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

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THE RED TRACK

A Story of Social life in Mexico

BY

GUSTAVE AIMARD


AUTHOR OF "ADVENTURERS," "PEARL OF THE ANDES," "TRAIL HUNTER,"
"PIRATES OF THE PRAIRIES," "TRAPPER'S DAUGHTER," "TIGER
SLAYER," "GOLD SEEKERS," "INDIAN CHIEF," ETC.



LONDON:

CHARLES HENRY CLARKE, 13 PATERNOSTER ROW.



PREFACE.


The present volume of GUSTAVE AIMARD'S works is a continuation of the
"Indian Chief," and conclusion of the series comprising that work, the
"Gold Seekers," and the "Tiger Slayer."

At the present moment, when we are engaged in a war with Mexico, I feel
assured that the extraordinary and startling descriptions given in this
volume of the social condition and mode of life in the capital of that
country will be read with universal gratification; for I can assert
confidently that; no previous writer has ever produced such a graphic
and truthful account of a city with which the illustrated papers will
soon make us thoroughly acquainted.

If a further recommendation be needed, it will be found in the fact that
the present volume appears in an English garb before being introduced to
French readers. GUSTAVE AIMARD is so gratified with the reception his
works have found in this country, through my poor assistance, that he
has considered he could not supply a better proof of his thankfulness
than by permitting his English readers to enjoy, on this occasion, the
first fruits of his versatile and clever pen. This is a compliment
which, I trust, will be duly appreciated; for, as to the merits of
the work itself, I have not the slightest doubt. Readers may imagine
it impossible for GUSTAVE AIMARD to surpass his previous triumphs in
the wildly romantic, or that he could invent anything equal to the
"Prairie Flower," a work which I venture to affirm, to be the finest
Indian tale ever yet written, in spite of the great authors who have
preceded AIMARD; but I ask my reader's special admiration for the "RED
TRACK," because in it our favourite author strikes out a new path, and
displays versatility which puts to the blush those bilious critics--few
in number--I grant, among the multitude of encouraging reviewers, who
have ventured an opinion that GUSTAVE AIMARD can only write about Indian
life, or, in point of fact, that he is merely a hunter describing his
own experiences under a transparent disguise.

Well, be it so, I accept the assertion. GUSTAVE AIMARD is but a
hunter; he has seen nought but uncivilized life; he has spent years
among savages, and has returned to his own country to try and grow
Europeanized again. What then? The very objection is a proof of his
veracity; and I am fully of the conviction that every story he has told
us is true. It is not reasonable to suppose that a man who has spent the
greater part of his life in hunting the wild animals of America--who
has been an adopted son of the most powerful Indian tribes--who has for
years never known what the morrow would bring forth, should sit down
to invent. The storehouse of his mind is too amply filled with marvels
for him to take that needless trouble, and he simply repeats on paper
the tales which in olden limes he picked up at the camp fires, or heard
during his wanderings with the wood rangers.

And it is as such that I wish GUSTAVE AIMARD to be judged by English
readers. His eminent quality is truth. He is a man who could not set
down a falsehood, no matter what the bribe might be, he has lived
through the incidents he describes, and has brought back to Europe
the adventures of a chequered life. He does not attempt to fascinate
his readers by a complicated plot. He does not possess the marvellous
invention of a Cooper, who, after a slight acquaintance with a few
powerless Indians, wrote books which all admirers of the English
language peruse. But GUSTAVE AIMARD possesses a higher quality, in the
fact that he only notes down incidents which he has seen, or which he
has received on undoubted evidence from his companions.

The present is the twelfth volume of GUSTAVE AIMARD'S works to which. I
have put my name; and, with the exception of a few captious criticisms
whose motive may be read between the lines, the great body of the
British Press has greeted our joints efforts with the heartiest
applause. The success of this series has been unparalleled in the annals
of cheap literature. Day by day the number of readers increases, and the
publication of each successive volume creates an excitement which cannot
fail to be most gratifying to the publishers.

To please all parties, the proprietors of AIMARD'S copyrights have
projected an Illustrated Series, to which I would invite most earnest
attention. Although by this time I am saturated with Indian life, I
confess that I never thoroughly understood it till I saw the engravings
after a Zwecker, a Huard, and a Corbould. The artists have carefully
studied their subjects, and gone to the fountain-head for information;
and the result is, that they have produced a series of works which only
need to be seen to be appreciated. The last volume illustrated is "The
Freebooters," which was entirely intrusted to Mr. Corbould, and though
I do not wish for a moment to depreciate the other artists, I felt, on
seeing the illustrations, that GUSTAVE AIMARD was worthily interpreted.
All I can urge upon readers is, that they should judge for themselves.

To wind up this unusually long Preface, into which honest admiration for
the author has alone induced me, I wish to say that it affords me an
ever-recurring delight to introduce GUSTAVE AIMARD'S works to English
readers, while it causes me an extra pleasure, on this occasion, to be
enabled to repeat that the present volume appears on this side of the
Channel before it has been introduced to French readers. And, knowing as
I do the number of editions through which AIMARD'S books pass in his own
native land, I can appreciate the sacrifice he has made on this occasion
at its full value.

                                              LASCELLES WRAXALL.

DRAYTON TERRACE, WEST BROMPTON,
   _March_, 1862.



CONTENTS.

      I. THE SIERRA OF THE WIND RIVER
     II. THE DEAD ALIVE
    III. THE COMPACT
     IV. THE TRAVELLERS
      V. THE FORT OF THE CHICHIMÈQUES
     VI. THE SURPRISE
    VII. THE EXPLANATION
   VIII. A DECLARATION OF WAR
     IX. MEXICO
      X. THE RANCHO
     XI. THE PASEO DE BUCARELI
    XII. A CONFIDENTIAL CONVERSATION
   XIII. DON MARTIAL
    XIV. THE VELORIO
     XV. THE CONVENT OF THE BERNARDINES
    XVI. THE CONFESSOR
   XVII. THE BEGINNING OF THE STRUGGLE
  XVIII. A VISIT
    XIX. ASSISTANCE
     XX. EL ZARAGATE
    XXI. AFTER THE INTERVIEW
   XXII. THE BLANK SIGNATURE
  XXIII. ON THE ROAD
   XXIV. A SKIRMISH
    XXV. LOS REGOCIJOS
   XXVI. THE PRONUNCIAMIENTO
  XXVII. THE CAPILLA

  A BUFFALO HUNT
  A MUSTANG



CHAPTER I.

THE SIERRA OF THE WIND RIVER.


The Rocky Mountains form an almost impassable barrier between California
and the United States, properly so called; their formidable defiles,
their rude valleys, and the vast western plains, watered by rapid
streams, are even to the present day almost unknown to the American
adventurers, and are rarely visited by the intrepid and daring Canadian
trappers.

The majestic mountain range called the Sierra of the Wind River,
especially offers a grand and striking picture, as it raises to the
skies its white and snow-clad peaks, which extend indefinitely in a
north-western direction, until they appear on the horizon like a white
cloud, although the experienced eye of the trapper recognizes in this
cloud the scarped outline of the Yellowstone Mountains.

The Sierra of the Wind River is one of the most remarkable of the Rocky
Mountain range; it forms, so to speak, an immense plateau, thirty
leagues long, by ten or twelve in width, commanded by scarped peaks,
crowned with eternal snows, and having at their base narrow and deep
valleys filled with springs, streams, and rock-bound lakes. These
magnificent reservoirs give rise to some of the mighty rivers which,
after running for hundreds of miles through a picturesque territory,
become on one side the affluents of the Missouri, on the other of the
Columbia, and bear the tribute of their waters to the two oceans.

In the stories of the wood rangers and trappers, the Sierra of the
Wind River is justly renowned for its frightful gorges, and the wild
country in its vicinity frequently serves as a refuge to the pirates of
the prairie, and has been, many a time and oft, the scene of obstinate
struggles between the white men and the Indians.

Toward the end of June, 1854, a well-mounted traveller, carefully
wrapped up in the thick folds of a zarapé, raised to his eyes, was
following one of the most precipitous slopes of the Sierra of the
Wind River, at no great distance from the source of the Green River,
that great western Colorado which pours its waters into the Gulf of
California.

It was about seven in the evening: the traveller rode along, shivering
from the effects of an icy wind which whistled mournfully through the
canyons. All around had assumed a saddening aspect in the vacillating
moonbeams. He rode on without hearing the footfall of his horse, as it
fell on the winding sheet of snow that covered the landscape; at times
the capricious windings of the track he was following compelled him to
pass through thickets, whose branches, bent by the weight of snow, stood
out before him like gigantic skeletons, and struck each other after he
had passed with a sullen snap.

The traveller continued his journey, looking anxiously on both sides
of him. His horse, fatigued by a long ride, hobbled at every step, and
in spite of the repeated encouragement of its rider seemed determined
to stop short, when, after suddenly turning an angle in the track, it
suddenly entered a large clearing, where the close-growing grass formed
a circle about forty yards in diameter, and the verdure formed a cheery
contrast with the whiteness that surrounded it.

"Heaven be praised!" the traveller exclaimed in excellent French, and
giving a start of pleasure; "Here is a spot at last where I can camp for
tonight night, without any excessive inconvenience. I almost despaired
of finding one."

While thus congratulating himself, the traveller had stopped his horse
and dismounted. His first attention was paid to his horse, from which
he removed saddle and bridle, and which he covered with his zarapé,
appearing to attach no importance to the cold, which was, however,
extremely severe in these elevated regions. So soon as it was free, the
animal, in spite of its fatigue, began browsing heartily on the grass,
and thus reassured about his companion, the traveller began thinking
about making the best arrangements possible for the night.

Tall, thin, active, with a lofty and capacious forehead, an intelligent
blue eye, sparkling with boldness, the stranger appeared to have been
long accustomed to desert life, and to find nothing extraordinary or
peculiarly disagreeable in the somewhat precarious position in which he
found himself at this moment.

He was a man who had reached about middle life, on whose brow grief
rather than the fatigue of the adventurous life of the desert had formed
deep wrinkles, and sown numerous silver threads in his thick light
hair; his dress was a medium between that of the white trappers and
the Mexican gambusinos; but it was easy to recognize, in spite of his
complexion, bronzed by the seasons, that he was a stranger to the ground
he trod, and that Europe had witnessed his birth.

After giving a final glance of satisfaction at his horse, which at
intervals interrupted its repast to raise its delicate and intelligent
head to him with an expression of pleasure, he carried his weapons and
horse trappings to the foot of a rather lofty rock, which offered him
but a poor protection against the gusts of the night breeze, and then
began collecting dry wood to light a watch fire.

It was no easy task to find dry firewood at a spot almost denuded of
trees, and whose soil, covered with snow, except in the clearing,
allowed nothing to be distinguished; but the traveller was patient, he
would not be beaten, and within an hour he had collected sufficient
wood to feed through the night two such fires as he proposed kindling.
The branches soon crackled, and a bright flame rose joyously in a long
spiral to the sky.

"Ah!" said the traveller, who, like all men constrained to live alone,
seemed to have contracted the habit of soliloquizing aloud, "the fire
will do, so now for supper."

Then, fumbling in the alforjas, or double pockets which travellers
always carry fastened to the saddle, he took from them all the requisite
elements of a frugal meal; that is to say, cecina, pemmican, and several
varas of tasajo, or meat dried in the sun. At the moment when, after
shutting up his alforjas, the traveller raised his head to lay his meat
on the embers to broil, he stopped motionless, with widely-opened mouth,
and it was only through a mighty strength of will that he suppressed a
cry of surprise and possibly of terror. Although no sound had revealed
his presence, a man, leaning on a long rifle, was standing motionless
before him, and gazing at him with profound attention.

At once mastering the emotion he felt, the traveller carefully laid
the tasajo on the embers, and then, without removing his eye from this
strange visitor, he stretched out his arm to grasp his rifle, while
saying, in a tone of the most perfect indifference--

"Whether friend or foe, you are welcome, mate. 'Tis a bitter night, so,
if you are cold, warm yourself, and if you are hungry, eat. When your
nerves have regained their elasticity, and your body its usual strength,
we will have a frank explanation, such as men of honour ought to have."

The stranger remained silent for some seconds; then, after shaking his
head several times, he commenced in a low and melancholy voice, as it
were speaking to himself rather than replying to the question asked him--

"Can any human being really exist in whose heart a feeling of pity still
remains?"

"Make the trial, mate," the traveller answered quickly, "by accepting,
without hesitation, my hearty offer. Two men who meet in the desert must
be friends at first sight, unless private reasons make them implacable
enemies. Sit down by my side and eat."

This dialogue had been held in Spanish, a language the stranger spoke
with a facility that proved his Mexican origin. He seemed to reflect for
a moment, and then instantly made up his mind.

"I accept," he said, "for your voice is too sympathizing and your glance
too frank to deceive."

"That is the way to speak," the traveller said, gaily. "Sit down and eat
without further delay, for I confess to you that I am dying of hunger."

The stranger smiled sadly, and sat down on the ground by the traveller's
side. The two men, thus strangely brought together by accident, then
attacked with no ordinary vigour, which evidenced a long fast, the
provisions placed before them. Still, while eating, the traveller did
not fail to examine his singular companion; and the following was the
result of his observations.

The general appearance of the stranger was most wretched, and his
ragged clothes scarce covered his bony, fleshless body; while his pale
and sickly features were rendered more sad and gloomy by a thick,
disordered beard that fell on his chest. His eyes, inflamed by fever,
and surrounded by black circles, glistened with a sombre fire, and at
times emitted flashes of magnetic radiance. His weapons were in as bad
a condition as his clothes, and in the event of a fight this man, with
the exception of his bodily strength, which must once have been great,
but which privations of every description, and probably endured for
a lengthened period, had exhausted, would not have been a formidable
adversary for the traveller. Still, beneath this truly wretched
appearance could be traced an organization crushed by grief. There was
in this man something grand and sympathetic, which appeared to emanate
from his person, and aroused not only pity but also respect for torture
so proudly hidden and so nobly endured. This man, in short, ere he fell
so low, must have been great, either in virtue or in vice; but assuredly
there was nothing common about him, and a mighty heart beat in his bosom.

Such was the impression the stranger produced on his host, while both,
without the interchange of a word, appeased an appetite sharpened by
long hours of abstinence. Hunters' meals are short, and the present one
lasted hardly a quarter of an hour. When it was over, the traveller
rolled a cigarette, and, handing it to the stranger, said--

"Do you smoke?"

On this apparently so simple question being asked, a strange thing
happened which will only be understood by smokers who, long accustomed
to the weed, have for some reason or other been deprived of it for
a lengthened period. The stranger's face was suddenly lit up by the
effect of some internal emotion; his dull eye flashed, and, seizing the
cigarette with a nervous tremor, he exclaimed, in a voice choked by an
outburst of joy impossible to render--

"Yes, yes; I used to smoke."

There was a rather long silence, during which the two men slowly inhaled
the smoke of their cigarettes, and indulged in thought. The wind howled
fiercely Over their heads, the eddying snow was piling up around them,
and the echoes of the canyons seemed to utter notes of complaint. It was
a horrible night. Beyond the circle of light produced by the flickering
flame of the watch fire all was buried in dense gloom. The picture
presented by these two men, seated in the desert, strangely illumined
by the bluish flame, fend smoking calmly while suspended above an
unfathomable abyss, had something striking and awe-inspiring about it.
When the traveller had finished his cigarette, he rolled another, and
laid his tobacco-pouch between himself and his guest.

"Now that the ice is broken between us," he said in a friendly voice,
"and that we have nearly formed an acquaintance--for we have been
sitting at the same fire, and have eaten and smoked together--the moment
has arrived, I fancy, for us to become thoroughly acquainted."

The stranger nodded his head silently. It was a gesture that could be
interpreted affirmatively or negatively, at pleasure. The traveller
continued, with a good-humoured smile--

"I make not the slightest pretence to compel you to reveal your secrets,
and you are at liberty to maintain your incognito without in any way
offending me. Still, whatever may be the result, let me give you an
example of frankness by telling you who I am. My story will not be long,
and only consists of a very few words. France is my country, and I was
born at Paris--which city, doubtless," he remarked, with a stifled sigh,
"I shall never see again. Reasons too lengthy to trouble you with, and
which would interest you but very slightly, led me to America. Chance,
or Providence, perhaps, by guiding me to the desert, and arousing my
instincts and aspirations for liberty, wished to make a wood ranger of
me, and I obeyed. For twenty years I have been traversing the prairies
and great savannahs in every direction, and I shall probably continue
to do so, till an Indian bullet comes from some thicket to stop my
wanderings for ever. Towns are hateful to me; passionately fond of the
grand spectacles of nature, which elevate the thought, and draw the
creature nearer to his Creator, I shall only mix myself up once again in
the chaos of civilization in order to fulfil a vow made on the tomb of a
friend. When I have done that, I shall fly to the most, unknown deserts,
in order to end a life henceforth useless, far from those men whose
paltry passions and base and ignoble hatred have robbed me of the small
amount of happiness to which I fancied I had a claim. And now, mate, you
know me as well as I do myself. I will merely add, in conclusion, that
my name among the white men, my countrymen, is Valentine Guillois, and
among the redskins, my adopted fathers, Koutonepi--that is to say, 'The
Valiant One.' I believe myself to be as honest and as brave as a man is
permitted to be with his imperfect organization. I never did harm with
the intention of doing so, and I have done services to my fellow men as
often as I had it in my power, without expecting from them thanks or
gratitude."

The speech, which the hunter had commenced in that clear voice and with
that careless accent habitual to him, terminated involuntarily, under
the pressure of the flood of saddened memories that rose from his heart
to his lips, in a low and inarticulate voice, and when he concluded,
he let his head fall sadly on his chest, with a sigh that resembled a
sob. The stranger regarded him for a moment with an expression of gentle
commiseration.

"You have suffered," he said; "suffered in your love, suffered in your
friendship. Your history is that of all men in this world: who of us,
but at a given hour, has felt his courage yield beneath the weight of
grief? You are alone, friendless, abandoned by all, a voluntary exile,
far from the men who only inspire you with hatred and contempt; you
prefer the society of wild beasts, less ferocious than they; but, at any
rate, you live, while I am a dead man!"

The hunter started, and looked in amazement at the speaker.

"I suppose you think me mad?" he continued, with a melancholy smile;
"reassure yourself, it is not so. I am in full possession of my senses,
my head is cool, and my thoughts are clear and lucid. For all that
though, I repeat to you, I am dead, dead in the sight of my relations
and friends, dead to the whole world in fine, and condemned to lead this
wretched existence for an indefinite period. Mine is a strange story,
and that you would recognize through one word, were you a Mexican, or
had you travelled in certain regions of Mexico."

"Did I not tell you that, for twenty years, I have been travelling over
every part of America?" the traveller replied, his curiosity being
aroused to the highest pitch. "What is the word? Can you tell it me?"

"Why not? I am alluding to the name I bore while I was still a living
man."

"What is that name?"

"It had acquired a certain celebrity, but I doubt whether, even if you
have heard it mentioned, it has remained in your memory."

"Who knows? Perhaps you are mistaken."

"Well, since you insist, learn, then, that I was called Martial el
Tigrero."

"You?" the hunter exclaimed, under the influence of the uttermost
surprise; "why that is impossible!"

"Of course so, since I am dead," the stranger answered, bitterly.



CHAPTER II.

THE DEAD ALIVE.


The Tigrero had let his head fall on his chest again, and seemed engaged
with gloomy thoughts. The hunter, somewhat embarrassed by the turn the
conversation had taken, and anxious to continue it, mechanically stirred
up the fire with the blade of his navaja, while his eyes wandered
around, and were at times fixed on his companion with an expression of
deep sympathy.

"Stay," he said, presently, as he thrust back with his foot a few embers
that had rolled out; "pardon me, sir, any insult which my exclamation
may seem to have contained. You have mistaken, I assure you, the
meaning of my remarks; although, as we have never met, we are not such
strangers as you suppose. I have known you for a long time."

The Tigrero raised his head, and looked at the hunter incredulously.

"You?" he muttered.

"Yes, I, caballero, and it will not be difficult to prove it to you."

"What good will it do?" he murmured; "what interest can I have in the
fact of your knowing me?"

"My dear sir," the Frenchman continued, with several shakes of his head,
"nothing happens in this world by the effect of chance. Above us, an
intellect superior to ours directs everything here below; and if we have
been permitted to meet in a manner so strange and unexpected in these
desolate regions, it is because Providence has designs with us which we
cannot yet detect; let us, therefore, not attempt to resist God's will,
for what He has resolved will happen: who knows whether I may not be
unconsciously sent across your path to bring you a supreme consolation,
or to supply you with the means to accomplish a long meditated
vengeance, which you have hitherto deemed impossible?"

"I repeat to you, señor," the Tigrero replied, "that your words are
those of a stout-hearted and brave man, and I feel involuntarily
attracted towards you. I think with you, that this accidental meeting,
after so many days of solitude and grief, with a man of your stamp,
cannot be the effect of unintelligent chance, and that at a moment
when, convinced of my impotence to escape from my present frightful
situation, I was reduced to despair and almost resolved on suicide, the
loyal hand you offer me can only be that of a friend. Question me, then,
without hesitation, and I will answer with the utmost frankness."

"Thanks for that speech," the hunter said, with emotion, "for it proves
that we are beginning to understand each other, and soon, I hope, we
shall have no secrets; but I must, before all else, tell you how it is
that I have known you for a long time, although you were not aware of
the fact."

"Speak, señor, I am listening to you with the most earnest attention."

Valentine reflected for a moment, and then went on as follows:--

"Some months ago, in consequence of circumstances unnecessary to remind
you of, but which you doubtless bear in mind, you met at the colony of
Guetzalli a Frenchman and a Canadian hunter, with whom you eventually
stood on most intimate terms."

"It is true," the Tigrero replied, with a nervous start, "and the
Frenchman to whom you allude, is the Count de Prébois Crancé. Oh! I
shall never be able to discharge the debt of gratitude I have contracted
with him for the services he rendered me."

A sad smile curled the hunter's lip. "You no longer owe him anything,"
he said, with a melancholy shake of the head.

"What do you mean?" the Tigrero exclaimed, eagerly; "surely the count
cannot be dead!"

"He is dead, caballero. He was assassinated on the shores of Guaymas.
His murderers laid him in his tomb, and his blood, so treacherously
shed, cries to Heaven for vengeance: but patience, Heaven will not
permit this horrible crime to remain unpunished."

The hunter hurriedly wiped away the tears he had been unable to repress
while speaking of the count, and went on, in a voice choked by the
internal emotion which he strove in vain to conquer:--

"But let us, for the present, leave this sad reminiscence to slumber
in our hearts. The count was my friend, my dearest friend, more than a
brother to me: he often spoke about you to me, and several times told me
your gloomy history, which terminated in a frightful catastrophe."

"Yes, yes," the Tigrero muttered; "it was, indeed, a frightful
catastrophe. I would gladly have found death at the bottom of the abyss
into which I rolled during my struggle with Black Bear, could I have
saved her I loved; but God decreed it otherwise, and may his holy name
be blessed and praised."

"Amen!" the hunter said, sadly turning his head away.

"Oh!" Don Martial continued a moment later, "I feel my recollections
crowding upon me at this moment. I feel as if the veil that covers my
memory is torn asunder, in order to recall events, already so distant,
but which have left so deep an impression on my mind. I, too, recognize
you now; you are the famous hunter whom the count was trying to find
in the desert; but he did not call you by any of the names you have
mentioned."

"I dare say," Valentine answered, "that he alluded to me as the 'Trail
Hunter,' the name by which the white hunters and the Indians of the Far
West are accustomed to call me."

"Yes; oh, now I remember perfectly, that was indeed the name he gave
you. You were right in saying that we had been long acquainted, though
we had never met."

"And now that we meet in this desert," the hunter said, offering his
hand, "connected as we are by the memory of our deceased friend, shall
we be friends?"

"No, not friends," the Tigrero exclaimed, as he heartily pressed the
hunter's honest hand; "not friends, but brothers."

"Well, then, brothers, and each for the other against all comers," the
hunter answered. "And now that you are convinced that curiosity plays no
part in my eager desire to know what has befallen you since the moment
when you so hurriedly left your friends, speak, Don Martial, and then I
will tell you, in my turn, what are the motives that directed my steps
to these desolate regions."

The Tigrero, in a few moments, began his narrative as follows:--

"My friends must have fancied me dead, hence I cannot blame them for
having abandoned me, although they were, perhaps, too quick in doing so
without an attempt either to recover my corpse, or assure themselves at
least that I was really dead, and that assistance would be thrown away;
but though I am ignorant of what happened in the cavern after my fall,
the bodies left on the battlefield proved to me afterwards that they had
a tough fight, and were compelled to fly before the Indians; hence, I
say again that I do not blame them. You are aware that I was attacked by
Black Bear at the moment when I believed that I had succeeded in saving
those whom I had sworn to protect. It was on the very verge of the pit
that Black Bear and myself, enwreathed like two serpents, began a final
and decisive struggle: at the moment when I had all but succeeded in
foiling my enemy's desperate efforts, and was raising my arm to cut
his throat, the war yell of the Comanches suddenly burst forth at the
entrance of the cavern. By a supreme effort the Apache chief succeeded
in escaping from my clutch, bounded on his feet, and rushed towards
Doña Anita, doubtless with the intention of carrying her off, as the
unforeseen assistance arriving for us would prevent the accomplishment
of his vengeance. But the maiden repulsed him with that strength
which despair engenders, and sought refuge behind her father. Already
severely wounded by two shots, the chief tottered back to the edge of
the pit, where he lost his balance. Feeling that he was falling, by an
instinctive gesture, or, perhaps, through a last sentiment of fury, he
stretched out his arms as if to save himself, caught hold of me as I
rose, half-stunned by my recent contest, and we both rolled down the
pit, he with a triumphant laugh, and I with a shriek of despair. Forgive
me for having described thus minutely the last incidents of this fight,
but I was obliged to enter into these details to make you thoroughly
understand by what providential chance I was saved, when I fancied
myself hopelessly lost."

"Go on, go on;" the hunter said, "I am listening to you with the
greatest attention."

Don Martial continued:--

"The Indian was desperately wounded, and his last effort, in which he
had placed all his remaining strength, cost him his life: it was a
corpse that dragged me down, for during the few seconds our fall lasted
he did not make a movement. The pit was not so deep as I fancied, not
more than twenty or five-and-twenty feet, and the sides were covered
with plants and grass, which, although they bent beneath our weight,
prevented us from falling perpendicularly. The chief was the first
to reach the bottom of the abyss, and I fell upon his body, which
deadened my fall, though it was serious enough entirely to deprive me
of consciousness. I cannot say how long I remained in this state, but,
from a calculation I made afterwards, my faint must have lasted two
hours. I was aroused by a cold sensation which suddenly affected me. I
opened my eyes again, and found myself in utter darkness. At the first
moment it was impossible for me to account for the situation in which
I found myself, or what events had placed me in it; but my memory
gradually returned, my thoughts became more lucid, and I only desired
to emerge as speedily as possible from the pit into which I had fallen.
I was suffering fearfully, although I was not actually wounded. I had
received numerous contusions in my fall, and the slightest movement
caused me an atrocious pain, for I was so bruised and shaken. In my
present state I must endure the evil patiently: attempting to scale
the sides of the pit when my strength was completely exhausted would
have been madness, and I therefore resigned myself to waiting. I was in
complete darkness, but that did not trouble me greatly, as I had about
me everything necessary to light a fire. Within a few moments I had a
light, and was enabled to look about me. I was lying at the bottom of a
species of funnel, for the pit grew narrower in its descent, which had
greatly helped to deaden my fall; my feet and legs almost to the knee
were bathed in a subterranean stream, while the upper part of my body
leant against the corpse of the Indian chief. The spot where I found
myself was thirty feet in circumference at the most, and I assured
myself by the help of my light that the sides of the pit, entirely
covered with creepers, and even sturdy shrubs, rose in a gentle slope,
and would not be difficult to escalade when my strength had sufficiently
returned. At this moment I could not dream of attempting the ascent,
so I bravely made up my mind, and although my anxiety was great about
the friends I had left in, the cavern, I resolved to wait a few hours
before proceeding to save myself. I remained thus for twenty hours
at the bottom of the pit, _tête-à-tête_ with my enemy's corpse. Many
times during my excursions in the desert I had found myself in almost
desperate situations, but never, I call heaven to witness, had I felt
so completely abandoned and left in the hands of Providence. Still,
however deplorable my position might be, I did not despair; in spite
of the frightful pain I suffered, I had convinced myself that my limbs
were in a satisfactory state, and that all I needed was patience. When
I fancied my strength sufficiently restored, I lighted two torches,
which I fixed in the ground, in order to see more clearly. I threw my
rifle on my back, placed my navaja between my teeth, and clinging to the
shrubs, by a desperate effort I began my ascent. I will not tell you of
the difficulty I had in conquering the terrible shocks I was obliged
to give my aching bones in surmounting almost unsurpassable obstacles;
sufficient for you to know that I reached the mouth of the pit after
an hour and a half's struggle, in which I expended all the energy a
man possesses who hopes to save himself. When I reached the floor of
the cavern, I lay for more than half an hour on the sand, exhausted,
panting, unable to make the slightest movement, scarce breathing,
hearing nothing, seeing nothing, not even conscious of the frightful
state into which I was plunged. Fortunately for me, this terrible
condition did not last long, the refreshing air from without, reaching
me through the passages of the cavern, recovered me, and restored the
entire use of my mental faculties. The ground around me was covered with
dead bodies, and there had, doubtless, been a terrible struggle between
the white men and the redskins. I sought in vain for the corpses of Doña
Anita and her father. I breathed again, and hope re-entered my heart,
for my sacrifice had not been fruitless. Those for whom I had given my
life were saved, and I should see them again. This thought restored my
courage, and I felt quite a different man. I rose without any excessive
difficulty, and, supporting myself on my rifle, went toward the mouth of
the cavern, after removing my stock of provision, and taking two powder
horns from the stores I had previously _cached_, and which my friends
in their flight had not thought of removing. No words can describe the
emotion I felt when, after a painful walk through the grotto, I at
length reached the riverbank, and saw the sun once more: a man must have
been in a similar desperate situation to understand the cry, or rather
howl of joy which escaped from my surcharged bosom when I felt again the
blessed sunbeams, and inhaled the odorous breath of the savannah. By an
unreflecting movement, though it was suggested by my heart, I fell on my
knees, and piously clasping my hands, I thanked Him who had saved me,
and who alone could do so. This prayer, and the simple thanks expressed
by a grateful heart, were, I feel convinced, borne upwards to heaven on
the wings of my guardian angel.

"As far as I could make out by the height of the sun, it was about the
second hour of the tarde. The deepest silence prevailed around me; so
far as the vision could extend, the prairie was deserted; Indians and
palefaces had disappeared: I was alone, alone with that God who had
saved me in so marvellous a fashion, and would not abandon me. Before
going further, I took a little nourishment, which the exhaustion of
my strength rendered necessary. When, in the company of Don Sylva de
Torrés and his daughter, I had sought a refuge in the cavern, our
horses had been abandoned with all the remaining forage in an adjacent
clearing, and I was too well acquainted with the instinct of these
noble animals to apprehend that they had fled. On the contrary, I knew
that, if the hunters had not taken them away, I should find them at
the very spot where I had left them. A horse was indispensable for
use, for a dismounted man is lost in the desert, and hence I resolved
to seek them. Rested by the long halt I had made, and feeling that my
strength had almost returned, I proceeded without hesitation towards
the forest. At my second call I heard a rather loud noise in a clump of
trees; the shrubs parted, and my horse galloped up and gladly rubbed its
intelligent head against my shoulder. I amply returned the caresses the
faithful companion of my adventures bestowed on me, and then returned
to the cavern, where my saddle was. An hour later, mounted on my good
horse, I bent my steps toward houses. My journey was a long one, owing
to my state of weakness and prostration, and when I reached Sonora the
news I heard almost drove me mad. Don Sylva de Torrés had been killed
in the fight with the Apaches, as was probably his daughter, for no
one could tell me anything about her. For a month I hovered between
life and death; but God in His wisdom, doubtless, had decided that I
should escape once again. When hardly convalescent, I dragged myself to
the house of the only man competent of giving me precise and positive
information about what I wanted to learn. This man refused to recognize
me, although I had kept up intimate relations with him for many years.
When I told him my name he laughed in my face, and when I insisted,
he had me expelled by his peons, telling me that I was mad, that Don
Martial was dead, and I an impostor. I went away with rage and despair
in my heart. As if they had formed an agreement, all my friends to whom
I presented myself refused to recognize me, so thoroughly was the report
of my death believed, and it had been accepted by them as a certainty.
All the efforts I attempted to dissipate this alarming mistake, and
prove the falsehood of the rumour were in vain, for too many persons
were interested in it being true, on account of the large estates I
possessed; and also, I suppose, through a fear of injuring the man to
whom I first applied--the only living relation of the Torrés family,
who, through his high position, has immense influence in Sonora. What
more need I tell you, my friend? Disgusted in every way, heartbroken
with grief, and recognising the inutility of the efforts I made
against the ingratitude and systematic bad faith of those with whom I
had to deal, I left the town, and, mounting my horse, returned to the
desert, seeking the most unknown spots and the most desolate regions in
which to hide myself and die whenever God decrees that I have suffered
sufficiently, and recalls me to Him."

After saying this the Tigrero was silent, and his head sunk gloomily on
his chest.

"Brother," Valentine said gently to him, slightly touching his shoulder
to attract his attention, "you have forgotten to tell me the name of
that influential person who had you turned out of his house, and treated
you as an impostor."

"That is true," Don Martial answered; "his name is Don Sebastian
Guerrero, and he is military governor of the province of Sonora."

The hunter quickly started to his feet with an exclamation of joy.

"Don Martial," he said, "you may thank God for decreeing that we should
meet in the desert, in order that the punishment of this man should be
complete."



CHAPTER III.

THE COMPACT.


Don Martial gazed at the hunter in amazement.

"What do you mean?" he asked him. "I don't understand you."

"You will soon do so, my friend," Valentine answered. "How long have you
been roaming about this neighbourhood?"

"Nearly two months."

"In that case you are well acquainted, I presume, with the mountains
among which we are at this moment?"

"There is not a tree or a rock whose exact position I cannot tell, nor a
wild beast trail which I have not followed."

"Good: are we far from a spot called the 'Fort of the Chichimèques?'"

The Tigrero reflected for a moment.

"Do you know by what Indians these mountains are inhabited?" he at
length asked.

"Yes, by poor wretches who call themselves the Root-Eaters, and whom the
hunters and trappers designate by the name of the 'Worthy of Pity.' They
are, I believe, timid, harmless creatures, a species of incomplete men,
in whom brutal instincts have stifled the intellect; however, I only
speak of them from hearsay, for I never saw one of the poor devils."

"You are perfectly well informed about them, and they are what you
depict them. I have often had opportunities of meeting them, and have
lamented the degree of brutalization into which this hapless race has
fallen."

"Permit me to remark that I do not see what connection can exist between
this unhappy tribe and the information I ask of you."

"There is a very great one. Since I have been roaming about these
mountains you are the first man of my own colour with whom I have
consented to enter into relations. The Root-Eaters have neither history
nor traditions. Their life is restricted to eating, drinking, and
sleeping, and I have not learned from them any of the names given to the
majestic peaks that surround us. Hence, though I perfectly well know the
spot to which you refer, unless you describe it differently, it will be
impossible for me to tell you its exact position."

"That is true; but what you ask of me is very awkward, for this is the
first time I have visited these parts, and it will be rather difficult
for me to describe a place I am not acquainted with. Still, I will try.
There is, not far from here, I believe, a road which traverses the Rocky
Mountains obliquely, and runs from the United States to Santa Fe; at a
certain spot this road must intersect another which leads to California."

"I am perfectly well acquainted with the roads to which you refer, and
the caravans of emigrants, hunters, and miners follow them in going to
California, or returning thence."

"Good! At the spot where these two roads cross they form a species
of large square, surrounded on all sides by rocks that rise to a
considerable height. Do you know the place I mean?"

"Yes," the Tigrero answered.

"Well, about two gunshots from this square is a track winding nearly in
an east-south-east course, along the side of the mountains. This track,
at first so narrow that a horse even passes with difficulty, gradually
widens till it reaches a species of esplanade, or terrace, if you like
it better, which commands an extensive prospect, while on its edge
are the remains of barbarous erections, which can, however, be easily
recognized as an ancient parapet. This terrace is called the 'Fort of
the Chichimèques,' though for what reason I cannot tell you."

"I know no more than you do on that head, although I can now assure
you that I am perfectly acquainted with the place to which you refer,
and have often camped there on stormy nights, because there is a deep
cavern, excavated by human hands, and divided into several passages,
every turning of which I know, and which has offered me a precious
shelter during those frightful tempests which, at intervals, overthrow
the face of nature in these regions."

"I was not aware of the existence of this grotto," the hunter said,
with a glad start, "and I thank you for having told me of it; it will
be very useful for the execution of the plans I have formed. Are we any
great distance from this terrace?"

"In a straight line, not more than five or six miles, and, if it were
day, I could show it to you; but as we must ride round to reach the
caravan road, which we are obliged to follow in order to reach the
tracks, we have about three hours' ride before us."

"That is a trifle, for I was afraid I had lost my way in these
mountains, which are strange to me. I am delighted to find that my old
experience has not failed me this time, and that my hunter's instincts
have not deceived me."

While saying this, Valentine had risen to explore the clearing. The
storm had ceased, the wind had swept away the clouds, the deep blue sky
was studded with brilliant stars, and the moon profusely shed its rays,
which imparted a fantastic appearance to the landscape by casting the
shadows of the lofty trees athwart the snow, whose pallid carpet spread
far as eye could see.

"'Tis a magnificent night," the hunter said, after carefully examining
the sky for some moments. "It is an hour past midnight, and I do not
feel the slightest inclination to sleep. Are you fatigued?"

"I am never so," the Tigrero answered, with a smile.

"All right: in that case you are like myself, a thorough wood ranger.
What do you think of a ride in this magnificent moonlight?"

"I think that after a good supper and an interesting conversation
nothing so thoroughly restores the balance of a man's thoughts as a
night ride in the company of a friend."

"Bravo! that is what I call speaking. Now, as every ride to be
reasonable should have an object, we will go, if you have no objection,
as far as the Fort of the Chichimèques."

"I was about to propose it; and, as we ride along, you will tell me in
your turn what imperious motive compelled you to come to these unknown
regions, and what the project is to which you alluded."

"As for that," the hunter said, with a knowing smile, "I cannot satisfy
you; at any rate not for the present, as I wish you to have the pleasure
of a surprise. But be easy, I will not put your patience to too long a
trial."

"You will act as you think proper, for I trust entirely to you. I know
not why, but I am persuaded, either through a sentiment or sympathy,
that in doing your own business you will be doing mine at the same time."

"You are nearer the truth at this moment than you perhaps imagine, so be
of good cheer, brother."

"The happy meeting has already made a different man of me," the Tigrero
said, as he rose.

The hunter laid his hand on his shoulder. "One moment," he said to
him; "before leaving this bivouac, where we met so providentially,
let us clearly agree as to our facts, so as to avoid any future
misunderstanding."

"Be it so," Don Martial answered. "Let us make a compact in the Indian
fashion, and woe to the one who breaks it."

"Well said, my friend," Valentine remarked, as he drew his knife from
his belt. "Here is my navaja, brother; may it serve you as it has done
me to avenge your wrongs and mine."

"I receive it in the face of that Heaven which I call as witness of the
purity of my intentions. Take mine in exchange, and one half my powder
and bullets, brother."

"I accept it as a thing belonging to me, and here is half my ammunition
for you; henceforth we cannot fire at one another, all is in common
between us. Your friends will be my friends, and you will point out your
enemies to me, so that I may aid you in your vengeance. My horse is
yours."

"Mine belongs to you, and in a few moments I will place it at your
service."

Then the two men, leaning shoulder to shoulder, with clasped hands, eyes
fixed on heaven, and outstretched arm, uttered together the following
words:

"I take God to witness that of my own free will, and without
reservation, I take as my friend and brother the man whose hand is at
this moment pressing mine. I will help him in everything he asks of
me, without hope of reward, ready by day and night to answer his first
signal, without hesitation, and without reproach, even if he asked me
for my life. I take this oath in the presence of God, who sees and
hears me and may He come to my help in all I undertake, and punish me
if I ever break my oath."

There was something grand and solemn in this simple act, performed by
these two powerful men, beneath the pallid moonbeams, and in the heart
of the desert, alone, far from all human society, face to face with
God, confiding in each, and seeming thus to defy the whole world. After
repeating the words of the oath, they kissed each other's lips in turn,
then embraced, and finally shook hands again.

"Now let us be off, brother," Valentine said; "I confide in you as in
myself; we shall succeed in triumphing over our enemies, and repaying
them all the misery they have caused us."

"Wait for me ten minutes, brother; my horse is hidden close by."

"Go; and during that time I will saddle mine, which is henceforth yours."

Don Martial hurried away, leaving Valentine alone.

"This time," he muttered, "I believe that I have at length met the man I
have been looking for so long, and whom I despaired to find; with him,
Curumilla, and Belhumeur, I can begin the struggle, for I am certain I
shall not be abandoned or treacherously surrendered to the enemy I wish
to combat."

While indulging after his wont in this soliloquy, the hunter had lassoed
his horse, and was busily engaged in saddling it. He had just put the
bit in its mouth, when the Tigrero re-entered the clearing, mounted on
a magnificent black steed.

Don Martial dismounted.

"This is your horse, my friend," he said.

"And this is yours."

The exchange thus effected, the two men mounted, and left the clearing
in which they had met so strangely. The Tigrero had told no falsehood
when he said that a metamorphosis had taken place in him, and that
he felt a different man. His features had lost their marble-like
rigidity; his eyes were animated, and no longer burned with a sombre and
concentrated fire. Even though his glances were still somewhat haggard,
their expression was more frank and, before all, kinder; he sat firm and
upright in the saddle, and, in a word, seemed ten years younger.

This unexpected change had not escaped the notice of the all-observing
Frenchman, and he congratulated himself for having effected this moral
cure, and saved a man of such promise from the despair which he had
allowed to overpower him.

We have already said that it was a magnificent night. For men like
our characters, accustomed to cross the desert in all weathers, the
ride in the darkness was a relaxation rather than a fatigue. They rode
along side by side, talking on indifferent topics--hunting, trapping,
expeditions against the Indians--subjects always pleasing to wood
rangers, while rapidly advancing towards the spot they wished to reach.

"By-the-bye," Valentine all at once said, "I must warn you, brother,
that if you are not mistaken, and we are really following the road to
the Fort of the Chichimèques, we shall probably meet several persons
there; they are friends of mine, with whom I have an appointment, and I
will introduce them to you; for reasons you will speedily learn, these
friends followed a different road from mine, and must have been waiting
for some time at the place of meeting."

"I do not care who the persons are we meet, as they are friends of
yours," the Tigrero answered; "the main point is that we make no
mistake."

"On my word, I confess my incompetence, so far as that is concerned;
this is the first time I have ventured into the Rocky Mountains, where
I hope never to come again, and so I deliver myself entirely into your
hands."

"I will do my best, although I do not promise positively to lead you to
the place you want to reach."

"Nonsense!" the hunter said with a smile; "two places like the one I
have described to you can hardly be found in these parts, picturesque
and diversified though they be, and it would be almost impossible to
lose our way."

"At any rate," the Tigrero answered, "we shall soon know what we have to
depend on, for we shall be there within half an hour."

The sky was beginning to grow paler; the horizon was belted by wide,
pellucid bands, which assumed in turn every colour of the rainbow. In
the flashing uncertain light of dawn, objects were invested with a
more fugitive appearance, although, on the other hand, they became more
distinct.

The adventurers had passed the crossroads, and turned into a narrow
track, whose capricious windings ran along rocks, which were almost
suspended over frightful abysses. The riders had given up all attempts
to guide their horses, and trusted to their instinct; they had laid
their bridles on their necks, leaving them at liberty to go where they
pleased--a prudent precaution, which cannot be sufficiently recommended
to travellers under similar circumstances.

All at once a streak of light illumined the landscape, and the sun rose
radiant and splendid; behind them the travellers still had the shadows
of night, while before them the snowy peaks of the mountains--were
glistening in the sun.

"Well," the hunter exclaimed, "we can now see clearly, and I hope that
we shall soon perceive the Fort of the Chichimèques."

"Look ahead of you over the jagged crest of that hill," the Tigrero
answered, stretching out his arm; "that is the terrace to which I am
leading you."

The hunter stopped, for he felt giddy, and almost ready to fall off his
horse. About two miles from him, but separated from the spot where he
stood by an impassable canyon, an immense esplanade stretched out into
space in the shape of a _voladero_; that is to say, in consequence of
one of those earthquakes so common in these regions, the base of the
mountain had been undermined, while the crest remained intact, and hung
for a considerable distance above a valley, apparently about to fall at
any moment; the spectacle was at once imposing and terrific.

"Heaven forgive me!" the hunter muttered, "but I really believe I was
frightened; I felt all my muscles tremble involuntarily. Oh! I will not
look at it again; let us get along, my friend."

They set out again, still following the windings of the tract, which
gradually grew steeper; and, after a very zigzag course, reached the
terrace half an hour later.

"This is certainly the place," the hunter exclaimed, as he pointed to
the decaying embers of a watch fire.

"But your friends--?" the Tigrero asked.

"Did you not tell me there was a grotto close by?"

"I did."

"Well, they doubtless concealed themselves in the grotto when they heard
us approaching."

"That is possible."

"It is true: look."

The hunter discharged his gun, and at the sound three men appeared,
though it was impossible to say whence they came. They were Belhumeur,
Black Elk, and Eagle-head.



CHAPTER IV.

THE TRAVELLERS.


We must now leave Valentine and his companions on the esplanade of the
Fort of the Chichimèques, where we shall join them again however, in
order to attend to other persons destined to play an important part in
the narrative we have undertaken to tell the reader.

About five or six leagues at the most from the spot where Valentine and
the Tigrero met, a caravan, composed of some ten persons, had halted on
the same night, and almost at the same moment as the hunter, in a narrow
valley completely sheltered from the wind by dense clumps of trees.

The caravan was comfortably lodged on the bank of a running stream, the
mules had been unloaded, a tent raised, fires lighted; and when the
animals were hobbled, the travellers began to make preparations for
their supper.

These travellers, or at any rate one of them, appeared to belong to the
highest class, for the rest were only servants or Indian peons. Still
the dress of this person was most simple, but his stiff manner, his
imposing demeanour, and haughty air, evidenced the man long accustomed
to give his orders without admitting refusal or even the slightest
hesitation.

He had passed his fiftieth year; he was tall, well-built, and his
movements were extremely elegant. His broad forehead, his black eyes
large and flashing, his long gray moustaches and his short hair gave him
a military appearance, which his harsh, quick way of speaking did not
contradict. Although he affected a certain affability of manner, he at
times involuntarily betrayed himself, and it was easy to see that the
modest garb of a Mexican Campesino which he wore was only a disguise.
Instead of withdrawing beneath the tent prepared for him, this person
had sat down before the fire with the peons, who eagerly made way for
him with evident respect.

Among the peons two men more especially attracted attention. One was a
redskin, the other a half-breed, with a crafty, leering manner, who, for
some reason or another, stood on more familiar terms with his master;
his comrades called him Ño Carnero, and at times gave him the title of
Capataz.

Ño Carnero was the wit of the caravan, the funny fellow--ever ready to
laugh and joke, smoking an eternal cigar, and desperately strumming
an insupportable guitar. Perhaps, though, he concealed beneath this
frivolous appearance a more serious character and deeper thoughts than
he would have liked to display.

The redskin formed the most complete contrast with the capataz; he was
a tall, thin, dry man, with angular features and gloomy and sad face,
illumined by two black eyes deeply set in their orbit, but constantly
in motion, and having an undefinable expression; his aquiline nose, his
wide mouth lined with large teeth as white as almonds, and his thin
pinched up lips, composed a far from pleasant countenance, which was
rendered still more lugubrious by the obstinate silence of this man, who
only spoke when absolutely compelled, and then only in monosyllables.
Like all the Indians, it was impossible to form any opinion as to his
age, for his hair was black as the raven's wing, and his parchment skin
had not a single wrinkle; at any rate he seemed gifted with no ordinary
strength.

He had engaged at Santa Fé to act as guide to the caravan, and, with
the exception of his obstinate silence, there was every reason to be
satisfied with the way in which he performed his duty. The peons called
him The Indian, or sometimes José--a mocking term employed in Mexico to
designate the Indios mansos; but the redskin appeared as insensible to
compliments as to jokes, and continued coldly to carry out the task he
had imposed on himself. When supper was ended, and each had lit his pipe
or cigarette, the master turned to the capataz.

"Carnero," he said to him, "although in such frightful weather, and in
these remote regions, we have but little to fear from horse thieves,
still do not fail to place sentries, for we cannot be too provident."

"I have warned two men, _mi amo_," the capataz replied; "and, moreover,
I intend to make my rounds tonight; eh, José," he added, turning to
the Indian, "are you certain you are not mistaken, and that you really
lifted a trail?"

The redskin shrugged his shoulders disdainfully, and continued his quiet
smoke.

"Do you know to what nation the sign you discovered belongs?" the master
asked him.

The Indian gave a nod of assent.

"Is it a formidable nation?"

"Crow," the redskin answered hoarsely.

"Caray!" the master exclaimed, "if they are Crows, we shall do well to
be on our guard, for they are the cleverest plunderers in the Rocky
Mountains."

"Nonsense!" Carnero remarked with a grin of derision, "do not believe
what that man tells you; the mezcal has got into his head, and he is
trying to make himself of importance; Indians tell as many lies as old
women."

The Indian's eye flashed; without deigning to reply he drew a moccasin
from his breast, and threw it so adroitly at the capataz as to strike
him across the face. Furious at the insult so suddenly offered him by a
man whom he always considered inoffensive, the half-breed uttered a yell
of rage, and rushed knife in hand on the Indian.

But the latter had not taken his eye off him, and by a slight movement
he avoided the desperate attack of the capataz; then, drawing himself
up, he caught him round the waist, raised him from the ground as easy
as he would have done a child, and hurled him into the fire, where he
writhed for a moment with cries of pain and impotent passion. When he
at length got out of the fire, half scorched, he did not think of
renewing the attack, but sat down growling and directing savage glances
at his adversary, like a turnspit punished by a mastiff. The master
had witnessed this aggression with the utmost indifference, and having
picked up the moccasin, which he carefully examined--

"The Indian is right," he said, coldly, "this moccasin bears the mark of
the Crow nation. My poor Carnero, you must put up with it, for though
the punishment you received was severe, I am forced to allow that it was
deserved."

The redskin had begun smoking again as quietly as if nothing had
occurred.

"The dog will pay me for it with his traitor face," the capataz growled,
on hearing his master's warning. "I am no man if I do not leave his body
as food for the crows he discovers so cleverly."

"My poor lad," his master continued, with a jeer, "you had better forget
this affair, which I allow might be disagreeable to your self-esteem;
for I fancy you would not be the gainer by recommencing the quarrel."

The capataz did not answer; he looked round at the spectators to select
one on whom he could vent his spite, without incurring any extreme risk;
but the peons were on their guard, and offered him no chance. He then,
with an air of vexation, made a signal to two men to follow him, and
left the circle grumbling.

The head of the caravan remained for a few minutes plunged in serious
thought; he then withdrew beneath his tent, the curtain of which fell
behind him; and the peons lay down on the ground, one after the other,
with their feet to the fire, and carefully wrapped up in their serapes,
and fell asleep.

The Indian then took the pipe stem from his mouth, looked searchingly
around him, shook out the ashes, passed the pipe through his belt,
and, rising negligently, went slowly to crouch at the foot of a tree,
though not before he had taken the precaution of wrapping himself
in his buffalo robe, a measure which the sharp air rendered, if not
indispensable, at any rate necessary.

Ere long, with the exception of the sentries leaning on their guns and
motionless as statues, all the travellers were plunged in deep sleep,
for the capataz himself, in spite of the promise he had made his master,
had laid himself across the entrance of the tent.

An hour elapsed ere anything disturbed the silence that prevailed in the
camp. All at once a singular thing happened. The buffalo robe, under
which the Indian was sheltered, gently rose with an almost imperceptible
movement, and the redskin's face appeared, darting glances of fire into
the gloom. In a moment the guide raised himself slowly along the trunk
of the tree against which he had been lying, embraced it with his feet
and hands, and with undulating movements resembling those of reptiles,
he left the ground, and raised himself to the first branches, among
which he disappeared.

This ascent was executed with such well-calculated slowness that it had
not produced the slightest sound. Moreover, the buffalo robe left at
the foot of the tree so well retained its primitive folds, that it was
impossible to discover, without touching it, that the man it sheltered
had left it.

When the guide was thoroughly concealed among the leaves, he remained
for a moment motionless; though not in order to regain his breath after
having made such an expenditure of strength, for this man was made of
iron, and fatigue had no power over him. But he probably wished to look
about him, for with his body bent forward, and his eyes fixed on space,
he inhaled the breeze, and his glances seemed trying to pierce the gloom.

Before selecting as his resting place the foot of the tree in which he
was now concealed, the guide had assured himself that this tree, which
was very high and leafy, was joined at about two-thirds of its height by
other trees, which gradually rose along the side of the mountain, and
formed a wall of verdure.

After a few minutes' hesitation, the guide drew in his belt, placed his
knife between his teeth, and with a certainty and lightness of movement
which would have done honour to a monkey, he commenced literally hopping
from one tree to another, hanging by his arms, and clinging to the
creepers, waking up, as he passed, the birds, which flew away in alarm.

This strange journey lasted about three-quarters of an hour. At length
the guide stopped, looked attentively around him, and gliding down the
trunk of the tree on which he was, reached the ground. The spot where
he now found himself was a rather spacious clearing, in the centre of
which blazed an enormous fire, serving to warm forty or fifty redskins,
completely armed and equipped for war. Still, singular to say, the
majority of these Indians, instead of their long lances and the bows
they usually employ, carried muskets of American manufacture, which
led to the supposition that they were picked warriors and great braves
of their nation; and this, too, was further proved by the numerous
wolf tails fastened to their heels, an honourable insignia which only
renowned warriors have the right to assume.

This detachment of redskins was certainly on the war trail, or at any
rate on a serious expedition, for they had with them neither dogs nor
squaws. In spite of the slight care with which the Indians are wont to
guard themselves at night, the free and deliberate manner in which the
guide entered their encampment proved that he was expected by these
warriors, who evinced no surprise at seeing him, but, on the contrary,
invited him with hospitable gestures to take a seat at their fire. The
guide sat down silently, and began smoking the calumet which the chief
seated by his side immediately offered him. This chief was still a young
man, his marked features displaying the utmost craft and boldness. After
a rather lengthened interval, doubtless expressly granted the visitor to
let him draw breath and warm himself, the young chief bowed to him and
addressed him deferentially.

"My father is welcome among his sons; they were impatiently awaiting his
arrival."

The guide responded to this compliment with a grimace, in all
probability intended to pass muster for a smile. The chief continued:--

"Our scouts have carefully examined the encampment of the Yoris, and the
warriors of the Jester are ready to obey the instructions given them by
their great sachem, Eagle-head. Is my father Curumilla satisfied with
his red children?"

Curumilla (for the guide was no other than the reader's old acquaintance
the Araucano chief) laid his right hand on his chest, and uttered with a
guttural accent the exclamation, "Ugh!" which was with him a mark of the
greatest joy.

The Jester and his warriors had been too long acquainted with Curumilla
for his silence to seem strange to them; hence they yielded without
repugnance to his mania, and carefully giving up the hope of getting a
syllable out of his closed lips, began with him a conversation in signs.

We have already had occasion, in a previous work, to mention that the
redskins have two languages, the written and the sign language. The
latter, which has among them attained a high perfection, and which all
understand, is usually employed when hunting, or on expeditions, when
a word pronounced even in a low voice may reveal the presence of an
ambuscade to the enemy, whether men or beasts, whom they are pursuing,
and desire to surprise.

It would have been interesting, and even amusing, for any stranger
who had been present at this interview to see with what rapidity the
gestures and signs were exchanged between these men, so strangely lit
up by the ruddy glow of the fire, and who resembled, with their strange
movements, their stern faces, and singular attitudes, a council of
demons. At times the Jester, with his body bent forward, and emphatic
gestures, held a dumb speech, which his comrades followed with the most
sustained attention, and which they answered with a rapidity that words
themselves could not have surpassed.

At length this silent council terminated. Curumilla raised his hand to
heaven, and pointed to the stars, which were beginning to grow dim, and
then left the circle. The redskins respectfully followed him to the
foot of the tree by the aid of which he had entered their camp. When he
reached it, he turned round.

"May the Wacondah protect my father!" the Jester then said. "His sons
have thoroughly understood his instructions, and will follow them
literally. The great pale hunter will have joined his friends by this
hour, and he is doubtless awaiting us. Tomorrow Koutonepi will see his
Comanche brothers. At the _enditha_ the camp will be raised."

"It is good," Curumilla answered, and saluting for the last time the
warriors, who bowed respectfully before him, the chief seized the
creeping plants, and, raising himself by the strength of his wrists, in
a second he reached the branches, and disappeared in the foliage.

The journey the Indian had made was very important, and needed to be so
for him to run such great risks in order to have an interview at this
hour of the night with the redskins; but as the reader will soon learn
what were the consequences of this expedition, we deem it unnecessary to
translate the sign language employed during the council, or explain the
resolutions formed between Curumilla and the Jester.

The chief recommenced his aerial trip with the same lightness and the
same good fortune. After a lapse of time comparatively much shorter than
that which he had previously employed, he reached the camp of the white
men. The same silence prevailed in its interior; the sentinels were
still motionless at their post, and the watch fires were beginning to
expire.

The chief assured himself that no eye was fixed on him--that no spy
was on the watch; and, feeling certain of not being perceived, he slid
silently down the tree and resumed the place beneath the buffalo robe
which he was supposed not to have left during the night.

At the moment when, after taking a final glance around, the Indian chief
disappeared beneath his robe, the capataz, who was lying athwart the
entrance of the hut, gently raised his head, and looked with strange
fixity of glance at the place occupied by the redskin.

Had a suspicion been aroused in the Mexican's mind? Had he noticed the
departure and return of the chief? Presently he let his head fall again,
and it would have been impossible to read on his motionless features
what were the thoughts that troubled him.

The remainder of the night passed tranquilly and peacefully.



CHAPTER V.

THE FORT OF THE CHICHIMÈQUES.


The sun rose; its beams played on the trembling yellow leaves of the
trees, and tinged them with a thousand shades of gold and purple. The
birds, cozily nestled in the bushes, struck up their matin carol;
the awakening of nature was as splendid and imposing as it is in all
mountainous countries.

The leader of the caravan left his tent and gave orders to strike the
camp. The tent was at once folded up, the mules were loaded, and, so
soon as the horses were saddled, the party started without waiting for
the morning meal, for they generally breakfasted at the eleven o'clock
halt, while resting to let the great heat of the day subside.

The caravan advanced along the road from Santa Fé to the United States,
at a speed unusual under such circumstances. A military system was
affected which was imposing, and, indeed, indispensable in these
regions, infested not merely by numerous bands of predatory Indians, but
also traversed by the pirates of the prairie, more dangerous bandits
still, who were driven by their enemies beyond the pale of the law, and
who, ambushed at the turnings of roads or in broken rocks, attacked the
caravans as they passed, and pitilessly massacred the travellers, after
plundering them of all they possessed.

About twenty yards ahead of the caravan rode four men, with their rifles
on their thigh, preceded by the guide, who formed the extreme vanguard.
Next came the main body, composed of six well-armed peons, watching
the mules and baggage, under the immediate orders of the chief of the
caravan. Lastly, the capataz rode about thirty paces in the rear, having
under his orders four resolute men armed to the teeth.

Thus arranged to face any event, the caravan enjoyed a relative
security, for it was not very probable that the white or red pillagers,
who were doubtless watching it, would dare to attack in open day
seventeen resolute and trained men. At night the horse thieves, who
glide silently in the darkness during the sleep of the travellers, and
carry off horses and baggage, were more formidable.

Still, either through accident, or the prudential measures employed
by the chief of the caravan, since they had left Santa Fé, that is
to say for more than a month, the Mexicans had not seen an Indian,
or been alarmed. They had journeyed--apparently at least--with as
much tranquillity as if, instead of being in the heart of the Rocky
Mountains, they were moving along the roads in, the interior of Sonora.
This security, however, while augmenting their confidence, had not
caused their prudential measures to be neglected; and their chief, whom
this unusual leniency on the part of the villains who prowl about these
countries alarmed, redoubled his vigilance and precautions to avoid a
surprise and a collision with the plunderers.

The discovery, made on the previous day by the guide, of an Indian
Crow trail--the most determined thieves in these mountains--added to
his apprehensions; for he did not hide from himself that, if he were
compelled to fight, in spite of the courage and discipline of his peons,
the odds would be against him, when fighting men thoroughly acquainted
with the country, and who would only attack him with numbers sufficient
to crush his band, however desperate the resistance offered might be.

When he left the camp, the chief of the caravan, suffering perhaps from
a gloomy foreboding, spurred his horse and joined the Indian, who, as we
said, was marching alone in front, examining the bushes, and apparently
performing all the duties of an experienced guide. Curumilla, though he
heard the hurried paces of the Mexican's horse, did not turn round, but
continued trotting along carelessly on the sorry mule allotted to him
for this expedition.

When the chief of the caravan joined him and brought his horse alongside
the Indian, instead of speaking to him, he attentively examined him
for some minutes, trying to pierce the mask of stoicism spread over
the guide's features, and to read his thoughts. But, after a rather
lengthened period, the Mexican was constrained to recognize the
inutility of his efforts, and to confess to himself the impossibility of
guessing the intentions of this man, for whom, in spite of the service
he had rendered the caravan, he felt an instinctive aversion, and whom
he would like to force, at all risks, to make a frank explanation.

"Indian," he said to him in Spanish, "I wish to speak with you for a
few moments on an important subject, so be good enough to put off your
usual silence for awhile and answer, like an honest man, the questions I
propose asking you."

Curumilla bowed respectfully.

"You engaged with me, at Santa Fé, to lead me, for the sum of four
ounces, of which you received one half in advance, to lead me, I say,
safely to the frontiers of Upper Mexico. Since you have been in my
service I must allow that I have only had reason to praise the prudence
in which you have performed your duties; but we are at this moment in
the heart of the Rocky Mountains, that is to say, we have reached the
most dangerous part of our long journey. Two days ago you lifted the
trail of Crow Indians, very formidable enemies of caravans, and I want
to consult with you as to the means to employ to foil the snares in
which these Indians will try to catch us, and to know what measures you
intend to employ to avoid a meeting with them; in a word, I want to know
your plan of action."

The Indian, without replying, felt in a bag of striped calico thrown
over his shoulder, and produced a greasy paper, folded in four, which he
opened and offered the Mexican.

"What is this?" the latter asked, as he looked and ran through it. "Oh,
yes, certainly; your engagement. Well, what connection has this with the
question I asked you?"

Curumilla, still impassive, laid his finger on the paper, at the last
paragraph of the engagement.

"Well, what then?" the Mexican exclaimed, ill-humouredly. "It is said
there, it is true, that I must trust entirely to you, and leave you at
liberty to act as you please for the common welfare, without questioning
you."

The Indian nodded his head in assent.

"Well, _voto a Brios!_" the Mexican shouted, irritated by this studied
coolness, in spite of his resolve to curb his temper, and annoyed at
the man's obstinate refusal to answer, "what proves to me that you are
acting for our common welfare, and that you are not a traitor?"

At this word traitor, so distinctly uttered by the Mexican, Curumilla
gave a tiger glance at the speaker, while his whole body was agitated by
a convulsive tremor: he uttered two or three incomprehensible guttural
exclamations, and ere the Mexican could suspect his intentions, he
was seized round the waist, lifted from the saddle, and hurled on the
ground, where he lay stunned.

Curumilla leapt from his mule, drew from his belt two gold ounces,
hurled them at the Mexican, and then, bounding over the precipice
that bordered the road, glided to the bottom with headlong speed and
disappeared at once.

What we have described occurred so rapidly that the peons who remained
behind, although they hurried up at full speed to their master's
assistance, arrived too late on the scene to prevent the Indian's flight.

The Mexican had received no wound; the surprise and violence of the
fall had alone caused his momentary stupor; but almost immediately
he regained his senses, and comprehending the inutility and folly of
pursuit at such a spot with such an adversary, he devoured his shame and
passion, and, remounting his horse, which had been stopped, he coolly
gave orders to continue the journey, with an internal resolution that,
if ever the opportunity offered, he would have an exemplary revenge for
the insult he had received.

For the moment he could not think of it, for more serious interests
demanded all his attention; it was evident to him that, in branding the
guide as a traitor, he had struck home, and that the latter, furious at
seeing himself unmasked, had proceeded to such extremities in order to
escape punishment, and find means to fly safely.

The situation was becoming most critical for the chief of the caravan;
he found himself abandoned and left without a guide, in unknown regions,
doubtless watched by hidden foes, and exposed at any moment to an
attack, whose result could but be unfavourable to himself and his
people; hence he must form a vigorous resolve in order to escape, were
it possible, the misfortunes that menaced the caravan.

The Mexican was a man endowed with an energetic organization, brave to
rashness, whom no peril, however great it might be, had ever yet had
the power to make him blench; in a few seconds he calculated all the
favourable chances left him, and his determination was formed. The road
he was following at this moment was assuredly the one frequented by the
caravans proceeding from the United States to California or Mexico; and
there was no other road but this in the mountains. Hence the Mexican
resolved to form an entrenched camp, at the spot that might appear to
him most favourable, fortify himself there as well as he could, and
await the passing of the first caravan, which he would join.

This plan was exceedingly simple, and in addition very easy to execute.
As the travellers possessed an ample stock of provisions and ammunition,
they had no reason to fear scarcity, while, on the other hand, seven or
eight days in all probability would not elapse without the appearance of
a fresh caravan; and the Mexican believed himself capable of resisting,
behind good entrenchments, with his fifteen peons, any white or red
plunderers who dared to attack him.

So soon as this resolution was formed, the Mexican at once prepared
to carry it out. After having briefly and in a few words explained
to his disheartened peons what his intentions were, and recommending
them to redouble their prudence, he left them, and pushed on in order
to reconnoitre the ground and select the most suitable spot for the
establishment of the camp.

He started his horse at a gallop and soon disappeared in the windings
of the road, but, through fear of a sudden attack, he held his gun in
his hand, and his glances were constantly directed around him, examining
with the utmost care the thick chaparral which bordered the road on the
side of the mountain.

The Mexican went on thus for about two hours, noticing that the further
he proceeded the narrower and more abrupt the track became. Suddenly
it widened out in front of him, and he arrived at an esplanade, across
which the road ran, and which was no other than the Fort of the
Chichimèques, previously described by us.

The Mexican's practised eye at once seized the advantages of such a
position, and, without loss of time in examining it in detail, he turned
back to rejoin the caravan. The travellers, though marching much more
slowly than their chief, had, however, pushed on, so that he rejoined
them about three-quarters of an hour after the discovery of the terrace.

The flight of the guide had nearly demoralized the Mexicans, more
accustomed to the ease of tropical regions, and whose courage the
snows of the Rocky Mountains had already weakened, if not destroyed.
Fortunately for the chief's plans he had over his servants that
influence which clever minds know how to impose on ordinary natures, and
the peons, on seeing their master gay and careless about the future,
began to hope that they would escape better than they had supposed from
the unlucky position in which they found themselves so suddenly placed.
The march was continued tranquilly; no suspicious sign was discovered,
and the Mexicans were justified in believing that, with the exception of
the time they would be compelled to lose in awaiting a new guide, the
flight of the Indian would entail no disagreeable consequences on them.

Singularly enough, Carnero the capataz seemed rather pleased than
annoyed at the sudden disappearance of the guide. Far from complaining
or deploring the delay in the continuance of the journey he laughed at
what had happened, and made an infinitude of more or less witty jests
about it, which in the end considerably annoyed his master, whose joy
was merely on the surface, and who, in his heart, cursed the mishap
which kept them in the mountains, and exposed him to the insults of the
plunderers.

"Pray, what do you find so agreeable in what has happened that you
are or affect to be so merry, Ño Carnero?" he at length asked with
considerable ill temper.

"Forgive me, mi amo," the capataz answered humbly; "but you know the
proverb, 'What can't be cured must be endured,' and consequently I
forgot."

"Hum!" said the master, without any other reply.

"And besides," the capataz added, as he stooped down to the chief, and
almost whispering, "however bad our position may be, is it not better to
pretend to consider it good?"

His master gave him a piercing look, but the other continued
imperturbably with an obsequious smile--

"The duty of a devoted servant, mi amo, is to be always of his master's
opinion, whatever may happen. The peons were murmuring this morning
after your departure, and you know what the character of these brutes
is; if they feel alarmed we shall be lost, for it will be impossible
for us to get out of our position; hence I thought that I was carrying
out your views by attempting to cheer them up, and I feign a gaiety
which, be assured, I do not feel, under the supposition that it would be
agreeable to you."

The Mexican shook his head dubiously, but the observations of the
capataz were so just, the reasons he offered appeared so plausible,
that he was constrained to yield and thank him, as he did not care to
alienate at this moment a man who by a word could change the temper of
his peons, and urge them to revolt instead of adhering to their duty.

"I thank you, Ño Carnero," he said, with a conciliatory air. "You
perfectly understood my intentions. I am pleased with your devotion to
my person, and the moment will soon arrive, I hope, when it will be in
my power to prove to you the value I attach to you."

"The certainty of having done my duty, now as ever, is the sole reward I
desire, mi amo," the capataz answered, with a respectful bow.

The Mexican gave him a side glance, but he restrained himself, and
it was with a smile that he thanked the capataz for the second time.
The latter thought it prudent to break off the interview here, and,
stopping his horse, he allowed his master to pass him. The chief of the
caravan was one of those unhappily constituted men who after having
passed their life in deceiving or trying to deceive those with whom the
accidents of an adventurous existence have brought them into contact,
had reached that point when he had no confidence in anyone, and sought,
behind the most frivolous words, to discover an interested motive, which
most frequently did not exist. Although his capataz Carnero had been
for a long time in his service, and he granted him a certain amount of
familiarity--although he appeared to place great confidence in him, and
count on his devotion, still, in his heart, he not only suspected him,
but felt almost confident, without any positive proof, it is true, that
he was playing a double game with him, and was a secret agent of his
deceivers.

What truth there might be in this supposition, which held a firm hold of
the Mexican's mind, we are unable to say at present; but the slightest
actions of his capataz were watched by him, and he felt certain that he
should, sooner or later, attain a confirmation of his doubts; hence,
while feigning the greatest satisfaction with him, he constantly kept on
his guard, ready to deal a blow, which would be the sharper because it
had been so long prepared.

A little before eleven A.M. the caravan reached the terrace, and it was
with a feeling of joy, which they did not attempt to conceal, that the
peons recognized the strength of the position selected by their master
for the encampment.

"We shall stop here for the present," the Mexican said. "Unload the
mules, and light the fires. Immediately after breakfast we will begin
entrenching ourselves in such a way as to foil all the assaults of
marauders."

The peons obeyed with the speed of men who have made a long journey and
are beginning to feel hungry; the fires were lighted in an instant, and
a few moments later the peons vigorously attacked their maize tortillas,
their tocino, and their cecina--those indispensable elements of every
Mexican meal. When the hunger of his men was appeased, and they had
smoked their cigarettes, the chief rose.

"Now," he said, "to work."



CHAPTER VI.

THE SURPRISE.


The position which the leader of the caravan fancied he had been the
first to discover, and where he had made up his mind to halt, was
admirably selected to establish an intrenched camp--strong enough to
resist for months the attacks of the Indians and the pirates of the
prairies. The immense voladero hovering at a prodigious height above
the precipices, and guarded on the right and left by enormous masses of
rock, offered such conditions of security that the peons regained all
their merry carelessness, and only regarded the mysterious flight of
the guide as an accident of no real importance, and which would have no
other consequences for them but to make their journey somewhat longer
than the time originally arranged.

It was, hence, with well promising ardour that they rose on receiving
their chiefs command, and prepared under his directions to dig the
trench which was intended to protect them from a surprise. This trench
was to be bordered by a line of tall stakes, running across the open
space between the rocks, which gave the sole access to the terrace.

The headquarters were first prepared, that is to say, the tent was
raised, and the horses hobbled near pickets driven into the ground.

At the moment when the leader proceeded with several peons armed with
picks and spades toward the entrance, with the probable intention of
marking the exact spot where the trench was to be dug, the capataz
approached him obsequiously, and said with a respectful bow--

"Mi amo, I have an important communication to make to you."

His master turned and looked at him with ill-concealed distrust.

"An important communication to make to me?" he repeated.

"Yes, mi amo," the capataz replied with a bow.

"What is it? Speak, but be brief, Carnero, for, as you see, I have no
time to lose."

"I hope to gain you time, excellency," the capataz said with a silent
smile.

"Ah, ah, what is it?"

"If you will allow me to say two words aside, excellency, you will know
at once."

"Diablo! a mystery, Master Carnero?"

"Mi amo, it is my duty to inform no one but your excellency of my
discovery."

"Hum! then you have discovered something?"

The other bowed, but made no further answer.

"Very well then," his master continued, "come this way: go on,
muchachos," he added, addressing the peons, "I will rejoin you in a
moment."

The latter went on, while the leader retired for a few paces, followed
by the capataz. When he considered that he had placed a sufficient
distance between himself and the ears of his people, he addressed the
half-breed again--

"Now, I suppose, Master Carnero," he said, "you will see no
inconvenience in explaining yourself?"

"None at all, excellency."

"Speak then, in the fiend's name, and keep me no longer in suspense."

"This is the affair, excellency: I have discovered a grotto."

"What?" his master exclaimed, in surprise, "you have discovered a
grotto?"

"Yes, excellency."

"Where?"

"Here."

"Here! that's impossible."

"It's the fact, excellency."

"But where?"

"There," he said, stretching out his arm, "behind that mass of rocks."

A suspicious look flashed from beneath his master's eyelashes.

"Ah!" he muttered, "that is very singular, Master Carnero; may I ask in
what manner you discovered this grotto, and what motive was so imperious
as to take you among those rocks, when you were aware how indispensable
your presence was elsewhere?"

The capataz was not affected by the tone in which these words were
uttered; he answered calmly, as if he did not perceive the menace they
contained--

"Oh! mi amo, the discovery was quite accidental, I assure you."

"I do not believe in chance," his master answered "but go on."

"When we had finished breakfast," the capataz continued, soothingly, "I
perceived, on rising, that several horses, mine among them, had become
unfastened, and were straying in different directions."

"That is true," his master muttered, apparently answering his own
thoughts rather than the remarks of the capataz.

The latter gave an almost imperceptible smile. "Fearing," he continued,
"lest the horses might be lost, I immediately started in pursuit. They
were easy to catch, with the exception of one, which rambled among the
rocks, and I was obliged to follow it."

"I understand; and so it led you to the mouth of the grotto."

"Exactly, mi amo; I found it standing at the very entrance, and had no
difficulty in seizing the bridle."

"That is indeed most singular. And did you enter the grotto, Master
Carnero?"

"No, mi amo. I thought it my duty to tell you of it first."

"You were right. Well, we will enter it together. Fetch some torches
of ocote wood, and show us the way. By the by, do not forget to bring
weapons, for we know not what men or beasts we may find in caverns thus
opening on a high road." This he said with a sarcastic air, which caused
the capataz to tremble inwardly in spite of his determined indifference.

While he executed his master's orders, the latter selected six of his
peons, on whose courage he thought he could most rely, ordered them to
take their muskets, and, bidding the others to keep a good watch, but
not begin anything till he returned, he made a signal to the capataz
that he was ready to follow him. Ño Carnero had followed with an evil
eye the arrangements made by his master, but probably did not deem it
prudent to risk any remark, for he silently bowed his head, and walked
toward the pile of rocks that masked the entrance of the grotto.

These granite blocks, piled one on top of the other, did not appear,
however, to have been brought there by accident, but, on the contrary,
they appeared to have belonged in some early and remote age to a
clumsy but substantial edifice, which was probably connected with the
breastwork still visible on the edge of the voladero on the side of the
precipice.

The Mexicans crossed the rocks without difficulty, and soon found
themselves before the dark and frowning entrance of the cavern. The
chief gave his peons a signal to halt.

"It would not be prudent," he said, "to venture without precautions into
this cavern. Prepare your arms, muchachos, and keep your eyes open; at
the slightest suspicious sound, or the smallest object that appears,
fire. Capataz, light the torches."

The latter obeyed without a word; the leader of the caravan assured
himself at a glance that his orders had been properly carried out; then
taking his pistols from his belt, he cocked them, took one in each hand,
and said to Carnero--

"Take the lead," he said, with a mocking accent; "it is only just that
you should do the honours of this place which you so unexpectedly
discovered. Forward, you others, and be on your guard," he added,
turning to the peons.

The eight men then went into the cavern at the heels of the capataz, who
raised the torches above his head, doubtless in order to cast a greater
light on surrounding objects.

This cavern, like most of those found in these regions, seemed to have
been formed through some subterranean convulsion. The walls were lofty,
dry, and covered at various spots with an enormous quantity of night
birds, which, blinded and startled by the light of the torches, took
to flight with hoarse cries, and flew heavily in circles round the
Mexicans. The latter drove them back with some difficulty by waving
their muskets. But the further they got into the interior of the cavern,
the greater the number of these birds became, and seriously encumbered
the visitors by flapping them with their long wings, and deafening them
with their discordant cries.

They thus reached a rather large hall, into which several passages
opened. Although the Mexicans were a considerable distance from the
entrance, they found no difficulty in breathing, owing doubtless to
imperceptible fissures in the rock, through which the air was received.

"Let us halt here for a moment," the leader said, taking a torch from
the capataz; "this hall, if the cavern has several issues as I suppose,
will afford us a certain refuge: let us examine the spot where we are."

While speaking he walked round the hall, and convinced himself, by
certain still existing traces of man's handiwork, that at a former
period the cave had been inhabited. The peons seated themselves idly
on the blocks of granite scattered here and there, and with their guns
between their legs carelessly followed their master's movements.

The latter felt the suspicions aroused in his mind by the sudden nature
of Carnero's discovery gradually dissipated. He felt certain that for
many years no human being had entered this gloomy cave, for none of
those flying traces which man always leaves in his passage, whatever
precaution he may take to hide his presence, had been discovered by him.
All, on the contrary, evidenced the most utter abandonment and solitude,
and hence the leader of the caravan was not indisposed to retire to this
spot, which was so easy of defence, instead of throwing up an intrenched
camp, always a long and difficult task, and which had the inconvenience
of leaving men and animals exposed to a deadly climate for individuals
accustomed to the heat of the Mexican temperature.

"While continuing his explanations, the leader conversed with the
capataz in a more friendly manner than he had done for a long time,
congratulating him on his discovery, and explaining his views, to which
the latter listened with his usual crafty smile. All at once he stopped
and listened--the two men were at this moment at the entrance of one of
the passages to which we have referred.

"Listen," he said to the capataz, as he laid his hand on his arm to
attract his attention, "do you not hear something?"

The latter bent his body slightly forward, and remained motionless for
some seconds.

"I do," he said, drawing himself up, "it sounds like distant thunder."

"Is it not? or, perhaps, the rolling of subterranean waters."

"Madre de Dios! mi amo," the capataz exclaimed gleefully. "I can swear
that you are right. It would be a piece of luck for us to find water in
the cave, for it would add greatly to our security, as we should not be
obliged to lead our horses, perhaps, a long distance to drink."

"I will assure myself at once if there is any truth in the supposition.
The noise proceeds from that passage, so let us follow it. As for our
men they can wait for us here; we have nothing to fear now, for if the
pirates or the Indians were ambuscaded to surprise us, they would not
have waited so long before doing so, and hence the assistance of our
peons is unnecessary."

The capataz shook his head doubtfully.

"Hum," he said, "the Indians are very clever, mi amo; and who knows what
diabolical projects those redskins revolve in their minds? I believe it
would be more prudent to let the peons accompany us."

"Nonsense," said his master, "it is unnecessary; we are two resolute
and well-armed men; we have nothing to fear, I tell you. Besides, if,
against all probability, we are attacked, our men will hear the noise
of the conflict, will run to our help, and will be at our side in an
instant."

"It is not very probable, I grant, that we have any danger to apprehend;
still I considered it my duty as a devoted servant, mi amo, to warn
you, because in the event of Indians being hidden in these passages,
of whose windings we are ignorant, we should be caught like rats in a
trap, with no possibility of escape. Two men, however brave they may
be, are incapable of resisting twenty or thirty enemies, and you know
that Indians never attack white men save when they are almost certain of
success."

These words seemed to produce a certain impression on the leader of
the caravan. He remained silent for a moment, apparently reflecting
seriously on what he had heard, but he soon raised his head, and shook
it resolutely.

"Nonsense! I do not believe in the danger you seem to apprehend; after
all, if it really exist, it will be welcome. Wait here, my men, and be
ready to join us at the first signal," he added, addressing the peons,
who answered by rising and collecting in the middle of the hall.

Their master left them a torch to light them during his exploration,
took the other, and turning to Carnero, said, "Let us go."

They then entered the passage. It was very narrow, and ran downwards
with a steep incline, so that the two men, who were unacquainted with
its windings, were obliged to walk with the most serious attention, and
carefully examining all the spots they passed.

The further they proceeded, the more distinct the sound of water became;
it was evident that at a very short distance from the spot where they
were, perhaps but a few steps, there ran one of those subterranean
streams so frequently found in natural caverns, and which are generally
rivers swallowed up by an earthquake.

All at once, without being warned by the slightest sound, the leader of
the caravan felt himself seized round the waist, his torch was snatched
roughly from his hand, and extinguished against a rock, and himself
thrown down and securely bound, before he was able to attempt the
slightest resistance, so sudden and well calculated had the attack been.
Carnero had been thrown down at the same time as his master, and bound.

"Cowards, demons!" the Mexican yelled, as he made a superhuman effort to
rise and burst his bonds; "show yourself, at least, so that I may know
with whom I have to deal."

"Silence! General Don Sebastian Guerrero," a rough voice said to him,
whose accent made him start, in spite of all his courage; "resign
yourself to your fate, for you have fallen into the power of men who
will not liberate you till they have had a thorough explanation with
you."

General Guerrero, whom the readers of the "Indian Chief" will doubtless
remember, made a movement of impotent rage, but he was silent; he
perceived that the originators of the snare of which he was a victim
were implacable enemies, as they had not feared to call him by his name,
and more formidable than the pirates of the prairies or the redskins,
with whom he at first thought he had to deal. Moreover, he thought that
the darkness that surrounded him would soon cease, and then he would see
his enemies face to face, and recognize them.

But his expectations were deceived. When his conquerors had borne him to
the hall, where his peons were disarmed and guarded by peons, he saw,
by the light of the torch that faintly illumined the hall, that among
the men who surrounded him few wore the Mexican costume, it was true,
but had their faces hidden by a piece of black crape, forming a species
of mask, and so well fastened round their necks, that it was entirely
impossible to recognize them.

"What do these men want with me?" he muttered as he let his head fall on
his chest sadly.

"Patience!" said the man who had already spoken, and who overheard the
general's remark, "you will soon know."



CHAPTER VII.

THE EXPLANATION.


There was a short delay, during which the conquerors appeared to be
consulting together in a low voice; while doing so, an Indian chief, who
was no other than the Jester, entered the hall, and uttered a few words
in Comanche.

The general and the capataz were again picked up by the redskins,
and at a sign from one of the masked men, transported on to the
voladero. The appearance of the terrace had entirely changed during the
general's short absence, and offered at this moment a most singular and
picturesque scene.

One hundred and fifty to two hundred Indians, mostly armed with guns,
and ranged in good order round the terrace, the centre of which remained
free, faced the cavern, having among them the disarmed Mexicans, the
baggage, horses, and mules of the caravan.

The tent still stood solitary in the middle of what Was to have been
the encampment; but the curtain Was raised, and a horseman was standing
in front of it, as if to defend the entrance, and protect the precious
articles it contained from pillage.

At the moment when the party emerged from the cave, and appeared on the
terrace, the horsemen drawn up at the entrance of the defile opened
out to the right and left, leaving a passage for a small troop of men
dressed in hunters' garb, and whom it was easy to recognize as white
men, by the colour of their skin, although it was bronzed and freckled
by the sun; two ladies, mounted on ambling mules, were in the midst of
them.

This troop of strangers was composed of eight persons altogether,
leading with them two baggage mules. As the men were disarmed, and
walked on foot amid some fifty Indian horsemen, they had, in all
probability, been surprised by a party of redskins, and made prisoners
in some skilfully-arranged ambuscade.

The two ladies, one of whom was of a certain age while the other
appeared scarce eighteen, and who might be supposed closely related,
through the resemblance of their features, were treated with an
exquisite politeness they were far from expecting by the Indians, and
conducted to the tent, which they were requested to enter. The curtain
was then lowered, to conceal them from the glances of the Indians, whose
expression, although respectful, must necessarily be disagreeable to
them.

The new comers, at a signal from their conductors, ranged themselves
with the other prisoners; they were powerful men with marked features,
whom the Indians had probably not given a chance to fight, otherwise
they looked as if they would sooner be killed than yield.

They displayed neither fear nor depression, but their flashing looks
and frowning brows showed that though they silently submitted to their
fate, they were far from being resigned, and would eagerly seize the
first opportunity to regain the liberty of which they had been so
treacherously deprived.

Still, in spite of the determination they had doubtless formed to remain
indifferent as to what took place around them, they soon felt themselves
interested more than they liked in the strange drama which they
involuntarily witnessed, and whose gloomy preparations were of a nature
to arouse their curiosity to an eminent degree.

At the base of the rocks several blocks of granite had been arranged
in a semicircle, thus forming a resemblance to that terrible Vehmic
tribunal, which in olden times held its formidable assize on the banks
of the Rhine, before which kings and even emperors were at times
summoned to appear, and the resemblance was rendered more striking by
the care the assailants took in hiding their features.

Two masked men took their seats on the granite blocks, and the Indians
who carried the general laid him on the ground in front of this species
of tribunal. The person who seemed to be the president of this sinister
assembly gave a sign, the prisoner's bonds at once fell off, and he
found himself once more able to move his limbs.

The general drew himself up, crossed his hands on his chest, threw his
body back haughtily, raised his head and looked at the men who had
apparently constituted themselves his judges with a glance of withering
contempt.

"What do you want with me, bandits?" he said; "enough of this; these
insolent manoeuvres will not alarm me."

"Silence!" the president said coldly, "it is not your place to speak
thus."

Then he remarked to the Jester, who was standing a few paces from him--

"Bring up the other prisoners, old and new; everybody must hear what is
going to be said to this man."

The Jester gave a signal to the warriors; some of them dismounted,
approached the prisoners, and, after loosening the cord that bound the
capataz, they led him, as well as the peons and the prisoners of the
second caravan, in front of the tribunal, where they ranged themselves
in line. Then, at a signal from the Jester, the horsemen closed up round
the white men, who were thus hemmed in by Comanche warriors.

The spectacle offered by this assemblage of men, with their marked
features and quaint garb, grouped without any apparent regularity on
this voladero, which was suspended as if artificially over a terrible
gulf, and leant against lofty mountains, with their abrupt flanks and
snowy crest, was not without a certain grandeur.

A deadly silence brooded at this moment over the esplanade; all chests
were heaving, every heart was oppressed. Redskins, hunters, and
Mexicans all understood instinctively that a grand drama was about to
be performed; invisible streams could be heard hoarsely murmuring in
the cavern, and at times a gust of wind whistled over the heads of the
horsemen.

The prisoners, affected by a vague and undefined terror, waited with
secret anxiety, not knowing what fate these ferocious victors reserved
for them, but certain that, whatever the decision formed about them
might be, prayers would be impotent to move them, and that they would
have to endure the atrocious torture to which they would doubtless be
condemned.

The president looked round the assembly, rose in the midst of a profound
silence, stretched out his arm towards the general, who stood cold and
passionless before him, and, after darting at him a withering glance
through the holes made in the crape that concealed his face, he said in
a grave, stern, and impressive voice--

"Caballeros, remember the words you are about to hear, listen to them
attentively, so as to understand them, and not to be in error as to our
intentions. In the first place, in order to reassure you and restore
your entire freedom of mind, learn that you have not fallen into the
hands of Indians thirsting for your blood, or of pirates who intend to
plunder you first and assassinate you afterwards. No, you need not feel
the slightest alarm. When you have acted as impartial witnesses, and are
able to render testimony of what you have seen, should it be required,
you will be at liberty to continue your journey, without the forfeiture
of a single article. The men seated on my right and left, although
masked, are brave and honest hunters. The day may perhaps arrive when
you will know them; but reasons, whose importance you will speedily
recognize, compel them to remain unknown for the present. I was bound
to say this, señores, to you, against whom we bear no animosity, before
coming to a final settlement with this man."

One of the travellers belonging to the second caravan stepped forward;
he was a young man, with elegant and noble features, tall and well built.

"Caballero," he answered, in a distinct and sympathizing voice, "I thank
you, in the name of my companions and myself, for the reassuring words
you have spoken. I know how implacable the laws of the desert are, and
have ever submitted to them without a murmur; but permit me to ask you
one question."

"Speak, caballero."

"Is it an act of vengeance or justice you are about to carry out?"

"Neither, señor. It would be an act of folly or weakness if the
inspirations of the heart could be blamed or doubted by honourable and
loyal men."

"Enough of this, señor," the general said, haughtily; "and if you are,
as you assert, an honourable man, show me your face, in order that I
may know with whom I have to deal."

The president shrugged his shoulders contemptuously.

"No, Don Sebastian," he said, "for in that case the game would not be
even between us. But be patient, caballero, and soon you will learn, if
not who I am, at any rate the motives which have made me your implacable
foe."

The general attempted to smile, but in spite of himself the smile died
away on his lips, and though his haughty bearing seemed to defy his
unknown enemies, a secret apprehension contracted his heart.

There was a silence for some moments, during which no other sound was
audible save that of the breeze whistling through the denuded branches
and the distant murmur Of the invisible torrents in the quebradas.

The president looked round with flashing eyes, and folding his arms on
his chest at the same time, as he raised his head, he began speaking
again in a sharp, cutting voice, whose accents caused his hearers to
tremble involuntarily. And yet they were brave men, accustomed to the
terrible incidents of a desert life, and whom the most serious dangers
could not have affected.

"Now listen, señores," he said, "and judge this man impartially; but
do not judge him according to prairie law, but in your hearts. General
Don Sebastian Guerrero, who is standing so bold and upright before
you at this moment, is one of the greatest noblemen of Mexico, a
_Cristiano viejo_ of the purest blood, descended in a direct line from
the Spanish Conquistadors. His fortune is immense, incalculable, and he
himself could not determine its amount. This man, by the mere strength
of his will, and the implacable egotism that forms the basis of his
character, has always succeeded in everything he has undertaken. Coldly
and resolutely ambitious, he has covered with corpses the bloody road
he was compelled to follow in order to attain his proposed object, and
he has done so without hesitation or remorse; he has looked on with a
smiling face, when his dearest friends and his nearest relations fell
by his side; for him nothing which men respect exists--faith and honour
are with him but empty sounds. He had a daughter, who was the perfection
of women, and he coldly lacerated that daughter's heart; he fatally
drove her to suicide, and the blood of the poor girl spirted on his
forehead, while he was triumphantly witnessing the legal murder of the
man she loved, and whose death he resolved on, because he refused to
palter with his honour, and aid this man in the infamous treachery he
was meditating. This human-faced tiger, this monster with the mocking,
sceptical face, you see, señores, has only one thought, one object,
one desire--it is, to attain the highest rank, even if, to effect it,
he were compelled to clamber over the panting corpses of his relations
and friends sacrificed to his ambition; and if he cannot carve out an
independent kingdom in this collapsing republic, which is called Mexico,
he wishes to seize, at least, on the supreme magistracy, and be elected
president. If this man's life merely comprised this egotistic ambition
and these infamous schemes to satisfy it, I should content myself
with despising, instead of hating him, and not being able to find an
excuse for him, I should forget him. But no; this man has done more--he
dared to lay hands on a man who was my friend, my brother, the Count
de Prébois Crancé, to whom I have already referred, señores, without
mentioning his name. Unable to conquer the count loyally, despairing of
winning him over to his shameful cause, he at first tried to poison him;
but, not having succeeded, and wishing to come to an end, he forgot that
his daughter, an angel, the sole creature who loved him, and implored
divine mercy for him, was the betrothed wife of the count, and that
killing him would be her condemnation to death. In his horrible thirst
for revenge, he ordered the judicial murder of my friend, and coldly
presided at the execution, not noticing, in the joyous deliverance of
his satisfied hatred, that his daughter had killed herself at his side,
and that he was trampling her corpse beneath his horse's feet. Such is
what this man has done; look at him well, in order to recognize him
hereafter; he is General Don Sebastian Guerrero, military governor of
Sonora."

"Oh!" the audience said involuntarily, as they instinctively recoiled in
horror.

"If this man is the ex-governor of Sonora," the hunter who had already
spoken said, in disgust "he is a wild beast, whom his ferocity has
placed beyond the pale of society, and it is the duty of honest men to
destroy him."

"He must die! he must die!" the newcomers exclaimed.

The general's peons were gloomy and downcast; they hung their heads
sadly, for they did not dare attempt to defend their master, and yet did
not like to accuse him.

The general was still cool and unmoved; he was apparently calm, but a
fearful tempest was raging in his heart. His face was of an earthy and
cadaverous pallor; his brows were contracted till they touched, and his
violet lips were closed, as if he were making violent efforts not to
utter a word, and to restrain his fury from breaking out in insults. His
eyes flashed fire, and then his whole body was agitated by convulsive
movements, but he managed, through his self-command, to conquer his
emotion, and retain the expression of withering contempt, which he had
assumed since the beginning of this scene.

Seeing that his accuser was silent, he took a step forward, and
stretched out his arm, as if he claimed the right of answering. But his
enemy gave him no time to utter a word.

"Wait!" he shouted, "I have not said all yet; now that I have revealed
what you have done, I am bound to render the persons here present judges
not only of what I have done, but also of what I intend to do in future
against you."



CHAPTER VIII.

A DECLARATION OF WAR.


The general shrugged his shoulders with a contemptuous smile.

"Nonsense," he said, "you are mad, my fine fellow. I know now who
you are; your hatred of me has unconsciously discovered you. Remove
that veil which is no longer of any use; I know you, for, as you are
aware, hatred is clear-sighted. You are the French hunter whom I have
constantly met in my path to impede my projects, or overthrow my plans."

"Add," the hunter interrupted, "and whom you will ever meet."

"Be it so, unless I crush you beneath my heel like a noxious insect."

"Ever so proud and so indomitable, do you not fear lest, exasperated by
your insults, I may forget the oath I have taken, and sacrifice you to
my vengeance?"

"Nonsense," he replied, with a disdainful toss of his head, "you kill
me? that is impossible, for you are too anxious to enjoy your revenge to
stab me in a moment of passion."

"That is true, this time you are right, Don Sebastian. I will not kill
you, because, however culpable you may be, I do not recognize the right
to do so. Blood does not wash out blood, it only increases the stain;
and I intend to take a more protracted vengeance on you than a stab or a
shot will grant us. Besides this, vengeance has already commenced."

"Indeed!" the general said sarcastically.

"Still," the hunter continued with some emotion, "as the vengeance
must be straightforward, I wish to give you, in the presence of all
these gentlemen, the proof that I fear you no more today than I did
when the struggle commenced between us. This veil which you reproach me
for wearing I am going to remove, not because you have recognized me,
but because I deem it unworthy of me to conceal my features from you
any longer. Brothers," he added, turning to his silent assistants, "my
mask alone must fall, retain yours, for it is important for my plans of
vengeance that you should remain unknown."

The four men bowed their assent, and the hunter threw away the crape
that covered his features.

"Valentine Guillois!" the general exclaimed; "I was sure of it."

On hearing this celebrated name, the hunters of the second caravan made
a movement as if to rush forward, impelled either by curiosity or some
other motive.

"Stay," the Frenchman shouted, stopping them by a quick wave of the
hand, "let me finish with this man first."

They fell back with a bow.

"Now," he continued, "we are really face to face. Well, listen patiently
to what still remains for me to tell you; and, perhaps, the assumed
calmness spread over your features will melt away before my words, like
the snow in the sunshine."

"I will listen to you, because it is impossible for me to do otherwise
at this moment; but if you flatter yourself that you will affect me in
any way, I am bound to warn you that you will not succeed. The hatred I
feel for you is so thoroughly balanced by the contempt you inspire me
with, that nothing which emanates from you can move me in the slightest
degree."

"Listen then," the hunter coldly continued; "when my unhappy friend
fell at Guaymas, in my paroxysm of grief I allow that I intended to
kill you; but reflection soon came, and I saw that it would be better
to let you live. Thanks to me, one week after the count's death, the
Mexican Government, not satisfied with disavowing your conduct publicly,
deprived you of your command, without inquiry, and refused, in spite of
your remonstrances, to explain to you the motives of their conduct."

"Ah, ah," the general said, in a hissing but suppressed voice, "it was
to you, then, that I owe my recall?"

"Yes, general, to me alone."

"I am delighted to hear it."

"You remained, then, in Sonora, without power or influence, hated and
despised by all, and marked on your forehead with that indelible brand
which God imprinted on Cain, the first murderer; but Mexico is a
blessed country, where ambitious men can easily fish in troubled waters,
when, like yourself, they are not restrained by any of those bonds of
honour, which too often fetter the genius of honest men. You could not
remain long bowed beneath the blow that had fallen on you, and you made
up your mind in a few days. You resolved to leave Sonora and proceed
to Mexico, where, thanks to your colossal fortune, and the influence
it would necessarily give you, you could carry on your ambitious
projects; by changing the scene, you hoped to cast the scandalous acts
of which you had been guilty into oblivion. Your preparations were soon
made--listen attentively, general, to this, for I assure you that I have
reached the most interesting part of my narration."

"Go on, go on, señor," he replied carelessly, "I am listening to you
attentively; do not fear that I shall forget one of your words."

"In spite of your affected indifference, señor, I will go on. As you
fancied, for certain reasons which to is unnecessary to remind you of,
that your enemies might try to lay some ambush for you, during the
long journey you were obliged to perform from Hermosillo to Mexico,
you thought it necessary to take the following precautions, the
inutility of some of which I presume that you have recognized by this
time. While, for the purpose of deceiving your enemies, you started
in disguise, and only accompanied by a few men, for California, in
order to return to Mexico across the Rocky Mountains; while you gave
questioners the fullest details of the road, you pretended to follow,
with your men--your real object was quite different. The man in whom
you placed your confidence, Don Isidro Vargas, a veteran of your War of
Independence, who had known you when a child, and whom you had converted
into your tool, took the shortest, and, consequently, most direct route
for the capital, having with him not only twelve mules loaded with gold
and silver, the fruit of your plunder during the period of your command,
but a more precious article still, the body of your unhappy daughter,
which you had embalmed, and which the captain had orders to inter with
your ancestors at your Hacienda del Palmar, which you left so long ago,
and to which you will, in all probability, never return. Your object
in acting thus was not only to divert attention from your ill-gotten
riches, but also to attract your enemies after yourself. Unfortunately
or fortunately, according as we regard the matter, I am an old hunter
so difficult to deceive that my comrades gave me long ago the glorious
title of the Trail-hunter, and hence, while everybody else was forming
speculations about you, I alone was not deceived, and guessed your plan."

"Still, your presence here gives a striking denial to the assertion,"
the general interrupted him, ironically.

"You think so, señor, and that proves that you are not thoroughly
acquainted with me yet; but patience, I hope that you will, ere long,
appreciate me better. Moreover you have not reflected on the time that
has elapsed since your departure from Hermosillo."

"What do you mean?" the general asked, with a sudden start of
apprehension.

"I mean that before attacking you, I resolved to settle matters first
with the captain."

"Ah!"

"Well, general, it is my painful duty to inform you that four days
after he left Pitic, our brave friend Don Isidro, although an old
and experienced soldier, well versed in war stratagems, fell into an
ambuscade resembling the one into which you fell today, with this
exception----."

"What exception?" the general asked, with greater interest than he would
have liked to display, for he was beginning to fear a catastrophe.

"My men were so imprudent," the hunter continued, ironically, "as to
leave the captain the means of defending himself. The result was that he
died, bravely fighting to save the gold you had intrusted to him, and,
before all, the coffin containing your daughter's corpse."

"Well, and I presume you plundered the caravan, and carried off the gold
and silver?" he asked, contemptuously.

"You would most probably have acted thus under similar circumstances,
Don Sebastian," the hunter answered, giving him back insult for insult;
"but I thought it my duty to act differently. What could you expect?
I, a coarse, uneducated hunter, do not know how to plunder, for I did
not learn it when I had the honour to serve my own country, and I never
stood under your orders in Mexico. This is what I did: so soon as the
captain and the peons he commanded were killed--for the poor devils, I
must do them the justice of saying, offered a desperate resistance--I
myself, you understand, friend, I myself conveyed the money to your
Hacienda del Palmar, where it now remains in safety, as you can easily
assure yourself if you ever return to Palmar."

The general breathed again, and smiled ironically. "Instead of blaming
you, señor," he said, "I, on the contrary, owe you thanks for this
chivalrous conduct, especially toward an enemy."

"Do not be in such an hurry to thank me, caballero," the hunter
answered; "I have not told you all yet."

These words were uttered with such an accent of gratified hatred, that
all the hearers, the general included, shuddered involuntarily, for they
understood that the hunter was about to make a terrible revelation, and
that the calmness he feigned concealed a tempest.

"Ah," Don Sebastian murmured, "speak, I implore you, señor, for I am
anxious to know all the obligations I owe you."

"Captain Don Isidro Vargas not only escorted the money I had conveyed to
Palmar," he said in a sharp, quick voice, "but there was also a coffin.
Well, general, why do you not ask me what has become of that coffin?"

An electric shock ran through the audience on hearing the ironical
question so coldly asked by the hunter, whose eye, implacably fixed on
the general, seemed to flash fire.

"What!" Don Sebastian exclaimed, "I can hardly think that you have
committed sacrilege?"

Valentine burst into a loud and sharp laugh. "Your suppositions ever go
beyond the object. I commit sacrilege, oh, no! I loved the poor girl too
dearly when alive to outrage her after death. No, no, the betrothed of
my friend is sacred to me; but as, in my opinion, the assassin can have
no claim to the body of his victim, and you are morally your daughter's
murderer, I have robbed you of this body, which you are not worthy to
have, and which must rest by the side of him for whom she died."

There was a moment's silence. The general's face, hitherto pale, assumed
a greenish hue, and his eyes were suffused with blood. Now and then he
made superhuman efforts to speak, which were unsuccessful, but at length
he yelled in a hoarse and hissing voice--

"It is not true; you have not done this. You cannot have dared to rob a
father of his child's body."

"I have done it, I tell you," the hunter said coldly. "I have taken
possession of the body of your victim, and now you understand me;
never shall you know where this poor body rests. But this is only
the beginning of my vengeance. What I wish to kill in you is the soul
and not the body; and now begone, go and forget at Mexico, amid your
ambitious intrigues, the scene that has passed between us; but remember
that you will find me in your path everywhere and ever. Farewell till we
meet again."

"One last word," the general exclaimed, affected by the deepest despair,
"restore me my daughter's body; she was the only human creature I ever
loved."

The hunter regarded him for a moment with an undefinable expression, and
then said in a harsh and coldly-mocking voice, "Never."

Then, turning away, he re-entered the grotto, followed by his
assistants. The general tried to rush after him, but the Indians
restrained him, and, in spite of his resistance, compelled him to stop.

Don Sebastian, who was the more overwhelmed by the last blow because
it was unexpected, stood for a moment like a man struck by lightning,
with pendant arms and seared eyes. At last a heartrending sob burst from
his bosom, two burning tears sprung from his eyes, and he rolled like a
corpse on the ground.

The very Indians, those rough warriors to whom pity is a thing unknown,
felt moved by this frightful despair, and several of them turned away
not to witness it.

In the meanwhile the Jester had ordered the peons to saddle the horses
and load the mules. The general was placed by two servants on a horse,
without appearing to notice what was done to him, and a few minutes
later the caravan left the Fort of the Chichimèques, and passed
unimpeded through the silent ranks of the Indians, who bowed as it
passed.

"When the Mexicans had disappeared in the windings of the road,
Valentine emerged from the grotto, and walked courteously up to the
hunters of the second caravan.

"Forgive me," he said to them, "not the delay I have occasioned you,
but the involuntary alarm I caused you; but I was compelled to act as I
did. You are going to Mexico, where I shall soon be myself, and it is
possible that I may require your testimony some day."

"A testimony which will not be refused, my dear countryman," the hunter
who had hitherto spoken gracefully answered.

"What!" the hunter exclaimed in amazement, "are you French?"

"Yes, and all my companions are so, too. We have come from San
Francisco, where, thanks to Providence, we have amassed a very
considerable fortune, which we hope to double in the Mexican capital.
My name is Antoine Rallier, and these are my brothers, Edward and
Augustus; the two ladies who accompany us are my mother and sister, and
if you know nobody in Mexico, come straight to me, sir, and you will be
received, not only as a friend, but as a brother."

The hunter pressed the hand his countryman offered him.

"As this is the case," he said, "I will not let you go alone, for these
mountains are infested by bandits of every description, whom you may not
escape, but with my protection you can pass anywhere."

"I heartily accept the offer; but why do you not come with us to Mexico?"

"That is impossible for the present," the hunter answered pensively;
"but be at your ease. I shall not fail to demand the fulfilment of your
promise."

"You will be welcome, friend, for we have been acquainted for a long
time, and we know that you have ever honourably represented France in
America."

Two hours later the Fort of the Chichimèques had returned to its usual
solitude; white men and Indians had abandoned it for ever.



CHAPTER IX.

MEXICO.


We will now leap over about two months and, leaving the Rocky Mountains,
invite the reader to accompany us to the heart of Mexico.

The Spanish Conquistadors selected with admirable tact the sites on
which they founded the cities destined to insure their power, and become
at a later date the centres of their immense trade, and the entrepôts of
their incalculable wealth.

Even at the present day, although owing to the negligence of the
Creoles and their continual fratricidal Wars, combined with the sudden
earthquakes, these cities are half ruined, and the life which the
powerful Spanish organization caused to circulate in them has died out,
these cities are still a subject of surprise to the traveller accustomed
to the morbid crowding of old European cities. He regards with awe
these vast squares, surrounded by cloister-like arcades; these broad
and regular streets through which refreshing waters continually flow;
these shady gardens in which thousands of gaily-plumaged birds twitter;
these bold bridges; these majestically simple buildings, whose interiors
contain incalculable wealth. And yet, we repeat, the majority of these
cities are only the shadow of themselves. They seem dead, and are only
aroused by the furious yells of an insurrection, to lead for a few
days a feverish existence under the excitement of political passions.
But so soon as the corpses are removed, and water has washed away the
blood stains, the streets revert to their solitude, the inhabitants
hide themselves in their carefully-closed houses, and all becomes again
gloomy, mournful, and silent, only to be galvanized afresh by the hoarse
murmurs of an approaching revolt.

If we except Lima, the splendid "Ciudad de los Reyes," Mexico is
probably the largest and handsomest of all the cities that cover the
soil of ancient Spanish America.

From whatever point we regard it, Mexico affords a magnificent view;
but if you wish to enjoy a really fairy-like sight, ascend at sunset one
of the towers of the cathedral, whence you will see the strangest and
most picturesque panorama imaginable unrolled at your feet.

Mexico certainly existed before the discovery of America, and our
readers will probably pardon a digression showing how the foundation of
the city is narrated by old chroniclers.

In the year of the death of Huetzin, King of Tezcuco, that is to say,
the "spot where people stop," because it was at this very place that the
migration of the Chichimèques terminated, the Mexicans made an eruption
into the country, and reached the place where Mexico now stands, at the
beginning of the year 1140 of our era. This place then formed part of
the dominions of Aculhua, Lord of Azcapotzalco.

According to paintings and the old chronicles, these Indians came from
the empires of the province of Xalisco. It appears that they were of the
same race as the Toltecs, and of the family of the noble Huetzin, who
with his children and servants escaped during the destruction of the
Toltecs, and was residing at that period at Chapultepec, which was also
destroyed at a later date.

It is recorded that he traversed with them the country of Michoacán,
and took refuge in the province of Atzlán, where he died, and had for
his successors Ozolopan, his son, and Aztlal, his grandson, whose heir
was Ozolopan II. The latter, remembering the country of his ancestors,
resolved to return thither with his entire nation, which was already
called Mezetin. After many adventures and combats, they at length
reached the banks of a great lake covered with an infinitude of islands,
and as the recollection of their country had been traditionally kept up
among them, they at once recognized it, though not one of them had even
seen it before. Too weak to resist the people that surrounded them, or
to establish themselves in the open country, they founded on several of
the islands, which they connected together, a town, which they called
after themselves, Mexico, and which at a later date was destined to be
the capital of a powerful empire.

Although the Mexicans arrived on the banks of the lake in 1140, it was
not till two years later that the American Venice began to emerge from
the bosom of the waters.

We have dwelt on these details in order to correct an error made by a
modern author, who attributes to the Aztecs the foundation of this city,
to which he gives the name of Tenochtitlan, instead of Temixtetlan,
which is the correct name.[1]

Like Venice, its European sister, Mexico was only a collection of
cabins, offering a precarious shelter to wretched fishermen, who were
incessantly kept in a state of alarm by the attacks of their neighbours.
The Mexicans, at first scattered over a great number of small islands,
felt the necessity of collecting together in order to offer a better
resistance. By their patience and courage they succeeded in building
houses, raised on piles, and employing the mud of the lagoons, held
together by branches of trees, they created the _chinampas_, or floating
gardens, the most curious in the world, on which they sowed vegetables,
pimento, and maize, and thus, with the aquatic birds they managed to
catch on the lake, they contrived to be entirely independent of their
neighbours.

Almost destroyed during the obstinate fights between the natives and the
Spaniards, Mexico, four years after the conquest, was entirely rebuilt
by Fernando Cortez. But the new city in no way resembled the old one.
Most of the canals were filled up, and paved over; magnificent palaces
and sumptuous monasteries rose as if by enchantment, and the city became
entirely Spanish.

Mexico has been so frequently described by more practised pens than
ours, and we, in previous works, have had such frequent occasions
to allude to it, that we will not attempt any description here, but
continue our story without further delay.

It was October 12th, 1854, two months, day for day, had elapsed since
the unfortunate Count de Prébois Crancé, victim of an iniquitous
sentence, had honourably fallen at Guaymas beneath the Mexican
bullets.[2] A thick fog had hung over the city for the whole day,
changing at times into a fine drizzle, which after sunset became
sharper, although a heavy fog still prevailed. However, at about eight
in the evening the rain ceased to fall, and the stagnant waters of the
lake began to reflect a few particles of brighter sky. The snow-clad
summit of Iztaczihuatl, or the White Woman, feebly glistened in the pale
watery moonbeams, while Popocatepetl remained buried in the clouds.[3]

The streets and squares were deserted, although the night was not yet
far advanced; for the loungers and promenaders, driven away by the
weather, had returned to their homes. A deep silence brooded over the
city, whose lights expired one after the other, and only at lengthened
intervals could be heard on the greasy pavement the footsteps of the
serenos, or watchmen, who performed their melancholy walk, with the
indifferent air peculiar to that estimable corporation. At times a few
discordant sounds, escaping from the velorios were borne along on the
breeze; but that was all--the city seemed asleep.

Half past nine was striking by the cathedral clock at the moment when
a dull sound resembling the rustling of reeds shaken by the wind was
audible on the gigantic highway joining the city to the main land. This
sound soon became more distinct, and changed into the trampling of
horses, which was deadened by the damp air and the ground softened by
a lengthened rain. A black mass emerged from the fog, and two horsemen
wrapped in thick cloaks stood out distinctly in the moonlight.

These horsemen seemed to have made a long journey; their steeds,
covered with mud, limped at each step, and only advanced with extreme
difficulty. They at length reached a low house, through whose dirty
panes a doubtful light issued, which showed that the inhabitants were
still awake.

The horsemen stopped before this house, which was an inn, and without
dismounting, one of them gave the door two or three kicks, and called
the host in a loud sharp voice. The latter, doubtless disturbed by this
unusual summons at so improper an hour, was in no hurry to answer, and
would have probably left the strangers for some time in the cold, if the
man who had kicked, probably tired of waiting, had not thought of an
expeditious means of obtaining an answer.

"_Voto a Brios!_" he shouted, as he drew a pistol from his holster, and
cocked it, "since this dog is resolved not to open, I will send a bullet
through his window."

This menace had been scarce uttered ere the door opened as if by
enchantment, and the landlord appeared on the threshold. This man
resembled landlords in all countries; he had, like them, a sleek and
crafty look, but at this moment his obsequiousness badly concealed a
profound terror, evidenced by the earthy pallor of his face.

"Hola, caballero," he said, with a respectful bow, "have a little
patience, if you please. Caramba! how quick you are; it is plain to
see that you are forasteros, and not acquainted with the custom of our
country."

"No matter who I am," the stranger answered sharply; "are you a
landlord--yes or no?"

"I have that honour, caballero," the host remarked, with a deeper bow
than the first.

"If you are so, scoundrel," the stranger exclaimed angrily, "by what
right do you, whose duty it is to be at the orders of the public, dare
to keep me waiting thus at your door?"

The landlord had a strong inclination to get into a passion, but the
resolute tone of the man who addressed him, and, above all, the pistol
he still held in his hand, urged him to prudence and moderation; hence
he answered with profound humility--

"Believe me, señor, that if I had known what a distinguished caballero
did me the honour of stopping before my humble dwelling, I should have
hastened to open."

"A truce to such impertinent remarks, and open the door."

The landlord bowed without replying this time, and whistled a lad,
who came to help him in holding the travellers' horses; the latter
dismounted, and entered the inn, while their tired steeds were led to
the corral by the boy.

The room into which the travellers were introduced was low, black, and
furnished with tables and benches in a filthy state, and mostly broken,
while the floor of stamped earth was greasy and uneven. Above the bar
was a statuette of the Virgin de la Soledad, before which burned a
greasy candle. In short, this inn had nothing attractive or comfortable
about it, and seemed to be a velorio of the lowest class, apparently
used by the most wretched and least honourable ranks of Mexican society.

A glance was sufficient for the travellers to understand the place to
which accident had led them, still they did not display any of the
disgust which the sight of this cut-throat den inspired them with. They
seated themselves as comfortably as they could at a table, and the one
who had hitherto addressed mine host went on, while his silent companion
leaned against the wall, and drew the folds of his cloak still higher up
his face.

"Look here," he said, "we are literally dying of hunger, patron; could
you not serve us up a morsel of something? I don't care what it is in
the shape of food."

"Hum!" said the host with an embarrassed air, "it is very late,
caballero, and I don't believe I have even a maize tortilla left in the
whole house."

"Nonsense," the traveller replied, "I know all about it, so let us deal
frankly with each other; give me some supper, for I am hungry, and we
will not squabble about the price."

"Even if you paid me a piastre for every tortilla, excellency, I really
could not supply you with two," the landlord replied, with increased
constraint.

The traveller looked at him fixedly for a moment or two, and then laid
his hand firmly on his arm, and pulled him toward the table.

"Now, look here, Ño Lusacho," he said to him curtly, "I intend to pass
two hours in your hovel, at all risks; I know that between this and
eleven o'clock you expect a large party, and that all is prepared to
receive them."

The landlord attempted to give a denial, but the traveller cut him short.

"Silence," he continued, "I wish to be present at the meeting of these
persons; of course I do not mean them to see me; but I must not only
see them, but hear all they say. Put me where you please, that is your
concern; but as any trouble deserves payment, here are ten ounces for
you, and I will give you as many more when your visitors have gone, and
I assure you that what I ask of you will not in any way compromise
you, and that no one will ever know the bargain made between us--you
understand me, I suppose? Now, I will add, that if you obstinately
refuse the arrangement I offer----"

"Well, suppose I do?"

"I will blow out your brains," the traveller said distinctly; "my friend
here will put you on his shoulder, throw you into the water, and all
will be over. What do you think of my proposal?"

"Hang it, excellency," the poor fellow answered, with a grimace which
attempted to resemble a smile, and trembling in all his limbs, "I think
that I have no choice, and am compelled to accept."

"Good! now you are learning reason; but take these ounces as a
consolation."

The landlord pocketed the money, as he raised his eyes to heaven and
gave a deep sigh.

"Fear nothing, _viva Dios_!" the traveller continued; "all will pass off
better than you suppose. At what hour do you expect your visitors?"

"At half past ten, excellency."

"Good! it is half past nine, we have time before us. Where do you
propose to hide us?"

"In this room, excellency."

"Here, diablo; whereabouts?"

"Behind the bar; no one will dream of looking for you there, and,
besides, I shall serve as a rampart to you."

"Then you will be present at the meeting?"

"Oh!" he said with a smile, "I am nobody; the more so, that if I spoke,
my house would be ruined."

"That is true. Well, then, all is settled; when the hour arrives, you
will place us behind the bar; but can my companion and I sit there with
any degree of comfort?"

"Oh, you will have plenty of room."

"I fancy this is not the first time such a thing has occurred, eh?"

The landlord smiled, but made no answer: the traveller reflected for a
moment.

"Give us something to eat," he at length said; "here are two piastres in
addition for what you are going to place before us."

The landlord took the money, and forgetting that he had declared a
few moments previously that he had nothing in the house, he instantly
covered the table with provisions, which, if not particularly delicate,
were, however, sufficiently appetizing, especially for men whose
appetite appeared to be powerfully excited.

The two travellers vigorously attacked this improvised supper, and for
about twenty minutes no other sound was heard but that of their jaws.
When their hunger was at length appeased, the traveller who seemed to
speak for both, thrust away his plate, and addressed the landlord, who
was modestly standing behind him hat in hand.

"And now for another matter," he said; "how many lads have you to help
you?"

"Two, excellency--the one who took your horses to the corral, and
another."

"Very good. I presume you will not require both those lads to wait on
your friends tonight?"

"Certainly not, excellency; indeed, for greater security, I shall wait
on them alone."

"Better still; then, you see no inconvenience in sending of them into
the Cuidad; of course on the understanding that he is well paid for the
trip?"

"No inconvenience at all, excellency; what is the business?"

"Simply," he said, taking a letter from his bosom, "to convey this
letter to Señor Don Antonio Rallier, in the Calle Secunda Monterilla,
and bring me back the answer in the shortest possible period to this
house."

"That is easy, excellency; if you will have the kindness to intrust the
letter to me."

"Here it is, and four piastres for the journey."

The host bowed respectfully, and immediately left the room.

"I fancy, Curumilla," the traveller then said to his companion, "that
our affairs are going well."

The other replied by a silent nod of assent, and a moment the landlord
returned.

"Well?" the traveller asked.

"Your messenger has set off, excellency, but he will probably be some
time ere he returns."

"Why so?"

"Because people are not allowed to ride about the city at night without
a special authority, and he will be obliged to go and return on foot."

"No consequence, so long as he returns before sunrise."

"Oh, long before then, excellency."

"In that case all is for the best; but I think the moment is at hand
when your friends will arrive."

"It is, excellency, so have the kindness to follow me."

"All right."

The travellers rose; in a twinkling the landlord removed all signs of
supper, and then hid his guests behind the bar. This bar, which was
very tall and deep, offered them a perfectly secure, if not convenient,
hiding place, in which they crouched down with a pistol in each hand, in
order to be ready for any event. They had scarce installed themselves
ere several knocks, dealt in a peculiar fashion, were heard on the outer
door.


[1] In order to protect themselves from the misfortunes which had before
crushed them, the Mexicans placed themselves under the safeguard of the
King of Azcapotzalco, on whose lands they had established themselves.
This prince gave them two of his sons as governors, of whom the first
was Acamapuhtli, chief of the Tenochcas. On their arrival in Ahanuec,
these Indians had found on the summit of a rock a nopal, in which was an
eagle devouring a serpent, and they took their name from it. Acamapuhtli
selected this emblem as the _totem_ of the race he was called upon to
govern. During the War of Independence, the insurgents adopted this
hieroglyphic as the arms of the Mexican Republic, in memory of the
ancient and glorious origin of which it reminded them.

[2] See the "Indian Chief." Same publishers.

[3] This second volcano, whose name indicates "The Smoking Mountain," is
near the former.



CHAPTER X.

THE RANCHO.


In one of our previous works we proved by documentary evidence
that, since the declaration of its independence, that is to say, in
about forty years, Mexico has reached its two hundred and thirtieth
revolution which gives an average of about five revolutions a year. In
our opinion, this is very decent for a country which, if it pleased,
regard being had to the retrograde measures adopted by the government,
would have been justified in having at least one a month.

The causes of these revolutions are and must be ever the same in
a country where the sabre rules without control, and which counts
_twenty-four_ thousand officers for an army of twenty thousand
men. These officers, very ignorant generally, and very ambitious
individually, incapable of executing the slightest manoeuvre, or
commanding the most simple movement, find in the general disorder
chances of promotion which they would not otherwise have, and many
Mexican generals have attained their elevated rank without having once
been present at a battle, or even seen any other fire than that of
the cigarettes they constantly have in their mouths. The real truth
is, they have skilfully pronounced themselves; each _pronunciamiento_
has gained them a step, sometimes two, and with pronunciamiento after
pronunciamiento, they have acquired the general's scarf, that is to say,
the probability, with the aid of luck, of being in their turn proclaimed
President of the Republic, which is the dream of all of them, and the
constant object of their efforts.

We have said that the travellers had scarce time to conceal themselves
in the bar, ere several knocks on the door warned the landlord that the
mysterious guests he expected were beginning to arrive.

Ño Lusacho was a fat little man, with constantly rolling gray eyes, a
cunning look, and a prominent stomach--the true type of the Mexican
Ranchero, who is more eager for gain than two Jews, and very ready when
circumstances demand it, that is to say, when his own interests are
concerned, to make a bargain with his conscience. He assured himself by
a glance that all was in order in the room, and that there was nothing
to cause the presence of strangers to be suspected, and then walked to
the door; but, before opening, with the probable intention of displaying
his zeal, he thought it advisable to challenge the arrivals.

"¿Quién vive?" he asked.

"Gente de paz!" a rough voice answered; "open in the Fiend's name, if
you do not wish us to break in your door."

Ño Lusacho doubtless recognized the voice, for the somewhat brusque
response appeared to him sufficient, and he immediately prepared to draw
back the bolts.

The door was hardly ajar ere several men burst into the inn, thrusting
each other aside in their haste, as if afraid of being followed. These
men were seven or eight in number; and it was easy to see they were
officers, in spite of the precaution of some among them who had put on
civilian attire.

They laughed and jested loudly, which proved that, if they were
conspirators, or, at least, if they were brought to this ill-famed den
by any illicit object, that object, whatever it might be, did not spoil
their gaiety or appear to them of sufficient importance to render
them unwontedly serious.

They seated themselves at a table, and the landlord, who had doubtless
long been acquainted with their habits, placed before them a bottle of
Catalonian refino and a jug of pulque, which they straightway began
swallowing while rolling their cigarettes.

The door of the rancho had been left ajar by the landlord, who probably
thought it unnecessary to close it; the officers succeeded each other
with great rapidity, and their number soon became so great, that the
room, though very spacious, was completely filled. The newcomers
followed the example of those who had preceded them; they seated
themselves at a table, and began drinking and smoking, not appearing to
trouble themselves about the earlier comers, to whom they merely bowed
as they entered.

As for Ño Lusacho, he continually prowled round the tables, watching
everything with a corner of his eyes, and being careful not to serve the
slightest article without receiving immediate payment. At length one of
the officers rose, and, after rapping his glass on the table several
times to attract attention, he asked--

"Is Don Sirven here?"

"Yes, señor," a young man of twenty at the most answered as he rose. His
effeminate features were already worn by precocious debauchery.

"Assure yourself that no person is absent."

The young man bowed, and began walking from one table to the other,
exchanging two or three words in a low voice with each of the visitors.
When Don Sirven had gone round the room, he went to the person who had
addressed him, and said with a respectful bow--

"Señor coronel, the meeting is complete, and only one person is absent;
but as he did not tell us certainly whether he would do us the honour of
being present tonight, I----"

"That will do, alférez," the colonel interrupted him; "remain outside
the house, carefully watch the environs, and let no one approach without
challenging him, but if you know who arrives, introduce him immediately.
You have heard me, so execute my orders punctually; you understand the
importance of passive obedience for yourself."

"You can trust to me, coronel," the young man answered; and, after
bowing to his superior officer, he left the room and closed the door
behind him.

The officers, then, without getting up, turned round on the benches, and
thus found themselves face to face with the colonel, who had stationed
himself in the middle of the room. The latter waited a few minutes till
perfect silence was established, and then, after bowing to the audience,
he spoke as follows;--

"Let me, in the first place, thank you, caballeros, for the punctuality
with which you have responded to the meeting I had the honour of
arranging with you. I am delighted at the confidence it has pleased you
to display in me, and, believe me, I shall show myself worthy of it; for
it proves to me once again that you are really devoted to the interests
of our country, and that it may freely reckon on you in the hour of
danger."

This first portion of the colonel's speech was drowned in applause,
as was only fitting. This colonel was a man of about forty years of
age, of herculean stature, and looking more like a butcher than an
honest soldier. His cunning looks did not at all inspire confidence,
and every step in his profession had been the reward of an act of
treachery. He was a most valuable man in a conspiracy on this account,
for being so old a hand at pronunciamientos, people knew that he was too
clever to join a losing cause; hence, he inspired his accomplices with
unlimited confidence. After allowing time for the enthusiasm to calm, he
continued--

"I am pleased, señores, not at this applause, but at the devotion you so
constantly display for the public welfare. You understand as well as I
do that we can no longer bow our necks beneath the despotic government
that tyrannizes over us. The man who at this moment holds our destinies
in his hands has shown himself unworthy of the mandate we confided to
him; by failing in his duties towards us, he has liberated us from the
oath of obedience we took to him. Human patience has its limits, and the
hour will soon strike for the man who has deceived us to be overthrown."

The colonel had made a start, and would probably have continued his
plausible speech for a long time in an emphatic voice, had not one of
his audience, evidently wearied of finding nothing positive or clear in
this flood of sounding words, suddenly interrupted him--

"That is all very fine, colonel," he said, "_Rayo de Dios!_ we are all
aware that we are gentlemen devoted, body and soul, to our country; but
devotion must be paid for, _cuerpo de Cristo!_ What shall we get by all
this after all? We have not assembled here to compliment each other;
but, on the contrary, to come to a definite understanding. So pray come
to the point at once."

The colonel was at first slightly embarrassed by this warm apostrophe;
but he recovered himself at once, and turned with a smile to his
interrupter--

"I was coming to it, my dear captain, at the very moment when you cut
across my speech."

"Oh, that is different," the captain answered; "pray suppose that I had
not spoken, and explain the affair in a couple of words."

"In the first place," the colonel went on, "I have news for you which I
feel assured you will heartily welcome. This is the last time we shall
meet."

"Very good," said the practical captain, encouraged by the winks of his
companions, "let us hear first what the reward is."

The colonel saw that he could no longer dally with the matter, for all
his hearers openly took part with their comrade, and murmurs of evil
augury were beginning to be audible. At the moment when he resolved to
tell all he knew, the door of the inn was opened, and a man wrapped
in a large cloak quickly entered the room, preceded by the Alferez Don
Sirven, who shouted in a loud voice--

"The general. Caballeros, the general."

At this announcement silence was re-established as if by enchantment.
The person called the general stopped in the middle of the room, looked
around him, and then took off his hat, let his cloak fall from his
shoulders, and appeared in the full-dress uniform of a general officer.

"Long live General Guerrero!" the officers shouted, as they rose
enthusiastically.

"Thanks, gentlemen, thanks," the general responded with numerous bows.
"This warm feeling fills me with delight; but pray be silent, that we
may properly settle the matter which has brought us here; moments are
precious, and, in spite of the precautions we have taken, our presence
at this inn may have been denounced."

All collected round the general with a movement of interest easy to
understand. The latter continued--

"I will come at once to facts," he said, "without entering into idle
speculations, which would cause us to waste valuable time. In a word,
then, what is it we want? To overthrow the present government, and
establish another more in conformity with our opinions and, above all,
our interests."

"Yes, yes," the officers exclaimed.

"In that case we are conspiring against the established authority,
and are rebels in the eyes of the law," the general continued coolly
and distinctly; "as such, we stake our heads, and must not attempt
any self-deception on this point. If our attempt fails, we shall be
pitilessly shot by the victor; but we shall not fail," he hastily
added, on noticing the impression these ill-omened words produced on
his hearers; "we shall not fail, because we are resolutely playing a
terrible game, and each of us knows that his fortune depends on winning
the game. From the alférez up to the brigadier-general each knows that
success will gain him two steps of promotion, and such a stake is
sufficient to determine the least resolute to be staunch when the moment
arrives to begin the struggle."

"Yes, yes," the captain whose observations had, previous to the
general's arrival, so greatly embarrassed the colonel, said, "all that
is very fine. Jumping up two steps is a most agreeable thing; but we
were promised something else in your name, excellency."

The general smiled.

"You are right, captain," he remarked; "and I intend to keep all
promises made in my name--but not, as you might reasonably suppose, when
our glorious enterprise has succeeded. If I waited till then, you might
fear lest I should seek pretexts and excuses to evade their performance."

"When then, pray?" the captain asked, curiously.

"At once, señores," the general exclaimed, in a loud voice, and,
addressing the whole company, "I wish to prove to you that my confidence
in you is entire, and that I put faith in the word you pledged to me."

Joy, astonishment, incredulity, perhaps, so paralyzed his hearers, that
they were unable to utter a syllable. The general examined them for a
moment, and then, turning away with a mocking smile, he walked to the
front door, which he opened. The officers eagerly watched his movements,
with panting chests, and the general, after looking out, coughed twice.

"Here I am, excellency," a voice said, issuing from the fog.

"Bring in the bags," Don Sebastian ordered, and then quietly returned to
the middle of the room.

Almost immediately after a man entered, bearing a heavy leather
saddlebag. It was Carnero, the capataz. At a signal from his master,
he deposited his bundle and went out; but returned shortly after with
another bag, which he placed by the side of the first one. Then, after
bowing to his master, he withdrew, and the door closed upon him.

The general opened the bags, and a flood of gold poured in a trickling
cascade on the table; the officers instinctively bent forward, and held
out their quivering hands.

"Now, señores," the general said, still perfectly calm, as he carelessly
rested his arm on the pile of gold; "permit me to remind you of our
agreement; there are thirty-five of us at present, I believe?"

"Yes, general, thirty-five," the captain replied, who seemed to have
appointed himself speaker in ordinary for self and partners.

"Very good; these thirty-five caballeros are thus subdivided:--ten
alférez, who will each receive twenty-five ounces of silver. Señor Don
Jaime Lupo," he said, turning to the colonel, "will you be kind enough
to hand twenty-five ounces to each of these gentlemen?"

The alférez, or sub-lieutenants, broke through the ranks, and boldly
came up to receive the ounces, which the colonel delivered to each of
them; then they fell back with a delight they did not attempt to conceal.

"Now," the general continued, "twelve captains, to each of whom I wish
you to offer, on my behalf, Don Lupo, fifty ounces."

The captains pocketed the money with no more ceremony than the alférez
had displayed.

"We have ten tenientes, each of whom is to receive thirty-five ounces, I
believe?"

The tenientes, or lieutenants, who had begun to frown on seeing the
captains paid before them, received their money with a bow.

"There now remain three colonels, each of whom has a claim to one
hundred ounces," the general said; "be kind enough to pay them, my dear
colonel."

The latter did not let the invitation be repeated twice. Still the
entire pile of gold was not exhausted, and a considerable sum still
remained on the table. Don Sebastian Guerrero passed his hands several
times through the glittering metal, and at length thrust it from him.

"Señores," he said, with an engaging smile, "about five hundred ounces
remain, which I do not know what to do with; may I ask you to divide
them among you, as subsistence money while awaiting the signal you are
to receive from me."

At this truly regal act of munificence, the enthusiasm attained its
highest pitch; the cries and protestations of devotion became frenzied.
The general alone remained impassive, and looked coldly at the division
made by the colonel.

"When all the gold had disappeared, and the effervescence was beginning
to subside, Don Sebastian, who, like the Angel of Evil, had looked with
a profoundly mocking smile at these men so utterly under the influence
of cupidity, slightly tapped the table, to request silence.

"Señores," he said, "I have kept all my promises, and have acquired the
right to count on you; we shall not meet again, but at a future day I
will let you know my intentions. Still be ready to act at the first
signal; in ten days is the anniversary festival of the Proclamation of
Independence, and, if nothing deranges my plans, I shall probably choose
that day to try, with your assistance, to deliver the country from the
tyrants who oppress it. However, I will be careful to have you warned.
So now let us separate; the night is far advanced, and a longer stay at
this spot might compromise the sacred interests for which we have sworn
to die."

He bowed to the conspirators, but, on reaching the door, turned round
again.

"Farewell, señores," he said, "be faithful to me."

"We will die for you, general," Colonel Lupo answered, in the name of
all.

The general gave a final bow and went out; almost immediately the hoofs
of several horses could be heard echoing on the paved street.

"As we have nothing more to do here, caballeros," the colonel said,
"we had better separate without further delay; but do not forget the
general's parting recommendation."

"Oh, no," the captain said, gleefully rattling the gold, with which his
pockets were filled. "Don Sebastian Guerrero is too generous for us not
to be faithful to him; besides, he appears to me at the present moment
the only man capable of saving our unhappy country from the abyss. We
are all too deeply attached to our country and too devoted to its real
interests, not to sacrifice ourselves for it, when circumstances demand
it."

The conspirators laughingly applauded this speech of the captain's, and
after exchanging courteous bows, they withdrew as they had come; that is
to say, they left the inn one after the other, not to attract attention.
They carefully wrapped themselves in their cloaks, and went off in
parties of three and four, with their hands on their weapons, for fear
of any unpleasant encounter.

A quarter of an hour later, the room was empty, and the landlord bolted
the door for the night.

"Well, señores," he asked the two strangers, who now left the hiding
place in which they had been crouching for upwards of two hours, "are
you satisfied?"

"We could not be more so," replied the one who had been the sole speaker
hitherto.

"Yes, yes," the landlord continued, "three or four more
pronunciamientos, and I believe I shall be able to retire on a decent
competency."

"That is what I wish you, Ño Lusacho, and, to begin, a thing promised is
a thing done; here are your ten ounces."



CHAPTER XI.

THE PASEO DE BUCARELI.


Mexico is a country of extensive prospects and magnificent views; and
the poet Carpio is right when he says enthusiastically, in the poem in
which he sings the praises of his country--

     "Qué magníficos tienes horizontes!"

In truth, the prospect is the first and greatest beauty of Mexico.

The plateau of Mexico is situated exactly in the centre of a circle of
mountains. On all sides the landscape is bounded by admirable peaks,
whose snowy crests soar above the clouds, and in the golden beams of the
setting sun they offer the most sublime pictures of the imposing and
grand Alpine nature.

In the general description we attempted of Mexico we omitted to allude
to its promenades, of which we intended previously to give a detailed
account.

In Europe, and especially in France, promenades are wanting in the
interior of towns; and it is only during the last few years that Paris
has possessed any worthy of a capital. In Spain, on the contrary, the
smallest market town has at least one alameda, where, after the torrid
heat of the day, the inhabitants breathe the evening breeze, and rest
from their labours. Alameda, a soft and graceful word to pronounce,
which we might be tempted to take for Arabic, and to which some
ill-informed scholars, unacquainted with Spanish, attribute a Latin
origin, while it is simply Castilian, and literally signifies "a place
planted with poplars."

The Alameda of Mexico is one of the most beautiful in America. It
is situated at one of the extremities of the city, and forms a long
square, with a wall of circumvallation bordered by a deep ditch, whose
muddy, fetid waters, owing to the negligence of the government, exhale
pestilential miasmas. At each corner of the promenade a gate offers
admission to carriages, riders, and pedestrians, who walk silently
beneath a thick awning of verdure, formed by willows, elms, and poplars
that border the principal road. These trees are selected with great
tact, and are always green, for although the leaves are renewed, it
takes place gradually and imperceptibly, so that the branches are never
entirely stripped of their foliage.

Numerous walks converge to open spots adorned with gushing fountains,
and clumps of jessamine, myrtle, and rose bushes, surrounded by stone
benches for the tired promenaders. Statues, unfortunately far below
mediocrity in their execution, stand at the entrance of each walk; but,
thanks to the deep shadow, the whistling of the evening breeze in the
foliage, the buzz of the hummingbirds flying from flower to flower, and
the harmonious strains of the cenzontles hidden in the fragrant clumps,
you gradually forget those unlucky statues, and fall into a gentle
reverie, during which the mind is borne to unknown regions, and seems no
longer connected with earth.

But Mexico is a thorough country of contrasts. At each step barbarism
elbows the most advanced civilization. Hence all the carriages, after
driving a few times round the Alameda, take the direction of the Paseo
de Bucareli, and the promenaders spread over a walk, in the Centre of
which there is a large window in the Wall, protected by rusty iron bars,
and through which come puffs of poisoned air. It is the window of the
Deadhouse, into which are daily thrown pell-mell the bodies of men,
women, and children, assassinated during the previous night, hideous,
bloody, and disfigured by death! What a brilliant, what a delicious
idea, to have placed the Deadhouse exactly between the two city walks!

The Paseo, or promenade, of Bucareli--so called after the Viceroy who
gave it to Mexico--resembles the Champs Elysées of Paris. It is, in
reality, merely a wide road, with no other ornament than a double row of
willow and beech trees, with two circular places, in the centre of which
are fountains, adorned with detestable allegorical statues and stone
benches for pedestrians.

At the entrance of the Paseo de Bucareli has been placed an equestrian
statue of Charles IV., which in 1824 adorned the Plaza Mayor of Mexico.
When the Emperor Iturbide fell, this monument was removed from the
square and placed in the University Palace yard--a lesson, we may here
remark, given by a comparatively barbarous people to civilized nations,
who in revolutions, as a first trial of liberty, and forgetting that
history records everything in her imperishable annals, carry their
Vandalism so far as to destroy everything that recalls the government
they have overthrown. Owing to the intelligent moderation of the
Mexicans, the promenaders can still admire, at the Bucareli, this really
remarkable statue, due to the talent of the Spanish sculptor, Manuel
Tolsa, and cast in one piece by Salvador de la Vega. The sight of this
masterpiece ought to induce the Mexican municipality to remove the
pitiable statues which disgrace the two finest promenades in the city.

From the Paseo de Bucareli a magnificent prospect is enjoyed of the
panorama of mountains bathed in the luminous vapours of night; you
perceive, through the arches of the gigantic aqueduct the white fronts
of the haciendas clinging to the sides of the Sierra, the fields of
Indian corn bending softly before the breeze, and the snowy peaks of the
volcanoes, crowned with mist, and lost in the sky.

It is not till night has almost set in that the promenaders, leaving
the Alameda, proceed to the Bucareli, where the carriages take two or
three turns, and then equipages, riders, and pedestrians, retire one
after the other. The promenade is deserted, the entire crowd, just now
so gay and noisy, has disappeared as if by enchantment, and you only see
between the trees some belated promenader, who, wrapped in his cloak,
and with eye and ear on the watch, is hastily returning home, for, after
nightfall, the thieves take possession of the promenade, and without the
slightest anxiety about the serenos and celadores appointed to watch
over the public security, they carry on their trade with a boldness
which the certainty of impunity can alone engender.

It was evening, and, as usual, the Alameda was crowded; handsome
carriages, brilliant riders, and modest pedestrians were moving
backwards and forwards, with cries, laughter, and joyous calls, as they
sought or chased each other in the walks. Monks, soldiers, officers, men
of fashion, and leperos, were mixed together, carelessly smoking their
cigars and cigarettes under each other's noses, with the recklessness
and negligence peculiar to southern nations.

Suddenly, the first stroke of the Oración broke through the air. At the
sound of the Angelus-bell, as if the entire crowd had been struck by an
enchanter's wand, horses, carriages, and pedestrians stopped, the seated
citizens left the benches on which they were resting, and a solemn
silence fell on all; every person took off his hat, crossed himself,
and for four or five minutes this crowd, an instant before so noisy,
remained dumb and silent. But the last stroke of the Oración had scarce
died away, ere horses and carriages set out again; the shouts, the
songs, and talking, became louder than before; each resumed the sentence
at the point where he had broken it off.

By degrees, however, the promenaders proceeded toward the Bucareli: the
carriages became scarcer, and by the time night had quite set in, the
Alameda was completely deserted.

A horseman, dressed in a rich Campesino costume, and mounted on a
magnificent horse, which he managed with rare skill, then entered the
Alameda, along which he galloped for about twenty minutes, examining the
sidewalks, the clumps of trees, and the densest bushes: in a word, he
seemed to be looking for somebody or something.

However, after a while, whether he had convinced himself that his search
would have no result, or for some other motive, he gave the click of the
tongue peculiar to the Mexican jinetes, lifted his horse which started
at an amble, and proceeded toward the Paseo de Bucareli, after bowing
sarcastically to some ill-looking horsemen who were beginning to prowl
round him, but whom his vigorous appearance and haughty demeanour had
hitherto kept at arm's length.

Although the darkness was too dense at this moment for it to be possible
to see the horseman's face distinctly, which was in addition half
covered by the brim of his vicuna hat, all about him evidenced strength
and youth; he was armed as if for a nocturnal expedition, and had on
his saddle, in spite of police regulations, a thin, carefully rolled up
reata.

We will say, parenthetically, that the reata is considered in Mexico so
dangerous a weapon, that it requires special permission to carry one at
the saddle-bow, in the streets of Mexico.

The salteadores, who occupy the streets after nightfall, and reign with
undisputed sway over them, employ no other weapon to stop the persons
they wish to plunder. They cast the running knot round their necks, dash
forward at full speed, and the unlucky man, half strangled, and dragged
from the saddle, falls unresistingly into their hands.

At the moment when the traveller we are following reached the Bucareli,
the last carriages were leaving it, and it was soon as deserted as the
Alameda. He galloped up and down the promenade twice or thrice, looking
carefully down the side rides, and at the end of his third turn a
horseman, coming from the Alameda, passed on his right hand, giving him
in a low voice the Mexican salute, "Santísima noche, caballero!"

Although this sentence had nothing peculiar about it, the horseman
started, and immediately turning his horse round, he started in pursuit
of the person who had thus greeted him. Within a minute the two horsemen
were side by side; the first comer, so soon as he saw that he was
followed, checked his horse's pace, as if with the intention of entering
into the most direct communication with the person he had addressed.

"A fine night for a ride, señor," the first horseman said, politely
raising his hand to his hat.

"It is," the second answered, "although it is beginning to grow late."

"The moment is only the better chosen for certain private conversation."

The second horseman looked around, and bending over to the speaker,
said--

"I almost despaired of meeting you."

"Did I not let you know that I should come?"

"That is true; but I feared that some sudden obstacle----"

"Nothing ought to impede an honest man in accomplishing a sacred duty,"
the first horseman answered, with an emphasis on the words.

"The other bowed with an air of satisfaction. Then," he said, "I can
count on you, Ño ----."

"No names here, señor," the other sharply interrupted him. "Caspita, an
old wood ranger like you, a man who has long been a Tigrero, ought to
remember that the trees have ears and the leaves eyes."

"Yes, you are right. I should and do remember it; but permit me to
remark that if it is not possible for us to talk about business here, I
do not know exactly where we can do so."

"Patience, señor, I wish to serve you, as you know, for you were
recommended to me by a man to whom I can refuse nothing. Let yourself,
therefore, be guided by me, if you wish us to succeed in this affair,
which, I confess to you at once, offers enormous difficulties, and must
be managed with the greatest prudence."

"I ask nothing better; still you must tell me what I ought to do."

"For the present very little; merely follow me at a distance to the
place where I purpose taking you."

"Are we going far?"

"Only a few paces; behind the barracks of the Acordades, in a small
street called the Callejón del Pájaro."

"Hum! and what am I to do in this street?"

"What a suspicious man you are!" the first horseman said with a laugh.
"Listen to me then. About the middle of the Callejón I shall stop
before a house of rather poor appearance; a man will come and hold my
horse while I enter. A few minutes later you will pull up there; after
assuring yourself that you are not followed you will dismount; give your
horse to the man who is holding mine, and without saying a word to him,
or letting him see your face, you will enter the house, and shut the
door after you. I shall be in the yard, and will lead you to a place
where we shall be able to talk in safety. Does that suit you?"

"Famously; although I do not understand why I, who have set foot in
Mexico today for the first time, should find it necessary to employ such
mighty precautions."

The first horseman laughed sarcastically.

"Do you wish to succeed?" he asked.

"Of course," the other exclaimed energetically, "even if it cost me my
life."

"In that case do as you are recommended."

"Go on, I follow you."

"Is that settled? you understand all about it?"

"I do."

The second horseman then checked his steed to let the first one go on
ahead, and both keeping a short distance apart, proceeded at a smart
trot toward the statue of Charles IV., which, as we said, stands at the
entrance of the Paseo.

While conversing, the two horsemen had forgotten the advanced hour of
the night, and the solitude that surrounded them. At the moment when
the first rider passed the equestrian statue, a slip knot fell on his
shoulders, and he was roughly dragged from his saddle.

"Help!" he shouted in a choking voice.

The second rider had seen all; quick as thought he whirled his lasso
round his head, and galloping at full speed, hurled it after the
Salteador at the moment when he passed twenty yards from him.

The Salteador was stopped dead, and hurled from his horse; the worthy
robber had not suspected that another person beside himself could have a
lasso so handy. The horseman, without checking his speed, cut the reata
that was strangling his companion, and, turning back, dragged the robber
after him.

The first horseman so providentially saved, freed himself from the
slip knot that choked him, and, hardly recovered from the alarm he had
experienced from his heavy fall, he whistled to his horse, which came up
at once, remounted as well as he could, and rejoined his liberator, who
had stopped a short distance off.

"Thanks," he said to him, "henceforth we are stanch friends; you have
saved my life, and I shall remember it."

"Nonsense," the other answered, "I only did what you would have done in
my place."

"That is possible, but I shall be grateful to you on the word of a
Carnero," he exclaimed, forgetting in his joy the hint he had given a
short time previously, not to make use of names, and revealing his own
incognito; "is the pícaro dead?"

"Very nearly so, I fancy; what shall we do with him?"

"Make a corpse of him," the capataz said bluntly. "We are only
two paces from the deadhouse, and he can be carried there without
difficulty. Though he is an utter scoundrel and tried to assassinate
me, the police are so well managed in our unhappy country that if
we committed the imprudence of letting him live, we should have
interminable disputes with the magistrates."

Then, dismounting, he stooped over the bandit, stretched senseless at
his feet, removed his lasso, and coolly dashed out his brains with a
blow of his pistol butt. Immediately after this summary execution, the
two men left the Paseo de Bucareli, but this time side by side, through
fear of a new accident.



CHAPTER XII.

A CONFIDENTIAL CONVERSATION.


Directly on emerging from the Paseo, the two men separated, as had been
agreed on between them; that is to say, the capataz went ahead, followed
at a respectful distance by Martial the Tigrero, whom the reader has
doubtless recognized.

All happened as the capataz had announced. The streets were deserted,
the horsemen only met a few half sleeping serenos leaning against the
walls, and were only crossed by a patrol of celadores walking with a
hurried step, and who seemed more inclined to avoid them, than to try
and discover the motives that caused them thus to ride about the streets
of the capital at night, in defiance of the law.

The Tigrero entered the Callejón del Pájaro, and about the middle of
the street saw the capataz's horse held by an ill-looking fellow, who
gazed curiously at him. Don Martial, following the instructions given
him, pulled his hat over his eyes to foil the mozo's curiosity, stopped
before the door, dismounted, threw his bridle to the fellow, and,
without saying a word to him, resolutely entered the house and carefully
closed the door after him.

He then found himself in utter darkness, but after groping his way,
which was not difficult for him to do, as all Mexican houses are built
nearly on the same model, he pushed forward. After crossing the zaguán,
he entered a square yard on which several doors looked; one of these
doors was open, and a man was standing on the threshold with a cigarette
in his mouth. It was Carnero.

The tiger-slayer went up to him; the other made room, and he walked on.
The capataz took him by the hand and whispered, "Come with me."

In spite of the protestations of devotion previously made by the
capataz, the Tigrero in his heart was somewhat alarmed at the manner in
which he was introduced into this mysterious house; but as he was young,
vigorous, well armed, brave, and resolved, if necessary, to sell his
life dearly, he yielded his hand Unhesitatingly to Carnero, and allowed
him to guide him while seeking to pierce the darkness that surrounded
him.

But all the windows were hermetically closed with shutters, which
allowed no gleam of light to enter from without.

His guide led him through several rooms, the floors of which were
covered with matting that deadened the sound of footsteps; he took him
up a flight of stairs, and opening a door with a key he took from his
pocket, conducted him into a room faintly lighted by a lamp placed
before a statue of the Virgin, standing in one corner of the room, on
a species of pedestal attached to the wall, and covered with extremely
delicate lace.

"Now," said Carnero, after closing the door, from which the Tigrero
noticed that he removed the key, "draw up a butaca, sit down and let us
talk, for we are in safety." Don Martial followed the advice given him,
and after carefully installing himself in a butaca, looked anxiously
around him.

The room in which he found himself was rather spacious, furnished
tastefully and richly; several valuable pictures hung on the walls,
which were covered with embossed leather, while the furniture consisted
of splendid carved ebony or mahogany tables, sideboards, chiffonniers,
and butacas. On the floor was an Indian petate, several books were
scattered over the tables, and valuable plate was arranged on the
sideboard. In short, this room displayed a proper comprehension of
comfort, and the two windows, with their Moorish jalousies, gave
admission to the pure breeze which greatly refreshed the atmosphere.

The capataz lighted two candles at the Virgin's lamp, placed them on
the table, and then fetching two bottles and two silver cups, which
he placed before the Tigrero, he drew up a butaca, and seated himself
opposite his guest.

"Here is sherry which I guarantee to be real Xeres de los Caballeros;
this other bottle contains chinquirito, and both are at your service,"
he said, with a laugh; "whether you have a weakness for sugar cane
spirits, or prefer wine."

"Thanks," Don Martial replied, "but I do not feel inclined to drink."

"You would not wish to insult me by refusing to hobnob with me?"

"Very well; if you will permit me, I will take a few drops of
chinquirito in water, solely to prove to you that I am sensible of your
politeness."

"All right," the capataz continued, as he handed him a crystal decanter,
covered with curiously worked silver filagree; "help yourself."

When they had drunk, the capataz a glass of sherry, which he sipped like
a true amateur, and Don Tigrero a few drops of chinquirito drowned in a
glass of water, the capataz placed his glass again on the table with a
smack of his lips, and said--

"Now, I must give you a few words in explanation of the slightly
mysterious way in which I brought you here, in order to dispel any
doubts which may have involuntarily invaded your mind."

"I am listening to you," the Tigrero answered.

"Take a cigar first, they are excellent." And he lit one, after pushing
the bundle over to Don Martial: the latter selected one, and soon the
two men were enveloped in a cloud of thin and fragrant smoke.

"We are in the mansion of General Don Sebastian Guerrero," the capataz
continued.

"What?" the Tigrero exclaimed, with a start of uneasiness.

"Re-assure yourself, no one saw you enter, and your presence here is
quite unknown, for the simple reason that I brought you in by my private
entrance."

"I do not understand you."

"And yet it is very easy to explain; the house I led you through belongs
to me. For reasons too long to tell you, and which would interest you
but slightly, during Don Sebastian's absence as Governor of Sonora, I
had a passage made, and established a communication between my house
and this mansion. Everybody save myself is ignorant of the existence
of this communication, which," he added, with a glowing smile, "may at
a given moment be of great utility to me. The room in which we now are
forms part of the suite I occupy in the mansion, in which the general,
I am proud to say, has never yet set foot. The man who took your horse
is devoted to me, and even were he to betray me, it would be of little
consequence to me, for the secret door of the passage is so closely
concealed that I have no fear of its being discovered. Hence you see
that you have nothing to fear here, where your presence is unknown."

"But suppose you were to be sent for, through the general happening to
want you suddenly?"

"Certainly, but I have foreseen that; it is my system never to leave
anything to chance. Although it has never happened yet, no one can enter
here without my being informed soon enough to get rid of any person who
may be with me, supposing that, for some reason or another, that person
did not desire to be seen."

"That is capitally arranged, and I am happy to see that you are a man of
prudence."

"Prudence is, as you know, señor, the mother of safety; and in Mexico,
before all other countries, the proverb receives its application at
every moment."

The Tigrero bowed politely, but in the fashion of a man who considers
that the speaker has dwelt sufficiently long on one subject, and wishes
to see him pass to another. The capataz appeared to read this almost
imperceptible hint on Don Martial's face, and continued with a smile--

"But enough on that head, so let us pass, if you have no objection, to
the real purpose of our interview. A man, whose name it is unnecessary
to mention, but to whom, as I have already had the honour of telling
you, I am devoted body and soul, sent you to me to obtain certain
information you require, and which he supposes I am in a position to
give, I will now add, that what passed between us this evening, and the
generous way in which you rushed to my assistance, render it my bounden
duty not only to give you this information, but also to help you with
all my might in the success of the projects you are meditating, whatever
those projects may be, and the dangers I may incur in aiding you. So,
now speak openly with me; conceal nothing from me and you will only have
to praise my frankness towards you."

"Señor," the Tigrero answered, with considerable emotion, "I thank you
the more heartily for your generous offer, for you know as well as I do
what perils are connected with the carrying out of these plans, to say
nothing of their success."

"What you are saying is true, but it will be better, I fancy, for the
present, for me to assume to be ignorant of them, so as to leave you the
entire liberty you need for the questions you have to ask me."

"Yes, yes," he said, shaking his head sadly, "my position is so
precarious, the struggle I am engaged in is so wild, that, although I am
supported by sincere friends, I cannot be too prudent. Tell me, then,
what you know as to the fate of the unfortunate Doña Anita de Torrés. Is
she really dead, as the report spread alleged?"

"Do you know what happened in the cavern after your fall down the
precipice?"

"Alas! no; my ignorance is complete as to the facts that occurred after
I was abandoned as dead."

Carnero reflected for a moment. "Listen, Don Martial: before I can
answer categorically the question you have asked me, I must tell you a
long story. Are you ready to hear it?"

"Yes," the other answered, without hesitation, "for there are many
things I am ignorant of, which I ought to know. So speak without further
delay, señor, and though some parts of the narrative will be most
painful to me, hide nothing from me, I implore you!"

"You shall be obeyed. Moreover, the night is not yet far advanced; time
does not press us, and in two hours you will know all."

"I am impatiently waiting for you to begin."

The capataz remained for some considerable time plunged in deep and
serious reflection. At length he raised his head, leant forward, and
setting his left elbow on the table, began as follows:--

"At the time when the facts occurred I am about to tell you, I was
living at the Hacienda del Palmar, of which I was steward. Hence I was
only witness to a portion of the facts, and only know the rest from
hearsay. When the Comanches arrived, guided by the white men, Don Sylva
de Torrés was lying mortally wounded, holding in his stiffened arms his
daughter Anita, who had suddenly gone mad on seeing you roll down the
precipice in the grasp of the Indian chief. Don Sebastian Guerrero was
the only relation left to the hapless young lady, and hence she was
taken to his hacienda."

"What?" Don Martial exclaimed in surprise. "Don Sebastian is a relation
of Doña Anita?"

"Did you not know that?"

"I had not the slightest idea of it; and yet I had for several years
been closely connected with the Torrés family, for I was their tigrero."

"I know it. Well, this is how the relationship exists: Don Sebastian
married a niece of Don Sylva's, so you see they were closely connected.
Still, for reasons never thoroughly made known, a few years after the
general's marriage, a dispute broke out which led to a total suspension
of intimacy between the two families. That is probably the reason why
you never heard of the connection existing between the Sylvas and the
Torrés."

The Tigrero shook his head. "Go on," he said. "How did the general
receive his relation?"

"He was not at the hacienda at the time; but an express was sent off
to him, and I was the man. The general came post haste, seemed greatly
moved at the double misfortune that had befallen the young lady, gave
orders for her to be kindly treated, appointed several women to wait
on her, and returned to his post at Sonora, where events of the utmost
gravity summoned him."

"Yes, yes, I have heard of the French invasion, and that their leader
was shot by the general's orders. I presume you are alluding to that?"

"Yes. Almost immediately after these events the general returned to
the Palmar. He was no longer the same man. The horrible death of his
daughter rendered him gloomier and harsher to any person whom chance
brought into contact with him. For a whole week he remained shut up in
his apartments, refusing to see any of us; but, at last, one day he
sent for me to inquire as to what had happened at the hacienda during
his absence. I had but little to tell him, for life was too simple and
uniform at this remote dwelling for anything at all interesting for him
to have occurred. Still he listened without interruption, with his head
in his hands, and apparently taking great interest in what I told him,
especially when it referred to poor Doña Anita, whose gentle interesting
madness drew tears from us rough men, when we saw her wandering, pale
and white as a spectre, about the huerta, murmuring in a low voice one
name, ever the same, which none of us could overhear, and raising to
heaven her lovely face, bathed in tears. The general let me say all I
had to say, and when I ended he, too, remained silent for some time. At
length, raising his head, he looked at me for a moment angrily."

"'What are you doing there?' he asked."

"'I am waiting,' I answered, 'for the orders it may please your
excellency to give me.'"

"He looked at me for a few more moments as if trying to read my very
thoughts, and then laid his hand on my arm. 'Carnero,' he said to me,
'you have been a long time in my service, but take care lest I should
have to dismiss you. I do not like,' he said, with a stress on the
words, 'servants who are too intelligent and too clear-sighted,' and
when I tried to excuse myself, he added, 'Not a word--profit by the
advice I have given you, and now lead me to Doña Anita's apartments.'"

"I obeyed with hanging head; the general remained an hour with the
young lady, and I never knew what was said between them. It is true
that now and then I heard the general speaking loudly and angrily, and
Doña Anita weeping, and apparently making some entreaty to him; but
that was all, for prudence warned me to keep at too great a distance
to overhear a single word. When the general came out he was pale, and
sharply ordered me to prepare everything for his departure. The morrow
at daybreak we set out for Mexico, and Doña Anita followed us, carried
in a palanquin. The journey was a long one, but so long as it lasted the
general did not once speak to the young lady, or approach the side of
her palanquin. So soon as we reached our journey's end, Doña Anita was
carried to the Convent of the Bernardines, where she had been educated,
and the good sisters received her with tears of sorrowful sympathy. The
general, owing to the influence he enjoyed, easily succeeded in getting
himself appointed guardian to the young lady, and immediately assumed
the management of her estates, which, as you doubtless are aware, are
considerable, even in this country where large fortunes are so common."

"I know it," said the Tigrero, with a sigh.

"All these matters settled," the capataz continued, "the general
returned to Sonora to arrange his affairs, and hand over the government
to the person appointed to succeed him, and who started for his post
some days previously. I will not tell you what happened then, as you
know it; besides, we have only been back in Mexico for a fortnight, and
you and your friends followed our track from the Rocky Mountains."

The Tigrero raised his head. "Is that really all?" he asked.

"Yes," the capataz answered.

"On your honour?" Don Martial added, looking fixedly at him.

Carnero hesitated. "Well, no," he said at last, "there is something else
I must tell you."



CHAPTER XIII.

DON MARTIAL.


The capataz rose, opened a door, went out for a moment, returned; to his
seat opposite the Tigrero, poured himself out a glass of sherry, which
he swallowed at a draught, and then letting his head fall in his hands,
remained silent.

Don Martial watched with amazement the various movements of the
capataz. Seeing at last that he did not seem inclined to make the
confession he was so impatiently awaiting, he went over and touched him
slightly. Carnero started as if suddenly branded with a hot iron.

"What you have to reveal to me must be very terrible," the Tigrero at
length said in a low voice.

"So terrible, my friend," the capataz answered with an amount of terror
impossible to depict, "that though alone with you in this room, where no
spy can be concealed, I fear to tell it you."

The Tigrero shook his head sadly. "Speak, my friend," he said, in a
gentle voice, "I have suffered such agony during the last few months,
that all the springs of my soul have been crushed by the fatal pressure
of despair. However horrible may be the blow that menaces me, I will
endure it without flinching; alas! grief has no longer power over me."

"Yes, you are a man carved in granite. I know that you have struggled
triumphantly against lost fortunes; but, believe me, Don Martial, there
are sufferings a thousandfold more atrocious than death--sufferings
which I do not feel the right of inflicting on you."

"The pity you testify for me is only weakness. I cannot die before
I have accomplished the task to which I have devoted the wretched
existence heaven left me in its wrath. I have sworn, at the peril of my
life, to protect the girl who was betrothed to me in happier times."

"Carry out your oath, then, Don Martial; for the poor child was never in
greater peril than she is at present."

"What do you mean? In heaven's name explain yourself," the Tigrero said
passionately.

"I mean that Don Sebastian covets the incalculable wealth of his ward,
which he needs for the success of his ambitious plans; I mean that
remorselessly and shamelessly laying aside all human respect, forgetting
that the unfortunate girl the law has confided to him is insane, he
coldly intends to become her murderer."

"Go on, go on! what frightful scheme can this man have formed?"

"Oh!" the capataz continued with savage irony; "the plan is simple,
honest, and highly praised by some persons, who consider it admirable,
even sublime."

"You will tell me?'

"Well, know all, then; General Don Sebastian Guerrero intends to marry
his ward."

"Marry his ward, he!" Don Martial exclaimed with horror, "'tis
impossible."

"Impossible?" the capataz repeated with a laugh, "Oh, how little you
know this man with the implacable will, this wild beast with a human
face, who pitilessly breaks everyone who dares to resist him. He is
resolved to marry his ward in order to strip her of her fortune, and he
will do so, I tell you."

"But she is mad!"

"I allow she is."

"What priest would be so unnatural as to bless this sacrilegious
marriage?"

"Nonsense," the capataz said with a shrug of his shoulders, "you forget,
my good sir, that the general possesses the talisman which renders
everything possible, and purchases everything--men, women, honour, and
conscience; he has gold."

"That is true, that is true," the Tigrero exclaimed in despair, and
burying his face in his hands, he remained motionless, as if suddenly
struck by lightning.

There was a lengthened silence, during which nothing was audible but
the choking sobs that burst from Don Martial's heaving chest. It was a
heartrending sight to see this strong, brave man so tried by adversity,
now conquered and almost crushed by despair, and weeping like a
frightened child.

The capataz, with his arms crossed on his chest, pale forehead and
eyebrows contracted almost till they met, looked at him with an
expression of gentle and sympathizing pity.

"Don Martial," he at length said, in a sharp and imperative voice.

"What do you want with me?" the Tigrero asked, looking up with surprise.

"I want you to listen to me, for I have not said all yet."

"What more can you have to tell me?" the other asked sadly.

"Arouse yourself like the man you are, instead of remaining any longer
crushed beneath the pressure of despair, like a child or a weak woman.
Is there no hope left in your heart?"

"Did you not tell me that this man had an implacable will which nothing
could resist?"

"I did say so, I allow; but is that a reason for giving up the struggle?
Do you suppose him invulnerable?"

"Yes," he exclaimed eagerly, "I can kill him."

The capataz shrugged his shoulders contemptuously.

"Kill him," he repeated, "nonsense; that is the vengeance of fools!
Moreover, you will still be able to do that when all other means failed.
No--you can do something else."

Don Martial looked at him earnestly. "You hate him too then, since you
do not fear to speak to me as you are doing?"

"No matter whether I hate him or not, so long as I am willing to serve
you."

"That is true," the Tigrero muttered.

"Besides," the capataz continued, "do you forget who recommended you to
me?"

"Valentine," said Don Martial.

"Valentine; yes, Valentine, who saved my life as you have done, and to
whom I have vowed an eternal gratitude."

"Oh," Don Martial said mournfully, "Valentine himself has given up any
further contest with this demon."

The capataz grinned savagely. "Do you believe that?" he asked ironically.

"What matter?" the Tigrero muttered.

"Grief makes you egotistic, Don Martial," the other replied; "but I
forgive you on account of the sufferings I have most unluckily caused
you."

He broke off, poured out a glass of sherry, swallowed it, and sat down
again on his butaca.

"He would be a bad physician," he continued, "who, having performed a
painful operation, did not know how to apply the proper remedies to
cicatrize and cure it."

"What do you mean?" the Tigrero exclaimed interested, in spite of
himself, by the tone in which those words were uttered.

"Do you believe," the capataz continued, "do you believe, my friend,
that I would have inflicted such great pain on you if I had not
possessed the means to cause an immense joy to succeed it? Tell me, do
you believe that?"

"Take care, señor," the Tigrero said in a trembling voice, "take care
what you are about, for I know not why, but I am beginning to regain
hope, and I warn you that if this last illusion which you are trying to
produce were to escape me this time, you would kill me as surely as if
you stabbed me with a dagger."

The capataz smiled with ineffable gentleness. "Hope, my friend; hope, I
tell you," he said, "that is exactly what I want to bring you to; for I
wish you to have faith in me."

"Speak, señor," he replied; "I will listen to you with confidence, for I
do not believe you capable of sporting so coldly with agony like mine."

"Good, we have reached the point I have been aiming at so long. Now
listen to me. I told you, I think, that on her arrival in Mexico, Doña
Anita was taken by Don Sebastian to the Convent of the Bernardines?"

"Yes! I fancy I can remember your saying so."

"Very good. Doña Anita was received with open arms by the good nuns who
had educated her. The young lady, on finding herself again among the
companions of her childhood, treated with kind and intelligent care,
wandering unrestrained beneath the lofty trees that had sheltered her
early years, gradually felt calmness returning to her mind; her grief
by degrees gave way to a gentle melancholy; her ideas, overthrown by a
frightful catastrophe, regained their balance; in short, the madness
which had spread its black wings over her brain was driven away by the
soft caresses of the nuns, and soon entirely disappeared."

"So, then," Don Martial exclaimed, "she has regained her reason?"

"I will not venture to assert that, for she is still insane in the
opinion of everybody."

"But in that case----," the Tigrero said in a panting voice.

"In that case," the capataz continued, purposely laying a stress on
every word, while fixing a magnetic glance on the Tigrero, "as all the
world believes it, it must be so till the contrary is proved."

"But how did you learn all these details?"

"In the most simple manner. My master, Don Sebastian, has sent me
several times to the convent with messages, and chance decreed that I
recognized in the sister porter a relation of mine, whom I thought dead
long ago. The worthy woman, in her delight, and perhaps, too, to make
up for the long silence she is compelled to maintain, tells me whenever
she sees me all that is said and done in the convent, and there is a
good deal to learn from the conversation of a nun. She takes a good deal
of interest in me, and as I am fond of her too, I listen to her with
pleasure. Now, do you understand?"

"Oh! go on. Go on!"

"Well, this time I have nearly finished. It appears, from what my
relation tells me, that the nuns, and the Mother Superior before all,
are utterly opposed to the general's plans of marriage."

"Oh, the holy women!" the Tigrero exclaimed with simple joy.

"Are they not?" the capataz said with a laugh. "This is probably the
reason why they keep so secret the return of their boarder to her
senses, for they doubtless hope that, so long as the poor girl is mad,
the general will not dare contract the impious union he is meditating;
unfortunately, they do not know the man with whom they have to deal,
and the ferocious ambition that devours him; an ambition for the
gratification of which he will recoil from no crime, however atrocious
it may be."

"Alas!" the Tigrero said despairingly; "you see, my friend, that I am
lost."

"Wait, wait, my good sir; your situation, perhaps, is not so desperate
as you imagine it."

"My heart is on fire."

"Courage; and listen to me to the end. Yesterday I went to the convent,
the Mother Superior, to whom I had the honour of speaking, confided
to me, under the seal of secrecy--for she knows that, although I am a
servant of Don Sebastian, I take a deep interest in Doña Anita, and
would be glad to see her happy--that the young lady has expressed an
intention to confess."

"Ah, for what reason! do you know?"

"No, I do not!"

"But that desire can be easily satisfied, I presume, there are plenty of
monks and priests attached to the convent."

"Your observation is just; still it appears that, for reasons I am
equally ignorant of, neither the Mother Superior nor Doña Anita wishes
to have one of those monks or priests for confessor, hence----"

"Hence?" Don Martial quickly interrupted him.

"Well, the Mother Superior asked me to bring her a priest or monk in
whom I had confidence."

"Ah!"

"You understand, my friend."

"Yes, yes! Oh, God! go on!"

"And to take him to the convent."

"And," Don Martial asked in a choking voice, "have you found this
confessor?"

"I believe so," the capataz answered with a smile; "and pray, what do
you think, Don Martial?"

"Yes, I do too," he exclaimed joyfully. "At what time are you to take
this confessor to the convent?"

"Tomorrow, at the Oración."

"Very good, and I presume you have arranged a place to meet him?"

"Caspita! I should think so; he is to meet me at the Parian, where I
shall be at the first stroke of the Oración."

"I am certain that he will be punctual!"

"And so am I; and now, señor, do you consider that you have lost your
time in listening to me?"

"On the contrary," Don Martial replied, as he offered him his hand with
a smile, "I consider you a first-rate hand at telling a story."

"You flatter me."

"No, indeed I do not. I consider, too, that the nuns of St. Bernard are
excellent and holy women."

"Caspita! I should think so; they have a relation of mine as portress."

The two men burst into a frank and hearty laugh, whose explosion no one
could have anticipated from the way in which their interview began.

"Now, we must separate," the capataz said, as he rose.

"What, already?"

"I have to accompany my master tonight on an excursion outside the city."

"Some plot, I presume?"

"I am afraid so; but what would you have; I am forced to obey."

"In that case, turn me out of doors."

"That is what I am going to do; by-the-bye, have you seen Don Valentine
since you arrived?"

"Not yet. This long delay makes me anxious, and if it were not so late,
or if I knew my road, I would go and ask hospitality of Don Antonio
Rallier, his fellow countryman, so as to obtain news of him."

"That is of no consequence. Do you know Don Antonio's address?"

"Yes, he lives in the Secunda Monterilla."

"It is close by; if you wish it, I will have you taken there."

"I should feel greatly obliged; but by whom?"

"Caspita! have you forgotten the man to whom you intrusted your horse?
He will act as your guide."

"A thousand thanks!"

"It is not worth them. Will you take a walk tomorrow in the Parian?"

"I am so anxious to see your confessor that I shall not fail to be
there."

The two men smiled again.

"Now, give me your hand, and let us be off."

They went out of the room; the capataz led the Tigrero by the same
passage, walking along in the darkness as if it were broad day, and
they soon found themselves beneath the zaguán of the small house. The
capataz thrust his head out, after opening the door cautiously. The
street was deserted, and after looking up and down it, he whistled in
a peculiar way, and in a few minutes footsteps were heard and the peon
appeared holding the Tigrero's horse by the bridle.

"Good bye, señor," the capataz said. "I thank you for the delightful
evening you have caused me to spend. Pilloto, lead this señor, who is a
forastero, to the Secunda Monterilla, and point out to him the house of
Señor Don Antonio Rallier."

"Yes, mi amo," the peon answered laconically.

The two friends exchanged a parting salutation; the Tigrero mounted,
and followed Pilloto, while the capataz re-entered the house and closed
the door after him. After numberless turnings and windings, the rider
and the footman at length entered a street which, from its width, the
Tigrero suspected to form part of the fashionable quarter.

"This is the Secunda Monterilla," said the peon, "and that gentleman,"
he added, pointing to a horseman who was coming toward them, followed by
three footmen also mounted, and well-armed, "is the very Don Antonio you
are looking for."

"You are sure of it?" the Tigrero asked.

"Caray! I know him well."

"If that is the case, accept this piastre, my friend, and go home, for I
no longer need your services."

The peon bowed and retired. During the conversation the newcomer had
halted in evident alarm.

"'Tis I, Don Antonio," the Tigrero shouted to him. "Come on without
fear--I am a friend."

"Oh, oh! it is very late to meet a friend in the street," Don Antonio
answered, though he advanced without hesitation, after laying his hand
on his weapon to guard against a surprise.

"I am Martial, the Tigrero."

"Oh, that is different; what do you want? A lodging, eh? I will have you
led to my house by a servant, and there leave you till tomorrow, as I am
in a hurry."

"Agreed; but allow me one word."

"Speak!"

"Where is Don Valentine?"

"Do you want to see him?"

"Excessively."

"Then come with me, for I am going to him!"

"Heaven has sent him thus opportunely," the Tigrero exclaimed, as he
drew his horse up alongside Don Antonio's.



CHAPTER XIV.

THE VELORIO.


It was very late when the conspirators separated, and when the last
groups of officers left the rancho, the sound of the Indian horses and
mules proceeding to market was audible on the paved highway. Although
the darkness was still thick, the stars were beginning to die out in the
heavens, the cold was becoming sharper--in a word, all foretold that day
would soon break.

The two travellers had seated themselves again at a corner of the table,
opposite one another, and were dumb and motionless as statues. The host
walked about the room with a busy air, apparently arranging and clearing
up, but very anxious in reality, and desirous, in his heart, to be rid
as soon as possible of these two singular customers, whose silence and
sobriety inspired him with but slight confidence.

At length the person who had always spoken on his own behalf and that
of his companion struck the table twice, and the landlord hurried up at
this summons.

"What do you wish for, excellency?" he asked, with an obsequious air.

"I tell you what, landlord," the stranger continued, "it strikes me that
your criado is a long time in returning; he ought to have been back
before this."

"Pardon me, excellency, but it is a long journey from here to the
Secunda Monterilla, especially when you are obliged to walk it. Still, I
believe the peon will soon be back."

"May Heaven hear you! Give us each a glass of tamarind water."

At this moment, when the landlord brought the draught, there was a tap
at the door.

"Perhaps it is our man," the stranger said.

"That is possible, your excellency," the landlord answered, as he went
to open the door on the chain, which left only a passage of a few
inches, much too narrow for the visitor to enter the house against the
wish of its owner. This precautionary measure, which is at once very
prudent and simple, is generally adopted all through Mexico, owing
to the slight confidence with which the police organization in this
blessed country, which is the refuge of scoundrels of every description,
inspires the inhabitants.

After exchanging a few words in a low voice with the new arrival, the
landlord unhooked the chain and opened the door.

"Excellency," he said to the stranger, who was slowly sipping his
tamarind water, "here is your messenger."

"At last," the traveller said, gladly, as he placed his horn mug on the
table.

The peon entered, politely doffed his hat and bowed.

"Well, my friend," the stranger asked him, "did you find the person to
whom I sent you?"

"Yes, excellency, I had the good fortune to find him at home on his
return from a tertulia in the Calle San Agustin."

"Ah, ah! and what did he say on receiving my note?"

"Well, excellency, he is a caballero, for sure; for he first gave me
a piastre, and then said to me, 'Go back as quick as you can walk,
and tell the gentleman who sent you that I shall be at the meeting he
appoints as soon as yourself.'"

"So that----"

"He will probably be here in a few minutes."

"Very good, you are a clever lad," the stranger answered; "here is
another piastre for you, and now you can retire."

"Thanks, your excellency," the peon said, joyfully pocketing his
piastre. "Caray! I should be a rich man with only two nights a month
like this."

And after bowing a second time, he left the room to go and sleep, in
all probability, in the corral. The peon had told the truth, for he
had scarce left the room ten minutes ere a rather loud voice was heard
without: horses stamped, and not only was the door struck, but there
were several loud calls.

"Open the door without fear," the stranger said; "I know that voice."

The ranchero obeyed, and several persons entered the inn.

"At last you have returned, my dear Valentine," the newcomer exclaimed
in French, as he walked quickly towards the travellers, who, for their
part, went to meet him.

"Thanks for your promptitude in responding to my invitation, my dear
Rallier," the hunter answered.

The ranchero bit his lips on hearing them talk in a language he did not
understand.

"Hum! they are Ingleses," he muttered spitefully. "I suspected they must
be gringos."

It is a general rule with the lower class Mexicans that all foreigners
are English, and consequently hunters or gringos.

"Come here, Ño Lusacho," Valentine said, addressing the landlord, who
was turning his hat between his fingers with an air of considerable
embarrassment, "I have to talk on important matters with these
gentlemen, and as I do not wish to be disturbed by you, I propose that
you should give me up this room for an hour."

"Excellency," he muttered.

"I understand, you expect to be paid. Very good, I will pay you, but on
condition that no one, not even yourself, comes in till I call."

"Still, your excellency----."

"Listen to me without interruption. Day will not break for two hours, so
you will not open your rancho till then, and, consequently, you have no
customers to expect. I will pay an ounce for each hour; will that suit
you?"

"I should think so, your excellency; at that price I will sell you the
whole day if you wish."

"That is not necessary," the hunter said, with a laugh; "but you
understand I want fair play--no ears on the listen, or eyes at the slits
of the panelling."

"I am an honest man, your excellency."

"I am ready to believe so; but I warn you, because in the event of my
seeing an eye or an ear lap, I shall immediately fire a bullet at it as
a recommendation to prudence, and I have the ill luck to be a dead shot.
Does the bargain suit you with those conditions?"

"Perfectly, your excellency. I shall keep a strict watch over my people,
so that you shall not be disturbed."

"You are a splendid landlord, and I predict that you will make a rapid
fortune, for I see that you thoroughly understand your own interests."

"I try to satisfy the gentry who honour my poor abode with their
presence."

"Excellently reasoned! Here are the two promised ounces, and four
piastres in the bargain for the refreshments you are going to serve us.
Have these gentlemen's horses taken to the corral, and have the goodness
to leave us."

The landlord bowed with a grimacing smile, brought, with a speed far
from common with people of his calling, the refreshments ordered, and
gave the hunter a deep bow.

"Now," he said, "your excellency is in your own house, and no one shall
enter without your orders."

While Valentine was making this bargain with the ranchero, his friends
remained silent, laughing inwardly at the hunter's singular mode of
proceeding, and the unanswerable arguments he employed to avoid an
espionage almost always to be found in such places, when the master does
not scruple to betray those who pay him best.

"Now," said Valentine, so soon as the door closed behind the landlord,
"we shall talk at least in safety."

"Speak Spanish, my friend," said M. Rallier.

"Why so? It is so delightful to converse in one's own tongue, when,
like me, you have so few opportunities for doing so. I assure you that
Curumilla will not feel offended."

"Hum; I did not say this on behalf of the chief, whose friendship for
you I am well acquainted with."

"Who then?"

"For Don Martial, who has accompanied me, and has important matters to
communicate to you."

"Oh, oh, that changes the question," said the hunter, at once
substituting Spanish for the French he had hitherto employed. "Are you
there, my dear Don Martial?"

"Yes, señor," the Tigrero answered, emerging from the gloom in which he
had remained up to this moment, "and very happy to see you."

"Who else have you brought with you, Don Antonio?"

"Me, my friend," said a third person, as he let the folds of his cloak
fall. "My brother thought that it would be better to have a companion,
in the event of an alarm."

"Your brother was right, my dear Edward, and I thank him for the good
idea, which procures me the pleasure of shaking your hand a few moments
sooner. And now, señores, if you are agreeable, we will sit down and
talk, for, if I am not mistaken, we have certain things to tell each
other which are most important for us."

"That is true!" Antonio Rallier answered, as he sat down, in which he
was immediately imitated by the rest.

"If you like," Valentine continued, "we will proceed in regular
rotation; that is, I fancy, the way to finish more quickly, for you know
that moments are precious."

"First, and before all else, my friend," said Antonio Rallier, "permit
me to thank you once again, in my own name and that of my family, for
the services you rendered me in our journey across the Rocky Mountains.
Without you, without your watchful friendship and courageous devotion,
we should never have emerged from those frightful gorges, but must have
perished miserably in them."

"What good is it, my friend, to recall at this moment----"

"Because," Antonio Rallier continued eagerly, "I wish you to be
thoroughly convinced that you can dispose of us all as you please. Our
arms, purses, and hearts, all belong to you."

"I know it, my friend, and you see that I have not hesitated to make
use of you, at the risk even of compromising you. So let us leave this
subject, and come to facts. What have you done?"

"I have literally followed your instructions; according to your wish, I
have hired and furnished for you a house in Tacuba Street."

"Pardon me, but you know that I am very slightly acquainted with Mexico,
for I have visited that city but rarely, and each time without stopping."

"The Tacuba is one of the principal streets in Mexico; it faces the
palace, and is close to the street in which I reside with my family."

"That is famous. And in whose name did you take the house?"

"In that of Don Serapio de la Ronda. Your servants arrived two days ago."

"You mean----"

"I mean Belhumeur and Black Elk; the former is your steward and the
latter your valet. They have made all the arrangements, and you can
arrive when you please."

"Today, then."

"I will act as your guide."

"Thank you; what next?"

"Next, my brother Edward has taken, in his own name, at the San Lázaro
gate, a small house, where ten horses, belonging to the purest mustang
breed, were at once placed in a magnificent corral."

"That concerns Curumilla; he will live in that house with your brother."

"And now one other thing, my friend."

"Speak!"

"You will not be angry with me?"

"With you? nonsense!" said Valentine, holding out his hand.

"Not knowing whether you had sufficient funds at your disposal--and you
will agree with me that you will require a large sum----?"

"I know it. Well?"

"Well, I----"

"I see I must come to your assistance, my poor Antonio. As you believe
me a poor devil of a hunter not possessed of a farthing, and are so
delicate minded yourself, you have placed in a corner of the room, or
in some article of furniture, of which you want to give me the key and
don't know how, fifty or perhaps one hundred thousand piastres, with the
reservation to offer me more, should not that sum prove sufficient."

"Would you be angry with me had I done so?"

"On the contrary, I should be most grateful to you."

"In that case I am glad."

"Glad of what, my dear Antonio?"

"That you accept the hundred thousand piastres."

Valentine smiled.

"I am delighted to find that you are the man I judged you to be. Still,
while thanking you from my heart for the service you wish to render me,
I do not accept it."

"Do you refuse, Valentine?" he said mournfully.

"Let us understand each other, my friend. I do not refuse; I simply tell
you that I do not want the money, and here is the proof," he added,
as he took from his pocket a folded paper, which, he handed to his
countryman, "you, as a banker, may know the firm of Thornwood, Davison,
and Co."

"It is the richest in San Francisco."

"Then open that paper and read."

Mr. Rallier obeyed.

"An unlimited credit opened at my house," he exclaimed in a voice
tremulous with joy.

"Does that displease you?" Valentine asked with a smile.

"On the contrary; but you must be rich in that case."

A cloud of sadness passed over the hunter's forehead.

"I have grieved you, my friend."

"Alas! as you know, there are certain wounds which never close. Yes, my
friend, I am rich; Curumilla, Belhumeur, and myself alone, now that my
foster-mother is dead, know in Apacheria the richest placer that exists
in the world. It was for the purpose of going to this placer that I did
not accompany you to Mexico; now you understand; but what do I care for
this incalculable fortune, when my heart is dead, and the joy of my life
is for ever annihilated!"

And under the weight of the deep emotion that crushed him, the hunter
hung his head down and stifled a sob. Curumilla arose amid the general
silence, for no one ventured to offer ordinary consolation for this
grief, and laid his hand on Valentine's shoulder--

"Koutonepi," he said to him in a hollow voice, "remember that you have
sworn to avenge our brother."

The hunter drew himself up as if stung by a serpent, and pressing the
hand the Indian offered him, he looked at him for a moment with strange
fixedness.

"Women alone weep for the dead, because they are unable to avenge them,"
the Indian continued in the same harsh, cutting accent.

"Yes, you are right," the hunter answered with feverish energy; "I thank
you, chief, for having recalled me to myself."

Curumilla laid his friend's hand on his heart, and stood for an instant
motionless; at length he let it fall, sat down again, and wrapping
himself in his zarapé, he returned to his habitual silence, from which
so grave a circumstance alone could have aroused him. Valentine passed
his hand twice over his forehead, which was bathed in cold perspiration,
and attempted a faint smile.

"Forgive me, my friends, for having forgotten, during a moment, the
character I have assumed," he said in a gentle voice.

Their hands were silently extended to him.

"Now," he exclaimed in a firm voice, in whose notes traces of the past
tempest were still audible, "let us speak of that poor Doña Anita de
Torrés."

"Alas!" said the elder Rallier, "I cannot tell you anything, although
my sister Helena, her companion at the Convent of the Bernardines, to
which I sent her in accordance with your wish, has let me know that she
would have grand news for us in a few days."

"I will give you that news, with your permission," Don Martial said
at this moment, suddenly joining in the conversation, to which he had
hitherto listened with great indifference.

"Do you know anything?" Valentine asked him.

"Yes, something most important; that is why I was so anxious to speak
with you."

"Speak then, my friend, speak, we are listening."

The Tigrero, without further pressing, at once reported, in the fullest
details, his interview with Don Sebastian Guerrero's capataz. The three
Frenchmen listened with the most serious attention, and when he had
finished his story, Valentine rose--

"Let us be off, señores," he said, "we have no time to lose; perhaps
heaven offers us, at this moment, the opportunity we have been so long
awaiting."

The others rose without asking the hunter for any explanation, and a
few minutes later Valentine and his comrades were galloping along the
highway in the direction of Mexico.

"I do not know what diabolical plot they are forming," Ño Lusacho
muttered, on seeing them disappear in the distance; "but they are worthy
gentlemen, and let the ounces slip through their fingers like so much
water."

And he entered the rancho, the door of which he now left open, for day
was breaking.



CHAPTER XV.

THE CONVENT OF THE BERNARDINES.


The history of colonies is the same everywhere, that is to say, that you
find the old belief, the forgotten manners and customs of the mother
country intact, and almost exaggerated.

Mexico was to Spain what Canada still is to France. In Mexico we,
therefore, find the Spain of the monks, with all the abuses of a
degenerate monastic life; for we are compelled to state that with
few, very few exceptions, the monks of Mexico are far from leading an
exemplary life. A few years ago a Papal legate arrived at Mexico, who
had been sent to try and introduce into the monasteries reforms which
had become urgent; but he soon recognized the impossibility of success,
and returned as he came. This is the history of yesterday and today, and
in the way things are going on, it will be the history of tomorrow.

In spite of the innumerable revolutions the Mexican monks are still
very rich. Among other uses to which they put their money, the best is,
perhaps, lending it out at six per cent., which, let us hasten to add,
is a great blessing in a country where the ordinary interest on borrowed
money is sixteen to eighteen per cent. Still, it appears to us, and we
trust the remark will not be taken in bad part, but little in harmony
with the vocation of the monks and the pure doctrines of religion, which
is so opposed to lending money out at interest, for it has ever seen in
it disguised usury.

We will add, at the risk of incurring the blame of some persons, and
of appearing to emit a paradox, that in this collection of Christian
religious buildings there seems to be kept up the tradition of the
great Mexican Teocali, which contained within its walls seventy-eight
buildings devoted to the Aztec worship.

In the first place, what is the religion professed in Spanish America?
It certainly is not the Catholic faith; and this we can affirm with a
safe conscience, and supply proof if necessary. The Americans of the
south, like all southern peoples, are instinctively Pagans, fond of
war and holidays, making a god of each saint, adoring the Virgin under
a hundred different forms, digging up the old Aztec idols, placing
them in all the Mexican churches, and offering them worship under the
characteristic denomination of Santos antiguos, or ancient saints.

What can be said after this? Simply that the Hispano-Americans never
understood the religion they were compelled to profess; that they care
but very little for it, and in their hearts cling to their old worship
in the terrific proportion of the native to the European population,
that is to say two-thirds to one. Hence the demoralization of the
masses, which is justly complained of, but is the fault of those persons
who, at the outset, believed they could establish the religion of
Christ in their countries by fire and sword--a system, we are bound to
add, scrupulously followed by the Spanish clergy, up to the Proclamation
of the Independence of the colonies.

The Convent of the Bernardines is situated but a short distance from
the Paseo de Bucareli. Not one of the religious communities for women
scattered over Mexico is so rich as this one, for the kings of Spain
and nobles of the highest rank gave it large endowments, which, in the
course of time, have grown into an immense fortune.

The vast site occupied by the Convent of the Bernardines, the thick
walls that surround it, and the numerous domes that crown it,
sufficiently indicate the importance it enjoys at the present day.

Like all the Mexican convents, and especially that at San Francisco, to
which it bears a distant resemblance, the Convent of the Bernardines is
defended by thick walls, flanked by massive buttresses, which give it
the appearance of a fortress. Still the peaceful belfries, and their
cupolas of enamelled porcelain covering so many chapels, allow the pious
destination of the edifice to be recognized. An immense paved court
leads to the principal chapel, which is adorned with a luxury that it
would be difficult to form an idea of in our sceptical Europe.

Behind this first court is the space reserved for the nuns, consisting
of immense cloisters, adorned with pictures by old masters, and white
jasper basins from which limpid fountains rise. Next come immense
huertas with umbrageous walks, wide courtyards, a rich and valuable
library in which the scientific wealth of Mexico lies buried, eight
spacious, comfortable, and airy dormitories, four hundred cells for
the nuns, and a refectory in which four hundred guests can sit without
crowding.

On the day when we introduce the reader into the Convent of the
Bernardines, at about five in the evening, three persons, collected in
a leafy arbour, almost at the end of the garden, were talking together
with considerable animation.

Of these persons, one, the eldest, was a nun, while the other two, girls
of from sixteen to eighteen years of age, wore the garb of novices.

The first was the Mother Superior of the convent, a lady of about fifty
years of age, with delicate and aristocratic features, gentle manners,
and noble and majestic demeanour, whose face displayed kindness and
intelligence.

The second was Doña Anita; we will not draw her portrait, for the reader
has long been acquainted with her.[1] The poor girl, however, was pale
and white as a corpse, her fever-parched eyes were not easy, fixed on
any object, and she looked about her hurriedly and desperately.

The third was Doña Helena Rallier, a light-haired, blue-eyed girl, with
a saucy look, whose velvety cheeks, and noble and well-defined features,
revealed the candour and innocence of youth, combined with the laughing
expressions of a boarder spoiled by an indulgent governess.

Doña Helena was standing a little outside the arbour, leaning against
a tree, and seemed like a vigilant sentry carefully watching lest the
conversation between the Mother Superior and her companion should be
disturbed.

Doña Anita, seated on a stone bench by the side of the Abbess, with her
hand in the elder lady's, and her head resting on her shoulder, was
speaking to her in a faltering voice and broken sentences which found
difficulty in passing her parted lips, while the tears silently ran down
her cheeks, which suffering had rendered pale.

"My kind mother," she said, and her voice, was harmonious as the sigh
of an Æolian harp, "I know not how to thank you for your inexhaustible
kindness towards me. Alas! you are at present my only friend; why may
I not be allowed to remain always by your side? I should be so glad to
take my vows and pass my life in this convent under your benevolent
protection."

"My dear child," the Abbess said gently, "God is great, his power is
infinite; hence, why despair? Alas! doubt leads to denial; you are still
almost a child. Who knows what joy and happiness the future may still
have in store for you?"

The maiden gave a heavy sigh. "Alas!" she murmured, "the future no
longer exists for me, my kind mother; a poor orphan, abandoned without
protection to the power of an unnatural relation, I must endure fearful
tortures, and, under his iron yoke, lead a life of suffering and grief."

"Child," the Abbess said, with gentle sternness, "do not blaspheme; you
are still ignorant, I repeat, of what the future may have in store for
you. You are ungrateful at this moment--ungrateful and selfish."

"I ungrateful! holy mother!" the maiden objected.

"Yes, you are ungrateful, Anita, to us and to yourself. Do you consider
it nothing, after the frightful misfortune that burst on you, to have
returned to this convent in which your childhood was spent, and to have
found among us that family which the world refused you? Is it nothing to
have near you hearts that pity you, and voices that incessantly urge you
to have courage?"

"Courage, sister," Doña Helena's sweet voice said at this moment, like a
soft echo.

The maiden hid her lovely tear-bedewed face in the bosom of the Mother
Superior.

"Pardon me, mother," she continued, "pardon me, but I am crushed by this
struggle, which I have carried on so long without hope. The courage
you attempt to give me cannot, in spite of my efforts, penetrate to my
heart, for I have the fatal conviction that, whatever you may do, you
will not succeed in preventing the frightful misfortune suspended over
my head."

"Let us reason a little, my child, like sensible persons; up to the
present, at least, we have succeeded in concealing from everybody the
happy return of your senses."

"Happy!" she sighed.

"Yes, happy; for with the intellect faith, that is to say, strength,
returned to you. Well, while your guardian believes you still insane,
and is compelled, in spite of himself, to suspend his schemes with
reference to you, I have been employing all the influence my high
position gives me, and my family connections. I have had a petition on
your behalf presented to the President of the Republic by sure hands;
this petition is supported by the greatest names in Mexico, and I ask in
it that the marriage with which you are menaced may not be contracted
against your will; in a word, I ask that your guardian may be prevented
taking any steps till you are in a proper condition to say yes or no."

"Have you really done that, my good mother?" the maiden exclaimed, as
she threw her arms in real delight round the elder lady's neck.

"Yes, I have done so, my child, and I am expecting every moment a reply,
which I hope will be favourable."

"Oh, mother, my real mother, if that succeeds I shall be saved."

"Do not go from one extreme to the other, my child; all is uncertain
yet, and heaven alone knows whether we shall be successful."

"Oh, God will not abandon a poor orphan."

"God, my child, chastens those He loves; have confidence in Him, and his
right hand will be extended over you to sustain you in adversity."

"Sister Redemption is coming this way, holy mother," Doña Helena said at
this moment.

At a sign from the Mother Superior, Doña Anita withdrew to the other end
of the bench on which she was seated, folded her arms on her chest, and
let her head droop.

"Are you looking for our mother, sister?" Doña Helena asked a rather
elderly lay sister, who was looking to the right and left as if really
seeking somebody.

"Yes, sister," the lay sister answered, "I wish to deliver a message
with which I am entrusted for our mother."

"Then enter this arbour, sister, and you will find her reposing there."

The lay sister entered the arbour, approached the Mother Superior,
stopped modestly three paces from her, folded her arms on her breast,
looked down respectfully, and waited till she was spoken to.

"What do you desire, daughter?" the Mother Superior asked her.

"Your blessing, in the first place, holy mother," the lay sister
answered.

"I can give it you, daughter; and now what message have you for me?"

"Holy mother, a gentleman of lofty bearing, called Don Serapio de la
Ronda, wishes to speak with you privately; the sister porter took him
into the parlour, where he is waiting for you."

"I will be with him directly, daughter; tell the sister porter to
apologize in my name to the gentleman, if I keep him waiting longer than
I like, owing to my advanced age. Go on, I follow you."

The lay sister bowed respectfully to the abbess, and went away to
deliver the message with which she was entrusted. The abbess rose, and
the two girls sprang forward to support her; but she stopped them.

"Remain here till the Oración, my children," she said to them, "converse
together; but be prudent, and do not let yourselves be surprised; after
the Oración, you will come and converse in my cell."

Then after giving Doña Anita a parting kiss, the Mother Superior went
away, sorely troubled in mind at this visit from a man she did not know,
and whose name she now heard for the first time. When she entered the
parlour, the abbess examined with a hasty glance the person who asked to
see her, and who, on perceiving her, rose from his chair, and bowed to
her respectfully. This first glance was favourable to the stranger, in
whom the reader has doubtless already recognized Valentine Guillois.

"Pray resume your seat, caballero," the abbess said to him, "if your
conversation is to last any time, we shall talk more comfortably when
sitting."

Valentine bowed, offered the lady a chair, and then returned to his own.

"Señor Don Serapio de la Ronda was announced to me," the lady continued
after a short silence.

"I am that gentleman, madam," Valentine said courteously.

"I am at your orders, caballero, and ready to listen to any
communication you may have to make."

"Madam, I have nothing personal to say to you; I am merely commissioned
by the Minister of the Home Department to deliver you this letter, to
which I have a few words to add."

While uttering this sentence with exquisite politeness, Valentine
offered the abbess a letter bearing the ministerial arms.

"Pray open the letter, madam," he added, on seeing that, through
politeness, she held it in her hand unopened, "you must render yourself
acquainted with its contents in order to understand the meaning of the
words I have to add."

The abbess, who in her heart was impatient to know what the minister had
to say to her, offered no objection, and broke the seal of the letter,
which she hurriedly perused. On reading it a lively expression of joy
lit up her face.

"Then," she exclaimed, "his excellency deigns to grant my request?"

"Yes, madam; you remain, until fresh orders, responsible for your
young charge. You have only to deal with the minister in the matter;
and," he added, with a purposed stress on the words, "in the event of
General Guerrero, the guardian of Doña Anita, trying to force you into
surrendering her to him, you are authorized to conceal the young lady,
who is for so many reasons an object of interest, in any house of the
order you please."

"Oh, señor," she answered, her eyes filling with tears of joy, "pray
thank his excellency in my name for the act of justice he has deigned to
perform in favour of this unfortunate young lady."

"I will have that honour, madam," Valentine said, as he rose; "and now
that I have delivered my message, permit me to take leave of you, while
congratulating myself that I was selected by his Excellency the Minister
to be his intermediary with you."

At the moment when Valentine left the convent, Carnero entered it,
accompanied by a monk, whose hood was pulled down over his face. The
hunter and the capataz exchanged a side glance, but did not speak.


[1] See "Tiger Slayer." Same publishers.



CHAPTER XVI.

THE CONFESSOR.


Mexico, as we have already stated, was, after the conquest, completely
rebuilt on the original plan, so that, at the present day, it offers
nearly the same sight as struck Cortez when he entered it for the first
time. The Plaza Mayor, especially, some years back, before the French
innovations, more or less good, were introduced, offered towards evening
a most picturesque scene.

This immense square is bounded on one side by the Portales de
Mercaderes; heavy arches supported on one side by immense stones, and on
the other by pilasters, at the foot of which are the alacenas or shops.

The ayuntamiento, the president's palace, the cathedral, the sagrario,
the portal de las flores, an immense bazaar for merchandize, and the
Parian, also a bazaar, complete, or rather completed, at the period when
our history takes place, the fourth side of the square, for recently
great changes have taken place, and the Parian, among other buildings,
has disappeared. The handsomest streets, such as the Tacuba, Mint,
Monterilla, Santo Domingo, etc., debouche on the great square.

The cathedral stands exactly on the site of the ancient great Mexican
Teocali, all the buildings of which it has absorbed; unfortunately this
building, which is externally splendid, does not come up internally to
the idea formed of it, for its ornaments are in bad taste, poor and
paltry.

Between five and six in the evening, or a few minutes before Oración,
the appearance of the Plaza Mayor becomes really fairy-like. The crowd
of strollers--a strange crowd were there ever one--flocks up from all
sides at once, composed of horsemen, pedestrians, officers, priests,
soldiers, campesinos, leperos, Indian women in red petticoats, ladies of
fashion in their sayas, and all the people come, go, cross and jostle
each other, mingling their conversation with the cries of children,
the vociferations of the leperos, who torment purchasers with their
impetuosity, and the shrill appeals of the sellers of tamales and
queratero, crouching in the shade of the porticos.

A few minutes before the Oración, a Franciscan monk, recognizable by his
blue gown, and silken cord round his waist, and whose large white felt
hat, pulled down over the eyes, almost completely concealed his face,
came from the Calle Monterilla, and entered the Plaza Mayor.

This man, who was tall and apparently powerfully built, walked slowly,
with hanging head and arms crossed on his chest, as if plunged in
serious reflection. Instead of entering the thronged Portales, he
crossed the square and proceeded towards the Parian, which was very
lively at the moment, for the Parian was a bazaar, resembling the Temple
of Paris, and was visited at this period by persons, the leanness of
whose purses only allowed them to purchase here their jewellery and
smart clothing, which, in any other part of the city would have been
much too expensive for them.

Not attending to the noise or movement around him, the Franciscan leant
his shoulder against the stall of an evangelista, or public writer, and
looked absently and wearily across the square. He did not remain long in
this position, however, for just after he had reached the Parian, the
Oración began. At the first peal of the cathedral bells, all the noises
ceased in the square; the crowd stopped, heads were uncovered, and each
muttered a short prayer in a low voice.

At the last stroke of the Oración, a hand was laid on the Franciscan's
shoulder, while a voice whispered in his ear--

"You are exact to the rendezvous, Señor Padre."

"I am performing my duty, my son," the monk at once answered, turning
round.

In the person who addressed him he doubtless recognized a friend, for he
offered him his hand by a spontaneous movement.

"Are you still resolved to attempt the adventure?" the first speaker
continued.

"More than ever, señor."

"Bear in mind that you must not mention my name; we do not know each
other; you are a monk from the San Franciscan monastery, whom I fetched
to confess a young novice at the Convent of the Bernardines. It is
understood that you do not know who I am?"

"My brother, we poor monks are at the service of the afflicted; our duty
orders us to help them when they claim our support; as we have no name
for society, we are forbidden to ask that of those who summon us."

"Excellently spoken," the other replied, repressing a smile. "You are
a monk according to my own heart. I see that I am not deceived with
respect to you; come then, my father, we must not keep the person
waiting who is expecting us."

The Franciscan bowed his assent, placed himself in the right of his
singular friend, and both went away from the Parian, where the noise
had become louder than ever, after the angelos had ceased ringing. The
two men passed unnoticed through the crowd, and walked in the direction
of the Convent of the Bernardines, going along silently, side by side.

We have said that at the convent gate they passed Don Serapio de la
Ronda, that is to say, Valentine Guillois, and that the three men
exchanged a side glance full of meaning. The sister porter made no
objection to admitting the Franciscan; and his guide, so soon as he
saw him inside the convent, took leave of him after exchanging a few
commonplace compliments with the sister. The latter respectfully led the
monk into a parlour, and after begging him to wait a moment, went away
to inform the Mother Superior of the arrival of the confessor whom the
young novice had requested to see.

We will leave the Franciscan for a little while to his meditations, and
return to the two young ladies whom we left in the garden. So soon as
the abbess had withdrawn, they drew closer together, Doña Helena taking
the seat on the bench previously occupied by the abbess.

"My dear Anita," she said, "let me profit by the few minutes we are left
alone to impart to you the contents of a letter I received this morning;
I feared that I should be unable to do so, and yet it seems to me that
what I have to tell you is most important."

"What do you mean, my dear Helena? Does the letter to which you refer
interest me?"

"I cannot positively explain to you, but it will be sufficient for you
to know that my brothers are very intimate with a countryman of ours who
takes the greatest interest in you, and what I have to tell you relates
to this Frenchman."

"That is strange," said Doña Anita, pausing. "I never knew but one
Frenchman, and I have told you the sad story which was the cause of all
the misfortunes that overwhelmed me. But the Frenchman whom my father
wished me to marry died under frightful circumstances; then who can this
gentleman be who takes so lively an interest in me--do you know him?"

"Very slightly," the young lady answered with a blush, "but sufficiently
to be able to assure you that he possesses a noble heart. He does not
know you personally; but," she added, as she drew a letter from her
bosom, and opened it, "this is the passage in my brother's letter which
refers to you and him. Shall I read it to you?"

"Pray read it, my dear Helena, for I know the friendship you and your
family entertain for me; hence, it is with the greatest pleasure I
receive news of your brothers."

"Listen then," the young lady continued, and she read, after seeking for
the passage--

"'Valentine begs me, dear sister, to ask you to tell your friend'--that
is you," she said, breaking off.

"Go on," Doña Anita answered, whose curiosity had been aroused by the
name Helena had pronounced, though it was impossible for her to know
who that person was.

"'To tell your friend,' Doña Helena continued, 'that the confessor she
asked for will come to the convent this very day after the Oración. Doña
Anita must arm herself with courage, which is as necessary to endure
joy as grief, for she will learn today some news possessing immense
importance for the future.' That is underlined," the young lady added,
as she bent over to her friend, and pointed to the sentence with the tip
of her rosy finger.

"That is strange," Doña Anita murmured. "Alas! what news can I learn?"

"Who knows?" said her young companion, and then continued--"'Before
all, Doña Anita must be prudent; and however extraordinary what she
hears may appear to her, she must be careful to conceal the effect
produced by this revelation, for she must not forget that if she have
devoted friends, she is closely watched by all-powerful enemies, and the
slightest imprudence would hopelessly neutralize all the efforts that
we are making to save her. You cannot, my dear sister, lay sufficient
stress on this recommendation.' The rest," the maiden added, with a
smile, "only relates to myself, and it is, therefore, unnecessary for me
to read it to you."

And she refolded the letter, which disappeared in her dress again.

"And now, my darling, you are warned," she said; "so be prudent."

"Good heaven! I do not understand the letter at all, nor do I know the
Valentine to whom it alludes. It was by your advice that I asked for a
confessor."

"That is to say, by my brother's advice, who, as you know, Anita, placed
me here, not merely because I love you as a sister, but also to support
and encourage you."

"And I am grateful both to you and him for it, dear Helena; if I had
not you near me, in spite of the friendship our worthy and kind mother
condescends to grant me, I should long ago have succumbed to my grief."

"The question is not about me at this moment, my darling, but
solely about yourself. However obscure and mysterious my brother's
recommendation may be, I know him to be too earnest and too truly kind
for me to neglect it. Hence I cannot find language strong enough to urge
you to prudence."

"I seek in vain to guess what the news is to which he refers; and I
acknowledge that I feel a secret repugnance to see the confessor he
announces to me. Alas! I have everything to fear, and nothing to hope
now."

"Silence," Doña Helena said, quietly. "I hear the sound of footsteps in
the walk leading to this arbour. Someone is coming. So we must not let
ourselves be surprised."

"In fact, almost at the same moment the lay sister, who had already
informed the Mother Superior of the arrival of Don Serapio de la Ronda,
appeared at the entrance of the arbour.

"Señorita," she said, addressing Doña Helena, "our holy mother abbess
wishes to speak to you as well as to Doña Anita without delay. She is
waiting for you in her private cell in the company of a holy Franciscan
monk."

The maidens exchanged a glance, and a transient flush appeared on Doña
Anita's pale cheeks.

"We will follow you, sister," Doña Helena replied. The maidens rose;
Doña Helena passed her arm through her companion's, and stooping down,
whispered in her ear--

"Courage, Querida."

They followed the lay sister, who led them to the Mother Superior's
cell, and discreetly withdrew on reaching the door. The abbess appeared
to be talking rather excitedly with the Franciscan monk; but, on seeing
the two girls, she ceased speaking, and rose.

"Come, my child," she said, as she held out her arms to Doña Anita,
"come and thank God who in his infinite goodness has deigned to perform
a miracle on your behalf."

The maiden stopped through involuntary emotion, and looked wildly around
her. At a sign from the abbess the monk rose, and throwing back his hood
at the same time as he fell on his knees before the maiden, he said to
her in a voice faltering with emotion--

"Anita, do you recognize me?"

At the sound of this voice, whose sympathetic notes made all the fibres
of her heart vibrate, the maiden suddenly drew herself back, tottered
and fell into the arms of Doña Helena, as she shrieked with an accent
impossible to describe--

"Martial! oh, Martial!"

A sob burst from her overcharged bosom, and she burst into tears. She
was saved, since the immense joy she so suddenly experienced had not
killed her. The Tigrero, as weak as the woman he loved, could only find
tears to express all his feelings.

For some minutes the abbess and Doña Helena trembled lest these two
beings, already so tried by misfortune, would not find within themselves
the necessary strength to resist so terrible an emotion; but a powerful
reaction suddenly took place in the tiger-slayer's mind; he sprang up
at one leap, and seized in his arms the maiden, who, on her side, was
making efforts to rush to him--

"Anita, dear Anita," he cried, "I have found you again at last; oh, now
no human power will be able to separate us!"

"Never, never!" she murmured, as she let her head fall on the young
man's shoulder; "Martial, my beloved Martial, protect me, save me!"

"Oh, yes, I will save you; angel of my life," he exclaimed, looking up
defiantly to heaven; "we will be united, I swear it to you."

"Is that the prudence you promised me?" the abbess said, interposing;
"remember the perils of every description that surround you, and the
implacable foes who have sworn your destruction; lock up in your heart
these feelings which, if revealed before one of the countless spies who
watch you, would cause your death and that, perhaps, of the poor girl
you love."

"Thank you, madam," the Tigrero replied; "thank you for having reminded
me of the part I must play for a few days longer. If I forgot it for
a few seconds, subdued by the passion that devours my heart, I will
henceforth adhere to it carefully. Do not fear lest I should imperil the
happiness that is preparing for me; no, I will restrain my feelings, and
let myself be guided by the counsel of the sincere friends to whom I owe
the moments of ineffable happiness I am now enjoying."

"Oh! I now understand," Doña Anita exclaimed, "the mysterious hints
given me. Alas! misfortune made me suspicious; so forgive me, heaven,
forgive me, holy mother, and you too, Helena, my kind and faithful
friend. I did not dare hope, and feared a snare."

"I forgive you, my poor child," the abbess answered; "who could blame
you?"

Doña Helena pressed her friend to her heart without saying a word.

"Oh, now our misfortunes are at an end, Anita," the Tigrero exclaimed
passionately; "we have friends who will not abandon us in the supreme
struggle we are engaging in with our common enemy. God, who has hitherto
done everything for us, will not leave his work incomplete; have faith
in Him, my beloved."

"Martial," the maiden replied, with a firmness that astonished her
hearers, "I was weak because I was alone, but now that I know you live,
and are near me to support me, oh! if I were to fall dead at the feet
of my persecutor, I would not be false to the oath I took to be yours
alone. Believing you dead, I remained faithful to your memory; but now,
if persecution assailed me, I should find the strength to endure it."

This scene would have been prolonged, but prudence urged that the abbess
should break it off as soon as possible. Doña Anita, rendered strong
merely by the nervous excitement which possessed her, soon felt faint;
she could scarcely stand, and Don Martial himself felt his energy
abandoning him.

The separation was painful between these two beings so miraculously
re-united when they never expected to see each other again; but it was
soothed by the hope of soon meeting again under the protection of the
Mother Superior, who had done so much for them, and whose inexhaustible
kindness they had entirely gained for their cause.

For the first time since she had entered the convent, Doña Anita smiled
through her tears, as she offered up to heaven her nightly prayers.
Don Martial went off rapidly to tell Valentine of what had taken place
at this interview, which he had so long desired. Doña Helena, however,
retired pensively to her cell; the maiden was dreaming--of what?

No one could have said, and probably she herself was ignorant; but, for
some days past, an obtrusive thought unnecessarily occupied her mind,
and constantly troubled the calm mirror in which her virgin thoughts
were reflected.



CHAPTER XVII.

THE BEGINNING OF THE STRUGGLE.


Ambition is the most terrible and deceptious of all human passions,
in the sense that it completely dries up the heart, and can never be
satisfied.

General Don Sebastian Guerrero was not one of those coldly cruel men,
solely governed by the instinct of art, or whom the smell of blood
intoxicates; but, with the implacable logic of ambitious persons, he
went direct to his object, overthrowing, without regret or remorse, all
the obstacles that barred his way to the object he had sworn to reach,
even if he were compelled to wade in blood up to his knees, and trample
on a pile of corpses. He only regarded men as pawns in the great game
of chess he was playing, and strove to justify himself, and stifle the
warnings of his terrified conscience, by the barbarous axiom employed by
the ambitious in all ages and all countries, that the end justifies the
means.

His secret ambition, which, on a day of pretended frankness, he had
partly revealed in an interview with the Count de Prébois Crancé at
Hermosillo, was not to render himself independent, but simply to be
elected, by means of a well-arranged pronunciamiento, President of the
Mexican Republic.

It was not through hatred that General Guerrero was so obstinately
bent on destroying the count. Ambitious men, who are ever ready to
sacrifice their feelings to the interests of their gloomy machinations,
know neither hatred nor friendship. Hence we must seek elsewhere the
cause of the judicial murder of the count which was so implacably
carried out. The general feared the count, as an adversary who would
constantly thwart him in Sonora, where the first meshes of the net he
wished to throw over Mexico were spun--an adversary ready to oppose the
execution of his plans by claiming the due performance of the articles
of partnership--a performance which, in the probable event of an
insurrection excited by the general, would have become impossible, by
plunging the country for a lengthened period into a state of crisis and
general suspension of trade, which would have been most hostile to the
success of the lofty conceptions of the noble French adventurer.[1]

But the count had scarce fallen on the beach of Guaymas ere the general
recognized the falseness of his calculations, and the fault he had
committed in sacrificing him. In fact, leaving out of the question the
death of his daughter, the only being for whom he retained in some
corner of his heart a little of that fire which heaven illumes in all
parents for their children, he found that he had exchanged a loyal and
cautious adversary for an obstinate enemy--the more formidable because,
caring for nothing, and having no personal ambition, he would sacrifice
everything without hesitation or calculation in behalf of the vengeance
which he had solemnly vowed to obtain by any means, over the still
quivering body of his friend.

This implacable enemy, whom neither seduction nor intimidation could
arrest or even draw back, was Valentine Guillois.

Under these circumstances, the general committed a graver fault than his
first one--a fault which was fated to have incalculable consequences for
him. Being very imperfectly acquainted with Valentine Guillois, unaware
of his inflexible energy of will, and ranking him in his mind with
those wood rangers, the Pariahs of civilization, who have only courage
to fire, in a moment of despair, a shot from behind a tree, but whose
influence was after all insignificant, he despised him.

Valentine was careful not to dissipate, by any imprudent step, his
enemy's mistake, or even arouse his suspicions.

At the time of the Count de Prébois Crancé's first expedition, when
all seemed to smile on him, and his followers already saw the complete
success of their bold undertaking close at hand, Valentine had been
entrusted by his friend with various important operations and difficult
missions to the rich rancheros and hacenderos of the province. Valentine
had performed the duties his friend confided to him with his usual
loyalty and uprightness of mind, and had been so thoroughly appreciated
by the persons with whom chance had brought him into connection, that
all had remained on friendly terms with him and given him unequivocal
proofs of the sincerest friendship, especially upon the death of the
count.

It only depended on the hunter's will to be rich, since he knew an
almost inexhaustible placer; and what the wood ranger would never
have consented to for himself, for the sake of paltry gain, he did
not hesitate to attempt in order to avenge his friend. Followed by
Curumilla, Belhumeur, and Black Elk, and leading a _recua_ of ten mules,
he did what two hundred and fifty men could not have succeeded in doing.
He went through Apacheria, crossed the fearful desert of sand in which
the bones of the hapless companions of the Marquis de Lhorailles were
bleaching, and, after enduring superhuman fatigue and braving terrible
dangers, he at length reached the placer. But this time he did not come
to take an insignificant sum; he wanted to collect a fortune at one
stroke.

The hunter returned with his ten mules laden with gold. He knew that he
was beginning a struggle with a man who was enormously rich, and wished
to conquer him with his own weapons. In the new world, as in the old,
money is the real sinew of war, and Valentine would not imperil the
success of his vengeance.

On returning to Guaymas, he realized his fortune, and found himself,
in a single day, not one of the richest, but _the_ richest private
person in Mexico, although it is a country in which fortunes attain
to a considerable amount. Thus the gold of the placer, which, at an
earlier period, had served to organize the count's expedition, and make
him believe for a moment in the realization of his dreams, was about to
serve in avenging him, after having indirectly caused his death.

Then began between the general and the hunter a secret and unceasing
struggle, the more terrible through its hidden nature; and the general,
struck without knowing whence the blows dealt his ambition came,
struggled vainly, like a lion caught in a snare, while it was impossible
for him to discover the obstinate enemy who hunted him down.

This man, who had hitherto succeeded in everything--who, during the
course of his long and stormy political career, had surmounted the
greatest obstacles and forced his very detractors to admire the luck
that constantly accompanied his wildest and rashest conceptions--
suddenly saw Fortune turn her back on him with such rapidity--we may
even say brutality--that, scarce six weeks after the execution of the
count, he was obliged to resign his office of Military Governor, and
quit, almost like a fugitive, the province of Sonora, where he had so
long reigned as a master, and on which his iron yoke had pressed so
heavily.

This first blow, dealt the general in the midst of his ambitious
aspirations, when he had only just begun to recover from the grief his
daughter's death had caused him, was the more terrible because he did
not know to whom he should attribute his downfall.

Still, he did not long remain in doubt. An hour before his departure
from Hermosillo he received a letter in which he was informed, in the
minutest details, of the oath of vengeance taken against him, and of
the steps taken to obtain his recall. This letter was signed "Valentine
Guillois." The hunter, despising darkness and mystery, tore down the
veil that covered him, and openly challenged his foe by manfully telling
him to be on his guard.

On receiving this threatening declaration of war, the general fell into
an extraordinary passion, the more terrible because it was impotent,
and then, when his mind became calm again, and he began reflecting, he
felt frightened. In truth, the man who stood so boldly before him as an
enemy, must be very powerful and certain of success thus to dare and
defy him.

His departure from Sonora was a disgraceful flight, in which he tried,
by craft and caution, to throw out his enemy; but the meeting at the
Fort of the Chichimèques, a meeting long prepared by the hunter, proved
to him that he was unmasked once again, and conquered by his enemy.

The contemptuous manner in which Valentine dismissed him after his
stormy explanation with him, had internally filled the general with
terror. What sinister projects could the man be meditating, what private
vengeance was he arranging, that, when he held him quivering in his
grasp, he allowed his foe to escape, and refused to kill him, when that
would have been so easy? What torture more terrible than death did he
intend to inflict on him?

The remainder of his journey across the Rocky Mountains, as far as
Mexico, was one protracted agony, during which, suffering from constant
apprehension, and extreme nervous excitement, his diseased imagination
inflicted on him moral torture in the stead of which any physical pain
would have been welcome.

The loss of his daughter's corpse, and above all, the death of his
father's old comrade in arms, the only man in whom he put faith, and who
possessed his entire confidence, destroyed his energy, and for several
days he was so overwhelmed by this double misfortune, that he longed for
death.

His punishment was beginning. But General Guerrero was one of those
powerful athletes who do not allow themselves to be overcome so easily;
they may totter in the struggle, and roll on the sand of the arena,
but they always rise again more terrible and menacing than before. His
revolted pride restored his expiring courage; and since an implacable
warfare was declared against him, he swore that he would fight to the
end, whatever the consequences for him might be.

Moreover, two months had elapsed since his arrival in Mexico, and his
enemy had not revealed his presence by one of those terrible blows which
burst like a clap of thunder above his head. The general gradually
began supposing that the hunter had only wished to force him to abandon
Sonora, and that, in despair of carrying out his plans advantageously
in a city like Mexico, he was prudently keeping aloof, and if he had
not completely renounced his vengeance, circumstances at any rate,
independent of his will, compelled him to defer it.

The general, so soon as he was settled in the capital of Mexico,
organized a large band of highly-paid spies, who had orders to be
constantly on the watch, and inform him of Valentine's arrival in the
city. Thus reassured by the reports of his agents, he continued with
feverish ardour the execution of his dark designs, for he felt convinced
that if he succeeded in attaining his coveted object, the hatred of the
man who pursued him would no longer be dangerous. This was the more
probable, because, so soon as he held the power in his own hands, he
would easily succeed in getting rid of an enemy, whom his position as a
foreigner isolated, and rendered an object of dislike to the populace.

The general lived in a large house in the Calle de Tacuba; it was built
by one of his ancestors, and considered one of the handsomest in the
capital. We will describe in a few words the architecture of Mexico,
for, as all the houses are built on the same pattern, or nearly so, by
knowing one it is easy to form an idea of what the others must be.

The Mexican architecture greatly resembles the Arabic, and as for the
mode of arranging the rooms, it is still entirely in its infancy; but,
since the Proclamation of the Independence, foreign architects have
succeeded, in most of the great towns, in opening side doors in the
suites of rooms, which formerly only communicated with one another, and
hence compelled you to go through a bedroom to enter a dining room, or
pass through a kitchen to reach the drawing room.

The general's house was composed of four buildings, two stories in
height, and with terraced roofs. Two courts separated these buildings,
and an awning stretched over the four sides of the first yard, enabling
visitors to reach the wide stone steps dry footed. At the top of this
flight, a handsome covered gallery, adorned with vases of flowers and
exotic shrubs, led to a vast anteroom, which opened into a splendid
reception hall; after this came a considerable number of apartments,
splendidly furnished in the European style.

The general only inhabited the first floor of his mansion. Although
most of the streets are paved at the present day, and the canals have
entirely disappeared, except in the lower districts of the city, water
is still found a few inches beneath the surface, which produces such
damp, that the ground floor, rendered uninhabitable, is given up to
stores and shops in nearly all the houses. The ground floor of the main
building, looking on the Calle de Tacuba, was, therefore, occupied by
brilliant shops, which rendered the façade of the general's house even
more striking.

The paintings and the ornaments carved on the walls, after the Spanish
fashion, gave it a peculiar, but not unpleasant appearance, which
was completed by the profusion of shrubs that lined the terrace, and
converted it into a hanging garden, like those of Babylon, some sixty
feet above the ground. By-the-bye, these gardens, from which the cupolas
of the churches seem to emerge, give a really fairy-like aspect to the
city, when you survey it in a glowing sunset, from the cathedral towers.

Seven or eight days had elapsed since the events we recorded in our last
chapter. General Guerrero, after a long conversation with Colonel Don
Jaime Lupo, Don Sirven, and two or three others of his most faithful
partizans--a conversation in which the final arrangements were made for
the pronunciamiento which was to be attempted immediately--gave audience
to two of his spies, who assured him that the person, whose movements
they were ordered to watch, had not yet arrived in Mexico.

When the hour for going to the theatre arrived, the general, temporarily
freed from alarm, prepared to be present at an extraordinary performance
to be given, that same night, at the Santa Anna theatre; but at the
moment when he was about to give orders for his carriage to be brought
up, the door of the room, in which he was sitting, opened, and a footman
appeared on the threshold, with a respectful bow.

"What do you want?" the general asked, turning round at the sound.

"Excellency," the valet replied, "a caballero desires a few minutes'
conversation with your excellency."

"At this hour?" the general said, looking at a clock, "it is
impossible;" but, suddenly reflecting, he asked, "anyone you know,
Isidro?"

"No, excellency; it is a caballero whom I have not yet had the honour of
seeing in the house."

"Hum," said the general, shaking his head thoughtfully, "is he a
gentleman?"

"That I can assure your excellency; and he told me that he had a most
important communication to make to you."

In the general's present position, as head of a conspiracy on the point
of breaking out, no detail must be neglected, no communication despised,
so, after reflecting a little, he continued--

"You ought to have told the gentleman that I could not receive him so
late, and that he had better call again tomorrow."

"I told him so, excellency."

"And he insisted?"

"Several times, excellency."

"Well, do you know his name, at least?"

"When I asked the caballero for it, he said it was useless, as you would
not know it; but if you wished to learn it, he would himself tell it to
your excellency."

"What a strange person," the general muttered to himself; "very good,"
he then added aloud, "lead the gentleman to the small mirror room, and I
will be with him immediately."

The footman bowed respectfully.

"Who can the man be, and what is the important matter he has to tell
me?" the general muttered, as he was alone. "Hum, probably some poor
devil mixed up in our conspiracy, who wants a little money. Well, he had
better be careful, for I am not the man to be plundered with impunity,
and so he will find out, if his communication is not serious."

And, throwing on to a chair the plumed hat he held in his hand, he
proceeded to the mirror room.


[1] See "Goldseekers." Same publishers.



CHAPTER XVIII.

A VISIT.


The mirror room was an immense apartment, only separated from the
covered gallery by two anterooms. It was furnished with princely luxury,
and it was here that the general gave those sumptuous _tertulias,_ which
are still talked about in the highest Mexican circles, although so many
years have elapsed.

This room, merely lighted by two lamps, standing on a console, was at
this moment plunged into a semi-obscurity, when compared with the other
apartments in the mansion, which were full of light.

A gentleman, dressed in full black, and with the red ribbon of the
Legion of Honour carelessly knotted in a buttonhole of his coat, was
leaning his elbow on the console where the lamps stood, and seemed so
lost in thought, that, when the general entered the room, the sound of
his steps, half subdued by the petates, did not reach the visitor's
ears, and he did not turn to receive him.

Don Sebastian, after closing the door behind him, walked towards his
visitor, attempting to recognize him, which, however, the stranger's
position rendered temporarily impossible. It was not till he came almost
near enough to touch him that the stranger, at length warned of the
general's presence, raised his head; in spite of all the command Don
Sebastian had over himself, he started and fell back a couple of yards
on recognizing him.

"Don Valentine!" he said, in a stifled voice, "you here?"

"Myself, general," he replied, with an almost imperceptible smile and a
profound bow; "did you not expect a visit from me?"

The Trail-hunter, according to his habit, at once assumed his position
before his adversary. A bitter smile played round the general's pale
lips, and mastering his emotion, he replied, sarcastically--

"Certainly, caballero, I hoped to receive a visit from you; but not
here, and under such conditions, I did not venture, I confess, to
anticipate such an honour."

"I am delighted," he replied, with another bow, "that I have thus
anticipated your wishes."

"I will prove to you, señor," the general said, with set teeth, "the
value I attach to the visit you have been pleased to pay me."

While saying this, he stretched out his arm towards a bell.

"I beg your pardon, general," the Frenchman said, with imperturbable
coolness, "but I believe that you intend to summon some of your people?"

"And supposing that was my intention, señor?" the general said,
haughtily.

"If it were so," he replied, with icy politeness, "I think it would be
better for you to do nothing of the sort."

"Oh, indeed, and for what reason, may I ask?"

"For the simple reason, general, that as I have the honour to know you
thoroughly, I was not such a fool as to place myself in your power.
My carriage is waiting at this moment in front of your door; in that
carriage are two of my friends, and, in all probability, if they do not
see me come down the steps again in half an hour, they will not hesitate
to ask you what has taken place between us, and what has become of me."

The general bit his lips.

"You are mistaken as to my intentions, señor," he said. "I fear you no
more than you appear to do me. I am a gentleman, and were you ten times
more my enemy than you are, I would never attempt to free myself from
you by an assassination."

"Be it so, general; I should be glad to be mistaken, and in that case I
beg you to accept my apologies; moreover, in coming thus to see you, I
give you, I believe, a proof of confidence."

"For which I thank you, señor; but as I suppose that reasons of the
highest gravity alone induced you to present yourself here, and the
interview you ask of me must be long, I wished to give my people orders
to take out the horses, and take care that we are not interrupted."

Valentine bowed without replying, but with an imperceptible smile, and
leaning again on the console, he twisted his long, fair, light moustache
while the general rang the bell. A servant came in.

"Have the horses taken out," the general said, "and I am not at home to
anybody."

The servant bowed, and prepared to leave the room.

"Ah!" said the general, suddenly stopping him, "on the part of this
caballero ask the gentlemen in his carriage to do me the honour of
coming up to my apartments, where they can await more comfortably the
end of a conversation which will probably be rather prolonged. You will
serve refreshments to these gentlemen in the blue room," he added,
looking fixedly at the Frenchman, "the one that follows this room."

The servant retired.

"If you still apprehend a trap, señor," he continued, turning to the
Frenchman, "your friends will be at hand, if necessary, to come to your
help."

"I knew that you were brave to rashness, general," the Frenchman
answered politely, "and I am happy to see that you are no less
honourable."

"And now, señor, be kind enough to sit down," Don Sebastian said,
pointing to a chair. "May I venture to offer you any refreshments?"

"General," Valentine answered, as he seated himself, "permit me, for the
present, to decline them. In my youth I served in Africa, and in that
country people are only wont to break their fast with friends. As we
are, temporarily at least, enemies, I must ask you to let me retain my
present position toward you."

"The custom to which you allude, señor, is also met with on our
prairies," the general replied; "still people sometimes depart from
it. However, act as you think proper. I wait till it may please you
to explain the purpose of this visit, at which I have a right to feel
surprised."

"I will not abuse your patience any longer, general," he replied with a
bow. "I have merely come to propose a bargain."

"A bargain?" Don Sebastian exclaimed with surprise, "I do not understand
you."

"I will have the honour of explaining myself, señor."

The general bowed and said, "I await your pleasure."

"You are a diplomatist, general," Valentine continued, "and in that
capacity are, doubtless, aware that a bad treaty is better than a good
war."

"In certain cases I allow it is so; but I will take the liberty of
remarking that, under present circumstances, señor, I must await your
propositions, instead of offering any of mine, as the war, to employ
your own expression, was not begun by me, but by you."

"I think it will be better not to discuss that point, in which we should
find it difficult to agree; still, in order to remove any ambiguity, and
lay down the point at issue distinctly, I will remind you in a few words
of the motives which produced the hatred that divides us."

"Those motives, señor, you have already explained to me most fully at
the Fort of the Chichimèques. Without discussing their validity with
you, I will content myself with saying that hatred, like friendship,
being a matter of sympathy, and not the result of reason, it is better
to confess frankly that we hate or love each other, without trying to
account for either of these feelings, which I consider completely beyond
the will."

"You are at liberty to think so, señor, and though I do not agree
with you, I will not discuss the point; it is, however, certain that
the hatred we bear each other is implacable, and cannot possibly be
extinguished."

"Still you spoke only a minute back of a bargain."

"Certainly; but bargaining is not forgetting. I can, for certain
reasons, abstain from that hatred without renouncing it; and though
I may cease to injure you, I do not, on that account, contract the
slightest friendship with you."

"I admit that in principle, señor; let us, therefore, come to facts
without further delay; be good enough to explain to me the nature of the
bargain which you think proper to propose to me today."

"Allow me, in the first place, according to my notions of honour, to
explain to you what our position to each other is."

"Since the beginning of this interview, señor, I must confess that you
have been talking enigmas inexplicable to me."

"I will try to be clear, señor, and if I tell you what your plans
are, and the means you have employed for their realization, you will
understand, I have no doubt, that I have succeeded in countermining them
sufficiently to prevent a favourable issue."

"Go on, señor," the general remarked, with a smile.

"In two words, this is your position. In the first, you wish, by
a pronunciamiento, to overthrow General R----, and have yourself
proclaimed President of the Republic in his place."

"Ah, ah," said the general, with a forced laugh; "you must know, señor,
that in our blessed country this ambition is constantly attributed to
all officers who, either on account of their fortune or personal merit,
hold a public position. This accusation, therefore, is not very serious."

"It would not be so, if you limited yourself to mere wishes, possibly
legitimate in the present state of the country; but, unfortunately, it
is not so."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, general, that you are the head of a conspiracy; that this
conspiracy, several times already a failure in Sonora, you have renewed
in Mexico, under almost infallible conditions of success, and which,
in my opinion, would succeed, had I not resolved on causing them to
fail. I mean that, only a few days ago, your conspirators assembled in
a velorio kept by a certain Ño Lusacho. Through the agency of Don Jaime
Lupo, you divided among them two bags of gold, brought by you for them,
and emptied in your presence. I mean that, after this distribution,
the final arrangements were made, and the day was almost fixed for the
pronunciamiento. Am I deceived, general, or do you now see that I am
well informed, and that my spies are quite equal to yours, who were not
even able to inform you of my arrival at the Ciudad, where I have been
for more than a week, and you have not known a word about it?"

"While Valentine was speaking thus, in his mocking way, with his elbow
carelessly laid on the arm of his chair, and his body slightly bent
forward, the general was in a state of passion which he tried in vain
to repress, his pale face assumed a cadaverous hue, his eyebrows met,
and his clenched teeth found difficulty in keeping the words back which
tried each moment to burst forth. When the Frenchman ceased speaking
he made a violent effort to check his rage which was on the point of
breaking out, and he answered in a hollow voice which emotion caused
involuntary to tremble--

"I will imitate your frankness, señor. Of what use would it be to
dissimulate with an enemy so well informed as you pretend to be? What
you have said about a conspiracy is perfectly correct. Yes, I intend to
make a pronunciamiento, and that shortly. You see that I do not attempt
to conceal anything from you."

"I presume, because you consider it useless," Valentine answered
sarcastically.

"Perhaps so, señor. Although you are so well informed, you do not know
everything."

"Do you think so?"

"I am sure of it."

"What is the thing I am ignorant of?"

"That you will not leave this house again, and that I am going to blow
out your brains," the general exclaimed, as he started up and cocked a
pistol.

The Frenchman did not make the slightest movement to prevent the
execution of the general's threat; he contented himself with looking
firmly at him, and saying, coldly--

"I defy you."

Don Sebastian remained motionless, with haggard eye, pale brow, and
trembling hand; then, in a few seconds, he uncocked the pistol, and fell
back utterly crushed in his chair.

"You have gone too far or not far enough, caballero," Valentine went on
with perfect calmness. "Every threat should be executed at all risks so
soon as it is made. You have reflected, so let us say no more about it,
but resume our conversation."

In a discussion of this nature, all the advantage is on the side
of the adversary who retains his coolness. The general, ashamed of
the passionate impulse to which he had yielded, and crushed by his
enemy's sarcastically contemptuous answer, remained dumb; he at length
understood that, with a man like the one before him, any contest must
turn to his disadvantage, unless he employed treachery, which his pride
forbade.

"Let us, for the present," Valentine went on, still calmly and coldly,
"leave this conspiracy, to which we will revert presently, and pass to
a no less interesting subject. If I am correctly informed, Señor Don
Sebastian, you have a ward of the name of Doña Anita de Torrés?"

The general started, but remained silent.

"Now," continued Valentine, "in consequence of a frightful catastrophe,
this young lady became insane. But that does not prevent you from
insisting on marrying her, in contempt of all law, divine and human,
for the simple reason that she is enormously rich and you require her
fortune for the execution of your ambitious plans. It is true that the
young lady does not love you, and never did love you; it is also true
that her father intended her for another, and that other you insist on
declaring to be dead, although he is alive; but what do you care for
that? Unfortunately, one of my intimate friends, of whom you probably
never heard, Señor Don Serapio de la Ronda, has heard this affair
alluded to. I will tell you confidentially that Don Serapio is greatly
respected by certain parties, and has very considerable power. Don
Serapio, I know not why, takes an interest in Doña Anita, and has made
up his mind, whether you like it or not, to marry her to the man she
loves, and for whom her father intended her."

"The villain is dead," the general exclaimed, furiously.

"You are perfectly well aware of the contrary," Señor Valentine
answered, "and to remove any doubts you may still happen to have, I will
give you the proof. Don Martial," he said aloud, "come in, pray, and
tell General Guerrero yourself that you are not dead."

"Oh!" the general muttered furiously, "this man is a demon."

At this moment the door opened, and a new personage entered the room.



CHAPTER XIX.

ASSISTANCE.


The man who now entered the hall of mirrors was dressed like the riders
who promenade at the Bucareli, and gallop at carriage doors--that is to
say, in trousers with silk stripes down the sides, and a broad-brimmed
hat decorated with a double gold string and tassels.

He walked gracefully up to Don Sebastian, still holding his hat in his
right hand, bowed to him with that exquisite grace of which the Mexicans
alone seem to have the privilege, and thrusting his hand into his side,
he said, with an accent of cutting sarcasm, and in a harsh, metallic
voice--

"Do you recognize me, Don Sebastian, and do you believe that I am really
alive, and that it is not the ghost of Martial the Tigrero which has
come from the grave to address you?"

At the same moment Belhumeur's clever, knowing face could be seen
peering through the doorway. With his eyes obstinately fixed on the
general, he seemed to be impatiently expecting an answer, which the
latter, struggling with several different feelings, evidently hesitated
to give. Still, he was compelled to form a resolution, so he rose and
looked the Tigrero boldly in the face.

"Who are you, señor?" he said, in a firm voice, "and by what right do
you question me?"

"Well played," said Valentine, with a laugh; "by heaven, caballero,
it is a pleasure to contend with you, for, on my soul, you are a rude
adversary."

"Do you think so?" Don Sebastian asked, with a hoarse laugh.

"Certainly," the hunter continued, "and I am delighted to bear my
testimony to the fact; hence you had better yield at once, for you are
in a dilemma from which you cannot escape, not even by a master stroke."

There was a silence, lasting some minutes. At length the general
seemed to make up his mind, for he turned to Belhumeur, who was still
listening, and bowed to him with ironical politeness.

"Why stand half hidden by that door?" he said to him; "pray enter,
caballero, for your presence here will be most agreeable to the whole
company."

The Canadian at once entered, and after giving the general a respectful
bow he leant over the back of Valentine's chair. The latter eagerly
followed all the incidents of the strange scene that was being played
before him, and in which he appeared to be a disinterested spectator
rather than an actor.

"You see, señores," the general said, haughtily, "that I imitate your
example, and, like you, play fairly. I believe that you entered my house
in order to propose a bargain to me, Don Valentine? You, señor," he
said, turning to the Tigrero, "whom I told that I did not recognize, and
whom I have the honour of receiving at my house for the first time, have
doubtless come as witness for these caballeros, who are your friends.
Well, gentlemen, you shall all three be satisfied. I am awaiting your
proposal, Don Valentine. I allow, señor, that you, whose miraculous
resuscitation I have hitherto denied, are alive, and are really Don
Martial the ex-lover of Doña Anita de Torrés. As for you, señor, whom
I do not know, I authorize you to declare before any one you like the
truth of the words I utter. Are you all three satisfied, gentlemen? Is
there anything else I can do to afford you pleasure?--if so, speak, and
I am ready to satisfy you."

"A man could not yield to what is inevitable with better grace,"
Valentine replied, bowing ironically.

"Thanks for your approval, caballero, and be kind enough to let me know,
without further delay, the conditions on which you are willing to leave
off pursuing me with that terrible hatred with which you incessantly
threaten me, and whose result is rather long in coming, according to my
judgment."

These words were uttered with a mixture of pride and contempt impossible
to express, and which for a moment rendered Valentine dumb, so
extraordinary did the sudden change in his adversary's humour appear to
him.

"I am waiting," the general added, as he fell back in his chair, with an
air of weariness.

"We will bring matters to an end," Valentine said, drawing himself up
with an air of resolution.

"That is what I wish," the general interrupted him, as he lit a
cigarette, which he began smoking with the most profound coolness.

"These are my conditions," the hunter said distinctly and harshly, for
he was annoyed by this frigid indifference. "You will at once leave
Mexico, and give up Doña Anita, to whom you will not only restore her
liberty, but also the right of giving her hand and fortune to whomsoever
she pleases. You will sell your estates, and retire to the United
States, promising on oath never to return to Mexico. On my side, I
pledge myself to restore you your daughter's body, and never attempt to
injure you in any way."

"Have you anything more to add?" the general asked, as he coolly watched
the blue smoke of his cigarette as it rose in circles to the ceiling.

"Nothing; but take care, señor, I too have taken an oath, and from
what I have told you, you must have seen how far I have detected your
secrets. Accept or refuse, but come to a decision; for this is the last
time we shall meet face to face under the like conditions. The game we
are playing is a terrible one, and must end in the death of one of us;
and I shall show you no pity, as, doubtless, you will show me none.
Reflect seriously before answering yes or no, and I give you half an
hour to decide."

The general burst into a sharp and nervous laugh. "_Viva Dios_,
caballero!" he exclaimed, with a contemptuous toss of his head, "I have
listened to you with extreme surprise. You dispose of my will with an
incomparable facility. I do not know who gives you the right to speak
and act as you are doing; but, by heaven, hatred, however active it may
be, can in no case possess this privilege. You fancy yourself much more
powerful than you really are, I fancy; but, at any rate, whatever may
happen, bear this carefully in mind--I will not retreat an inch before
you. Accepting your impudent and ridiculous conditions would be to
cover myself with shame and my utter ruin. Were you the genius of Evil
clothed in mortal form, I would not the less persist in the track I have
laid down for myself, and in which I will persevere at my own risk and
peril; however terrible may be the obstacles you raise, I will overthrow
them or succumb bravely, buried beneath the ruins of my abortive
plans and my destroyed fortunes. Hence consider yourself warned, Don
Valentine; that I despise your menaces, and they will not stop me. And
you, Don Martial, since such is your name, that I shall marry my ward,
in spite of the efforts you may make to prevent me, and shall do so
because I wish it, and because no man in the world has ever attempted
to resist my will without being at once mercilessly crushed. And now,
señores, as we have said all we have to say to each other, and I think
there is no more, and we can have no doubt as to our mutual intentions,
permit me to take leave of you, for I wish to go to the Santa Anna
theatre, and it is already very late."

He rang the bell, and a footman came in.

"Order the carriage," he said to him.

"Then," Valentine said as he rose, "it is war to the death between us."

"War to the death! be it so."

"We shall only meet once again, general," the hunter remarked; "and that
will be on the eve of your death, when you are in Capilla."

"I accept the meeting, and will bow uncomplainingly before you if you
are powerful enough to obtain that result; but, believe me, I am not
there yet."

"You are nearer your fall than you perhaps suppose."

"That is possible; but enough of this; any further conversation will be
useless. Light these gentlemen down," he said to the servant, who at
this moment entered the room.

The three men rose, exchanged dumb bows with the general, and,
accompanied by him to the door of the room, they followed the footman,
who preceded them with candles. Two carriages were waiting at the foot
of the stairs; Valentine and his friends got into one of them, the
general took his seat in the other, and they heard him give the order in
a firm voice to drive to the Santa Anna theatre. The coachmen flogged
their horses, which started at a gallop, and the two carriages left the
house, the gates of which were closed after them.

The Santa Anna theatre was built in 1844 by the Spanish architect,
Hidalgo. This building has externally nothing remarkable about it,
either in regard to frontage or position; but we are glad to state that
the interior is convenient, elegant, and even grand.

After passing through the external portico, you enter a yard covered
with a glass dome, next come wide stairs with low steps, large and lofty
lobbies, a double row of galleries looking on the front yard, and airy
crush-rooms for the promenaders.

The house is well built, well decorated, and spacious; it has three rows
of boxes, with a lower circle representing the pit boxes, and another
above the third circle for the lower classes. In the pit, it is worth
mentioning that each visitor has his stall, which he reaches easily and
comfortably by passages formed down the centre and round the theatre.
The boxes nearly all contain ten persons, and are separated from each
other by light colonnades and partitions. To each box is attached a
room, to which people withdraw between the acts, and, instead of the
balconies which in our theatres conceal a great part of the ladies'
toilets, the boxes have only a ledge a few inches in height, which
allows the splendid dresses of the audience to be fully admired.

We have dwelt, perhaps with a little complacency, on this description of
the Santa Anna theatre, for we thought that, at the moment when it is
intended to rebuild the Opera and other Parisian theatres, there can be
no harm in displaying the difference that exists between the frightful
dens in which the spectators are thrust together pell-mell every night
in a city like Paris, which claims to be the first, not only in Europe,
but in the whole world, and the spacious airy theatres of a country like
Mexico, which in so many respects is inferior to us as regards ideas of
civilization and comfort. It would, however, be very easy, we fancy, to
obtain in Paris the advantageous results the Mexicans have enjoyed for
twenty years, and that at a slight expense. Unfortunately, whatever may
be said, the French are the most thorough routine nation in the world,
and we greatly fear that, in spite of incessant protests, things will
remain for a long time in the same state as they are today.

When the general entered his box, which was in the first circle,
and almost facing the stage, the house presented a truly fairy-like
appearance. The extraordinary performance had brought an immense throng
of spectators and ladies, whose magnificent dresses were covered with
diamonds, which glittered and flashed beneath the light that played on
them.

Don Sebastian, after bending forward for a moment to exchange bows with
his numerous acquaintances, and prove his presence, withdrew to the back
of the box, opened his glasses, and began looking carelessly about him.
But though, through a powerful effort of the will, his face was cold,
calm, and unmoved, a terrible storm was raging in the general's heart.

The scene that had taken place a few minutes previously at his mansion,
had filled him with anxiety and gloomy forebodings, for he understood
that his adversaries must either believe or feel themselves very
strong thus to dare and defy him to the face, and audaciously enter
his very house. In vain he tortured his mind to find means to get rid
of his obstinate enemy; but time pressed, his situation became at each
moment more critical, and unless some bold and desperate stroke proved
successful, he felt instinctively that he was lost without chance of
salvation.

The president's box was occupied by the first magistrate of the
Republic, and some of his aide-de-camps. Several times, Don Sebastian
fancied that the president's eyes were fixed on him with a strange
expression, after which he bent over and whispered some remarks to
the gentlemen who accompanied him. Perhaps, this was not real, and the
general's pricked conscience suggested to him suspicions far from the
thoughts of those against whom he had so many reasons to be on his
guard; but whether real or not, these suspicions tortured his heart and
proved to him the necessity of coming to an end at all risks.

Still the performance went on; the curtain had just fallen before the
last act, and the general, devoured by anxiety, and persuaded that he
had remained long enough in the theatre to testify his presence, was
preparing to retire, when the door of his box opened, and Colonel Lupo
walked in.

"Ah, is it you, colonel?" Don Sebastian said to him as he offered his
hand and gave him a forced smile. "You are welcome; I did not hope any
longer to have the pleasure of seeing you, and I was just going away."

"Pray do not let me stop you, general, I have only a few words to say to
you."

"Our business?"

"Goes on famously."

"No suspicion?"

"Not the shadow."

The general breathed like a man from whose chest a crushing weight has
been just removed.

"Can I be of any service to you?" he said, absently.

"For the present, I have only come for your sake."

"How so?"

"I was accosted today by a lepero, a villain of the worst sort, who
says that he wishes to avenge himself on a certain Frenchman, whom
he declares you know, and he desires to place himself under your
protection, in the event of the blade of his navaja accidentally
slipping into his enemy's body."

"Hum! that is serious," the general said with an imperceptible start. "I
do not know how far I dare go in being bail for such a scoundrel."

"He declares that you have known him a long time, and that while doing
his own business, he will be doing yours."

"You know that I am no admirer of navajadas, for an assassination always
injures the character of a politician."

"That is true; but you cannot be rendered responsible for the crimes any
villain may think proper to commit."

"Did this worthy gentleman tell you his name, my dear colonel?"

"Yes; but I believe that it would be better to mention it in the open
air, rather than in this place."

"One word more; have you cleverly deceived him, and do you think that he
really intends to be useful to us?"

"Useful to you, you mean."

"As you please."

"I could almost assert it."

"Well, we will be off; have you weapons about you?"

"I should think so; it would be madness to go about Mexico unarmed."

"I have pistols in my pocket, so I will dismiss my carriage, and we will
walk home to my house; does that suit you, my dear colonel?"

"Excellently, general, the more so because if you evince any desire to
see the scoundrel in question, nothing will be easier than for me to
take you to the den he occupies, without attracting attention."

The general looked at his accomplice fixedly. "You have not told me all,
colonel?" he said.

"I have not, general, but I am convinced that you understand the motive,
which at this moment keeps my mouth shut."

"In that case, let us be off."

He wrapped himself in his cloak and left the box, followed by the
colonel. A footman was waiting under the portico for his orders to bring
up the carriage.

"Return to the house," the general said; "it is a fine night, and I feel
inclined for a walk."

The footman retired.

"Come, colonel," Don Sebastian went on.

They left the theatre and proceeded slowly toward the Portales de
Mercaderes, which were entirely deserted at this advanced hour of the
night.



CHAPTER XX.

EL ZARAGATE.


The night was clear, mild and starry, a profound calm prevailed in the
deserted streets, and it was in fact one of those delicious Mexican
nights, so filled with soft emanations, and which dispose the mind to
delicious reveries.

The two gentlemen, carefully wrapped in their cloaks, walked side by
side, along the middle of the street, in fear of an ambuscade, examining
with practised eyes the doorways and the dark corners of side streets.
When they were far enough from the theatre no longer to fear indiscreet
eyes or ears, the general at length broke the silence.

"Now, Señor Don Jaime," he said, "let us speak frankly, if you please."

"I wish for nothing better," the colonel replied, with a bow.

"And to begin," Don Sebastian continued, "tell me who the man is from
whom you hinted that I could derive some benefit."

"Nothing is easier, excellency. This man is a villain of the worst sort,
as I already had the honour of telling you; his antecedents are, I
suppose, rather dark, and that is all I have been able to discover. This
man, who, I believe, belongs to no country, but who, in consequence of
his adventurous life, has visited them all and speaks all languages,
was at San Francisco when the Count de Prébois Crancé organized the
cuadrilla of bandits, at the head of which he undertook to dismember our
lovely country, and in which, between ourselves, he would probably have
succeeded had it not been for your skill and courage."

"We will pass over that, my dear colonel," the general quickly
interrupted him; "I did my duty in that affair, as I shall always do it
when the interest of my country is at stake."

The colonel bowed.

"Well," he continued, "the villain I am speaking of could not let such
a magnificent opportunity slip; he enlisted in the count's cuadrilla. I
believe he was starving at San Francisco, and, for certain reasons best
known to himself, was not sorry to leave that city--but perhaps I weary
you by giving you all these details."

"On the contrary, my dear colonel, I wish to be thoroughly acquainted
with this pícaro, in order to judge what reliance may be placed in his
protestations."

"On arriving at Guaymas, our man became almost directly the secret
agent of that unhappy Colonel Fleury, who, as you well remember, was so
brutally assassinated by the Frenchmen."

"Alas, yes!" the general said with a sardonic smile.

"Señor Pavo also employed him several times," Don Jaime continued, "but,
unfortunately for our individual, Don Valentine, the count's friend,
was watching; he discovered, I knew not how, all his little tricks, and
insisted on his dismissal from the company, after a quarrel he had with
one of the French officers."

"I think I can remember the affair being talked about at the time. Was
not this villain known by the sobriquet of the Zaragate?"

"He was, general; furious at what happened to him, and attributing it to
Don Valentine, he took an oath to kill him whenever he met him, so soon
as the opportunity offered itself."

"Well?"

"It seems that, despite all his goodwill and his eager desire to get rid
of his enemy, the opportunity has not yet offered, as he has not killed
him."

"That is true; but how did you come across this scoundrel, colonel?"

"Well, general," he answered with some hesitation, "you know that I have
been compelled during the last few days, for the sake of our affair,
to keep rather bad company. This scoundrel came to offer his services.
I cross-questioned him, and knowing your enmity to that Frenchman,
I resolved to inform you of this acquisition. If I have done wrong,
forgive me, and we will say no more about it."

"On the contrary, colonel," the general said eagerly. "The deuce! not
only have I nothing to forgive, but I feel very grateful to you, for
your confession has come at a most fortunate time. You shall judge,
however, for I wish to be frank with you, the more so because, apart
from the high esteem I feel for your character, our common welfare is at
stake at this moment."

"You frighten me, general."

"You will be more frightened directly; know that this Valentine,
this Frenchman, this demon, has I know not by what means, discovered
our conspiracy, holds all the threads of it, and, more than that, is
acquainted with all the members, beginning with myself."

"_Voto a brios!_" the colonel exclaimed, with a start of surprise, and
turning pale with terror, "in that case we are lost."

"Well, I confess that our chances of success are considerably
diminished."

"Pardon me for asking, general," he continued in great agitation, "but
in circumstances like the present----"

"Go on, go on, my dear colonel, do not be embarrassed."

"Are you sure, general, perfectly certain as to the statement you have
just made to me?"

"You shall judge. About an hour before the opening of the theatre,
Don Valentine himself--you understand me?--came to my house with two
friends, doubtless cutthroats in his pay, and revealed all to me; what
do you say to that?"

"I say that if this man does not die we are hopelessly lost."

"That is my opinion too," the general remarked coldly.

"How came it that, in spite of this terrible revelations, you ventured
to show yourself at the theatre?"

Don Sebastian smiled and shrugged his shoulders disdainfully.

"Ought I to let even indifferent persons see the anxiety that devoured
me? Undeceive yourself, colonel, boldness alone can save us; do not
forget that we are risking our heads at this moment."

"I am not likely to forget it."

"As for this man, the Zaragate, I must not and will not see him; but
do you deal with him as you think proper. You understand that it is of
the utmost importance that I should be ignorant of the arrangements you
may make with him, and be able to prove, if necessary, that I had no
knowledge of this. Moreover, as you are aware, I am not one for extreme
measures; the sight of such a villain would be repulsive to me, for I
have such a horror of bloodshed. Alas!" he added, with a sigh, "I have
been forced to shed only too much in the course of my life."

"I do not know exactly," the colonel muttered.

"I have entire confidence in you; you are an intelligent man; I give you
full authority, and whatever you do will be well done. You understand
me, I trust?"

"Yes, yes, general," the officer grunted ill-temperedly, "I understand
you only too well."

"I see----"

"What do you see?" the other interrupted him.

"That, if we succeed, you will be a general and Governor of Sonora. That
is rather a pretty prospect, I fancy, and one worth risking something
for."

"It is useless to remind me of your promises, general; you are well
aware that I am devoted to you."

"I know it, of course, and on that account leave you. A longer
conversation in the moonlight might arouse suspicions. Good night, and
come and breakfast with me tomorrow."

"I will not fail, general. Good night, and I kiss your excellency's
hands."

The general pulled his hat over his eyes, wrapped himself in his cloak,
and went off hastily towards the Calle de Tacuba. On being left alone,
the colonel remained for a moment plunged in deep thought; the office
with which he was intrusted, for he perfectly caught the meaning of
the general's hints, was most serious. He must act vigorously without
compromising his chief, and in the shortest possible period, under the
penalty of being himself arrested and shot in four and twenty hours if
he failed. For the Mexicans, like their old masters the Spaniards, do
not jest in matters connected with revolutions, and boldly cut away the
evil at the root, by killing all the leaders of the abortive conspiracy.

The situation was critical, and he must make up his mind, for the slight
delay might ruin all; but at so late an hour where was he to meet a man
like the Zaragate, who had probably no known domicile, and who led, a
no doubt most irregular life.

Mexico, like all large cities, is amply endowed with suspicious houses,
frequented by rogues of all ages, who are continually wandering about
in search of adventures, more or less lucrative, under the complacent
protection of the moon.

Moreover, although the worthy colonel had, in the course of his life,
frequented very mixed company, as he himself allowed, he was not at all
anxious to venture alone at night into the lower parts of the city, and
enter the velorios, thorough cut-throat dens, filled with robbers and
assassins, in which respectable persons do not even venture in bright
day without a shudder.

At the moment when the colonel mechanically raised his head and looked
despairingly up to heaven, he fancied he saw several suspicious shadows
prowling about him in a suggestive manner. But the colonel was brave,
and the more so, because he had literally nothing to lose, hence he
quietly loosened his sword, opened his cloak, and at the instant when
four or five fellows attacked him at once with machetes and long
navajas, he was on guard according to all the rules of the art, with his
left foot supported a pillar, and his cloak wrapped like a buckler round
his arm.

The attack was a rude one, but the colonel withstood it manfully;
besides, all went on in the Mexican way, without a shout or call for
help. When you are thus attacked in a Mexican street, you feel so
assured of death, that you generally confine yourself to the best
possible defence, without losing time in calling for help, which will
certainly not arrive.

Still, the assailants being armed with short and heavy weapons, had a
marked disadvantage against the colonel's long and thin rapier, which
twisted like a snake, writhed round their weapons, and had already
pricked two of the men sharply enough to make the others reflect, and
display greater prudence in their attack. The colonel felt that they
were giving ground.

"Come on, villains," he exclaimed, as he gave a terrific lunge, and ran
one of the bandits right through the body, who rolled on the pavement
with a yell of pain. "Let us come to an end of this, in the demon's
name!"

"Stop, stop!" the man who seemed the leader of the bandits exclaimed;
"we are mistaken."

As the bandits asked for nothing better than to stop, they retreated a
few steps without hesitation.

"Yes, _Rayo de Dios_, you are mistaken, birbones," the exasperated
colonel shouted.

"Can it possibly be you," the first speaker continued, "Señor Colonel
Don Jaime Lupo?"

"Halloh!" the colonel said, falling back a step in surprise, "who
mentioned my name?"

"I, excellency; a friend."

"A friend? a strange friend who has been trying to assassinate me for
the last ten minutes."

"Believe me, colonel, that had we known whom we had to deal with, we
should never have attacked you. All this is the result of a deplorable
misunderstanding, which you will, however, excuse."

"But who are you, in the demon's name?"

"What, excellency, do you not recognize the Zaragate?"

"The Zaragate!" the colonel exclaimed, with glad surprise. "Well,
scoundrel, are you aware that yours is a singular trade?"

"Alas! excellency, a man must do what he can," the bandit replied, in a
sorrowful voice.

"Hum! then you have turned robber at present?"

The scoundrel drew himself up with dignity.

"No, excellency. I am serving, in the company of these honourable
caballeros the persons who claim my help."

The honourable caballeros, seeing that the affair was going to end
peacefully, had returned their knives to their belts, and seemed
tolerably well satisfied at this unexpected conclusion, with the
exception of the man who had received the last thrust, and surrendered
his felon soul to the fiend; an acquisition, between ourselves, of no
great value to the spirit of darkness.

"Can anyone have requested your services against me, Señor Zaragate?"
the colonel continued, as he returned his sword to its scabbard.

"Not at all, excellency. I have already had the honour of remarking that
it was a mistake; we were waiting here for a young spark, who during
the last week has contracted the bad habit of prowling under the window
of a senator's mistress, and who asked me as a kindness to free him from
this troublesome fellow."

"Caspita! Señor Zaragate, you have a rather quick way with you; and
your senator appears to me somewhat hasty. But as your little matter is
probably spoiled for tonight----"

"I think, excellency, that the gallant heard the clash of steel, and
took very good care not to come on."

"If he did so, he acted wisely; at any rate, if no other motive keeps
you here, and you have no objection to accompany me, I shall feel
obliged by your doing so, for I have to talk with you on very serious
matters, and, in fact, was looking for you."

"Only see what a thing chance is!" the bandit exclaimed.

"Hum! let us hope it will not be quite so brutal next time."

The Zaragate burst into a laugh.

"Stay!" the colonel continued, as he laid a gold coin in his hand, "be
good enough to give this in my name to these honourable caballeros, and
beg them to forgive the rather rough way in which, at the first moment,
I received their advances."

"Oh, they will not owe you a grudge, my dear sir, you may be sure of
that."

The bandits, perfectly reconciled with the colonel by means of the
coin, gave him tremendous bows, accompanied by offers of service, and
took leave of him, after exchanging a few sentences in a whisper with
their chief; then they went off to the right, while the colonel and his
companion turned to the left.

"They seem to be rather determined fellows," the colonel said, in order
to broach his subject.

"Perfect lions, excellency, and obedient as rastreros."

"Excellent; and have you many of that sort under your hand?"

"Nothing would be easier, in the case of need, than to make up a dozen."

"All equally true?"

"All."

"That is really valuable, do you know that, Señor Zaragate; and you are
a lucky caballero!"

"Your excellency flatters me."

"On my word, no. I am expressing my honest opinion, that is all."

"Pardon me, excellency; but may I ask where we are going?"

"Have you an inclination for one direction more than another?"

"Not the slightest, excellency; still, I confess that, as a general
rule, I like to know where I am going."

"Every sensible man ought to be of the same way of thinking. Well, we
are going to my house; have you any objection to that?"

"None at all. I think you said, excellency, that I was a lucky man?"

"Indeed I did, and I repeat that I consider you very fortunate."

"Hum, you know the proverb, excellency, 'everyone knows where the shoe
pinches him.'"

"That is true, and I suppose the shoe pinches you, eh?"

"It does," he replied, with a sigh.

The colonel looked at him anxiously. "I understand the cause of your
grief," he said; "and it is the worse, because there is no remedy for
it."

"Do you think so?"

"Caspita! I am certain of it."

"You may be mistaken, excellency."

"Nonsense! You who so graciously place yourself at the service of those
who have an insult to avenge, are forced to renounce your own vengeance."

"Oh, oh, excellency, what is that you are saying?"

"I am speaking the truth. You hate the Frenchman whom you mentioned to
me today, but you are afraid of him."

"Afraid!" he exclaimed angrily.

"I believe so," the colonel answered coolly.

"Oh! if I only made up my mind to it----"

"Yes," the colonel remarked, with a laugh, "but you will not make up
your mind because, I repeat, you are afraid; and to prove to you the
truth of my assertion, although I do not know the man, and only take
an interest in the matter for your sake, I will make you a wager if you
like."

"A wager?"

"Yes."

"What is it?"

"I bet you that you will not dare avenge yourself on your enemy within
the next four and twenty hours, not even with the help of your twelve
companions."

"And what will you bet, excellency?"

"Well, I am so certain of running no risk, that I will bet you one
hundred ounces. Does that suit you?"

"One hundred ounces!" the bandit exclaimed, his eyes sparkling with
greed. "_Viva Dios!_ I would kill my own brother for such a sum."

"You are flattering yourself, I see."

"Here we are at your door, excellency, so it is needless for me to go
any further. You said one hundred ounces, I think?"

"I did."

"Farewell. The coming day will not end before I am avenged!"

"Nonsense, nonsense! you will think better of it. Good night, Señor
Zaragate."

And the colonel entered his house, muttering to himself, in an aside,
"I fancy I managed that cleverly. If this accursed Frenchman escapes
from the bloodhounds I have let loose on him, he must be the demon the
general calls him."



CHAPTER XXI.

AFTER THE INTERVIEW.


The house taken for Valentine by Mr. Rallier was, as we have already
stated, situated in the Calle de Tacuba, and by a strange accident, in
no way premeditated, only a few yards from the mansion belonging to
General Don Sebastian Guerrero. The latter had no suspicion of this,
for until the moment when the hunter thought it advisable to pay him
a visit, he had been completely ignorant of his enemy's presence in
Mexico, in spite of the crowd of spies whom he paid to inform him of his
arrival in the capital.

The hunter, therefore, would only have had a few steps to go to reach
home after leaving the general. But suspecting that the latter might
have given orders to have his carriage followed, he ordered his coachman
to drive to the Alameda, and thence to the Paseo de Bucareli.

As the night was far advanced, the promenaders had abandoned the
shady walks of the Alameda, which was now completely deserted. This,
doubtless, was what the hunter desired, for, on reaching about the
centre of the drive, he ordered the coachman to stop, and got out with
his companions. After recommending him to watch carefully over his mules
(in Mexico people do not use horses for their carriages), and not let
any one approach him, for fear of one of those surprises so frequent at
this hour at this place, the three men then disappeared in one of the
shady walks, though careful not to go too far, so that they could assist
their coachman in case of need.

Valentine, like all men accustomed to desert life, that is to vast
horizons of verdure, had an instinctive distrust of stone walls,
behind which, in his fancy, a spy was continually listening. Hence,
when he had an important affair to discuss, or a serious matter to
communicate to his friends, he preferred--in spite of the care with
which his house had been chosen, and the faithful friends who passed as
servants there--going to the Alameda, the Paseo de Bucareli, the Vega,
or somewhere in the environs of Mexico, where after posting Curumilla
as a sentry, that is to say, the man in whom he had the most perfect
faith, and whose scent, if I may be allowed the term, was infallible, he
believed that he could safely confide his closest secrets to the friends
he conveyed to these strange open air councils.

On reaching a thick clump of trees the hunter stopped.

"We shall be comfortable here," he said, as he sat down on a stone bench
and invited his friends to imitate him, "and shall be able to talk
without fear."

"The trees have eyes, and the leaves ears," Belhumeur answered
sententiously; "I fear nothing so much in the world as these transparent
screens of verdure, which allow everything to be seen and heard."

"Yes," Valentine remarked with a smile, "if you do not take the
precaution to frighten away spies;" and at the same moment he imitated
the soft cadenced hiss of the coral snake.

A similar hiss was heard from the centre of the clump and seemed like an
echo.

"That is the chief's signal," the Canadian said. "He has been watching
for us there for nearly an hour. Do you now believe that we are in
safety?"

"Certainly; when Curumilla watches over us we have no surprise to
apprehend."

"Let us talk, then," said Don Martial.

"One moment," Valentine remarked, "we must first hear the report of a
friend, which is most valuable, and will doubtless decide the measures
we have to adopt."

"Whom are you alluding to?"

"You shall see," Valentine answered, and clapped his hands thrice softly.

Immediately a slight sound and a gentle rustling of leaves was heard in
a neighbouring thicket, and a man suddenly emerged, about four paces
from the hunters. It was Carnero, the capataz of General Guerrero. He
wore a vicuna skin hat, of which the large brim was bent over his eyes,
and he was wrapped up in a spacious cloak.

"Good evening, señores," he said, with a polite bow, "I have been
awaiting your coming for nearly an hour, and almost despaired of seeing
you tonight."

"We were detained longer than we expected by General Guerrero."

"Do you come from him?"

"Did I not tell you I should call on him?"

"Yes; but I hardly believed that you would have the temerity to venture
so imprudently into the lion's den."

"Nonsense," Valentine said with a disdainful smile, "the lion as you
call him, I assure you, was remarkably tame; he drew in his claws
completely, and received us with the most exquisite politeness."

"In that case take care," the capataz replied, with a significant shake
of the head; "if he received you as you say, and I have no reason to
doubt it, he is, be assured, preparing a terrible countermine against
you."

"I am of the same opinion; the question is, whether we shall allow him
the time to act."

"He is very clever, my dear Valentine," the capataz continued, "and
seems to possess an intuition of evil. In spite of the oath I took to
you when, on your entreaty, I consented to remain in his service, there
are days when, although I possess a thorough knowledge of his character,
he terrifies even me, and I feel on the point of giving up the rude task
which, through devotion to you, I have imposed on myself."

"Courage, my friend; persevere but a few days longer, and, believe me,
we shall be all avenged."

"May heaven grant it!" the capataz said with a sigh; "but I confess that
I dare not believe it, even though it is you who assure me of the fact."

"Have you learnt any important news since our last interview?"

"Only one thing, but I think it is of the utmost gravity for you."

"Speak, my friend."

"What I have to tell you is short and gloomy, señores. The general,
after a secret conversation with his man of business, ordered me to
carry a letter to the Convent of the Bernardines."

"To the convent?" Don Martial exclaimed.

"Silence," said Valentine. "Do you know the contents of this letter?"

"Doña Anita gave it me to read. The general informs the abbess that he
is resolved to finish the matter; that whether his ward be mad or not,
he means to marry her, and that at sunrise on the day after tomorrow, a
priest sent by him will present himself at the convent to arrange the
ceremony."

"Great God! what is to be done?" the Tigrero exclaimed sadly; "how is
the execution of this odious machination to be prevented?"

"Silence," Valentine repeated. "Is that all, Carnero?"

"No; the general adds, that he requests the abbess to prepare the young
lady for this union, and that he will himself call at the convent
tomorrow, in order to explain more fully his inexorable wishes--these
are the very words of the letter."

"Very good, my friend, I thank you for this precious information; it is
of the utmost importance that the general should be prevented from going
to the convent before three o'clock of the tarde. You understand, my
friend, this is of vital importance, so you must manage to effect it."

"Do not be uneasy, my dear Valentine; the general shall not go to the
convent before the hour you indicate, whatever may be the means I am
forced to employ to prevent him."

"I count on your promise, my friend; and now good-bye."

He offered him his hand, which the capataz pressed forcibly.

"When shall I see you, again?" he asked.

"I will soon let you know," the hunter answered.

The capataz bowed and went down a walk; the sound of his footsteps
rapidly decreased, and was quite inaudible within a few minutes.

"My friends," Valentine then said, "we have now arrived at the moment
for the final struggle, which we have so long been preparing. We must
not let ourselves be led away by hatred, but act like judges, not as men
who are avenging themselves. Blood demands blood, it is true, according
to the law of the desert; but, remember, however culpable the man whom
we have condemned may be, his death would be an indelible spot, a brand
of infamy which would sully our honour."

"But this monster," the Tigrero exclaimed, with a passion the more
violent because it was repressed, "is beyond the pale of humanity."

"He may re-enter it to repent."

"Are we priests then to practise forgetfulness of insults?" Don Martial
asked with a fiendish grin.

"No, my friend, there are men in the grand and sublime acceptation of
the term; men who have often been faulty themselves, and who, rendered
better by the life of struggling they have led, and the grief which has
frequently bowed them beneath its iron yoke, inflict a chastisement, but
despise vengeance, which they leave to weak and pusillanimous minds. Who
of you, my friends, would dare to say that he has suffered more than I?
To Him alone will I concede the right of imposing his will on me, and
what He bids me do I will do."

"Forgive me, my friend," the Tigrero answered, "you are ever good, ever
great. God, in imposing on you a heavy task, endowed you at the same
time with an energetic soul, and a heart which seems to expand in your
bosom under the blast of adversity, instead of withering. We, however,
are but common men, in whom the sanguinary instinct of the savage
is constantly revealed in spite of all our efforts, and who know no
other law save that of retaliation. Forget the senseless words my lips
uttered, and be assured that I will ever joyfully obey you, whatever
you may command, persuaded as I am, that you can only ask the man who
has utterly placed himself in your power to do just actions."

The hunter, while his friend was speaking thus in a voice broken by
emotion, had let his head fall on his hands, and seemed absorbed in
gloomy and painful thought.

"I have nothing to forgive you, my friend," he replied in a gentle,
sympathizing voice, "for through my own sufferings I can understand what
yours are. I, too, often feel my heart bound with wrath and indignation;
for, believe me, my friend, I have a constant struggle to wage against
myself, not to let myself be led away to make a vengeance of what must
only be a punishment. But enough on this head; time presses, and we must
arrange our plans, so as not to be foiled by our enemies. I went today
to the palace, where I had a secret conversation with the President of
the Republic, whom, as you are aware, I have known for many years, and
who honours me with a friendship of which I am far from believing myself
worthy. At the end of our interview he handed me a paper, a species of
blank signature, by the aid of which I can do what I think advisable for
the success of our plans."

"Did you obtain such a paper?"

"I have it in my pocket. Now, listen to me. You will go at sunrise
tomorrow to the house of Don Antonio Rallier; he will be informed of
your coming, and you will follow his instructions."

"And you?"

"Do not be anxious about my movements, good friend, and only think of
your own business, for, I repeat, the decisive moment is approaching.
The day after tomorrow begins the feast of the anniversary of Mexican
Independence; that is to say, on that day we shall do battle with our
enemy, and meet him face to face; and the combat will be a rude one, for
this man has a will of iron, and a terrible energy. We shall be able
to conquer him, but not to subdue him, and if we do not take care he
will slip through our hands like a serpent; hence our personal affairs
must be finished tomorrow. Though apparently absent, I shall be really
near you, that is to say, I will help you with all my power. Still, do
not forget that you must act with the most extreme prudence, and, above
all, the greatest moderation; a second of forgetfulness would ruin you,
by alarming the innumerable spies scattered round the Convent of the
Bernardines. I trust that you have heard and understood me, my friend?"

"Yes, Don Valentine."

"And you will act as I recommend?"

"I promise it."

"Reflect, that you are perhaps risking the loss of your future
happiness."

"I will not forget your recommendation, I swear to you; I am risking too
great a stake in this game, which must decide my future life, to let
myself be induced to commit any act of violence."

"Good; I am happy to hear you speak thus; but have confidence, my
friend, I feel certain that we shall succeed."

"May heaven hear you!"

"It always hears those who appeal to it with a pure heart and a lively
faith. Hope, I tell you; and now, my dear Don Martial, permit me to say
a few words to our worthy friend, Belhumeur."

"I will withdraw."

"What for? have I any secrets from you? You can hear what I am going to
say to him."

"You have nothing to say to me, Valentine," the hunter said, with a
shake of his head, "nothing but what I know already; I have no other
interest in what is about to take place beyond the deep friendship that
attached me to the count and now to you. You think that the recollection
I have preserved of our unhappy friend cannot be sufficiently engraven
on my heart for me to risk my life at your side in avenging him; but you
are mistaken, Valentine, that's all. I will not abandon you in the hour
of combat; I will remain at your side even should you order me to leave
you. I tell you that I swear, and have taken an oath to that effect, to
make a shield of my body to protect you, if it should be necessary. Now,
give me your hand, and suppose we say no more about it?"

Valentine remained silent for a moment; a scalding tear ran down his
bronzed cheeks, and he took the hand of the honest, simple-minded
Canadian, and merely uttered the words--

"Thank you; I accept."

They then rose, and returned to their carriage, after Valentine had
warned his faithful bodyguard, Curumilla, by a signal that he could
leave his hiding place, as the interview was over. A quarter of an hour
later the three gentlemen reached the house in the Calle de Tacuba, were
Curumilla was already awaiting them.



CHAPTER XXII

THE BLANK SIGNATURE.


On the morrow, Mexico awoke to a holiday; nothing extraordinary, in
a country where the year is a perpetual holiday, and where the most
frivolous pretext suffices for letting off _cohetes_, that supreme
amusement of the Mexicans.

This time the affair was serious, for the inhabitants wished to
celebrate in a proper manner the anniversary of the Proclamation of
Independence, of which the day to which we allude was the eve.

At sunrise a formidable _bando_ issued from the government palace, and
went through all the streets and squares of the city, announcing with
a mighty clamour of bugles and drums, that on the next day there would
be a bull fight with "Jamaica" and "Monte Parnasso" for the leperos,
high mass celebrated in all the churches, theatres thrown open gratis,
a review of the garrison, and of all the troops quartered sixty miles
round, and fireworks and illuminations at night, with open air balls and
feria.

The government did things nobly, it must be confessed; hence the people
issued from their houses, spread feverishly through the streets at an
early hour, laughing, shouting, and letting off squibs, while singing
the praises of the President of the Republic, and taking, after their
fashion, something on account of the morrow's festival.

Don Martial, in order to throw out the spies doubtless posted round
Valentine's house, had left his friend in the middle of the night, and
gone to his lodgings, and a few minutes before day proceeded to the
house of Mr. Rallier.

Although the sun was not yet above the horizon, the French gentleman was
already up and conversing with his brother Edward, while waiting for the
Tigrero. Edward was ready to start, and his brother was giving him his
parting recommendations.

"You are welcome," the Frenchman said cordially, on perceiving Don
Martial; "I was busy with our affair. My brother Edward is just off to
our quinta, whither my mother and my brother Auguste proceeded two days
ago, so that we might find all in order on our arrival."

Although the Tigrero did not entirely understand what the banker said to
him, he considered it unnecessary to show it, and hence bowed without
answering.

"All is settled, then," Mr. Rallier continued, addressing his brother;
"get everything ready, for we shall probably arrive before midday--that
is to say, in time for lunch."

"Your country house is not far from the city?" the Tigrero asked, for
the sake of saying something.

"Hardly five miles; it is at St. Angel; but in an excellent position
for defence, in the event of an attack. You are aware that St. Angel
is built on the side of an extinct volcano, and surrounded by lava and
spongy scoria, which renders an approach very difficult."

"I must confess my ignorance of the fact."

"In a country like this, where the government is bound to think of its
own defence before troubling itself about individuals, it is as well to
take one's precautions, and be always perfectly on guard. And now be
off, my dear Edward; your weapons are all right, and two resolute peons
will accompany you; besides, the sun is now rising, and you will have a
pleasant ride; so good-by till we meet again."

The two brothers shook hands, and the young man, after bowing to Don
Martial, left the house, followed by two servants well mounted, and
armed like himself. During this conversation the peons had put the
horses in a close carriage.

"Get in," said Mr. Rallier.

"What!" Don Martial replied, "are we going to drive?"

"By Jove! do you think I would venture to go to the convent on
horseback? Why, we could not go along a street before we were
recognized."

"But this carriage will betray you."

"I admit it; but no one will know whom it contains when the shutters are
drawn up, which I shall be careful to do before leaving the house. Come,
get in."

The Tigrero placed himself by the Frenchman's side; the latter pulled
up the shutters, and started at a gallop in a direction diametrically
opposed to that which it should have followed, in order to reach the
convent.

"Where are we going?" the Tigrero asked presently.

"To the Convent of the Bernardines."

"I fancy we are not going the right road."

"That is possible, but, at any rate, it is the safest."

"I humbly confess that I cannot understand it at all."

Mr. Rallier began laughing.

"My good fellow," he replied, "you will understand at the right time,
so be easy. You need only know, that in acting as I am doing, I am
carrying out to the letter the instructions of Valentine, my friend and
yours. It was not for nothing that he has so long borne the name of the
Trail-hunter; besides, you remember the prairie adage, which has always
appeared to me full of good sense, 'The shortest road from one point to
another is a crooked line.' Well, we are following the crooked line,
that is all. Besides, in all that is about to take place, you must
remain completely out of the question, and restrict yourself to being a
spectator, rather than an actor, and willing to obey me in everything I
may order. Does this part displease you?"

The Frenchman said this with the merry accent and delightful simplicity
which formed the basis of his character, and which caused everybody to
like him whom accident brought in contact with him.

"I have no repugnance to obey you, Señor Don Antonio," the Tigrero
answered. "The confidence our common friend places in you is a sure
guarantee to me of your intentions. Hence dispose of me as you think
proper, without fearing the slightest objection on my part."

"That is the way to talk," the banker said, with a laugh. "Now, to
begin, my dear señor, you will do me the pleasure of changing your
dress, for the one you wear is slightly too worldly for the place to
which we are going."

"Change my dress?" the Tigrero exclaimed. "Diablos! you ought to have
told me so at your house."

"Unnecessary, my dear sir. I have all you require here."

"Here?"

"Well, you shall see," he said, as he took from one of the coach pockets
a Franciscan's gown, while from the other he drew a pair of sandals and
a cord. "Have you not worn this dress before?"

"I have."

"Well, you are going to put it on again, and for the following reasons:
At the convent, people believe (or pretend to believe, which comes to
the same thing) that you are a Franciscan monk. For the sake, then, of
persons who are not in the secret, it is necessary that I should be
accompanied by a monk, and more, that they may be able, if required, to
take their oaths to the fact."

"I obey you. But will not your coachman be surprised at seeing a
Franciscan emerge from the carriage into which he showed a caballero?"

"My coachman? Pardon me, but I do not think you looked at him?"

"Indeed, I did not. All these Indians are alike, and equally hideous."

"That is true; however, look at him."

Don Martial bent forward, and slightly lowered the shutter.

"Curumilla!" he cried, in amazement, as he drew back. "He, and so well
disguised?"

"Do you now believe that he will be surprised?"

"I was wrong."

"No, but you do not take the trouble to reflect."

"Well, I will put on the gown since I must. Still, with your permission,
I will keep my weapons under it."

"Caspita! my permission? On the contrary, I order you to do so. But what
are they?"

"You shall see. A machete, a knife, and a pair of pistols."

"That is first-rate. If necessary, I shall be able to find you a rifle.
Trust to me for that."

While talking thus, the Tigrero had changed his dress; that is to say,
he had simply put the gown over his other clothes, fastened the rope
round his body, and substituted the sandals for his boots.

"There," the Frenchman continued, "you are a perfect monk."

"No; I want something more, something which is even indispensable."

"What's that?"

"The hat."

"That's true."

"That part of my costume I hardly know how we shall obtain."

"Man of little faith!" the Frenchman said with a smile, "see, and be
confounded!"

While speaking thus he raised the front cushion, opened the box it
covered, and pulled out the hat of a monk of St. Francis, which he gave
the Tigrero.

"And now do you want anything else, pray?" he asked, mockingly.

"Indeed, no. Why, your carriage is a perfect locomotive shop!"

"Yes, it contains a little of everything. But we have arrived," he
added, seeing the carriage stop. "You remember that you must in no way
make yourself prominent, and simply confine yourself to doing what I
tell you. That is settled, I think?"

The Frenchman opened the door, for the carriage had really stopped
in front of the Convent of the Bernardines. Two or three ill-looking
fellows were prowling about: and, in spite of their affected
indifference, it was easy to recognize them for spies. The Frenchman and
his companion were not deceived. They got out with an indifference as
well assumed as that of the spies, and approached the door slowly, which
was opened at their first knock, and closed again behind them with a
speed that proved the slight confidence the sister porter placed in the
individuals left outside.

"What do you desire, señores?" she asked, politely, after curtseying to
the newcomers with a smile of recognition.

"My dear sister," the Frenchman answered, "be good enough to inform
the holy mother abbess of our visit, and ask her to favour us with an
interview for a few moments."

"It is still very early, brother," the nun answered, "and I do not know
if holy mother can receive you at this moment."

"Merely mention my name to her, sister, and I feel convinced that she
will make no difficulty about receiving us."

"I doubt it, brother, for, as I said before, it is very early. Still, I
am willing to tell her, in order to prove to you my readiness to serve
you."

"I feel deeply grateful to you for the kindness, sister."

The sister then left the parlour, after begging the two gentlemen to
wait a moment. During her absence the Frenchman and his companion did
not exchange a syllable; however, this absence was short, and only
lasted a few minutes.

Without speaking, the sister made the visitors a sign to follow her,
and led them to the parlour where we have already taken the reader, and
where the abbess was waiting for them.

The Mother Superior was pale, and seemed anxious and preoccupied. She
invited the two gentlemen to sit down, and waited silently till they
addressed her. They, on their side, seemed to be waiting for her to
inquire the nature of their visit; but, as she did not do so, and this
silence threatened to be prolonged for some time, Mr. Rallier resolved
on breaking it.

"I had the honour, madam," he said, with a respectful bow, "to send you
yesterday, by one of my servants, a letter, in which I informed you of
this morning's visit."

"Yes, caballero," she at once, answered, "I duly received this letter,
and your sister Helena is ready to go away with you, whenever you
express the wish. Still permit me to make one request of you."

"Speak, madam, and if I can be of any service to you, believe me, that I
shall eagerly seize the opportunity."

"I know not, caballero, how to explain myself, for what I have to say
to you is really so strange that I fear lest it should call up a smile
to your lips. Although Doña Helena has only been a few months in our
convent, she has made herself so beloved by all her companions, through
her charming character, that her departure is an occasion of mourning
for all of us."

"You render me very happy and very proud by speaking thus of my sister,
madam."

"This praise is only the expression of the strictest truth, caballero.
We are all really most grieved to see her leave us thus. Still, I should
not have ventured thus to make myself the interpreter of our regrets,
were there not a very strong reason that renders it almost a duty to
speak to you."

"I am listening to you, madam, though I can guess beforehand what you
are going to say to me."

She looked at him in surprise.

"You guess! Oh, it is impossible, señor," she exclaimed.

The Frenchman smiled.

"My sister, Doña Helena, as is generally the case in convents, has
chosen one of her companions, whom she loves more than the others, and
made her her intimate friend. Is such the case, madam?"

"How do you know it?"

He continued; with a smile--

"Now, this young lady, so beloved not only by Helena but by you,
madam, and all your community, is a gentle, kind, loving girl, who, in
consequence of a great misfortune, became insane, but whom your tender
care has restored to reason. Still, you keep the latter fact a profound
secret, before all from her guardian, who, not contented with having
stripped her of her fortune, now insists of robbing her of her happiness
by forcing her to marry him."

"Señor, señor," the abbess exclaimed, as she rose from her seat, with
an astonishment blended with terror, "who are you that you know so many
things of which I believed the whole world ignorant?"

"Who am I, madam? the brother of Helena, that is to say, a man in whom
you can place the most entire confidence. Hence permit me to proceed."

The abbess, still suffering from extreme agitation, sat down again.

"Go on, caballero," she said.

"The guardian of Doña Anita, either that he has suspicion, or for some
other motive, wrote to you yesterday, ordering you to prepare her to
marry him within twenty-four hours. Since the receipt of this fatal
letter, Doña Anita has been plunged in the deepest despair, a despair
further heightened by the sudden departure of my sister, the only friend
in whose arms she can safely reveal her heart's secrets. But you,
madam, who are so holy and good, are aware that God can at his pleasure
confound the projects of the wicked, and change wormwood into honey. Did
you not receive a visit yesterday from Don Serapio de la Ronda?"

"Yes, that gentleman deigned to visit me a few moments before I
received the fatal letter to which you have referred."

"Did not Don Serapio, on leaving you, say these words: 'Be kind enough
to inform Doña Anita that a friend is watching over her; that this
friend has already given her unequivocal proofs of the interest he
takes in her happiness, and that, on the day when she again sees the
Franciscan monk, to whom she confessed once before, all her misfortunes
will be ended?'"

"Yes, Don Serapio did utter those words."

"Well, madam, I am sent to you, not only by him, but by another person,
who is no less than the President of the Republic, not only to take away
my sister but also to ask you to deliver up to me Doña Anita, who will
accompany her."

"Heaven is my witness, señor, that I would be delighted to do what you
ask of me. Unhappily, it is not in my power; Doña Anita was entrusted
to me by her sole relation, who is at the same time her guardian, and
though he is unworthy of that title, and my heart bleeds in refusing
you, it is to him alone that I am bound to deliver her."

"This objection, madam, the justice of which I fully appreciate, has
been foreseen by the persons whose representative I am. Hence they
consulted on the means to remove the scruples by entirely releasing you
from responsibility. Father, give this lady the paper, of which you are
the bearer."

Without uttering a word, Don Martial took from his pocket the blank
signature Valentine had entrusted to him, and handed it to the abbess.

"What is this?" she asked.

"Madam," the Frenchman answered, "that paper is a blank signature of the
President of the Republic, who orders you to deliver Doña Anita into my
hands."

"I see it," she said, sorrowfully; "unfortunately this blank signature,
which would everywhere else have the strength of the law, is powerless
here. We only indirectly depend on the temporal power, but are
completely subjugated to the spiritual power, and we can only receive
orders from it."

The Tigrero took a side glance, full of despair, at his companion, whose
face was still smiling.

"What would you require, madam," he continued, "in order to consent to
give up this unhappy young lady to me?"

"Alas, señor, it is not I who refuse compliance. Heaven is my witness
that it is my greatest desire to see her escape from her persecutor."

"I am thoroughly convinced of that, madam; that is why, feeling
persuaded of your good feeling towards your charge, I ask you to tell me
what authority you require in order to give her up to me."

"I cannot, señor, allow Doña Anita to quit this convent without a
perfectly regular order, signed by Monseigneur the Archbishop of Mexico,
who alone has the right to command here, and whom I am compelled to
obey."

"And if I had that order, madam, all your scruples would be removed?"

"Yes, all, señor."

"You would have no further difficulty in allowing Doña Anita to depart?"

"I would deliver her to you at once, señor."

"Since that is the case, madam, I will ask you to do so, for I have
brought you that order."

"You have it?" she said, with undisguised delight.

"Here it is," he answered, as he took a paper from his pocketbook, and
handed it to her.

She opened it at once, and eagerly perused it.

"Oh now," she continued, "Doña Anita is free, and I will----"

"One moment, madam," he interrupted her, "have you carefully read the
order I had the honour of giving you?"

"Yes, sir."

"In that case be kind enough to allow the young ladies to put on secular
clothing, and, as their departure must be kept secret, allow my carriage
to enter the front courtyard. I fancied I saw ill-looking fellows
prowling about the neighbourhood, who looked to me like spies."

"What must I say, though, to the young lady's guardian? I am going to
see him today."

"I am aware of that, madam. Gain time; tell him that his ward is
ill; that you have succeeded in gaining her consent to the projected
marriage, but, on the condition that it be deferred for eight and forty
hours. It is a falsehood I am suggesting to you, madam, but it is
necessary, and I feel convinced that heaven will pardon it."

"Oh, do not be anxious about that, señor. I will gladly take on myself
the responsibility of this falsehood; Doña Anita's guardian will not
dare to oppose so short a delay, however well inclined he may be to do
so: but in forty-eight hours?"

"In forty-hours, madam," the Frenchman answered in a hollow voice,
"General Guerrero will not come to claim the hand of Doña Anita."



CHAPTER XXIII

ON THE ROAD.


All the scruples of the Mother Superior--honourable scruples, let us
hasten to add--having thus been removed, one after the other, by Mr.
Rallier, by means of the double orders he had been careful to provide
himself with, the next thing was to see about getting the two boarders
away without further day.

The abbess, who understood the importance of a speedy conclusion,
left her visitors in the parlour, and, in order to avoid any
misunderstanding, herself undertook to fetch the two young ladies, after
giving a lay sister orders to call the carriage into the first courtyard.

In a religious community, one of women before all--we do not mean
this satirically--whatever may be done, and whatever precautions may
be taken, nothing can long be kept a secret. Hence, the two gentlemen
had scarcely entered the speaking room of the abbess ere the rumour of
the departure of Doña Anita and Doña Helena spread among the nuns with
extreme rapidity. Who spread the news no one could have told, and yet
everybody spoke about it as a certainty.

The young ladies were naturally the first informed. At the outset their
anxiety was great, and Doña Anita trembled, for she believed that
she was fetched by order of her guardian, and that the monk speaking
with the abbess was the one sent by the general to make immediate
preparations for her marriage. Hence, when the abbess entered Doña
Helena's cell, she found the pair in each other's arms, and weeping
bitterly.

Fortunately, the mistake was soon cleared up, and the sorrow converted
into joy when the abbess, who, through sympathy, wept as much as
her boarders, explained that of the two strangers, whom they feared
so greatly, one was the brother of Doña Helena, and the other the
Franciscan monk whom Doña Anita had already seen, and that they had
come, not to add to her sufferings, but to remove her from the tyranny
that oppressed her.

Doña Helena, on hearing that her brother was at the convent, bounded
with joy, and removed her friend's last doubts, for, like all unhappy
persons. Doña Anita clung greedily to this new hope of salvation, which
was thus allowed to germinate in her heart at a moment when she believed
that she had no chance left of escaping her evil destiny.

The abbess then urged them to complete their preparations for departure,
helped them to change their dress, and, after embracing them several
times, conducted them to the parlour.

In order to avoid any disturbance when the young ladies left the
convent, where everybody adored them, the abbess had the good idea of
sending the nuns to their cells. It was a very prudent measure, which,
by preventing leave-taking, also prevented any noisy manifestations of
cries and tears, the sound of which might have been heard outside, and
have fallen on hostile ears.

The leave-taking was short, for there was no time to lose in vain
compliments. The young ladies drew down their veils, and proceeded to
the courtyard under the guidance of the abbess. The carriage had been
drawn as close as possible to the cloisters, and the court was entirely
deserted, only the abbess, the sister porter, and a confidential nun
witnessing the departure.

As the Frenchman opened the door of the carriage, a piece of paper lying
on the seat caught his eyes. He seized it without being seen, and hid it
in the hollow of his hand. After kissing the good abbess for the last
time, the young ladies took the back seat, and Don Martial the front, as
did Mr. Rallier, after previously whispering to the coachman, that is,
to Curumilla, two Indian words, to which he replied by a sinister grin.
Then, at a signal from the abbess, the convent gates were opened, and
the carriage started at full speed, drawn by six powerful mules.

The crowd silently made room for it to pass, the gates closed again
immediately, and the carriage almost immediately disappeared round the
corner of the next street.

It was about seven o'clock in the morning. The fugitives--for we can
give them no other name--galloped in silence for the first ten or
fifteen minutes, when the Frenchman gently touched his companion's
shoulder, and offered him the paper he had found in the carriage.

"Read!" he said.

The paper only contained two words, hurriedly written in pencil--

"Take care."

"Oh, oh," the Tigrero exclaimed, turning pale, "what does this mean?"

"By Jove," the Frenchman answered cautiously, "it means that in spite of
our precautions, or perhaps on account of them, for in these confounded
affairs a man never knows how to act in order to deceive the persons he
fears, we are discovered, and probably have spies at our heels."

"Caray! and what will become of the young ladies in the event of a
dispute?"

"In the event of a fight you mean, for there will be an obstinate one,
I foretell. Well, we will defend them as well as we can."

"I know that; but suppose we are killed?"

"Ah! there is that chance; but I never think of that till after the
event."

"Oh heaven!" Doña Anita murmured, as she hid her head in her friend's
bosom.

"Re-assure yourself, señorita," the Frenchman continued, "and, above
all, be silent, for the sound of your voice might be recognized, and
change into certainty what may still be only a suspicion. Besides,
remember that if you have enemies, you have also friends, since they
took the precaution to warn us. Now, in all probability, this unknown
offerer of advice will not have stopped there, but thought of the means
to come to our assistance in the most effectual manner."

The carriage went along in the meanwhile at a breakneck pace, and had
nearly reached the city gates. We will now tell what had happened, and
how the Frenchman was warned of the danger that threatened him.

General Don Sebastian Guerrero had organized a band of spies composed
of leperos and scoundrels, who, however, possessed acknowledged
cleverness and skill, and if Valentine had escaped their surveillance
and foiled their machinations, it was solely through the habits which
he had contracted during a lengthened life in the prairies, and which
had become an intuition with him, so far did he carry the quality of
scenting and unmasking an enemy, whatever might be the countenance he
borrowed. But if he had not been recognized, it was not the same with
his friends, and the latter had not been able long to escape the lynx
eyes of the general's spies.

The Convent of the Bernardines had naturally become for some days past
the centre of the surveillance, as it were the spying headquarters, of
Don Sebastian's agents. The arrival of a carriage with closed blinds
at the convent at once gave the alarm; and though Mr. Rallier was not
personally known, the fact of his being a Frenchman was sufficient to
rouse suspicions.

While the Frenchman and the monk were conversing in the parlour with the
abbess, a lepero pretended to hurt himself, and was conveyed by two of
his acolytes to the convent gate, and the good hearted porter had not
refused him admission, but, on the contrary, had eagerly given him all
the assistance his condition seemed to require.

While the lepero was gradually regaining his senses, his comrades asked
questions with that captious skill peculiar to their Mexican nature.
The sister porter was a worthy woman, endowed with a very small stock
of brains, and fond of talking. On finding this opportunity to indulge
in her favourite employment, she was easily led on, and, almost of her
own accord, told all she knew, not suspecting the harm she did. Let us
hasten to add that this all was very little; but, being understood and
commented on by intelligent men interested in discovering the truth, it
was extremely serious.

When the three leperos had drawn all they could out of the sister
porter, they hastened to leave the convent. Just as they emerged into
the street, they found themselves face to face with Ño Carnero, the
general's capataz, whom his master had sent on a tour of discovery. They
ran up to him, and in a few words told him what had happened.

This was grave, and the capataz trembled inwardly at the revelation, for
he understood the terrible danger by which his friends were menaced. But
Carnero was a clever man, and at once made up his mind to his course of
action.

He greatly praised the leperos for the skill they had displayed in
discovering the secret, put some piastres into their hands, and sent
them off to the general, with the recommendation, which was most
unnecessary, to make all possible speed. Then, in his turn, he began
prowling round the convent, and especially the carriage, which Curumilla
made no difficulty in letting him approach, for the reader will
doubtless have guessed that the animosity the Indian had on several
occasions evinced for the capataz was pretended, and that they were
perfectly good friends when nobody could see or hear them.

The capataz skilfully profited by the confusion created in the crowd by
the carriage entering the convent, to throw in, unperceived, the paper
Mr. Rallier had found. Certain now that his friends would be on their
guard, he went off in his turn, after recommending the spies he left
before the convent to keep up a good watch, and walked in the direction
of the Plaza Mayor smoking a cigarette.

At the corner of the Calle de Plateros he saw a man standing in front of
a pulquería, engaged in smoking an enormous cigar. The capataz entered
the pulquería, drank a glass of Catalonian refino, but while paying, he
clumsily let fall a piastre which rolled to the foot of the man standing
in the doorway. The latter stooped, picked up the coin, and restored it
to its owner, and the capataz walked out, doubtless satisfied with the
quality of the spirit he had imbibed, and cautiously continued his way.
On reaching the plaza again, the man of the pulquería, who was probably
going the same road as himself, was at his heels.

"Belhumeur?" the capataz asked in a low voice, without turning round.

"Eh?" the other answered in the same key.

"The general knows the affair at the convent; if you do not make haste,
Don Martial, Don Antonio, and the two ladies will be attacked on the
road while going to the quinta; warn your friend, for there is not a
moment to lose. Devil take the cigarette!" he added, throwing it away,
"it has gone out."

When he turned back, Belhumeur had disappeared; the Canadian with
his characteristic agility was already running in the direction of
Valentine's house. As for the capataz, as he was in no particular hurry,
he quietly walked back to the general's, where he found his master in a
furious passion with all his people, and more particularly with himself.

By an accident, too portentous not to have been arranged beforehand, not
one of his horses could be mounted; three were foundered, four others
had been bled, and the last three were without shoes. In the midst of
this the capataz arrived with a look of alarm, which only heightened his
master's passion. Carnero prudently allowed the general's fury to grow a
little calm, and then answered him.

He proved to him in the first place that he would commit a serious act
of imprudence by himself starting in pursuit of the fugitives in the
present state of affairs, and especially on the eve of a pronunciamiento
which was about to decide his fortunes. Then he remarked to him that
six peons, commanded by a resolute man, would be sufficient to conquer
two men probably badly armed, and, in addition, shut up in a carriage
with two ladies, whom they would not expose to the risk of being killed.
These reasons being good, the general listened and yielded to them.

"Very good," he said; "Carnero, you are one of my oldest servants, and
to you I entrust the duty of bringing back my niece."

The capataz made a wry face.

"There will be probably plenty of blows to receive, and very little
profit to derive from such an expedition."

"I believed that you were devoted to me," the general remarked bitterly.

"Your excellency is not mistaken; I am truly devoted to you, but I have
also a fondness for my skin."

"I will give you twenty-five ounces for every slit it receives; is that
enough?"

"Come, I see that your excellency wishes me to be cut into mincemeat!"
the capataz exclaimed joyously.

"Then that is agreed?"

"I should think so, excellency; at that price a man would be a fool to
refuse."

"But about horses?"

"We have at least ten or a dozen in the corral."

"That is true; I did not think of that," the general exclaimed, striking
his forehead; "have seven lassoed at once."

"Where must I take the señorita?"

"Bring her to this house, for she shall not set foot in the convent
again."

"Very good; when shall I start, general?"

"At once, if it be possible."

"In twenty minutes I shall have left the house."

But the general's impatience was so great that he accompanied his
capataz to the corral, watched all the preparations for the departure,
and did not return to his apartments till he was certain that Carnero
had started in pursuit of the fugitives, with the peons he had selected.

In the meanwhile the carriage dashed along; it passed at full gallop
through the San Lázaro gate, then turned suddenly to the right, and
entered a somewhat narrow street. At about the middle of this street it
stopped before a house of rather modest appearance, the gate of which
at once opened, and a man came out holding the bridles of two prairie
mustangs completely harnessed, and with a rifle at each saddle-bow. The
Frenchman got out, and invited his companion to follow his example.

"Resume your usual dress," he said, as he led him inside the house.

The Tigrero obeyed with an eager start of joy. While he doffed his gown,
his companion mounted, after saying to the young ladies--

"Whatever happens, not a word--not a cry; keep the shutters up; we will
gallop at the door, and remember your lives are in peril."

Martial at this moment came out of the house attired as a caballero.

"To horse, and let us be off," said Mr. Rallier.

The Tigrero bounded onto the mustang held in readiness for him, and
the carriage, in which the mules had been changed, started again at
full speed. The house at which they had stopped was the one hired by
Valentine to keep his stud at.

Half an hour thus passed, and the carriage disappeared in the thick
cloud of dust it raised as it dashed along. Don Martial felt new born;
the excitement had restored his old ardour as if by enchantment;
he longed to be face to face with his foe, and at length come to a
settlement with him. The Frenchman was calmer; though brave to rashness,
it was with secret anxiety he foresaw the probability of a fight, in
which his sister might be wounded; still he was resolved, in the event
of the worst, to confront the danger, no matter the number of men who
ventured to attack them.

All at once the Indian uttered a cry. The two men looked back, and saw
a body of men coming up at full speed. At this moment the carriage was
following a road bounded on one side by a rather thick chaparral, on the
other by a deep ravine.

At a sign from the Frenchman the carriage was drawn across the road, and
the ladies got out; went, under Curumilla's protection, to seek shelter
behind the trees. The two men, with their rifles to their shoulders
and fingers on the triggers, stood firmly in the middle of the road,
awaiting the onset of their adversaries, for, in all probability, the
newcomers were enemies.



CHAPTER XXIV.

A SKIRMISH.


Curumilla, after concealing, with that Indian skill he so thoroughly
possessed, the young ladies at a spot where they were thoroughly
protected from bullets, had placed himself, rifle in hand, not by the
side of the two riders, but, with characteristic redskin prudence, he
ambuscaded himself behind the carriage, probably reflecting that he
represented the entire infantry force, and not caring, through a point
of honour, very absurd in his opinion, to expose himself to a death not
only certain, but useless to those he wished to defend.

The horsemen, however, on coming within range of the persons they were
pursuing, stopped, and by their gestures seemed to evince a hesitation
the fugitives did not at all understand, after the fashion in which they
had hitherto been pursued. The motive for this hesitation, which the
Frenchman and his companions could not know, and which perplexed them so
greatly, was very simple.

Carnero, for it was the general's capataz who was pursuing the carriage,
with his peons, all at once perceived, with a secret pleasure, it is
true, though he was careful not to let his companions notice it, that
while they were pursuing the carriage, other horsemen were pursuing
them, and coming up at headlong speed. On seeing this, as we said, the
party halted, much disappointed and greatly embarrassed as to what they
had better do.

They were literally placed between two fires, and were the attacked
instead of the assailants; the situation was critical, and deserved
serious consideration. Carnero suggested a retreat, remarking, with a
certain amount of reason, that the sides were no longer equal, and that
success was highly problematical. The peons, all utter ruffians, and
expressly chosen by the general, but who entertained a profound respect
for the integrity of their limbs, and were but very slightly inclined
to have them injured in so disadvantageous a contest with people who
would not recoil, were disposed to follow the advice of the capataz and
retire, before a retreat became impossible.

Unhappily, the Zaragate was among the peons. Believing, from his
conversation with the colonel, that he knew better than anyone the
general's intentions, and attracted by the hope of a rich reward if he
succeeded in delivering him of his enemy, that is to say, in killing
Valentine; and, moreover, probably impelled by the personal hatred he
entertained for the hunter, he would not listen to any observation, and
swore with horrible oaths that he would carry out the general's orders
at all hazards, and that, since the persons they were ordered to stop
were only a few paces before them, they ought not to retire until they
had, at least, attempted to perform their duty; and that if his comrades
were such cowards as to desert him, he would go on alone at his own
risk, certain that the general would be satisfied with the way in which
he behaved.

After a declaration so distinct and peremptory, any hesitation became
impossible, the more so as the horsemen were rapidly coming up, and if
the capataz hesitated much longer he would be attacked in the rear. Thus
driven out of his last entrenchment, and compelled against his will to
fight, Carnero gave the signal to push on ahead.

But the peons had scarce started, ere three shots were fired, and three
men rolled in the dust. The newcomers, in this way, warned their friends
to hold their ground, and that they were bringing help. The dismounted
peons were not wounded, though greatly shaken by their fall, and unable
to take part in the fight; their horses alone were hit, and that so
cleverly, that they at once fell.

"Eh, eh!" the capataz said, as he galloped on; "these pícaros have a
very sure hand. What do you think of it?"

"I say that there are still four of us; that is double the number of
those waiting for us down there, and we are sufficient to master them."

"Don't be too sure, my good friend, Zaragate," the capataz said with a
grin; "they are men made of iron, who must be killed twice over before
they fall."

The Tigrero and his companions had heard shots and seen the peons bite
the dust.

"There is Valentine," said the Frenchman.

"I believe so," Don Martial replied.

"Shall we charge?"

"Yes."

And digging in their spurs, they dashed at the peons.

Valentine and his two comrades, Belhumeur and Black Elk (for the
Frenchman was not mistaken, it was really the hunter coming up, whom the
Canadian had warned) fell on the peons simultaneously with Don Martial
and his companion.

A terrible, silent, and obstinate struggle went on for some minutes
between these nine men; the foes had seized each other round the body,
as they were too close to use firearms, and tried to stab each other.
Nothing was heard but angry curses and panting, but not a word or cry,
for what is the use of insulting when you can kill?

The Zaragate, so soon as he recognized the hunter, dashed at him.
Valentine, although taken off his guard, offered a vigorous resistance;
the two men were entwined like serpents, and, in their efforts to
dismount each other, at last both fell, and rolled beneath the feet of
the combatants who, without thinking of them, or perceiving their fall,
continued to attack each other furiously.

The hunter was endowed with great muscular strength and unequalled
science and agility; but on this occasion he had found an adversary
worthy of him. The Zaragate, some years younger than Valentine, and
possessed of his full bodily strength, while urged on by the love of a
rich reward, made superhuman efforts to master his opponent and plunge
his navaja into his throat. Several times had each of them succeeded
in getting the other underneath, but, as so frequently happens in
wrestling, a sudden movement of the shoulders or loins had changed the
position of the adversaries and brought the one beneath who a moment
previously had been on the top.

Still Valentine felt that his strength was becoming exhausted;
the unexpected resistance he met with from an enemy apparently so
little worthy of him, exasperated him and made him lose his coolness.
Collecting all his remaining vigour to attempt a final and decisive
effort, he succeeded in getting his enemy once again under him, and
pinned him down; but at the same moment Valentine uttered a cry of pain
and rolled on the ground--a horse's kick had broken his left arm.

The Zaragate sprang up with a tiger's bound, and bursting into a yell
of delight, placed his knee on his enemy's chest, at the same time as
he prepared to bury his navaja in his heart. Valentine felt that he was
lost, and did not attempt to avoid the death that threatened him.

"Poor Louis," he merely said, looking firmly and intrepidly at the
bandit.

"Ah, ah!" the Zaragate said, with a ferocious grin, "I hold my vengeance
at length, accursed Trail-hunter."

He did not complete the sentence; suddenly seized by his long hair,
while a knee, thrust between his shoulders, forced him to bend back, he
saw, as in a horrible dream, a ferocious face grinning above his head.
With a fearful groan he rolled on the ground; a knife had been buried in
his heart, while his scalp, which was suddenly removed, left his denuded
skull to inundate with blood the ground around.

Curumilla raised in his arms the body of his friend, whose life he had
just saved once again, and bore it to the side of the road. Valentine
had fainted.

The chief, so soon as he saw his friends charge the peons, left his
ambush, and while careful to remain behind them, followed them to the
battlefield. He had watched eagerly the long struggle between the hunter
and the Zaragate; trying vainly to assist his friend, but never able
to succeed. The two enemies were so entwined, their movements were so
rapid, and they changed their position so suddenly, that the chief was
afraid lest he might wound his friend in attempting to help him. Hence
he awaited with extreme anxiety an opportunity so long delayed, and
which the Zaragate himself offered by losing his time in insulting his
enemy instead of killing him at once, when the injury he received left
him defenceless in the bandit's power.

The Araucano bounded like a wild beast on the Mexican, and without
hesitation scalped and stabbed him with the agility characteristic of
the redskins, and which he himself possessed in so high a degree.

Almost at the same moment the horsemen also finished their fight. The
peons had offered a vigorous resistance, but being badly supported
by the capataz, who was disabled at the beginning of the skirmish by
Don Martial, and seeing the Zaragate dead and three of their friends
dismounted and incapable of coming to their assistance, they gave in.

The capataz had been wounded at his own request by Don Martial, in order
to save appearance with the general; he had a wide gash on his right
arm, very severe at the first glance, but insignificant in reality. A
peon had been almost smashed by Belhumeur, so that the field of battle
fairly remained in the hands of the hunters.

When their victory was insured they assembled anxiously round
Valentine, for they were alarmed at his condition, and most anxious
to be reassured. Valentine, whose arm Curumilla had at once set, with
the skill and coolness of an old practitioner, soon reopened his eyes,
reassured his friends by a smile, and offered the Indian chief his
right hand, which the latter laid on his heart with an expression of
indescribable happiness, as he uttered his favourite exclamation of Ugh!
the only word he permitted himself to use in joy or in sorrow, when he
felt himself choking with internal emotion.

"Señores," the hunter said, "it is only an arm broken; thanks to the
chief, I have had an easy escape. Let us resume our journey before other
enemies come up."

"And we, señor?" the capataz cried humbly.

Valentine rose with the chiefs assistance, and took a furious glance at
the peons. "As for you, miserable assassins," he said with a terrible
accent, "return to your master and tell him in what way you were
received. But it is not sufficient to have chastised your perfidy, I
must have revenge for the odious snare into which my friends and I all
but fell. I will learn whether in open day, and some half a dozen miles
from Mexico, bandits can thus attack peaceable travellers with impunity.
Begone!"

Valentine was slightly mistaken, for, although it was really the
intention of the peons to attack them, the hunters had actually begun
the fight by dismounting the three peons. But the fellows, convicted by
their conscience, did not notice this delicate distinction, and were
very happy to get off so cheaply, and be enabled to return peaceably,
when they feared that their conquerors would hand them over to the
police as they had a perfect right to do.

Thus, far from raising any objections, they broke forth into apologies
and protestations of devotion, and hastened off, not troubling
themselves to pick up the body of their defunct comrade, el Zaragate,
which they left to the vultures which settled on it, so soon as the
highway was clear again.

The capataz, under the pretext that his wound was very painful, but in
reality to give Valentine and his friends the requisite time to secure
themselves temporarily from pursuit, insisted on returning to the city
slowly, so that they did not reach the general's mansion till two hours
had elapsed.

So soon as the peons in obedience to the hunter's orders had left the
battlefield, he, on his part, gave his companions the signal to start.
Don Martial had hurried to reassure the ladies, who were standing more
dead than alive at the spot where the chief had concealed them. He made
them get into the carriage again, without telling them anything except
that the danger was past, and that the rest of the journey would be
performed in safety.

Valentine's friends tried in vain to induce him to get into the carriage
with the ladies. He would not consent, but insisted on mounting his
horse, assuring them, in the far from probable event of their being
attacked again, that he could still be of some service to his companions
in spite of his broken arm. The latter were too well acquainted with his
inflexible will to press him further, so Curumilla remounted the coach
box, and they started.

The rest of the journey was performed without any incident, and they
reached the quinta twenty minutes later. The skirmish had taken place
scarce two miles from the country house. On reaching the gates,
Valentine took leave of his friend without dismounting.

"What!" the latter said to him, "are you going, Valentine, without
resting for a moment?"

"I must, my dear Rallier," he answered; "you know what imperious reasons
claim my presence in Mexico."

"But you are wounded."

"Have I not Curumilla to attend to my hurt? Do not be anxious about
me; besides, I intend to see you again soon. This quinta appears to me
strong enough to resist a surprise. Have you a garrison?"

"I have a dozen servants and my two brothers."

"In that case I am easy in my mind; besides, there is only one night to
pass, and I believe that after the lesson his people have received the
general will not venture on a second attack, for some days at least.
Besides, he reckons on the success of his pronunciamiento. You will come
to me tomorrow at daybreak, will you not?"

"I shall not fail."

"In that case I will be off."

"Will you not say good-bye to the ladies?"

"They are not aware of my presence, and it will be better for them not
to see me; so good-bye till tomorrow."

And making a signal to his comrades who, including Curumilla, to whom a
horse was given, collected around him, Valentine started at a gallop for
Mexico, caring no more for his broken arm than if it were a mere scratch.



CHAPTER XXV.

LOS REGOCIJOS.


On his return to the mansion, the capataz did not see his master, at
which he was extremely pleased, for he desired to delay as long as
possible an explanation which, in spite of the wound he so complacently
displayed, he feared would turn out to his disadvantage, especially
when questioned by a man like the general, whose piercing glance would
descend to the bottom of his heart to discover the truth, however
cleverly hidden it might be behind a network of falsehoods.

As only a few hours had still to elapse before the explosion of the
conspiracy, arranged with such care and mystery, the general was
compelled for a while to suspend his schemes for the satisfaction of his
love and his hatred, and only attend to those in which his ambition was
engaged. The principal conspirators had been summoned to Colonel Lupo's,
and there the final arrangements had been made for the morrow, and the
watchword given.

Although the government appeared plunged in the most profound ignorance
of what was preparing against it, and evinced complete security, still
the President had made certain arrangements for the morrow's ceremonies
which did not fail greatly to trouble the men interested in knowing
everything, and to whom the apparently most futile thing naturally
created umbrage.

The general, with the curiosity that distinguished him, was anxious to
know exactly the extent of the danger he had to meet, and proceeded to
the palace, merely accompanied by his two aides-de-camp. The general
president received Don Sebastian with a smile on his lips, and offered
him the most gracious reception. This reception, so cordial, perhaps
too cordial, instead of reassuring the general, had, on the contrary,
increased his anxiety, for he was a Mexican and knew the proverb of his
country--"Lips that smile, and mouth that tells falsehoods."

The general was too calm to let his feelings be seen. He pretended to be
delighted, remained for some time with the President, who appeared to
treat him with a friendly familiarity, complained of the rarity of his
visits, and his obstinacy in not asking for a command. In a word, the
two men separated apparently highly satisfied with each other.

Still, the general remarked that all the courts were stuffed with
soldiers, who were bivouacking in the open air; that several guns had
been placed, accidentally perhaps, so as to sweep completely the chief
entrance gate, and, more serious still, that the troops quartered in
the palace were commanded by officers strangers to him, and who had,
moreover, the reputation of being devoted to the President of the
Republic.

After this daring visit, the general mounted his horse, and, under the
pretext of going for a walk, went all over the city. Everywhere the
preparations for the coming festival were being carried on with the
greatest activity. In the square of Necatitlan, for instance, situated
in one of the worst parts of the capital, a circus had been made for the
bullfights at which the president intended to be present.

Numerous wooden erections, raised for the occasion, filled the space
usually devoted to tauromachy, and formed an immense hall of verdure,
with pleasant clumps of trees, mysterious walks, and charming retreats,
prepared with the greatest care, where everybody would go on the morrow
to eat and drink the atrocious productions of the Mexican art on
cookery, and enjoy what is called in that country Jamaica.

Exactly in the centre of the arena a tree about twenty feet in height
was planted, with its branches and leaves entirely covered with coloured
pocket-handkerchiefs that floated in the breeze. This tree was the Monte
Parnasso, intended to serve as a maypole for the leperos, at the moment
when the bullfights begin, and a trial bull, _embolado_, that is to say,
with its horns terminating in balls, is let into the ring.

All the pulquerías near the square were thronged with a hideous, ragged
mob, who howled, sang, shouted, and whistled their loudest, while
smoking, and, at intervals, exchanging knife thrusts, to the great
delight of the spectators.

In all the streets the procession would pass through the houses were
decorated; Mexican flags were hoisted in profusion at every spot where
they could be displayed; and yet, by the side of all these holiday
preparations, there was, we repeat, something gloomy and menacing
that struck a chill to the heart. Through all the gates fresh troops
continually entered the city, and occupied admirably chosen strategic
points. The Alameda, the Paseo de Bucareli, and even the Vega, were
converted into bivouacs, and though these troops ostensibly only came to
Mexico to be present at the ceremony and be reviewed, they were equipped
for the field, and affected an earnestness which caused much thought to
those who saw them pass or visited their bivouacs.

When a serious event is preparing, there are in the atmosphere certain
signs which never deceive the fosterers of revolutions; a vague and
apparently causeless anxiety seizes on the masses, and unconsciously
converts their joy into a species of feverish excitement, at which they
are themselves startled, as they know not to what to attribute this
change in their humour.

Hence the population of Mexico, mad, merry, and joyous, as usual when
a festival is preparing, in the eyes of short-sighted persons, were in
reality sternly sad and suffering from great anxiety. The general did
not fail to observe these prognostics; gloomy presentiments occupied his
mind, for he understood that a terrible tempest was hidden beneath this
fictitious calmness. Valentine's gloomy predictions recurred to him.
He trembled to see the hunter's menaces realized; and, though unable
to discover when the danger would come, he foresaw that a great peril
was hanging over his head, and that his ambitious projects would soon,
perhaps, be drowned in floods of blood.

Unfortunately it was too late to desist; he must, whatever might happen,
go on to the end, for he had not the time to give counter orders,
and urge the conspirators to defer the explosion of the plot till a
more favourable moment. Hence, after ripe reflection, the general
resolved to push on, and trust to accident. Ambitious men, by the way,
reckon, far more than is supposed, on hazard, and those magnificent
combinations which are admired when success has crowned them, are most
frequently merely the unforeseen results of fortuitous circumstances,
completely beyond the will of the man whom they have profited.
History, modern history especially, is full of these combinations,
these results impossible to foresee, which sensible men would not have
dared to suppose, and which have made the reputation of so-called
statesmen of genius, who are very small fry, when regarded through the
magnifying-glass or when actions are sifted.

The general returned to his house at about six in the evening,
despairing, and already seeing his plans annihilated. The report of his
capataz added to his discouragement, for it was the drop of wormwood
which makes the brimful cup run over. He withdrew to his apartments in a
state of dull fury, and in his impotent rage accused himself for having
ventured into this frightful situation, for he felt himself rapidly
gliding down a fatal slope, where it would be impossible for him to stop.

What added to his secret agony was, that he must incessantly send off
couriers, receive reports, talk with his confidants, and feign in their
presence not merely calmness and gaiety, but also encourage them, and
impart to them an ardour and hope which he no longer possessed.

The whole night was spent thus. A terrible night, during which the
general endured all the tortures that assail an ambitious man on the eve
of a scandalous plot against a government which he has sworn to defend.
He was agitated by those dull murmurs of the conscience which can never
be thoroughly stifled, and which would inspire pity for these unhappy
men, were they not careful, by their own acts, to put themselves beyond
the pale of that humanity of which they have become real monsters. The
most wholesome lesson that could be given to those ambitious manikins,
so frequent in the lower strata of society, would be to render them
witnesses of the crushing agony that attacks any _cabecilla_ during the
night that precedes the outbreak of one of its horrible plots.

Sunrise surprised the general giving his final orders. Worn out by the
fatigue of a long watch, with pallid brow, and eyes inflamed by fever,
he tried to take a few moments of restorative rest, which he so greatly
needed; but his efforts were fruitless, for he was suffering from an
excitement too intense, at the decisive hour, for sleep to come and
close his eyes.

Already the bells of all the churches were pealing out, and filling the
air with their joyous notes. In all the streets, and in all the squares,
boys and leperos were letting off crackers, and uttering deafening
cries, which more resembled bursts of fury than demonstrations of joy.
The people, dressed in their holiday clothes, were leaving their houses
in masses, and spreading like a torrent over the city.

The review was arranged for seven o'clock A.M., so that the troops might
be spared the great heat of the day. They were massed on the Paseo de
Bucareli and the road connecting that promenade with the Alameda.

We have already stated that the Mexican army, twenty thousand strong,
has twenty-four thousand officers. Hence, in the enormous crowd
assembled to witness the review, uniforms were in a majority; for all
the officers living on half-pay in Mexico, for some reason or another,
considered themselves bound to attend the review as amateurs.

At a quarter to eight o'clock the drums beat, the troops presented arms,
a deafening shout was raised by the crowd, and the President of the
Republic arrived on the Paseo, followed by a large staff, glistening
with gold and lace, and with a cloud of feathers waving in their cocked
hats.

The Mexicans, much resembling in this respect another nation we are
acquainted with, adore feathers, aiguillettes, and, before all,
embroidered uniforms. Hence the President was warmly greeted by the
enthusiastic crowd, and his arrival was converted into an ovation.
General Guerrero had joined the President's staff in his full dress
uniform, as Colonel Lupo and other conspirators had also done; the
rest, dispersed among the crowd, and well armed under their cloaks,
were giving drink to the already half-intoxicated leperos, and secretly
exciting them to begin an insurrection.

In the meanwhile the review went on without any hitch. It is true that
the President restricted himself to riding along the front, and then
ordering the troops to march past, for he did not dare, owing to the
notorious ignorance of the officers and soldiers, risk the execution of
any manoeuvre, for it would not have been understood, and would have
broken the charm under which the spectators were fascinated. Then the
President, still followed by his staff, proceeded to the cathedral.
We will not say anything about the official receptions, etc., which
occupied all the morning.

The hour for the bullfight arrived. Since the review no one troubled
himself about the troops, who seemed to have suddenly disappeared--not
a soldier was visible in the streets; but the people did not think of
them, for they were letting off fireworks, laughing and shouting, which
was quite sufficient to amuse them. It was only noticed that these
soldiers, though invisible about the city, had apparently passed the
word to each other to be present at the bullfight. Nearly the whole of
the _palcos de sol_ in the circus, that is to say, the parts exposed
to the sun, were thronged with soldiers, grouped pell-mell with the
leperos, and offering the most pleasant contrast with these ragged
scamps, who were yelling and whistling.

The President arrived, and the circus was, in a second, invaded by
the mob. Since an early hour the Jamaica had begun, that is to say,
the framework of verdure raised in the centre of the arena, forming
refreshment rooms, had, since daybreak, been filled with a countless
number of leperos, who ate and drank with cries of ferocious delight.

Suddenly, at a given signal, the gate of the torril was opened, and a
bull, _embolado_, rushed into the arena. Then began an extraordinary
indescribable scene, resembling one of those diabolical meetings so
admirably designed by Callot.

The leperos, surprised by the arrival of the bull, darted, shouting,
pushing, and upsetting each other, over the framework, which they threw
down and trampled underfoot in their terror, while seeking to escape the
pursuit of the _embolado_, who, also excited by the tumult, hunted them
vigorously. In a second the arena was deserted, the refreshment rooms
swept clean, and the performers in the Jamaica sought any shelter they
could find on the edge of the palcos or upon the columns, from which
they hung in hideous yelling and grimacing clusters.

A few leperos, however, bolder than the rest, had darted to the Monte
Parnasso, not only to find a shelter there, but also to tear away all
the coloured handkerchiefs fastened to the branches. In a twinkling the
thick foliage was hidden by the crowd of leperos who invaded it.

The bull, after amusing itself for some minutes in tossing about the
remains of the framework, stopped and looked cunningly around, and
soon noticed the tree, the only obstacle left to remove, in order to
completely empty the arena.

It remained motionless for an instant, as if hesitating ere it formed
a resolution; then it bowed its head, made the sand fly with its
fore-feet, lashed its tail violently, and, rushing at the tree, dealt it
repeated and powerful blows.

The leperos uttered a cry of despair. The tree, which was overladen,
and incessantly sapped at its base by the bull, swayed, and at last
fell sideways, carrying down in its fall the leperos clinging to the
branches. The audience clapped their hands and broke into frenzied
bravos, which changed into perfect yells of delight when a poor fellow,
who was limping away, was suddenly caught up by the bull, and tossed ten
feet high in the air.

All at once, and at the moment when the joy was attaining its paroxysm,
several rounds of artillery were heard, followed by a well-sustained
musketry fire. As if by magic the bull was driven back to the torril;
the soldiers scattered about the circus leapt into the ring, and
becoming actors instead of spectators, drew up in good order, and
levelled their muskets at the occupiers of the galleries and boxes, who
remained motionless with terror, for they did not understand what was
going on.

A door opened, and twenty bandsmen, followed by eight officers, and
escorted by a dozen soldiers, entered the ring, and began beating the
drums. It was a governmental _bando_. So soon as silence was restored
martial law was proclaimed, and sentence of outlawry passed on General
Don Sebastian Guerrero and his adherents, who had just raised the
standard of revolt, and pronounced against the established government.

The crowd listened to the bando in a stupor which was heightened by the
fact that with each moment the firing became sharper, and the artillery
discharges shook the air at more rapid intervals.

Mexico was once again the prey of one of those scenes of murder and
carnage which, since the Proclamation of Independence, has too often
stained her streets and squares with blood.

The President was on horseback in the centre of the arena, sending off
orders, listening to messages, or detaching reinforcements wherever they
were wanted. The circus was converted into the headquarters of the army
of order, and the spectators, although allowed to depart after some
arrests had been effected among them, remained trembling in their seats,
preferring not to venture into the streets, which had been converted
into real battlefields.

Still the pronunciamiento was assuming formidable proportions. General
Guerrero had not played for so heavy a stake without trying to secure to
his side all probable chances of success; and that success would most
ably have crowned his efforts, had he not been betrayed. For, in spite
of all the precautions taken by the government, the affair had been
begun so warmly and resolutely that, after the contest had continued for
three hours, it was impossible to say on which side the advantage would
remain.



CHAPTER XXVI.

THE PRONUNCIAMIENTO.


In any revolution, the insurgents have always an immense advantage over
the government they are attacking, from the fact that, as they hold
together, know their numbers, and act in accordance with a long worked
out plan, they are not only cognizant of what they want, but also,
whither they are proceeding. The government, on the other hand, however
well informed it may be, and however well on its guard, is obliged
to remain for a considerable length of time in an attitude of armed
expectation, without knowing whence the danger that menaces it will
come, or the strength of the rebellion it will have to combat.

On the other hand, again, as the secret of the discovery of the plot
remains with a small band of confidential agents of the authorities,
the latter do not know at first whom to trust, or whom to reckon on.
They suspect everybody, even the very troops defending them, whom they
fear to see turning against them at any moment, and overthrowing them.
This is more especially the case in Mexico and all the old Spanish
colonies, where the governmental system is essentially military, and is
consequently only based on naturally unintelligent and venal troops, who
are utterly deficient of patriotic feelings, and whom interest alone,
that is to say, pay or promotion, can keep to their duty.

The history of all the revolutions which, during the last fifty years,
have caused torrents of blood to flow in the New World, is entirely
contained in the last passage we have written.

The President of the Republic had been informed of the designs of the
general, as far as that was possible; he had known for more than a month
that a vast plot was being formed; he even was aware of the probable day
fixed for the pronunciamiento, but he did not know a syllable about the
plans arranged by Don Sebastian and his adherents. As the plot was to
burst out in Mexico, the President had filled the capital with troops;
and called in those on whose fidelity he thought he could reckon with
the greatest certainty.

But his preparations were necessarily restricted to this, and he had
been constrained to wait till the revolution commenced.

It burst forth with the suddenness of a peal of thunder at twenty places
simultaneously, at about the second hour of the tarde. The President,
who was at once informed, and who had only come to the circus in order
not to be invested in the government palace, instantly took the measures
he thought most efficacious.

The news, however, rapidly arrived, and became worse and worse, and the
insurrection was assuming frightful proportions. The revolters at first
tried to install themselves on the Plaza Major in order to seize the
government palace, but being repulsed with loss, after a very serious
contest, they ambuscaded themselves in Tacuba, Secunda Monterilla, and
San Agustin streets, erected barricades, and exchanged a sharp fire with
the faithful troops.

The cannon roared in the square, and the balls made large gaps in the
ranks of the insurgents, who replied with yells of rage and increased
firing.

Colonel Lupo had taken possession of two city gates, which he burned
down, and through which fresh reinforcements reached the insurgents, who
now proclaimed themselves masters of one-third of the city. The foreign
merchants, established in Mexico, had hoisted their national flags
over their houses, in which they remained shut up, and suffering great
anxiety.

The President was still standing motionless in the centre of the circus,
frowning at each new message, or angrily striking the pommel of his
saddle with his clenched fist.

All at once a man glided secretly between the horses' legs, and gently
touched the general's boot, who turned round quickly.

"Ah!" he exclaimed, on recognizing him. "At last! Well, Curumilla?"

But the Indian, without answering, thrust a folded paper into his hand,
and disappeared as rapidly as he had come. The general eagerly scanned
the letter, which only contained these words, written in French--"All is
going on well. Charge vigorously."

The general's face grew brighter, he drew himself up haughtily, and
brandishing his sword with a martial air, shouted in a voice heard by
all, "Forward, Muchachos!"

Then, digging his spurs into his horse's sides, he galloped out of
the circus, followed by the greater part of the troops, the remainder
receiving orders to hold their present position until further warning.

"Now," said the President to the officers who pressed round him, "the
game is won; within an hour the insurrection will be conquered."

In fact matters had greatly altered. This is what had occurred:

Valentine, as we said, had taken a house in Tacuba Street, and another
in the vicinity of the San Lázaro gate. During the night that preceded
the pronunciamiento, four hundred resolute soldiers, commanded by
faithful officers, were introduced into the house in Tacuba Street,
where they remained so well hidden that no one suspected their presence.
A similar number of troops were stowed away in the house at the San
Lázaro gate.

Don Martial, at the head of a large body of men, slipped into the small
house belonging to the capataz, and, being warned by the latter so
soon as the general had gone off to attend the review, he passed into
his mansion through the masked door we know, and occupied it without
striking a blow.

The Tigrero straightway set a trap, in which several of the principal
chiefs of the insurgents were caught, believing that they would find
General Guerrero at home, and were at once made prisoners.

These three points occupied, they waited. Colonel Lupo had attacked the
San Lázaro gate so vigorously and unexpectedly, that it was impossible
to prevent him burning it. A very obstinate fight at once began, and
the colonel, after a brave resistance, had been at length compelled to
retreat and fall back on the main body of the insurgents, who were still
masters, or nearly so, of the centre of the city.

We have mentioned that in Mexico all the houses are flat roofed; hence,
in any revolution, the scenes in the street are repeated on the terraces
of the houses; for the tactics adopted in such cases are to line these
terraces with soldiers. Through a strange fatality the insurgents, while
seizing the principal streets, had forgotten, or rather neglected, to
occupy the houses, as they believed themselves masters of the situation.

All at once the terraces in Tacuba Street, looking on the Plaza Mayor,
were covered with sharpshooters, who began a tremendous fire on the
insurgents collected beneath them. The same manoeuvre was simultaneously
executed in Monterilla and San Augustín Streets, and the terraces of the
palace were covered with troops also.

The artillerymen, who had hitherto fired at long range, now brought up
their guns almost within pistol shot of the streets, and, in spite of
the musketry fire of the insurgents, bravely posted their batteries and
began hurtling showers of canister among the defenders of the barricades.

Almost simultaneously, the troops faithful to the government appeared in
the rear of the rebels, and being supported by the sharpshooters on the
terraces, charged vigorously to the incessantly repeated cry of "Méjico,
Méjico, Independencia!"

The insurgents felt they were lost, for they were caught between three
fires; still they offered a courageous resistance, for, knowing that
if they fell alive into the hands of the conqueror, they would be
mercilessly shot, they allowed themselves to be killed with Indian
stoicism, and did not yield an inch of ground.

The general was in a terrible rage; without a hat, his face blackened
with gunpowder, and his uniform torn in several places, he leapt his
horse over the corpses, and dashed blindly into the thick of the
government troops, followed by a small band of friends, who bravely let
themselves be killed at his side.

The fight was positively degenerating into a massacre; the two parties,
as unhappily always happens in civil wars, fought with the greater fury
and obstinacy because brothers were contending against brothers, and
many of them, for whom politics were only a pretext, took advantage of
the medley to satiate personal hatred and avenge old insults.

However, this could not go on for long thus, and it was necessary to get
out of the situation at all risks. General Guerrero, unaware of the
occupation of his house, resolved to fight his way thither, barricade
himself, and obtain an honourable capitulation for himself and his
comrades.

No sooner was the plan conceived than the execution was attempted. Don
Sebastian collected round him all the fighting men left, and formed
them into a small band--for the canister and bullets had made frightful
ravages in the ranks of the insurgents--and placed himself at their head.

"Forward, forward!" he shouted as he rushed at the enemy.

His men followed him with yells of fury. The collision was terrible, the
fight fearful; for four or five minutes a funereal silence brooded over
this confused mass of combatants, who attacked each so savagely. They
stabbed each other mercilessly, disdaining to use their firearms, and
preferring, as a speedier resource, the sharp points of their sabres and
bayonets.

At length the President's troops fell back slightly, the insurgents
took advantage of it to redouble their efforts, which were already
superhuman, and reached the general's house. The doors were broken open
in an instant, and all rushed pell-mell into the courtyard. They were
saved! since they had at last reached the shelter where they hoped to
defend themselves.

At this moment a frightful thing happened; the gallery commanding the
courtyard and the stairs was entirely occupied by soldiers, and so soon
as the insurgents appeared, the muskets were pointed down at them,
a tornado of fire passed over them like the blast of death, and in a
second a mass of corpses covered the ground.

The insurgents, terrified by this sudden attack, which they were so far
from anticipating, hurriedly fell back, instinctively seeking an outlet
by which to escape. The tumult then became terrible, and the massacre
assumed the proportions of an organized butchery. Driven back into the
courtyard by the troops who pursued them, and met there by those who
had attacked them and now charged at the bayonet point, these wretched
men, rendered senseless by terror, did not dream any longer of employing
their weapons, but falling on their knees before their executioners, and
clasping their trembling hands, they implored the mercy of the troops,
who, intoxicated by the smell of blood, and affected by that horrible
murder fever which seizes upon even the coolest man on the battle field,
felled them, like oxen in the shambles, and plunged their sabres and
bayonets into their bodies with grins of delight and ferocious laughter,
and felt a horrible pleasure in seeing their victims writhe with
heartbreaking cries in the last convulsions of death.

General Don Sebastian, though wounded, and who seemed to have been
protected by a charm throughout this scene of carnage, defended himself
like a lion against several soldiers, who tried in vain to transfix him
with their bayonets. Leaning against a column he whirled his sabre
round his head, evidently seeking death, but wishful to sell his life as
dearly as possible.

Suddenly Valentine cleft his way through the combatants, followed by
Belhumeur, Black Elk, and Curumilla, who were engaged in warding off the
blows the soldiers incessantly made at him, and reached the general.

"Ah!" the latter said on perceiving him, "here you are at last, then."

And he dealt him a terrible blow, but Belhumeur parried it, and
Valentine continued to advance.

"Withdraw," he said to the soldiers who surrounded the general, "this
man belongs to me."

The soldiers, though they did not know the hunter, intimidated by the
accent with which he uttered these words, and recognizing in him one of
those rare men who can always impose on common natures, respectfully
fell back without making the slightest objection.

The hunter threw his purse to them.

"You dare to defy the lion at bay," the general shouted, gnashing his
teeth; "although attacked by dogs, he can still avenge his death."

"You will not die," the hunter said coldly; "throw away that sabre,
which is now useless."

"Ah, ah!" Don Sebastian said with a grin of rage; "I am not to die; and
why not, pray?"

"Because," he answered, in a cutting voice, "death would be a mercy to
you, and you must be punished."

"Oh!" he shrieked, and, blinded by rage, he rushed madly at the hunter.

The latter, without falling back a step, contented himself with giving a
signal. At the same moment a slipknot fell on the general's shoulders,
and he rolled on the ground with a yell of rage. Curumilla had lassoed
him.

In vain did Don Sebastian attempt further resistance; after useless
efforts he was reduced to utter impotence, and forced, not only to
confess he had been vanquished, but to yield himself to the mercy of his
conquerors. The latter, at a sign from Valentine, disarmed him first,
and then bound him, so that he could not make the slightest movement.

The massacre was ended, the insurrection had been drowned in blood. The
few rebels who survived the carnage were prisoners; the victors, in the
first moment of enthusiasm, had shot several, and it required the most
energetic interference on the part of the officers to check this rather
too summary justice.

At this moment joyous shouts burst forth, and the President of the
Republic entered the courtyard at the head of a large staff, glistening
with embroidery.

"Ah, ah!" he said, as he took a contemptuous glance at the general, who
had been thrown on the stones, "so this is the man who wished to change
the institutions of his country?"

Don Sebastian did not deign to reply; but he looked at the speaker with
such an expression of implacable hatred, that the President could not
endure it, and was forced to turn his head away.

"Did this man surrender?" he asked one of his officers.

"No, coward," the general answered, with clenched teeth, "I will not
surrender to hangmen."

"Take this man to prison with the others," the President continued, "an
example must be made; but take care that they are not insulted by the
people."

"Yes," the general muttered, "ever the same system."

"A fall and entire pardon," the President continued, "will be granted to
the unhappy men who were led astray, and have recognized their crime.
The lesson they have received was rather rough, and I am convinced that
it will do them good."

"Clemency after the massacre, that is the usual way," the general said
again.

The President passed without answering him, and left the courtyard. A
few minutes later the prisoners were led away to prison, in spite of the
efforts of the exasperated populace to massacre them on the road.

General Don Sebastian Guerrero was one of the first to appear before the
tribunal. He disdained any defence, and during the whole trial preserved
a gloomy silence; he was unceremoniously condemned to be shot, his
estates confiscated, and his name was declared infamous.

So soon as the sentence was recorded, the general was placed in the
chapel, where he was to remain three days before execution.



CHAPTER XXVII.

THE CAPILLA.


The Spanish custom--a custom which has been kept up in all the old
colonies of that power--of placing persons condemned to death in a
chapel, requires explanation, in order that it may be thoroughly
understood and appreciated, as it deserves to be.

Frenchmen, over whom the great revolution of '93 passed like a
hurricane, and carried off most of their belief in its sanguinary cloak,
may smile with pity and regard as a fanatic remainder from another
age, this custom of placing the condemned in chapel. Among us, it is
true, matters are managed much more simply: a man, when condemned by
the law, eats, drinks, and remains alone in his cell. If he desire it,
he is visited by the chaplain, whom he is at liberty to converse with,
if he likes; if not, he remains perfectly quiet, and nobody pays any
attention to him, during a period more or less long, and determined by
the rejection of his appeal. Then, one fine morning, when he is least
thinking of it, the governor of the prison announces to him, when he
wakes, as the most simple thing in the world, that he is to be executed
that same day, and only an hour is granted him to recommend his soul
to the divine clemency. The fatal toilet is made by the executioner and
his assistant, the condemned man is placed in a close carriage, conveyed
to the place of execution, and in a twinkling launched into eternity,
before he has had a moment to look round him.

Is it right or wrong to act in this way? We dare not answer, yes or no.
This question is too difficult to decide, and would lead us the further,
because we should begin with asking society by what right it arrogates
to itself the power of killing one of its members, and thus committing a
cold-blooded assassination, under the pretext of doing justice; for we
confess that we have ever been among the most determined adversaries of
punishment by death, as we are persuaded that, in trying to deal a heavy
blow, human justice deceives itself, and goes beyond the object, because
it avenges when it ought merely to punish.

We will, therefore, repeat here what we said in a previous work, in
explanation of what the Spaniards mean by the phrase "placing in chapel."

When a man is condemned to death, from that moment he is, _de facto_,
cut off from that society to which he no longer belongs, through the
sentence passed on him; he is consequently separated from his fellow men.

He is shut up in a room, at one end of which is an altar; the walls are
hung with black drapery, studded with silver tears, and here and there
mourning inscriptions, drawn from Holy Writ. Near his bed is placed the
coffin in which his body is to be deposited after execution, while two
priests, who relieve each other, but of whom one constantly remains in
the room, say mass in turn, and exhort the criminal to repent Of his
crimes, and implore divine clemency. This custom, which, if carried to
an extreme, would appear in our country before all, barbarous and cruel,
perfectly agrees with Spanish manners, and the thoroughly believing
spirit of this impressionable nation; it is intended to draw the culprit
back to pious thought, and rarely fails to produce the desired effect
upon him.

The general was, therefore, placed in capilla, and two monks belonging
to the order of St. Francis, the most respected, and, in fact,
respectable in Mexico, entered it with him.

The first hours he passed there were terrible; this proud mind, this
powerful organization, revolted against adversity, and would not accept
defeat. Gloomy and silent, with frowning brows, and fists clenched on
his bosom, the general sought shelter like a wild beast in a corner of
the room, recalling his whole life, and seeing with starts of terror the
bloody victims scattered along his path, and sacrificed in turn to his
devouring ambition, sadly defile before him.

Then he reverted to his early years. When residing at the Palmar, his
magnificent family hacienda, his life passed away calm, pure, gentle,
and tranquil, without regrets, and without desires, among his faithful
servants. Then, he was so glad to be nothing, and to wish to be nothing.

By degrees his thoughts followed the bias of his recollections: the
present was effaced; his contracted features grew softer, and two
burning tears, the first, perhaps, this man of iron had ever shed,
slowly coursed down his cheeks, which grief had hollowed.

The monks, calm and contemplative, had eagerly followed the successive
changes on this eminently expressive face. They comprehended that their
mission of consolation was beginning, and approached the general softly,
and wept with him; then this man, whom nothing had been able to subdue,
felt his soul torn asunder; the cloud that covered his eyes melted away
like the winter snow before the first sunbeam, and he fell into the arms
open to receive him, exclaiming, with an expression of desperate grief
impossible to render--

"Have mercy, heaven! have mercy!"

The struggle had been short but terrible; faith had conquered doubt, and
humanity had regained its rights.

The general then had with the monks a conversation, protracted far into
the night, in which he confessed all his crimes and sins, and humbly
asked pardon of God whom he had outraged, and before whom he was about
to appear.

The next day, a little after, sunrise, one of the monks, who had been
absent about an hour, returned, bringing with him the general's
capataz. It had only been with extreme reluctance that Carnero had
consented to come, for he justly dreaded his old master's reproaches.

Hence his surprise was extreme at being received with a smile, and
kindly, and on finding that the general did not make the slightest
allusion to his treachery, which the evidence before the court-martial
had fully revealed.

Carnero looked inquiringly at the two monks, for he did not dare put
faith in his master's words, and each moment expected to hear him burst
out into reproaches. But nothing of the sort took place; the general
continued the conversation as he had begun it, speaking to him gently
and kindly.

At the moment when the capataz was about to withdraw, the general
stopped him.

"One moment," he said to him; "you know Don Valentine, the French
hunter, for whom I so long cherished an insensate hatred?"

"Yes," Carnero stammered.

"Be kind enough to ask him to grant me the favour of a short visit; he
is a noble-hearted man, and I am convinced that he will not refuse to
come. I should be glad if he consented to bring with him Don Martial,
the Tigrero, who has so much cause to complain of me, as well as my
niece, Doña Anita de Torrés. Will you undertake this commission, the
last I shall doubtless give you?"

"Yes, general," the capataz answered, affected in spite of himself by
such gentleness.

"Now go; be happy and pray for me, for we shall never meet again."

The capataz went out in a very different frame of mind from that in
which he had entered the capilla, and hastened off to Valentine. The
hunter was not at home, for he had gone to the presidential palace, but
he returned almost immediately. The capataz gave the message which his
old master had entrusted him with for him.

"I will go," the hunter said simply, and he dismissed him.

Curumilla was at once sent off to Mr. Rallier's quinta with a letter,
and during his absence Valentine had a long conversation with Belhumeur
and Black Elk. At about five in the evening, a carriage entered the
courtyard of Valentine's house at a gallop; it contained Mr. Rallier,
Anita, and Don Martial.

"Thanks!" he said, on seeing them.

"You ordered me to come, so I obeyed as usual," the Tigrero answered.

"You were right, my friend."

"And now what do you want of us?"

"That you should accompany me to the place whither I am going at this
moment."

"Would it be indiscreet to ask you----"

"Where?" the hunter interrupted him with a laugh.

"Not at all; I am going to lead you, Doña Anita, and the persons here
present, to the capilla in which General Guerrero is confined."

"The capilla?" the Tigrero exclaimed in amazement, "for what purpose?"

"What does that concern you? The general has requested to see you, and
you cannot refuse the request of a man who has but a few hours left to
live."

The Tigrero hung his head without answering.

"Oh! I will go!" Doña Anita exclaimed impulsively, as she wiped away the
tears that ran down her cheeks.

"You are a woman, señorita, and therefore good and indulgent," the
hunter said; then turning to the Tigrero, he said, with a slight accent
of reproach, "you have not yet answered me, Don Martial."

"Since you insist, Don Valentine, I will go," he at length answered,
with an effort.

"I do not insist, my friend; I only ask, that is all."

"Come, Martial, I implore you," Doña Anita said to him gently.

"Your will be done in this as in all other things," he said. "I am ready
to follow you, Don Valentine."

Valentine, Doña Anita, Mr. Rallier, and Don Martial got into the
carriage. The two Canadians and the chief followed them on horseback,
and they proceeded at a gallop to the chapel where the condemned man was
confined.

All along the road they found marks of the obstinate struggle which had
deluged the city with blood a few days previously; the barricades had
not been entirely removed, and though the distance was, in reality,
very short, they did not reach the prison till nightfall, owing to the
detours they were forced to make.

Valentine begged his friends to remain outside, and only entered with
Doña Anita and the Tigrero. The general was impatiently expecting them,
and testified a great joy on perceiving them.

The young lady could not restrain her emotion, and threw herself into
her uncle's arms with an outburst of passionate grief. The general
pressed her tenderly to his bosom, and kissed her on the forehead.

"I am the more affected by these marks of affection, my child," he said
with much emotion, "because I have been very harsh to you. Can you ever
forgive me the sufferings I have caused you?"

"Oh, uncle, speak not so. Are you not, alas! the only relation I have
remaining?"

"For a very short time," he said with a sad smile, "that is the reason
why I ought, without further delay, to provide for your future."

"Do not talk about that at such a moment, uncle," she continued,
bursting into tears.

"On the contrary, my child, it is at this moment when I am going to
leave you, that I am bound to insure you a protector. Don Martial, I
have done you great wrong; here is my hand, accept it as that of a man
who has completely recognized his faults, and sincerely repents the evil
he has done."

The Tigrero, more affected than he liked to display, took a step
forward, and cordially pressed the hand offered him.

"General," he said, in a voice which he tried in vain to render firm,
"this moment, which I never dared hope to see, fills me with joy, but at
the same time with grief."

"Well, you can do something for me by proving to me that you have really
forgiven me."

"Speak, general, and if it is in my power----," he exclaimed warmly.

"I believe so," Don Sebastian answered, with his sad smile. "Consent to
accept my niece from my hand, and marry her at once in this chapel."

"Oh, general!" he began, choking with emotion.

"Uncle, at this awful moment!" the young lady murmured, timidly.

"Allow me the supreme consolation of dying under the knowledge that
you are happy. Don Valentine, you have doubtless brought some of your
friends with you?"

"They are awaiting your commands, general," the hunter answered.

"Let them come in, in that case, for time presses."

One of the monks had prepared everything beforehand.

When the hunters and the French banker entered, followed by Curumilla,
and the officer commanding the capilla guard, who had been warned
beforehand, the general walked eagerly toward them.

"Señores," he said, "I would ask you to do me the honour of witnessing
the marriage of my niece, Doña Anita de Torrés, with this caballero."

The newcomers bowed respectfully. At a signal from one of the
Franciscans they knelt down and the ceremony began. It lasted hardly
twenty minutes, but never had a marriage mass been read or listened to
with more pious fervour. When it was ended, the witnesses wished to
retire.

"One moment, señores, if you please," the general said to them. "I now
wish to make you witnesses of a great reparation."

They stopped, and the general walked up to Valentine.

"Caballero," he said to him, "I know all the motives of hatred you
have against me, and those motives I allow to be just. I am now in the
same position in which I placed Count de Prébois Crancé, your dearest
friend. Like him, I shall be shot tomorrow at daybreak; but with this
difference, that he fell as a martyr to a holy cause, and innocent of
the crimes of which I accused him, while I am guilty, and have deserved
the sentence passed on me. Don Valentine, I repent from the bottom of
my heart the iniquitous murder of your friend. Don Valentine, do you
forgive me?"

"General Don Sebastian Guerrero, I forgive you the murder of my friend,"
the hunter answered, in a firm voice. "I forgive you the life of grief
to which I am henceforth condemned by you."

"You pardon me unreservedly?"

"Unreservedly I do."

"Thanks! We were made to love instead of hate each other. I
misunderstood you; but yours is a great and noble heart. Now, let death
come, and I shall accept it gladly; for I feel convinced that God will
have pity on me on account of my sincere repentance. Be happy, niece,
with the husband of your choice. Señores, all, accept my thanks. Don
Valentine, once more I thank you; and now leave me all, for I no longer
belong to the world, so let me think of my salvation."

"But one word," Valentine said. "General, I have forgiven you, and it is
now my turn to ask your pardon. I have deceived you."

"Deceived me!"

"Yes: take this paper. The President of the Republic, employing his
sovereign right of mercy, has, on my pressing entreaty, revoked the
sentence passed on you. You are free."

His hearers burst into a cry of admiration.

The general turned pale; he tottered, and for a moment it was fancied
that he was about to fall. A cold perspiration stood on his temples.
Doña Anita sprang forward to support him, but he repulsed her gently,
and, with a great effort, exclaimed, in a choking voice--

"Don Valentine, Don Valentine, such then is your revenge. Oh! blind,
blind that I was to form such an erroneous opinion of you! You condemn
me to live. Well, be it so; I accept, and will not deceive your
expectations. Fathers," he said, turning to the monks, "lead me to your
monastery. General Guerrero is dead, and henceforth I shall be a monk of
your order."

Don Sebastian's conversion was sincere. Grace had touched him, and he
persevered. Two months after professing, he died in the Franciscan
Monastery, crushed by remorse and worn out by the cruel penance he
inflicted on himself.

Two days after the scene we have described, Valentine and his companions
left Mexico, and returned to Sonora. On reaching the frontier, the
hunter, in spite of the pressing entreaties of his friends, separated
from them, and returned to the desert.

Don Martial and Doña Anita settled in Mexico, near the Ralliers. A month
after Valentine's departure, Doña Helena returned to the convent, and
at the end of a year, in spite of the entreaties of her family, who
were surprised at so strange a resolution, which nothing apparently
explained, the young lady took the vows.

When I met Valentine Guillois on the banks of the Rio Joaquin, some
time after the events recorded in this long story, he was going with
Curumilla to attempt a hazardous expedition across the Rocky Mountains,
from which, he said to me, with that soft melancholy smile which he
generally assumed when speaking to me, he _hoped_ never to return.

       *       *       *       *       *

I accompanied him for several days, and then we were compelled to
separate. He pressed my hand, and, followed by his dumb friend, he
entered the mountains. For a long time I looked after him, for I
involuntarily felt my heart contracted by a sad foreboding. He turned
round for the last time, waved his hand in farewell, and disappeared
round a bend of the track.

I was fated never to see him again.

Since then nothing has been heard of him, or of Curumilla. All my
endeavours to join them, or even obtain news of them, was vain.

Are they still living?--no one can say. Darkness has settled down over
these two magnificent men, and time itself will, in all probability,
never remove the veil that conceals their fate; for all, unhappily,
leads me to suppose that they perished in that gloomy expedition from
which Valentine _hoped_, alas! never to return.



END OF RED TRACK.



A BUFFALO HUNT[1]

A STUDY OF THE AMERICAN WILD BULL.


Certain reasons, unnecessary to state here, had somewhat accidentally
led me to a Sonorian hacienda, called the Hacienda del Milagro, situated
a few leagues from Hermosillo, close to the Indian border, and belonging
to Don Rafael Garillas de Saavedra, one of the richest landowners in the
province.

Don Rafael had spent what is called in Europe a wild life, and for many
years had traversed the deserts of Apacheria in company of a Canadian
adventurer of the name of Belhumeur. Although enormously rich, married
to a woman he adored, and surrounded by a delightful family, Don Rafael
had now and then moments of gloom, in which he regretted the time when,
unhappy and disinherited, he wandered, under the name of Loyal-heart,
from Arkansas to Apacheria, leading the precarious existence of wood
rangers, living from hand to mouth, forgetful of a past which only
summoned up bitter griefs, and careless about a future which he believed
would never realize the dreams of his poetical imagination.

Like all men who have suffered and passed through a hard apprenticeship
of life, Don Rafael was kind and indulgent to others, and ever ready to
excuse a fault when it only emanated from a forgetfulness of propriety
or an error of judgment.

Two days after my arrival at the Hacienda del Milagro, thanks to the
cordial reception given me, I was regarded as forming part of the
family, and was as much at my ease as if I had lived for years with
these new friends, who soon grew so old in my heart, and whose memory
will be ever dear to me.

One evening a new guest arrived at the hacienda, where he was literally
received with open arms, which greatly surprised me; for I knew the
prejudices of Spaniards against Indians, and the newcomer was simply a
redskin. It is true that this redskin was the first sachem of a powerful
Comanche tribe, which was explained to me in two words by Belhumeur, the
Canadian hunter, with whom I had struck up a great friendship from my
first arrival at the hacienda.

This sachem was called Eagle-head. He came, in the name of his tribe, to
invite Don Rafael, whom he obstinately called Loyal-heart, to a great
buffalo hunt which was to come off in Apacheria toward the middle of the
"Moon of the wild oats," that is to say, about September 15th.

Don Rafael was greatly inclined to accept this invitation, but a
sorrowful look, which his wife gave him aside, made him understand how
anxious his absence would make her. He therefore expressed his inability
to be present at this hunt, which he would have so much liked to be,
but very important business compelled him to remain at the hacienda.
He added, however, that his friend Belhumeur would be happy to take
his place, in order to prove to Eagle-head the value he set on his
invitation and his lively desire to show him all the deference which so
great a chief as he merited.

After a few words whispered in his ear, Belhumeur introduced me to the
Indian chief, to whom he mentioned that, as I had never witnessed a
buffalo hunt, I should be delighted with his permission to attend the
present one. The chief politely replied that Belhumeur was an adopted
son of the tribe, and that any persons he thought proper to bring
with him would be received not only with great pleasure, but with the
greatest kindness, according to the consecrated customs of Indian
hospitality.

I warmly thanked, as I was bound to do, the chief, who was flattered to
hear me express myself with some degree of elegance in his own language;
and we agreed to meet at the winter village of the Comanches of the
Lakes, on the fifth sun of the Moon of the wild oats.

Eagle-head took leave of us the same evening, in spite of all our
efforts to keep him at least till the next morning. He started in the
direction of the desert with the light and gymnastic step peculiar to
the redskins, which a trotting horse could not keep up with, and which
enables them to cover an enormous distance in a relatively very short
period.

Two days later, Belhumeur, myself, and another Canadian hunter attached
to the hacienda, by the name of Black Elk, mounted on excellent
mustangs, and armed to the teeth, took leave of Don Rafael, who saw us
depart with a sigh of regret, and we proceeded in the direction of the
great western prairies.

Belhumeur was a first-rate companion, of tried bravery; a thorough
adventurer, gay, daring, and reckless, whose life had been almost
entirely spent in the desert, and whom his attachment for Don Rafael had
alone determined to give up the free and independent life of a hunter to
confine himself, as he said with a smile, within stone walls, where he
ofttimes felt that fresh air was wanting for his lungs.

Belhumeur was a book of which I turned over the leaves of at my
pleasure, and each page was full of attractions for me, and offered me
agreeable surprises.

Although I had myself long lived in the desert, I had as yet only
traversed countries where buffalo is never met; hence I was extremely
anxious to obtain some positive information about this interesting
animal, so useful to the Indians, who profess for it a respect almost
approaching to veneration. In this way I hoped not to be quite a novice
when I joined the redskins, and would know not only in what way to
attack the new enemy I was about to confront, but also how to behave, so
as not to appear an utter ignoramus in the sight of the Indians.

One evening, while seated at our watch fire after supper, smoking my
Indian pipe charged with _morrichée_, or prairie tobacco, I asked
Belhumeur, whose good nature was inexhaustible, to give me the most
circumstantial information about the buffalo, which he at once did with
his usual goodwill.

This is what I learned in substance. I will ask my reader's pardon for
substituting my recollections for the Canadian's prolix narration,
for what they may lose in simplicity of expression they will gain
in brevity, which is not a thing to be so much despised as might be
supposed at the first blush.

I am bound to state that all Belhumeur then told me about the manners
and habits of these singular animals was most rigorously exact, as I
was in a position to convince myself at a later date. This, then, was
Belhumeur's account.

The Indians say proverbially that bees are the advanced guard of the
palefaces, and the buffaloes the vedettes of the redskins. In fact,
although it is impossible to explain the reason, bees constantly seek
to advance into the desert, and when they appear at the border of
clearings, it is certain that two or three days later emigrants will
turn up, with rifles on their shoulders, and followed by a long file of
waggons, carts, horses, and cattle. These bold pioneers of civilisation
come, impelled by their adventurous instincts, to set up their tents in
the heart of the desert, on the shady banks of some unknown river, and
their unceasing activity soon changes the character of the landscape.

In the same way when the traveller advances into the savannahs, so soon
as he sights the buffalo he may be certain that he has reached the
territory of the redskins.

Now, it appears to us that everything relating to so interesting an
animal as the buffalo, which is fatally destined so soon to disappear,
unless care be taken, and which is so eminently useful, is worth
recording.

Purchas in his "Pilgrimage" (London edition, 1614), says that in certain
respects the buffalo resembles the lion, and in others the camel, ox,
horse, sheep, and goat. Civilization in its continuous onward march
destroys the great animals, and drives back the redskin and even the
hunter, unless he consent to modify his fashion of living.

The buffalo, which, on its discovery in 1582 by Lusman, in the province
of Sinaloa, extended its wanderings over nearly the whole of North
America, now restricts its excursions more and more, and is only met
with at present in the wildest deserts situated to the west of the Rocky
Mountains, which proves a considerable diminution in their numbers, and
this is probably augmented by the Indian custom of only killing cows and
leaving the bulls.

The Americans, however, ought to interfere, for the buffalo is capable
of being tamed, and crossing it with the European ox would produce a
strong, patient, and courageous breed, whose services would be of
immense utility in the immense settlement of the new states. We saw at
a Texan hacienda completely tamed buffaloes, which, according to their
owners, were an excellent substitute for the common ox.

The buffalo lives longer than the domestic ox: its proportions are
greater, and though its front is ungraceful, the hinder parts are
handsome. The buffalo is generally brown, though spotted ones are met
with, and even some completely white; its face is very like that of the
bull; its head covered with thick wool, the long beard hanging from its
lower jaw, and its melancholy, gentle, and almost stupid eye give it a
singular and almost strange appearance. Its horns are short, rounded,
and capable of taking a fine polish; it has between its shoulders a very
prominent hump, whilst its hinder parts are covered with short, straight
hair, like that of European ruminants; its short tail terminates in a
tuft of curly hair. The age of a buffalo is discovered by the rings on
its horns, the first four counting for the first year.

The meat of the cows is considered more delicate than that of the bulls,
especially in the rutting season. The parts most appreciated are the
heart, the tongue, the liver, the short rib, and the part called the
hunter's joint, that is to say, the chine near the shoulder blade. Eight
bones are considered marrowbones, they are those of the legs and thighs.
A cow supplies about three hundred pounds of excellent meat, exclusive
of the head, and several other parts of the animal; the marrow of a
single bone is sufficient for a meal. The Indians, in order to obtain
it, throw the bone into the fire after removing the meat, let it grill
for a few minutes, take it out, break it, and remove the marrow, which
is eaten, without seasoning, by means of a sharp stick. This marrow is
very delicate and succulent, and when baked, it assumes the colour and
consistency of meat; some hunters prefer to eat it raw, but we did not
find it so good in that state.

When a manada of buffaloes is hunted, especially if it be composed of
bulls, a strong smell of musk is exhaled; when full galloping, their
hoofs crack the grass, as if it was dried. They have an extraordinary
fine scent, and smell a man two or even three miles off.

This animal is extremely difficult to kill. On a certain occasion we
lodged sixteen bullets in the body of a buffalo, ere we could succeed
in killing. Wishing to assure oneself of the truth of a fact, which
physicians and hunters had affirmed, namely, that the frontal bone
of a buffalo is bullet-proof, we discharged our rifle, at ten paces'
distance, at the head of a dead bull. The bullet did not penetrate, but
was caught in the hair, where we found it again; still it had struck
exactly in the centre of the forehead, for it had left its mark there
before rebounding.

We have not very exactly followed Belhumeur's account, for, carried
away by our sympathy for the noble animal he described to us, we have
placed our ideas in the stead of his. We openly confess here that we are
among those who sincerely regret that the proposal made in 1849, by
Mr. Lamarre Picquot, to introduce into France the buffalo, as at once
suitable for draught and for consumption, was not seriously discussed
and taken into consideration, for this animal is one of the most useful,
and would, we feel convinced, render valuable services.

Our journey lasted more than a month; for the winter village of the
Comanches of the Lakes is hidden in a canyon, in the middle of the first
spurs of the Rocky Mountains. Mounted on a vigorous mustang, I generally
rode at the head of our small party, which I liked to do, in order to be
more by myself, and observe more at my ease.

One morning I saw, at a spot where the trail I followed was wide and
open, and some distance ahead of me, a large hawk, which appeared to
be suffering, and making efforts to fly away. When I drew near enough
I found that it was enfolded by a long whip snake, which had writhed
several times round its body, and the bird had only one wing at liberty.

In all probability the hawk had been the aggressor, and had dashed down
at the snake, but the latter, by cleverly enfolding its enemy, had
succeeded in escaping the danger.

The whip snake is a very handsome reptile, seven to eight feet in
length, when it has attained its full growth. Along the greater part of
its body it is no larger than an ordinary ramrod. Its very thin neck
gradually tapers away down to the stomach, whence it has obtained its
name. For about three or four inches the upper side of the head and
neck is black and lustrous as the plumage of a crow; while the upper
side of the body is chocolate coloured, excepting the tail, which,
nearly all the way from the stomach, is black.

There, however, is no general rule, except for the head, neck, and tail,
which are always black. I have come across snakes of the same family in
which the other parts of the body varied. This reptile is very quick,
and seems to fly over the surface of the ground. The most remarkable
thing about it is, that it possesses the faculty of running, while
supporting itself solely on the lower part of the tail, and holding its
body and head erect.

I cite this fact from personal knowledge, for I was one day followed by
a very handsome whip snake, which kept erect and looked me in the face
from time to time, although I had made my horse trot rather sharply, in
order to see at what speed this snake could advance in such an attitude.
It, however, only seemed to follow me through curiosity, for it is not
at all venomous, is of a gentle character, and it appears familiar with
man. I was surprised to find it in these parts, for I believed it to be
an inhabitant of Eastern Florida.

Thirty-three days after our departure from the Hacienda del Milagro, we
came in sight of the Comanche village, and during the whole long journey
had not been exposed to the slightest danger, or stopped by any annoying
accident.

We were expected, and were received by the chiefs, at the head of whom
was Eagle-head, not merely as friends, but as children of the tribe. A
spacious cabin was placed at our disposal, and provisions were brought
us from all sides.

We had arrived just at the right moment; the grand festival of the
buffaloes was to be held that very night--a very curious ceremony, whose
object is to implore the blessing of the Wacondah before beginning the
hunt.

In the centre of the village a large open space had been prepared, about
sixty yards long by forty-five wide, surrounded by an inclosure of reeds
and willow branches twelve feet high, and slightly bent inwards. An
entrance had been left, facing the east. The four fires which are always
kept up in the medicine lodge, were burning in each corner, and the most
distinguished chiefs, among whom we were counted, sat in a semicircle to
the right of the inclosure.

Eagle-head, in his quality of first sachem of the tribe, held the head
of the file; he had, expressly for this occasion, painted his face blue,
yellow, and white, and wore on his head a fillet of some red skin.

The spectators, more especially the squaws, were sitting against the
palings silent and contemplative. The men, some in full paint, others
simply dressed or naked to the waist, went about the interior of the
inclosure irregularly. Children ranged round the fires threw in from
time to time willow branches, to keep them burning.

At the signal given by _Chichikoués_ for the feast to begin, six old men
emerged from a calli, and stood in a row in front of the medicine lodge.

These men are chosen by the chiefs to represent buffaloes, and after the
ceremony large presents are made to them. Each of them held in his hand
a long staff, at the end of which four black feathers were fixed, and
along the staves, at equal distances, were fastened small tufts of young
buffalo skin and bells.

These men-buffaloes carried their clubs in the left hand, and two of
them bore what the Comanches call a "badger," that is to say, a blown-up
skin, which is beaten like a drum. They stood at the entrance of the
medicine lodge, shaking their staves incessantly, and in turn singing
and imitating, with rare perfection, the lowing of buffaloes, which
lasted some considerable time.

Behind them marched a tall man with a ferocious face, whose head was
covered with a fur cap, because once on a time he had been scalped in
a fight with the Apaches. This man was the director of the feast, and
represented the leader of the old buffaloes; his name was "Raised-scalp."

After a rather long station before the door, the men-buffaloes at length
entered the medicine lodge, and sate down against the palings, behind
one of the fires.

So soon as they were all seated, each of them planted his staff on
the ground in front of him. Several young warriors then came in with
dishes of boiled beans and maize powdered with pemmican, which they
placed before the guests. These dishes went the round, each passing
them to his neighbour after eating a little. At times empty dishes were
placed before us, a ceremony of which I did not at first understand
the purport, and one of the bearers, a man of colossal stature, very
muscular, and almost naked, whose hair fell in long tresses on his
loins, came to fetch one of these empty dishes. Then Eagle-head hid his
face in his hands and began singing, after which he muttered a long
speech or prayer, winding up by returning the dish.

This speech contained wishes for the success of the buffalo hunt, and
the Wacondah was also invoked to render him favourable to the hunters
and warriors. The longest speeches were the best; the bearer seemed
particularly satisfied; he bowed with an attentive look, nodded his head
as a sign of his pleasure, passed his hand along the orator's right arm
from the shoulder to the wrist, and, before removing the dish, answered
with a few words of thanks.

This repast was prolonged for more than an hour; on all sides people ate
and held speeches for the success of the chase; during this the young
men standing in the middle of the inclosure prepared the calumets, and
brought them ready lighted to the chief, the old men, and the strangers.

They stopped before each of us, walking from right to left, and
presented the calumet, the bowl of which they held in their hand. Each
man took two or three whiffs, while murmuring a prayer, and then the
calumet passed on to the next.

After this, our calumet bearers frequently turned to the four cardinal
points, muttering mysterious words, and indulging in strange gestures
and imitations.

During this time the six old men-buffaloes did not once leave off
singing, shaking their medicine staves behind the fire, and beating the
"badger." At a certain, moment they rose, thrust forward the upper part
of their body, and began dancing, though still singing, and shaking
their wands, while the badger beat time. When this dance had lasted long
enough, they resumed their places in the same order as before.

It is impossible for anyone, unless he has been present, to form an idea
of the original sight offered by this quaint scene. These men painted
of different hues, their varying dresses, their songs, their drums,
their cries, and the noises of every description which blended with
them, borne from the desert on the wing of the night breeze, beneath
the dark and lugubriously starlit vault of heaven, while the immense
canopy of verdure formed as it were a majestic temple for this singular
ceremony--all this did not fail to possess a certain wild grandeur.

After the dances had continued for more than two hours, the strangest
part of the festival began with the entrance of the squaws into the
inclosure. One of them, who was very young and remarkably pretty, came
up to her husband, and gave him her waist belt and petticoat to hold, so
that she was perfectly naked under her gown. She advanced dancing to
one of the most renowned warriors, passed her hand all down his right
arm, and then retired slowly, with her smiling face turned towards him.
The warrior thus invited, at once rose, and disappeared with her in
the wood. There, a man may ransom himself by making a present; but we
must avow, to the honour of the Indian fair sex, that few men do so. My
companions, Black Elk and Belhumeur, who were invited, took very good
care not to buy themselves off, and, on the contrary, readily followed
their dancer; but, for my part, I peremptorily refused, and remained
deaf to all the looks, and nods, and wanton smiles which the dear
charmers thought themselves obliged to lavish on me as a stranger.

I must confess, to my sorrow, however, that it was not from virtuous
motives that I acted thus; I was in love, and courting at the time an
exquisite girl called "Boar's Head," whom I married eventually, and
with whom I lived happily for the five years we had arranged that our
marriage was to last. At the end of that period I sold her for three
female buffalo skins to another chief of my tribe.

This feast lasted for four consecutive nights, from one sun to the next;
the same ceremony was repeated on each occasion with the most scrupulous
exactness, though we noticed that the squaws never invited the same
warrior twice, with the exception of the two Canadian hunters.

When the ceremonies were quite ended, and all the symbolical rites
of the great medicine rigorously performed, one morning at sunrise,
twenty-five youthful warriors, chosen by Eagle-head, left the village,
mounted on excellent hunters, and each leading a second horse by the
bridle.

These warriors form a vanguard intended to discover buffalo sign, and
watch their movements, and for that reason are called "buffalo scouts."
The main body of hunters, consisting of about eighty warriors, among
whom were my comrades and myself, did not start till two days later.

The Indians when on the hunting trail, and especially when they are
desirous to surprise buffalo, travel with extreme care. The scent of the
buffaloes is very subtle, especially when they are to windward; though,
curiously enough, they frequent the same pasture as the elks, they have
no communion with them; still they do not seem at all disturbed by each
other; or the buffaloes, whose sight is not very good form a sort of
partnership with the elks, whom they convert into their sentinels. They
are watchful sentinels too, and, at the first suspicious sign, give the
alarm; whereupon buffaloes and elks disappear in company, escorted by
the red prairie wolves, troublesome followers that prowl round them, and
whom they can never succeed in getting entirely rid of.

Each night we encamped on a hill at no great distance from a stream.
The trees were felled round the bivouac to guard us from a surprise;
the campfires were lighted, and the greater part of the night was
spent in relating hunting narratives and merry stories recounted in
turn, and which excited the heartiest gaiety among the Redskins. For
we will remark, in parenthesis, that the Indians, who are generally
represented as serious, cold, and stoical, on the contrary, have a very
jovial character; a mere nothing makes them laugh, and they indulge to
their heart's content, like all simple and primitive minds. Still, for
all that, they must be together, or in the company of people they are
well acquainted with. In the presence of whites the difficulty they
experience in making themselves understood, and the respect--I might
almost say the instinctive terror--the formidable strangers inspire them
with, completely paralyzes their faculties, and makes them appear almost
idiotic.

We marched thus with easy journeys, in order not to tire our horses, in
the direction of the Rocky Mountains, for some fifty or sixty leagues,
killing a few prairie dogs, elks, and two or three striped sousliks
(_Spermophilus Hoodii_). At times a covey of larks rose at our approach,
or crows and rooks appeared in large numbers and settled down close to
us.

Eagle-head would not consent to a halt for the sake of killing a few
isolated buffaloes we perceived in the distance. We had still thirty
miles to go before getting up with our scouts, and finding ourselves in
the real hunting ground.

On the eighth day after leaving the village we reached a creek which
meandered through a plain, on which the grass was extremely high,
called, as far as I can remember, by the Indians, Green River. A rather
tall hill, situated on its hank, concealed our presence, and sheltered
us from the wind.

Eagle-head gave orders to camp. The horses were allowed to graze, and a
fire of _bois de vâche_ was lighted to roast a few ducks and two elks
that composed our breakfast.

This stream, owing to the advanced season, was nearly dry, and filled
with tall, closely-growing weeds. After a two hours' halt we continued
our march, passing over gently sloping hills, and we found a few of some
height, behind which herds of buffalo are usually found. Before reaching
the top, our party traversed a small valley filled with a narrow strip
of beech trees, elms, and nyundos, between clumps of roses, _prunus
padres_, and a few other shrubs, while the wild tine (_clematis_) hung
in festoons about the trees.

On reaching the top of the last mound we halted, and a singular scene,
which was not without some wild grandeur, was suddenly offered to our
sight.

All the crests of the hills, as far as sight could extend, were crowned
by the scouts sent ahead, and who, motionless as statues of Florentine
bronze, stood out boldly in the blue sky.

These scouts were not seated in the saddle, but standing on it, holding
in the left hand their buffalo robes, which they at times waved, and in
their right their clubs, which they employed to indicate certain points
of the horizon. At our feet, in an immense valley intersected by a large
river, whose numerous capacious windings resembled a silver thread, a
multitude of black spots spotted the tall grass.

These points, which were almost imperceptible owing to the great
distance, were buffaloes: we had at last reached the hunting ground. But
the day was too far advanced for us to dream of following the animals,
and hence the chief gave the signal for camping.

The night was calm, and was spent like the previous ones, in outbursts
of the frankest and heartiest gaiety, and at sunrise we were all up and
ready to begin the hunt. The scouts were still at their posts, and it
might fairly be supposed that during the whole night they had not ceased
to watch the game.

Eagle-head got on the back of his horse, and fired a musket loaded only
with powder, in order to attract the attention of the scouts. Then a
singular scene took place, which offered me much to think about, and
proved to me once again that the Redskins are neither so savage nor
unintelligent as some writers are pleased to represent them.

By the aid of the buffalo robe he held in his hand and waved in every
direction, the sachem began a series of complicated signals, which would
have turned the most expert of our telegraphers pale if called upon to
interpret, for they were transmitted with headlong speed, and instantly
comprehended by the sachem and the scouts.

Eagle-head, according to the information he received, sent off every
moment parties of hunters, for the purpose, as I afterwards learned, of
completely surrounding the buffaloes, and driving them to the middle
of the valley. The hunters picked out started at once at full speed,
galloping in a beeline, according to the Indian fashion, leaping over
all obstacles, and never deviating from the direct course.

Ere long only ten hunters, among whom my companions and myself were,
remained with the chief. He gave a final signal, which was immediately
repeated by all the sentries, got into his saddle, and uttered his
war yell. He then dashed at full speed down into the plain, with the
rapidity of an avalanche, and this manoeuvre was imitated by the
other hunters scattered over the adjacent heights. The hunt, or more
correctly, the butchery, had begun.

The Comanches possess such skill in this horse-hunting, that, in spite
of the difficulty in killing a buffalo, they rarely fire more than
one round at it. Singularly enough, they do not raise the gun to the
shoulder, but stretch out both arms, and fire, in this far from usual
posture, when they are some fifteen or twenty yards from the animal.

They load the gun with incredible speed, for they do not use the ramrod,
but let the bullets, of which they always keep a certain number in their
mouths, fall immediately on the powder, to which it adheres, and which
expels it again at the same moment. Owing to this great speed, the
prairie hunters, in a little while, make a frightful massacre in a herd
of buffaloes, and this time two-thirds of the manada were killed, and
the animals covered the battlefield in heaps.

The buffaloes, enclosed in a circle whence they could not escape,
terrified by the yells of the hunters, who dashed at them from all
sides, brandishing their weapons, and waving their robes, fled in all
directions, at a pace greater than I could have imagined, judging from
their enormous bulk.

Belhumeur and I had settled onto an old buffalo, who gave us plenty
of work. Several point-blank shots had not proved sufficient to check
his pace. He frequently stopped, threw the earth over his head with a
convulsive movement, after digging it up with his fore-feet, assumed a
menacing attitude, and even pursued us for some ten or fifteen yards.
But we easily got away, and the restless animal discontinued its mad
and purposeless chase so soon as we stopped resolutely before it. Its
strength was at length exhausted, but it did not succumb until we had
given it at least twenty bullets.

This first success gave me a liking for the sport and the whole time
the hunt lasted I was one of the most eager in pursuit. At last, at the
expiration of three days, Eagle-head ordered the end of the massacre.
Obeying the chief's signal, the hunters forced open a large gap, through
which the decimated relics of the unhappy herd dashed, lowing with
terror.

Two hundred and seventy buffaloes had been killed in three days, an
almost miraculous hunt, which secured the Comanches of the Lakes
abundance of provisions during the rainy season. The victims were
loaded on horses, and we gaily returned to the village, where the
hunters were received on their arrival with marks of the liveliest joy
and the extraordinary rejoicings usual on such occasions.

One last remark may be allowed me. Everything is valuable in the
buffalo: the meat, the hide, the bones, the horns, and even the hair,
which is made into hats comparable in beauty and substance to the best
beaver. Why is not the buffalo, then, acclimatised in Europe? The
Society of Acclimatisation so recently created, and which has already
produced such excellent results, is keeping, we doubt not, a place for
the buffalo, which we hope soon to see occupied.


[1] Although this animal is really the bison, it is so commonly called
buffalo that I have adhered to that term.



A MUSTANG.

A STUDY OF THE PRAIRIE HORSE.


The aborigines of America were not acquainted with the horse prior to
the arrival of the Spaniards in their country. The Inca Garcillasso de
la Vega, in his "History of the Civil War in India," tells us that the
Peruvians, terrified at the sight of the first horseman, supposed that
the man and the horse only formed one and the same individual. At a
later date they imagined that the horses were formidable and malignant
deities, whom they tried to conciliate by placing gold and silver in
their mangers, and offering up prayers to them.

The Spanish Conquistadors, most of whom came from Andalusia, were
mounted on steeds in whose veins flowed the blood of the Arabs, which
the Moors had succeeded in naturalizing in Spain during an occupation of
eight centuries.

When the conquerors obtained quiet possession of the New World, and
began those internecine contests which cost so much blood, after every
battle the wounded horses were usually left behind, while those whose
masters were killed, escaped in obedience to that innate instinct in all
living creatures, which urges them to try and regain their liberty.

These animals thus left to themselves, wandering haphazard over the
great savannahs, gradually entered the desert, interbred, and at length
multiplied so greatly that they formed bands or _manadas_, whose number
has so increased that it has now become incalculable.

From these horses, which were originally abandoned and returned to
savage life, has issued the remarkable breed known in the New World by
the name of mustangs, or prairie horses. Now that racing is fashionable
in France, and horse breeding has made immense progress, we do not think
we are going out of our way in describing this valuable breed, which is
unknown in the Old World, and to which sufficient justice is not done
even in America.

At the time when I was at Guaymas, during the expedition of the unhappy
Count de Raousset Boulbon I wanted a horse. Copers are as numerous in
Mexico as in Europe, and probably cleverer and more cunning than ours
in disguising the vices and defects of the animals they wish to get rid
of; but unluckily for these clever dealers, and luckily for me, my long
stay among the Indians of the Western Prairies had given me an almost
infallible perception, and rendered it extremely difficult to deceive
me as to the qualities of a horse.

When my wish to purchase a horse was known, there was an extraordinary
rush of dealers to the house where I put up. I peremptorily declined
all the animals offered me. My friends began to joke me and say that I
should not find a horse to suit me, and be compelled to follow on foot
the cavalry corps I commanded, when, on the very eve of departure, I was
walking accidentally on the beach, and saw a Hiaquis Indian a few yards
ahead of me, mounted on a horse whose appearance, in my friends' sight,
had nothing very inviting about it, and so they laughingly invited me to
deal. I feigned to humour them, although I had at once recognized the
animal as a mustang of the Far West, and I took them at their word by
making the Indian a sign to come and speak to me.

The horse was not handsome, I must allow; he was rather tall, had a big
head, and a round forehead; his mane, which was thick and ill-kempt,
hung down to his chest; his tail, which was not thick enough to wave,
almost swept the ground; but his chest was wide and his legs were firm,
while his eyes and nostrils announced fire, vigour, and bottom. Although
the animal had never been shod, and its master, like all the Indians,
had ill-treated it during the long journey it had made to reach Guaymas,
still its thick hoofs were not at all worn or even damaged. It was black
as night, with a white star about the size of a piastre, perfectly
designed, and situated in the exact centre of the forehead.

At my summons the Indian started the horse at a gallop, and came up to
me. I asked him bluntly if he wanted to sell his horse.

"Why not, excellency?" he answered with the wink peculiar to the
Hiaquis. "Negro is a good beast; I lassoed him myself in the heart of
the prairies of the Sierra de San Saba, hardly a month agone, and he has
constantly gone fifteen to sixteen leagues a day."

"Yes, yes," I answered in Indian, "I know all that; but I know too that
you Hiaquis are clever horse dealers, and are perfectly up to the trick
of dressing a horse for sale."

On hearing me speak his language, the Redskin, who was, moreover,
deceived by my hunting garb, took me for a wood ranger, and immediately
treated me with great respect.

"Your excellency will try Negro, if it be really your pleasure to buy,"
he said, at once reassuming the language of his tribe, instead of the
Spanish he had hitherto employed.

"But," I continued, "supposing that Negro, as that is his name, suits
me, I must know the price you want for him."

"Wah!" he said, with a cunning smile; "I will not let your excellency
have Negro under two ounces, and anyone else would pay much more."

Two ounces are about six guineas of our money, so if I had judged the
horse aright, it was plain that I should make a good bargain. I made an
appointment with the Hiaquis for the next morning, and withdrew under
the ironical congratulations of my friends upon my excellent acquisition.

The Indian was punctual. At daybreak I saw him at my door, mounted on
another horse and holding Negro by the bridle. I immediately got into
the saddle, and left Guaymas, accompanied by my Redskin, and started at
a smart trot for the forest.

I soon perceived that Negro was a very easy goer, and that he did not
tire, though he was very eager--excellent qualities in a charger.
Moreover, I saw that, like all prairie horses, whose mouth is generally
hard, he was very sensitive to the spur.

The expedition of which I had the honour to be a member was about to
proceed into half savage countries, where roads have never existed,
and we should have to go across sandy deserts, and through almost
impassable virgin forests; hence I wished to know at once what help I
had to expect from my horse, and what confidence I could place in him.
I therefore resolved to make him leap a stream several feet in width.
For this purpose I gave him his head, and pressed his flanks with my
knees without spurring; the intelligent animal seemed to understand that
it was on trial, and leapt over the obstacle with the agility of an
antelope. I turned round, and tried the leap over and over again, always
with the same result. Certain of his agility, I wished to try his
strength, consequently I took him to a muddy and very difficult morass.
Negro, however, entered it, smelling the water as if to judge its depth,
a proof of sagacity and prudence with which I was greatly pleased, and I
found him prompt and decided in the wheels and counter wheels I made him
take.

I had still an experiment to make with Negro--could he swim?

During the course of my travels, I have seen excellent horses, which
could not swim at all; they lay down on their side as if to float with
the current, so that their rider was obliged to swim himself and take
them to bank, unless he preferred to leave them to their fate, which
is a very serious difficulty when travelling. As a rather wide and
very rapid stream ran not far from us, I rode my horse right into it;
he at once took the current obliquely, with head well raised above the
surface, and dilated nostrils, though without making that painful snort
peculiar to horses under such circumstances; for, on the contrary, he
breathed regularly and without fatigue. He went up and down the stream,
and when I at last guided him to land, he stopped of his own accord and
shook the water off.

Convinced, after all these experiments, that I could without risk
undertake the campaign with such a steed, I started back for Guaymas at
a gallop. On the road I brought down a duck, which Negro went up to as
if trained for shooting, and which I picked up without dismounting.

I immediately gave the two ounces to the Hiaquis, and leaving my friends
to continue their jokes about my acquisition, I rubbed Negro down with
the greatest care.

On the same day the expedition left Guaymas for Hermosillo, and in spite
of his savage ways and rather seedy appearance, the qualities of my
mustang were soon appreciated, as they deserved to be, by my companions,
whose domestic horses were far from coming up to him.

I went through the whole campaign mounted on Negro, allowing him no
other food beyond the prairie grass, green alfalfa, and climbing peas,
or a few hen's eggs, when I could procure them, or a gourd; still, every
morning, two hours before mounting, I was careful to rub him down and
press his back with my hand, to assure myself that he was not grazed
by the saddle, after which I threw over him a zarapé folded double. At
night, before going to sleep, I washed him, threw a bucket of cold water
over his back, looked at his feet and cleaned them out with the utmost
caution.

At the end of the first week, Negro had grown so attached to me that he
recognized my voice and obeyed me with extreme docility; to make him
gallop I only required to bend slightly forward.

When the campaign was ended, instead of embarking at Guaymas for
California, after the fashion of my comrades, I started for Apacheria,
where I spent several months. After that I proceeded to Veracruz,
crossing Mexico in its widest part. I thus rode my horse, without
allowing him a single day's rest, about nine hundred and fifty leagues
calculated at nearly forty-five miles a day, and my mustang was as fresh
and healthy on his arrival as when he started.

No European horse would be capable of accomplishing such a feat, which
I assert, without fear of contradiction, is only child's play for a
mustang of the prairies. Negro is in no way put forward here as a type
of his breed, and had no striking quality to recommend him; he was
certainly a good horse, but all his companions in the prairies resemble
him, and are quite as good as he.

At my last halt, before reaching Veracruz, where I intended to embark
for France, I found a Mexican officer, either colonel or general, I
forget which, but his name was Don Pedro Aguirre, stopping at the same
_mesón_, and we left it together in the morning _en route_ for Veracruz.

Señor Don Pedro Aguirre was mounted on a magnificent steed, which,
he told me, and it was very probable, had cost him four hundred
piastres--according to the Mexican fashion his _asistente_ led a second
horse by the bridle.

I complimented the colonel on his splendid horse, to which compliment he
replied, rather cavalierly, while taking a contemptuous glance at Negro,
that he wished I had a similar one, so that he might have enjoyed my
society during the ride to Veracruz.

I made no retort, although somewhat vexed at this answer, and confined
myself to asking him at what hour he expected to reach the port?

"Sufficiently long before you, señor," he said with a smile, "to have
leisure to order supper at the hotel, on condition that you will consent
to join me at it."

I bowed my thanks, while laughing in my sleeve at the bombastic
confidence of the Mexican officer, and the trick I was going to play
him. After a parting bow, Don Pedro made his horse curvet, dug in his
spurs, and started. But, alas! it was lost trouble; I arrived five
quarters of an hour before him at Veracruz; I ordered dinner; I put my
steed in the corral, and stationed myself in the doorway of the hotel,
where, when the colonel arrived, quite downcast by his defeat, I told
him, with a cunning look, that I was only waiting for him to dine.

Still, I am bound to say, in praise of the colonel, that he took the
joke very kindly, and when his first impulse of ill-humour had passed
off, frankly complimented me on the excellence of my horse.

A few days later, overcome by the entreaties of Don Pedro, I consented,
not without regret, to part with poor Negro, and let the colonel have
him, for the comparatively enormous sum of seven hundred and fifty
piastres; but, alas! I was going to embark for France the next week, and
my horse had become useless for me.

I am convinced that the introduction of this breed of the Western
Prairies into our stud stables would serve greatly to improve our
horses, and that the majority of them would become first-rate racers.





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