait awhile, the name has slipped my
memory--could you not help me to it, Fray Ambrosio?"

"I do not know what you mean," the monk said in a hollow voice.

The man was in a state that would have produced pity; the veins in his
forehead were swollen ready to burst; he was choking; his right hand
clutched the hilt of his dagger; and he bent on the squatter a glance
full of deadly hatred. The latter seemed to see nothing of all this.

"I have it!" he continued. "The man's name was Walter Brunnel, a very
worthy gentleman."

"Demon!" the monk howled in a gasping voice, "I know not who made you
master of that horrible secret, but you shall die."

And he rushed upon him, dagger in hand.

Red Cedar had known Fray Ambrosio a long time, and was on his guard. By
a rapid movement he checked his arm, twisted it, and seized the dagger,
which he threw a long distance off.

"Enough," he said in a harsh voice. "We understand one another, my
master. Do not play that game with me, for you will be sick of it, I
warn you."

The monk fell back on his seat, without the strength to make a sign or
utter a syllable. The squatter regarded him for a moment with mingled
pity and contempt and shrugged his shoulders.

"For sixteen years I have held that secret," he said, "and it has never
passed my lips. I will continue to keep silence on one condition."

"What is it?"

"I want you to help me in carrying off the hacendero's daughter."

"I will do it."

"Mind, I expect honest assistance; so do not attempt any treachery."

"I will help you, I tell you."

"Good! I count on your word. Besides you may be easy, master; I will
watch you."

"Enough of threats. What is to be done?"

"When do we start for Apacheria?"

"You are coming, then?"

"Of course."

A sinister smile played round the monk's pale lips.

"We shall start in a week," he said.

"Good! On the day of the start you will hand over the girl to me, one
hour before our departure."

"What shall I do to compel her to follow me?"

"That is not my business."

"Still--"

"I insist."

"Be it so," the monk said with an effort. "I will do it; but remember,
demon, if I ever hold you in my hands, as I am this day in yours, I
shall be pitiless and make you pay for all I suffer at this moment."

"You will be right to do so--it is your due; still I doubt whether you
will ever be able to reach me."

"Perhaps."

"Live and learn. In the meanwhile I am your master, and I reckon on your
obedience."

"I will obey."

"That is settled. Now, one thing more; how many men have you enlisted
this evening?"

"About twenty."

"That's not many; but, with the sixty I shall supply, we shall have a
very decent band to hold the Indians in check."

"May Heaven grant it!"

"Don't be alarmed, my master," the squatter said, re-assuming the
friendly tone which he employed at the outset of the conversation; "I
pledge myself, to lead you straight to your placer. I have not lived ten
years with the Indians not to be up to all their tricks."

"Of course," the monk answered as he rose, "You know, Red Cedar, what
was agreed upon; the placer will be shared between us. It is, therefore,
to your interest to enable us to reach it without obstacle."

"We shall reach it. Now that we have nothing more to say to each other
and have agreed on all points--for we have done so, I think?" he said
significantly.

"Yes, all."

"We can part, and go each home. No matter, my master! I told you that I
should succeed in making you alter your mind. Look you, Fray Ambrosio,"
he added in impudent tone, which made the monk turn pale with rage;
"people need only to understand one another to do anything."

He rose, threw his rifle over his shoulder, and turning away sharply,
went off with lengthened strides. The monk remained for a moment as if
stunned by what had happened. Suddenly he thrust his hand under his
gown, seized a pistol, and aimed at the squatter. But ere he had time to
pull the trigger his enemy disappeared round a turning, uttering a
formidable burst of laughter, which the mocking echo bore to his ear,
and revealed to him all the immensity of his impotence.

"Oh!" he muttered as he got in the saddle, "How did this fiend discover
the secret which I believed no one knew?"

And he went off gloomy and thoughtful. Half an hour later he reached the
Hacienda de la Noria, when the gate was opened for him by a trusty peon,
for everybody was asleep. It was past midnight.



CHAPTER XVII.

EL CAÑON DEL BUITRE.


We will now return to the hacendero, who, accompanied by his two
friends, is galloping at full speed in the direction of Valentine's
jacal. The road the three men followed led them further and further from
the Paso del Norte. Around them nature grew more abrupt, the scenery
sterner. They had left the forest, and were galloping over a wide and
arid plain. On each side of the way the trees, becoming rarer, defiled
like a legion of phantoms. They crossed several tributary streams of the
Del Norte, in which their horses were immersed up to the chest.

At length they entered a ravine deeply imbedded between two wooded
hills, the soil of which, composed of large flat stones and rounded
pebbles, proved that this spot was one of those _desaguaderos_ which
serve to carry off the waters in the rainy season. They had reached the
Cañon del Buitre, so named on account of the numerous vultures
constantly perched on the tops of the surrounding hills.

The defile was deserted, and Valentine had his cabin not far from this
spot. So soon as the three men had dismounted, Curumilla took the horses
and led them to the jacal.

"Follow me," Valentine said to Don Miguel.

The latter obeyed, and the two men began then climbing the escarped
flanks of the right hand hill. The climb was rude, for no road was
traced; but the two hunters, long accustomed to force a passage through
the most impracticable places, seemed hardly to perceive the difficulty
of the ascent, which would have been impossible for men less used to a
desert life.

"This spot is really delicious," Valentine said with the complacent
simplicity of a landowner who boasts of his estate. "If it were day, Don
Miguel, you would enjoy from this spot a magnificent view. A few hundred
yards from the place where we are, down there on that hill to the right,
are the ruins of an ancient Aztec camp in a very fine state of
preservation. Just imagine that this hill, carved by human hands, though
you cannot see it in the darkness, is of the shape of a pyramidal cone:
its base is triangular, the sides are covered with masonry, and it is
divided into several terraces. The platform is about ninety yards long
by seventy-five in width, and is surrounded on three sides by a
platform, and flanked by a bastion on the north. You see that it is a
perfect fortress, constructed according to all the rules of military
art. On the platform are the remains of a species of small teocali,
about twenty feet high, composed of large stones covered with
hieroglyphics sculptured in relief, representing weapons, monsters,
rabbits, crocodiles, and all sorts of things; for instance, men seated
in the oriental fashion, and wearing spectacles. Is not that really
curious? This little monument, which has no staircase, doubtless served
as the last refuge to the besieged when they were too closely
beleaguered by the enemy."

"It is astonishing," Don Miguel answered, "that I never heard of these
ruins."

"Who knows them? Nobody. However, they bear a considerable likeness to
those found at Jochicalco."

"Where are you leading me, my friend? Are you aware that the road is not
one of the pleasantest, and I am beginning to feel tired?"

"A little patience: in ten minutes we shall arrive. I am leading you to
a natural grotto which I discovered a short time back. It is admirable.
It is probable that the Spaniards were unacquainted with it, although
the Indians, to my knowledge, have visited it from time immemorial. The
Apaches imagine it serves as a palace to the genius of the mountain. At
any rate, I was so struck by its beauty that I abandoned my jacal, and
converted it into my residence. Its extent is immense. I am certain,
though I never tried to convince myself, that it goes for more than ten
leagues under ground. I will not allude to the stalactites that hang
from the roof, and form the quaintest and most curious designs; but the
thing that struck me is this: this grotto is divided into an infinite
number of chambers, some of them containing pools in which swim immense
numbers of blind fish."

"Blind fish! You are jesting, my friend," Don Miguel exclaimed, and
stopped.

"I am wrong: blind is not the word I should have employed, for these
fish have no eyes."

"What! No eyes?"

"None at all; but that does not prevent them being very dainty food."

"That is strange."

"Is it not? But stay--we have arrived."

In fact, they found themselves in front of a gloomy, gaping orifice,
about ten feet high by eight wide.

"Let me do the honours of my mansion," Valentine said.

"Do so, my friend."

The two men entered the grotto: the hunter struck a match, and lit a
torch of candlewood. The fairy picture which suddenly rose before Don
Miguel drew from him a cry of admiration. There was an indescribable
confusion: here a gothic chapel, with its graceful soaring pillars;
further on, obelisks, cones, trunks of trees covered with moss and
acanthus leaves, hollow stalactites of a cylindrical form, drawn
together and ranged side by side like the pipes of an organ, and
yielding to the slightest touch varied metallic sounds which completed
the illusion. Then, in the immeasurable depths of these cavernous halls,
at times formidable sounds arose, which, returned by the echoes, rolled
along the sides of the grotto like peals of thunder.

"Oh, it is grand, it is grand!" Don Miguel exclaimed, struck with fear
and respect at the sight.

"Does not man," Valentine answered, "feel very small and miserable
before these sublime creations of nature, which God has scattered here
as if in sport? Oh, my friend! It is only in the desert that we
understand the grandeur and infinite omnipotence of the Supreme Being;
for at every step man finds himself face to face with Him who placed him
on this earth, and traces the mark of His mighty finger engraved in an
indelible manner on everything that presents itself to his sight."

"Yes," Don Miguel said, who had suddenly become thoughtful, "it is only
in the desert that a man learns to know, love, and fear God, for He is
everywhere."

"Come," said Valentine.

He led his friend to a hall of not more than twenty square feet, the
vault of which, however, was more than a hundred yards above them. In
this hall a fire was lighted. The two men sat down on the ground and
waited, while thinking deeply. After a few moments the sound of
footsteps was audible, and the Mexican quickly raised his head.
Valentine did not stir, for he had recognised his friend's tread. In
fact, within a moment the Indian chief appeared.

"Well?" Valentine asked him.

"Nothing yet," Curumilla laconically answered.

"They are late, I fancy," Don Miguel observed.

"No," the chief continued, "it is hardly half past eleven: we are before
our time."

"But will they find us here?"

"They know we shall await them in this hall."

After these few words each fell back into his thoughts. The silence was
only troubled by the mysterious sounds of the grotto, which re-echoed
nearly at equal intervals with an horrific din. A long period elapsed.
All at once, ere any sensible noise had warned Don Miguel, Valentine
raised his head with a hurried movement.

"Here they are," he said.

"You are mistaken, my friend," Don Miguel observed; "I heard nothing."

The hunter smiled.

"If you had spent," he said, "like we have, ten years in the desert,
interrogating the mysterious voices of the night, your ear would be
habituated to the vague rumours and sighs of nature which have no meaning
to you at this moment, but which have all a significance for me, and, so
to speak, a voice every note of which I understand, and you would not
say I was mistaken. Ask the chief: you will hear his answer."

"Two men are climbing the hill at this moment," Curumilla answered
sententiously. "They are an Indian and a white man."

"How can you recognise the distinction?"

"Very easily," Valentine responded with a smile. "The Indian wears
moccasins, which touch the ground without producing any other sound than
a species of friction: the step is sure and unhesitating, as taken by a
man accustomed to walk in the desert, and only put down his foot firmly:
the white man wears high-heeled boots, which at each step produce a
distinct and loud sound; the spurs fastened to his boots give out a
continuous metallic clink; the step is awkward and timid; at each moment
a stone or crumble of earth rolls away under the foot, which is only put
down hesitatingly. It is easy to see that the man thus walking is
accustomed to a horse, and does not know the use of his feet. Stay! They
are now entering the grotto: you will soon hear the signal."

At this moment the bark of the coyote was raised thrice at equal
intervals. Valentine answered by a similar cry.

"Well, was I mistaken?" he said.

"I know not what to think, my friend. What astonishes me most is that
you heard them so long before they arrived."

"The ground of this cave is an excellent conductor of sound," the hunter
answered simply: "that is all the mystery."

"The devil!" Don Miguel could not refrain from saying; "You neglect
nothing, I fancy."

"If a man wants to live in the desert he must neglect nothing: the
smallest things have their importance, and an observation carefully made
may often save a man's life."

While these few words were being exchanged between the two friends the
noise of footsteps was heard drawing nearer and nearer. Two men
appeared: one was Eagle-wing, the Chief of the Coras; the second,
General Ibañez.

The general was a man of about thirty-five, tall and well-built, with a
delicate and intelligent face. His manners were graceful and noble. He
bowed cordially to the hacendero and Valentine, squeezed Curumilla's
hand, and fell down in a sitting posture by the fire.

"Ouf!" he said, "I am done, gentlemen. I have just ridden an awful
distance. My poor horse is foundered, and to recover myself I made an
ascent, during which I thought twenty times I must break down; and that
would have infallibly happened, had not friend Eagle-wing charitably
come to my aid. I must confess that these Indians climb like real cats:
we _gente de razón_[1] are worth nothing for that trade."

"At length you have arrived, my friend," Don Miguel answered. "Heaven be
praised! I was anxious to see you."

"For my part I confess that my impatience was equally lively, especially
since I learned the treachery of that scoundrelly Red Cedar. That humbug
of a Wood sent him to me with so warm a recommendation that, in spite of
all my prudence, I let myself be taken in, and nearly told him all our
secrets. Unfortunately, the little I did let him know is sufficient to
have us shot a hundred times like vulgar conspirators of no
consequence."

"Do not feel alarmed, my friend. After what. Valentine told me today, we
have, perchance, a way of foiling the tricks of the infamous spy who has
denounced us."

"May Heaven grant it! But nothing will remove my impression that Wood
has something to do with what has happened to us. I always doubted that
American, who is cold as an iceberg, sour as a glass of lemonade, and
methodical as a Quaker. What good is to be expected from these men, who
covet the possession of our territory, and who, unable to take it from
us at one lump, tear it away in parcels?"

"Who knows, my friend? Perhaps you are right. Unfortunately, what is
done cannot be helped, and our retrospective recriminations will do us
no good."

"That is true; but, as you know, man is the same everywhere. When he has
committed a folly he is happy to find a scapegoat on which he can lay
the iniquities with which he reproaches himself. That is slightly my
case at this moment."

"Do not take more blame on yourself, my friend, than you deserve; I
guarantee your integrity and the loyalty of your sentiments. Whatever
may happen, be persuaded that I will always do you justice, and, if
needed, defend you against all."

"Thanks, Don Miguel. What you say causes me pleasure and reconciles me
with myself. I needed the assurance you give me in order to regain some
slight courage, and not let myself be completely crushed by the
unforeseen blow which threatens to overthrow our hopes at the very
moment when we expected to find them realised."

"Come, come, gentlemen," Valentine said, "the time is slipping away, and
we have none to waste. Let us seek to find the means by which to repair
the check we have suffered. If you permit me I will submit to your
approval a plan which, I believe, combines all the desirable chances of
success, and will turn in our favour the very treachery to which we have
fallen victims."

"Speak, speak, my friend!" the two men exclaimed, as they prepared to
listen.

Valentine took the word.


[1] Literally, "men of reason"--a graceful expression the whites employ
to distinguish themselves from the Indians, whom they affect to consider
brute beasts, and to whom they do not even grant a soul.



CHAPTER XVIII.

FATHER SERAPHIN.


"Gentlemen," said Valentine, "this is what I propose. The treachery of
Red Cedar, in surrendering to the Government the secret of your
conspiracy, places you in a critical position, from which you cannot
escape save by violent measures. You are between life and death. You
have no alternative save victory or defeat. The powder is fired, the
ground is mined under your feet, and an explosion is imminent. Well,
then, pick up the glove treachery throws to you--accept frankly the
position offered you. Do not wait till you are attacked, but commence
the contest. Remember the vulgar adage, which is perfectly true in
politics, and specially in revolution--that 'the first blow is half the
battle.' Your enemies will be terrified by your boldness--dashed by this
uprising which they are far from expecting, especially now, when they
imagine they hold in their hands all the threads of the conspiracy--an
error which makes them put faith in the revelations of a common spy, and
will ruin them if you act with skill--above all, with promptitude. All
depends on the first blow. It must be terrible, and terrify them: if
not, you are lost."

"All that is true; but we lack time," General Ibañez observed.

"Time is never lacking when a man knows how to employ it properly,"
Valentine answered peremptorily. "I repeat, you must be beforehand with
your adversaries."

At this moment the sound of footsteps was heard under the vault of the
cave. The most extreme silence at once reigned in the chamber where the
five conspirators were assembled. Mechanically each sought his weapons.
The steps rapidly approached, and a man appeared in the entrance of the
hall. On seeing him all present uttered a cry of joy and rose
respectfully, repeating, "Father Seraphin!"

The man advanced smiling, bowed gracefully, and answered in a gentle and
melodious voice, which went straight to the soul,--

"Take your places again, gentlemen, I beg of you. I should be truly
vexed if I caused you any disturbance. Permit me only to sit down for a
few moments by your side."

They hastened to make room for him. Let us say in a few words who this
person was, whose unexpected arrival caused so much pleasure to the
people assembled in the grotto.

Father Seraphin was a man of twenty-four at the most, although the
fatigues he supported, the harsh labours he had imposed on himself, and
which he fulfilled with more than apostolic abnegation, had left
numerous traces on his face, with its delicate features, its gentle and
firm expression, imprinted with a sublime melancholy, rendered even more
touching by the beam of ineffable goodness which escaped from his large,
blue and thoughtful eyes. His whole person, however, exhaled a perfume
of youth and health which disguised his age, as to which a superficial
observer might have been easily deceived.

Father Seraphin was a Frenchman, and belonged to the order of the
Lazarists. For five years he had been traversing as an indefatigable
missionary, with no other weapon than his staff, the unexplored
solitudes of Texas and New Mexico, preaching the gospel to the Indians,
while caring nothing for the terrible privations and nameless sufferings
he incessantly endured, and the death constantly suspended over his
head.

Father Seraphin was one of those numerous soldiers, ignored martyrs of
the army of faith, who, making a shield of the Gospel, spread at the
peril of their lives the word of God in those barbarous countries, and
die heroically, falling bravely on their battlefield, worn out by the
painful exigencies of their sublime mission, aged at thirty, but having
gained over a few souls to the truth, and shed light among the ignorant
masses.

The abnegation and devotion of these modest men, yet so great in heart,
are too much despised in France, where however, the greater number of
these martyrs are recruited. Their sacrifices pass unnoticed; for, owing
to the false knowledge possessed of beyond-sea countries, people are far
from suspecting the continual struggles they have to sustain against a
deadly climate. And who would credit it? The most obstinate adversaries
they meet with in the accomplishment of their mission are not among the
Indians, who always nearly welcome them with respect, if not joy, but
among the men whom their labours benefit, and who ought to aid and
protect them with all their might. There is no vexation or humiliation
which they do not endure from the agents of Mexico and the American
Union, to try and disgust and compel them to abandon the arena in which
they combat so nobly.

Father Seraphin had gained the friendship and respect of all those with
whom accident had brought him into contact. Charmed with meeting a
fellow countryman in the midst of those vast solitudes so distant from
that France he never hoped to see again, he had attached himself closely
to Valentine, to whom he vowed a deep and sincere affection. For the
same motives, the hunter, who admired the greatness of character of this
priest so full of true religion, felt himself drawn to him by an
irresistible liking. They had frequently taken long journeys together,
the hunter guiding his friend to the Indian tribes across the desolate
regions of Apacheria.

So soon as Father Seraphin had taken his place near the fire, Eagle-wing
and Curumilla hastened to offer him all those slight services which they
fancied might be agreeable to him, and offered him a few lumps of roast
venison with maize tortillas. The missionary gladly gratified the two
chiefs, and accepted their offerings.

"It is a long time since we saw you, father," the hacendero said. "You
neglect us. My daughter asked me about you only two days ago, for she is
anxious to see you."

"Doña Clara is an angel who does not require me," the missionary replied
gently. "I have spent nearly two months with the Comanche tribe of the
Tortoise. Those poor Indians claim all my care. They are thirsting for
the Divine Word."

"Are you satisfied with your journey?"

"Sufficiently so, for these men are not such as they are represented to
us. Their instincts are noble, and, as their primitive nature is not
adulterated by contact with the vicious civilization that surrounds
them, they easily understood what is explained to them."

"Do you reckon on staying long among us?"

"Yes; this last journey has fatigued me extremely. My health is in a
deplorable state, and I absolutely need a few days' rest in order to
regain the requisite strength to continue my ministry."

"Well, father, come with me to the hacienda; you will remain with us,
and make us all truly happy."

"I am going to make that request to you, Don Miguel. I am delighted that
you have thus met my wishes. If I accept your obliging offer, it is
because I know I shall not incommode you."

"On the contrary, we shall be delighted to have you among us."

"Ah! I know the goodness of your heart."

"Do not make me better than I am, father: there is a spice of egotism in
what I am doing."

"How so?"

"Hang it! By labouring at the education of the Indians you render an
immense service to the race I have the honor of belonging to; for I,
too, am an Indian."

"That is true," the priest answered with a laugh. "Come, I absolve you
from the sin of egotism, in favour of the intention which makes you
commit it."

"Father," Valentine then said, "is the game plentiful in the desert just
at present?"

"Yes, there is a great deal: the buffaloes have come down from the
mountains in herds--the elks, the deer, and the antelopes swarm."

Valentine rubbed his hands.

"It will be a good season," he said.

"Yes, for you. As for myself, I have no cause of complaint, for the
Indians have been most attentive to me."

"All the better. I ever tremble when I know you are among those red
devils. I do not say that of the Comanches, who are warriors I esteem,
and have always displayed the sincerest affection for you; but I have a
terrible fear lest those villains of Apaches may play you a wicked trick
some fine day."

"Why entertain such ideas, my friend?"

"They are correct. You cannot imagine what treacherous and cruel cowards
those Apache thieves are. I know them, and carry their marks; but do not
frighten yourself. If ever they ventured on any extremities against you,
I know the road to their villages: there is not a nook in the desert
which I have not thoroughly explored. It is not for nothing I have
received the name of the 'Trail-hunter.' I swear to you I will not leave
them a scalp."

"Valentine, you know I do not like to hear you speak so. The Indians are
poor ignorant men, who know not what they do, and must be pardoned for
the evil they commit."

"All right--all right!" the hunter growled. "You have your ideas on that
score, and I mine."

"Yes," the missionary replied with a smile, "but I believe mine be
better."

"It is possible. You know I do not discuss that subject with you; for I
do not know how you do it, but you always succeed in proving to me that
I am wrong."

Everybody laughed at this sally.

"And what are the Indians doing at this moment?" Valentine continued.
"Are they still fighting?"

"No; I succeeded in bringing Unicorn, the principal chief of the
Comanches, and Stanapat (the Handful of Blood), the Apache sachem, to an
interview, at which peace was sworn."

"Hum!" Valentine said incredulously, "that peace will not last long, for
Unicorn has too many reasons to owe the Apaches a grudge."

"Nothing leads to the supposition, at present, that your forebodings
will be speedily realised."

"Why so?"

"Because, when I left Unicorn, he was preparing for a grand buffalo
hunt, in which five hundred picked warriors were to take part."

"Ah, ah! and where do you think the hunt will take place, father?"

"I know for a certainty, because, when I left Unicorn, he begged me to
invite you to it, as he knew I should see you shortly."

"I willingly accept, for a buffalo hunt always had great attractions for
me."

"You will not have far to go to find Unicorn, for he is scarce ten
leagues from this place."

"The hunt will take place, then, in the neighbourhood?"

"The meeting-place is Yellowstone Plain."

"I shall not fail to be there, father. Ah! I am delighted, more than you
can suppose, at the happy news you have brought me."

"All the better, my friend. Now, gentlemen, I will ask you to excuse me;
for I feel so broken with fatigue that, with your permission, I will go
and take a few hours' rest."

"I was a fool not to think of it before," Valentine exclaimed with
vexation as he struck his forehead. "Pardon me, father."

"I thought for my brother," said Curumilla. "If my father will follow me
all is ready."

The missionary thanked him with a smile and rose, bowed to all present,
and supported by Eagle-wing, he followed Curumilla into another chamber
of the grotto. Father Seraphin found a bed of dry leaves covered with
bear skins, and a fire so arranged as to burn all night. The two Indians
retired after bowing respectfully to the father, and assuring themselves
that he needed nothing more.

After kneeling on the ground of the grotto Father Seraphin laid himself
on his bed of leaves, crossed his arms on his chest, and fell into that
childlike sleep which only the just enjoy. After his departure Valentine
bent over to his two friends.

"All is saved," he said in a low voice.

"How? Explain yourself," they eagerly answered.

"Listen to me. You will spend the night here; at daybreak you will start
for the Hacienda de la Noria, accompanied by Father Seraphin."

"Good! What next?"

"General Ibañez will proceed, as from you, to the governor, and invite
him to a grand hunt of wild horses, to take place in three days."

"I do not understand what you are driving at."

"That is not necessary at this moment. Let me guide you; but, above all,
arrange it so that all the authorities of the town accept your
invitation and are present at the hunt."

"That I take on myself."

"Very good. You, general, will collect all the men you can, so that they
can support you on a given signal, but hide themselves so that no one
can suspect their presence."

"Very good," Don Miguel answered; "all shall be done as you recommend.
But where will you be all this while?"'

"You know very well," he answered with a smile of undefinable meaning.
"I shall be hunting the buffalo with my friend Unicorn, the great chief
of the Comanches."

Hastily breaking off the interview, the hunter wrapped himself in his
buffalo robe, stretched himself before the fire, closed his eyes, and
slept, or feigned to sleep. After a few minutes' hesitation his friend
imitated his example, and the grotto became calm and silent as on the
day of the creation.



CHAPTER XIX.

UNICORN.


Before retiring to rest Father Seraphin, on the previous evening, had
whispered a couple of words in the Indians' ears. The sun had scarce
begun to rise a little above the extreme blue line of the horizon ere
the missionary opened his eyes, and after a short prayer hurried to the
hall in which his companions had remained. The four men were still
asleep, wrapped in their furs and buffalo skins.

"Wake up, brothers," Father Seraphin said, "for day is appearing."

The four men started up in an instant.

"My brothers," the young missionary said in a gentle and penetrating
voice, "I thought that we ought, before separating, to thank God in
common: for the blessings He does not cease to vouchsafe to us--to
celebrate our happy meeting of last night. I have, therefore, resolved
to hold a mass, at which I shall be happy to see you with that purity of
heart which such a duty demands."

At this proposition the four men exclaimed gladly their assent.

"I will help you to prepare the altar, father," Valentine said; "the
idea is excellent."

"The altar is all ready, my friends. Have the kindness to follow me."

Father Seraphin then led them out of the grotto.

In the centre of a small esplanade in front of the cave an altar had
been built by Eagle-wing and Curumilla on a grassy mound. It was very
simple. A copper crucifix planted in the centre of the mound, covered by
a cloth of dazzling whiteness; on either side of it two block-tin
candlesticks, in which burned candles of yellow tallow, a Bible on the
right, the pyx in the centre--that was all.

The hunter and the two Mexicans knelt piously, and Father Seraphin
commenced offering the holy sacrifice, served devotedly by the two
Indian chiefs.

It was a magnificent morning; thousands of birds, hidden beneath the
foliage, saluted the birth of day with their harmonious songs; a fickle
breeze poured through the branches, and refreshed the air; in the
distance, far as eye could extend, undulated the prairie, with its
oceans of tall grass incessantly agitated by the hurried foot falls of
the wild beasts returning to their dens; and on the naked side of this
hill, at the entrance of this grotto--one of the marvels of the New
World--a priest, simple as an apostle, was celebrating mass on a grass
altar under the eye of Heaven, served by two poor savages, and having as
sole congregation three half-civilised men.

This spectacle, so simple primitive, had something about it imposing and
sublime, which inspired respect and summoned up dreams of ancient days,
when the persecuted church took refuse in the desert, to find itself
face to face with God. Hence the emotion experienced by the witnesses of
this religious act was sincere. A beam of happiness descended into their
souls, and it was with real effusion that they thanked the priest for
the pleasant surprise he had reserved for them. Father Seraphin was
delighted at the result he had attained. Seeing the truly profound faith
of his friends, he felt his courage heightened to continue the rude and
noble task he had imposed on himself.

The mass lasted about three quarters of an hour. When it was finished
the missionary placed the poor holy vessels in the bag he constantly
carried with him, and they returned to the grotto for breakfast. An hour
later, Don Miguel, General Ibañez, and the missionary took leave of
Valentine, and mounted on their horses, which Curumilla had led to the
entrance of the ravine. They started at a gallop in the direction of the
Paso del Norte, whence they were about twenty leagues distant. Valentine
and the two Indian chiefs remained behind.

"I am about to leave my brother," Eagle-wing said.

"Why not remain with us, chief?"

"My pale brother no longer requires Eagle-wing. The chief hears the
cries of the men and women of his tribe who were cowardly assassinated,
and demand vengeance."

"Where goes my brother?" the hunter asked, who was too thoroughly
acquainted with the character of the Indians to try and change the
warrior's determination, though he was vexed at his departure.

"The Coras dwell in villages on the banks of the Colorado. Eagle-wing is
returning to his friends. He will ask for warriors to avenge his
brothers who are dead."

Valentine bowed.

"May the Great Spirit protect my father!" he said. "The road is long to
the villages of his tribe. The chief is leaving friends who love him."

"Eagle-wing knows it: he will remember," the chief said with a deep
intonation.

And, after pressing the hands the two hunters held out to him, he
bounded on his horse, and soon disappeared in the windings of the
cañon.

Valentine watched his departure with a sad and melancholy look.

"Shall I ever see him again!" he murmured. "He is an Indian: he is
following his vengeance. It is his nature: he obeys it, and God will
judge him. Every man must obey his destiny."

After this aside the hunter threw his rifle on his shoulder and started
in his turn, followed by Curumilla. Valentine and his comrade were on
foot: they preferred that mode of travelling, which seemed to them sure,
and quite as quick as on horseback. The two men, after the Indian
custom, walked one behind the other, not uttering a syllable; but toward
midday the heat became so insupportable that they were obliged to stop
to take a few moments' repose. At length the sunbeams lost their
strength, the evening breeze rose, and the hunters could resume their
journey. They soon reached the banks of the Rio Puerco (Dirty River),
which they began ascending, keeping as close as they could to the banks,
while following the tracks made since time immemorial by wild animals
coming down to drink.

The man unacquainted with the splendid American scenery will have a
difficulty in imagining the imposing and savage majesty of the prairie
the hunters were traversing. The river, studded with islets covered with
cottonwood trees, flowed silent and rapid between banks of slight
elevation, and overgrown with grass so tall that it obeyed the impulse
of the wind from a long distance. Over the vast plain were scattered
innumerable hills, whose summits, nearly all of the same height, present
a flat surface; and for a greater distance northward the ground was
broadcast with large lumps of pebbles resembling gravestones.

At a few hundred yards from the river rose a conical mound, bearing on
its summit a granite obelisk one hundred and twenty feet in height. The
Indians, who, like all primitive nations, are caught by anything
strange, frequently assembled at this spot; and here the hecatombs are
offered to the Kitchi Manitou.

A great number of buffalo skulls, piled up at the foot of the column,
and arranged in circles, ellipses, and other geometrical figures, attest
their piety for this god of the hunt, whose protecting spirit, they say,
looks down from the top of the monolith. Here and there grew patches of
the Indian potato, wild onion, prairie tomato, and those millions of
strange flowers and trees composing the American flora. The rest of the
country was covered with tall grass, continually undulating beneath the
light footfall of the graceful antelopes or big horns, which bounded
from one rock to the other, startled by the approach of the travellers.

Far, far away on the horizon, mingling with the azure of the sky,
appeared the denuded peaks of the lofty mountains that serve as
unassailable fortresses to the Indians: their summits, covered with
eternal snow, formed the frame of this immense and imposing picture,
which was stamped with a gloomy and mysterious grandeur.

At the hour when the _maukawis_ uttered its last song to salute the
setting of the sun, which, half plunged in the purple of evening, still
jaspered the sky with long red bands, the travellers perceived the tents
of the Comanches picturesquely grouped on the sides of a verdurous hill.
The Indians had, in a few hours, improvised a real village with their
buffalo skin tents, aligned to form streets and squares.

On arriving at about five hundred yards from the village the hunters
suddenly perceived an Indian horseman. Evincing not the slightest
surprise, they stopped and unfolded their buffalo robes, which floated
in the breeze, as a signal of peace. The horseman uttered a loud cry. At
this signal--for it was evidently one--a troop of Comanche warriors
debouched at a gallop from the village, and poured like a torrent down
the sides of the hill, coming up close to the motionless travellers,
brandishing their weapons, and uttering their war yell.

The hunters waited, carelessly leaning on their guns. Assuredly, to a
man not acquainted with the singular manners of the prairie, this mode
of reception would have seemed overt hostilities. But it was not so;
for, on coming within range of the hunters, the Comanches began making
their horses leap and curvet with that grace and skill characteristic of
the Indians, and deploying to the right and left, they formed a vast
circle, inclosing the two unmoved hunters.

Then a horseman quitted the group, dismounted, and rapidly approached
the newcomers: the latter hastened to meet him. All three had their arm
extended with the palm forward in sign of peace. The Indian who thus
advanced to meet the hunters was Unicorn, the great chief of the
Comanches.

As a distinctive sign of his race, his skin was of a red tinge, brighter
than the palest new copper. He was a man of thirty at the most, with
masculine and expressive features; his face possessed a remarkable
intelligence, and was stamped with that natural majesty found among the
savage children of the prairie; he was tall and well built; and his
muscular limbs evidenced a vigour and suppleness against which few men
would have contended with advantage.

He was completely painted and armed for war; his black hair was drawn up
on his head in the form of a casque, and fell down his back like a mane;
a profusion of wampum collars, claws of grizzly bear, and buffalo teeth
adorned his breast, on which was painted with rare dexterity a blue
tortoise, the distinctive sign of the tribe to which he belonged, and of
the size of a hand.

The rest of his costume was composed of the _mitasses_, fastened round
the hips by a leathern belt, and descending to the ankles; a deerskin
shirt, with long hanging sleeves, the seams of which, like those of the
mitasse, were fringed with leather strips and feathers; a wide cloak, of
the hide of a female buffalo, was fastened across his shoulders with a
buckle of pure gold, and fell down to the ground; on his feet he had
elegant moccasins of different colours, embroidered with beads and
porcupine quills, from the heels of which trailed several wolf tails; a
light round shield, covered with buffalo hide, and decorated with human
scalps, hung on his left side by his panther skin quiver full of arrows.
His weapons were those of the Comanche Indians; that is to say, the
scalping knife, the tomahawk, a bow, and an American rifle; but a long
whip, the handle of which painted red, was adorned with scalps,
indicated his rank as chief.

When the three men were close together they saluted by raising their
hands to their foreheads; then Valentine and Unicorn crossed their arms
by passing the right hand over the left shoulder, and bowing their heads
at the same time, kissed each other's mouth after the prairie fashion.
Unicorn then saluted Curumilla in the same way; and this preliminary
ceremony terminated, the Comanche chief took the word.

"My brothers are welcome at the village of my tribe," he said. "I was
expecting them impatiently. I had begged the Chief of Prayer of the
palefaces to invite them in my name."

"He performed his promise last night. I thank my brother for having
thought of me."

"The two stranger great hunters are friends of Unicorn. His heart was
sad not to see them near him for the buffalo hunt his young people are
preparing."

"Here we are! We set out this morning at sunrise."

"My brothers will follow me, and rest at the council fire."

The hunters bowed assent. Each received a horse, and at a signal from
Unicorn, who had placed himself between them, the troop started at a
gallop, and returned to the village, which it entered to the deafening
sound of drums, chikikouis, shouts of joy from the women and children
who saluted their return, and the furious barking of the dogs. When the
chiefs were seated round the council fire the pipe was lit, and
ceremoniously presented to the two strangers, who smoked in silence for
some minutes. When the pipe had gone the round several times Unicorn
addressed Valentine.

"Koutonepi is a great hunter," he said to him; "he has often followed
the buffalo on the plains of the Dirty River. The chief will tell him
the preparations he has made, that the hunter may give his opinion."

"It is needless, chiefs," Valentine replied. "The buffalo is the friend
of the redskins: the Comanches know all its stratagems. I should like to
ask a question of my brother."

"The hunter can speak; my ears are open."

"How long will the chief remain on the hunting grounds with his young
men?"

"About a week. The buffaloes are suspicious: my young men are
surrounding them, but they drive them in our direction before four or
five days."

Valentine gave a start of joy.

"Good," he said. "Is my brother sure of it?"

"Very sure."

"How many warriors have remained with the chief?"

"About four hundred: the rest are scattered over the plain to announce
the approach of the buffaloes."

"Good! If my brother likes I will procure him a fine hunt within three
days."

"Ah!" the chief exclaimed, "then my brother has started some game?"

"Oh!" Valentine answered with a laugh, "Let my brother trust to me, and
I promise him rich spoils."

"Good! Of what game does my brother speak?"

"Of _gachupinos_[1]. In two days they will meet in large numbers not far
from here."

"Wah!" said the Comanche, whose eyes sparkled at this news, "My young
men will hunt them. My brother must explain."

Valentine shook his head.

"My words are for the ears of a chief," he said.

Without replying, Unicorn made a signal: the Indians rose silently, and
left the tent. Curumilla and Unicorn alone remained near the fire.
Valentine then explained to the Comanche, in its fullest details, the
plan he had conceived, in the execution of which the aid of the Indians
was indispensable for him. Unicorn listened attentively without
interrupting. When Valentine had ended,--

"What does my brother think?" the latter asked, fixing a scrutinising
glance on the impassive countenance of the chief.

"Wah!" the other replied, "the paleface is very crafty. Unicorn will do
what he desires."

This assurance filled Valentine's heart with joy.


[1] Wearers of shoes--a name given by the Indians to the Spaniards at
the conquest.



CHAPTER XX.

THE HUNT OF WILD HORSES.


Don Miguel Zarate and his two friends did not reach the hacienda till
late. They were received in the porch by Don Pablo and Doña Clara, who
manifested great joy at the sight of the French missionary, for whom
they felt a sincere esteem and great friendship. Spite of all his care,
Fray Ambrosio had always seen his advances repelled by the young people,
in whom he instinctively inspired that fear mingled with disgust that is
experienced at the sight of a reptile.

Doña Clara, who was very pious, carried this repulsion to such a pitch
that she only confessed her faults and approached the holy table when
Father Seraphin came to spend a few days at the hacienda.

Fray Ambrosio was too adroit to appear to notice the effect his presence
produced on the hacendero's children: he feigned to attribute to
timidity and indifference on religious matters what was in reality a
strongly expressed loathing for himself personally. But in his heart a
dull hatred fermented against the two young folk, and especially against
the missionary, whom he had several times already attempted to destroy
by well-laid snares.

Father Seraphin had always escaped them by a providential chance; but in
spite of the chaplain's obsequious advances, and the offers of service
he did not fail to overwhelm him with each time they met, the missionary
had thoroughly read the Mexican monk. He had guessed what fearful
corruption was hidden beneath his apparent simplicity and feigned piety:
and while keeping to himself the certainty he had acquired, he remained
on his guard, and carefully watched this man, whom he suspected of
incessantly planning some dark treachery against him. Don Miguel left
his children with the missionary, who immediately took possession of him
and dragged him away, lavishing on him every possible attention. The
hacendero retired to his study with General Ibañez, when the two men
drew up a list of the persons they intended to invite; that is to say,
the persons Valentine proposed to get out of the way, though they were
innocent of his scheme. The general then mounted his horse, and rode off
to deliver the invitations personally. For his part Don Miguel sent off
a dozen peons and vaqueros in search of the wild horses, and to drive
them gradually toward the spot chosen for the hunt.

Gen. Ibañez succeeded perfectly: the invitations were gladly accepted,
and the next evening the guests began arriving at the hacienda, Don
Miguel receiving them with marks of the most profound respect and lavish
hospitality.

The governor, General Isturitz, Don Luciano Pérez, and seven or eight
persons of inferior rank were soon assembled at the hacienda. At sunrise
a numerous party, composed of forty persons, left the hacienda, and
proceeded, accompanied by a crowd of well-mounted peons, towards the
meet. This was a vast plain on the banks of the Rio del Norte, where the
wild horses were accustomed to graze at this season. The caravan
produced the most singular and picturesque effect with the brilliant
costumes of the persons who composed it, and their horses glittering
with gold and silver. Starting at about four a.m. from the hacienda,
they reached four hours later a clump of trees, beneath whose shade
tents had been raised and tables laid by Don Miguel's orders, so that
they might breakfast before the hunt.

The riders, who had been journeying for four hours, already exposed to
the rays of the sun and the dust, uttered a shout of joy at the sight of
the tents. Each dismounted: the ladies were invited to do the same,
among them being the wives of the governor and General Isturitz, and
Doña Clara, and they gaily sat down round the tables.

Toward the end of the breakfast Don Pablo arrived, who had started the
evening previously to join the vaqueros. He announced that the horses
had been started, that a large manada was now crossing the Plain of the
Coyotes, watched by the vaqueros, and that they must make haste if they
wished to have good sport. This news augmented the ardor of the hunters.
The ladies were left in camp under the guard of a dozen well-armed
peons, and the whole party rushed at a gallop in the direction indicated
by Don Pablo.

The Plain of the Coyotes extended for an enormous distance along the
banks of the river. Here and there rose wooded hills, which varied the
landscape that was rendered monotonous by the tall grass, in which the
riders disappeared up to their waists. When the hunting party reached
the skirt of the plain Don Miguel ordered a halt, that they might hold a
council, and hear the report of the leader of the vaqueros.

The races of wild horses that nowadays people the deserts of North
America, and especially of Mexico, is descended from Cortez' cavalry.
Hence it is a pure breed, for at the period of the Spanish conquest only
Arab horses were employed. These horses have multiplied in really an
extraordinary manner. It is not rare to meet with manadas of twenty and
even thirty thousand head. They are small, but gifted with an energy and
vigour of which it is impossible to form a fair idea without having seen
them. They accomplish without fatigue journeys of prodigious length.
Their coat is the same as that of other horses, save that during winter
it grows very long, and frizzy like the wool of sheep. In spring this
species of fur falls off. The American horses may be easily trained.
Generally, so soon as they find themselves caught they easily submit to
the saddle.

The Mexicans treat their steeds very harshly, make them journey the
whole day without food or drink, and only give them their ration of
maize and water on reaching the bivouac, where they let them wander
about the whole night under guard of the _nena_, a mare whose bell the
horses follow, and will never leave. It is not from any cruel motive,
however, that the Mexicans treat their horses thus, for the riders are
very fond of their animals, which at a given moment may save their
lives. But it seems that this mode of treatment, which would be
impracticable in Europe, is perfectly successful in Mexico, where the
horses are much better off than if treated in a more gentle way.

The leader of the vaqueros made his report. A manada of about ten
thousand head was two leagues off on the plain, quietly grazing in the
company of a few elks and buffaloes. The hunters scaled a hill, from the
top of which they easily saw on the horizon a countless mob of animals,
grouped in a most picturesque way, and apparently not at all suspecting
the danger that threatened them.

To hunt the wild horses men must be like the Mexicans, perfect centaurs.
I have seen the _jinetes_ of that country accomplish feats of
horsemanship before which our Europeans would turn pale.

After the vaquero's report Don Miguel and his friends held a council,
and this is the resolution they came to. They formed what is called in
Mexico the grand circle of the wild horses; that is to say, the most
skilful riders were echeloned in every direction at a certain distance
from each other, so as to form an immense circle. The wild horses are
extremely suspicious: their instinct is so great, their scent is so
subtle, that the slightest breath of wind is sufficient to carry to them
the smell of their enemies, and make them set off at headlong speed.
Hence it is necessary to act with the greatest prudence, and use many
precautions, if a surprise is desired.

When all the preparations were made the hunters dismounted, and dragging
their horses after them, glided through the tall grass so as to contract
the circle. This manoeuvre had gone on for some time, and they had
sensibly drawn nearer, when the manada began to display some signs of
restlessness. The horses, which had hitherto grazed calmly, raised their
heads, pricked their ears, and neighed as they inhaled the air. Suddenly
they collected, formed a compact band, and started at a trot in the
direction of some cottonwood trees which stood on the banks of the
river. The hunt was about to commence.

At a signal from Don Miguel six well-mounted vaqueros rushed at full
speed ahead of the manada, making their lassoes whistle round their
heads. The horses, startled by the apparition of the riders, turned back
hastily, uttering snorts of terror, and fled in another direction. But
each time they tried to force the circle, horsemen rode into the midst
of them, and compelled them to turn back.

It is necessary to have been present at such a chase, to have seen this
hunt on the prairies, to form an idea of the magnificent sight offered
by all these noble brutes, their eyes afire, their mouths foaming, their
heads haughtily thrown up, and their manes fluttering in the wind, as
they bounded and galloped in the fatal circle the hunters had formed
round them. There is in such a sight something intoxicating, which
carries away the most phlegmatic, and renders them mad with enthusiasm
and pleasure.

When this manoeuvre had lasted long enough, and the horses began to grow
blinded with terror, at a signal given by Don Miguel the circle was
broken at a certain spot. The horses rushed, with a sound like thunder,
toward this issue which opened before them, overturning with their
chests everything that barred their progress. But it was this the
hunters expected. The horses, in their mad race, galloped on without
dreaming that the road they followed grew gradually narrower in front of
them, and terminated in inevitable captivity.

Let us explain the termination of the hunt. The manada had been cleverly
guided by the hunters toward the entrance of a cañon, or ravine, which
ran between two rather lofty hills. At the end of this ravine the
vaqueros had formed, with stakes fifteen feet long, planted in the
ground, and firmly fastened together with cords of twisted bark, an
immense corral or inclosure, into which the horses rushed without seeing
it. In less than no time the corral was full; then the hunters went to
meet the manada, which they cut off at the risk of their lives, while
the others closed the entrance of the corral. More than fifteen hundred
magnificent wild horses were thus captured at one stroke.

The noble animals rushed with snorts of fury at the walls of the
inclosure, trying to tear up the stakes with their teeth, and dashing
madly against them. At length they recognised the futility of their
efforts, lay down, and remained motionless. In the meanwhile a
tremendous struggle was going on in the ravine between the hunters and
the rest of the manada. The horses confined in this narrow space made
extraordinary efforts to open a passage and fly anew. They neighed,
stamped, and flew at everything that came within their reach. At length
they succeeded in regaining their first direction, and rushed into the
plain with the velocity of an avalanche. Several vaqueros had been
dismounted and trampled on by the horses, and two of them had received
such injuries that they were carried off the ground in a state of
insensibility.

With all the impetuosity of youth Don Pablo had rushed into the very
heart of the manada. Suddenly his horse received a kick which broke its
off foreleg, and it fell to the ground, dragging its rider with it. The
hunters uttered a cry of terror and agony. In the midst of this band of
maddened horses the young man was lost, for he must be trampled to death
under their hoofs. But he rose with the rapidity of lightning, and quick
as thought seizing the mane of the nearest horse, he leaped on its back,
and held on by his knees. The horses were so pressed against one another
that any other position was impossible. Then a strange thing
occurred--an extraordinary struggle between the horse and its rider. The
noble beast, furious at feeling its back dishonoured by the weight it
bore, bounded, reared, rushed forward; but all was useless, for Don
Pablo adhered firmly.

So long as it was in the ravine, the horse, impeded by its comrades,
could not do all it might have wished to get rid of the burden it bore;
but so soon as it found itself on the plain it threw up its head, made
several leaps on one side, and then started forward at a speed which
took away the young man's breath.

Don Pablo held on firmly by digging his knees into the panting sides of
his steed; he unfastened his cravat, and prepared to play the last scene
in this drama, which threatened to terminate in a tragic way for him.
The horse had changed its tactics; it was racing in a straight line to
the river, resolved to drown itself with its rider sooner than submit.
The hunters followed with an interest mingled with terror the moving
interludes of this mad race, when suddenly the horse changed its plans
again, reared, and tried to fall back with its rider. The hunters
uttered a shout of agony. Don Pablo clung convulsively to his animal's
neck, and, at the moment it was falling back, he threw his cravat over
its eyes with extraordinary skill.

The horse, suddenly blinded, fell back again on its feet, and stood
trembling with terror. Then the young man dismounted, put his face to
the horse's head, and breathed into its nostrils, while gently
scratching its forehead. This operation lasted ten minutes at the most,
the horse panting and snorting, but not daring to leave the spot. The
Mexican again leaped on the horse's back, and removed the bandage; it
remained stunned--Don Pablo had tamed it[1]. Everybody rushed toward the
young man, who smiled proudly, in order to compliment him on his
splendid victory. Don Pablo dismounted, gave his horse to a vaquero, who
immediately passed a bridle round its neck, and then walked toward his
father, who embraced him tenderly. For more than an hour Don Miguel had
despaired of his son's life.


[1] This mode of taming horses is well known to the Indians, and we
submit the fact to our readers without comment.



CHAPTER XXI.

THE SURPRISE.


So soon as the emotion caused by Don Pablo's prowess was calmed they
began thinking about returning. The sun was rapidly descending in the
horizon: the whole day had been spent with the exciting incidents of the
chase. The Hacienda de la Noria was nearly ten leagues distant: it was,
therefore, urgent to start as speedily as possible, unless the party
wished to run the risk of bivouacking in the open air.

The men would easily have put up with this slight annoyance, which, in a
climate like that of New Mexico, and at this season of the year, has
nothing painful about it; but they had ladies with them. Left one or two
leagues in the rear, they must feel alarmed by the absence of the
hunters--an absence which, as so frequently happens when out hunting,
had been protracted far beyond all expectation.

Don Miguel gave the vaqueros orders to brand the captured horses with
his cipher; and the whole party then returned, laughing and singing, in
the direction of the tents where the ladies had been left. The vaqueros
who had served as beaters during the day remained behind to guard the
horses.

In these countries, where there is scarce any twilight, night succeeds
the day almost without transition. As soon as the sun had set the
hunters found themselves in complete darkness; for, as the sun descended
on the horizon, the shade invaded the sky in equal proportions, and, at
the moment when the day planet disappeared, the night was complete. The
desert, hitherto silent, seemed to wake up all at once: the birds,
stupefied by the heat, commenced a formidable concert, in which joined
at intervals, from the inaccessible depths of the forest, the snapping
of the _carcajous_ and the barking of the coyotes mingled with the
hoarse howling of the wild beasts that had left their dens to come down
and drink in the river.

Then gradually the cries, the songs, and the howling ceased, and nothing
was audible save the hurried footfalls of the hunters' horses on the
pebbles of the road. A solemn silence seemed to brood over this abrupt
and primitive scenery. At intervals the green tufts of the trees and the
tall grass bowed slowly with a prolonged rustling of leaves and
branches, as if a mysterious breath passed over them, and compelled them
to bend their heads. There was something at once striking and terrible
in the imposing appearance offered by the prairie at this hour of the
night, beneath this sky studded with brilliant stars, which sparkled
like emeralds, in the presence of this sublime immensity, which only
suffered one voice to be heard--that of Deity.

The young and enthusiastic man to whom it is given to be present at such
a spectacle feels a thrill run over all his body: he experiences an
undefinable feeling of happiness and extraordinary pleasure on looking
round him at the desert, whose unexplored depths conceal from him so
many secrets, and display to him Divine Majesty in all its grandeur and
omnipotence. Many a time during our adventurous journeys on the American
continent, when marching at hazard during these lovely nights so full of
charms, which nothing can make those comprehend who have not experienced
them, we have yielded to the soft emotions that overcame us. Isolating
and absorbing ourselves within ourselves, we, have fallen into a state
of beatitude, from which nothing had the power of drawing us.

The hunters so gay and talkative at the start, had yielded to this
omnipotent influence of the desert, and advanced rapidly and silently,
only exchanging a few syllables at lengthened intervals. The profoundest
calm still continued to reign over the desert; and while, owing to the
astonishing transparency of the atmosphere, the eye could embrace a
horizon, nothing suspicious was visible.

The fireflies buzzed carelessly round the top of the grass, and the
flickering fires burning before the tents to which the hunters were
bound could be already seen about half a league ahead. At a signal from
Don Miguel the party, which had, up to the present, only trotted, set
out at a long canter; for each felt anxious to leave a scene which, in
the darkness, had assumed a sinister aspect.

They thus arrived within a hundred yards of the fires, whose ruddy glow
was reflected on the distant trees, when suddenly a fearful yell crossed
the air, and from behind every bush out started an Indian horseman
brandishing his weapons, and making his horse curvet round the white
men, while uttering his war cry. The Mexicans, taken unawares, were
surrounded ere they sufficiently recovered from their stupor to think
about employing their weapons. At a glance Don Miguel judged the
position: it was a critical one. The hunters were at the most but
twenty: the number of Comanche warriors surrounding them was at least
three hundred.

The Comanches and Apaches are the most implacable foes of the white
race. In their periodical invasions of the frontiers they hardly ever
make any prisoners: they mercilessly kill all who fall into their hands.
Still the Mexicans rallied. Certain of the fate that awaited them, they
were resolved to sell their lives dearly. There was a moment of supreme
expectation before the commencement of the deadly combat, when suddenly
an Indian galloped out of the ranks of the warriors, and rode within
three paces of the little band of Mexicans. On arriving there he
stopped, and waved his buffalo robe in sign of peace. The governor of
the provinces prepared to speak.

"Let me carry on the negotiations," Don Miguel said. "I know the Indians
better than you do, and perhaps I shall succeed in getting out of this
awkward position."

"Do so," the governor answered.

General Ibañez was the only one who had remained calm and impassive
since the surprise: he did not make a move to seize his weapons; on the
contrary, he crossed his arms carelessly on his chest, and took a
mocking glance at his comrades as he hummed a seguidilla between his
teeth. Don Pablo had placed himself by his father's side, ready to
defend him at the peril of his life. The Indian chief took the word.

"Let the palefaces listen," he said; "an Indian sachem is about to
speak."

"We have no time to spare in listening to the insidious words which you
are preparing to say to us," Don Miguel replied in a haughty voice.
"Withdraw, and do not obstinately bar our passage, or there will be
blood spilt."

"The palefaces will have brought it on themselves," the Comanche
answered in a gentle voice. "The Indians mean no harm to the pale
warriors."

"Why, then, this sudden attack? The chief is mad. We do not let
ourselves be so easily deceived as he seems to suppose: we know very
well that he wants our scalps."

"No; Unicorn wishes to make a bargain with the palefaces."

"Come, chief, explain yourself; perhaps your intentions are as you
describe them. I do not wish to reproach myself with having refused to
listen to you."

The Indian smiled.

"Good!" he said. "The great white chief is becoming reasonable. Let him
listen, then, to the words Unicorn will pronounce."

"Go on, chief; my comrades and myself are listening."

"The palefaces are thieving dogs," the chief said in a rough voice;
"they carry on a continual war with the redskins, and buy their scalps
as if they were peltry; but the Comanches are magnanimous warriors, who
disdain to avenge themselves. The squaws of the white men are in their
power: they will restore them."

At these words a shudder of terror ran along the ranks of the hunters;
their courage failed them; they had only one desire left--that of saving
those who had so wretchedly fallen into the hands of these bloodthirsty
men.

"On what conditions will the Comanches restore their prisoners?" Don
Miguel asked, whose heart was contracted at the thought of his daughter,
who was also a prisoner. He secretly cursed Valentine, whose fatal
advice was the sole cause of the frightful evil that assailed him at
this moment.

"The palefaces," the chief continued, "will dismount and arrange
themselves in a line. Unicorn will choose from among his enemies those
whom he thinks proper to carry off as prisoners; the rest will be free,
and all the women restored."

"Those conditions are harsh, chief. Can you not modify them?"

"A chief has only one word. Do the palefaces consent?"

"Let us consult together for a few moments at any rate."

"Good! Let the white men consult. Unicorn grants them ten minutes," the
chief made answer.

And turning his horse, he went back to his men. Don Miguel then
addressed his friends.

"Well; what do you think of what has occurred?"

The Mexicans were terrified: still they were compelled to allow that the
conduct of the Indians was extraordinary, and that they had never before
evinced such lenity. Now that reflection had followed on the first
feeling of excitement, they understood that a struggle against enemies
so numerous was insensate, and could only result in rendering their
position worse than it was before, and that the chiefs conditions, harsh
as they were, offered at least some chance of safety for a portion of
them, and the ladies would be saved.

This last and all powerful consideration decided them. Don Miguel had no
occasion to convince them of the necessity of submission. Whatever
struggle it cost them, they dismounted and arranged themselves in a
line, as the chief had demanded, Don Miguel and his son placing
themselves at the head.

Unicorn, with that cool courage characteristic of the Indians, then
advanced alone toward the Mexicans, who still held their weapons, and
who, impelled by their despair, and at the risk of being all massacred,
would have sacrificed him to their vengeance. The chief had also
dismounted. With his hands crossed on his back, and frowning brow, he
now commenced his inspection.

Many a heart contracted at his approach, for a question of life and
death was being decided for these hapless men: only the perspective of
the atrocious tortures which menaced the ladies could have made them
consent to this humiliating and degrading condition. The Unicorn,
however, was generous: he only selected eight of the Mexicans, and the
rest received permission to mount their horses, and leave the fatal
circle that begirt them. Still, by a strange accident, or a
premeditation of which the reason escaped them, these, eight
prisoners--among whom were the governor, General Isturitz, and the
criminal judge, Don Luciano Pérez--were the most important personages in
the party, and the members of the Provincial Government.

It was not without surprise that Don Miguel observed this; the
Comanches, however, faithfully fulfilled their compact, and the ladies
were at once set at liberty. They had been treated with the greatest
respect by the Indians, who had surprised their camp, and seized them
almost in the same way as they had done the hunters--that is to say, the
camp was invaded simultaneously on all sides. It was a matter worthy of
remark in an Indian ambuscade that not a drop of blood had been spilt.

After the moments given up to the happiness of seeing his daughter again
safe and sound, Don Miguel resolved to make a last attempt with Unicorn
in favour of the unhappy men who remained in his hands. The chief
listened with deference, and let him speak without interruption; then he
replied with a smile whose expression the hacendero tried in vain to
explain,--

"My father has Indian blood in his veins; the redskins love him: never
will they do him the slightest injury. Unicorn would like to restore him
immediately the prisoners, for whom he cares very little; but that is
impossible. My father himself would speedily regret Unicorn's obedience
to his Wish; but, in order to prove to my father how much the chief
desires to do a thing that will be agreeable to him, the prisoners will
not be ill-treated, and will be let off with a few days' annoyance.
Unicorn consents to accept a ransom for them, instead of making them
slaves. My father can himself tell them this good news."

"Thanks, chief," Don Miguel answered. "The nobility of your character
touches my heart: I shall not forget it. Be persuaded that, under all
circumstances, I shall be happy to prove to you how grateful I am."

The chief bowed gracefully and withdrew, in order to give the hacendero
liberty to communicate with his companions. The latter were seated sadly
on the ground, gloomy and downcast. Don Miguel repeated to them the
conversation he had held with Unicorn, and the promise he had made with
respect to them. This restored them all their courage; and, with the
most affectionate words and marks of the liveliest joy, they thanked the
hacendero for the attempt he had made in their favour.

In fact, thanks to the promise of liberating them for a ransom at the
end of a week, and treating them well during the period of their
captivity, there was nothing so very terrifying about the prospect; and
it was one of those thousand annoyances to which men are exposed by
accident, but whose proportions had been so reduced in their eyes, that,
with the carelessness which forms the staple of the national character,
they were the first to laugh at their mishap.

Don Miguel, however, was anxious to retire; so he took leave of his
companions, and rejoined the chief. The latter repeated his assurances
that the prisoners should be free within a week, if they consented each
to pay a ransom of one thousand piastres, which was a trifle. He assured
the hacendero that he was at liberty to withdraw whenever he pleased,
and he should not oppose his departure.

Don Miguel did not allow the invitation to be repeated. His friends and
himself immediately mounted their horses, together with the ladies, who
were placed in the centre of the detachment; and after taking leave of
Unicorn, the Mexicans dug their spurs into their horses, and started at
a gallop, glad to have got off so cheaply. The campfires were soon left
far behind them, and General Ibañez then approached his friend, and
bending down to his ear, whispered,--

"Don Miguel, can the Comanches be our allies? I fancy that they have
this night given a bold push to the success of our enterprise."

This thought, like a ray of light, had already crossed the hacendero's
brain several times.

"I do not know," he said with a clever smile; "but at any rate, my dear
general, they are very adroit foes."

The little band continued to advance rapidly toward the hacienda, which
was now no great distance, and which they hoped to reach before sunrise.
The events we have described had occurred in less than an hour.



CHAPTER XXII.

THE MEETING.


"By Jove!" General Ibañez said, "it must be confessed that these red
devils have done us an immense service without suspecting it. It might
be said, deuce take me, that they acted under a knowledge of facts. This
Unicorn, as the chief is called, is a precious man in certain
circumstances. I am anxious to cultivate his acquaintance, for no one
knows what may happen. It is often good to have so intelligent a friend
as him at hand."

"You are always jesting, general. When will you be serious for once?"
Don Miguel said with a smile.

"What would you have, my friend? We are at this moment staking our heads
in a desperate game, so let us at any rate keep our gaiety. If we are
conquered, it will be time enough then to be sad, and make bitter
reflections about the instability of human affairs."

"Yes, your philosophy is not without a certain dose of fatalism, which
renders it more valuable to me. I am happy to see you in this good
temper, especially at a moment when we are preparing to play our last
card."

"All is not desperate yet, and I have a secret foreboding, on the
contrary, that all is for the best. Our friend the Trail-hunter, I feel
convinced, has something to do, if not all, with what has happened to
us."

"Do you believe it?" Don Miguel asked quickly.

"I am certain of it. You know as well as I do these Indios Bravos, and
the implacable hatred they have vowed against us. The war they wage with
us is atrocious; and for them to be suddenly changed from wolves into
lambs requires some powerful motive to make them act thus. People do not
lay aside in a moment a hatred which has endured for ages. The
Comanches, by the choice they made, know the importance of the prisoners
they have seized. How is it that they consent so easily to give them up
for a trifling ransom? There is some inexplicable mystery in all this."

"Which is very easy to explain though," a laughing voice interrupted
from behind the shrubs.

The two Mexicans started, and checked their horses. A man leaped from a
thicket, and suddenly appeared in the centre of the track the little
band of hunters was following. The latter, believing in a fresh attack
and treachery on the part of the Comanches, seized their weapons.

"Stop!" Don Miguel said sharply, "the man is alone. Let me speak with
him."

Each waited with his hand on his weapon.

"Hold!" Don Miguel continued, addressing the stranger, who stood
motionless, carelessly resting on his gun. "Who are you, my master?"

"Do you not recognise me, Don Miguel? and must I really tell you my
name?" the stranger answered with a laugh.

"The Trail-hunter!" Don Miguel exclaimed.

"Himself," Valentine continued. "Hang it all! You take a long time to
recognise your friends."

"You will forgive us when you know all that has happened to us, and how
much we must keep on our guard."

"Confound it!" Valentine said laughingly, as he regulated his pace by
the trot of the horses, "do you fancy you are going to tell me any news?
Did you not really suspect from what quarter the blow came?"

"What!" Don Miguel exclaimed in surprise, "did you--"

"Who else but I? Do you think the Spaniards are such friends of the
Indians that the latter would treat them so kindly when meeting them
face to face in the desert?"

"I was sure of it," General Ibañez affirmed. "I guessed it at the first
moment."

"Good heavens! Nothing was more simple. Your position, through Red
Cedar's treachery, was most critical. I wished to give you the time to
turn round by removing, for a few days, the obstacles that prevented the
success of your plans. I have succeeded, I fancy."

"You could not have managed better," exclaimed the general.

"Oh!" Don Miguel said with a reproachful accent, "why did you hide it
from me?"

"For a very simple reason, my friend. I wished that in these
circumstances your will and conscience should be free."

"But--"

"Let me finish. Had I told you of my plan, it is certain that you would
have opposed it. You are a man of honor, Don Miguel: your heart is most
loyal."

"My friend--"

"Answer me. Had I explained to you the plan I formed, what would you
have done?"

"Well--"

"Answer frankly."

"I should have refused."

"I was sure of it. Why would you have done so? Because you would never
have consented to violate the laws of hospitality, and betray enemies
you sheltered beneath your roof, though you knew all the while that
these men, on leaving you, would have considered it their duty to seize
you, and that they watched your every movement while sitting by your
side, and eating at your table. Is it not so?"

"It is true; my honor as a gentleman would have revolted. I could not
have suffered such horrible treachery to be carried out under my very
eyes."

"There! You see that I acted wisely in saying nothing to you. In that
way your honor is protected, your conscience easy, and I have in the
most simple fashion freed you for some days from your enemies."

"That is true; still--"

"What? Have the prisoners to complain of the way in which they have been
treated?"

"Not at all; on the contrary, the Comanches, and Unicorn in particular,
treated them most kindly."

"All is for the best, then. You must congratulate yourself on the
unexpected success you have achieved, and must now profit by it without
delay."


"I intend to do so."

"You must act at once."

"I ask nothing better. All is ready. Our men are warned, and they will
rise at the first signal."

"It must be given immediately."

"I only ask the time to leave my daughter at the hacienda; then
accompanied by my friends, I will march on Paso, while General Ibañez,
at the head of a second band, seizes Santa Fe."

"The plan is well conceived. Can you count on the persons who follow
you?"

"Yes; they are all my relatives or friends."

"All for the best. Let us not go further. We are here at the place where
the roads part; let your horses breathe awhile, and I will tell you a
plan I have formed, and which, I think, will please you."

The small party halted. The horsemen dismounted, and lay down on the
grass. As all knew of the conspiracy formed by Don Miguel, and were his
accomplices in different degrees, this halt did not surprise them, for
they suspected that the moment for action was not far off, and that
their chief doubtless wished to take his final measures before throwing
off the mask, and proclaiming the independence of New Mexico. On
inviting them to hunt the wild horses, Don Miguel had not concealed from
them Red Cedar's treachery, and the necessity in which he found himself
of dealing a great blow, if he did not wish all to be hopelessly lost.

Valentine led the hacendero and the general a short distance apart.
When they were out of ear-shot the hunter carefully examined the
neighbourhood; then within a few minutes rejoined his friends, whom his
way of acting considerably perplexed.

"Caballeros," he said to them, "what do you intend doing? In our
position minutes are ages. Are you ready to make your pronunciamento?"

"Yes," they answered.

"This is what I propose. You, Don Miguel, will proceed direct on Paso.
At about half a league from that town you will find Curumilla, with
twenty of the best rifles on the frontier. These men, in whom you can
trust, are Canadian and Indian hunters devoted to me. They will form the
nucleus of a band sufficient for you to seize on Paso without striking a
blow, as it is only defended by a garrison of forty soldiers. Does that
plan suit you?"

"Yes; I will set about it at once. But my daughter?"

"I will take charge of her. You will also leave me your son, and I will
convey them both to the hacienda. As for the other ladies, on reaching
the town, they will merely go to their homes, which I fancy, presents no
difficulty."

"None."

"Good! Then that is settled?"

"Perfectly."

"As for you, general, your men have been échelonned by my care in
parties of ten and twenty along the Santa Fe road, up to two leagues of
the city, so that you will only have to pick them up. In this way you
will find yourself, within three hours, at the head of five hundred
resolute and well-armed men."

"Why, Valentine, my friend," the general said laughingly, "do you know
there is the stuff in you to make a partisan chief, and that I am almost
jealous of you."

"Oh! that would be wrong, general: I assure you I am most disinterested
in the affair."

"Well, my friend, I know it: you are a free desert hunter, caring very
little for our paltry schemes."

"That is true; but I have vowed to Don Miguel and his family a
friendship which will terminate with my life. I tremble for him and his
children when I think of the numberless dangers that surround him, and I
try to aid him as far as my experience and activity permit me. That is
the secret of my conduct."

"This profession of faith was at least useless, my friend. I have known
you too intimately and too long to doubt your intentions. Hence, you
see, I place such confidence in you, that I accept your ideas without
discussion, so convinced am I of the purity of your intentions."

"Thanks, Don Miguel; you have judged me correctly. Come, gentlemen, to
horse, and start. We must separate here--you, Don Miguel, to proceed by
the right-hand track to Paso; you, general, by the left hand one to
Santa Fe; while I, with Don Pablo and his sister proceed straight on
till we reach the Hacienda de la Noria."

"To horse, then!" the hacendero shouted resolutely; "And may God defend
the right!"

"Yes," the general added; "for from this moment the revolution is
commenced."

The three men returned to their friends. Don Miguel said a few words to
his children, and in an instant the whole party were in the saddle.

"The die is cast!" Valentine exclaimed. "May Heaven keep you,
gentlemen!"

"Forward!" Don Miguel commanded.

"Forward!" General Ibañez shouted, as he rushed in the opposite
direction.

Valentine looked after his departing friends. Their black outlines were
soon blended with the darkness, and then the footfalls of their horses
died out in the night. Valentine gave a sigh and raised his head.

"God will protect them," he murmured; then turning to the two young
people, "Come on, children," he said.

They started, and for some minutes kept silence. Valentine was too busy
in thought to address his companions; and yet Doña Clara and Don Pablo,
whose curiosity was excited to the highest pitch, were burning to
question him. At length the girl, by whose side the hunter marched with
that quick step which easily keeps up with a horse, bent down to him.

"My friend," she said to him in her soft voice, "what is taking place?
Why has my father left us, instead of coming to his house?"

"Yes," Don Pablo added, "he seemed agitated when he parted from us. His
voice was stern, his words sharp. What is happening, my friend? Why did
not my father consent to my accompanying him?"

Valentine hesitated to answer.

"I implore you, my friend," Doña Clara continued, "do not leave us in
this mortal anxiety. The announcement of a misfortune would certainly
cause us less pain than the perplexity in which we are."

"Why force me to speak, my children?" the hunter answered in a saddened
voice. "The secret you ask of me is not mine. If your father did not
impart his plans to you, it was doubtless because weighty reasons oppose
it. Do not force me to render you more sorrowful by telling you things
you ought not to know."

"But I am not a child," Don Pablo exclaimed. "It seems tome that my
father ought not to have thus held his confidence from me."

"Do not accuse your father, my friend," Valentine answered gravely:
"probably he could not have acted otherwise."

"Valentine, Valentine! I will not accept those poor reasons," the young
man urged. "In the name of our friendship I insist on your explaining
yourself."

"Silence!" the hunter suddenly interrupted him. "I hear suspicious
sounds around us."

The three travellers stopped and listened, but all was quiet. The
hacienda was about five hundred yards at the most from the spot where
they halted. Don Pablo and Doña Clara heard nothing, but Valentine made
them a sign to remain quiet; then he dismounted and placed his ear to
the ground.

"Follow me," he said. "Something is happening here which I cannot make
out; but it alarms me."

The young people obeyed without hesitation; but they had only gone a few
paces when Valentine stopped again.

"Are your weapons loaded?" he sharply asked Don Pablo.

"Yes."

"Good! Perhaps you will have to make use of them."

All at once the gallop of a horse urged to its utmost speed was audible.

"Attention!" Valentine muttered.

Still the horseman, whoever he might be, rapidly advanced in the
direction of the travellers, and soon came up to them. Suddenly
Valentine bounded like a panther, seized the horse by the bridle and
stopped it dead.

"Who are you, and where are you going?" he shouted, as he put a pistol
barrel against the stranger's chest.

"Heaven be praised!" the latter said, not replying to the question.
"Perhaps I shall be able to save you. Fly, fly, in all haste!"

"Father Seraphin!" Valentine said with stupor, as he lowered his pistol.
"What has happened?"

"Fly, fly!" the missionary repeated, who seemed a prey to the most
profound terror.



CHAPTER XXIII.

THE ABDUCTION.


Red Cedar and Fray Ambrosio had not remained inactive since their last
interview up to the day when Don Miguel set out to hunt the wild horses.
These two fellows, so suited to understand each other, had manoeuvred
with extreme skill. Fray Ambrosio, all whose avaricious instincts had
been aroused since he had so artfully stolen from poor Joaquin the
secret of his placer, had assembled a formidable collection of the
bandits who always swarm on the Indian frontiers. In a few days he found
himself at the head of one hundred and twenty adventurers, all men who
had cheated the gallows, and of whom he felt the more sure as the secret
of the expedition was concealed from them, and they fancied they formed
a war party engaged to go scalp hunting.

These men, who all knew Red Cedar by reputation, burnt to set out, so
convinced were they of carrying out a successful expedition under such a
leader. Only two men formed an exception to this band of scoundrels, the
smallest culprit of whom had at least three or four murders on his
conscience. They were Harry, and Dick, who, for reasons the reader has
doubtless guessed, found themselves, to their great regret, mixed up
with these bandits. Still we must say, in justice to Fray Ambrosio's
soldiers, that they were all bold hunters, accustomed for many a year to
desert life, who knew all its perils, and feared none of its dangers.

Fray Ambrosio; apprehending the effects of mezcal and pulque on his men,
had made them bivouac at the entrance of the desert, at a sufficiently
great distance from the Paso del Norte to prevent them easily going
there. The adventurers spent their time joyously in playing, not for
money, as they had none, but for the scalps they intended presently to
lift from the Indians, each of which represented a very decent sum.
Still Fray Ambrosio, so soon as his expedition was completely organised,
had only one desire--to start as speedily as possible; but for two days
Red Cedar was not to be found. At length Fray Ambrosio succeeded in
catching him just as he was entering his jacal.

"What has become of you?" he asked him.

"What does that concern you?" the squatter answered brutally. "Have I to
answer for my conduct to you?"

"I do not say so: still, connected as we are at this moment, it would be
as well for me to know where to find you when I want you."

"I have been attending to my business, as you have to yours."

"Well, are you satisfied?"

"Very much so," he answered with a sinister smile. "You will soon learn
the result of my journey."

"All the better. If you are satisfied, I am so too."

"Ah, ah!"

"Yes, all is ready for departure."

"Let us be off--tomorrow if you like."

"On this very night."

"Very good. You are like me, and don't care to travel by day on account
of the heat of the sun."

The two accomplices smiled at this delicate jest.

"But before starting," the squatter continued, becoming serious again,
"we have something left to do here."

"What is it?" Fray Ambrosio asked with candor.

"It is wonderful what a short memory you have. Take care: that failing
may play an awkward trick some day."

"Thanks! I will try to correct it."

"Yes, and the sooner the better: in the meanwhile I will refresh your
memory."

"I shall feel obliged to you."

"And Doña Clara, do you fancy we are going to leave her behind?"

"Hum! Then you still think of that?"

"By Jove! More than ever."

"The fact is it will not be easy to carry her off at this moment."

"Why not?"

"In the first place, she is not at the hacienda."

"That is certainly a reason."

"Is it not?"

"Yes; but she must be somewhere, I suppose?" the squatter said with a
coarse laugh.

"She has gone with her father to a hunt of wild horses."

"The hunt is over and they are on their return."

"You are well informed."

"It is my trade. Come, do you still mean serving me?"

"I must."

"That is how I like you. There cannot be many people at the hacienda?"

"A dozen at the most."

"Better still. Listen to me: it is now four in the afternoon. I have a
ride to take. Return to the hacienda, and I will come there this evening
at nine, with twenty resolute men. You will open the little gate of the
corral, and leave me to act. I'll answer for all."

"If you wish it it must be so," Fray Ambrosio said with a sigh.

"Are you going to begin again?" the squatter asked in a meaning voice as
he rose.

"No, no, it is unnecessary," the monk exclaimed. "I shall expect you."

"Good: till this evening."

"Very well."

On which the two accomplices separated. All happened as had been
arranged between them. At nine o'clock Red Cedar reached the little
gate, which was opened for him by Fray Ambrosio, and the squatter
entered the hacienda at the head of his three sons and a party of
bandits. The peons, surprised in their sleep, were bound before they
even knew what was taking place.

"Now," Red Cedar said, "we are masters of the place, the girl can come
as soon as she likes."

"Eh?" the monk went on. "All is not finished yet. Don Miguel is a
resolute man, and is well accompanied: he will not let his daughter be
carried off under his eyes without defending her."

"Don Miguel will not come," the squatter said with a sardonic grin.

"How do you know?"

"That is not your business."

"We shall see."

But the bandits had forgotten Father Seraphin. The missionary, aroused
by the unusual noise he heard in the hacienda, had hastily risen. He had
heard the few words exchanged between the accomplices, and they were
sufficient to make him guess the fearful treachery they meditated. Only
listening to his heart, the missionary glided out into the corral,
saddled a horse, and opening a door, of which he had a key, so that he
could enter or leave the hacienda as his duties required, he started at
full speed in the direction which he supposed the hunters must follow in
returning to the hacienda. Unfortunately, Father Seraphin had been
unable to effect his flight unheard by the squatter's practised ear.

"Malediction!" Red Cedar shouted, as he rushed, rifle in hand, toward a
window, which he dashed out with his fist, "We are betrayed."

The bandits rushed in disorder into the corral where their horses were
tied up, and leaped into their saddles. At this moment a shadow flitted
across the plain in front of the squatter, who rapidly shouldered his
rifle and fired. Then he went out: a stifled cry reached his ear, but
the person the bandit had fired at still went on.

"No matter," the squatter muttered; "that fine bird has lead in its
wing. Sharp, sharp, my men, on the trail!"

And all the bandits rushed off in pursuit of the fugitive.

Father Seraphin had fallen in a fainting condition at Valentine's feet.

"Good heavens!" the hunter exclaimed in despair, "what can have
happened?"

And he gently carried the missionary into a ditch that ran by the side
of the road. Father Seraphin had his shoulder fractured, and the blood
poured in a stream from the wound. The hunter looked around him; but at
this moment a confused sound could be heard like the rolling of distant
thunder.

"We must fall like brave men, Don Pablo, that is all," he said sharply.

"Be at your ease," the young man answered coldly.

Doña Clara was pale and trembling.

"Come," Valentine said.

And, with a movement rapid as thought, he bounded on to the missionary's
horse. The three fugitives started at full speed. The flight lasted a
quarter of an hour, and then Valentine stopped. He dismounted, gave the
young people a signal to wait, lay down on the ground, and began
crawling on his hands and knees, gliding like a serpent through the long
grass that concealed him, and stopping at intervals to look around him,
and listen attentively to the sounds of the desert. Suddenly he rushed
towards his companions, seized the horses by the bridle, and dragged
them behind a mound, where they remained concealed, breathless and
unable to speak.

A formidable noise of horses was audible. Some twenty black shadows
passed like a tornado within ten paces of their hiding place, not seeing
them in consequence of the darkness.

Valentine drew a deep breath.

"All hope is not lost," he muttered.

He waited anxiously for five minutes: their pursuers were going further
away. Presently the sound of their horses' hoofs ceased to disturb the
silence of the night.

"To horse!" Valentine said.

They leaped into their saddles and started again, not in the direction
of the hacienda, but in that of the Paso.

"Loosen your bridles," the hunter said: "more still--we are not moving."

Suddenly a loud neigh was borne on the breeze to the ears of the
fugitives.

"We are lost!" Valentine muttered. "They have found our trail."

Red Cedar was too old a hand on the prairie to be long thrown out: he
soon perceived that he was mistaken, and was now turning back, quite
certain this time of holding the trail. Then began one of those fabulous
races which only the dwellers on the prairie can witness--races which
intoxicate and cause a giddiness, and which no obstacle is powerful
enough to stop or check, for the object is success or death. The
bandits' half wild horses, apparently identifying themselves with the
ferocious passions of their riders, glided through the night with the
rapidity of the phantom steed in the German ballad, bounded over
precipices, and rushed with prodigious speed.

At times a horseman rolled with his steed from the top of a rock, and
fell into an abyss, uttering a yell of distress; but his comrades passed
over his body, borne along like a whirlwind, and responding to this cry
of agony, the final appeal of a brother, by a formidable howl of rage.
This pursuit had already lasted two hours, and the fugitives had not
lost an inch of ground: their horses, white with foam, uttered hoarse
cries of fatigue and exhaustion as a dense smoke came out of their
nostrils. Doña Clara, with her hair untied and floating in the breeze,
with sparkling eye and closely pressed lips, constantly urged her horse
on with voice and hand.

"All is over!" the hunter suddenly said. "Save yourselves! I will let
myself be killed here, so that you may go on for ten minutes longer, and
be saved. I will hold out for that time, so go on."

"No," Don Pablo answered nobly; "we will be all saved or perish
together."

"Yes," the maiden remarked.

Valentine shrugged his shoulders.

"You are mad," he said.

All at once he started, for their pursuers were rapidly approaching.

"Listen," he said. "Do you two let yourselves be captured; they will not
follow me, as they owe me no grudge. I swear to you that if I remain at
liberty I will deliver you, even if they hide you in the bowels of the
earth."

Without replying Don Pablo dismounted, and Valentine leaped on to his
horse.

"Hope for the best!" he shouted hoarsely, and disappeared.

Don Pablo, so soon as he was alone with his sister, made her dismount,
seated her at the foot of a tree, and stood before her with a pistol in
either hand. He had not to wait long, for almost immediately he was
surrounded by the bandits.

"Surrender!" Red Cedar shouted in a panting voice.

Don Pablo smiled disdainfully.

"Here is my answer," he said.

And with two pistol shots he laid two bandits low; then he threw away
his useless weapons, and crossing his arms on his breast said,--

"Do what you please now; I am avenged."

Red Cedar bounded with fury.

"Kill that dog!" he shouted.

Shaw rushed toward the young man, threw his nervous arms around him, and
whispered in his ear,--

"Do not resist, but fall as if dead."

Don Pablo mechanically followed his advice.

"It is all over," said Shaw. "Poor devil! He did not cling to life."

He returned his knife to his belt, threw the supposed corpse on his
shoulders, and dragged it into a ditch. At the sight of her brother's
body, whom she supposed to be dead, Doña Clara uttered a shriek of
despair and fainted. Red Cedar laid the maiden across his saddle-bow,
and the whole band, starting at a gallop was soon lost in the darkness.
Don Pablo then rose slowly, and took a sorrowful glance around.

"My poor sister!" he murmured.

Then he perceived her horse near him.

"Valentine alone can save her," he said.

He mounted the horse, and proceeded toward the Paso, asking himself this
question, which he found it impossible to answer:--

"But why did not that man kill me?"

A few paces from the village he perceived two men halting on the road,
and conversing with the greatest animation. They hurriedly advanced
toward him, and the young man uttered a cry of surprise on recognising
them. They were Valentine and Curumilla.



CHAPTER XXIV.

THE REVOLT.


Don Miguel Zarate had marched rapidly on the Paso, and an hour after
leaving Valentine he saw flashing in the distance the lights that shone
in the village windows. The greatest calmness prevailed in the vicinity;
only at times could be heard the barking of the dogs baying at the moon,
or the savage miawling of the wild cats hidden in the shrubs. At about
one hundred yards from the village a man suddenly rose before the small
party.

"Who goes there?" he shouted.

"_Méjico e independencia!_" the hacendero answered.

"_¿Qué gente?_" the stranger continued.

"Don Miguel Zarate."

At these words twenty men hidden in the brushwood rose suddenly, and
throwing their rifles on their shoulders, advanced to meet the horsemen.
They were the hunters commanded by Curumilla, who, by Valentine's
orders, were awaiting the hacendero's arrival to join him.

"Well," Don Miguel asked the chief, "is there anything new?"

Curumilla shook his head.

"Then we can advance?"

"Yes."

"What is the matter, chief? Have you seen anything alarming?"

"No; and yet I have a feeling of treachery."

"How so?"

"I cannot tell you. Apparently everything is as usual: still there is
something which is not so. Look you, it is scarce ten o'clock: generally
at that hour all the mesones are full, the ventas are crammed with
gamblers and drinkers, the streets flocked with promenaders. This night
there is nothing of the sort: all is closed--the town seems abandoned.
This tranquillity is factitious. I am alarmed, for _I hear the silence_.
Take care."

Don Miguel was involuntarily struck by the chief's remarks. He had known
Curumilla for a long time. He had often seen him display in the most
dangerous circumstances a coolness and contempt for death beyond all
praise: hence some importance must be attached to the apprehensions and
anxiety of such a man. The hacendero ordered his party to halt,
assembled his friends, and held a council. All were of opinion that,
before venturing to advance further, they should send as scout a clever
man to traverse the town, and see for himself if the fears of the Indian
chief were well founded.

One of the hunters offered himself. The conspirators concealed
themselves on either side the road, and awaited, lying in the shrubs,
the return of their messenger. He was a half-breed, Simon Muñez by
name, to whom the Indians had given the soubriquet of "Dog-face," owing
to his extraordinary likeness to that animal. This name had stuck to the
hunter, who, _nolens volens_, had been compelled to accept it. He was
short and clumsy, but endowed with marvellous strength; and we may say
at once that he was an emissary of Red Cedar, and had only joined the
hunters in order to betray them.

When he left the conspirators he proceeded toward the village whistling.
He had scarce taken a dozen steps into the first street ere a door
opened, and a man appeared. This man stepped forward and addressed the
hunter.

"You whistle very late, my friend."

"A whistle to wake those who are asleep," the half breed made answer.

"Come in," the man continued.

Dog-face went in, and the door closed upon him. He remained in the house
half an hour, then went out, and hurried back along the road he had
traversed.

Red Cedar, who wished before all to avenge himself on Don Miguel Zarate,
had discovered, through Fray Ambrosio, the conspirators' new plan.
Without loss of time he had taken his measures in consequence, and had
managed so well that, although the general, the governor, and the
criminal judge were prisoners, Don Miguel must succumb in the contest he
was preparing to provoke. Fray Ambrosio, to his other qualities, joined
that of being a listener at doors. In spite of the distrust which his
patron was beginning to display toward him on Valentine's
recommendation, he had surprised a conversation between Don Miguel and
General Ibañez. This conversation, immediately reported to Red Cedar,
who, according to his usual custom, had appeared to attach no importance
to it, had been sufficient, however, to make the squatter prepare his
batteries and countermine the conspiracy.

Dog-face rejoined his companions after an hour's absence.

"Well?" Don Miguel asked him.

"All is quiet," the half-breed answered; "the inhabitants have retired
to their houses, and everybody is asleep."

"You noticed nothing of a suspicious nature?"

"I went through the town from one end to the other, and saw nothing."

"We can advance, then?"

"In all security: it will only be a promenade."

On this assurance the conspirators regained their courage, Curumilla was
treated as a visionary, and the order was given to advance. Still
Dog-face's report, far from dissipating the Indian chief's doubts, had
produced the contrary effect, and considerably augmented them. Saying
nothing, he placed himself by the hunter's side, with the secret
intention of watching him closely.

The plan of the conspirators was very simple. They would march directly
on the Cabildo (Town hall), seize it, and proclaim a Provisional
Government. Under present circumstances nothing appeared to be easier.
Don Miguel and his band entered the Paso, and nothing occurred to arouse
their suspicions. It resembled that town in the "Arabian Nights," in
which all the inhabitants, struck by the wand of the wicked enchanter,
sleep an eternal sleep. The conspirators advanced into the town with
their rifle barrels thrust forward, with eye and ear on the watch, and
ready to fire at the slightest alarm; but nothing stirred. As Curumilla
had observed, the town was too quiet. This tranquillity hid something
extraordinary, and must conceal the tempest. In spite of himself Don
Miguel felt a secret apprehension which he could not master.

To our European eyes Don Miguel will perhaps appear a poor conspirator,
without foresight or any great connection in his ideas. From our point
of view that is possible; but in a country like Mexico, which counts its
revolutions by hundreds, and where _pronunciamentos_ take place, in most
cases, without sense or reason because a colonel wishes to become a
general, or a lieutenant a captain, things are not regarded so closely;
and the hacendero, on the contrary, had evidenced tact, prudence, and
talent in carrying out a conspiracy which, during the several years it
had been preparing, had only come across one traitor. And now it was too
late to turn back: the alarm had been given, and the Government was on
its guard. They must go onwards, even if they succumbed in the struggle.

All these considerations had been fully weighed by Don Miguel; and he
had not given the signal till he was driven into his last intrenchments,
and convinced that there was no way of escape left him. Was it not a
thousand fold better to die bravely with arms in their hands, in support
of a just cause, than wait to be arrested without having made an attempt
to succeed? Don Miguel had sacrificed his life, and no more could be
expected of him.

In the meanwhile the conspirators advanced. They had nearly reached the
heart of the town; they were at this moment in a little, dirty, and
narrow street, called the Calle de San Isidro, which opens out on the
Plaza Mayor, when suddenly a dazzling light illumined the darkness;
torches flashed from all the windows; and Don Miguel saw that the two
ends of the street in which he was were guarded by strong detachments of
cavalry.

"Treachery!" the conspirators shouted in terror.

Curumilla bounded on Dog-face, and buried his knife between his
shoulders. The half-breed fell in a lump, quite dead, and not uttering a
cry. Don Miguel judged the position at the first glance: he saw that he
and his party were lost.

"Let us die!" he said.

"We will!" the conspirators resolutely responded.

Curumilla with the butt of his rifle beat in the door of the nearest
house, and rushed in, the conspirators following him. They were soon
intrenched on the roof. In Mexico all the houses have flat roofs, formed
like terraces. Thanks to the Indian chief's idea, the rebels found
themselves in possession of an improvised fortress, where they could
defend themselves for a long time, and sell their lives dearly.

The troops advanced from each end of the street, while the roofs of all
the houses were occupied by soldiers. The battle was about to begin
between earth and heaven, and promised to be terrible. At this moment
General Guerrero, who commanded the troops, bade them halt, and advanced
alone to the house on the top of which the conspirators were intrenched.
Don Miguel beat up the guns of his comrades, who aimed at the officer.

"Wait," he said to them; and, addressing the general, "What do you
want?" he shouted.

"To offer you propositions."

"Speak."

The general came a few paces nearer, so that those he addressed could
not miss one of his words.

"I offer you life and liberty if you consent to surrender your leader,"
he said.

"Never!" the conspirators shouted in one voice.

"It is my place to answer," Don Miguel said; and then turning to the
general, "What assurance do you give me that these conditions will be
honourably carried out?"

"My word of honor as a soldier," the general answered.

"Very good," Don Miguel went on; "I accept. All the men who accompany me
will leave the town one after the other."

"No, we will not!" the conspirators shouted as they brandished their
weapons; "we would sooner die."

"Silence!" the hacendero said in a loud voice. "I alone have the right
to speak here, for I am your chief. The life of brave men like you must
not be needlessly sacrificed. Go, I say; I order you--I implore it of
you," he added with tears in his voice. "Perhaps you will soon take your
revenge."

The conspirators hung their heads mournfully.

"Well?" the general asked.

"My friends, accept. I will remain alone here. If you break your word I
will kill myself."

"I repeat that you hold my word," the general answered.

The conspirators came one after the other to embrace Don Miguel, and
then went down into the street without being in any way interfered with.
Things happen thus in this country, where conspiracies and revolutions
are on the order of the day, as it were. The defeated are spared as far
as possible, from the simple reason that the victors may find themselves
tomorrow fighting side by side with them for the same cause. Curumilla
was the last to depart.

"All is not ended yet," he said to Don Miguel. "Koutonepi will save you,
father."

The hacendero shook his head sadly.

"Chief," he said in a deeply moved voice, "I leave my daughter to
Valentine, Father Seraphin, and yourself. Watch over her: the poor child
will soon have no father."

Curumilla embraced Don Miguel silently and retired; he had soon
disappeared in the crowd, the general having honourably kept his word.

Don Miguel threw down his weapons and descended.

"I am your prisoner," he said.

General Guerrero bowed, and made him a sign to mount the horse a soldier
had brought up.

"Where are we going?" the hacendero said.

"To Santa Fe," the general answered, "where you will be tried with
General Ibañez, who will doubtless soon be a prisoner like yourself."

"Oh!" Don Miguel muttered thoughtfully, "who betrayed us this time?"

"It was still Red Cedar," the general answered.

The hacendero let his head sink on his chest, and remained silent. A
quarter of an hour later the prisoner left the Paso del Norte, escorted
by a regiment of dragoons. When the last trooper had disappeared in the
windings of the road three men left the shrubs that concealed them, and
stood like three phantoms in the midst of the desolate plain.

"O heavens!" Don Pablo cried in a heart-rending voice, "my father, my
sister--who will restore them to me?"

"I!" Valentine said in a grave voice, as he laid his hand on his
shoulder. "Am I not the TRAIL-HUNTER?"



PART II.--EL PRESIDIO DE SANTA FE.



CHAPTER I.

EL RANCHO DEL COYOTE.


About a month after the events we have described in the first part of
this veracious history, two horsemen, well mounted, and carefully
enwrapped in their cloaks, entered at a smart trot the town of Santa Fe
between three and four o'clock in the afternoon.

Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico, is a pretty town, built in the
midst of a laughing and fertile plain. One of its sides occupies the
angle formed by a small stream: it is surrounded by the _adobe_ walls of
the houses by which it is bordered. The entrance of each street is
closed by stakes in the form of palisades; and like the majority of
towns in Spanish America, the houses, built only one story high in
consequence of the earthquakes, are covered with terraces of well-beaten
earth, called _azoteas,_ which are a sufficient protection in this
glorious climate, where the sky is constantly pure.

In the time of the Castilian rule Santa Fe enjoyed a certain importance,
owing to its strategic position, which allowed an easy defence against
the incursions of the Indians; but since the emancipation of Mexico this
city, like all the other centres of population in his unhappy country,
has seen its splendour vanish forever, and despite the fertility of its
soil and the magnificence of its climate, it has entered into such a
state of decadence that the day is at hand when it will be only an
uninhabited ruin. In a word, this city, which fifty years back contained
more than ten thousand inhabitants, has now scarcely three thousand,
eaten up by fevers and the utmost wretchedness.

Still during the last few weeks Santa Fe had appeared to emerge, as if
by magic from the lethargy into which it is ordinarily plunged; a
certain degree of animation prevailed in its usually deserted streets;
in short, a new life circulated in the veins of this population, to
whom, however, all must appear a matter of indifference. The fact was
that an event of immense importance had recently taken place in this
town. The two leaders of the conspiracy lately attempted had been
transferred to safe keeping at Santa Fe.

The Mexicans, ordinarily so slow when justice has to be dealt, are the
most expeditious people in the world when a conspiracy has to be
punished. Don Miguel and General Ibañez had not pined long in prison. A
court martial, hurriedly convened, had assembled under the presidency of
the governor, and the two conspirators were unanimously condemned to be
shot.

The hacendero, through his name and his position, and especially on
account of his fortune, had numerous partisans in the province: hence
the announcement of the verdict had caused a profound stupor, which
almost immediately changed into anger, among the rich land owners and
the Indians of New Mexico. A dull agitation prevailed throughout the
country; and the governor, who felt too weak to hold head against the
storm that threatened him, and regretted that he had carried matters so
far, was temporising, and trying to evade the peril of his position
until a regiment of dragoons he had asked of the Government arrived, and
gave strength to the law. The condemned men, whom the governor had not
yet dared to place in _capilla_, were still provisionally detained in
the prison.

The two men of whom we have spoken, rode without stopping through the
streets of the town, deserted at this hour, when everybody is at home
enjoying his siesta, and proceeded toward an unpretending rancho, built
on the banks of the stream, at the opposite end of the town from that by
which they entered.

"Well," one of the horsemen said, addressing his comrade, "was I not
right? You see everyone is asleep: there is nobody to watch us. We have
arrived at a capital moment."

"Bah!" the other answered in a rough voice, "Do you believe that? In
towns there is always somebody watching to see what does not concern
him, and report it after his fashion."

"That is possible," the first said, shrugging his shoulders
disdainfully. "I care about it as little as I do for a stringhalt
horse."

"And I, too," the other said sharply. "Do you imagine that I care more
than you do for the gossips? But stay; I fancy we have reached the
rancho of Andrés Garote. This must be the filthy tenement, unless I am
mistaken."

"It is the house. I only hope the scamp has not forgotten, the meeting I
gave him. Wait a minute, señor padre; I will give the agreed-on signal."

"It is not worth while, Red Cedar. You know that I am always at your
excellency's orders when you may please to give them," a mocking voice
said from inside the rancho, the door of which immediately opened to
give admission to the newcomers, and allowed a glimpse of the tall
figure and intelligent face of Andrés Garote himself.

"_Ave Maria purísima!_" the travellers said, as they dismounted and
entered the rancho.

"_Sin pecado concebida!_" Andrés replied, as he took the bridles of the
horses and led them to the corral, where he unsaddled them and gave each
a truss of alfalfa.

The travellers, fatigued by a long journey, sat down on butacas arranged
against the wall, and awaited the host's return, while wiping their dank
foreheads and twisting a maize cigarette between their fingers. The room
in which they were had nothing extremely attractive about it. It was a
large chamber with two windows, protected by iron bars, the greasy panes
allowing but a doubtful light to pass. The naked and smoky walls were
covered with clumsily-painted pictures, representing various holy
objects. The furniture only consisted of three or four halting tables,
the same number of benches, and a few butacas, the torn and harsh
leather of which evinced lengthened use. As for the floor, it was merely
of beaten earth, but rendered uneven by the mud incessantly brought in
upon the feet of visitors. A door carefully closed led to an inner room,
in which the ranchero slept. Another door was opposite to it, and
through this Andrés speedily entered after giving the horses their
provender.

"I did not expect you yet," he said as he entered; "but you are welcome.
Is there anything new?"

"My faith, I know nothing but the affair that brings us. It is rather
serious, I fancy, and prevents us attending to anything else," Red Cedar
remarked.

"_Caspita_! what vivacity, compadre!" Andrés exclaimed. "But, before
talking, I hope you will take some refreshment at any rate. There is
nothing like a cup of mezcal or pulque to clear the brain."

"Not to forget," Fray Ambrosio said, "that it is infernally hot, and my
tongue is glued to my palate, as I have swallowed so much dust."

"_Cuerpo de Dios_!" Andrés said as he went to look for a bottle among
several others arranged on a sort of bar, and placed it before the
travellers. "Pay attention to that, señor padre; for it is serious, and
you run a risk of death, _caray!_"

"Give me the remedy, then, chatterer," the monk replied as he held out
his glass.

The mezcal, liberally poured out, was swallowed at a draught by the
three men, who put back their glasses on the table with a "hum" of
satisfaction, and that clinking of the tongue peculiar to topers when
they are swallowing anything that tickles the throat.

"And now suppose we talk seriously," Red Cedar said.

"At your orders, señores caballeros," Andrés replied. "Still, if you
prefer a hand at monte, you know that I have cards at your service."

"Presently, señor Andrés, presently. Everything will have its turn. Let
us first settle our little business," Fray Ambrosio judiciously
observed.

Andrés Garote bowed his head in resignation, while thrusting back into
his pocket the pack of cards he had already half drawn out. The three
men made themselves as comfortable as they could, and Red Cedar, after
casting a suspicious glance around him, at length took the word.

"You know, caballeros," he said, "how, when we thought we had nothing to
do but proceed straight to Apacheria, the sudden desertion of nearly all
our gambusinos checked us. The position was most critical for us, and
the abduction of Doña Clara compelled us to take the utmost
precautions."

"That is true," Andrés Garote observed with an air of conviction.

"Although certain influential persons protect us under the rose," Red
Cedar continued, "we are compelled to keep in the shade as far as we
can. I therefore sought to remedy the gravest points in the business. In
the first place, the girl was hidden in an inaccessible retreat, and
then I began looking for comrades to take the place of those who
abandoned us so suddenly."

"Well?" the two men interrupted him sharply.

"At this moment," Red Cedar calmly continued, "when the placers of
California call away all the men belonging to the profession, it was
certainly no easy task to collect one hundred men of the sort we want,
the more so as we shall have to fight the Indios Bravos in our
expedition. I did not care to enlist novices, who at the sight of the
first Apache or Comanche savages, would bolt in terror, and leave us in
the lurch on the prairies. What I wanted were resolute men, whom no
fatigue would disgust, and who, once attached to our enterprise, would
follow it out to the end. I have, therefore, during the past month, been
running about to all the frontier presidios; and the devil has come to
my help tolerably well, for the evil is now repaired, and the band
complete."

"I hope, Red Cedar," Fray Ambrosio asked, "that you have not spoken
about the placer to your men?"

"Do you take me for a fool! No, padre," the squatter answered sharply,
"no, no. A hundred thousand reasons urge us to be prudent, and keep the
expedition secret. In the first place, I do not wish to make the fortune
of the Government while making our own. An indiscretion would ruin us
now, when the whole world only dreams of mines and placers, and Europe
sends us a mob of lean and starving vagabonds, greedy to grow fat at our
expense."

"Famously reasoned," said Andrés.

"No, no, trust to me. I have assembled the finest collection of picaros
ever brought together for an expedition, all food for the gallows,
ruined by monte, who do not care for hard blows, and on whom I can fully
count, while being very careful not to drop a word that can enlighten
them as to the spot whither we propose leading them; for, in that case,
I know as well as you do that they would abandon us without the
slightest scruples, or, as is even more probable, assassinate us to gain
possession of the immense treasures we covet."

"Nothing can be more just," Fray Ambrosio answered. "I am quite of your
opinion, Red Cedar. Now what have you resolved on?"

"We have not an instant to lose," the squatter continued. "This very
evening, or tomorrow at the latest, we must set out. Who knows whether
we have not already delayed our start too long? Perhaps one of those
European vagabonds may have discovered our placer, for those scoundrels
have a peculiar scent for gold."

Fray Ambrosio cast a suspicious glance at his partner.

"Hum!" he muttered, "that would be very unlucky, for hitherto the
business has been well managed."

"For that reason," Red Cedar hastened to add, "I only suggest a doubt
--nothing more."

"Come, Red Cedar," the monk said, "you have yourself narrated all the
embarrassments of our position, and the countless difficulties we shall
have to surmount before reaching our object. Why, then, complicate the
gravity of our situation still more, and create fresh enemies
needlessly?"

"I do not understand you, señor padre. Be good enough to explain
yourself more clearly."

"I allude to the young girl you carried off."

"Ah, ah!" Red Cedar said with a grin, "Is that where the shoe pinches
you, comrade? I am vexed at it; but I will not answer your question. If
I carried off that woman, it was because I had pressing reasons to do
so. These reasons still exist; that is all I can tell you. All the
better if these explanations are sufficient for you; if not, you must
put up with them, for you will get no others."

"Still it appears to me that, regarding the terms on which we stand to
each other--"

"What can there be in common between the abduction of Doña Clara and the
discovery of a placer in the heart of Apacheria? Come, you are mad, Fray
Ambrosio; the mezcal is getting to your head."

"Still--" the monk insisted.

"Enough of that!" Red Cedar shouted as he roughly smote the table with
his clenched fist. "I will not hear another word on the subject."

At this moment two smart blows were heard on the carefully-bolted door.

The three men started, and Red Cedar broke off.

"Shall I open?" Andrés asked.

"Yes," Fray Ambrosio answered: "hesitation or refusal might give an
alarm. We must foresee everything."

Red Cedar consented with a toss of his head, and the ranchero went with
an ill grace toward the door, which was being struck as if about to be
beaten in.



CHAPTER II.

THE CUCHILLADA.


So soon as the door was opened two men appeared on the threshold. The
first was Curumilla; the other, wrapped up in a large cloak, and with
his broad-brimmed hat drawn over his eyes, entered the room, making the
Indian chief a sign to follow him. The latter was evidently a Mexican.

"_Santas tardes!_" he said as he raised his hand to his hat, but not
removing it.

"_Dios las de a usted buenas!_" the ranchero answered. "What shall I
serve to your excellencies?"

"A bottle of mezcal," the stranger said.

The newcomers seated themselves at the end of the room, at a spot which
the light reached in such a weakened state that it was almost dark. When
they were served each poured out a glass of liquor, which he drank; and
leaning his head on his hands, the Mexican appeared plunged in deep
thought, not occupying himself the least in the world about the persons
near him. Curumilla crossed his arms on his chest, half closed his eyes,
and remained motionless.

Still the arrival of these two men, especially the presence of the
stranger, had suddenly frozen the eloquence of our three friends. Gloomy
and silent, they instinctively felt that the newcomers were enemies, and
anxiously waited for what was about to occur. At length Red Cedar,
doubtless more impatient than his comrades, and wishful to know at once
what he had to expect, rose, filled his glass, and turned toward the
strangers.

"Señores caballeros," he said, imitating that exquisite politeness which
the Mexicans possess in the highest degree. "I have the honor of
drinking to your health."

At this invitation Curumilla remained insensible as a granite statue:
his companion slowly raised his head, fixed his eye for a moment on the
speaker, and answered in a loud and firm voice,--

"It is needless, señor, for I shall not drink to yours. What I say to
you," he added, laying a stress on the words, "your friends can also
take for themselves if they think proper."

Fray Ambrosio rose violently.

"What do you say?" he exclaimed in a threatening voice. "Do you mean to
insult me?"

"There are people whom a man cannot mean to insult," the stranger
continued in a cutting voice. "Remember this, señor padre--I do not wish
to have any dealings with you."

"Why so?"

"Because I do not please--that is all. Now, gentlemen, do not trouble
yourselves about me, I beg, but continue your conversation: it was most
interesting when I arrived. You were speaking, I believe, about an
expedition you are preparing: there was a question too, I fancy, when I
entered, about a girl your worthy friend, or partner--I do not know
which he is--carried off with your assistance. Do not let me disturb
you. I should, on the contrary, be delighted to learn what you intend
doing with that unhappy creature."

No words could render the feeling of stupor and terror which seized on
the three partners at this, crushing revelation of their plans. When
they fancied they had completely concealed them by their cunning and
skill, to see them thus suddenly unveiled in all their extent by a man
whom they did not know, but who knew them, and in consequence could only
be an enemy--this terrified them to such a degree that for a moment they
fancied they had to do with the spirit of evil. The two Mexicans crossed
themselves simultaneously, while the American uttered a hoarse
exclamation of rage.

But Red Cedar and Fray Ambrosio were men too hardened in iniquity for
any event, however grave in its nature, to crush them for long. The
first moment past, they recovered themselves, and amazement gave way to
fury. The monk drew from his vaquera boot a knife, and posted himself
before the door to prevent egress; while Red Cedar, with frowning brow
and a machete in his hand, advanced resolutely toward the table, behind
which their bold adversary, standing with folded arms, seemed to defy
them by his ironical smile.

"Whoever you may be," Red Cedar said, stopping two paces from his
opponent, "chance has made you master of a secret that kills, and you
shall die."

"Do you really believe that I owe a knowledge of your secrets to
chance?" the other said with a mocking accent.

"Defend yourself," Red Cedar howled furiously, "If you do not wish me to
assassinate you; for, _con mil diablos!_ I shall not hesitate, I warn
you."

"I know it," the stranger replied quietly. "I shall not be the first
person to whom that has happened: the Sierra Madre and El Bolsón de
Mapimi have often heard the agonising cries of your victims, when
Indians were wanting to fill up your number of scalps."

At this allusion to his frightful trade the squatter felt a livid pallor
cover his face, a tremor agitated all his limbs, and he yelled in a
choking voice,--

"You lie! I am a hunter."

"Of scalps," the stranger immediately retorted, "unless you have given
up that lucrative and honourable profession since your last expedition to
the village of the Coras."

"Oh!" the squatter shouted with an indescribable burst of fury, "He is a
coward who hides his face while uttering such words."

The stranger shrugged his shoulders contemptuously, and let the folds of
his mantle fall sharply.

"Do you recognise me, Red Cedar, since your conscience has not yet
whispered my name to you?"

"Oh!" the three men exclaimed in horror, and instinctively recoiling
"Don Pablo de Zarate!"

"Yes," the young man continued, "Don Pablo, who has come, Red Cedar, to
ask of you an account of his sister, whom you carried off."

Red Cedar was in a state of extraordinary agitation: with eyes dilated
by terror, and contracted features, he felt the cold perspiration
beading on his temples at this unexpected apparition.

"Ah!" he said in a hollow voice, "Do the dead, then, leave the tomb?"

"Yes," the young man shouted loudly, "they leave their tomb to tear your
victims from you. Red Cedar, restore me my sister!"

The squatter leaped like a hyena on the young man, brandishing his
machete.

"Dog!" he yelled, "I will kill you a second time."

But his wrist was suddenly seized by a hand of iron, and the bandit
tottered back to the wall of the rancho, against which he was forced to
lean, lest he should roll on the ground. Curumilla, who had hitherto
remained an impassive witness of the scene that took place before him,
had thought the moment for interference, had arrived, and had sharply
hurled him back. The squatter, with eyes injected with blood, and lips
clenched by rage, looked around him with glaring worthy of a wild beast.
Fray Ambrosio and the ranchero, held in check by the Indian chief, did
not dare to interfere. Don Pablo walked with slow and measured step
toward the bandit. When he was ten paces from him he stopped, and looked
fixedly at him.

"Red Cedar," he repeated in a calm voice, "give me back my sister."

"Never!" the squatter answered in a voice choked by rage.

In the meanwhile the monk and the ranchero had treacherously approached
the young man, watching for the propitious moment to fall on him. The
five men assembled in this room offered a strange and sinister scene by
the uncertain light that filtered through the windows, as each stood
with his hand on his weapon, ready to kill or be killed, and only
awaiting the opportunity to rush on his enemy. There was a moment of
supreme silence. Assuredly these men were brave. In many circumstances
they had seen death under every aspect; and yet their hearts beat as if
to burst their breasts, for they knew that the combat about to commence
between them was without truce or mercy. At length Don Pablo spoke
again.

"Take care, Red Cedar," he said. "I have come to meet you alone and
honourably. I have asked you for my sister several times, and you have
not answered; so take care."

"I will sell your sister to the Apaches," the squatter howled. "As for
you, accursed one, you shall not leave this room alive. May I be
eternally condemned if your heart does not serve as a sheath to my
knife!"

"The scoundrel is mad!" the young man said contemptuously.

He fell back a pace, and then stopped.

"Listen," he continued. "I will now retire, but we shall meet again; and
woe to you then, for I shall be as pitiless to you as you have been to
me. Farewell!"

"Oh! you shall not go in that way, my master," replied the squatter, who
had regained all his boldness and impudence. "Did I not tell you I would
kill you?"

The young man fixed upon him a glance of undefinable expression, and
crossed his arms boldly on his chest.

"Try it," he said in a voice rendered harsh by the fury boiling in his
heart.

Red Cedar uttered a yell of rage, and bounded on Don Pablo. The latter
calmly awaited the attack; but, so soon as the squatter was within reach
he suddenly took off his mantle, and threw it over his enemy's head,
who, blinded by the folds of the thick garment, rolled about on the
ground, unable to free himself from the accursed cloth that held him
like a net. With one bound the young man was over the table, and
troubling himself no further about Red Cedar, proceeded toward the door.

At this moment Fray Ambrosio rushed upon him, trying to bury his knife
in his chest. Feeling not the slightest alarm, Don Pablo seized his
assailant's wrist, and with a strength he was far from anticipating,
twisted his arm so violently that his fingers opened, and he let the
knife fall with a yell of pain. Don Pablo picked it up, and seized the
monk by the throat.

"Listen, villain!" he said to him. "I am master of your life. You
betrayed my father, who took pity on you, and received you into his
house. You dishonour the gown you wear by your connection with
criminals, whose ill deeds you share in. I could kill you, and perhaps
ought to do so; but it would be robbing the executioner to whom you
belong, and cheating the garrote which awaits you. This gown, of which
you are unworthy, saves your life; but I will mark you so that you shall
never forget me."

And placing the point of the knife on the monk's livid face, he made two
gashes in the shape of a cross along the whole length and breadth of his
face.

"We shall meet again!" he added in a thundering voice, as he threw the
knife away in disgust.

Andrés Garote had not dared to make a move: terror nailed him motionless
to the ground beneath the implacable eye of the Indian warrior. Don
Pablo and Curumilla then rushed from the room and disappeared, and ere
long the hoofs of two horses departing at full speed from the town could
be heard clattering over the pavement.

By the aid of the ranchero, Red Cedar presently succeeded in freeing
himself from the fold of the cloak that embarrassed him. When the three
accomplices found themselves alone again an expression of impotent rage
and deadly hatred distorted their faces.

"Oh!" the squatter muttered, grinding his teeth, and raising his fist to
heaven, "I will be revenged."

"And I too," said Fray Ambrosio in a hollow voice, as he wiped away the
blood that stained his face.

"Hum! I do not care," Andrés Garote said to himself aside. "That family
of the Zarates is a fine one; but, _caray_! it must be confessed that
Don Pablo is a rough fellow."

The worthy ranchero was the only one chance had favoured in this meeting
by letting him escape safe and sound.



CHAPTER III.

THE HUNTERS.


At about two leagues from Santa Fe, in a clearing situated on the banks
of the stream which borders that town, and on the evening of the same
day, a man was seated before a large fire, which he carefully kept up,
while actively engaged in making preparations for supper. A frugal meal,
at any rate, this supper! It was composed of a buffalo hump, a few
potatoes, and maize tortillas baked on the ashes, the whole washed down
with pulque.

The night was gloomy. Heavy black clouds coursed athwart the sky, at
times intercepting the sickly rays of the moon, which only shed an
uncertain light over the landscape, which was itself buried in one of
those dense mists that, in equatorial countries, exhale from the ground
after a hot day. The wind blew violently through the trees, whose
branches came in contact, with plaintive moans: and in the depths of the
woods the miawling of the wild cats was mingled with the snarl of the
coyotes and the howls of the pumas and jaguars. All at once the sound of
galloping horses could be heard in the forest, and two riders burst into
the clearing. On seeing them the hunter uttered an exclamation of joy,
and hurried to meet them. They were Don Pablo and Curumilla.

"Heaven be praised!" the hunter said. "Here you are at last. I was
beginning to grow alarmed at your long absence."

"You see that nothing has happened to me," the young man answered,
affectionately pressing the hunter's hands.

Don Pablo had dismounted, and hobbled his own horse and Curumilla's near
Valentine, while the Indian chief busied himself in preparing the
supper.

"Come, come," the hunter said gaily, "to table. You must be hungry, and
I am dying of inanition. You can tell me all that has occurred while we
are eating."

The three men went to the table; that is, they seated themselves on the
grass in front of the fire, and vigorously assailed their meagre repast.
Desert life has this peculiarity--that in whatever position you may find
yourself, as the struggles you go through are generally physical rather
than moral, nature never resigns her claims: you feel the need of
keeping up your strength, so as to be ready for all eventualities. There
is no alarm great enough to prevent you from eating and drinking.

"Now," Valentine asked presently, "what have you done? I fancy you
remained much longer than was necessary in that accursed town."

"We did, my friend. Certain reasons forced me to remain longer than I
had at first intended."

"Proceed in regular order, if you have no objection. I fancy that is the
only way of understanding each other."

"Act as you please, my friend."

"Very good: the chief and I will light our Indian pipes while you make
your cigarette. We will sit with our backs to the fire, so as to watch
the neighbourhood, and in that way can converse without apprehension.
What do you say, Pablo?"

"You are always right, my friend. Your inexhaustible gaiety, your honest
carelessness, restore me all my courage, and make me quite a different
man."

"Hum!" Valentine said, "I am glad to hear you speak so. The position is
serious, it is true; but it is far from being desperate. The chief and I
have many times been in situations were our lives only depended on a
thread: and yet we always emerged from them honourably--did we not,
chief?"

"Yes," the Indian answered laconically, drawing in a mouthful of smoke,
which he sent forth again from his mouth and nostrils.

"But that is not the question of the moment. I have sworn to save your
father and sister, Pablo, and will do so, or my carcass shall be food
for the wild beasts of the prairie; so leave me to act. Have you seen
Father Seraphin?"

"Yes, I have. Our poor friend is still very weak and pale, and his wound
is scarce cicatrised. Still, paying no heed to his sufferings, and
deriving strength from his unbounded devotion to humanity, he has done
all we agreed on. For the last week he has only left my father to hasten
to his judges. He has seen the general, the governor, the
bishop--everybody, in short--and has neglected nothing. Unfortunately
all his exertions have hitherto been fruitless."

"Patience!" the hunter said with a smile of singular meaning.

"Father Seraphin believes for certain that my father will be placed in
the capilla within two days. The governor wishes to have done with
it--that is the expression he employed; and Father Seraphin told me that
we have not a moment to lose."

"Two days are a long time, my friend; before they have elapsed many
things may have occurred."

"That is true; but my father's life is at stake, and I feel timid."

"Good, Don Pablo; I like to hear you speak so. But reassure yourself;
all is going on well, I repeat."

"Still, my friend, I believe it would be wise to take certain
precautions. Remember it is a question of life or death, and we must
make haste. How many times, under similar circumstances, have the best
arranged plans failed! Do you think that your measures are well taken?
Do you not fear lest an unhappy accident may derange all your plans at
the decisive moment?"

"We are playing at this moment the devil's own game, my friend,"
Valentine answered coldly. "We have chance on our side; that is to say,
the greatest power that exists, and which governs the world."

The young man lowered his head, as if but slightly convinced. The hunter
regarded him for a moment with a mixture of interest and tender pity,
and then continued in a soothing voice,--

"Listen, Don Pablo de Zarate," he said. "I have said that I will save
your father, and mean to do so. Still I wish him to leave the prison in
which he now is, like a man of his character ought to leave it, in open
day, greeted by the applause of the crowd, and not by escaping furtively
during the night, like a vile criminal. Hang it all! Do you think it
would have been difficult for me to enter the town, and effect your
father's escape by filing the bars or bribing the jailer? I would not do
it. Don Miguel would not have accepted that cowardly and shameful
flight. Your father shall leave his prison, but begged to do so by the
governor himself, and all the authorities of Santa Fe. So regain your
courage, and no longer doubt a man whose friendship and experience
should, on the contrary, restore your confidence."

The young man had listened to these words with even increasing interest.
When Valentine ceased speaking he seized his hand.

"Pardon me, my friend," he answered him. "I know how devoted you are to
my family; but I suffer, and grief renders me unjust. Forgive me."

"Child, let us forget it all. Was the town quiet today?"

"I cannot tell you, for I was so absorbed in thought that I saw nothing
going on around me. Still I fancy there was a certain agitation, which
was not natural, on the Plaza Mayor, near the governor's palace."

Valentine indulged once again in that strange smile that had already
played round the corners of his delicate lips.

"Good!" he said. "And did you, as I advised, try to gain any information
about Red Cedar?"

"Yes," he answered with a start of joy, "I did; and I have positive
news."

"Ah, ah! How so?"

"I will tell you."

And Don Pablo described the scene that had taken place in the rancho.
The hunter listened to it with the utmost attention, and when it was
finished he tossed his head several times with an air of
dissatisfaction.

"All young people are so," he muttered; "they always allow their passion
to carry them beyond the bounds of reason. You were wrong, extremely
wrong, Don Pablo," he then added. "Red Cedar believed you dead, and that
might have been of great use to us presently. You do not know the
immense power that demon has at his disposal: all the bandits on the
frontier are devoted to him. Your outbreak will be most injurious to
your sister's safety."

"Still, my friend--"

"You acted like a madman in arousing the slumbering fury of the tiger.
Red Cedar will persist in destroying you. I have known the wretch for a
long time. But that is not the worst you have done."

"What is it, then?"

"Why, madman as you are, instead of keeping dark, watching your enemies
without saying a word--in short, seeing through their game--by an
unpardonable act of bravado you have unmasked all your batteries."

"I do not understand you, my friend."

"Fray Ambrosio is a villain of a different stamp from Red Cedar, it is
true; but I consider him even a greater scoundrel than the scalp hunter.
At any rate, the latter is purely a rogue, and you know what to expect
from him: all about him bears the stamp of his hideous soul. Had you
stabbed that wild beast, who perspires blood by every pore, and dreams
of naught but murder, I might possibly have pardoned you; but you have
completely failed, not only in prudence, but in good sense, by acting as
you have done with Fray Ambrosio. That man is a hypocrite. He owes all
to your family, and is furious at seeing this treachery discovered. Take
care, Don Pablo. You have made at one blow two implacable enemies, the
more terrible now because they have nothing to guard against."

"It is true," the young man said; "I acted like a fool. But what would
you? At the sight of those two men, when I heard from their very lips
the crimes they had committed, and those they still meditate against us,
I was no longer master of myself. I entered the rancho, and you know the
rest."

"Yes, yes, the cuchillada was a fine one. Certainly the bandit deserved
it; but I fear lest the cross you so smartly drew on his face will cost
you dearly some day."

"Well, let us leave it in the hand of Heaven. You know the proverb, 'It
is better to forget what cannot be remedied.' Provided my father escape
the fate that menaces him, I shall be happy. I shall take my precautions
to defend myself."

"Did you learn nothing further?"

"Yes; Red Cedar's gambusinos are encamped a short distance from us. I
know that their chief intends starting tomorrow at the latest."

"Oh, oh! Already? We must make haste and prepare our ambuscade, if we
wish to discover the road they mean to follow."

"When shall we start?"

"At once."

The three men made their preparations; the horses were saddled, the
small skins the horseman always carries at his saddle-bow in these dry
countries were filled with water, and five minutes later the hunters
mounted. At the moment they were leaving the clearing a rustling of
leaves was heard, the branches parted, and an Indian appeared. It was
Unicorn, the great sachem of the Comanches. On seeing him the three men
dismounted and waited. Valentine advanced alone to meet the Indian.

"My brother is welcome," he said. "What does he want of me?"

"To see the face of a friend," the chief answered in a gentle voice.

The two men then bowed after the fashion of the prairie. After this
ceremony Valentine went on:

"My father must approach the fire, and smoke from the calumet of his
white friends."

"I will do so," Unicorn answered.

And drawing near the fire, he crouched down in Indian fashion, took his
pipe from his belt, and smoked in silence. The hunters, seeing the turn
this unexpected interview was taking, had fastened up their horses, and
seated themselves again round the fire. A few minutes passed thus, no
one speaking, each waiting till the Indian chief should explain the
motive of his coming. At length Unicorn shook the ashes from his
calumet, returned it to his belt, and addressed Valentine.

"Is my brother setting out to hunt buffaloes again?" he said. "There are
many this year on the prairies of the Rio Gila."

"Yes," the Frenchman replied, "we are going hunting. Does my brother
intend to accompany us?"

"No; my heart is sad.

"What means the chief? Has any misfortune happened to him?"

"Does not my brother understand me, or am I really mistaken? It is that
my brother only really loves the buffaloes, whose meat he eats, and
whose hides he sells at the _toldería_?"

"Let my brother explain himself more clearly; then I will try to answer
him."

There was a moment of silence. The Indian seemed to be reflecting
deeply: his nostrils were dilated, and at times his black eye flashed
fire. The hunters calmly awaited the issue of this conversation, whose
object they had not yet caught. At length Unicorn raised his head,
restored all the serenity to his glance, and said in a soft and
melodious voice,--

"Why pretend not to understand me, Koutonepi? A warrior must not have a
forked tongue. What a man cannot do alone, two can attempt and carry
out. Let my brother speak: the ears of a friend are open."

"My brother is right. I will not deceive his expectations. The hunt I
wish to make is serious. I am anxious to save a woman of my colour; but
what can the will of one man effect?"

"Koutonepi is not alone: I see at his side the best two rifles of the
frontier. What does the white hunter tell me? Is he no longer the great
warrior I knew? Does he doubt the friendship of his brother Haboutzelze,
the great sachem of the Comanches?"

"I never doubted the friendship of my brother. I am an adopted son of
his nation. At this very moment is he not seeking to do me a service?"

"That service is only half what I wish to do. Let my brother speak the
word, and two hundred Comanche warriors shall join him to deliver the
virgin of the palefaces, and take the scalps of her ravishers."

Valentine started with joy at this noble offer.

"Thanks, chief," he said eagerly. "I accept; and I know that your word
is sacred."

"Michabou protects us," the Indian said. "My brother can count on me. A
chief does not forget a service. I owe obligations to the pale hunter,
and will deliver to him the gachupino robbers."

"Here is my hand, chief: my heart has long been yours."

"My brother speaks well. I have done what he requested of me."

And, bowing courteously, the Comanche chief withdrew without adding a
word.

"Don Pablo," Valentine exclaimed joyously, "I can now guarantee your
father's safety: this night--perhaps tomorrow--he will be free."

The young man fell into the hunter's arms, and hid his head on his
honest chest, not having the strength to utter a word. A few minutes
later, the hunters left the clearing to go in search of the gambusinos,
and prepare their ambuscade.



CHAPTER IV.

SUNBEAM.


We will now go a little way back, in order to clear up certain portions
of the conversation between Valentine and Unicorn, whose meaning the
reader can not have caught.

Only a few months after their arrival in Apacheria the Frenchman and
Curumilla were hunting the buffalo on the banks of the Rio Gila. It was
a splendid day in the month of July. The two hunters, fatigued by a long
march under the beams of the parching sun, that fell vertically on their
heads, had sheltered themselves under a clump of cedar wood trees, and,
carelessly stretched out on the ground, were smoking while waiting till
the great heat had passed, and the evening breeze rose to enable them to
continue their hunt. A quarter of elk was roasting for their dinner.

"Eh, _penni_," Valentine said, addressing his comrade, and rising on his
elbow, "the dinner seems to be ready; so suppose we feed? The sun is
rapidly sinking behind the virgin forest, and we shall soon have to
start again."

"Eat," Curumilla answered, sharply.

The meat was laid on a leaf between the two hunters, who began eating
with good appetite, and indulging in cakes of _hautle_. These cakes,
which are very good, are certainly curious. They are made of the pounded
eggs of a species of water bug, collected by a sort of harvest in the
Mexican lakes. They are found on the leaves of the _toule_ (bulrush),
and the farina is prepared in various ways. It is an Aztec preparation
_par excellence_, for so long back as 1625 they were sold on the
marketplace of the Mexican capital. They form the chief food of the
Indians, who consider them as great a dainty as the Chinese do their
swallow nests, with which this article of food has a certain resemblance
in taste. Valentine had taken a third bite at his hautle cake when he
stopped, with his arm raised and his head bent forward, as if an unusual
sound had suddenly smitten his ear. Curumilla imitated his friend, and
both listened with that deep attention that only results from a
lengthened desert life; for on the prairie every sound is
suspicious--every meeting is feared, especially with man.

Some time elapsed ere the noise which startled the hunters was repeated.
For a moment they fancied themselves deceived, and Valentine took
another bite, when he was again checked. This time he had distinctly
heard a sound resembling a stifled sigh, but so weak and hollow that it
needed the Trail-hunter's practised ear to catch it. Curumilla himself
had perceived nothing. He looked at his friend in amazement, not knowing
to what he should attribute his state of agitation. Valentine rose
hurriedly, seized his rifle, and rushed in the direction of the river,
his friend following him in all haste.

It was from the river, in fact, that the sigh heard by Valentine had
come, and fortunately it was but a few paces distant. So soon as the
hunters had leaped over the intervening bushes they found themselves on
the bank, and a fearful sight presented itself to their startled eyes. A
long plank was descending the river, turning on its axis, and borne by
the current, which ran rather strongly at this point. On this plank was
fastened a woman, who held a child in her clasped arms. Each time the
plank revolved the unhappy woman plunged with her child into the stream,
and at ten yards at the most from it an enormous cayman was swimming
vigorously to snap at its two victims.

Valentine raised his rifle. Curumilla at the same moment glided into the
water, holding his knife blade between his teeth, and swam toward the
plank. Valentine remained for a few seconds motionless, as if changed
into a block of marble. All at once he pulled the trigger, and the
discharge was re-echoed by the distant mountains. The cayman leaped out
of the water, and plunged down again; but it reappeared a moment later,
belly upwards. It was dead. Valentine's bullet had passed through its
eye.

In the meanwhile Curumilla, had reached the plank with a few strokes,
without loss of time he turned it in the opposite direction from what it
was following; and while holding it so that it could not revolve, he
pushed it onto the sand. In two strokes he cut the bonds that held the
hapless woman, seized her in his arms, and ran off with her to the
bivouac fire.

The poor woman gave no signs of life, and the two hunters eagerly sought
to restore her. She was an Indian, apparently not more than eighteen,
and very beautiful. Valentine found great difficulty in loosening her
arms and removing the baby; for the frail creature about a year old, by
an incomprehensible miracle, had been preserved--thanks, doubtless to
its mother's devotion. It smiled pleasantly at the hunter when he laid
it on a bed of dry leaves.

Curumilla opened the woman's mouth slightly with his knife blade, placed
in it the mouth of his gourd, and made her swallow a few drops of
mezcal. A long time elapsed ere she gave the slightest move that
indicated an approaching return to life. The hunters, however, would not
be foiled by the ill-success of their attentions, but redoubled their
efforts. At length a deep sigh burst painfully from the sufferer's
oppressed chest, and she opened her eyes, murmuring in a voice weak as a
breath!

"_Xocoyotl_ (My child)!"

The cry of the soul--this first and supreme appeal of a mother on the
verge of the tomb--affected the two men with their hearts of bronze.
Valentine cautiously lifted the child, which had gone to sleep
peacefully on the leaves, and presented it to the mother, saying in a
soft voice:

"_Nantli joltinemi_ (Mother, he lives)!"

At these words, which restored her hope, the woman leaped up as if moved
by a spring, seized the child, and covered it with kisses, as she burst
into tears. The hunters respected this outpouring of maternal love: they
withdrew, leaving food and water by the woman's side. At sunset the two
men returned. The woman was squatting by the fire, nursing her child,
and lulling it to sleep by singing an Indian song. The night passed
tranquilly, the two hunters watching in turn over the slumbers of the
woman they had saved, and who reposed in peace.

At sunrise she awoke; and, with the skill and handiness peculiar to the
women of her race, she rekindled the fire and prepared breakfast. The
two men looked at her with a smile, then threw their rifles over their
shoulders, and set out in search of game. When they returned to the
bivouac the meal was ready. After eating, Valentine lit his Indian pipe,
seated himself at the foot of a tree, and addressed the young woman.

"What is my sister's name?" he asked.

"Tonameyotl (the Sunbeam)," she replied, with a joyous smile that
revealed the double row of pearls that adorned her mouth.

"My sister has a pretty name," Valentine answered. "She doubtless
belongs to the great nation of the Apaches."

"The Apaches are dogs," she said in a hollow voice, and with a flash of
hatred in her glance. "The Comanche women will weave them petticoats.
The Apaches are cowardly as the coyotes: they only fight a hundred
against one. The Comanche warriors are like the tempest."

"Is my sister the wife of a cacique?"

"Where is the warrior who does not know Unicorn?" she said proudly.

Valentine bowed. He had already heard the name of this terrible chief
pronounced several times. Mexicans and Indians, trappers, hunters, and
warriors, all felt for him a respect mingled with terror.

"Sunbeam is Unicorn's wife," the Indian girl continued.

"Good!" Valentine answered. "My sister will tell me where to find the
village of her tribe, and I will lead her back to the chief."

The young woman smiled.

"I have in my heart a small bird that sings at every instant of the
day," she said in her gentle and melodious voice. "The swallow cannot
live without its mate, and the chief is on the trail of Sunbeam."

"We will wait the chief here, then," Valentine said.

The hunter felt great pleasure in conversing with this simple child.

"How was my sister thus fastened to the trunk of tree, and thrown into
the current of the Gila, to perish there with her child? It is an
atrocious vengeance."

"Yes, it is the vengeance of an Apache dog," she answered. "Aztatl (the
Heron), daughter of Stanapat, the great chief of the Apaches, loved
Unicorn--her heart bounded at the mere name of the great Comanche
warrior; but the chief of my nation has only one heart, and it belongs
to Sunbeam. Two days ago the warriors of my tribe set out for a great
buffalo hunt, and the squaws alone remained in the village. While I
slept in my hut four Apache thieves, taking advantage of my slumber,
seized me and my child, and delivered us into the hands of Stanapat's
daughter. 'You love your husband,' she said with a grin: 'you doubtless
suffer at being separated from him. Be happy: I will send you to him by
the shortest road. He is hunting on the prairies down the river, and in
two hours you will be in his arms, unless,' she added with a laugh, 'the
caymans stop you on the road.'--'The Comanche women despise death,' I
answered her. 'For a hair you pluck from me, Unicorn will take the
scalps of your whole tribe; so act as you think proper;' and I turned my
head away, resolved to answer her no more. She herself fastened me to
the log, with my face turned to the sky, in order, as she said, that I
might see my road; and then she hurled me into the river, yelling:
'Unicorn is a cowardly rabbit, whom the Apache women despise. This is
how I revenge myself.' I have told my brother, the pale hunter,
everything as it happened."

"My sister is a brave woman," Valentine replied: "she is worthy to be
the wife of a renowned chief."

The young mother smiled as she embraced her child, which she presented,
with a movement full of grace, to the hunter, who kissed it on the
forehead. At this moment the song of the maukawis was heard at a short
distance off. The two hunters raised their heads in surprise, and looked
around them.

"The quail sings very late, I fancy," Valentine muttered suspiciously.

The Indian girl smiled as she looked down, but gave no answer. Suddenly
a slight cracking of dry branches disturbed the silence. Valentine and
Curumilla made a move, as if to spring up and seize their rifles that
lay by their side.

"My brothers must not stir," the squaw said quickly: "it is a friend."

The hunters remained motionless, and the girl then imitated with rare
perfection the cry of the blue jay. The bushes parted, and an Indian
warrior, perfectly painted and armed for war, bounded like a jackal over
the grass and herbs that obstructed his passage, and stopped in face of
the hunters. This warrior was Unicorn. He saluted the two men with that
grace innate in the Indian race; then he crossed his arms on his breast
and waited, without taking a glance at his squaw, or even appearing to
have seen her. On her side the Indian woman did not stir.

During several moments a painful silence fell on the four persons whom
chance had assembled in so strange a way. At length Valentine, seeing
the warrior insisted on being silent, decided he would be the first to
speak.

"Unicorn is welcome to our camp," he said. "Let him take a seat by the
fire of his brothers, and share with them the provisions they possess."

"I will take a seat by the fire of my paleface brother," he replied;
"but he must first answer me a question I wish to ask of him."

"My brother can speak: my ears are open."

"Good!" the chief answered. "How is it the hunters have with them
Unicorn's wife?"

"Sunbeam can answer that question best," Valentine said gravely.

The chief turned to his squaw.

"I am waiting," he remarked.

The Indian woman repeated, word for word, to her husband the story she
had told a few minutes before. Unicorn listened without evincing either
surprise or wrath: his face remained impassive, but his brows were
imperceptibly contracted. When the woman had finished speaking, the
Comanche chief bowed his head on his chest, and remained for a moment
plunged in serious thought. Presently he raised his head.

"Who saved Sunbeam from the river when she was about to perish?" he
asked her.

The young woman's face lit up with a charming smile.

"These hunters," she replied.

"Good!" the chief said, laconically, as he bent on the two men glances
full of the most unspeakable gratitude.

"Could we leave her to perish?" Valentine said.

"My brothers did well. Unicorn is one of the first sachems of his
nation. His tongue is not forked: he gives his heart once, and takes it
back no more. Unicorn's heart belongs to the hunters."

These simple words were uttered with the majesty and grandeur the
Indians know so well how to assume when they think proper. The two men
vowed their gratitude, and the chief continued:--

"Unicorn is returning to his village with his wife: his young men are
awaiting him twenty paces from here. He would be happy if the hunters
would consent to accompany him there."

"Chief," Valentine answered, "we came into the prairie to hunt the
buffalo."

"Well, what matter? My brothers will hunt with me and my young men; but
if they wish to prove to me that they accept my friendship, they will
follow me to my village."

"The chief is mounted, while we are on foot."

"I have horses."

Any further resistance would have been a breach of politeness, and the
hunters accepted the invitation. Valentine, whom accident had brought on
to the prairies of the Rio Gila and Del Norte, was in his heart not
sorry to make friends there, and have allies on whose support he could
reckon in case of need. The squaw had by this time risen: she timidly
approached her husband, and held up the child, saying in a soft and
frightened voice,--

"Kiss this warrior."

The chief took the frail creature in his muscular arms, and kissed it
repeatedly with a display of extraordinary tenderness, and then returned
it to the mother. The latter wrapped the babe in a small blanket, then
placed it on a plank shaped like a cradle, and covered with dry moss,
fastened a hoop over the place where its head rested, to guard it from
the burning beams of the sun, and hung the whole on her back by means of
a woolen strap passing over her forehead.

"I am ready," she said.

"Let us go," the chief replied.

The hunters followed him, and they were soon on the prairie.



CHAPTER XXIX.

THE ADOPTION.


Some sixty Comanche warriors were lying in the grass awaiting their
sachem, while the tethered horses were nibbling the tall prairie grasses
and the tree shoots. It could be seen at the first glance that these men
were picked warriors, selected for a dangerous expedition. From the
heels of all dangled five or six wolf tails--marks of honor which only
renowned warriors have the right to wear.

On seeing their chief, they hurriedly rose and leaped into their
saddles. All were aware that their sachem's wife had been carried off,
and that the object of their expedition was to deliver her. Still, on
noticing her, they evidenced no surprise, but saluted her as if she had
left them only a few moments previously. The war party had with it
several horses, which the chief ordered to be given to his squaw and his
new friends; then, at a signal from him, the whole party started at full
speed, for the Indians know no other pace than the gallop.

After about two hours' ride they reached the vicinity of the village,
which could be smelt some time before reaching, owing to the habit the
Comanches have of placing their dead on scaffoldings outside the
villages, where they moulder away: these scaffoldings, composed of four
stakes planted in the ground, terminated in a fork, while from poles
stuck up near them hung skins and other offerings made by the Indians to
the genius of good.

At the entrance of the village a number of horsemen were assembled,
awaiting the return of the sachem. So soon as they perceived him they
burst into a formidable yell, and rushed forward like a whirlwind,
shouting, firing guns, and brandishing their weapons. Unicorn's band
followed this example, and there was soon a most extraordinary
confusion.

The sachem made his entry into the village in the midst of shouts,
barking of dogs, and shots; in short, he was accompanied to the square
by an indescribable row. On reaching it the warriors stopped. Unicorn
begged the hunters to dismount, and guided them to his cabin, which he
made them enter before him.

"Now," he said to them, "brothers, you are at home: rest in peace, eat
and drink. This evening I will come and talk with you, and make you a
proposal which I sincerely hope you will not reject."

The two hunters, wearied by the long ride they had made, fell back with
extreme satisfaction on the beds of dried leaves which awaited them.

"Well," Valentine asked Curumilla, "penni, what do you say about what is
happening to us?"

"It may be good."

"Can it not?"

"Yes."

On which Curumilla fell asleep, and Valentine soon followed his example.
As he had promised, toward evening Unicorn entered the cabin.

"Have my brothers rested?" he asked.

"Yes," Valentine answered.

"Are they disposed to listen to me?"

"Speak, chief; we are listening."

The Comanche sachem then squatted near the fire, and remained for
several minutes, with his head bent forward and his eyes fixed on the
ground, in the position of a man who is reflecting. At length he raised
his head, stretched forth his arm as if to give greater authority to the
words he was about to utter, and began thus:--

"Brother, you and your friend are two brave warriors. The prairies
rejoice at your arrival among us; the deer and the buffaloes fly at your
approach; for your arm is strong, and your eye unerring. Unicorn is only
a poor Indian; but he is a great warrior among the Comanches, and a much
feared chief of his tribe. You have saved his wife, Sunbeam, whom the
Apache dogs threw into the Gila, and whom the hideous alligators were
preparing to devour. Since his wife, the joy of his hearth, and his son,
the hope of his old days, have been restored to him, Unicorn has sought
in his heart the means to prove to you his gratitude. He asked the Chief
of Life what he could do to attach you to him. Unicorn is terrible in
combat; he has the heart of the grizzly bear for his enemies--he has the
heart of the gazelle for those he loves."

"Chief," Valentine answered, "the words you utter at this moment amply
repay us for what we have done. We are happy to have saved the wife and
son of a celebrated warrior: our reward is in our hearts, and we wish
for no other."

The chief shook his head.

"No," he said; "the two hunters are no longer strangers for the
Comanches; they are the brothers of our tribe. During their sleep
Unicorn assembled round the council fire the chiefs of his nation, and
told them what has passed. The chiefs have ranged themselves on
Unicorn's side, and have ordered him to make known to the hunters the
resolution they have formed."

"Speak, then, chief," Valentine said, "and believe that the wishes of
the council will be commands to us."

A smile of joy played round the chief's lips.

"Good!" he said. "This is what was agreed on among the great chiefs. My
brothers the hunters will be adopted by the tribe, and be henceforth
sons of the great Comanche nation. What say my brothers?"

A lively feeling of pleasure made Valentine quiver at this unexpected
proposition. To be adopted by the Comanche tribe, was obtaining the
right of hunting over the whole extent of the immense prairies which
that powerful nation holds through its indomitable courage and the
number of its warriors. The hunter exchanged a glance with his silent
comrade and rose.

"I accept for myself and friend," he said as he held out his hand to the
chief, "the honor the Comanches do us in admitting us into the number of
the sons of their warlike nation. We shall prove ourselves worthy of
this marked favour."

Unicorn smiled.

"Tomorrow," he said as he rose, "my brothers will be adopted by the
nation."

After bowing gracefully to the hunters he took leave of them and
withdrew. The next daybreak the chiefs entered the cabin. Valentine and
Curumilla were ready, and had long been acquainted with the trials they
would have to undergo. The neophytes were conducted into the great
medicine hut, where a copious meal was prepared. It consisted of dog
meat boiled in bear fat, tortillas, maize, and hautle cakes. The chiefs
squatted in a circle, while the squaws waited on them.

When the meal was ended all rose. Unicorn placed himself between the
hunters, laid his hands on their heads, and struck up the great war
song. This song was repeated in chorus by the company to the sound of
the war whistles, the drums and the _chikikouis._ The following is the
translation of the song:--

   "Master of Life, regard us with a favourable eye.
   We are receiving two brothers in arms who appear to have sense.
   They display vigour in their arms.
   They fear not to expose their bodies to the blows of their enemies."

It is impossible for anyone who has not been present at the ceremony to
form even a distant idea of the frightful noise produced by their hoarse
voices mingled with the shrill and discordant instruments: it was enough
to produce a deafness. When the song was ended each took his seat by the
council fire.

The hunters were seated on beaver skins, and the great war calumet was
presented to them, from which each took several puffs, and it went the
round. Unicorn then rose, and fastened round the neck of each a wampum
collar, and another made of the claws of the grizzly bear. The Indians,
during this time, had built near the medicine lodge a cabin for the
sweating, and when it was finished the hunters took off their clothes
and entered it. The chiefs then brought two large stones which had been
previously made red hot, and after closing the hut carefully, left the
neophytes in it.

The latter threw water on the stones, and the steam which arose almost
immediately produced a profuse perspiration. When this was at its height
the hunters ran out of the hut, passed through the double row of
warriors, and leaped into the river, according to the usual fashion.
They were immediately drawn from the water, wrapped in blankets, and led
to Unicorn's hut, in order to undergo the final trial, which is also the
most painful. The hunters were laid on their backs, then Unicorn traced
on their chests with a sharp stick dipped in water in which gunpowder
had been dissolved, the figure of the animal serving as _totem_
(protector) to the tribe. Then with two spikes fastened to a small piece
of wood, and dipped in vermillion, he proceeded to prick the design.

Whenever Unicorn came to a place that was too hard he made an incision
in the flesh with a gun-flint. The places that were not marked with
vermillion were rubbed in with powder, so that the result was a red and
blue tattooing. During the course of this operation the war songs and
chikikouis were constantly heard, in order to drown the cries which the
atrocious pain might draw from the patients; but the latter endured it
all without even a contraction of the eyebrows evidencing the pain they
must have felt.

When the tattooing was over the wounds were cauterised with rotten wood
to prevent suppuration; they were washed with cold water, in which had
been infused a herb resembling box, a great deal of which the Indians
mix with their tobacco to reduce the strength. The trial we have
described is so painful to endure, that nearly always it is only
accomplished at intervals, and often lasts a week. This time the hunters
endured it bravely during the six hours it lasted, not uttering a cry,
or giving a sign of weakness. Hence the Indians, from this moment,
regarded them with a species of respect; for with them courage is the
first of qualities.

"My brothers are children of the tribe," the chief said, offering each a
horse. "The prairie belongs to them. These coursers will bear them to
the most remote limits of the desert, chasing the wild beasts, or
pursuing the Apache dogs."

"Good!" Valentine answered.

At one bound the two hunters were in their saddles, and made their
horses perform the most elegant and graceful curvets. This last and
heroic deed, after all they had suffered during the course of the day,
raised to their full height the joy and enthusiasm of the Comanches, who
applauded with frenzied shouts and yells all they saw their new brothers
execute. After remaining nearly an hour on horseback they dismounted,
and followed the chiefs into the medicine lodge; and when each had taken
his seat round the council fire, and the calumet had again been smoked,
Unicorn rose.

"The Master of Life loves His Comanche sons, since He gives them for
brothers such warriors as Koutonepi and Curumilla. Who can equal their
courage! Who would dare to contend with them! On their approach the
grizzly bear hides at the extremity of its den; the jaguar bounds far
away on seeing them; the eagle itself, which looks the sun in the face,
flies from their unerring bullet. Brothers, we congratulate ourselves on
counting you among our warriors. Henceforth we shall be invincible.
Brothers, give up the names you have up to this day borne, and assume
those we now give you. You, Koutonepi, are henceforth Quauhtli, and bear
the name of that eagle, whose courage and strength you possess. You,
Curumilla, will be called Vexolotl, and the cock will be proud to see
that you have taken possession of its name."

The two hunters warmly thanked their new brothers, and were led back by
the chiefs to their cabin, who wished them a pleasant night after so
rude a day. Such was the way in which Valentine and Curumilla, to whom
we shall continue to give their old names, formed the acquaintance of
Unicorn, and the result of it.



CHAPTER VI.

THE MISSIONARY.


With time the relations existing between the hunters and the Indians
were drawn closer, and became more friendly. In the desert physical
strength is the quality most highly esteemed. Man, compelled to struggle
incessantly against the dangers of every description that rise each
moment before him, is bound to look only to himself for the means to
surmount them. Hence the Indians profess a profound contempt, for sickly
people, and weak and timid nerves.

Valentine easily induced Unicorn to seize, during the hunt of the wild
horses, the Mexican magistrates, in order to make hostages of them if
the conspiracy were unsuccessful. What the hunter foresaw happened. Red
Cedar had opposed stratagem to stratagem; and, as we have seen, Don
Miguel was arrested in the midst of his triumph, at the very moment when
he fancied himself master of the Paso del Norte.

After Valentine, Curumilla, and Don Pablo had seen, from their hiding
place in the bushes, the mournful escort pass that was taking Don Miguel
as a prisoner to Santa Fe, they held a council. Moments were precious;
for in Mexico conspirators have the sad privilege over every other
prisoner of being tried quickly, and not left to pine. The prisoner must
be saved. Valentine, with that promptitude of decision which formed the
salient point of his character, soon arranged in his head one of those
bold schemes which only he could discover.

"Courage!" he said to Don Pablo. "As long as the heart beats in the
breast there is hope, thank Heaven! The first hand is lost, I allow; but
now for the second game."

Don Pablo had entire faith in Valentine: he had often been in the
position to try his friend. If these words did not completely reassure
him, they at least almost restored his hope, and gave him back that
courage so necessary to him at this supreme moment, and which had
abandoned him.

"Speak, my friend," he said. "What is to be done?"

"Let us attend to the most important thing first, and save Father
Seraphin, who devoted himself for us."

The three men started. The night was a gloomy one. The moon only
appeared at intervals: incessantly veiled by thick clouds which passed
over its disc, it seemed to shed its sickly rays regretfully on the
earth. The wind whistled through the branches of the trees, which
uttered mysterious murmurs as they came into collision. The coyotes
howled in the plain, and at times their sinister form shot athwart the
skyline. After a march of about an hour the three men approached the
spot where the missionary had fallen from the effect of Red Cedar's
bullet; but he had disappeared. An alarm mingled with a frightful agony
contracted the hunter's hearts. Valentine took a despairing glance
around; but the darkness was too dense for him possibly to distinguish
anything.

"What is to be done?" Don Pablo asked sadly.

"Seek," Valentine replied sharply: "he cannot be far."

Curumilla had already taken up the trail, and had disappeared in the
gloom. The Araucano had never been a great speaker naturally: with age
he had grown almost dumb, and never uttered a word save when absolutely
necessary. But if the Indian did not talk, he acted; and in critical
situations his determination was often worth long harangues. Don Pablo,
obedient to Valentine's orders, threw his rifle over his shoulder, and
prepared to execute them.

"Where are you going?" the hunter asked him, as he seized his arm.

"To look for Father Seraphin."

"Wait."

The two men stood motionless, listening to the mysterious sounds of the
desert, that nameless melody which plunges the soul into a soft reverie.
Nearly an hour passed thus, nothing revealing to the hunters that
Curumilla's search had proved successful. Valentine, growing impatient
at this long delay, was also preparing to go on, at once the weak,
snapping cry of the walkon rose in the air.

"What's that?" Don Pablo asked in surprise.

"Silence!" Valentine muttered.

A second time the walkon sang, but this time stronger, and much nearer.
Valentine raised his fingers to his lips, and imitated the sharp, shrill
yell of the ocelot twice, with such perfection that Don Pablo started
involuntarily, and looked round for the wild beast, whose eyes he
fancied he could see flashing behind a thicket. Almost immediately the
note of the walkon was heard a third time. Valentine rested the butt of
his rifle on the ground.

"Good!" he said. "Do not be alarmed, Don Pablo. Curumilla has found
Father Seraphin."

The young man looked at him in amazement. The hunter smiled.

"They will both arrive directly," he said.

"How do you know?"

"Child!" Valentine interrupted him, "In the desert the human voice is
more injurious than useful. The song of birds, the cry of wild beasts,
serve us as a language."

"Yes," the young man answered simply, "that is true. I have often heard
it stated; but I was not aware you could understand one another so
easily."

"That is nothing," the hunter answered good-humouredly: "you will see
much more if you only pass a month in our company."

In a few moments the sound of footsteps became audible, at first faint,
then gradually coming nearer, and two shadows were dimly drawn on the
night.

"Halloa!" Valentine shouted as he Raised and cocked his rifle, "friend
or foe?"

"_Pennis_ (brothers)," a voice answered.

"It is Curumilla," said Valentine. "Let us go to meet him."

Don Pablo followed him, and they soon reached the Indian, who walked
slowly, obliged as he was to support, almost carry, the missionary.

When Father Seraphin fell off his horse he almost immediately lost his
senses. He remained for a long time lying in the ditch, but by degrees
the night cold had brought him round again. At the first moment the poor
priest, whose ideas were still confused, had cast anxious glances around
him, while asking himself how he came there. He tried to rise; but then
a poignant pain he felt in his shoulder reminded him of what had
occurred. Still he did not despair. Alone, by night in the desert,
exposed to a thousand unknown dangers, of which the least was being
devoured by wild beasts, without weapons to defend himself, too weak,
indeed, to attempt it, even if he had them, he resolved not to remain in
this terrible position, but make the greatest efforts to rise, and drag
himself as well as he could to the Paso, which was three leagues distant
at the most, where he was sure of finding that care his condition
demanded.

Father Seraphin, like the majority of the missionaries who generously
devote themselves to the welfare of humanity, was a man who, under a
Weak and almost feminine appearance, concealed an indomitable energy,
and a resolution that would withstand all trials. So soon as he had
formed his plan he began carrying it out. With extreme difficulty and
atrocious pain he succeeded in fastening his handkerchief round his
shoulder, so as to check the hemorrhage. It took more than an hour
before he could stand on his legs: often he felt himself fainting, a
cold perspiration beaded at the root of his hair, he had a buzzing in
his ears, and everything seemed to be turning round him; but he wrestled
with the pain, clasped his hands with an effort, raised his tear laden
eyes to heaven, and murmured from the bottom of his heart,--

"O God! Deign to support thy servant, for he has set on thee all his
hopes and confidence."

Prayer, when made with faith, produces in a man an effect whose
consequences are immediate; it consoles him, gives him courage, and
almost restores him the strength that has deserted him. This was what
happened to Father Seraphin. After uttering these few words he set out
boldly, supporting his tottering footsteps with a stick, which a
providential chance had placed in his way. He walked thus for nearly
half a league stopping at every instant to draw breath; but human
endurance has limits beyond which it cannot go. In spite of the efforts
he made, the missionary at length felt his legs give way under, him; he
understood that he could not go further; and he sank at the foot of a
tree, certain that he had attempted impossibilities, and henceforth
resigning to Providence the care of saving him.

It was at this moment Curumilla arrived near him. The Indian aided him
to rise, and then warned his comrades of the success of his search.
Father Seraphin, though the chief offered to carry him, refused, and
wished to walk to join his friends; but his strength deserted him a
second time, he lost his senses, and fell into the arms of the Indian,
who watched him attentively; for he noticed his increasing weakness, and
foresaw his fall. Valentine and Curumilla hastily constructed a litter
of tree branches, on which they laid the poor wounded man, and raising
him on their shoulders, went off rapidly. The night passed away, and the
sun was already high on the horizon, and yet the hunters--were marching.
At length, at about eleven o'clock, they reached the cavern which served
Valentine as a shelter, and to which he had resolved to carry his
patient, that he might himself nurse him.

Father Seraphin was in a raging fever; his face was red, his eyes
flashing. As nearly always happens with gunshot wounds, a suppurating
fever had declared itself. The missionary was laid on a bed of furs, and
Valentine immediately prepared to probe the wound. By a singular chance
the ball had lodged in the shoulder without fracturing the blade bone.
Valentine drew it; and then helped by Curumilla, who had quietly pounded
oregano leaves, he formed a cataplasm, which he laid on the wound, after
first carefully washing it. Scarcely had this been done ere the
missionary fell into a deep sleep, which lasted till nightfall.

Valentine's treatment had effected wonders. The fever had disappeared,
the priest's features were calmed, the flush that purpled his cheeks had
given place to a pallor caused by the loss of blood; in short, he was as
well as could be expected. On opening his eyes he perceived the three
hunters watching him anxiously. He smiled, and said in a weak voice,--

"Thanks, my brothers, thanks for the help you have afforded me. Heaven
will reward you. I feel much better."

"The Lord be praised!" Valentine answered. "You will escape, my father,
more cheaply than I had dared to hope."

"Can it be possible?"

"Yes, your wound, though serious, is not dangerous, and in a few days
you can, if you think necessary, resume your avocations."

"I thank you for this new good, my dear Valentine. I no longer count the
times I have owed my life to you. Heaven, in its infinite goodness, has
placed you near me to support me in my tribulations, and succour me in
days of danger."

The hunter blushed.

"Do not speak so, my father," he said; "I have only performed a sacred
duty. Do you feel strong enough to talk for a few minutes with me?"

"Yes. Speak, my friend."

"I wished to ask your advice."

"My talents are very slight: still you know how I love you, Valentine.
Tell me what vexes you, and perhaps I may be able to be useful to you."

"I believe it, my father."

"Speak, then, in Heaven's name, my friend; for, if you have recourse to
me, the affair must be very serious."

"It cannot be more so."

"Go on: I am listening."

And the missionary settled himself on his bed to hear as comfortably as
he could the confession the hunter wished to make to him.



CHAPTER VII.

THE INTERVIEW.


At daybreak the next morning Curumilla started for Unicorn's village. At
sunset he returned to the cavern, accompanied by the Comanche chief. The
sachem entertained the most profound respect for Father Seraphin, whose
noble character he could appreciate, and felt pained at the state in
which he found him.

"Father," he said to him as he kissed his hand. "Who are the villains
who thus wounded you, to whom the Master of Life has imparted the secret
to make us happy? Whoever they may be, these men shall die."

"My son," the priest answered gently, "I will not pronounce before you
the name of the unhappy man who, in a moment of madness, raised his hand
against me. My God is a God of peace; He is merciful, and recommends His
creatures to forget injuries, and requite good for evil."

The Indian looked at him in amazement. He did not understand the soft
and touching sublimity of these precepts of love. Educated in the
sanguinary principles of his race--persuaded, like all redskins, that a
warrior's first duty is revenge--he only admitted that atrocious law of
the prairies which commands, "Eye for eye, tooth for tooth"--a terrible
law, which we do not venture, however, utterly to condemn in these
countries, where ambushes are permanent, and implacable death stands at
every corner of the road.

"My son," Father Seraphin continued, "you are a great warrior. Many a
time you have braved the atrocious tortures of the stake of blood, a
thousand fold more terrible than death itself. Often have you, with a
pleasure I excuse (for it is in your nature), thrown down your enemy,
and planted your knee on his chest. Have you never pardoned anybody in
fight?"

"Never!" the Indian answered, his eye sparkling with satisfied pride.
"Unicorn has sent many Apache dogs to the happy hunting grounds: their
scalps are drying at the door of his cabin."

"Well," the missionary said gently, "try clemency once, only once, and
you will know one of the greatest pleasures God has granted to man on
earth--that of pardoning."

The chief shook his head.

"No," he said; "a dead enemy is no longer to be feared. Better to kill
than leave him means to avenge himself at a later date."

"My son, you love me, I believe?"

"Yes. My father is good; he has behaved well to the Comanches, and they
are grateful. Let my father command, and his son will obey."

"I have no right to give you an order, my son. I can only ask a favour of
you."

"Good! My father can explain himself. Unicorn will do what he desires."

"Well, then," said the missionary with a lively feeling of joy, "promise
me to pardon the first unhappy man, whoever he may be, who falls into;
your hands, and you will render me happy."

The chief frowned, and an expression of dissatisfaction appeared on his
features. Father Seraphin anxiously followed on the Comanche's
intelligent countenance the different shadows reflected on it as in a
mirror. At length the Indian regained his stoicism, and his face grew
serene again.

"Does my father demand it?" he asked in a gentle voice.

"I desire it."

"Be it so: my father shall be satisfied. I promise him to pardon the
first enemy whom the Manitou causes to fall beneath the point of my
lance."

"Thanks, chief," the missionary exclaimed joyfully, "thanks! Heaven will
reward you for this good idea."

The Indian bowed silently and turned to Valentine, who had been
listening to the conversation.

"My brother called me, and I came. What does he want of Unicorn?"

"My brother will take his seat at the council fire, and smoke the
calumet with his friend. Chiefs do not speak without reflecting on the
words they are about to utter."

"My brother speaks well, and I will take my seat at his fire."

Curumilla had lighted a large fire in the first grotto of the cavern.
The four men left Father Seraphin to take a few moments' rest, and
seated themselves round the fire, when the calumet passed from hand to
hand. The Indians never undertake anything important, or commence a
discussion, without first smoking the calumet in council, whatever may
be the circumstances in which they are placed. When the calumet had gone
the round Valentine rose.

"Every day," he said, bowing to the chief, "I appreciate more and more
the honor the Comanches did me in adopting me as a son. My brother's
nation is powerful; its hunting grounds cover the whole surface of the
earth. The Apaches fly before the Comanche warriors like cowardly
coyotes before courageous men. My brother has already several times done
me a service with that greatness of soul which distinguishes him, and
can only belong to a warrior so celebrated as he is. Today I have again
a service to ask of my brother, and will he do it me? I presume so; for
I know his heart, and that the Great Spirit of the Master of Life dwells
in him."

"Let my brother explain," Unicorn answered. "He is speaking to a chief;
he must remove the skin from his heart and let his blood flow red and
bright before a friend. The great white hunter is a portion of myself. I
should have to be prevented by an arrant impossibility if I refused any
request emanating from him."

"Thanks, brother," Valentine said with emotion. "Your words have passed
from your lips into my breast, which they have rejoiced. I am not
mistaken. I see that I can ever count on your well-tried friendship and
honest aid. Acumapicthzin de Zarate, the descendant of the Mexican
kings, the friend of the redskins, whom he has ever protected, is a
prisoner to the gachupinos. They have carried him to Santa Fe in order
to put him to death, and deprive the Indians of the last friend left
them."

"And what does my brother want?"

"I wish to save my friend."

"Good!" the chief answered. "My brother claims my help to succeed in
that project, I suppose?"

"Yes."

"Good! The descendant of the Tlatoanis shall be saved. My brother can
feel reassured."

"I can count, then, on my brother's aid?" Valentine asked quickly.

The chief smiled.

"Unicorn holds in his hands Spaniards who will answer for the life of
the prisoner."

"That is true!" Valentine exclaimed as he struck his forehead. "Your
idea is a good one, chief."

"My brother will leave me to act. I answer for success on my head."

"_Caramba!_ Act as you please, chief. Still, were it only form's sake, I
should not be sorry to know what you intend doing."

"My brother has a white skin, but his heart is Indian. Let him trust to
the prudence of a chief; Unicorn knows how to treat with the
gachupinos."

"Doubtless."

"Unicorn will go to Santa Fe to speak with the chief of the white men."

Valentine looked at him in amazement. The chief smiled.

"Have I not hostages?" he said.

"That is true," Valentine remarked.

The chief went on:--

"The Spaniards are like chattering old women, prodigal of seductive
words, but Unicorn knows them. How many times already has he trodden the
warpath on their territory at the head of his warriors! They will not
dare to deceive him. Ere the sun has twice accomplished its revolution
round the tortoise whose immense shell supports the world, the chief of
the Comanches will carry the bloody arrows to the whites, and propose to
them peace or war. Is my brother satisfied?"

"I am. My heart is full of gratitude toward my red brother."

"Good! What is that to Unicorn? Less than nothing. Has my brother
anything else to ask of me?"

"One thing more."

"Let my brother explain himself as quickly as possible, that no cloud
may remain between him and his red brother."

"I will do so. Men without fear of the Great Spirit, urged by some mad
desire, have carried off Doña Clara, the daughter of the white chief
whom my brother pledged to save."

"Who are these? Does my brother know them?"

"Yes, I know them only too well. They are bandits, at the head of whom
is a monster with a human face, called Red Cedar."

At this name the Indian started slightly, his eye flashed fire, and a
deep wrinkle hollowed his forehead.

"Red Cedar is a ferocious jaguar," he said with concentrated passion.
"He has made himself the scourge of the Indians, whose scalps he
desires. This man has no pity either for women or children, but he
possesses no courage: he only attacks his enemies in the dark, twenty
against one, and when he is sure of meeting with no resistance."

"My brother knows this man, I see."

"And this man has carried off the white gazelle?'

"Yes."

"Good! My brother wishes to know what Red Cedar has done with his
prisoner?"

"I do wish it."

The Indian rose.

"Time is slipping away," he said. "Unicorn will return to his friends.
My brother the hunter need not feel alarmed: a chief is watching."

After uttering these few words the chief went down into the cavern,
mounted his horse, and disappeared in direction of the desert. Valentine
had every reason to be satisfied with his interview with the Comanche
chief; but Father Seraphin was less pleased than the hunter. The worthy
priest, both through his nature and his vocation, was not disposed to
employ violent measures, which were repugnant to him: he would have
liked, were it possible, to settle everything by gentleness, and without
running the risk of bloodshed.

Three weeks elapsed, however, ere Unicorn appeared to be effectually
carrying out the plan he had explained to Valentine, who only learnt
indirectly that a strong party of Comanche warriors had invaded the
Mexican frontiers. Father Seraphin, though not yet completely cured, had
insisted on proceeding to Santa Fe to take some steps to save Don
Miguel, whose trial had gone on rapidly, who was on the point of being
executed. For his part Don Pablo, half mad with uneasiness, also
insisted, in spite of Valentine's entreaties and remarks, on entering
Santa Fe furtively, and trying to see his father.

The night on which we found Valentine in the clearing Unicorn visited
him for the first time in a month: he came to inform him of the success
of the measures he had taken. Valentine, used to Indian habits,
understood half a word: hence he had not hesitated to announce to Don
Pablo as a positive fact that his father would soon be free.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE PRISON.


Don Miguel had been transferred to the prison of Santa Fe. Europeans,
accustomed to philanthropic manners, and regarding human life as of some
value, cannot imagine what atrocities the word "prison" contains in
Mexico. In countries beyond sea the penitentiary system is not even in
its infancy; for it is completely ignored, and has not even been
suggested yet. With the exception of the United States, prisons are in
America what they were at the period of the Spanish dominion; that is to
say, filthy dens, where the wretched prisoners suffer a thousand
tortures.

Among ourselves, so long as a man is not proved guilty, he is assumed to
be innocent; but over there, so soon as a man is arrested, he is
considered guilty, and consequently every consideration and all pity
vanish, to make room for brutal and barbarous treatment. Thrown on a
little straw in fetid holes, often inhabited by serpents and other
unclean animals, the prisoners have more than once been found dead at
the expiration of twenty-four hours, and half devoured. We have
witnessed scores of times atrocious tortures inflicted by coarse and
cruel soldiers on poor fellows whose crimes, in our country, would have
merited a slight chastisement at the most. Still, in the great centres
of populations, the prisons are better managed than in the towns and
villages; and in this land, where money is the most powerful lever, a
rich man easily succeeds in obtaining all he wishes, and rendering his
position at any rate tolerable.

Don Miguel and General Ibañez had managed to be confined together by the
expenditure of many entreaties and a heavy sum of gold. They inhabited
two wretched rooms, the entire furniture of which consisted in a halting
table, a few leather covered butacas, and two benches which served them
as beds. These two men, so powerful by nature, had endured without
complaint all the humiliation and insults inflicted on them during their
trial, resolved to die as they had lived, with head erect and firm
heart, without giving the judges who had condemned them the satisfaction
of seeing them turn weak at the last moment.

It was toward evening of the same day on which we saw Valentine in the
clearing. Darkness fell rapidly, and the only window, a species of
narrow slit that served to light the prison, allowed but a weak and
dubious light to penetrate. Don Miguel was walking with long strides up
and down his prison, while the general, carelessly reclining on one of
the benches, quietly smoking his cigarette, watching with childish
pleasure the light clouds of bluish smoke which rose in a spiral to the
ceiling, and which he constantly blew asunder.

"Well," Don Miguel said all at once, "it seems it is not for today
either."

"Yes," the general said, "unless (though I do not believe it) they wish
to do us the honor of a torchlight execution."

"Can you at all account for this delay?"

"On my honor, no. I have ransacked my brains in vain to guess the reason
that prevents them shooting us, and I have given it up as a bad job."

"Same with me. At first I fancied they were trying to frighten us by the
continued apprehension of death constantly suspended over our heads like
another sword of Damocles; but this idea seemed to me too absurd."

"I am entirely of your opinion: still something extraordinary must be
occurring."

"What makes you suppose that?"

"Why, for the last two days our worthy jailer, Tio Quesada, has become,
not polite to us--for that is impossible--but less brutal. I noticed
that he has drawn in his claws, and attempted a grin. It is true that
his face is so little accustomed to assume that expression, that the
only result he obtains is to make a wretched grimace."

"And you conclude from that?"

"Nothing positive," the general said. "Still I ask myself whence comes
this incomprehensible change. It would be as absurd to attribute it to
the pity he feels for our position as to suppose the governor will come
to ask our pardon for having tried and condemned us."

"Eh?" Don Miguel said with a toss of his head. "All is not over--we are
not dead yet."

"That is true; but keep your mind at rest--we shall be so soon."

"Our life is in God's hands. He will dispose of it at His pleasure."

"Amen!" the general said with a laugh, as he rolled a fresh cigarette.

"Do you not consider it extraordinary that, during the whole month we
have been here, our friends have not given a sign of life?"

The general shrugged his shoulders carelessly.

"Hum!" he said, "a prisoner is very sick, and our friends doubtless
feared to make us worse by the sight of their grief: that is why they
have deprived themselves of the pleasure of visiting us."

"Do not jest, general. You accuse them wrongfully, I feel convinced."

"May Heaven grant it! For my part, I heartily forgive them their
indifference, and the oblivion in which; they have left us."

"I cannot believe that Don Valentine, that true-hearted and noble-minded
man, for whom I ever felt so deep a friendship, has not tried to see
me."

"Bah! How, Don Miguel, can you, so near death as you are, still believe
in honourable feelings in any man?"

At this moment there was a great clash of iron outside, and the door of
the room was opened sufficiently to afford passage to the jailer, who
preceded another person. The almost complete obscurity that prevailed in
the prison prevented the condemned men from recognising the visitor, who
wore a long black gown.

"Eh, eh!" the general muttered in his comrade's ear, "I believe that
General Ventura, our amiable governor, has at length made up his mind."

"Why so?" Don Miguel asked in a low voice.

"_Canarios!_ he has sent us a priest, which means that we shall be
executed tomorrow."

"On my word, all the better," Don Miguel could not refrain from saying.

In the meanwhile the jailer, a short, thick-set man, with a ferret face
and cunning eye, had turned to the priest, whom he invited to enter,
saying in a hoarse voice,--

"Here it is, señor padre: these are the condemned persons."

"Will you leave us alone, my friend?" the stranger said.

"Will you have my lantern? It is getting dark, and when people are
talking they like to see one another."

"Thanks; you can do so. You will open when I call you by tapping at the
door."

"All right--I will do so;" and he turned to the condemned, to whom he
said savagely, "Well, señores, here is a priest. Take advantage of his
services now you have got him. In your position there is no knowing what
may happen from one moment to the other."

The prisoners shrugged their shoulder's contemptuously, but made no
reply. The jailer went out. When the sound of his footsteps had died
away in the distance, the priest, who had till this moment stood with
his body bent forward and his ear on the watch, drew himself up, and
walked straight to Don Miguel. This manoeuvre on the part of the
stranger surprised the two gentlemen, who anxiously awaited what was
about to happen. The lantern left by the jailer only spread a faint and
flickering light, scarcely sufficient to distinguish objects.

"My father," the hacendero said in a firm voice, "I thank the person
who sent you to prepare me for death, for I anxiously wished to fulfil
my duties as a Christian before being executed. If you will proceed with
me into the adjoining room I will confess my sins to you: they are those
which an honest man ordinarily commits; for my heart is pure, and I have
nothing to reproach myself with."

The priest took off his hat, seized the lantern, and placed it near his
pale face, whose noble and gentle features were suddenly displayed in
the light.

"Father Seraphin!" the prisoners exclaimed with a surprise mingled with
joy.

"Silence!" the priest ordered quickly. "Do not pronounce my name so
loudly, brothers: everyone is ignorant of my being here except the
jailer, who is my confidant."

"He!" Don Miguel said with a stupor; "the man who has been insulting and
humiliating us during a month!"

"That man is henceforth ours. Lose no time, come. I have secure means to
get you out of prison, and to leave the town ere your evasion can be
even suspected: the horses are prepared--an escort is awaiting you.
Come, gentlemen, for the moments are precious."

The two prisoners interchanged a glance of sublime eloquence; then
General Ibañez quietly seated himself on a butaca, while Don Miguel
replied,--

"Thanks, my father. You have undertaken the noble task of soothing all
sorrow, and you do not wish to fail in your duty. Thanks for the offer
you make us, which we cannot, however, accept. Men like us must not give
our enemies right by flying like criminals. We fought for a sacred
principle, and succumbed. We owe it to our countrymen and to ourselves
to endure death bravely. When we conspired we were perfectly well aware
of what awaited us if we were conquered. Once again, thanks; but we will
only quit this prison as free men, or to walk to punishment."

"I have not the courage, gentlemen, to blame your heroic resolution: in
a similar case I should act as you are doing. You have a very slight
hope still left, so wait. Perchance, within a few hours, unforeseen
events will occur to change the face of matters."

"We hope for nothing more, my father."

"That word is a blasphemy in your mouth, Don Miguel. God can do all He
wills. Hope, I tell you."

"I am wrong, father: forgive me."

"Now I am ready to hear your confession."

The prisoners bowed. Father Seraphin shrived them in turn, and gave them
absolution.

"Hola!" the jailer shouted through the door. "Make haste; it is getting
late. It will soon be impossible to leave the city."

"Open the door," the missionary said in a firm voice.

The jailer appeared.

"Well?" he asked.

"Light me and lead me out of the prison. These caballeros refuse to
profit by the chance of safety I came to offer them."

The jailer shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.

"They are mad," he said.

And he went out, followed by the priest, who turned on the threshold and
pointed to heaven. The prisoners remained alone.



CHAPTER IX.

THE EMBASSY.


On the selfsame day that Father Seraphin went to the prison to propose
an escape to the condemned, a very strange circumstance had aroused the
entire population of Santa Fe. At about midday, at the moment when the
inhabitants were enjoying their siesta, and the streets, calcined by the
beams of a tropical sun, were completely deserted, a formidable whoop,
the terrible war yell of the Comanche Indians, burst forth at the
entrance of the town.

There was a general alarm, and everybody barricaded himself in his
house, believing in a sudden assault of the savages. Presently an
immense clamour, and cries of distress and despair uttered by a
terrified population, could be heard throughout the town. Several times
already the Comanches, in their periodical incursions, had come near
Santa Fe, but never so closely as this time; and the remembrance of the
cruelties they had practised on the hapless Spaniards who fell into
their hands was still present to every mind.

In the meanwhile a few inhabitants, bolder than the rest, or having
nothing to lose, proceeded with the greatest precautions toward the spot
whence the shouts were heard; and a singular spectacle presented itself.
A detachment of dismounted Comanche warriors, about two hundred strong,
was marching in close column, flanked on either wing by two troops, each
of fifty horses. About twenty paces in front caracoled Unicorn.

All these men had a martial aspect which was really remarkable: all were
strangely painted, well adorned, and in their full war costume. The
horsemen were loaded with all sorts of arms and ornaments: they had a
bow and quiver on their backs, their guns slung and decorated with their
medicine bags, and their lances in their hands. They were crowned with
magnificent black and white eagle feathers, with a falling tuft. The
upper part of the body, otherwise naked, was covered by a coyote skin
rolled up and worn across the shoulder; their bucklers were ornamented
with feathers, cloth of different colours, and human scalps. They were
seated on handsome saddlecloth of panthers' skins, lined with red, which
almost covered the horses' backs. According to the prairie fashion, they
had no stirrups.

Unicorn brandished in his right hand the long medicine lance, the
distinctive mark of the powerful "dance of the prairie dogs." It was a
staff in the shape of a crook, covered with an otter skin, and decorated
through its entire length with owl feathers. This talisman, which he had
inherited, possessed the power of bringing under his orders all the
warriors of his nation scattered over the prairies: hence on all grand
occasions he never failed to carry it. He wore a shirt made of the skin
of the bighorn, embroidered on the sleeves with blue flowers, and
adorned on the right arm with long stripes of rolled ermine and red
feathers, and on the left arm with long tresses of black hair cut from
the scalps he had raised. Over his shoulders he had thrown a cloak of
gazelle skin, having at each end an enormous tuft of ermine. On his
forehead the chief had fastened two buffalo horns, which with the blue,
red, and green paint plastered on his face, gave him a terrible aspect.
His magnificent horse, a mustang full of fire, which he managed with
inimitable grace and skill, was painted red in different fashions: on
its legs were stripes like a zebra, and on either side the backbone were
designed arrowhead, lances, beavers, tortoises, &c. The same was the
case with the face and the haunches.

There was something at once imposing and striking in the appearance
presented by this band of ferocious warriors as they advanced though the
deserted streets of the city, brandishing their tremendous weapons, and
uttering at intervals their sinister war cry, which they accompanied by
the shrill sound of long whistles made of human thigh bones, which they
wore suspended by strips of wild beast hide.

By this time the Comanches had penetrated to the heart of the city,
driving before them, though without violence, the few inhabitants who
had ventured to get in their way. They marched in good order, not
turning to the right or left to plunder, and doing no reprehensive
action.

The Spaniards, more and more surprised at the haughty and bold attitude
of the Indians, and their exemplary conduct, asked themselves with
terror what these men wanted, and what reason had led them to invade
their frontiers in so sudden and secret a way, that the scouts the
Mexican Government pays to watch them had no knowledge of their march.
As usually happens in such cases, terror gradually gave way to
curiosity. In the first place the leperos and adventurers dared to
approach the Indians; then the inhabitants, if not completely
tranquilised, still reassured by their peaceful attitude, mingled with
the groups; so that when the Comanche war party arrived on the Plaza
Mayor; it was followed by a crowd of Spaniards, who regarded them with
the restless and stupid curiosity only to be found among the masses.

The Comanches did not appear to notice the excitement they created. As
soon as they were on the Plaza Mayor they halted, and remained
motionless, as if their feet had suddenly grown to the ground. Unicorn
made a sign with his talisman; a warrior quitted the ranks, and rode up
to the sentry standing in front of the governor's palace, who regarded
the singular scene with a dazed air.

"Wah!" the Indian said sarcastically, as he lightly touched the soldier
with the end of his lance. "Is my brother asleep, that he does not hear
a warrior addressing him?"

"I am not asleep," the soldier answered, as he fell back a pace. "What
do you want?"

"The great sachem of the Comanches, the cacique whom the red children
call Haboutzelze, has come to speak to his great white father, the chief
of the frontier palefaces."

"What does he want with him?" the soldier asked, not knowing what he
said, so much had the unexpected sight of the redskin disturbed him.

"Is my brother a chief?" the Indian asked cunningly.

"No," the soldier answered, greatly confused by this lesson.

"Well, then, let him close his ears as regards those the Great Spirit
has set above him, and deliver the message I give him in the sachem's
name."

While the Comanche was exchanging these few words with the sentry,
several persons, drawn out of the palace by the unusual disturbance they
heard, mingled with the crowd. Among them were several officers, one of
whom advanced to the Indian horseman.

"What does my brother want?" he asked him.

The warrior saw at the first glance that this time he had to do with a
chief. He bowed courteously, and answered.

"A deputation of the great Comanche nation desires to be introduced to
my great white father."

"Good! But all the warriors cannot enter the palace," the officer said.

"My brother is right. Their chiefs alone will go in: their young men
will await them here."

"Let my brother be patient. I will go and deliver his message in all
haste."

"Good! My brother is a chief. The Spider will await him."

The officer disappeared in the interior, while the Spider planted the
end of his long lance in the ground, and remained with his eye fixed on
the gate of the palace, not evincing the slightest impatience.

The new governor of Santa Fe was a general of the name of Don Benito
Ventura. He was ignorant as a fish, stupid and haughty as a heathcock.
Like the majority of his colleagues in this eccentric country, he had
gained his general's epaulettes by repeated pronunciamentos, managing
to gain a step by every revolution, while never having seen more fire
than that of the thin husk _pajillo_ he constantly had in his mouth. To
sum him up, he was very rich, a wonderful coward, and more afraid of
blows than aught else in the world. Such he was morally: physically he
was a plump little man, round as a barrel, with a rubicund face, lighted
up by two small grey eyes.

This worthy officer perspired water and blood when the duties of his
station obliged him to put on the uniform, every seam of which was
overlaid with gold lace: his chest literally disappeared under the
infinity of crosses of every description with which each president had
honoured him on attaining power. In a word, General Ventura was a worthy
man, as fit to be a soldier as he was to be a cardinal; and he had only
one object, that of being President of the Republic in his turn; but
this object he ever pursued without Once swerving from his path.

If he accepted the governorship of New Mexico, it was for the simple
reason that, as Santa Fe was a long distance from Mexico, he had
calculated that it would be easy for him to make a _pronunciamento_ in
his own favour, and become, _ipso facto_, president. He was not aware, on
coming to Santa Fe, that the province he was about to govern was
incessantly menaced by Indian forays. Had he known it, however
advantageous the post of governor might, be for his schemes, he would
have refused point blank so perilous an honour.

He had learned with the utmost terror the entrance of the Comanches into
the town, and when the officer intrusted with the Spider's message
presented himself before him he had literally lost his head. It took all
possible trouble to make him comprehend that the Indians came as
friends, that they merely wished to have a palaver with him, and that
since their coming their conduct had been most honourable and exemplary.
Fortunately for the Spanish honour, other officers entered the apartment
in which was the governor, attracted to the palace by the news, which
had spread with the speed of a train of powder through Santa Fe, of the
appearance of an Indian detachment.

When the general saw himself surrounded and supported by the officers of
his staff his terror was slightly toned down, he regained his presence
of mind and it was with a calm and almost dignified demeanor that he
discussed the question whether it was proper to receive the Indian
deputation, and in what manner it should be done. The other officers,
who, in the course of their professional career, had had many a skirmish
with the redskins, felt no inclination to anger them. They produced in
support of their opinions such peremptory reasons, that General Ventura,
convinced by their arguments gave the officer who brought the message
orders to bring the three principal Indian chiefs into the palace.



CHAPTER X.

THE PRESENTATION.


It needed the thorough knowledge the Comanches possessed of the terror
they inspired the Mexicans with to have dared to enter in so small a
body a town like Santa Fe, where they might expect to find a
considerable garrison.

The general officer sent by General Ventura had performed his duty.
Unicorn and two other chiefs dismounted, and followed him into the
palace; while the Indian warriors, in spite of the heat of the sunbeams
that played on their heads, remained motionless on the spot where their
caciques bade them wait.

The general desired, by a certain display of strength, to impose on the
redskin deputies; but unfortunately, as is always the case in Mexico,
the garrison, which on paper represented eight hundred men, was in
reality only composed of sixty at the most--a very small number for a
frontier town, especially under the present circumstances. But if
soldiers were lacking, to make up for it there was no paucity of
officers; for about thirty were assembled at the palace, which allowed
one officer to every two privates. This detail, which might appear
exaggerated, is, however, strictly correct, and shows in what a state of
anarchy this hapless country is plunged. The thirty officers, attired in
their splendid uniforms, that glistened with gold and decorations, were
arranged round the general, while three posts of ten men each held the
doors of the halls of reception.

When the preparations were completed the ambassadors were introduced.
The Indian chiefs, accustomed for a long period to Spanish luxury,
entered without testifying the slightest surprise. They bowed with
dignity to the assembly, and, crossing their arms on their chests,
waited till they were addressed. The general regarded them with an
astonishment pardonable enough, for this was the first time he had found
himself in the presence of these untamable redskins, whose terrible
renown had so often made him shudder.

"What reason can have been so powerful as to oblige my sons to come and
see me?" he asked in a gracious and conciliating tone. "Let them make
their request, and, if I can do so, I shall be most ready to satisfy
it."

This opening, which the governor fancied to be very politic, was, on the
contrary, most awkward, as it offended the pride of those he addressed,
and whom he had the greatest interest in humouring. Unicorn took a step
forward. A sarcastic smile played on his lips, and he replied in a voice
slightly tinged with irony,--

"I have heard a parrot speak. Are the words addressed to me?"

The general blushed up to the eyes at this insult, which he did not dare
retaliate.

"The chief has not understood my words," he said. "My intentions are
good, and I only wish to be agreeable to him."

"The Comanches do not come here to ask a favour," Unicorn answered,
haughtily. "They know how to avenge themselves when insulted."

"What do my sons want then?"

"To treat with my father for the ransom of the white chiefs who are in
their power. Five palefaces inhabit the cabin of the Comanches. The
young men of the tribe demand their punishment, for the blood of the
palefaces is agreeable to the Master of Life. Tomorrow the prisoners
will have ceased to live if my father does not buy them off today."

After these words, uttered in a firm and peremptory tone, there was a
moment of supreme silence. The Mexican officers reflected sadly on the
fearful fate that threatened their friends. Unicorn continued:--

"What does my father say? Shall we fasten our prisoners to the stake of
blood, or restore them to liberty?"

"What ransom do you ask?" the general said.

"Listen, all you chiefs of the palefaces here present, and judge of the
clemency and generosity of the Comanches. We only, wish, for the life of
these five men, the life of two men."

"That is little, I allow," the general remarked; "and who are the two
men whose lives you ask?"

"The palefaces call them, the first, Don Miguel Zarate; the second,
General Ibañez."

The general started.

"These two men cannot be delivered to you," he answered; "they are
condemned to death, and will die tomorrow."

"Good! My prisoners will be tortured this night," the chief replied
stoically.

"Confound it!" the general sharply exclaimed, "Is there no other
arrangement possible? Let my brothers ask me a thing I can grant them,
and--"

"I want those two men," the chief quickly interrupted. "If not, my
warriors will themselves deliver them; and in that case the Comanche
chiefs cannot prevent the injury their warriors may commit in the town."

One of the officers present at this interview was aroused by the tone
Unicorn had affected since the beginning of the audience. He was a brave
old soldier, and the cowardice of his comrades shamed him. He rose at
this point.

"Chief," he said in a firm voice, "your words are very haughty and
foolish for the mouth of an ambassador. You are here, at the head of
scarce two hundred warriors, in the heart of a town peopled by brave
men. Despite all my desire to be agreeable to you, if you do not pay
greater respect to your audience, prompt and severe justice shall be
inflicted on your insolence."

The Indian chief turned toward the new speaker, whose remarks had
aroused a sympathetic murmur.

"My words are those of a man who fears nothing, and holds in his hands
the life of five men."

"Well," the officer retorted sharply, "what do we care for them? If they
were such fools as to let you capture them, they must suffer the
consequences of their madness; we cannot pay for them. Besides, as you
have already been told, those you claim must die."

"Good! We will retire," Unicorn said haughtily. "Longer discourse is
needless; our deeds shall speak for us."

"A moment!" the general exclaimed. "All may yet be arranged. An affair
like the present cannot be settled all in a hurry; we must reflect on
the propositions made to us. My son is a chief, and will grant us
reasonable time to offer him a reply."

Unicorn bent a suspicious glance on the governor.

"My father has spoken wisely," he presently made answer. "Tomorrow at
the twelfth hour, I will come for the final answer of the palefaces. But
my father will promise me not to order the punishment of the prisoners
till he has told me the decision he has come to."

"Be it so," the general answered. "But what will the Comanches do till,
then?"

"They will leave the town as they entered it, and bivouac on the plain."

"Agreed on."

"The Master of Life has heard my father's promise. If he break his word
and possess a forked tongue, the blood shed will fall on his head."

The Comanche uttered these words in a significant tone that made the
general tremble inwardly; then he bowed to the assembly, and left the
hall with his companions. On reaching the square the chiefs remounted
their horses and placed themselves at the head of their warriors. An
hour later the Comanches had left the town, and camped within two
gunshots of the walls, on the banks of the river. It was after this
interview that Unicorn had the conversation with Valentine which we
recently described.

Still, when the Mexican officers were alone with the general, their
courage returned all at once, and they reproached him for the little
dignity he had displayed before the Indians, and specially for the
promise he had made them. The general listened to them calmly, with a
smile on his lips, and contented himself with answering them, in a tone,
of indescribable meaning,--

"The promise you allude to pledges me to nothing. Between this and
tomorrow certain things will happen to free us from the Comanches, and
let us dispense with surrendering the prisoners they demand so
insolently."



CHAPTER XI.

PSYCHOLOGICAL.


About half a league to the west of Santa Fe three men and a woman were
seated behind a dense clump of trees, which sheltered while rendering
them unseen, over a _bois-de-vache_ fire, supping with good appetite,
and chatting together. The three men were Red Cedar's sons; the female
was Ellen. The maiden was pale and sad: her dreamy eye wandered around
with a distraught expression. She listened hardly to what her brothers
said, and would certainly have been greatly embarrassed to describe the
conversation, for her mind was elsewhere.

"Hum!" Sutter said, "what the deuce can keep the old one so long? He
told us he should be back by four o'clock at the latest; but the sun is
just disappearing on the horizon, and he has not come yet."

"Pshaw!" Nathan said with a shrug of the shoulders. "Are you afraid that
something has happened to him? The old chap has beak and nails to defend
himself; and since his last turn up with Don Miguel, the fellow who is
to be shot tomorrow at Santa Fe, he has kept on his guard."

"I care very little," Sutter replied brusquely, "whether father is here
or not; but I believe we should do well not to wait longer, but return
to the camp, where our presence is doubtless necessary."

"Nonsense! Our comrades can do without us," Shaw observed. "We are all
right here, so suppose we stop the night. Tomorrow it will be day. Well,
if father has not returned by sunrise, we will go back to camp. Harry
and Dick can keep good order till our return."

"In truth, Shaw is right," Nathan said. "Father is at times so strange,
that he might be angry with us for not having waited for him; for he
never does anything lightly. If he told us to stay here, he probably had
his reasons."

"Let us stay, then," Sutter remarked carelessly. "I ask for nothing
better. We shall only have to keep the fire up, and so one of us will
watch while the others sleep."

"Agreed on," Nathan replied. "In that way, if the old man comes during
our sleep, he will see that we waited for him."

The three brothers rose. Sutter and Nathan collected a pile of dry wood
to maintain the fire, while Shaw intertwined a few branches to make his
sister a sufficient shelter for the night. The two elder brothers thrust
their feet toward the fire, wrapped themselves in their blankets, and
went to sleep, after advising Shaw to keep a bright lookout, not only
against wild beasts, but to announce the old squatter's approach. Shaw,
after stirring up the fire, threw himself at the foot of a larch tree,
and letting his head sink on his chest, plunged into deep and painful
meditation.

This poor boy, hardly twenty years of age, was a strange composite of
good and evil qualities. Reared in the desert, he had grown up like one
of its native trees, thrusting out here and there branches full of
powerful sap. Nothing had ever thwarted his instincts, no matter what
their nature might be. Possessing no cognizance of justice and
injustice, he had never been able to appreciate the squatter's conduct,
or see the injury he did society by the life he led. Habituated to
regard as belonging to himself all that he wished for, allowing himself
to be guided by his impressions and caprices, never having felt any
other fetter than his father's despotic will, this young man had at once
a nature expansive and reserved, generous and avaricious, gentle and
cruel: in a word, he possessed all the qualities of his vices; but he
was, before all, a man of sensations. Endowed with a vast intellect,
extreme audacity, and lively comprehensions, he would have been
indubitably a remarkable man, had he been born in a different position.

His sister Ellen was the only member of his family for whom he
experienced sympathy; and yet it was only with extreme reserve that he
intrusted his boyish secrets to her--secrets which, during the last few
days, had acquired an importance he did not himself suspect, but which
his sister, with the innate intelligence of woman, had already divined.

Shaw, as we have said, was thinking. The young savage's indomitable
nature revolted against an unknown force which had suddenly sprung up in
his heart--mastered and subdued him in spite of all his efforts. He was
in love! He loved, ignorant even of the meaning of the word love, which
comprises in this nether world all earthly joy and suffering. Vainly he
sought to explain his feelings; but no light flashed across his mind, or
illumined the darkness of his heart. He loved without desire and without
hope, involuntarily obeying that divine law which compels even the
roughest man to seek a mate. He was dreaming of Doña Clara. He loved
her, as he was capable of loving, with that passionate impetuosity, that
violence of feeling, to which his uncultivated mind adapted him. The
sight of the maiden caused him a strange trouble, which he did not
attempt to account for. He did not try to analyse his feelings, for that
would have been impossible; and yet at times he was a prey to cold and
terrible fury, when thinking that the haughty maiden, who was even
unconscious of his existence, would probably only spurn and despise him
if she knew it. He was yielding to these crushing thoughts, when he
suddenly felt a hand laid on his shoulder. On turning, Ellen stood
before him, upright and motionless, like the white apparitions of the
German legends. He raised his head, and bent an inquiring glance on his
sister.

"You are not asleep, Ellen?"

"No," she answered in a voice soft as a bird's song. "Brother, my heart
is sad."

"What is the matter, Ellen? Why not enjoy a few hours of that repose so
necessary for you?"

"My heart is sad, I tell you, brother," she went on. "In vain do I seek
sleep--it flies far from me."

"Sister, tell me the cause of your sufferings, and perhaps I can appease
the grief that devours you."

"Can you not guess it?"

"I do not understand you."

She looked at him so sternly that he could not let his eyes fall.

"On the contrary, you understand me too well, Shaw," she said with a
sigh. "Your heart rejoices at this moment at the misfortune of the woman
you should defend."

The young man blushed.

"What can I do?" he murmured faintly.

"Everything, if you have the firm will," she exclaimed energetically.

"No," Shaw went on, shaking his head with discouragement; "the person of
whom you speak is the old man's prisoner. I cannot contend against my
father."

Ellen smiled contemptuously.

"You seek in vain to hide your thoughts from me," she said harshly. "I
read your heart as an open book: your sorrow is feigned, and you really
rejoice at the thought that in future you will constantly be by Doña
Clara's side."

"I!" he exclaimed with an angry start.

"Yes, you only see in her captivity a means to approach her. Your
selfish heart is secretly gladdened by that hope."

"You are harsh to me, sister. Heaven is my witness that, were it
possible, I would at once restore her the liberty torn from her."

"You can if you like."

"No, it is impossible. My father watches too closely over his prisoner."

"He will not distrust you, but allow you to approach her freely."

"What you ask of me is impossible."

"Because you will not, Shaw. Remember that women only love men in
proportion to the sacrifices they make for them: they despise cowards."

"But how to save her?"

"That is your affair, Shaw."

"At least give me some advice which will help me to escape from the
difficult position in which I find myself."

"In such serious circumstances your heart must guide you, and you must
only ask counsel of it."

"But the old one?" Shaw said hesitatingly.

"Our father will not know your movements. I take on myself to prevent
him noticing them."

"Good!" the young man remarked, half convinced; "but I do not know where
the maiden is hidden."

"I will tell you, if you swear to do all in your power to save her."

There was a moment of silence.

"I swear to obey you, Ellen. If I do not succeed in carrying the girl
off, I will at any rate employ all my intellect to obtain that result.
Speak, then, without fear."

"Doña Clara is confined at the Rancho del Coyote: she was intrusted to
Andrés Garote."

"Ah, ah!" the young man said, as if speaking to himself, "I did not
fancy her so near us."

"You will save her?"

"At all events I will try to free her from the hands of the man who
guards her."

"Good!" the maiden remarked; "I now recognise you. Lose no time: my
father's absence alarms me. Perhaps at this moment he is preparing a
safer hiding place for his prisoner."

"Your idea is excellent, sister. Who knows whether it is not too late
now to tear from the old man the prey he covets?"

"When do you intend to start?"

"At once: I have not a moment to lose. If the old man returned I should
be compelled to remain here. But who will keep watch while my brothers
sleep?"

"I will," the maiden answered resolutely.

"Whence arises the interest you feel in this woman, sister, as you do
not know her?" the young man asked in surprise.

"She is a woman, and unhappy. Are not those reasons sufficient?"

"Perhaps so," Shaw remarked doubtfully.

"Child!" Ellen muttered, "Can you not read in your own heart, the motive
of my conduct toward this stranger?"

The young savage started at this remark.

"It is true!" He exclaimed passionately. "Pardon me, sister! I am mad;
but I love you, and you know me better than I do myself."

And rising hurriedly, he kissed his sister, threw his rifle over his
shoulder, and ran off in the direction of Santa Fe.

When he had disappeared in the gloom, and the sound of his footsteps had
died out in the distance, the girl fell on the ground, muttering in a
low, sad voice:

"Will he succeed?"



CHAPTER XII.

DIAMOND CUT DIAMOND.


Red Cedar did not remain long under the effect of the startling insult
he had received. Pride, wrath, and, before all, the desire to avenge
himself restored his strength, and a few minutes after Don Pablo
Zarate's departure the squatter had regained all his coolness and
audacity.

"You see, señor padre," he said, addressing the monk, "that our little
plans are known to our enemies; we must, therefore, make haste if we do
not wish to see persons break in here, from whom it is of the utmost
importance to conceal ourselves. Tomorrow night at the latest, perhaps
before, we shall start. Do not stir from here till my return. Your face
is too well known at Santa Fe for you to venture to show it in the
streets without imprudence."

"Hum!" the monk muttered, "That demon, whom I fancied dead, is a rude
adversary. Fortunately we shall soon have nothing more to fear from his
father, for I hardly know how we should get out of it."

"If the son has escaped us," Red Cedar said with an ugly smile, "that is
fortunately not the case with the father. Don't be alarmed; Don Miguel
will cause us no further embarrassment."

"I wish it most earnestly, _canarios!_ for he is a determined man; but I
confess to you that I shall not be entirely at my ease till I have seen
him fall beneath the bullets of the soldiers."

"You will not have long to wait. General Ventura has ordered me to go
and meet the regiment of dragoons he expects, in order to hurry them on,
and bring them into the town this very night, if possible. So soon as
the governor has an imposing force at his disposal he will no longer
fear a revolt on the part of the troops, and give the order for
execution without delay."

"May Heaven grant it! But," he added with a sigh of regret, "what a pity
that most of our scamps deserted us! We should have almost arrived at
the placer by this time, and been safe from the vengeance of our
enemies."

"Patience, señor padre; all is for the best, perhaps, trust to me.
Andrés, my horse."

"You will start at once, then?"

"Yes. I recommend you to watch carefully over our prisoner."

The monk shrugged his shoulders.

"Our affairs are tolerably well embarrassed already; then why burden
ourselves with a woman?"

The squatter frowned.

"That is my business," he exclaimed in a peremptory tone. "Keep all
stupid observations to yourself. A thousand devils! I know what I am
about. That woman will possibly prove our safeguard at a later date."

And mounting his horse, Red Cedar galloped out of Santa Fe.

"Hum!" Andrés Garote said as he watched him depart, "what a diabolical
eye! Though I have known him several years, I never saw him like that
before. How will all this end?"

Without further remarks he arranged matters in the rancho, repairing as
well as he could the disorder caused by the previous struggle; then he
took a look round him. The monk, with his elbows on the table and a
cigarette in his mouth, was drinking the fluid left in the bottle,
doubtless to console himself for the _navajada_ with which Don Pablo had
favoured him.

"Why, señor padre," the ranchero said in an insinuating voice, "do you
know that it is hardly five o'clock?"

"Do you think so?" the other answered for the sake of saying something.

"Does not the time seem to you to go very slowly?"

"Extraordinarily so."

"If you liked we could easily shorten it."

"In what way?"

"Oh, for instance, with these."

And Andrés drew from his boot a pack of greasy cards, which he
complacently spread out on the table.

"Ah! That is a good idea," the monk exclaimed with sparkling eyes. "Let
us have a game of monte."

"At your orders."

"Don Andrés, you are a most worthy gentlemen. What shall we play for?"

"Ah, hang it! That is true; we must play for something," the ranchero
said, scratching his head.

"The merest trifle, simply to render the game interesting."

"Yes, but to do that man must possess the trifle."

"Do not let that trouble you. If you permit me I will make you a
proposal."

"Do so, señor. You are a remarkable clever man, and can have none but
bright ideas."

The monk bowed to his flattering insinuation.

"This is it: we will play, if you like for the share of the gold we
shall receive when we reach the placer."

"Done!" the ranchero shouted enthusiastically.

"Well," the monk said, drawing from his pocket a pack of cards no less
dirty than the others, "we can at any rate kill time."

"What! You have cards too?" the ranchero remarked.

"Yes, and quite new, as you see." Andrés bowed with an air of
conviction.

The game began at once, and soon the two men were completely absorbed in
the combinations of the _seis de copas,_ the _as de bastos_, the _dos de
oro_, and the _cuatro d'espadas_. The monk, who had no necessity to
feign at this moment, as he was in the company of a man thoroughly
acquainted with him, yielded frenziedly to his ruling passion. In
Mexico, and throughout Spanish America, the _angelus_ rings at sunset.
In those countries, where there is no twilight, night arrives without
transition, so that ere the bell has done tinkling the gloom is dense.
At the last stroke of the angelus the game ceased, as if by common
agreement between the two men, and they threw their cards on the table.

Although Garote was a passed master in trickery, and had displayed all
his science, he found in the monk so skilful an adversary that, after
more than three hours of an obstinate struggle, they both found
themselves as little advanced as at the outset. The monk, however, on
coming to the rancho, had an object which Red Cedar was far from
suspecting.

Fray Ambrosio rested his arms on the table, bent his body slightly
forward, and while carelessly playing with the cards, which he amused
himself by sorting, he said to the ranchero, as he fixed a scrutinising
glance upon him,--

"Shall we talk a little, Don Andrés?"

"Willingly," the latter replied, who had partly risen, but now fell back
on his chair.

By a secret foreboding Andrés Garote had guessed that the monk wished to
make some important proposal to him. Hence, thanks to that instinctive
intuition which rogues possess for certain things, the two men read each
other's thoughts. Fray Ambrosio bit his lips, for the gambusino's
intelligence startled him. Still the latter bent upon him a glance so
full of stupid meaning, that he continued to make a confidant of him, as
it were involuntarily.

"Señor Don Andrés," he said in a soft and insinuating voice, "what a
happiness that your poor brother, on dying, revealed to me the secret of
the rich placer, which he concealed even from yourself!"

"It is true," Andrés answered, turning slightly pale; "it was very
fortunate, señor padre. For my part, I congratulate myself on it daily."

"Is it not so? For without it the immense fortune would have been lost
to you and all else."

"It is terrible to think of."

"Well, at this moment I have a horrible fear."

"What is it, señor padre?"

"That we have deferred our departure too long, and that some of those
European vagabonds we were speaking of just now may have discovered our
placer. Those scoundrels have a peculiar scent for finding gold."

"_Caray_, señor padre!" Andrés said, striking the table with a feigned
grief (for he knew very well what the monk was saying was only a clever
way of attaining his real point), "that would drive me mad--an affair so
well managed hitherto."

"That is true," Fray Ambrosio said in corroboration. "I could never
console myself."

"_Demonios_! I have as great an interest in it as yourself, señor
padre," the gambusino replied with superb coolness. "You know that an
uninterrupted succession of unfortunate speculations robbed me of my
fortune, and I hoped thus to regain it at a stroke."

At these words Fray Ambrosio had incredible difficulty in repressing a
smile; for it was a matter of public notoriety that señor Don Andrés
Garote was a lepero, who, as regarded fortune, had never possessed a
farthing of patrimony; that throughout his life he had never been aught
but an adventurer; and that the unlucky speculations of which he
complained were simply an ill luck at monte, which had recently stripped
him of 20,000 piastres, acquired Heaven alone knew how. But señor Don
Andrés Garote was a man of unequalled bravery, gifted with a fertile and
ready mind, whom the accidents of life had compelled to live for a
lengthened period on the _llanos_ (prairies), whose paths he knew as
thoroughly as he did the tricks of those who dwelt on them. Hence, and
for many other reasons, Andrés Garote was an invaluable comrade for Fray
Ambrosio, who had also a bitter revenge to take on the monte table,
because he pretended to place the most sincere faith in what it pleased
his honourable mate to say touching his lost fortune.

"However," he said, after an instant's reflection, "supposing that the
placer is intact, and that no one has discovered it, we shall have a
long journey to reach it."

"Yes," the gambusino remarked, significantly; "the road is difficult and
broadcast with perils innumerable."

"We must march with our chins on our shoulders, and finger on the rifle
trigger--"

"Fight nearly constantly with wild beasts or Indians--"

"In a word, do you not believe that the woman Red Cedar has carried off
will prove a horrid bore?"

"Dreadfully so," Andrés made answer, with an intelligent glance.

"What is to be done?"

"Hang it! That is difficult to say."

"Still we cannot run the risk, on account of a wretched woman, of having
our hair raised by the Indians."

"That's true enough."

"Is she here?"

"Yes," the gambusino said, pointing to a door; "in that room."

"Hum!"

"You remarked--"

"Nothing."

"Could we not--"

"What?"

"It is perhaps difficult," Andrés continued, with feigned hesitation.

"Explain yourself."

The gambusino seemed to make up his mind.

"Suppose we restore her to her family?" he said.

"I have thought of that already."

"That is strange."

"It must be all managed very cleverly."

"And the relations pay a proper ransom."

"That is what I meant to say.".

There was a silence.

Decidedly these two honourable persons were made to understand one
another.

"But who is to undertake this delicate mission?" asked the monk.

"I, _con mil demonios!_" the gambusino exclaimed, his eyes sparkling
with greed at the thought of the rich ransom he would demand.

"But if Red Cedar were to find out," the monk remarked, "that we
surrendered his prisoner?"

"Who will tell him?"

"I am sure I shan't."

"Nor I."

"It is very easy; the girl will have escaped."

"Quite true."

"Do not let us lose time, then. You have a horse?"

"I have two."

"Bravo! You will place Doña Clara on one, and mount the other yourself."

"And go straight to the Hacienda de la Noria."

"That is it. Don Pablo will be delighted to recover his sister, whom he
expected never to see again, and will not haggle over the price he pays
for her deliverance."

"Famous! In that way we run no risk of not reaching the placer, as our
party will only consist of men."

"Excellently reasoned!"

Andrés Garote rose with a smile which would have caused the monk to
reflect, had he seen it; but at the same moment the latter was rubbing
his hands, saying in a low voice, and with a most satisfied air,--

"Now, my scamp, I've got you."

What secret thought possessed these two men, who were carrying on a
mutual deceit, none save themselves could have said. The gambusino
approached the door of the room where Doña Clara was confined, and put
the key in the lock. At this moment two vigorous blows were dealt on the
door of the rancho, which had been carefully bolted after Red Cedar's
departure. The two accomplices started.

"Must I open?" Andrés asked.

"Yes," the monk answered; "hesitation or refusal might create alarm. In
our position we must foresee everything."

The ranchero went to open the door, which the newcomer threatened to
break in. A man walked in, who took a careful glance around, then doffed
his hat and bowed. The confederates exchanged a glance of vexation on
recognising him, for he was no other than Shaw, Red Cedar's youngest
son.

"I am afraid I disturb you, gentlemen," the young man said, with an
ironical smile.

"Not at all," Andrés made answer; "on the contrary, we are delighted to
see you."

"Thanks!"

And the young man fell back into a butaca.

"You are very late at Santa Fe," the monk remarked.

"It is true," the American said, with some embarrassment; "I am looking
for my father, and fancied I should find him here."

"He was so a few hours back, but he was obliged to leave us."

"Ah!"

This exclamation was rather drawn from the young man by the necessity he
felt of replying, than through any interest he took in the information
afforded him. He was evidently preoccupied; but Fray Ambrosio did not
appear to notice it, as he continued,--

"Yes: it appears that his Excellency the Governor ordered your father to
go and meet a regiment of dragoons intended to reinforce the garrison,
and hasten its march."

"That is true; I forgot it."

The monk and the miner did not at all understand the American's conduct,
and lost themselves in conjectures as to the reasons that brought him to
the rancho. They guessed instinctively that what he said about his
father was only a pretext or means of introduction; and that a powerful
motive, he would not or dared not avow, had brought him. For his part,
the young man, in coming to the Rancho del Coyote, where he knew that
Doña Clara was imprisoned, expected to find Andrés alone, with whom he
hoped to come to an understanding in some way or another. The presence
of the monk disturbed all his plans. Still, time was slipping away he
must make up his mind, and, before all, profit by Red Cedar's
providential absence, which offered him an opportunity he could hardly
dare to hope again.



CHAPTER XIII.

A STORMY DISCUSSION.


Shaw was not timid, as we have said--he ought rather be accused of the
opposite excess; he was not the man, once his resolution was formed, to
let anything soever turn him from it. His hesitation was not long; he
suddenly rose, and violently stamping his rifle butt on the ground,
looked at the two men, while saying in a firm voice,--

"Be frank, my presence here at this hour astonishes you, and you ask
yourselves what cause can have brought me."

"Sir," the monk said, with a certain degree of hesitation rendered
highly natural by the young man's tone.

"Pardon me," Shaw exclaimed, interrupting him, "the cause you will seek
in vain. I will tell you: I have come to deliver Doña Clara."

"Can it be possible?" the two men exclaimed with stupefaction.

"It is so; whether you like it or not, I care little. I am the man to
hold my own against both of you, and no one can prevent me restoring the
maiden to her father, as I have resolved on doing."

"What do I hear?" said Fray Ambrosio.

"Hum!" the young man continued quickly, "Believe me, do not attempt any
useless resistance, for I have resolved, if needs must, to pass over
your bodies to success."

"But we have not the slightest wish--"

"Take care," he interrupted him in a voice full of menace and frowning,
"I will only leave this house accompanied by her I wish to save."

"Sir," the monk remarked, in an authoritative voice which momentarily
quelled the young savage, "two words of explanation."

"Make haste!" he answered, "For I warn you that my patience is
exhausted."

"I do not insist on your listening any length of time. You have come
here, you say, with the intention of delivering Doña Clara?"

"Yes," he answered impatiently, "and if you attempt to oppose it--"

"Pardon me," the monk interrupted, "such a determination on your part
naturally surprises us."

"Why so?" the young man said, raising his head haughtily.

"Because," Fray Ambrosio answered tranquilly, "You are the son of Red
Cedar, and it is at least I strange that--"

"Enough talking," Shaw exclaimed violently; "will you or not give me up
her I have come to seek?"

"I must know, in the first place, what you intend doing with her.

"How does that concern you?"

"More than you imagine. Since that girl has been a prisoner I
constituted myself--if not her guardian, for the dress I wear forbids
that--her defender; in that quality I have the right of knowing for what
reason you, the son of the man who tore her from her family, have come
so audaciously to demand her surrender to you, and what your object is
in acting thus?"

The young man had listened to those remarks with an impatience that
became momentarily more visible; it could be seen that he made
superhuman efforts to restrain himself. When the monk stopped, he looked
at him for a moment with a strange expression, then walked up so close
as almost to touch him, drew a pair of pistols from his girdle and
pointed them at the monk.

"Surrender Doña Clara to me," he said, in a low and menacing voice.

Fray Ambrosio had attentively followed all the American's movements, and
when the latter put the pistol muzzles to his chest, the monk, with an
action rapid as lightning, also drew two pistols from his girdle, and
placed them, on his adversary's chest. There was a moment of supreme
expectation, of indescribable agony; the two men were motionless, face
to face panting, each with his fingers on a trigger, pale, and their
brows dank with cold perspiration. Andrés Garote, his lips curled by an
ironical smile, and his arms crossed, carelessly leaned against a table,
watching this scene which had for him all the attractions of a play.

All at once the door of the rancho, which had not been fastened again
after the squatter's entry was violently thrown back and a man appeared.
It was Father Seraphin. At a glance he judged the position and boldly
threw himself between the foemen, hurling them back, but not uttering a
word. The two men recoiled, and lowered their weapons, but continued to
menace each other with their glances.

"What!" the missionary said in a deep voice, "Have I arrived just in
time to prevent a double murder, gentlemen? In Heaven's name, hide those
homicidal weapons; do not stand opposite each other like wild beasts
preparing for a leap."

"Withdraw, father; you have nothing to do here. Let me treat this man as
he deserves," the squatter answered, casting at the missionary a
ferocious glance--"his life belongs to me."

"Young man," the priest replied, "the life of a fellow being belongs
only to God, who has the right to deprive, him of it; lower your
weapons"--and turning to Fray Ambrosio, he said to him in a cutting
voice, "and you who dishonour the frock you wear, throw away those
pistols which sully your hands--a minister of the altar should not
employ other weapons than the Gospel."

The monk bowed, and caused his pistols to disappear, saying in a soft
and cautious voice, "My father, I was compelled to defend my life which
that maniac assailed. Heaven is my witness that I reprove these violent
measures, too frequently employed in this unhappy country; but this man
came into the house with threats on his lips; he insisted on our
delivering a wretched girl whom this caballero," he said, pointing to
the gambusino, "and myself did not think proper to surrender."

Andrés corroborated the monk's words by a nod of the head.

"I wish to save that young girl from your hands," Shaw said, "and
restore her to her father."

"Of whom are you speaking, my friend?" the missionary asked with a
secret beating of his heart.

"Of whom should I speak, save Doña Clara de Zarate, whom these villains
retain here by force?"

"Can it be possible?" Father Seraphin exclaimed in amazement. "Doña
Clara here?"

"Ask those men," Shaw answered, roughly, as he angrily struck the butt
of his rifle against the ground.

"Is it true?" the priest inquired.

"It is," the gambusino answered.

Father Seraphin frowned, and his pale forehead was covered with febrile
ruddiness.

"Sir," he said, in a voice choking with indignation. "I summon you, in
the name of that God whom you serve, and whose minister you lay claim to
being, to restore at once to liberty the hapless girl whom you have so
unworthily imprisoned, in defiance of all laws, human and divine. I
engage to deliver her into the hands of those who bewail her loss."

Fray Ambrosio bowed; he let his eyes fall, and said in a hypocritical
voice--

"Father, you are mistaken as regards myself. I had nothing to do with
the carrying off of that poor child, which on the contrary, I opposed to
the utmost of my power; and that is so true, father," he added, "that at
the moment when this young madman arrived, the worthy gambusino and
myself had resolved, at all risks, on restoring Doña Clara to her
family."

"I should wish to believe you, sir; if I am mistaken, as you say, you
will forgive me, for appearances were against you; it only depends on
yourself to produce a perfect justification by carrying out my wishes."

"You shall be satisfied, father," the monk replied. At a signal from him
Garote left the room. During the few words interchanged between the two
men, Shaw remained motionless, hesitating, not knowing what he ought to
do; but he suddenly made up his mind, threw his rifle over his shoulder,
and turned to the missionary.

"Father," he said respectfully, "my presence is now needless here.
Farewell; my departure will prove to you the purity of my intentions."

And turning suddenly on his heel, he hurried out of the rancho. A few
moments after his departure the gambusino returned, Doña Clara following
him.

Doña Clara no longer wore the dress of the whites, for Red Cedar, in
order to render her unrecognizable, had compelled her to don the Indian
garb, which the maiden wore with an innate grace which heightened its
strange elegance. Like all Indian squaws, she was attired in two white
chemises of striped calico--the one fastened around the neck, fell to
the hips; while the other, drawn in at the waist, descended to her
ankles. Her neck was adorned with collars of fine pearls, mingled with
those small shells called wampum, and employed by the Indians as money.
Her arms and ankles were surrounded by wide circles of gold, and a small
diadem of the same metal relieved the pale tint of her forehead.
Moccasins of deer hide, embroidered with wool and beads of every colour
imprisoned her small and high-arched feet.

As she entered the room, a shadow of melancholy and sadness spread over
her face, adding, were that possible, a further charm to her person. On
seeing the missionary, Doña Clara uttered a cry of joy, and rushed
toward him, fell into his arms, and murmured in a heart-rending voice:--

"Father! save me! save me!"

"Be calm, my daughter!" the priest said to her, gently. "You have
nothing more to fear now that I am near you."

"Come!" she exclaimed, wildly, "Let us fly from this accursed house, in
which I have suffered so greatly."

"Yes, my daughter, we will go; set your mind at rest."

"You see, father," Fray Ambrosio said, hypocritically, "that I did not
deceive you."

The missionary cast at the monk a glance of undefinable meaning.

"I trust that you spoke truly," he replied; "the God who gauges hearts
will judge you according to works. I will rescue this maiden at once."

"Do so, father; I am happy to know her under your protection."

And picking up the cloak which Don Pablo left after blinding Red Cedar,
he placed it delicately on the shuddering shoulders of Doña Clara, in
order to conceal her Indian garb. Father Seraphin drew her arm through
his own, and led her from the rancho. Ere long they disappeared in the
darkness. Fray Ambrosio looked after them as long as he could see them,
and then re-entered the room, carefully bolting the door after him.

"Well," Andrés Garote asked him, "what do you think, señor Padre, of all
that has happened?"

"Perhaps things are better as they are."

"And Red Cedar?"

"I undertake to render ourselves as white in his sight as the snows of
the Caffre de Perote."

"Hum! it will be difficult."

"Perhaps so."



CHAPTER XIV.

THE MYSTERY.


On leaving the Rancho del Coyote, Red Cedar dug his spurs into his
horse's flanks, and galloped in a south-western direction. So soon as he
was out of the town he turned to the left, took a narrow path that ran
round the walls, pulled up his horse, and advanced with the utmost
caution. Throwing suspicious glances on either side, he went on thus for
about three-quarters of an hour, when he reached a house, in one of the
windows of which burned three wax tapers.

The lights thus arranged were evidently a signal for the squatter, for
so soon as he came to the house he stopped and dismounted, attached his
horse to a larch-tree, and prudently concealing himself behind a
thicket, imitated thrice at equal intervals the hu-hu of an owl. The
lights burning in the window were extinguished, as if by enchantment.

The night was gloomy, only a few stars studded the vault of heaven; a
leaden silence brooded over the plain, which appeared quite solitary. At
this moment a voice could be heard from the house which Red Cedar was
watching so carefully. The squatter listened; the speaker leaned for a
second out of the window looked cautiously round, and disappeared
muttering loud enough for the American to overhear--

"All is quiet in the neighbourhood."

"Still," the squatter said, without showing himself, "the coyotes prowl
about the plain."

"Are you coming or going?" the man at the window continued.

"Both," the squatter answered, still hidden behind his bush.

"You can come on, for you are expected."

"I know it; hence here I am."

While making this answer, the squatter left his hiding place, and placed
himself before the door with folded arms, like a man who has nothing to
fear.

The door was cautiously opened; a man emerged, carefully wrapped up in,
a wide cloak, which only allowed eyes to be seen, that flashed in the
gloom like a jackal's. This person walked straight up to Red Cedar.

"Well," he asked, in a low voice, "have you reflected?"

"Yes."

"And what is the result of your reflections?"

"I refuse."

"Still?"

"More than ever."

"Take care."

"I do not care, Don Melchior, for I am not afraid of you."

"No names!" the stranger exclaimed, impatiently.

"We are alone."

"No one is ever alone in the desert."

"That is true," Red Cedar muttered. "Let us return to our business."

"It is simple--give and give."

"Hum! You get to work very fast; unfortunately it cannot be so."

"Why not?"

"Why, because I am growing tired of constantly taking in my nets game by
which others profit, and which I ought to keep as a safeguard."

"You call that girl a guarantee?"

"By Heaven! what else do you mean to make of her?"

"Do not compare me with you, scoundrel!"

"Where is the difference between us? I am a scoundrel, I grant; but, by
heaven, you are another, my master, however powerful you may be."

"Listen, caballero!" the stranger answered, in a cutting voice. "I will
lose no more of my time in discoursing with you. I want that girl, and
will have her, whatever you may do to prevent me."

"Good; in that case you declare war against me?" the squatter said, with
a certain tinge of alarm, which he tried in vain to conceal.

The stranger shrugged his shoulders.

"We have known one another long enough to be perfectly well acquainted;
we can only be friends or foes. Is not that your opinion?"

"Yes."

"Well, then, hand Doña Clara over to me, and I will give you the papers
which--"

"Enough!" the squatter said, sharply. "Have you those papers about you?"

The stranger burst into a laugh.

"Do you take me for such a fool?" he said.

"I do not understand you."

"I will not insult you by believing you. No, I have not those papers
about me. I am not such an ass as to risk assassination at your hands."

"What would your death profit me?"

"Hang it all! If it were only my scalp you would be sure to receive at
least fifty dollars for it."

At this mournful jest the squatter began laughing.

"I did not think of that," he said,

"Listen to me, Red Cedar, and print the words on your memory."

"Speak."

"In a month from today, hour for hour, day for day, wherever you may be,
I shall present myself to you."

"For what purpose?' the squatter asked impudently.

"To repeat my demand with reference to the prisoner."

"Then, as now, I shall reply No, my master."

"Perhaps so. Live and learn. Now good-bye, and may the devil, your
patron saint, preserve you in good health until our next meeting. You
know that I have you tight; so consider yourself warned."

"Good, good! Threats do not frighten me. _Demonios_, since I have been
traversing the desert, I have found myself opposed to enemies quite as
dangerous as you, and yet I managed to get quit of them."

"That is possible, Red Cedar; but believe me, meditate carefully on my
words."

"I repeat that your threats do not frighten me."

"I do not threaten, I warn you."

"Hum! Well, then, listen in your turn. In the desert, every man armed
with a good rifle has nothing to fear from whomsoever."

"What next?" the stranger interrupted him, in a sarcastic voice.

"Well, my rifle is excellent, I have a sure aim, and I say no more."

"Nonsense, you are mad! I defy you to kill me!"

"Hang it, though, what can be your motive for wishing to have this girl
in your power?"

"That is no affair of yours. I have no explanations due to you. Enough
for you to know that I want her."

"You shall not have her."

"We shall see. Good-bye, Red Cedar."

"Good-bye, Don Melchior, or whatever be the name you please to bear."

The stranger made no reply, but turned his head with a gesture of
contempt, and whistled. A man emerged from the house, holding a horse by
the bridle; at one bound the stranger reached the saddle, and ordered
the servant to withdraw.

"Farewell, _Compadre_, remember our appointment."

And loosing his reins, the stranger started at a gallop, not
condescending even to turn his head. Red Cedar looked after him with an
indescribable expression of rage.

"Oh," he muttered in a low voice, "demon! Shall I never free myself from
your clutches?"

And with a motion rapid as thought he shouldered his rifle, and aimed at
the departing man. All at once the latter turned his horse, and stood
right opposite Red Cedar.

"Mind not to miss me!" he cried, with a burst of laughter that caused a
cold perspiration to bead on the bandit's forehead.

The latter let his rifle fall, saying in a hollow voice: "He is right,
and I am mad! If I only had the papers!"

The stranger waited for a moment calm and motionless; then he started
again and soon disappeared in the darkness. Red Cedar stood with his
body bowed forward, and his ears on the watch, so long as the horse's
hoofs could be heard; then he returned to his own steed, and bounded
into the saddle.

"Now to go and warn the dragoons," he said, and pushed on.

The squatter had scarce departed ere several men appeared from either
side; they were Valentine, Curumilla, and Don Pablo on the right;
Unicorn and Eagle-wing on the left. Valentine and his friends were
astonished at meeting the Comanche chief, whom they believed gone back
to his camp; but the sachem explained to them, in a few words, how, at
the moment he was crossing the spot where they now were, he had heard
Red Cedar's voice, and concealed himself in the shrubs in order to
overhear the squatter's colloquy with his strange friend. Valentine had
done the same; but, unfortunately, the party had been greatly
disappointed, for the squatter's conversation remained to them an
enigma, of which they sought the key in vain.

"'Tis strange," Valentine remarked, as he passed his hand several times
across his forehead. "I do not know where I have seen the man just now
talking here with Red Cedar, but I have a vague reminiscence of having
met him before, where and under what circumstance I try, though in vain,
to recall."

"What shall we do?" Don Pablo asked.

"Hang it, what we agreed on;" and turning to the chief, he said, "Good
luck, brother, I believe we shall save our friend."

"I am sure of it," the Indian replied, laconically.

"May heaven hear you, brother," Valentine continued. "Act! While, on
your side, you watch the town for fear of treason. We then will ambush
ourselves on the road the gambusinos must take, in order to know
positively the direction in which they are proceeding. Till tomorrow,
chief!"

"Stop!" a panting voice exclaimed, and a man suddenly appeared in the
midst of them.

"Father Seraphin!" Valentine said in a surprise. "What chance brings you
this way?"

"I was looking for you."

"What do you want with me?"

"To give you some good news."

"Speak! Speak quickly, father! Has Don Miguel left his prison?"

"Alas! Not yet; but his daughter is free!"

"Doña Clara free!" Valentine shouted joyously. "Heaven be blessed! Where
is she?"

"She is temporarily in safety, be assured of that; but let me give you a
warning, which may perhaps prove useful to you."

"Speak! Speak!"

"By order of the governor, Red Cedar has gone to meet the regiment of
dragoons, coming up to reinforce the Santa Fe garrison."

"_Caramba_," Valentine said, "are you sure of your statement, father?"

"I am: in my presence, the men who carried off Doña Clara spoke about
it."

"All is lost if these soldiers arrive."

"Yes," the missionary said; "but, how to prevent it?"

Curumilla lightly touched the leader's arm.

"What do you want, chief!"

"The Comanches are warriors," Curumilla answered, curtly.

"Ah!" Valentine exclaimed, and tapping his forehead with delight, "that
is true, chief; you save us."

Curumilla smiled with pleasure.

"While you go in pursuit of the soldiers," said Don Pablo, "as I can be
of no service to you, I will accompany Father Seraphin to my poor
sister, whom I have not seen so long, and am eager to embrace."

"Do so," Valentine answered. "At daybreak you will bring Doña Clara to
the camp, that I may myself deliver her to her father."

"That is agreed."

Valentine, Curumilla, and Unicorn rushed out in the plain, while Father
Seraphin and Don Pablo returned to the town. The two gentlemen, anxious
to join the girl, did not perceive that they were closely watched by an
individual, who followed their every movement, while careful not to be
seen by them. It was Nathan, Red Cedar's eldest son.

How was that man there?



CHAPTER XXXIX.

THE AMBUSCADE.


The nigh breeze had swept the clouds away; the sky, of a deep azure, was
studded with an infinity of stars; the night was limpid, the atmosphere
so transparent as to allow the slightest varieties of the landscape to
be distinguished. About four leagues from Santa Fe, a numerous band of
horsemen was following a path scarce traced in the tall grass, which
approached the town with countless turns and windings. These horsemen,
who marched in rather decent order, were nearly 600 in number, and
formed the regiment of dragoons so anxiously expected by General
Ventura.

About ten paces ahead rode four or five officers gaily chatting
together, among whom was the colonel. The regiment continued its march
slowly, advancing cautiously, through fear of losing its way in a
perfectly strange country. The colonel and his officers who had always
fought in the States bordering the Atlantic, found themselves now for
the first time in these savage countries.

"Caballeros," the colonel suddenly remarked, "I confess to you that I am
completely ignorant as to our whereabouts. Can any one of you throw a
light on the subject? This road is fearful, it seems to lead nowhere,
and I am afraid we have lost our way."

"We are all as ignorant as yourself on that head, colonel," an officer
answered, "not one of us could say where we are."

"On my word!" the colonel went on, taking a glance of satisfaction
around, "We are not in a hurry to reach Santa Fe. I suppose it makes
little difference whether we get there today or tomorrow. I believe that
the best thing for us to do is to bivouac here for the rest of the
night; at sunrise we will start again."

"You are right, colonel," the officer said, whom he seemed to address
most particularly, "a few hours' delay is of no consequence, and we run
the risk of going out of our course."

"Give the order to halt."

The officer immediately obeyed; the soldiers, wearied with a long
night's march, greeted with shouts of joy the order to stop. They
dismounted. The horses were unsaddled and picketed, campfires were
lighted, in less than an hour the bivouac was arranged.

The colonel, in desiring to camp for the night, had a more serious fear
than that of losing his way; it was that of falling in with a party of
_Indios bravos._

The colonel was brave, and had proved it on many occasions; grown gray
in harness, he was an old soldier who feared nothing in the world
particularly; but accustomed to warfare in the interior of the Republic,
had never seen opposed to him any but civilised foes, he professed for
the Indians that instinctive fear which all the Mexicans entertain, and
he would not risk a fight with an Apache or Comanche war party in the
middle of the night, in a country whose resources he did not know, and
run the risk of having his regiment cut to pieces by such Protean
enemies. On the other hand, he was unaware that the governor of Santa Fe
had such pressing need of his presence, and this authorised him in
acting with the utmost precaution. Still, as soon as the bivouac was
established, and the sentries posted, the colonel sent off a dozen
resolute men under an Alferez, to trot up the country and try to procure
a guide.

We will observe, in passing, that in Spanish America, so soon as you
leave the capitals, such as Lima, or Mexico, roads, such as we
understand them in Europe, no longer exist; you only find paths traced,
in nine cases out of ten, by the footprints of wild beasts, and which
are so entangled one with the other, that, unless you have been long
accustomed to them, it is almost impossible to find your way. The
Spaniards, we grant, laid out wide and firm roads, but since the War of
Independence, they had been cut up, deteriorated and so abandoned by the
neglect of the ephemeral governments that have followed each other in
Mexico, that with the exception of the great highways of communication
in the interior of the country, the rest had disappeared under the
herbage.

The little squad of troopers sent out to beat up the country had started
at a gallop, but it soon reduced its pace, and the soldiers and sergeant
began laughing and talking, caring little for the important mission with
which they were intrusted. The moon rose on the horizon, shedding her
fantastic rays over the ground. As we have said, it was one of those
lovely nights of the American desert full of strange odours. A majestic
silence hovered over the plain, only disturbed at intervals by those
sounds, without any known cause, which are heard on the savannahs, and
which seem to be the respiration of the sleeping world. Suddenly the
mockingbird sung twice, and its plaintive and soft song resounded
melodiously through the air.

"Hallo," one of the dragoons said, addressing his comrade, "that's a
bird that sings very late."

"An evil omen," the other said with a shake of his head.

"_Canarios_! What omen are you talking about, comrade?"

"I have always heard say," the second, speaker remarked sententiously,
"that when you hear a bird sing on your left at night it predicts
misfortune."

"The deuce confound you and your prognostics."

At this moment the song, which appeared previously some distance off,
could be heard much more close, and seemed to come from some trees on
the side of the path the dragoons were following. The Alferez raised his
head and stopped, as if mechanically trying to explain the sound that
smote his ears; but all became silent again, so he shook his head and
continued his conversation. The detachment had been out more than an
hour. During this long stroll, the soldiers had discovered nothing
suspicious; as for the guide they sought, it is needless to say that
they had not found him, for they had not met a living soul. The Alferez
was about to give orders to return to camp, when one of the troopers
pointed out to him some heavy, black forms, apparently prowling about
unsuspiciously.

"What on earth can that be?" the officer asked, after carefully
examining what was pointed out to him.

"_Caspita_," one of the dragoons exclaimed, "that is easy to see; they
are browsing deer!"

"Deer!" said the Alferez, in whom the hunter's instinct was suddenly
aroused, "there are at least thirty; suppose we try to catch some."

"It is difficult."

"Pshaw!" another soldier shouted, "It is light enough for each of us to
send them a bullet."

"You must by no means use your carbines," the Alferez interposed
sharply; "if our shots, re-echoed through the mountains, caught the ears
of the Indians, who are probably ambushed in the thickets, we should be
ruined."

"What is to be done, then?"

"Lasso them, _caspita_, as you wish to try and catch them."

"That is true; I did not think of that."

The dragoons, delighted at the opportunity of indulging in their
favourite sport, dismounted, fastened their horses to the roadside trees
and seized their lassos. They then advanced cautiously toward the deer,
which continued grazing tranquilly, without appearing to suspect that
enemies were so near them. On arriving at a short distance from the
game, the dragoons separated in order to have room for whirling their
lassos, and making a covering of each tree, they managed to approach
within fifteen paces of the animals. Then they stopped, exchanged
glances, carefully calculated the distance, and, at a signal from their
leader, sent their lassos whizzing through the air.

A strange thing happened at this moment, however. All the deer hides
fell simultaneously to the ground, displaying Valentine, Curumilla, and
a dozen Comanche warriors, who, profiting by the stupor of the troopers
at their extraordinary metamorphosis, hunted the hunters by throwing
lassos over their shoulders and hurled them to the ground. The ten
dragoons and their leader were prisoners.

"Well, my friends," Valentine said with a grin, "how do you like that
sort of fun?"

The startled dragoons made no reply, but allowed themselves to be bound;
one alone muttered between his teeth:--

"I was quite sure that villain of a mockingbird would bring us ill luck;
it sang on our left. That never deceives, _Canarios!_"

Valentine smiled at this sally. He then placed two fingers in his mouth
and imitated the cry of the mockingbird with such perfection, that the
soldier looked up at the trees. He had scarce ended, when a rustling was
heard among the bushes, and a man leaped between the hunters and their
prisoners. It was Eagle-wing, the sachem of the Coras.



CHAPTER XVI.

A FRIENDLY DISCUSSION.


After leaving his enemy (for the mysterious man with whom he had so
stormy a discussion could be nothing else), Red Cedar set out to join
the regiment, and hasten its arrival according to the orders he had
received. In spite of himself, the squatter was suffering from
extraordinary nervousness, and involuntarily he went over the various
points of the conversation with the person who took such precautions in
communicating with him. The threats he had proffered recurred to his
mind. It appeared as if the bandit, who feared nothing in the world, had
good reason, however, for trembling in the presence of the man who, for
more than an hour, had crushed him with his irony. What reason could be
so powerful as to produce so startling a change in this indomitable
being? No one could have said; for the squatter was master of his
secret, and would have mercilessly killed anybody he suspected of having
read even a portion of it.

The reason was, at any rate, very powerful; for after a few minutes of
deep thought, his hand let go the reins and his head fell on his breast:
the horse, no longer feeling the curb, stopped and began nibbling the
young tree shoots. The squatter did not notice this halt; he was
thinking, and hoarse exclamations now and then came from his chest, like
the growling of a wild beast. At length he raised his head.

"No," he shouted, as he directed a savage glance at the starlit sky,
"any struggle with that demon is impossible. I must fly, so soon as
possible, to the prairies of the far west. I will leave this implacable
foe; I will fly from him, as the lion does, carrying off my prey in my
claws. I have not a moment to lose. What do I care for the Spaniards and
their paltry disputes? General Ventura will seek another emissary, for
more important matters claim my attention. I must go to the Rancho del
Coyote, for there alone I shall find my revenge. Fray Ambrosio and his
prisoner can supply me with the weapons I need for the terrible contest
I am compelled to wage against that demon who comes straight from hell,
and whom I will send back there."

After having uttered these words in a low voice, in the fashion of men
wont to live in solitude, Red Cedar appeared to regain all his boldness
and energy. He looked savagely around, and, burying his spurs in his
horse's flanks, he started with the speed of an arrow in the direction
of the rancho, which he had left but a few hours previously, and where
his two accomplices still remained.

The monk and the gambusino, delighted at the unforeseen termination of
the scene we recently narrated, delighted above all at having got rid of
Doña Clara without being immediately mixed up in her escape, tranquilly
resumed their game of _monte_, and played with that mental satisfaction
produced by the certainty of having nothing to reproach themselves with,
disputing with the utmost obstinacy for the few reals they still
happened to have in their pockets. In the midst of a most interesting
game, they heard the furious gallop of a horse up the paved street.
Instinctively they stopped and listened; a secret foreboding seemed to
warn them that this horse was coming to the rancho, and that its rider
wanted them.

In truth, neither Fray Ambrosio nor Andrés Garote had a quiet
conscience, even supposing, which was very doubtful, that either had a
conscience at all, for they felt they were responsible to Red Cedar for
Doña Clara. Now that the maiden had escaped like, a bird flying from its
cage, their position with their terrible ally appeared to them in all
its desperate gravity. They did not conceal from themselves that the
squatter would demand a severe account of their conduct, and despite
their cunning and roguishness, they knew not how they should get out of
it. The sharp gallop of the approaching horse heightened their
perplexity. They dared not communicate their fears to each other, but
they sat with heads bent forward, foreseeing that they would soon have
to sustain a very firm attack.

The horse stopped short before the rancho; a man dismounted, and the
door shook beneath the tremendous blows of his fists.

"Hum!" the gambusino whispered, as he blew out the solitary candle that
illumined the room. "Who the deuce can come at this advanced hour of the
night! I have a great mind not to open."

Strange to say, Fray Ambrosio had apparently regained all his serenity.
With a smiling face, crossed arms, and back leaned against the wall, he
seemed to be a perfect stranger to what perplexed his mate so furiously.
At Garote's remark an ironical smile played round his pale lips for a
second, and he replied with the most perfect indifference--

"You are at liberty to act as you please, gossip; still I think it my
duty to warn you of one thing?"

"What is it?"

"That, if you do not open your door, the man, whoever he may be, now
battering it, is very capable of breaking it in, which would be a
decided nuisance for you."

"You speak very much at your ease, señor Padre," the gambusino answered,
ill-temperedly. "Suppose it be Red Cedar?"

"The greater reason to open the door. If you hesitate, he will begin to
suspect you; and then take care, for he is a man capable of killing you
like a dog."

"That is possible; but do you think that, in such a case, you will
escape with clean hands?"

Fray Ambrosio looked at him, shrugged his shoulders, but made no further
answer.

"Will you open, _demonios_?" a rough voice shouted.

"Red Cedar!" both men whispered.

"I am coming," Andrés replied, in a voice which terror caused to
tremble.

He rose unwillingly, and walked slowly towards the door, which the
squatter threatened to tear from its hinges.

"A little patience, caballero," the gambusino said, in that honeyed
voice peculiar to Mexicans when they meditate some roguery. "Coming,
coming."

And he began unbarring the door.

"Make haste!" the squatter howled, "For I am in a hurry."

"Hum! It is surely he!" the gambusino thought. "Who are you?" he asked.

"What! Who am I?" Red Cedar exclaimed, bounding with wrath. "Did you not
recognise me, or are you having a game with me?"

"I never have a game with anyone," Andrés replied, imperturbably: "but I
warn you that, although I fancy I recognise your voice, I shall not open
till you mention your name. The night is too far advanced for me to risk
receiving a suspicious person into my house."

"I will break the door down."

"Try it," the gambusino shouted boldly, "and by our Lady of Pilar I will
send a bullet through your head."

At this threat the squatter rushed against the door in incredible fury,
with the evident intention of breaking it in; but, contrary to his
expectations, though it creaked and groaned on its hinges, it did not
give way. Andrés Garote had indulged in a line of reasoning which was
far from being illogical, and revealed a profound knowledge of the human
heart. He had said to himself, that, as he must face Red Cedar's anger,
it would be better to let it reach its paroxysm at once so as to have
only the decreasing period to endure. He smiled at the American's
sterile attempts, then, and repeated his request.

"Well, then," the other said, furiously, "I am Red Cedar. Do you
recognise me now, you devil's own Gachupino?"

"Of course; I see that I can open without danger to your Excellency."

And the gambusino hurriedly drew back the bolts.

Red Cedar rushed into the room with a yell of fury, but Andrés had put
out the light. The squatter stopped, surprised by the gloom which
prevented him distinguishing any object.

"Hallo!" he said. "What is the meaning of this darkness? I can see
nothing."

"_Caspita_!" Andrés replied, impudently, "Do you think I amuse myself o'
nights by watching the moon? I was asleep, compadre, when you came to
arouse me with your infernal hammerings."

"That is possible," the squatter remarked; "but that was no reason for
keeping me so long at your door."

"Prudence is the mother of security. We must not let every comer enter
the rancho."

"Certainly not; I approve of that. Still, you must have recognised my
voice."

"True. Still I might be mistaken; it is difficult to know anyone through
the thickness of a door; that is why I wished you to give your name."

"Very good, then," Red Cedar said, as if tired of combating arguments
which did not convince him. "And where is Fray Ambrosio?"

"Here, I suppose."

"He has not left the rancho?"

"No; unless he took advantage of your arrival to do so."

"Why should he do that?"

"I don't know; you question, and I answer; that's all."

"Why does he not speak, if he is here?"

"He is possibly asleep."

"After the row I made, that is highly improbable."

"Hang it, he may be a hard sleeper."

"Hum!" the squatter snorted, suspiciously; "Light the candle."

Andrés struck a match, and Red Cedar looked eagerly round the room Fray
Ambrosio had disappeared.

"Where is the monk?" the American asked.

"I do not know: probably gone."

The squatter shook his head.

"All this is not clear," he muttered; "there is treachery behind it."

"That is possible," the gambusino answered, calmly.

Red Cedar bent on Andrés eyes that flashed with fury, and roughly seized
him by the throat.

"Answer, scoundrel?" he shouted. "What has become of Doña Clara?"

The gambusino struggled, though in vain, to escape from the clutch of
the squatter, whose fingers entered his flesh, and pressed him as in a
vice.

"Let me loose," he panted, "you are choking me!"

"Where is Doña Clara?"

"I do not know."

The squatter squeezed more tightly.

"You do not know!" he yelled.

"Aie!" Andrés whined, "I tell you I do not know."

"Malediction!" Red Cedar went on. "I will kill you, _picaro_, if you are
obstinate."

"Let that man go, and I will tell you all you wish to know," was said in
a firm voice by a hunter, who at this moment appeared on the threshold.

The two men turned in amazement.

"Nathan!" Red Cedar shouted on recognising his son. "What are you doing
here?"

"I will tell you, father," the young man said, as he entered the room.



CHAPTER XLI.

NATHAN.


Nathan was not asleep, as Ellen supposed, when she urged on Shaw to
devote himself to liberate Doña Clara, and he had listened attentively
to the conversation. Nathan was a man of about thirty years of age, who,
both physically and morally, bore a marked resemblance to his father.
Hence the old squatter had concentrated in him all the affection which
his uncultivated savage nature was capable of feeling. Since the fatal
night, when the chief of the Coras had avenged himself for the burning
of his village and the murder of its inhabitants, Nathan's character had
grown still more gloomy; a dull and deep hatred boiled in his heart
against the whole human race; he only dreamed of assassination: he had
sworn in his heart to revenge on all those who fell into his hands the
injury one man had inflicted on him; in a word, Nathan loved none and
hated everything.

When Shaw had disappeared among the bushes, and Ellen, after taking a
final glance around to convince herself that all was in order,
re-entered the hut that served her as a shelter, Nathan rose cautiously,
threw his rifle over his shoulder, and rushed after his brother. Another
reason urged him to foil Shaw and Ellen's plans; he had a double grudge
against Don Miguel--the first for the stab the Mexican gentlemen had
given his father; the second because Don Miguel had compelled him to
leave the forest in which his family had so daringly installed itself.

Convinced of the importance of the affair, and knowing the value the
squatter attached to carrying off the maiden, who was a most precious
hostage for him, Nathan did not lose a moment, but reached Santa Fe by
the most direct route, bounding with the agility of a tiger cat over the
obstacles that beset his path. Presently he reached an isolated house,
not far from which several men were conversing together in a low voice.
Nathan stopped and listened; but he was too far off, and could
distinguish nothing. The squatter's son, reared in the desert, was
thoroughly versed in all its stratagems; with the piercing eye of a man
accustomed to night journeys in the prairie, he recognised well-known
persons, and his mind was at once made up.

He laid himself on the ground, and following the shadow cast by the
moon, lest he might be perceived by the speakers, he advanced, inch by
inch, crawling like a serpent, stopping at intervals lest the waving of
the grass might reveal his presence, in short, employing all the
precautions usual under such circumstances. At length he reached a clump
of Peru trees only a few yards distant from the spot where the men he
wished to overhear were standing. He then got up, leaned against the
largest tree, and prepared to listen. His expectations were not
deceived; though a few words escaped him here and there, he was near
enough perfectly to catch the sense of the conference. This conversation
was, in truth, most interesting to him; a sinister smile lit up his
face, and he eagerly clenched the barrel of his rifle.

Presently the party broke into two. Valentine, Curumilla, and Unicorn,
took the road leading to the open country, while Don Pablo and Father
Seraphin returned toward the town. Valentine and his two friends almost
touched the young man as they passed, and he instinctively carried his
hands to his pistols; they even stopped for a moment and cast suspicious
glances at the clump that concealed their foe. While conversing in
whispers, Unicorn drew a few branches aside and peered in; for some
seconds Nathan felt an indescribable agony; a cold perspiration stood at
the root of his hair and the blood coursed to his heart; in a word, he
was afraid. He knew that if these men, his mortal enemies, discovered
him, they would be pitiless to him and kill him like a dog. But this
apprehension did not last longer than a lightning flash. Unicorn
carelessly let the leafy curtain fall again, saying only one word to his
comrades:--

"Nothing."

The latter resumed their march.

"I do not know why," said Valentine, "but I fancy there is someone
hidden there."

"No," the chief answered, "there is nobody."

"Well, be it so," the hunter muttered, with a toss of his head.

So soon, as he was alone, Nathan drew two or three deep breaths, and
started in pursuit of Don Pablo and the missionary, whom he soon caught
up. As they did not suppose they were followed, they were conversing
freely together.

In Spanish America, where the days are so warm and the nights so fresh,
the inhabitants, shut up at home so long as the sun calcines the ground,
go out at nightfall to breathe a little pure air; the streets, deserted
in consequence of the heat, are gradually peopled; benches are placed
before the doors, on which persons recline to smoke and gossip, drink
orangeade, strum the guitar, and sing. Frequently the entire night is
passed in these innocent amusements, and folks do not return home till
dawn, in order to indulge in the sleep so grateful after this long
watch. Hence the Hispano-American towns must be especially visited by
night, if you wish to judge truthfully the nature of this people--a
strange composite of the most discordant contrasts, who only live for
enjoyment, and only accept from existence the most intoxicating
pleasures. Still, on the night to which we refer, the town of Santa Fe,
usually so laughing and chattering, was plunged into a gloomy sadness,
the streets were deserted, the doors closed; no light filtered through
the hermetically closed windows; all slept or at least feigned to sleep.
The fact was, that Santa Fe was at this moment in a state of mortal
agitation, caused by the condemnation of Don Miguel Zarate, the richest
land owner in the province--a man who was loved and revered by the whole
population. The agitation took its origin in the unexpected apparition
of the Comanche war detachment--those ferocious enemies whose cruelties
have become proverbial on the Mexican frontier, and whose presence
presaged nothing good.

Don Pablo and his companion walked quickly, like persons anxious to
reach a place where they knew they are expected, exchanging but a few
words at intervals, whose meaning, however, caught up by the man who
followed them, urged them still more not to let them out of sight. They
thus traversed the greater part of the town, and on reaching the Calle
de la Merced, they stopped at their destination--a house of handsome
aspect.

A weak light burned at the window of a ground floor room. By an
instinctive movement, the two gentlemen turned round at the moment of
entering the house but Nathan had slipped into a doorway, and they did
not perceive him. Father Seraphin tapped gently; the door was at once
opened, and they went in. Nathan stationed himself in the middle of the
street, with his eye ardently fixed on the only window of the house lit
up. Ere long, shadows crossed the curtains.

"Good!" the young man muttered; "But how to warn the old one that the
dove is in her nest?"

All at once, a heavy hand was laid on his shoulder, and Nathan turned,
fiercely clutching a bowie knife. A man was before him, gloomy, silent
and wrapped in the thick folds of his cloak. The American started.

"Go your way," he said in a menacing voice.

"What are you doing here?" the stranger asked.

"How does that concern you? The street is free to all."

"No."

This word was pronounced with a sharp accent. Nathan tried in vain to
scan the features of the man with whom he had to deal.

"Give way," he said, "or blood will surely be shed between us."

As sole reply, the stranger took a pistol in his right hand, a knife in
his left.

"Ah!" Nathan said, mockingly, "You mean fighting."

"For the last time, withdraw."

"Nonsense, you are mad, señor Caballero; the road belongs to all, I tell
you. This place suits me, and I shall remain."

"I wish to be alone here."

"You mean to kill me, then?"

"If I must, yes, without hesitation."

The two speakers had exchanged these words in a low and hurried voice,
in less time than we have employed to write them. They stood but a few
paces apart with flashing eyes, ready to rush on each other. Nathan
returned his pistol to his belt.

"No noise," he said; "the knife will do; besides, we are in a country
where that is the only weapon in use."

"Be it so," the stranger replied; "then, you will not give way to me?"

"You would laugh at me if I did," the American said with a grin.

"Then your blood will be on your own head."

"Or on yours."

The two foemen each fell back a pace, and stood on guard, with their
cloaks rolled round their left arms. The moon, veiled by clouds, shed no
light; the darkness was perfect; midnight struck from the cathedral; the
voice of the _serenos_ chanting the hour could be heard in the distance,
announcing that all was quiet. There was a moment's hesitation, which
the enemies employed in scrutinising each other. Suddenly Nathan uttered
a hoarse yell rushed on his enemy, and threw his cloak in his face, to
put him on his guard. The stranger parried the stroke dealt him, and
replied by another, guarded off with equal dexterity. The two men then
seized each other round the waist, and wrestled for some minutes,
without uttering a word; at length the stranger rolled on the ground
with a heavy sigh; Nathan's knife was buried in his chest. The American
rose with a yell of triumph--his enemy was motionless.

"Can I have killed him?" Nathan muttered.

He returned his knife to his vaquera boot, and bent over the wounded
man. All at once he started back, for he had recognised his brother
Shaw.

"What is to be done now?" he said; but then added carelessly, "Pshaw!
all the worse for him. Why did he come across my path?"

And, leaving there the body of the young man, who gave no sign of life--

"Well, Heaven knows, I ought not, and could not have hesitated," he
said.

Shaw lay to all appearance dead, with pale and drawn cheeks, in the
centre of the street.



CHAPTER XLII.

THE WOUNDED MAN.


Nathan proceeded straight to the Rancho del Coyote, where his unexpected
arrival was a blessing for Andrés Garote, whom the old squatter was
treating very roughly. On hearing his son's words, Red Cedar let go of
the gambusino, who tottered back against the wall.

"Well," he asked, "where is Doña Clara?"

"Come with me, father," the young man answered; "I will lead you to
her."

"You know her hiding place, then?"

"Yes."

"And so do I," Fray Ambrosio shouted, as he rushed into the room with
discomfited features; "I felt sure I should discover her."

Red Cedar looked at him in amazement, but the monk did not wince.

"What has happened to her?" the squatter said presently, as he looked
suspiciously from the monk to the gambusino.

"A very simple matter," Fray Ambrosio answered, with an inimitably
truthful accent; "about two hours back your son Shaw came here."

"Shaw!" the squatter exclaimed.

"Yes, the youngest of your sons; he is called so, I think?"

"Yes; go on."

"Very good. He presented himself to us as coming from you to remove our
prisoner."

"And what did you do?" the squatter asked, impatiently.

"What could we do?"

"Why, oppose the girl's departure."

"_Caspita_! Do you fancy we let her go so?" the monk asked,
imperturbably.

The squatter looked at him in surprise--he no longer understood
anything. Like all men of action, discussion was to him almost a matter
of impossibility; especially with an adversary so crafty as the one he
had before him. Deceived by the monk's coolness and the apparent
frankness of his answers, he wished to make an end of it.

"Come," he said, "how did all this finish?"

"Thanks to an ally who came to your son's help, and to whom we were
obliged to bow--"

"An ally! What man can be so bold as to dare--"

"Eh!" the monk sharply interrupted Red Cedar, "that man is a priest, to
whom you have already bowed many a time."

"You are jesting, señor Padre," the squatter exclaimed, savagely.

"Not the least in the world. Had it been anyone else, I should have
resisted; but I, too, belong to the Church; and, as Father Seraphin is
my superior, I was forced to obey him."

"What!" the squatter said, with a groan, "Is he not dead?"

"It appears," the monk remarked, ironically, "as if those you kill are
all in good state of health, Red Cedar."

At this allusion to Don Pablo's death, the squatter stifled a cry of
anger, and clenched his fists.

"Good!" he said; "If I do not always kill, I know how to take my
revenge. Where is Doña Clara, at this moment?"

"In a house no great distance from here," Nathan answered.

"Have you seen her?" the squatter asked.

"No; but I followed Don Pablo and the missionary to that house, which
they entered, and as they were ignorant that I was close to them, their
conversation left me no doubt as to the whereabouts of the girl."

An ill-omened smile momentarily lit up the old bandit's features.

"Good!" he said; "as the dove is in her nest, we shall be able to find
her. What o'clock is it?"

"Three in the morning," Andrés interjected. "Day will soon break."

"We must make haste, then. Follow me, all of you." Then he added, "But
what has become of Shaw? Does anyone of you know?"

"You will probably find him at the door of Doña Clara's house," Nathan
said, in a hollow voice.

"How so? Has my son entered into a compact with my enemies?"

"Yes; as he arranged with them to carry off your prisoner."

"Oh! I will kill him if he prove a traitor!" the squatter shouted with
an accent that made the blood run cold in the veins of his hearers.

Nathan fell back two steps, drew his knife from his boot, and showed it
to his father.

"That is done," he said, harshly. "Shaw tried to stab me, so I killed
him."

After these mournful words, there was a moment of silence in the rancho.
All these men, though their hearts were steeled by crime, shuddered
involuntarily. Without, the night was gloomy; the wind whistled sadly;
the flickering light of the candle threw a weird light over the scene,
which contained a certain degree of terrible poetry. The squatter passed
his hard hand over his dank brow. A sigh, like a howl, painfully forced
its way from his oppressed chest.

"He was my last born," he said, in a voice broken by an emotion he could
not control. "He deserved death, but he ought not to have received it at
his brother's hands."

"Father!" Nathan muttered.

"Silence!" Red Cedar shouted, in a hollow voice, as he stamped his foot
passionately on the ground; "What is done cannot be undone; but woe to
my enemies' family! Oh! I feel now that I can take such vengeance on
them as will make all shudder who hear it spoken of!"

After uttering these words, which were listened to in silence, the
squatter walked a few steps up the rancho. He approached a table, seized
a bottle half full of mezcal that stood on it, and emptied it at a
draught. When he had finished drinking, he threw down the bottle, which
broke with a crash, and said to his mates in a hollow voice--

"Let us be off! We have wasted too much time here already!"

And he rushed out of the rancho, the others following close at his
heels.

In the meanwhile, Don Pablo and Father Seraphin were in the house. The
priest had taken the maiden to the house of an honest family which owed
him great obligations, and was too happy to receive the poor sufferer.
The missionary did not intend, however, to let her be long a burthen to
these worthy people. At daybreak he intended to deliver her to certain
relations of her father, who inhabited a hacienda a few leagues from
Santa Fe.

Doña Clara had been placed in a comfortable room by her hosts. Their
first care had been to make her doff the Indian robes for others more
suitable to her birth and position. The maiden worn out by poignant
emotions of the scene she had witnessed, was on the point of retiring to
bed, when Father Seraphin and Don Pablo tapped at the door of her room.
She hastily opened it, and the sight of her brother, whom she had not
hoped to see so speedily, overwhelmed her with joy.

An hour soon slipped away in pleasant chat. Don Pablo was careful not to
tell his sister of the misfortune that had befallen her father; for he
did not wish to dull by that confession the joy the poor girl promised
herself for the morrow. Then, as the night was advancing, the two men
withdrew, so as to allow her to enjoy that rest so needed to strengthen
her for the long journey to the hacienda, promising to come and fetch
her in a few hours. Father Seraphin generously offered Don Pablo to pass
the night with him by sharing the small lodging he had not far from the
Plaza de la Merced, and the young man eagerly accepted. It was too late
to seek a lodging at a locanda, and in this way he would be all the
sooner with his sister next morning. After a lengthened leave-taking,
they, therefore, left the house, and, so soon as they were gone, Doña
Clara threw herself, ready dressed, into a hammock hanging at one end of
the room, when she speedily fell asleep.

On reaching the street, Don Pablo saw a body lying motionless in front
of the house.

"What's this?" he asked, in surprise.

"A poor wretch whom the ladrones killed in order to plunder him," the
missionary answered.

"That is possible."

"Perhaps he is not quite dead," the missionary went on; "it is our duty
to succour him."

"For what good?" Don Pablo said, with an air of indifference; "if a
sereno were to pass he might accuse us of having killed the man."

"Nay, sir," the missionary observed, "the ways of the Lord are
impenetrable. If He allowed us to come across this unhappy man, it was
because He judged in His wisdom that we might prove of use to him."

"Be it so," the young man said; "let us look at him, as you wish it. But
you know that in this country good actions of such a nature generally
entail annoyance."

"That is true, my son. Well, we will run the risk," said the missionary,
who had already bent over the wounded man.

"As you please," Don Pablo said, as he followed him.

Shaw, for it was he, gave no signs of life. The missionary examined him,
then rose hastily, seized Don Pablo's arm, and drew him to him, as he
whispered--

"Look!"

"Shaw!" the Mexican exclaimed, in surprise; "What could that man be
doing here?"

"Help me, and we shall learn. The poor fellow has only fainted; and the
loss of blood has produced this semblance to death."

Don Pablo, greatly perplexed by this singular meeting, obeyed the
missionary without further remark. The two men raised the wounded lad,
and carried him gently to Father Seraphin's lodging, where they proposed
to give him all the help his condition required.

They had scarce turned the corner of the street, when several men
appeared at the other extremity. They were Red Cedar and his
confederates. On arriving in front of the house they stopped: all the
windows were in the deepest obscurity.

"Which is the girl's room?" the squatter asked in a whisper.

"This one," Nathan said, as he pointed to it.

Red Cedar crawled up to the house, drove his dagger into the wall,
raised himself to the window, and placed his face against a pane.

"All is well! She sleeps!" he said, when he came down. "You, Fray
Ambrosio, to one corner of the street; you, Garote, to the other, and do
not let me be surprised."

The monk and the gambusino went to their allotted posts. When Red Cedar
was alone with his son he bent and whispered in his ear--

"What did you do with your brother after stabbing him?"

"I left him on the spot where he fell."

"Where was that?"

"Just where we now stand."

The squatter stooped down to the ground, and walked a few steps,
carefully examining the bloody traces left on the pebbles.

"He has been carried off," he said, when he rose again. "Perhaps he is
not dead."

"Perhaps so," the young man observed, with a shake of his head.

His father gave him a most significant look.

"To work," he said coldly.

And they prepared to escalade the window.



CHAPTER XLIII.

INDIAN DIPLOMACY.


We will return, for the present, to Valentine and his comrades.

The sudden apparition of the sachem of the Coras had produced a certain
degree of emotion among the hunters and the Comanches. Valentine, the
first to recover from his surprise, addressed Eagle-wing.

"My brother is welcome," he said, as he held out his hand, which the
Indian warmly pressed, "What news does the chief bring us?"

"Good," the Coras answered laconically.

"All the better," the hunter said gaily; "for some time past all we have
received has been so bad that my brother's will create a diversion."

The Indian smiled at this sally, but made no remark.

"My brother can speak," Valentine continued; "he is surrounded by none
but friends."

"I know it," the chief answered, as he bowed gracefully to the company.
"Since I left my brother two months have passed away: I have worn out
many moccasins amid the thorns and brambles of the desert; I have been
beyond the Great Lakes to the villages of my nation."

"Good; my brother is a chief; he was doubtless well received by the
sachems of the Coras of the Great Lakes."

"Mookapec is a renowned warrior among his people," the Indian answered
proudly; "his place by the council fire of the nation is pointed out.
The chiefs saw him with joy: on his road he had taken the scalps of
seven gachupinos: they are now drying before the great medicine lodge."

"It was your right to do so, chief, and I cannot blame you. The
Spaniards have done you harm enough for you to requite them."

"My brother speaks well; his skin is white, but his heart is red."

"Hum," observed Valentine; "I am a friend to justice; vengeance is
permissible against treachery. Go on, chief."

The hunter's comrades had drawn nearer, and now formed a circle round
the two speakers. Curumilla was occupied silently, as was his wont, in
completely stripping each Spanish prisoner, whom he then bound in such a
way that the slightest movement was impossible.

Valentine, although time pressed, knew too well the Redskin character to
try and hurry Eagle-wing on. He felt certain that the chief had
important news to communicate to him; but it would have been no use
trying to draw it from him; hence he allowed him to act as he pleased.
Unicorn, leaning on his rifle, listened attentively, without evincing
the slightest impatience.

"Did my brother remain long with his tribe," Valentine continued.

"Two suns. Eagle-wing had left behind him friends to whom his heart drew
him."

"Thanks, chief, for the pleasant recollections of us."

"The chiefs assembled in council to hear the words of Eagle-wing," the
Coras continued. "They shuddered with fury on hearing of the massacre of
their children; but Mookapec had formed his plan, and two hundred
warriors are assembled beneath his _totem_."

"Good!" said Valentine, "the chief will avenge himself."

The Indian smiled.

"Yes," he said, "my young men have their orders, they know what I mean
to do."

"Very good; in that case they are near here?"

"No," the chief replied, with a shake of his head. "Eagle-wing does not
march with them; he has hidden himself under the skin of an Apache dog."

"What does my brother say?" Valentine asked with amazement.

"My white brother is quick," Unicorn said, sententiously; "he will let
Mookapec speak. He is a great sachem, and wisdom dwells in him."

Valentine shook his head, however, and said--

"Hum! Answering one act of treachery by another, that is not the way in
which the warriors of my nation behave."

"The nation of my brother is great, and strong as the grizzly bear,"
Unicorn said; "it does not need to march along hidden paths. The poor
Indians are weak as the beaver, but like him they are very cunning."

"That is true," Valentine replied, "cunning must be allowed you in
dealing with the implacable enemies who surround you. I was wrong; so go
on, chief; tell us what deviltry you have invented, and if it is
ingenious. Well, I will be the first to applaud it."

"Wah, my brother shall judge. Red Cedar is about to enter the desert, as
my brother doubtless knows?"

"Yes."

"Does my brother know the _Gringo_ has asked the Apaches for a guide?"

"No, I did not."

"Good. Stanapat, the great chief of the Apaches, sent a Navajo warrior
to act as guide to Red Cedar."

"Well?"

"The Navajo was scalped by Eagle-wing."

"Ah, ah! Then Red Cedar cannot set out?"

"Yes, he can do so when he likes."

"How so?"

"Because Eagle-wing takes the place of the guide."

Unicorn smiled.

"My brother has a deal of wisdom," he said.

"Hum!" Valentine remarked, with some show of ill-humour. "It is
possible, but you play for a heavy stake, chief. That old villain is as
crafty as ten monkeys and ten opossums united. I warn you that he will
recognise you."

"No."

"I wish it; for if he does, you are a lost man."

"Good, my brother can be easy. Eagle-wing is a warrior; he will see the
white hunter again in the desert."

"I wish so, chief; but I doubt. However, act as you please. When will
you join Red Cedar?"

"This night."

"You are going to leave us?"

"At once. Eagle-wing has nothing more to confide to his brother."

And, after bowing courteously to the company, the Coras chief glided
into the thicket, in which he disappeared almost instantaneously.
Valentine looked after him for some time.

"Yes," he said at last, with a thoughtful air, "his project is a daring
one, such as might be expected from so great a warrior. May heaven
protect him, and allow him to succeed! Well, we shall see; perhaps all
is for the best so."

And he turned to Curumilla.

"The clothes?" he said.

"Here they are," the Aucas answered, laconically, as he pointed to an
enormous heap of clothing.

"What does my brother mean to do with them?" Unicorn asked.

"My brother will see," Valentine said, with a smile, "each of us is
going to put on one of those uniforms."

The Comanche drew himself up hastily.

"No," he said, "Unicorn does not put off the dress of his people. What
need have we of this disguise?"

"In order to enter the camp of the Spaniards without being discovered."

"Wah! For what good? Unicorn will summon his young men to cut a passage
through the corpses of the gachupinos."

But Valentine shook his head mournfully.

"It is true," he remarked, "we could do so. But why shed blood
needlessly? No; let my brother put confidence in me."

"The hunter will act rightly. Unicorn knows it, and he leaves him free;
but Unicorn is a chief, he cannot put on the clothes of the palefaces."

Valentine no longer insisted, as it would have been unavailing; so he
agreed to modify his plan. He made each of his comrades put on a dragoon
uniform, and himself donned the clothes stripped from the Alferez. When
all this metamorphosis was as complete as possible, he turned to
Unicorn.

"The chief will remain here," he said, "to guard the prisoners."

"Good," the Comanche answered. "Is Unicorn, then, a chattering old
woman, that warriors place him on one side?"

"My brother does not understand me. I do not wish to insult him, but he
cannot enter the camp with us."

The chief shrugged his shoulders disdainfully.

"The Comanche warriors can crawl as well as serpents. Unicorn will
enter."

"Let my brother come, then, since he wishes it."

"Good; my brother is vexed; a cloud has passed over his face. He is
wrong; his friend loves him."

"I know it, chief, I know it. I am not vexed, but my heart is sad to see
a warrior thus run the risk of being killed without any necessity."

"Unicorn is a sachem; he must give an example to his young men on the
warpath."

Valentine gave a nod of assent.

"Here are the horses of the palefaces," Curumilla said; "my brother will
need them."

"That is true," the hunter answered, with a smile; "my brother is a
great chief--he thinks of everything."

Everyone mounted, Unicorn alone remaining a-foot. Valentine placed the
Alferez by his side.

"Caballero," he said to him, "you will act as our guide to the camp. We
do not wish to take the lives of your countrymen; our intention is
simply to prevent them following us at present. Pay attention to my
words: if you attempt to deceive us, I blow out your brains. You are
warned."

The Spaniard bowed, but made no reply. As for the prisoners, they had
been so conscientiously tied by Curumilla that there was no chance of
their escaping. The little band then set out, Unicorn disappearing among
the trees. When they came a short distance from the bivouac, a sentry
challenged, "Who goes there?"

"Answer," Valentine whispered the Alferez.

He did so. They passed, and the sentry, suddenly seized by Curumilla,
was bound and gagged in the twinkling of an eye, all the other sentinels
sharing the same fate. The Mexicans keep up a very bad watch in the
field, even in the presence of an enemy; the greater reason, then, for
them to neglect all precaution when they fancy themselves in safety.
Everybody was asleep, and Valentine and his friends were masters of the
camp. The regiment of dragoons had been surprised without striking a
blow.

Valentine's comrades dismounted; they knew exactly how to act, and did
not deviate from the instructions given by their leader. They proceeded
from picket to picket, removing the horses, which were led out of camp.
Within twenty minutes all had been carried off. Valentine had anxiously
followed the movements of his men. When they had finished, he raised the
curtain of the colonel's tent, and found himself face to face with
Unicorn, from whose waist-belt hung a reeking scalp. Valentine could not
repress a movement of horror.

"What have you done, chief?" he asked, reproachfully.

"Unicorn has killed his enemy," the Comanche replied, peremptorily.
"When the leader of the antelopes is killed, his flock disperses; the
gachupinos will do the same."

Valentine drew near the colonel. The unhappy man, fearfully mutilated,
with his brain laid bare, and his heart pierced by the knife of the
implacable Indian, lay stark dead, in a pool of blood, in the middle of
the tent. The hunter vented a sigh at this sorry sight.

"Poor devil!" he said, with an air of compassion.

After this short funeral oration, he took away his sabre and epaulettes,
left the tent, followed by the Indian chief, and rejoined his comrades.
The horses were led to the Comanche camp, after which Valentine and his
party wrapped themselves in their blankets, and slept calmly till
daybreak. The dragoons were no longer to be feared.



CHAPTER XLIV.

THE STRANGER.


Father Seraphin and Don Pablo we left bearing the wounded man to the
missionary's lodging. Although the house to which they were proceeding
was but a short distance off, yet the two gentlemen, compelled to take
every precaution, employed considerable time on the journey. Nearly
every step they were compelled to halt, so as not to fatigue too greatly
the wounded man, whose inert limbs swayed in every direction.

"The man is dead," Don Pablo remarked, during a halt they made on the
Plaza de la Merced.

"I fear so," the missionary answered, sadly; "still, as we are not
certain of it, our conscience bids us to bestow our care on him, until
we acquire the painful conviction that it avails him nought."

"Father, the love of one's neighbour often carries you too far; better
were it, perhaps, if this wretch did not come back to life."

"You are severe, my friend. This man is still young--almost a boy.
Trained amid a family of bandits, never having aught but evil examples
before him, he has hitherto only done evil, in a spirit of imitation.
Who knows whether this fearful wound may not offer him the means to
enter the society of honest people, which he has till now been ignorant
of? I repeat to you, my friend, the ways of the Lord are inscrutable."

"I will do what you wish, father. You have entire power over me. Still,
I fear that all our care will be thrown away."

"God, whose humble instruments we are, will prove you wrong, I hope.
Come, a little courage, a few paces further, and we shall have arrived."

"Come on then," Don Pablo said with resignation.

Father Seraphin lodged at a house of modest appearance, built of adobes
and reeds, in a small room he hired from a poor widow, for the small sum
of nine reals a month. This room, very small, and which only received
air from a window opening on an inner yard, was a perfect conventual
cell, as far as furniture was concerned, for the latter consisted of a
wooden frame, over which a bull hide was stretched, and served as the
missionary's bed; a butaca and a prie-dieu, above which a copper
crucifix was fastened to the whitewashed wall. But, like all cells, this
room was marvellously clean. From a few nails hung the well-worn clothes
of the poor priest, and a shelf supported vials and flasks which
doubtless contained medicaments; for, like all the missionaries, Father
Seraphin had a rudimentary knowledge of medicine, and took in charge
both the souls and bodies of his neophytes.

The father lit a candle of yellow tallow standing in an iron
candlestick, and, aided by Don Pablo, laid the wounded man on his own
bed; after which the young man fell back into the butaca to regain his
breath. Father Seraphin, on whom, spite of his fragile appearance, the
fatigue had produced no apparent effect, then went downstairs to lock
the street door, which he had left open. As he pushed it to, he felt an
opposition outside, and a man soon entered the yard.

"Pardon, my reverend father," the stranger said; "but be kind enough not
to leave me outside."

"Do you live in this house?"

"No," the stranger coolly replied, "I do not live in Santa Fe, where I
am quite unknown."

"Do you ask hospitality of me, then?" Father Seraphin continued, much
surprised at this answer.

"Not at all, reverend father."

"Then what do you want?" the missionary said, still more surprised.

"I wish to follow you to the room where you have laid the wounded man,
to whose aid you came so generously a short time back."

"This request, sir--" the priest said, hesitating.

"Has nothing that need surprise you. I have the greatest interest in
seeing with my own eyes in what state that man is, for certain reasons
which in no way concern you."

"Do you know who he is?"

"I do."

"Are you a relation or friend of his?"'

"Neither one nor the other. Still, I repeat to you, very weighty reasons
compel me to see him and speak with him, if that be possible."

Father Seraphin took a searching glance at the speaker.

He was a man of great height, apparently in the fullest vigour of life.
His features, so far as it was possible to distinguish them by the pale
and tremulous moonbeams, were handsome, though an expression of
unbending will was the marked thing about them. He wore the dress of
rich Mexican hacenderos, and had in his right hand a magnificently
inlaid American rifle. Still the missionary hesitated.

"Well," the stranger continued, "have you made up your mind, father?"

"Sir," Father Seraphin answered with firmness, "do not take in ill part
what I am going to say to you."

The stranger bowed.

"I do not know who you are; you present yourself to me in the depths of
the night, under singular circumstances. You insist, with strange
tenacity, on seeing the poor man whom Christian charity compelled me to
pick up. Prudence demands that I should refuse to let you see him."

A certain annoyance was depicted on the stranger's features.

"You are right, father," he answered; "appearances are against me.
Unfortunately, the explanation you demand from me justly would make us
lose too much precious time, hence I cannot give them to you at this
moment. All I can do is to swear, in the face of Heaven, on that
crucifix you wear round your neck, and which is the symbol of our
redemption, that I only wish well to the man you have housed, and that I
am this moment seeking to punish a great criminal."

The stranger uttered these words with such frankness, and such an air of
conviction, his face glistened with so much honesty, that the missionary
felt convinced: he took up the crucifix and offered it to this
extraordinary man.

"Swear," he said.

"I swear it," he replied in a firm voice.

"Good," the priest went on, "now you can enter, sir; you are one of
ourselves; I will not even insult you by asking your name."

"My name would teach you nothing, father," the stranger said sadly.

"Follow me, sir."

The missionary locked the gate and led the stranger to his room, on
entering which the newcomer took off his hat reverently, took up a post
in a corner of the room, and did not stir.

"Do not trouble yourself about me, father," he said in a whisper, "and
put implicit faith in the oath I took."

The missionary only replied by a nod, and as the wounded man gave no
sign of life, but still lay much in the position he was first placed in,
Father Seraphin walked up to him. For a long time, however, the
attention he lavished on him proved sterile, and seemed to produce no
effect on the squatter's son. Still, the father did not despair,
although Don Pablo shook his head. An hour thus passed, and no
ostensible change had taken place in the young man's condition; the
missionary had exhausted all his stock of knowledge, and began to fear
the worst. At this moment the stranger walked up to him.

"My father," he said, touching him gently on the arm, "you have done all
that was humanly possible, but have not succeeded."

"Alas! No!" the missionary said sadly.

"Will you permit me to try in my turn?"

"Do you fancy you will prove, more successful than I?" the priest asked
in surprise.

"I hope so," the stranger said softly.

"Still, you see I have tried everything that the medical art prescribes
in such a case."

"That is true, father; but the Indians possess certain secrets known
only to themselves, and which are of great efficacy."

"I have heard so. But do you know those secrets?"

"Some of them have been revealed to me; if you will permit me, I will
try their effects on this young man, who, as far as I can judge, is in a
desperate condition."

"I fear he is, poor fellow."

"We shall, therefore, run no risk in trying the efficacy of my superior
remedy upon him."

"Certainly not."

The stranger bent over the young man, and regarded him for a moment with
fixed attention; then he drew from his pocket a flask of carved crystal,
filled with a fluid as green as emerald. With the point of his dagger he
slightly opened the wounded man's closed teeth, and poured into his
mouth four or five drops of the fluid contained in the flask. A strange
thing then occurred; the young man gave vent to a deep sigh, opened his
eyes several times, and suddenly, as if moved by supernatural force, he
sat up and looked around him with amazement. Don Pablo and the
missionary were almost inclined to believe in a miracle so extraordinary
did the fact appear to them. The stranger returned to his dark corner.
Suddenly the young man passed his hand over his dank forehead, and
muttered in a hollow voice:--

"Ellen, my sister, it is too late. I cannot save her. See, see, they are
carrying her off; she is lost!"

And he fell back on the bed, as the three men rushed towards him.

"He sleeps!" the missionary said in amazement.

"He is saved?" the stranger answered.

"What did he want to say, though?" Don Pablo inquired anxiously.

"Did you not understand it?" the stranger asked of him.

"No."

"Well, then, I will tell you."

"You!"

"Yes, I; listen! That lad wished to deliver your sister!"

"How do you know?"

"Is it true?"

"It is; go on."

"He was stabbed at the door of the house when she sought shelter."

"What next?"

"Those who stabbed him wished to get him out of the way, in order to
carry her off a second time."

"Oh, that is impossible!"

"It is the fact."

"How do you know it?"

"I do not know it, but I can read it plainly."

"Ah!" Don Pablo exclaimed in despair, "my father--let us fly to my
sister's aid!"

The two gentlemen rushed from the house with a presentiment of
misfortune. When the stranger found himself alone with the wounded man,
he walked up to him, wrapped him in his cloak, threw him over his
shoulders as easy as if he were only a child, and went out in his turn.
On reaching the street, he carefully closed the door, and went off at a
great rate, soon disappearing in the darkness. At the same instant the
melancholy voice of the sereno could be heard chanting--

_"Ave Maria purísima! Los cuatro han dado! Viva Méjico! Todo es
quieto!_"[1]

What irony on the part of accident was this cry after the terrible
events of the night!


[1] Hail, most pure Mary! It has struck four. Long live Mexico! All is
quiet.



CHAPTER XLV.

GENERAL VENTURA.


It was about six in the morning. A dazzling sun poured down its
transparent rays on the streets of the Presidio of Santa Fe, which were
already full of noise and movement at that early hour of the morning.
General Ventura was still plunged in a deep sleep, probably lulled by
agreeable dreams, judging from the air of beatitude spread over his
features. The general, reassured by the speedy arrival of the dragoons
promised him, fancied he had nothing more to fear from mutineers who had
hitherto inspired him with lively apprehensions. He thought, too, that
by the aid of the reinforcements, he could easily get rid of the
Comanche, who, on the previous day, had so audaciously bearded him in
the very heart of his palace.

He slept, then, that pleasant morning sleep, in which the body, entirely
rested from its fatigue, leaves the mind the entire liberty of its
faculties. Suddenly the door of the sleeping room in which the worthy
governor reposed, was torn violently open, and an officer entered.
General Ventura, aroused with a start, sat up in his bed, fixing on the
importunate visitor a glance, at first stern, but which at once became
uneasy on seeing the alarm depicted on the officer's features.

"What is the matter, señor Captain Don Lopez?" he asked, trying in vain
to give firmness to his voice, which trembled involuntarily from a
foreboding of evil.

Captain Lopez was a soldier of fortune, who had grown grey in harness,
and contracted a species of rough frankness, that prevented him toning
the truth down under any circumstances, which fact made him appear, in
the General's eyes, a bird of very evil omen. The captain's arrival,
therefore, doubly disquieted the governor. In the first place, through
his alarmed face; and secondly, the reputation he enjoyed. To the
general's query the captain only replied the following three storm laden
words--

"Nothing that's good."

"What do you mean? Have the people rebelled??"

"On my word, no! I do not fancy they even dream of such a thing."

"Very well, then," the general went on, quite cheered by the good news,
"what the deuce have you to tell me, captain?"

"I have not come to tell you anything," the other said, roughly. "There
is a soldier outside who has just come from I don't know where, and who
insists on speaking with you. Shall I bring him, or send him about his
business."

"One moment," exclaimed the general, whose features had suddenly become
gloomy; "who is the soldier?"

"A dragoon, I fancy."

"A dragoon! Let him come in at once. May heaven bless you, with all your
circumlocution! The man, doubtless, brings me news of the arrival of the
regiment I am expecting, and which should have been here before."

The captain shrugged his shoulders with an air of doubt.

"What is it now?" the general said, whom this expressive pantomime
eminently alarmed; "What are you going to say?"

"Nothing, except that the soldier looks very sad to be the bearer of
such good news."

"We shall soon know what we have to depend on. Let him come in."

"That is true," said the captain, as he went off.

During this conversation the general had leaped from his bed, and
dressed himself with the promptness peculiar to soldiers. He now
anxiously awaited the appearance of the trooper whom Don Lopez had
announced to him. In vain he tried to persuade himself that the captain
was mistaken, and that the soldier had been sent to tell him of the
arrival of the regiment. In spite of himself, he felt in his heart a
species of alarm which he could not account for, and yet nothing could
dissipate.

A few minutes were thus passed in febrile restlessness. All at once a
great noise was heard in the Plaza Major. The general went to a window,
pulled aside a curtain, and looked out. A tumultuous and dense crowd was
thronging every street leading to the square and uttering sharp cries.
This crowd, momentarily increasing, seemed urged on by something
terrible, which the general could not perceive.

"What is this?" the general exclaimed; "And what can be the meaning of
this disturbance?"

At this moment the shouts grew louder, and the detachment of Comanche
warriors appeared debouching by the Calle de la Merced, and marching in
good order, and at quick step, upon the palace. On seeing them the
general could not restrain a start of surprise.

"The Indians again!" he said; "How can they dare to present themselves
here? They must be ignorant of the arrival of the dragoons. Such
boldness is incomprehensible."

He let the curtain fall, and turned away. The soldier whom the captain
had announced to him stood before him, waiting the general's pleasure to
question him. The general started on perceiving him. He was pale; his
uniform was torn and stained with mud, as if he had made a long journey
on foot through brambles. The general wished to clear up his doubts;
but, just as he was opening his mouth to ask the man a question, the
door flew back, and several officers, among whom was Captain Don Lopez,
entered the room.

"General," the captain said, "make haste! You are expected in the
council hall. The Indians have come for the answer you promised to give
them this morning."

"Well! Why this startled look, gentlemen?" the general said, severely.
"I fancy the town has not yet been set on fire. I am not at the orders
of those savages, so tell them that I have no time to grant them an
audience."

The officers gazed at the general with a surprise they did not attempt
to conceal, on hearing these strange and incomprehensible words.

"Good, good," Captain Lopez said, roughly, "the town is not yet fired,
'tis true; but it might be so, erelong, if you went on in this way."

"What do you mean?" the general asked, as he turned pale. "Are matters
so serious?"

"They are most serious. We have not a moment to lose, if we wish to
avoid heavy disasters."

The general started.

"Gentlemen," he then said, in an ill-assured voice, "it is our duty to
watch over the safety of the population. I follow you."

And taking no further heed of the soldier he had ordered to be sent in,
he proceeded towards the council hall.

The disorder that prevailed without had at length gained the interior of
the palace. Nothing was to be heard but shrieks or exclamations of anger
and terror. The Mexican officers assembled in the hall were tumultuously
discussing the measures to be adopted in order to save a contest and the
town. The entrance of the governor produced a healthy effect upon them,
in so far that the discussion, which was degenerating into personalities
and reproaches, dictated by individual fear, suddenly ceased, and
calmness was restored.

General Ventura regretted in his heart having counted on imaginary help,
and not having listened to the sensible advice of some of his officers,
who urged him the previous day to satisfy the Indians by giving them
what they asked. In spite of the terror he felt, however, his pride
revolted at being compelled to treat on equal terms with barbarians, and
accept harsh conditions which they would doubtless impose on him, in the
consciousness of having the upper hand.

The governor, in entering the hall, looked around the assembly
anxiously. All had taken their places, and, externally at least, had
assumed that grace and stern appearance belonging to men who are
penetrated with the grandeur of the duties they have to perform, and are
resolved to carry them out at all hazards. But this appearance was very
deceptive. If the faces were impassive the hearts were timorous. All
these men, habituated to a slothful and effeminate life, did not feel
capable of waging a contest with the rude enemies who menaced them so
audaciously, even at the doors of the governor's palace.

Under present circumstances, however, resistance was impossible. The
Indians, by the fact of their presence on the square, were masters of
the town. There were no troops to oppose to them; hence, the only hope
was to make the easiest terms possible with the Comanches. Still, as all
these men wished to save appearances at any rate, the discussion began
anew. When everyone had given his opinion, the governor rose, and said
in a trembling voice--

"Caballeros, all of us here present: are men of courage, and have
displayed that quality in many difficult circumstances. Certainly, if
the only thing, was to sacrifice our lives to save the hapless townsmen,
we would not hesitate to do so, for we are too well imbued with the
soundness of our duties tot hesitate; but, unhappily, that sacrifice
would not avail to save those whom we wish before all to protect. Let us
treat, then, with the barbarians, as we cannot conquer them. Perhaps in
this way we shall succeed in protecting our wives; and children from the
danger that menaces them. In acting thus, under the grave circumstances
in which we find ourselves, we shall at least have the consolation of
having done our duty, even if we do not obtain all we desire."

Hearty applause greeted this harangue, and the governor, turning to the
porter, who stood motionless at the door, gave orders to introduce the
principal Indian chiefs.



CHAPTER XLVI.

THE COMANCHES.


Valentine and his friends awoke at daybreak. The Comanches were already
prepared to start; and Unicorn, dressed in his great war costume,
presented himself to the hunter.

"Is my brother going?" Valentine asked him.

"Yes," the sachem answered. "I am returning to the Presidio to receive
the answer of the chief of the palefaces."

"What is my brother's intention, should his demand be rejected?"

Unicorn smiled.

"The Comanches have long lances," he said; "the palefaces will not
refuse."

"My anxiety will be extreme till you return, chief; the Spaniards are
perfidious; take care they have not planned some treachery."

"They would not dare," Unicorn said, haughtily. "If the chief, whom my
brother loves, is not delivered to me safe and sound, the Spanish
prisoners shall be tortured on the plaza of Santa Fe, the town burned
and sacked. I have spoken; my brother's mind may be at rest."

"Good! Unicorn is a wise chief; he will do what is necessary."

In the meantime the Comanche warriors had formed their ranks, and only
awaited the signal of the sachem to start. The Spanish prisoners taken
during the night were placed in the centre bound and half naked.
Suddenly a disturbance was heard in the camp, and two men rushed panting
toward the spot where stood Valentine, the sachem and Curumilla. They
were Don Pablo and Father Seraphin, their clothes in disorder, their
features haggard, and their faces glistening with perspiration. On
reaching their friends, they fell, almost in a fainting state, on the
ground. The proper attentions were at once paid them, and the missionary
was the first to recover. Don Pablo seemed stupefied; the tears poured
incessantly down his cheeks, and he could not utter a word. Valentine
felt strangely alarmed.

"Good heavens!" he exclaimed, "What has happened? Don Miguel--?"

The missionary shook his head.

"No," he said, "nothing has happened to him, as far as I know."

"Heaven be praised! But what is the matter, father? What misfortune have
you to announce to me?"

"A frightful one, indeed, my son," the missionary replied, as he buried
his face in his hands.

"Speak, in Heaven's name! Your delay is killing me."

"Doña Clara--"

"Well!" he hunter said, sharply.

"Was captured again last night by Red Cedar, and torn from the refuge
where I placed her."

"Oh!" Valentine exclaimed, with concentrated fury, as he stamped his
foot, "Always that demon--that accursed Red Cedar. My curses on him! But
take courage, father; let us first save Don Miguel, and then I swear to
you that I will restore his daughter to him."

Unicorn advanced.

"Master of prayer," he said to Father Seraphin, in a soft and impressive
voice, "your heart is good. The Comanches love you. Unicorn will help
you. Pray to your God. He will protect us in our researches, since He
is, as you say, so powerful."

Then the chief turned to Don Pablo, and laid his hand firmly on his
shoulder.

"Women weep," he said; "men avenge themselves. Has not my brother his
rifle?"

On feeling the Comanche's hand laid on him--on hearing these words--the
young man quivered as if he had received an electric shock. He drew
himself up, and fixed on the chief his eyes burning with the fever of
sorrow.

"Yes," he said, in a broken voice, "you are right, chief, and," passing
his hand over his eyes, with a gesture of rage, "let us leave tears to
women, who have no other weapons to protect their weakness. I am a man,
and will avenge myself."

"Good. My brother speaks well: he is a warrior; Unicorn esteems him; he
will become great on the war path."

Don Pablo, crushed for a moment, had regained all his energy; he was no
longer the same man; he looked around him.

"Where are you going?" he asked.

"To Santa Fe, to deliver your father."

"I will go with you."

"Come," said Unicorn.

"No," Valentine interposed, authoritatively. "Your place is not there,
Don Pablo; leave the Comanche warriors to act as they please; they do
not need your help to carry out their plans properly. Remain with me."

"Command me, my friend," the young man said with resignation; "I have
perfect confidence in your experience."

"Good. You are reasonable. Brother," he added, turning to the chief,
"you can start. The sun is already high in the horizon; may Heaven grant
that you may succeed!"

Unicorn gave the signal for departure. The Comanches uttered their war
yell, while brandishing their arms, and started at a quick amble, the
only pace they know. Curumilla then rose, and wrapped himself in his
buffalo robe; Valentine watching him, inquiringly.

"Does my brother leave us?" he said.

"Yes," the Araucano answered, laconically.

"For long?"

"For a few hours?"

"Where is my brother going?"

"To look for the camp of Red Cedar's gambusinos," the Indian replied
with a cunning smile.

"Good," Valentine said, gleefully. "My brother is a wise chief; he
forgets nothing."

"Curumilla loves his brother; he thinks for him," the chief answered,
simply.

After uttering these words, the Unicorn bowed gracefully, and proceeded
in the direction of the Paso del Norte, soon disappearing in the
windings of the road. Valentine looked after him for a long while. When
he no longer saw him, he let his head fall pensively on his chest,
murmuring in a low voice--

"Good, intelligent fellow! Heart of gold! The only friend left me! The
only one remaining of my old and faithful comrades! Louis, my poor
Louis, where are you now?" A deep sigh burst from his bosom, and he
remained absorbed in a gloomy reverie.

At length Valentine raised his head, passed his hand over his brow, as
if to dispel these sad thoughts, and turned to his friends.

"Pardon me," he said, "but I, at times, give way to my thoughts in that
fashion. Alas! I, too, have suffered; but let us leave that," he added,
gaily. "Bygones must be bygones. Let us attend to your affairs."

He made them a sign to sit down by his side on the grass, rummaged his
alforjas and produced some slight food, which he laid before them.

"Eat," he said to them; "we do not know what awaits us within the next
few hours, and we must recruit our strength. When you have satisfied
your appetite, you will tell me all about Doña Clara being carried off
again, for I must have the fullest details."

We will leave the three now conversing, and join the Comanches and
Unicorn again.

When the Comanches reached the Plaza Mayor, opposite the Cabildo, they
halted. At an order from Unicorn, the prisoners were completely stripped
of their clothing and placed some distance in front of the first rank of
Indians, each of them having at his side a fully armed Indian ready to
massacre him mercilessly at the slightest sign from Unicorn. When the
preparations were completed, and the Comanches had stationed sentinels
at each corner of the streets, opening in the square, in order not to be
taken in reverse, and surrounded by the Spaniards, if they felt any
inclination for fighting, the Spider, the chief who had already
performed the duty of flag of truce, pranced up to the gate of the
palace, and demanded speech with the governor.

The officer of the guard, who was no other than Don Lopez, politely
requested the Indian warrior to wait a few moments, and then proceeded
in all haste to General Ventura. We have seen what took place, and,
after a delay of nearly half an hour, Captain Don Lopez returned. It was
time, for the Comanches were beginning to grow tired of waiting, and
were preparing to force the passage which was not voluntarily granted
them. After some preliminary explanations, Captain Lopez informed the
Spider that the general, surrounded by his staff, was awaiting, in the
hall of audience, the sachem of the nation and his three principal
warriors.

The Spider communicated this answer to Unicorn, who gave a nod of
assent, dismounted, and entered the Cabildo.



CHAPTER XXIII.

NEGOTIATIONS.


When Unicorn entered the council chamber, preceded by Captain Lopez, and
followed by the three Indian chiefs, the deepest silence prevailed among
the Spanish officers assembled to meet him. The governor, seated in a
chair placed in the centre of the hall, was looking nervously round him,
while tapping on the arm of the chair with the fingers of his right
hand. Still, his countenance was tolerably composed; nothing externally
revealed the terror that devoured him. He answered by a nod the
ceremonious bow of the Comanches, and drew himself up as if intending to
address them; but if such were his desire, Unicorn did not grant him
time to do so. The sachem draped himself in his buffalo robe with that
majestic grace possessed by all those untamed sons of the desert, drew
his head up proudly, and walked toward General Ventura, who watched him
approach with an anxious eye. On coming within four paces of the
governor, Unicorn stopped, crossed his arms on his chest, and took the
word.

"I salute my father!" he said, in a loud and fierce voice. "I have come,
as was agreed on yesterday, to fetch the answer he owes me."

The general hesitated for an instant.

"I am waiting!" the Indian went on, with a frown that augured ill.

The general, forced almost into his last entrenchments, saw that the
hour for surrender had at length arrived, and that no way of escape was
left him.

"Chief," he answered, in anything but a firm voice, "your behavior
naturally surprises me. To my knowledge the Spaniards are not at war
with your nation; the whites have not done anything of which you have a
right to complain. For what reason do you come, then, against the sworn
faith, and when nothing authorises you, to invade a defenceless town,
and interfere in matters that only concern ourselves?"

The sachem understood that the Spaniard was trying to shift the question
on to other ground; he saw the snare offered him, and was not to be
caught.

"My father does not answer my request," he said. "Still, in order to
have finished at once with the recriminations he brings up, I will
answer his questions peremptorily, separating them one from the other.
In the first place, my father knows very well that the palefaces and
redskins have been in a constant state of warfare since the arrival of
white men in America. This war may have slightly relaxed at intervals,
but has never really ceased. Our two races are hostile; the struggle
will not end between them until one of the two families, whether white
or red, has given place to the other by its general extinction.
Secondly, my father said that nothing has been done of which we had a
right to complain. My father is mistaken, we have a cause, the
imprisonment of Don Miguel Zarate, who, himself an Indian, has never
belied his origin. Hence my father must no longer ask by what right I am
here, for that is perfectly established; it is that which every honest
man possesses of defending an innocent person who is oppressed. Now that
fact is cleared up, let us pass to another. When I came here yesterday,
my father gave me to understand that my propositions would be accepted,
and the exchange of prisoners carried out."

"It is possible, chief," the general replied; "but things are so in this
world, no one knows today what he will do tomorrow. With night
reflection has come, and, in short, your propositions have appeared to
me unacceptable."

"Wah!" the Indian said, though not testifying his surprise otherwise.

"Yes," the general continued, growing animated, "I should be ashamed to
grant them, for I should have the appearance of only yielding to
threats. No, it cannot be. The two gentlemen you claim are guilty, and
shall die; and if you venture to oppose the execution of the just
sentence of the court, we will defend ourselves, and God will protect
the good cause."

The Mexican officers warmly applauded this haughty response, which they
were far from expecting. They felt their courage rekindled, and did not
despair of obtaining better conditions. A smile of disdain played round
the chiefs haughty lips.

"Good," he said; "my father speaks very loudly. The coyotes are bold
when they hunt the buffalo in packs. My father has carefully reflected,
and is determined to accept the consequences of his answer. He wishes
for war, then?"

"No," the general quickly interposed, "heaven forbid! I should be glad
to settle this matter amicably with you, chief, but honor forbids me
subscribing those disgraceful proposals which you did not fear to lay
before me."

"Is it really honour that has dictated my father's answer?" the Indian
asked, ironically. "He will permit me to doubt it. In short, whatever be
the reason that guides him, I can but withdraw; but, before doing so, I
will give him news of a friend whom he doubtless impatiently expects."

"What means that word, doubtless?"

"This," the Indian said, sharply. "The warriors whom my father expected
to arrive to his aid this day have been dispersed by my young men, as
the autumn breeze sweeps away the leaves. They will not come."

A murmur of surprise, almost of terror, ran through the assembly. The
sachem let the long folds of his buffalo robe fall back, tore from his
girdle the bleeding scalp that hung there, and threw it at the general's
feet.

"That," he said, gloomily, "is the scalp of the man who commanded my
father's warriors! Does the chief of the palefaces recognise it? This
scalp was raised by me from the head of the man who was to arrive, and
who, at this hour, has set out for the happy hunting grounds of his
nation."

A shudder of terror ran round the room at the sight of the scalp; the
general felt the small dose of courage that had still animated him
oozing out.

"Chief," he exclaimed, in a trembling voice "is it possible you have
done that?"

"I have done it," the sachem answered, coldly. "Now, farewell. I am
about to join my young men, who are impatient at my long absence."

With these words the Comanche haughtily turned his back on the governor,
and walked toward the door.

"A few moments longer, chief," the general said; "perhaps we are nearer
an understanding than you suppose."

The Comanche gave the speaker a glance which made him quiver.

"Here is my last word," he said. "I insist on the two prisoners being
handed over to me."

"They shall be."

"Good; but no perfidity, no treachery."

"We will act honourably," the general replied, not dreaming, of resenting
the insult conveyed in the Indian's words.

"We shall see. My warriors and myself will remain on the square till my
father has performed his promise. If, within an hour, the palefaces are
not free, the prisoners I hold will be pitilessly massacred, and the
_altepetl_ plundered. I have spoken."

A gloomy silence greeted these terrible threats. The pride of the
Mexicans was quelled, and they at length recognised that nothing could
save them from the vengeance of the Comanche chief. The general bowed in
assent, not having strength to answer otherwise. The sight of the scalp
had paralyzed in him all desire to contend longer. Unicorn left the
hall, mounted his horse again, and calmly awaited the fulfilment of the
promise made to him.

When the Indians had left the council chamber, the Mexicans rose
tumultuously, for each feared the execution of the chief's threats.
General Ventura was pressed on all sides to make haste, and run no risk
of breaking his word. When the governor saw that his officers were as
terrified as himself, he re-assumed his coolness, and cleverly profited
by this state of mind, in order to throw the responsibility off himself,
and appear only to act under the impulse of others.

"Caballeros," he said, "you have heard this man. You understood as well
as I did the menaces he dared to offer us. Shall such an insult be left
unpunished? Will you allow yourselves to be thus braved in the heart of
the town by a handful of scoundrels, and not attempt to inflict on them
the chastisement they deserve? To arms, caballeros, and let us die
bravely, if it must be so, sooner than suffer this stain on the old
Spanish honor our fathers transmitted to us!"

This warm address produced the effect the general anticipated from it;
that is to say, it redoubled, were that possible, the terror of the
hearers, who had long been acquainted with their chiefs cowardice, and
knew how little he could be depended on. This sudden warlike order
seemed to them so unusual, and before all so inopportune, that they
pressed him to accept without delay the proposals dictated by the
sachem.

This was all the governor wanted. He had the minutes of the council at
once drawn up, when it was signed by all present, he put it in his
pocket.

"As you insist," he said, "and nothing can induce you to offer an
honourable resistance, I will myself proceed to the prison, in order to
avoid any misunderstanding, and have the doors opened for Don Miguel
Zarate and General Ibañez."

"Make haste, pray?" the officers answered.

The general, glad in his heart at having got out of the scrape so well,
left the Cabildo, and walked across the square to the prison, which
stood on the opposite side. The Comanches were motionless as statues of
Florentine bronze, leaning on their weapons, with their eyes fixed on
the chief, ready to carry out his orders.



CHAPTER XXIV.

FREE.


Don Miguel and General Ibañez were completely ignorant of what was going
on outside, and the rumours of the town did not reach their ears. Had
they deigned to question their jailer, the latter, who was beginning to
fear for himself the effects of the ill-treatment he had made the two
gentlemen undergo, would doubtless not have hesitated to give them all
possible information, for the sake of regaining their favour; but each
time this man presented himself before them, and opened his mouth to
speak, they turned their backs contemptuously, giving him a sign to
withdraw at once, and be silent.

On this day, according to their wont, the two prisoners had risen at
sunrise, and then, with incredible coolness, began conversing on
indifferent topics. Suddenly a great noise was heard in the prison; a
clang of arms reached the prisoners' ears, and hurried footsteps
approached the rooms in which they were confined. They listened.

"Oh, oh!" said Ibañez, "I fancy it is for today at last."

"Heaven be praised!" Don Miguel answered; "I am glad they have made up
their minds to bring matters to a conclusion."

"On my honour, and so am I," the general said, gaily; "time was
beginning to hang heavy in this prison, where a man has not the
slightest relaxation. We are going to see again that splendid sun which
seems afraid of showing itself in this den. _Viva Cristo_! I feel
delighted at the mere thought, and gladly pardon my judges."

Still the noise drew nearer and nearer, and confused voices were mingled
with the echoing steps in the passage, and the rattling of sabres.

"Here they are," said Don Miguel; "we shall see them in a minute."

"They are welcome if they bring us death, that supreme solace of the
afflicted."

At this moment a key creaked in the lock, and the door opened. The two
prisoners fell back in surprise on seeing the general, who rushed into
the cell followed by two or three officers. Assuredly, if the prisoners
expected to see anybody, it was not the worthy General Ventura. Ibañez'
surprise was so great at this unexpected apparition, that he could not
refrain from exclaiming, with that accent of caustic gaiety which formed
the basis of his character--

"What the deuce do you want here, Señor Governor? Have you, too,
suddenly become a frightful conspirator, such as we are accused of
being?"

Before answering, the general fell back into a chair, wiping away the
perspiration that trickled down his forehead, such speed had he
displayed in coming to the prison. Three or four officers stood
motionless on the threshold of the widely open door. The condemned men
could not at all understand the affair.

"Have you by any chance, my dear governor," General Ibañez said, gaily,
though not believing a word of it, "come to restore us to liberty? That
would be a most gallant action, and I should feel deeply indebted to you
for it."

General Ventura raised his head, fixed on the prisoners eyes sparkling
with joy, and said, in a panting voice--

"Yes, my friends, yes; I _would_ come myself to tell you that you are
free; I would not yield to anyone else the pleasure of announcing the
good news."

The prisoners fell back in amazement.

"What!" General Ibañez exclaimed, "You are speaking seriously?"

Don Miguel attentively looked at the governor, trying to read in his
face the reasons of his conduct.

"Come, come," General Ventura cried, "this hole is frightful; do not
remain any longer in it."

"Ah!" Don Miguel remarked, bitterly, "You find it frightful; you have
been a long time in discovering the fact; for we have lived in it nearly
a month, and the thought never once occurred to you of disturbing our
repose."

"Do not be angry with me, Don Miguel," the governor answered eagerly,
"it was greatly against my will you were detained so long; had it only
depended on me you would have been free; but, thanks to Heaven, all is
settled now, and I have succeeded in having justice done you. Come away;
do not remain a moment longer in this pestilential den."

"Pardon me, Caballero," Don Miguel said coldly, "but, with your
permission, we will remain a few moments longer in it."

"Why so?" General Ventura asked, opening his eyes to their fullest
extent.

"I will tell you."

Don Miguel pointed to a chair, and sat down himself. Ibañez following
his example. There was a moment of deep silence between these three men
as they strove to read each other's real secret thoughts.

"I am waiting your pleasure to explain yourself," the governor at last
said, as he was anxious to get away, and time pressed.

"I am about doing so," Don Miguel answered; "you have come to tell us we
are free, sir; but you do not say on what conditions."

"What do you mean by conditions?" the general asked, not understanding
him.

"Of course," Ibañez went on, supporting his friend; "and these
conditions, too, must suit us; you must see, my dear sir, we cannot
leave this delightful place without knowing the why or wherefore. _Viva
Cristo_! We are not vagabonds to be got rid of in that way; we must know
if we are justified in accepting the proposals you have just made."

"The general is right, sir," the hacendero said in his turn; "the care
of our honor does not permit us to accept a liberation which might stain
it; hence, we shall not leave this prison until you have given us an
explanation."

The governor hardly knew whether he was on his head or his heels; he had
never before had to deal with such obstinate prisoners. He racked his
brains in vain to discover why it was that men condemned to death could
so peremptorily decline their liberty. His ideas were too narrow, his
heart was too cowardly for him to comprehend the grandeur and nobility
in this determination on the part of two men, who preferred an honourable
death to a branded life which they only owed to the pity of their
judges. Still, he must induce them to quit the prison, for time was fast
slipping away, and their obstinacy might ruin everything. Hence, General
Ventura made up his mind like a man.

"Gentlemen," he said, with feigned admiration, "I understand what
nobleness there is in your scruples, and am happy to see that I was not
mistaken in the greatness of your character. You can leave this prison
in full security, and take once more the station that belongs to you in
the world. I will lay no conditions on you; you are free, purely and
simply. Here are the documents connected with your trial, the proofs
produced against you; take them and destroy them, and accept my sincere,
apologies for all that has passed."

While saying this, the governor drew from his breast an enormous bundle
of papers, which he offered Don Miguel. The latter declined them with an
air of disgust; but General Ibañez, less scrupulous or wiser in his
generation, eagerly clutched them, looked through them to see that the
governor was not deceiving him, and then threw them into the _brasero_,
standing in the middle of the room. In less than four minutes, all this
undigested mass was consumed. General Ibañez watched them burning with a
certain degree of pleasure, for he began to feel himself really free.

"I am waiting for you, gentlemen," said the governor.

"One word more, by your leave," the hacendero remarked.

"Speak, sir."

"On leaving this prison, where are we to go?"

"Wherever you please, gentlemen. I repeat to you that you are perfectly
free, and can act as you think proper. I do not even ask your word of
honor to enter into no further conspiracy."

"Good sir," Don Miguel said, holding out his hand to General Ventura,
"your conduct affects me--thanks."

The governor blushed.

"Come, come," he said, to hide his embarrassment on receiving this so
ill-deserved praise.

The prisoners no longer hesitated to follow him.

In the meanwhile, the news of Don Miguel's deliverance had spread
through the town with the rapidity of a train of gunpowder. The
inhabitants, reassured by the continence of the Comanches, and knowing
that they had only come to save a man, in whose fate the entire
population felt interested, had ventured to leave their houses, and at
length thronged the streets and squares; the windows and roofs were
filled with men, women, and children, whose eyes, fixed on the prison,
awaited the moment of Don Miguel's appearance. When he did so,
tremendous shouts greeted him.

Unicorn walked up to the governor.

"My father has kept his promise," he said, gravely, "I will keep mine;
the white prisoners are free; I now depart."

The governor listened to these words with a blush; the sachem returned
to the head of his war party, which rapidly retired, followed by the
shouts of a mob intoxicated with joy. Don Miguel, perplexed by the scene
which had taken place in his presence, and who began to suspect a
mystery in the governor's conduct, turned to him to ask an explanation
of the Indian chief's words--an explanation the governor luckily
escaped, owing to the eagerness of the people who flocked up to
congratulate the prisoners on their release.

On reaching the gate of the Cabildo, General Ventura bowed courteously
to the two gentlemen, and hurried into his palace, happy at having
escaped so cheaply, and not tearing with his own hands the cloak of
generosity which he had paraded in the sight of his prisoners.

"What do you think of all that?" the hacendero asked his friend.

"Hum!" General Ibañez muttered, "The governor's conduct seems to me
rather queer; but, no matter, we are free. I confess to you, my friend,
that I should have no objection to go a little distance from this place,
the air of which, despite General Ventura's protestations, appears to me
remarkably unhealthy for us."

At this moment, and ere Don Miguel could answer, the general felt a
slight touch on his shoulders; he turned and saw Curumilla before him,
with a smiling face. Don Miguel and the general suppressed a cry of joy
at the sight of the grave and excellent Indian.

"Come!" he said to them, laconically.

They followed him, with some difficulty, through the crowd that
accompanied them with shouts, and whom they were obliged to stop and
thank. On reaching a small street near the square, and which was nearly
deserted, Curumilla led them to a house before which he stopped.

"It is here," he said, as he tapped twice.

The door opened, and they entered a courtyard, in which were three ready
saddled horses, held by a groom, which they at once mounted.

"Thanks, brother," the hacendero said, warmly, as he pressed the chiefs
hand; "but how did you learn our deliverance?"

The Araucano smiled pleasantly. "Let us go," he said, making no other
answer.

"Where to?" Don Miguel asked.

"To join Koutonepi."

The three men started at full speed. Ten minutes later they were out of
the town, and galloping across the plain.

"Oh!" General Ibañez said, gaily, "How pleasant the fresh air is! How
good it is to inhale it after remaining for two months stifled between
the walls of a prison!"

"Shall we soon arrive? Don Miguel asked.

"In an hour," the chief answered.

And they went on with renewed speed.



CHAPTER XLIX.

THE MEETING.


On reaching a spot where the trail they were following formed a species
of fork, Curumilla stopped, and the two gentlemen imitated him.

"That is your road," the Araucano chief said. "At the end of that path
you will see Koutonepi's bivouac fire. I must leave you here."

After uttering these words, Curumilla turned his horse and started,
after giving them a parting wave of the hand. The Unicorn was not much
of a talker naturally; generally, he did more than he said. His friends,
convinced that urgent necessity could alone have forced him thus to
break through his habits, made no observation, but let him go. When they
were alone, they gently relaxed the pace of their horses, and proceeded
at a canter.

General Ibañez was radiant. He inhaled the fresh air Of the desert,
which dilated his wide chest, revelling in his liberty. He thought of
nothing but enjoying the present, regardless of the past, which, with
his careless character, he had already forgotten, only to dream of the
future, which he gazed on through a prism of brilliant hues. Don Miguel,
on the contrary, felt, during the last few moments, a sad melancholy
invade his mind. Not able to account for the emotion he experienced, he
had a species of secret presentiment that a misfortune was suspended
over his head. In vain did he try to dispel these ideas, but they
constantly returned more obstinately than ever and it was with a sort of
dread that he advanced in the direction where he was to meet Valentine,
although he was his best friend, so much did he fear that he would greet
his arrival with evil tidings.

The two gentlemen went on thus for nearly half an hour without
exchanging a syllable; but, just as they turned a corner in the path,
they saw a horseman about thirty paces in front of them, barring the
road, and apparently waiting for them. The Mexicans examined him
attentively. He was a tall man, well armed, and wearing the garb of the
rich hacenderos; but, singularly enough, a black velvet mask prevented
them distinguishing his features. By an instinctive movement Don Miguel
and his friend moved a hand to their holsters, but they were empty.

"What is to be done?" the hacendero asked the general.

"Go on, of course. We have just escaped too great a peril for us to fear
this. Even in the event of the mysterious being planted there before us,
like an equestrian statue, trying to play us a trick, which is not
impossible."

"Let us trust to Heaven," Don Miguel muttered, and pushed on.

The distance separating them from the stranger was soon cleared. On
coming within five yards of him, they stopped.

"_Santas tardes_, caballeros," said the stranger, in a friendly voice.

"_Santas tardes_!" the gentlemen answered, in accord.

"I salute you, Don Miguel Zarate, and you, General Ibañez," the stranger
then said. "I am happy to see you at length safe and sound out of the
claws of that worthy General Ventura, who, if he could, would certainly
have played you a trick."

"Caballero," Don Miguel made answer, "I thank you for the kind words you
address to me, and which can only come from a friend's lips. I should be
pleased if you would take off the mask that conceals your features, so
that I may recognise you."

"Gentlemen, if I removed my mask you would be disappointed, for my
features are unfamiliar to you. Do not be angry with me for keeping it
on; but, be assured that you are not mistaken with regard to me, and I
am really your friend."

The two Mexicans bowed courteously to each other, and the stranger went
on.

"I knew that so soon as you were free you would hasten to join that
worthy hunter Valentine, whom the trappers and gambusinos along the
frontier have christened the 'Trail-hunter.' I placed myself here, where
you must infallibly pass, in order to make you a communication of the
utmost importance, which interests you extremely."

"I am listening, sir," Don Miguel responded with secret alarm; "and I
beg you to accept, beforehand, my sincere thanks for the step you have
taken on my behalf."

"You will thank me when the proper time comes, Don Miguel. Today I only
warn you: at a later date I hope to aid you, and my help will not prove
useless."

"Speak, sir! You excite my curiosity to the highest pitch, and I am
anxious to learn the news of which you have condescended to be the
bearer."

The stranger shook his head sadly, and there was a moment's silence.
This meeting of three horsemen, one of whom was masked, in this deserted
place, where no sound troubled the imposing silence of solitude, had
something strange about it. At length the mask spoke again.

"Two months have elapsed, Don Miguel, since, through the treachery of
Red Cedar, you were arrested and made prisoner at the Paso del Norte.
Many events of which you are ignorant have occurred since then; but
there is one I must inform you of at once. On the very night of your
arrest, at the moment you laid down your arms, your daughter was carried
off by Red Cedar."

"My daughter!" the hacendero exclaimed; "And Valentine to whom I
confided her, and who was responsible for her safety?"

"Valentine attempted impossibilities to save her; but what can one man
effect against twenty?"

Don Miguel shook his head mournfully.

"After researches, long, sterile, and extraordinary efforts, a man
providentially aided by Father Seraphin, at length succeeded last night
in taking Doña Clara from her ravishers; but Red Cedar, advised by some
extraordinary chance, entered the house where the maiden had sought
shelter, and carried her off again."

"Oh! I will avenge myself on that man!" the hacendero shouted,
passionately.

The stranger's eyes flashed with a lurid light though the holes in his
mask.

"You will find your son and Father Seraphin with Valentine. Red Cedar
intends to start this evening at the head of a band of gambusinos, to go
into the deserts of the Rio Gila in search of a placer, which his
accomplice, Fray Ambrosio, had indicated to him."

"Fray Ambrosio!" the hacendero repeated, in stupor.

"Yes. Your former chaplain, who served as spy to the squatter, revealed
your plans to him, and provided him the means to enter the hacienda and
carry off your daughter."

"Good," Don Miguel said, in a hollow voice. "I will remember."

"Red Cedar, I know not with what design, is taking your daughter with
him into the desert."

"I will follow him, were it for a thousand leagues," Don Miguel said,
resolutely. "Thanks to you for having instructed me so fully. But whence
comes the interest you take in me so gratuitously, since, as you say, I
do not know you?"

"You shall learn at a later date, Don Miguel. Now, before I leave you,
one last word--an earnest warning."

"I listen attentively, caballero."

"Do not tell anyone--not even the French hunter, not even your son--of
our meeting. Let this secret be buried in your breast. When you reach
the far west, if you see before you, at one of your bivouacs, a piece of
mahogany bearing the impress of a horse's shoe, rise at midnight, and
leave the camp, not letting anyone see you. When you have gone one
hundred paces in the tall grass, whistle thrice; a similar whistle will
answer you, and then you will learn many things important for you to
know, but which I cannot tell you today."

"Good. Thanks. I will do what you tell me."

"You promised it?"

"I swear it on my word as a gentleman," Don Miguel said, as he took off
his hat.

"I accept your oath. Farewell."

"Farewell."

The stranger dug his spurs into his horse's sides and the animal started
off as if impelled by a tornado.

The two gentlemen looked after him for a long time, admiring the grace
and ease of his movements; at length, when horse and rider had
disappeared in the distance, Don Miguel went on again pensively, while
saying to the general--

"Who can that man be?"

"I know no more than you do. _Viva Cristo_!" his friend answered, "but I
assure you I will know, even if to do so I have to search all the
thickets and caverns in the desert."

"What," Don Miguel exclaimed, "do you intend to come with me?"

"Did you ever doubt it, Don Miguel? If so, you insulted me. You will
need all your friends to go in search of your daughter, and inflict on
that demon of a gringo squatter the chastisement he deserves. No, no; I
will not leave you under such circumstances, for that would be
committing a bad action; besides, I shall not be sorry," he added with a
smile, "to get out of the sight of the government for a time."

"My friend, I thank you," the hacendero said, as he took his hand. "I
have long known that you were entirely devoted to me; I am pleased to
receive this new proof of your friendship."

"And you accept it?" the general asked gaily.

"Most heartily; the help of an iron arm like yours must be most useful
to me under the painful circumstances in which I am placed."

"That is settled, then; we will start together, _Mil rayas!_ and I swear
we will deliver Doña Clara."

"May Heaven grant it," the hacendero said, sadly.

The conversation then dropped, and the two friends proceeded in silence.
A quarter of an hour later they reached the Trail-hunter's bivouac.



CHAPTER XXVI.

DOÑA CLARA.


Valentine had been warned, nearly an hour previously, by Unicorn of the
result of the negotiations with the governor of Santa Fe, and the
immediate liberation of the prisoners; he was, therefore, expecting
them. Though they were ignorant where to find him, Valentine presumed
that the chief would leave some Indian to direct them, and, therefore,
did not feel at all surprised at seeing them. So soon as he noticed
their approach he walked to meet them, followed by Don Pablo and the
missionary, while the hacendero and his comrade on their side pricked
on to join them sooner.

A few hours were spent, after the first greetings were over, in a
conference, of which the poor child so audaciously carried off was the
sole subject. Valentine drew up with his friends the plan of the
campaign against Red Cedar, which was so daring that it would have made
a European nervous; but the free adventurers who were about to carry it
out in no way feared the mysterious dangers of the desert which they
were going to confront. We say, free, because Father Seraphin had taken
leave of his friends and found Unicorn, with whom he wished to go to the
Comanche villages, in the hope of spreading the light of the Gospel
there. Still, he did not despair about, meeting his friends in the
prairies, whither he was himself proceeding. Toward evening, Curumilla
arrived. The Araucano was covered with dust, and his face damp with
perspiration; Not uttering a word, he sat down by the fire, took his
calumet from his girdle, and began smoking. Valentine let him do so
without asking a question, but so soon as he saw him absorbed in his
pipe, he laid his hand on his shoulder.

"Well?" he said to him.

"Curumilla has seen them."

"Good; are they numerous?"

"Ten times the number of fingers on my two hands, and one more."

"_Caramba!_" Valentine exclaimed, "Are they so many as that? We shall
have a tough job in that case."

"They are bold hunters," the chief added.

"Hum! Do you know when they will start?"

"This evening, when the new moon rises."

"Ah, ah! I read their plan," the hunter said. "They intend crossing the
ford of the Toro before day."

Curumilla bowed his head in affirmation.

"That is true," Valentine remarked; "once the ford is passed they will
be in the desert, and have comparatively nothing to fear, or at least
they suppose so. I must confess," he added, addressing his friends,
"that Red Cedar is a remarkably clever scoundrel; nothing, escapes him,
but this time he has a' tough adversary. I have my revenge to take on
him, and, with the help of Heaven, it shall be exemplary."

"What shall we do?" Don Miguel asked.

"Sleep," Valentine answered, "we have still several hours before us, so
let us profit by them; in the new life we are beginning, we must neglect
nothing, the body and mind must repose, so that we may act vigorously."

Curumilla had slipped away but now returned, bringing with him two
rifles, pistols, and knives.

"My brothers had no weapons," he said, as he laid his load before the
Mexicans.

The latter thanked him heartily; for, owing to the foresight of
Curumilla, who thought of everything, they could now enter the desert
boldly. Two minutes later the five men were fast asleep, and we will
take advantage of their slumber to return to Red Cedar, whom we left on
the point of climbing through Doña Clara's window, while Fray Ambrosio
and Andrés Garote were watching at either end of the street.

At one bound the bandit was in the room, after breaking open the window
with a blow of his fist. Doña Clara, suddenly aroused, leaped from the
bed, uttering fearful cries at the sight of the terrible apparition
before her.

"Silence," Red Cedar said to her, in a threatening voice, as he placed
the point of his knife on her chest, "one cry more, and I kill you like
a dog."

The maiden, trembling with fright, looked pitifully at the bandit; but
Red Cedar's face wore such an expression of cruelty, that she understood
how little she had to hope from this man. She addressed a silent prayer
to Heaven, and resigned herself to her fate. The bandit gagged the poor
child with the rebozo that lay on the bed, threw her over his shoulder,
and clambered out of the window again. So soon as he put foot on the
ground, he whistled lightly for his comrades to rejoin him, which they
did immediately, and, still carrying his burthen, he proceeded with them
in the direction of the Rancho del Coyote.

During the walk, which was not a long one, the bandits did not meet a
soul. Andrés opened the door and lit a candle; the ruffians entered, and
the door was carefully bolted again. Thus, after only a few hours of
liberty, the wretched girl had fallen once more into the hands of her
ravishers, and placed again by them in the wretched room where she had
spent so many days in prayer and weeping. Red Cedar carried Doña Clara,
who was in a half-fainting state, to her room, removed the rebozo, and
then returned to the bar.

"There;" he said, with satisfaction, "that is all right; the sheep has
returned to the fold. What do you say, reverend father? This time let us
hope she will not escape us."

The monk smiled.

"We shall do well in not remaining here long," he said.

"Why so?"

"Because this hiding place is known and will soon be visited."

The squatter shrugged his shoulders.

"Listen! Fray Ambrosio," he said, with a sinister grimace, which he
intended for a smile. "I predict that, rogue as you are, you run a great
chance of dying in a fool's skin, if you are not flayed beforehand,
which may easily be the case."

The monk shuddered. Red Cedar's gaiety had the peculiarity of being even
more fearful than his anger. The squatter sat down on a bench, and
turned to the gambusino.

"Drink!" he said roughly.

Garote fetched a jar of mezcal, which he placed before his terrible
accomplice. The latter, not taking the trouble to pour the liquor into a
glass, raised the jar to his lips, and drank till breath failed him.

"Hum!" he said, with a click of his tongue, "That's pleasant tipple when
you're thirsty. Listen to my orders, my dear children, and try to carry
them out to the letter; or, if not, your roguish hides will bear the
blame."

The three men bowed silently.

"You, Nathan," he went on, "will come with me, for you are not wanted
here, but your presence is necessary at. Cerro Prieto, where our
comrades are encamped."

"I will follow you," the young man replied, laconically.

"Good! Now, you others, bear this carefully in mind:--Our enemies will
never suppose that I have made such a mistake as to bring my prisoner
back here; for that is so absurd, that the idea will never enter their
heads; so you can be at ease, and no one will trouble your peace of
mind. Tomorrow, so soon as the moon rises, you will make the girl put on
an Indian dress, mount her, and come to me at Cerro Prieto. Immediately
after your arrival we shall start."

"Good!" Fray Ambrosio answered. "We will take care."

"I expect so; for, if you do not, I wouldn't give a _cuartillo_ for your
accursed hide, my reverend friend."

After uttering these friendly words, the squatter seized the jar of
mezcal, emptied it at a draught, and sent it flying across the room,
where it broke to pieces.

"Good bye till tomorrow," he then said, "come, Nathan."

"Till tomorrow," they answered.

The squatter and his son left the rancho, and walked on silently side by
side, plunged in gloomy reflections produced by the events of the night.
They soon left the town. The night was gloomy, but darkness did not
exist for squatters accustomed to find their way anywhere, and never
dreaming of going astray. They walked thus for a long time, with slung
rifle, not exchanging a word, but listening to the slightest noise and
sounding, the darkness with their tiger-cat eyes. All at once they heard
the firm footfall of a man coming towards them. They cocked their
rifles, ready for any emergency. A voice was then heard, though the
person to whom it belonged was invisible.

"My brothers must not fire; they would kill a friend."

The words were Apache--a language well known to the squatters.

"Tis an Indian," said Nathan.

"Do you think I did not recognise him?" Red Cedar replied, brutally;
"then," he added, in the same dialect, "there are no friends in the
shadow of the desert. My brother must get out of my path, or I will kill
him like a coyote."

"Is it thus," the Indian continued, "that the 'maneater' receives the
guide whom Stanapat, the Great Chief of the Apaches, sends him? In that
case, good-bye. I will retire."

"One moment," the squatter said, sharply, as he lowered his rifle, and
made his son a sign to follow his example. "I could not guess who you
were. Advance without fear and be welcome, brother, for I was anxiously
expecting you."

The Indian stepped forward. He wore the costume and characteristic paint
of the Apache warriors; in a word, he was so well disguised, that
Valentine himself could not, have recognised in him his friend,
Eagle-wing the Chief of the Coras, though it was he.

Red Cedar, delighted at the arrival of his guide, received him in the
most affable manner. He had long been acquainted with Stanapat, the most
ferocious warrior of all the Indian nations that traverse the immense
regions of the Rio Gila, and whom we shall presently visit. After
several questions, which Eagle-wing answered without hesitation or once
tripping, Red Cedar, convinced that he was really the man the Apache
chief had promised to send him, dismissed all doubt, and conversed with
him in the most friendly spirit, inquiring after certain warriors he had
formerly known.

"What is my brother's name?" he asked, in conclusion.

"The Heart of Stone!" Eagle-wing replied.

"Good!" the squatter said, "My brother has a grand name. He must be a
renowned warrior in his tribe."

A short time after, the three men reached the camp of the gambusinos,
established in a formidable position on the top of a rock called the
Cerro Prieto (Black Mountain). The miners greeted Red Cedar's arrival
with the most lively joy, for his presence announced a speedy departure;
and all these semi-savages, the greater part of whose life had been
spent in the prairies, were anxious to quit civilization to re-assume
their adventurous career, which was so full of charms and strange
incidents.



CHAPTER XXVII.

EL VADO DEL TORO.


Red Cedar reasoned correctly when he told Fray Ambrosio and Garote that
Doña Clara was in safety at the rancho, and no one would dream of
seeking her there. In truth, Valentine knew the squatter's cunning too
well to suppose that he would commit the impudence of bringing his
prisoner back to the very spot where she was discovered.

The squatter's two accomplices passed the day quietly in playing, on
credit, at monte; each cheating with a dexterity which did honor to
their knowledge of that noble game. No one came to disturb them, or cast
an indiscreet glance into this famous den, which, in the bright
sunshine, had an air of respectability pleasant to look on, and amply
sufficient to dispel all suspicions. About nine in the evening, the
moon, though new, rose magnificently on a deep blue sky, studded with
brilliant stars.

"I fancy it is time to get ready, gossip," Fray Ambrosio said, "the moon
is peering through the trees in your neighbour's garden."

"You are right, señor Padre, we will be off; but let me, I implore you,
first finish this deal; it is one of the most magnificent I ever
witnessed. _Caspita!_ I will bet a nugget as big as my thumb on the
seven of clubs."

"I'll back the two of spades. Something tells me it will turn up first,
especially if you pull up the sleeves of your jacket, which must be
horribly in the way when dealing."

"Oh dear, no, I assure you; but stay, what did I tell you? There is the
seven of clubs."

"That is really extraordinary," Fray Ambrosio replied, with feigned
surprise, for he was not duped by the gambusino's trickery; "but I fancy
we had better make haste."

"Decidedly," said Andrés, as he hid his greasy cards in his vaquera
boots, and proceeded to the room in which Doña Clara was confined. She
followed him out, weeping bitterly.

"Come, come," the gambusino said to her, "dry your tears, señorita; we
do not mean you any harm. Hang it all! Who knows but this may end
perhaps better than you expect; ask that holy monk what he thinks."

Fray Ambrosio bowed an assent, but the maiden made no response to the
gambusino's consolation; she allowed herself to be disguised
unresistingly, but still continued to weep.

"In truth, it is absurd," the worthy Andrés muttered, in an aside to
himself, while attiring his prisoner and looking covetously at the
pearls with which she was adorned, "to waste gold and pearls in this
fashion; would it not be much better to use them in buying something
serviceable? What she has on her is worth at least three thousand
piastres--what a splendid game of monte a fellow could have with that
sum--and if that demon of a Red Cedar had only been willing--well, we
shall see presently."

While making these judicious reflections, the gambusino had completed
the maiden's Indian toilet. He perfected the disguise by throwing a
zarapé over her shoulders; then giving a parting glance round his
domicile, he put in his pocket a pack of cards accidentally left on the
table, drank a large glass of spirits, and left the room, followed by
Doña Clara and the monk, who, in spite of the varying incidents of the
last few days had regained all his good humour, doubtless owing to the
good company in which he was, and the game of monte--that inveterate
passion in every Mexican.

Doña Clara was placed on a horse; Andrés and the monk also mounted, and
leaving the house to the problemical care of Providence, the gambusino
gave the signal for departure. He made a wide circuit, to avoid passing
through the Presidio, and then started at a gallop in the direction of
the Cerro Prieto.

Red Cedar had lost no time, and all was ready for departure. The
newcomers did not even dismount, but so soon as they were sighted, the
caravan, composed, as we have stated of some hundred and twenty resolute
men, after forming in Indian file, started in the direction of the
prairies, having first prudently detached two scouts to watch the
neighbourhood.

Nothing is so mournful as a night march in an unknown country, covered
with snares of every description, when you fear least the ever-watchful
enemy may pounce on you from every bush. Thus, the gambusinos, restless,
and starting at the slightest rustling of the leaves, advanced silently
and gloomily, with their eyes fixed on the clumps that grew along the
wayside, rifle in hand, ready to fire at the slightest suspicious
movement. They marched, however, for upwards of three hours, and nothing
happened to justify their fears; a solemn calmness continued to prevail
around them. Gradually these apprehensions were dissipated; they began
talking in a suppressed voice, and laughing at their past terrors, when
they reached, on the banks of the Del Norte, the _vado_, or Ford del
Toro.

In the interior of Southern America, and specially in New Mexico, a
country still almost entirely unknown, the means of communication are
_nil_, and consequently bridges may be looked for in vain. There are
only two methods of crossing even the widest rivers--looking for a ford,
or, if you are in a great hurry, forcing your horse into the oft-times
rapid current, and trying to reach the other bank by swimming.

The squatter had selected the first method, and in a few minutes the
whole party was in the water. Although the ground of the ford was
uneven, and at times the horses were up to their chests, and compelled
to swim, the gambusinos managed to get across safely. The only persons
left on the bank were Red Cedar, Eagle-wing, the guide, Doña Clara, and
Andrés Garote.

"It is our turn now, Heart of Stone," the squatter said, addressing
Eagle-wing; "you see that our men are in safety, and only await us to
set out again."

"The squaw first," the Indian replied, laconically.

"That is true, chief," the squatter said, and, turning to the prisoner,
"Go across," he said to her, coarsely.

The maiden, not deigning to answer, boldly made her horse enter the
river, and the three men followed. The night was dark, the sky covered
with clouds, and the moon, constantly veiled, only shone forth at
lengthened intervals, which rendered the passage difficult and even
dangerous, as it did not allow objects to be distinguished, even at a
distance. Still, after a few seconds, Red Cedar fancied he saw that Doña
Clara's horse was not following the line traced by the ford, but was
turning to the left, as if carried away by the current. He pushed his
horse forward, to assure himself of the reality of the fact; but
suddenly a vigorous hand seized his right leg, and before he could even
think of resisting, he was hurled back into the water, and his throat
seized by an Indian. Andrés Garote hurried to his assistance.

During this time, Doña Clara's horse, probably obeying a hidden impulse,
was proceeding still further from the spot where the gambusinos had
landed. Some of them, at the head of whom were Dick, Harry, and the
squatter's three sons, perceiving what was going on, returned to the
water, to proceed to their chiefs help, while the others, guided by Fray
Ambrosio, galloped down the river bank, in order to cut off retreat,
when Doña Clara's horse landed.

Andrés Garote, after several fruitless efforts, succeeded in catching
Red Cedar's horse, which he brought to him at the moment when the latter
had scalped his enemy. The American got into his saddle again, reached
the bank, and tried to restore some order among his band, while actually
watching the incidents of the silent drama being played in the river
between Eagle-wing and the young Spanish girl.

The Coras sachem had urged his steed in pursuit of Doña Clara's, and
both were following almost the same line down the stream, the former
striving to catch up the latter, who, for her part, was doing her utmost
to widen the distance between them. Suddenly the Coras horse gave a
leap, while uttering a snort of pain, and began madly beating the water
with its forelegs, while the river was tinged with blood around it. The
chief, perceiving that his horse was mortally wounded, leaped from the
saddle, and leant over the side, ready to leap off. At this moment, a
hideous face appeared flush with water, and a hand was stretched out to
grasp him. With that imperturbable coolness that never deserts the
Indians, even under the most critical circumstances, the Coras seized
his tomahawk, split his enemy's skull open, and glided into the river.

A formidable war yell was, at this moment, heard from the forest, and
some fifty shots were fired from both banks at once, illumining the
scene with their fugitive flashes. A multitude of redskins rushed on the
gambusinos, and a terrible fight commenced. The Mexicans, taken
unawares, defended themselves at first poorly, giving ground and seeking
shelter behind trees; but, obeying the thundering voice of the squatter,
who performed prodigies of valor while exciting his comrades to sell
their lives dearly, they regained courage, formed in close column, and
charged the Indians furiously, beating them down with the butts of their
muskets, or slashing them with their machetes.

The combat was short; the redskins, who were only a party of marauding
Pawnees, seeing the ill-result of their surprise, grew discouraged, and
disappeared as rapidly as they had come. Two minutes later calmness and
silence were so perfectly re-established, that had it not been for a few
wounded gambusinos, and several Indians stretched dead on the
battlefield, the strange scene would have appeared as a dream.

So soon as the Indians were routed, Red Cedar bent an eager glance up
the river; on that side the struggle was also over, and Eagle-wing,
mounted behind the young lady, was guiding her horse to the bank, which
it soon reached.

"Well?" the squatter asked.

"The Pawnees are cowardly coyotes," the Coras answered, pointing to two
human scalps that hung all bloody from his girdle; "they fly like old
women, so soon as they see the war plume of a warrior of my nation."

"Good!" the squatter said, gleefully, "My brother is a great warrior; he
has a friend."

The Coras bowed with a smile of indescribable meaning. His object was
gained; he had acquired the confidence of the man he meant to destroy.
Doña Clara, Ellen, and the squatter's wife were placed in the centre of
the caravan, and the band started again.

An hour later, a second party of horsemen also crossed the Vado del
Toro. It was much less numerous than the first, as it consisted of only
five men, but they were Valentine, Curumilla, Don Miguel, his son, and
General Ibañez. The real struggle was about to commence: behind them
they left the civilised world, to find themselves face to face on the
desert with their enemies.

(Those of our readers who take an interest in the Trail-hunter, we must
ask to follow his adventures through a second volume, to be called--THE
PIRATES OF THE PRAIRIES.)


THE END





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