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Title: The Indian Scout - A Story of the Aztec City
Author: Aimard, Gustave, 1818-1883
Language: English
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THE INDIAN SCOUT.

A Story of the Aztec City

BY

GUSTAVE AIMARD,

AUTHOR OF "PIRATES OF THE PRAIRIES," "TRAPPER'S BRIDE,"

"PRAIRIE FLOWER," ETC.


LONDON:

WARD AND LOCK,

158, FLEET STREET.

MDCCCLXI.



PREFACE.


The following work has been the most successful of all Gustave Aimard
has published in Paris, and it has run through an unparalleled number
of Editions. This is not surprising, however, when we bear in mind that
he describes in it his personal experiences in the Indian Aztec city,
from which no European ever returned prior to him, to tell the tale of
his adventures. From this volume we learn to regard the Indians from a
very different side than the one hitherto taken; for it is evident that
they are something more than savages, and possess their traditions just
as much as any nation of the Old World. At the present moment, when
the Redskins appear destined to play an important part in the American
struggle, I think that such knowledge as our Author is enabled alone to
give us about their manners and customs, will be read with interest.

L. W.



CONTENTS.

       I. THE SURPRISE
      II. THE GUEST
     III. A NIGHT CONFERENCE
      IV. INDIANS AND HUNTERS
       V. MUTUAL EXPLANATIONS
      VI. A DARK HISTORY
     VII. A DARK HISTORY CONTINUED
    VIII. A DARK HISTORY CONCLUDED
      IX. BRIGHTEYE AND MARKSMAN
       X. FRESH CHARACTERS
      XI. THE FORD OF THE RUBIO
     XII. DON STEFANO COHECHO
    XIII. THE AMBUSCADE
     XIV. THE TRAVELLERS
      XV. RECALLED TO LIFE
     XVI. THE SEARCH AFTER TRUTH
    XVII. DON MARIANO
   XVIII. BEFORE THE TRIAL
     XIX. FACE TO FACE
      XX. THE JUDGMENT
     XXI. BRIGHTEYE
    XXII. THE CAMP
   XXIII. FLYING EAGLE
    XXIV. QUIEPAA TANI
     XXV. A TRIO OF VILLAINS
    XXVI. A HUNT ON THE PRAIRIE
   XXVII. A HUNT ON THE PRAIRIE CONCLUDED
  XXVIII. REDSKINS AND WHITE
    XXIX. THE COUNCIL
     XXX. THE SECOND DETACHMENT
    XXXI. THE TLACATEOTZIN
   XXXII. THE FIRST WALK IN THE CITY
  XXXIII. EXPLANATORY
   XXXIV. CONVERSATIONAL
    XXXV. THE INTERVIEW
   XXXVI. A MEETING
  XXXVII. COMPLICATIONS
 XXXVIII. A WALK IN THE DARK
   XXXIX. THE GREAT MEDICINE
      XL. THE FINAL STRUGGLE
          THE EPILOGUE



THE INDIAN SCOUT.



CHAPTER I.

THE SURPRISE.


It was towards the end of May, 1855, in one of the least visited parts
of the immense prairies of the Far West, and at a short distance from
the Rio Colorado del Norte, which the Indian tribes of those districts
call, in their language so full of imagery, "The endless river with the
golden waves."

The night was profoundly dark. The moon, which had proceeded two-thirds
of its course, displayed between the lofty branches of the trees her
pallid face; and the scanty rays of vacillating light scarce brought
out the outlines of the abrupt and stern scenery. There was not a
breath in the air, not a star in the sky. A silence of death brooded
over the desert--a silence only interrupted, at long intervals, by the
sharp barking of the coyotes in search of prey, or the savage miaulings
of the panthers and jaguars at the watering place.

During the darkness, the great American savannahs, on which no human
sound troubles the majesty of night, assume, beneath the eye of heaven,
an imposing splendour, which unconsciously affects the heart of the
strongest man, and imbues him involuntarily with a feeling of religious
respect.

All at once the closely growing branches of a floripondio were
cautiously parted, and in the space thus left appeared the anxious
head of a man, whose eyes, flashing like those of a wild beast, darted
restless glances in every direction. After a few seconds of perfect
immobility, the man of whom we speak left the clump of trees in the
midst of which he was concealed, and leaped out on the plain.

Although his bronzed complexion had assumed almost a brick colour,
still, from his hunting garb, and, above all, the light colour of
his long hair, and his bold, frank, and sharply-marked features, it
was easy to recognise in this man one of those daring Canadian wood
rangers, whose bold race is daily expiring, and will probably disappear
ere long.

He walked a few paces, with the barrel of his rifle thrust forward,
and his finger on the trigger, minutely inspecting the thickets and
numberless bushes that surrounded him; then, probably reassured by the
silence and solitude that--continued to prevail around, he stopped,
rested the butt of his rifle on the ground, bent forward, and imitated,
with rare perfection, the song of the centzontle, the American
nightingale.

Scarce had the last modulation of this song, which was gentle as a love
sigh, died away in the air, when a second person bounded forward from
the same shrub which had already offered passage to the hunter. It was
an Indian; he stationed himself by the Canadian's side, and, after
a few seconds' silence, said, affecting a tranquillity probably not
responded to by his heart,--"Well?"

"All is calm," the hunter answered. "The _Cihuatl_ can come."

The Indian shook his head.

"Since the rising of the moon, Mahchsi Karehde has been separated from
Eglantine; he knows not where she is at this moment."

A kindly smile played round the hunter's lips.

"Eglantine loves my brother," he said, gently. "The little bird that
sings in her heart will have led her on the trail of the Chief. Has
Mahchsi Karehde forgotten the song with which he called her to his love
meetings in the tribe?"

"The Chief has forgotten nothing."

"Let him call her then."

The Indian did not let the invitation be repeated. The cry of the
walkon rose in the silence.

At the same moment a rustling was heard in the branches, and a young
woman, bounding like a startled fawn, fell panting into the warrior's
arms, which were opened to receive her. This pressure was no longer
than a flash of lightning; the Chief, doubtlessly ashamed of the tender
emotion he had yielded to in the presence of a white man, even though
that white man was a friend, coldly repulsed the young female, saying
to her, in a voice in which no trace of feeling was visible, "My sister
is fatigued, without doubt; no danger menaces her at this moment; she
can sleep; the warriors will watch over her."

"Eglantine is a Comanche maid," she answered in a timid voice. "Her
heart is strong; she will obey Mahchsi Karehde (the Flying Eagle).
Under the protection of so terrible a chief she knows herself in
safety."

The Indian bent on her a glance full of indescribable tenderness; but
regaining, almost immediately, that apparent apathy which the Redskins
never depart from, "The warriors wish to hold a council; my sister can
sleep," he said.

The young woman made no reply; she bowed respectfully to the two men,
and withdrawing a few paces, she lay down in the grass, and slept, or
feigned to sleep. The Canadian had contented himself with smiling, on
seeing the result obtained by the advice he had given the warrior, and
listened, with an approving nod of the head, to the few words exchanged
between the Redskins. The Chief, buried in thought, stood for a few
minutes with his eyes fixed, with a strange expression, on the young,
sleeping woman; then he passed his hand several times over his brow, as
if to dissipate the clouds that oppressed his mind, and turned to the
hunter.

"My brother, the Paleface, has need of rest. The Chief will watch," he
said.

"The coyotes have ceased barking, the moon has disappeared, a white
streak is rising on the horizon," the Canadian replied. "Day will
speedily appear; sleep has fled my eyelids; the men must hold a
council."

The Indian bowed, without further remark, and, laying his gun on the
ground, collected a few armfuls of dry wood, which he carried near
the sleeper. The Canadian struck a light; the wood soon caught, and
the flame coloured the trees with its blood red hue. The two men then
squatted by each other's side, filled their calumets with _manachie_,
the sacred tobacco, and commenced smoking silently, with that imposing
gravity which the Indians, under all circumstances, bring to this
symbolic operation.

We will profit by this moment of rest, which accident offers us, to
draw a portrait of these three persons, who are destined to play an
important part in the course of our story.

The Canadian was a man of about forty-five years of age, six feet in
height, long, thin, and dry; his was a nervous nature, composed of
muscle and sinews, perfectly adapted to the rude profession of wood
ranger, which demands a vigour and boldness beyond all expression.
Like all his countrymen, the Canadian offered, in his features, the
Norman type in its thorough purity. His wide forehead; his grey eyes,
full of intelligence; his slightly aquiline nose; his large mouth,
full of magnificent teeth; the long light hair, mingled with a few
silvery threads which escaped from under his otter skin cap, and fell
in enormous ringlets on his shoulders,--all these details gave this man
an open, frank, and honest appearance, which attracted sympathy, and
pleased at the first glance. This worthy, giant, whose real name was
Bonnaire, but who was only known on the prairies by the sobriquet of
Marksman, a sobriquet which he fully justified by the correctness of
his aim, and his skill in detecting the lurking places of wild beasts,
was born in the vicinity of Montreal; but having been taken, while very
young, into the forests of Upper Canada, desert life possessed such
charms for him, that he had given up civilized society, and for nearly
thirty years had traversed the vast solitudes of North America, only
consenting to visit the towns and villages when he wanted to dispose
of the skins of the animals he had killed, or renew his provision of
powder and bullets.

Marksman's companion, Flying Eagle, was one of the most renowned chiefs
of the tribe of the White Buffaloes, the most powerful of all forming
the warlike Comanche race, that untameable and ferocious nation, which,
in its immeasurable pride, haughtily terms itself the Queen of the
Prairies, a title which no other tribe dares to challenge. Flying
Eagle, though still very young, for he was scarcely four-and-twenty,
had already distinguished himself, on several occasions, by deeds of
such unheard-of boldness and temerity, that his mere name inspired the
countless Indian hordes that constantly traverse the desert in every
direction, with invincible terror.

He was tall, well built, and perfectly proportioned; his features were
elegant, and his black eyes acquired, beneath the influence of any
powerful emotion, that strange rigidity which commands respect; his
gestures were noble, and his carriage graceful, and stamped with that
majesty inborn in Indians. The Chief was attired in his war dress, and
that was so singular, as to deserve a detailed description.

Flying Eagle wore the cap which only distinguished warriors, who have
killed many warriors, have the right to assume; it is made of strips
of white ermine, with a large piece of red cloth fastened at the back,
and falling to the thigh, to which is fastened an upright crest of
black and white eagle plumes, which begins at the head, and continues
in close order to the extremity. Above his right ear he had passed
through his hair a wooden knife, painted red, and about the length
of a hand; this knife was the model of one with which he had killed
a Dacotah chief; he wore, in addition, eight small wooden skewers,
painted blue, and adorned at the upper extremity with a gilt nail, to
indicate the number of bullets that had wounded him; over his left ear
he wore a large tuft of yellow owl feathers, with the ends painted
red, as the totem of the Band of Dogs; one half his face was red, and
his body reddish brown, with stripes from which the colour had been
removed by a moistened finger. His arms, starting from the shoulder,
were adorned with twenty-seven yellow stripes, indicating the number
of his exploits, while on his chest he had painted a blue hand, to
announce that he had frequently made prisoners. Round his neck he wore
a magnificent collar of grizzly bear's claws, three inches in length,
and white at the point. His shoulders were covered by a large buffalo
robe, falling almost to the ground, and painted of various colours.
His breeches, composed of two separate parts, one for each leg, were
tightly fastened to his waist belt, and fell almost to his ankles,
embroidered externally with coloured porcupine quills, terminating in a
long tuft that trailed on the ground. Wide stripes of black and white
cloth were rolled round his hips, and fell before and behind in heavy
folds. His slippers, of buffalo hide, were but slightly decorated;
but wolf tails, trailing on the ground behind him, and equalling in
number the enemies he had conquered, were fastened above his ankles.
From his waist belt hung, on one side, his powder flask, ball pouch,
and scalping knife: on the other, a quiver of panther skin filled with
long, sharp arrows, and his tomahawk; his gun was laid on the ground,
within reach of his hand.

This warrior, dressed in such a strange costume, had something imposing
and sinister about him which inspired terror.

For the present we will confine ourselves to saying that Eglantine was
not more than fifteen years of age; that she was very beautiful for an
Indian girl; and wore, in all its elegant simplicity, the sweet costume
adopted by the women of her nation. Ending here this description, which
was perhaps too detailed, but which was necessary in order to know the
men we have introduced in the scene, we will return to our narrative.

For a long time the two men smoked side by side without exchanging a
syllable; at length, the Canadian shook out the ashes of his pipe on
his thumb nail, and addressed his companion.

"Is my brother satisfied?" he said.

"Wah!" the Indian answered, and bowing assent; "my brother has a
friend."

"Good!" the hunter continued; "and what will the Chief do now?"

"Flying Eagle will rejoin his tribe with Eglantine, and then return to
seek the Apache trail."

"For what purpose?"

"Flying Eagle will avenge himself."

"As you please, Chief. I will certainly not try to dissuade you from
projects against enemies who are also mine; still, I do not believe you
look at the matter in the right light."

"What would my brother the Paleface warrior say?"

"I mean that we are far from the lodges of the Comanches, and before
reaching them we shall have doubtlessly more than one turn-up with
the enemies from whom the Chief considers himself freed, perhaps, too
prematurely."

The Indian shrugged his shoulders disdainfully.

"The Apaches are old women, chattering, and cowardly," he said. "Flying
Eagle despises them."

"That is possible," the hunter replied, with a toss of his head;
"still, in my opinion, we should have done better in continuing our
journey till sunrise, in order to put a greater distance between them
and us, instead of halting so imprudently; we are still very near the
camp of our enemies."

"The fire water has stopped the ears and closed the eyes of the Apache
dogs; they are stretched on the ground and sleeping."

"Hum! that is not my opinion; I am, on the contrary, persuaded that
they are watching and looking for us."

At the same instant, as if chance wished to justify the apprehensions
of the prudent hunter, some dozen shots were fired; a horrible war
cry, to which the Canadian and the Comanche responded, with a yell of
defiance, was heard in the forest, and nearly thirty Indians rushed
howling toward the fire, at which our three characters were seated; but
the latter had disappeared, as if by enchantment.

The Apaches stopped with an outburst of passion, not knowing in what
direction to turn, in order to find their crafty foes again. Suddenly
three shots were fired from the interior of the forest, and three
Apaches rolled on the ground, with holes in their chests. The Indians
uttered a yell of fury, and rushed in the direction of the shots. At
the moment they reached the edge of the forest, a man stepped forward,
waving in his right hand a buffalo robe, as a signal of peace. It was
Marksman, the Canadian.

The Apaches stopped with an ill-omened hesitation, but the Canadian,
without seeming to notice the movement, walked resolutely toward them
with the slow and careless step habitual to him; on recognizing him,
the Indians brandished their weapons wrathfully, and wished to rush
upon him, for they had many reasons for hating the hunter; but their
Chief arrested them with a peremptory gesture.

"Let my brothers be patient," he said, with a sinister smile, "they
will lose nothing by waiting."



CHAPTER II.

THE GUEST.


On the same day that our story begins, and about three miles from where
the events narrated in our preceding chapter occurred, a numerous
caravan had halted at sunset, in a vast clearing situated on the skirt
of an immense virgin forest, the last species of which ended on the
banks of the Rio Colorado.

This caravan came from the south-east, that is, from Mexico. It
appeared to have been on the march for a long time, as far as possible
to judge by the state in which the clothes of the men were, as well
as the harness of the horses and mules. In fact, the poor beasts
themselves were reduced to a state of leanness and weakness, which
amply testified to the rude fatigue they must have endured. The
caravan was composed of some thirty-five persons, all attired in
the picturesque and characteristic costume of the half-bred hunters
and Gambusinos, who alone, or in small bands, at the most of four,
incessantly traverse the Far West, which they explore in its most
mysterious depths, for the purpose of hunting, trapping, or discovering
the numberless gold veins it contains in its bosom.

The adventurers halted, dismounted, fastened their horses to picket
ropes, and began immediately, with that skill and quickness only
attained by long habit, making their preparations to bivouac. The grass
was pulled up over a considerable extent of ground; the baggage, piled
up in a circle, formed a breastwork, behind which a sudden attack of
the desert marauders might be resisted; and then fires were lighted in
the shape of a St. Andrew's cross in the interior of the camp.

When all this had been attended to, some of the adventurers put up a
large tent above a palanquin hermetically closed, which was carried by
two mules, one before and one behind. When the tent was pitched, the
mules were taken out of the palanquin, and the curtains, in falling,
covered it so completely, that it was entirely concealed.

This palanquin was a riddle to the adventurers. No one knew what it
contained, though the general curiosity was singularly aroused on the
subject of a mystery so specially incomprehensible in this deserted
country; each kept carefully to himself the opinions he had formed
about it--above all, since the day when, in the midst of a difficult
piece of country, and during the momentary absence of the chief of the
Cuadrilla, who usually never left the palanquin, which he guarded like
a miser does his treasure, a hunter leaned over and slightly opened
one of the curtains; but the man had scarce time to take a furtive
peep through the opening, ere the chief, suddenly coming up, split his
skull open with a blow of his machete, and laid him dead at his feet.
Then he turned to the terrified witnesses, and said calmly,--"Is there
another among you who would like to discover what I think proper to
keep secret?"

These words were uttered in such a tone of implacable raillery and
furious cruelty, that these villains, for the most part without faith
or law, and accustomed to brave, with a laugh, the greatest perils,
felt an internal shudder, and their blood stagnated in their veins.
This lesson had been sufficient. No one tried afterwards to discover
the captain's secret.

The final arrangements had been scarcely made for the encampment, ere
the sound of horses was heard, and two horsemen arrived at a gallop.

"Here is the Captain," the adventurers said to each other.

The newcomers gave their reins to men who ran up to receive them, and
walked hastily toward the tent. On arriving there, the first stopped
and addressed his companion:--"Caballero," he said to him, "you are
welcome among us; although very poor ourselves, we will gladly share
the little we possess with you."

"Thanks," the second said, with a bow, "I will not abuse your gracious
hospitality; tomorrow, at sunrise, I think I shall be sufficiently
rested to continue my journey."

"You will act as you think proper: seat yourself by this fire prepared
for us, while I go for a few moments into that tent. I will soon rejoin
you, and have the honour of keeping you company."

The stranger bowed, and took his place by the fire, lighted a short
distance from the tent, while the captain let the curtain he had lifted
fail behind him, and disappeared from his guest's sight.

The latter was a man of marked features, his stalwart limbs denoting
a far from ordinary strength; the few wrinkles that furrowed his
energetic face served to indicate that he had already passed midlife,
though no trace of decrepitude was visible on his solidly-built body,
and not a white hair silvered his long and thick locks, which were
black as a raven's wing. He wore the costume of the rich Mexican
hacenderos, that is to say, the mança; the zarapé, of many colours;
the velvet calzoneras, open at the knee, and botas vaqueras; his hat,
of vicuna skin, gallooned with gold, was drawn in by a rich toquilla,
fastened with a costly diamond; a sheathless machete hung from his
right hip, merely passed through an iron ring: the barrels of two
six-chambered revolvers shone in his waist belt, and he had thrown on
the grass by his side an American rifle, beautifully damascened with
silver.

When the Captain left him alone, this man, while installing himself
before the fire in the most comfortable way possible, that is to say,
arranging his zarapé and water bottles to serve as a bed, if necessary,
had cast a furtive glance around, whose expression would, doubtless,
have supplied the adventurers with serious matter of thought had they
been able to notice it; but all were busied in getting the bivouac
snug, and preparations for supper; and trusting entirely in the loyalty
of prairie hospitality, they did not at all dream of watching what the
stranger seated at their fire was about.

The unknown, after a few moments' reflection, rose and walked up to a
party of trappers, whose conversation seemed very animated, and who
were gesticulating with that fire natural to southern races.

"Eh!" one of them said, on noticing the stranger, "this señor will set
us right with a word."

The latter, thus directly appealed to, turned toward the speaker.

"What is the matter, caballeros?" he asked.

"Oh, a very simple matter," the adventurer made answer; "your horse, a
noble and handsome animal, I must allow, señor, will not associate with
others; it stamps its feet and bites at the companions we have given
it."

"Oh, that is, indeed, simple enough," a second adventurer remarked,
with a grin; "that horse is a _costeño_, and too proud to associate
with poor _tierras interiores_ like our horses."

At this singular reason, all burst into an Homeric laugh. The stranger
smiled cunningly.

"It may be the reason you state, or perhaps some other," he said
gently; "at any rate, there is a very simple way of settling the
dispute, which I will employ."

"Ah!" the second speaker said, "what is it?"

"This," the stranger replied, with the same air of placidity.

Then, walking up to the horse, which two men had a difficulty in
holding, he said,--"Let go!"

"But if we let go, nobody knows what will happen."

"Let go! I answer for all then," addressing his horse,--"Lillo!" he
said.

At this name, the horse raised its noble head, and fixing its sparkling
eye on the man who had called it, with a sharp and irresistible
movement, it threw off the two men who tried to check it, sent them
rolling on the grass, to the shouts of their comrades, and rubbed its
head against its master's chest with a neigh of pleasure.

"You see," the stranger said, as he patted the noble animal, "it is not
difficult."

"Hum!" the first adventurer who picked himself up said, in an angry
tone, and rubbing his shoulder; "that is a _demonio_ to which I would
not entrust my skin, old and wrinkled as it is at present."

"Do not trouble yourself any further about the horse, I will attend to
it."

"On the faith of Domingo, I have had enough, for my part; 'tis a noble
brute, but it has a fiend inside it."

The stranger shrugged his shoulders without replying, and returned
to the fire, followed by his horse, which paced step by step behind
him, not evincing the slightest wish to indulge further in those
eccentricities which had so greatly astonished the adventurers, who
are, however, all men well versed in the equine art. This horse was
a pure barb of Arab stock, and had probably cost its present owner
an enormous sum, and its pace seemed strange to men accustomed to
American horses. Its master gave it provender, hobbled it near him,
and then sat down again by the fire: at the same instant the Captain
appeared in the entrance of the tent.

"I beg your pardon," he said, with that charming courtesy natural to
the Hispano-Americans; "I beg your pardon, Señor Caballero, for having
neglected you so long, but an imperative duty claimed my presence. Now,
I am quite at your service."

The stranger bowed. "On the contrary," he replied, "I must ask you to
accept my apologies for the cool manner in which I avail myself of your
hospitality."

"Not a word more on this head, if you wish not to annoy me."

The Captain seated himself by his guest's side.

"We will dine," he said. "I can only offer you scanty fare; but one
must put up with it, and I am reduced to tasajo and red beans with
pimento."

"That is delicious, and I should assuredly do honour to it if I felt
the slightest appetite; but, at the present moment, it would be
impossible for me to swallow the smallest mouthful."

"Ah!" the Captain said, looking distrustfully at the stranger.

But he met a face so simply calm, a smile so frank, that he felt
ashamed of his suspicions, and his face, which had grown gloomy, at
once regained all its serenity.

"I am vexed. Still, I will ask permission to dine at once; for,
differently from you, Caballero, I must confess to you that I am
literally dying of hunger."

"I should be in despair at causing you the slightest delay."

"Domingo," the Captain shouted, "my dinner."

The adventurer, whom the stranger's horse had treated so roughly, soon
came up limping, and carrying his chief's supper in a wooden tray; a
few tortillas he held in his hand completed the meal, which was worthy
of an anchorite.

Domingo was an Indian half-bred, with a knowing look, angular features,
and crafty face: he appeared to be about fifty years of age, so far
as it is possible to judge an Indian's age by his looks. Since his
misadventure with the horse, Domingo felt a malice for the stranger.

"_Con su permiso_," the Captain said, as he broke a tortilla.

"I will smoke a cigarette, if that can be called keeping you company,"
the stranger said, with his stereotyped smile.

The other bowed politely, and fell to on his meagre repast with that
eagerness which denotes a lengthened abstinence. We will take advantage
of the opportunity to draw for the reader a portrait of the chief of
the caravan.

Don Miguel Ortega, for such was the name by which he was known to his
comrades, was an elegant and handsome young man, not more than six and
twenty years of age, with a bronzed complexion, delicate features,
haughty and flashing eyes; while his tall stature, well-shaped limbs,
and wide and arched chest, denoted rare vigour. Assuredly, through
the whole extent of the old Spanish colonies, it would have been
difficult--if not impossible--to meet a more seductive cavalier, whom
the picturesque Mexican costume became so well, or combining to the
same extent as he did, those external advantages which charm women and
captivate the populace. Still, for the observer, Don Miguel had too
great a depth in his eye, too rude a frown, and a smile too false and
perfidious, not to conceal, beneath his pleasing exterior, an ulcerated
soul and evil instincts.

A hunter's meal, seasoned by appetite, is never long. The present one
was promptly disposed of.

"There," the Captain said, as he wiped his fingers with a tuft of
grass; "now for a cigarette to help digestion, and then I shall have
the honour to wish you good night. Of course, you do not intend to
leave us before daybreak."

"I can hardly tell you. That will depend, to some extent, on the
weather tonight. I am in a considerable hurry, and you know, Caballero,
that--as our neighbours, the Gringos, so justly remark--time is money."

"You know better than I do, Caballero, what you have to do. Act as you
please; but, before I retire, accept my wishes for a pleasant night's
rest, and the success of your plans."

"I thank you, Caballero."

"One last word, or rather, one last question before separating?"

"Ask it."

"Of course, if this question appears to you indiscreet, you are at
perfect liberty not to answer it."

"It would surprise me, on the part of so accomplished a Caballero.
Hence, be kind enough to explain yourself."

"My name is Don Miguel Ortega."

"And mine, Don Stefano Cohecho."

The Captain bowed.

"Will you allow me, in my turn," the stranger said, "to ask you a
question?"

"I beg you to do so."

"Why this exchange of names?"

"Because, on the prairie it is good to be able to distinguish friends
from foes."

"That is true. And now?"

"Now I am certain that I do not count you among the latter."

"_¿Quién sabe?_" Don Stefano retorted, with a laugh. "There are such
strange accidents."

The two men, after exchanging a few more words in the most friendly
manner, cordially shook hands. Don Miguel went into the tent, and Don
Stefano, after turning his feet towards the fire, slept, or pretended
to do so.

An hour later, the deepest silence reigned in the camp. The fires only
produced a doubtful gleam; and the sentinels, leaning on their rifles,
were themselves yielding to that species of vague somnolency, which
is not quite sleep, but is no longer watching. All at once, an owl,
probably hidden in a neighbouring tree, twice uttered its melancholy
hu-hu.

Don Stefano suddenly opened his eyes, without changing his position; he
assured himself, by an investigating glance, that all was quiet around
him; then, after convincing himself that his machete and revolvers had
not left him, he took up his rifle, and in his turn imitated the cry of
the owl, which was answered by a similar whoop.

The stranger, after arranging his zarapé, so as to imitate a human
body, whispered a few words to his horse while patting it, in order to
calm it; and laying himself at full length on the ground, he crawled
towards one of the outlets from the camp, stopping at intervals to look
around him.

All continued to be tranquil. On reaching the foot of the breastwork
formed by the baggage, he jumped up, leapt over the obstacles with a
tiger's bound, and disappeared in the prairie. At the same instant a
man rose, sprang over the entrenchment, and rushed in pursuit of him.

That man was Domingo.



CHAPTER III.

A NIGHT CONFERENCE.


Don Stefano Cohecho seemed to be thoroughly acquainted with the
desert. So soon as he was on the prairie, and fancied himself safe
from any curious eye, he raised his head haughtily, his step grew more
confident, his eye sparkled with a gloomy fire, and he walked with long
steps towards a clump of palm trees, whose small fans formed but a
scanty protection by day against the burning sunbeams.

Still he neglected no precaution; at times he stopped hurriedly, to
listen to the slightest suspicious sound, or interrogate with searching
glance the gloomy depths of the forest. But after a few seconds,
re-assured by the calm that prevailed around him, he jogged onwards
with that deliberate step he had adopted on leaving the camp.

Domingo walked literally in his steps; spying and watching each of
his movements with that sagacity peculiar to the half-breeds, while
carefully keeping on his guard against any surprise on the part of the
man he was following. Domingo was one of those men of whom only too
many are met with on the frontiers. Gifted with great qualities and
great vices, equally fit for good and evil, capable of accomplishing
extraordinary things in either sense; but who, for the most part, are
only guided by their evil instincts.

He was at this moment following the stranger, without exactly knowing
the motive that made him do so; not, even having decided whether to
be for or against him; awaiting, to make up his mind, a little better
knowledge of the state of affairs, and the chance of weighing the
advantage he should derive from treachery or the performance of his
duty. Hence, he carefully avoided letting his presence be suspected,
for he guessed that the mystery he wished to detect would, if he
succeeded, offer him great advantages, especially if he knew how to
work it.

The two men marched thus for nearly an hour, one behind the other, Don
Stefano not suspecting for a moment that he was so cleverly watched,
and that one of the most knowing scoundrels on the prairie was at his
heels.

After numberless turnings in the tall grass, Don Stefano at length
arrived at the bank of the Rio Colorado, which at this spot was as wide
and placid as a lake, running over a bed of sand, bordered by thick
clumps of cottonwood trees, and tall poplars, whose roots were bathed
in the water. On reaching the river, the stranger stopped, listened
for a moment, and, raising his fingers to his mouth, imitated the bark
of a coyote. Almost immediately, the same signal rose in the midst of
the mangrove trees, and a little birchbark canoe, pulled by two men,
appeared on the bank.

"Eh!" Don Stefano said, in a suppressed voice, "I had given up all
hopes of meeting you."

"Did you not hear our signal?" one of the men in the canoe answered.

"Should I have come without that? Still, it seems to me you could have
come nearer to me."

"It was not possible."

The canoe ran on to the sand; the two men leaped on lightly, and in a
second joined Don Stefano. Both were dressed and armed like prairie
hunters.

"Hum!" Don Stefano continued; "it is a long journey from the camp here,
and I am afraid that my absence may be noticed."

"That is a risk you must run," the first speaker remarked--a man of
tall stature, with a grave and stern face, whose hair, white as snow,
fell in long curls on his shoulders.

"Well, as you are here at last, let us come to an understanding; and
make haste about it, for time is precious. What have you done since we
parted?"

"Not much; we followed you at a distance, that is all, ready to come to
your assistance if needed."

"Thanks; no news?"

"None. Who could have given us any?"

"That is true; and have you not met your friend Marksman?"

"No."

"_¡Cuerpo de Cristo!_ That is annoying; for, if my presentiment do not
deceive me, we shall soon have to play at knives."

"We will do so."

"I know it, Brighteye. I have long been acquainted with your courage;
but you, Ruperto your comrade, and myself, are only three men, after
all."

"What matter?"

"What matter? you say, when we shall have to fight thirty or forty
hardened hunters! On my word, Brighteye, you will drive me mad with
your notions. You doubt about nothing; but remember, that this time
we have not to contend against badly-armed Indians, but white men,
thorough game for the galleys, who will die without yielding an inch,
and to whom we must inevitably succumb."

"That is true; I did not think of that; they are numerous."

"If we fall, what will become of her?"

"Good, good," the hunter said, with a shake of his head. "I repeat to
you that I did not think of that."

"You see, then, that it is indispensable for us to come to an
understanding with Marksman and the men he may have at his disposal."

"Yes; but where are you going to find in the desert the trail of a man
like Marksman? Who knows where he is at this moment? He may be within
gunshot of us, or five hundred miles off."

"It is enough to drive me mad."

"The fact is, that the position is grave. Are you, at least, sure this
time that you are not mistaken, but are in the right trail?"

"I cannot say with certainty, though everything leads me to suppose
that I am not mistaken. However, I shall soon know what I have to
depend on."

"Besides, it is the same trail we have followed ever since leaving
Monterey; the chances are it is they."

"What do we resolve on?"

"Hang it! I do not know what to say!"

"On my word, you are a most heart breaking fellow! What! cannot you
suggest any way?"

"I must have a certainty, and then, as you said yourself, it would be
madness for us thus to try a sudden attack."

"You are right. I will return to the camp; tomorrow night we will meet
again, and I shall be very unlucky if this time I do not discover
what it is so important for us all to know. Do you, in the meanwhile,
ransack the prairie in every direction, and, if possible, bring me news
of Marksman."

"The recommendation is unnecessary. I shall not be idle."

Don Stefano seized the old hunter's hand, and pressed it between his
own.

"Brighteye," he said to him, with considerable emotion,

"I will not speak of our old friendship, nor of the services which I
have been several times so fortunate as to render you; I will only
repeat, and I know it will be sufficient for you, that the happiness of
my whole life depends on the success of our expedition."

"Good, good; have confidence in me, Don José. I am too old to change my
friends; I do not know who is right or wrong in this business; I wish
that justice may be on your side; but that does not affect me. Whatever
may happen, I will be a good and faithful companion to you."

"Thanks, my old friend. Tomorrow night, then."

After uttering these few words, Don Stefano, or, at least, the man who
called himself so, made a move as if to withdraw; but Brighteye stopped
him, with a sudden gesture.

"What is the matter?" the stranger asked.

The hunter laid a forefinger on his mouth, to recommend silence, and
turned to Ruperto, who had remained silent and apathetic during the
interview.

"_Coyote_," he said to him, in a low voice.

Without replying, Ruperto bounded like a jaguar, and disappeared in a
clump of cottonwood trees, which was a short distance off. After a few
moments, the two men who had remained, with their bodies bent forward
in the attitude of listeners, without uttering a syllable, heard a
rustling of leaves, a noise of broken branches, followed by the fall of
a heavy body on the ground, and after that nothing. Almost immediately
the cry of the owl rose in the night air.

"Ruperto calls us," Brighteye then said, "all is over

"What has happened?" Don Stefano asked anxiously.

"Less than nothing," the hunter replied, making him a sign to follow.
"You had a spy at your heels; that is all."

"A spy?"

"By Jove! you shall see."

"Oh, oh! that is serious."

"Less than you suppose, as we have him."

"In that case, though, we must kill the man."

"Who knows? That will probably depend on the explanation we may have
with him. At any rate, there is no great harm in crushing such vipers."

While speaking thus, Brighteye and his companion had entered the
thicket. Domingo, thrown down, and tightly garotted by means of
Ruperto's reata, was vainly struggling to break the bonds that cut
into, his flesh. Ruperto, with his hands resting on the muzzle of his
rifle, was listening with a grin, but no other reply, to the flood of
insults and recriminations which rage drew from the half-breed.

"_¡Dios me ampare!_" the latter shouted, writhing like a viper.
"_¡Verdugo del Demonio!_ Is this the way to behave between _gente de
razón?_ Am I a Redskin, to be tied like a plug of tobacco, and have my
limbs fettered like a calf that is being taken to the shambles? If ever
you fall into my hands, accursed dog! you shall pay for the trick you
have played me."

"Instead of threatening, my good man," Brighteye interposed, "it seems
to me you would do better by frankly allowing that you are in our
power, and acting in accordance."

The bandit sharply turned his head, the only part of his person at
liberty, toward the hunter.

"What right have you to call me good man, and give me advice, old
trapper of muskrats?" he said to him, irritably. "Are you white men or
Indians, to treat a hunter thus?"

"If, instead of hearing what did not concern you, Señor Domingo, for I
believe that is your name," Don Stefano said, with a cunning look, "you
had remained quietly asleep in your camp, the little annoyance of which
you complain would not have occurred."

"I am bound to recognize the justice of your reasoning," the bandit
replied ironically; "but, hang it! what would you have? I have ever
suffered from a mania of trying to find out what people sought to hide
from me."

The stranger looked at him suspiciously.

"And have you had the mania long, my good friend?" he asked him.

"Since my earliest youth," he answered, with effrontery.

"Only think of that! Then you must have learned a good many things?"

"An enormous quantity, worthy sir."

Don Stefano turned to Brighteye.

"My friend," he said to him, "just unloosen this man's bonds a little.
There is much to be gained in his company; I wish to enjoy his
conversation for a little while."

The hunter silently executed the orders he received. The bandit uttered
a sigh of satisfaction at finding himself more at his ease, and sat up.

"_¡Cuerpo de Cristo!_" he exclaimed, with a mocking accent. "The
position is now, at any rate, bearable. We can talk."

"I think so."

"My faith! yes. I am quite at your service, for anything you please,
Excellency."

"I will profit by your complaisance."

"Profit by it! profit by it, Excellency? I can only gain in talking
with you."

"Do you believe so?"

"I am convinced of it."

"Indeed, you may be right; but tell me, beside that noble curiosity,
which you so frankly confessed, have you not, by accident, a few other
defects?"

The bandit appeared to reflect conscientiously for two or three
minutes, and then answered, with an affable grin,--

"My faith! no, Excellency. I cannot find any."

"Are you sure of that?"

"Hum! it may be so, yet I do not believe it."

"Come, you see, you are not sure."

"That is indeed true!" the bandit exclaimed, with pretended candour.
"As you know, Excellency, human nature is so imperfect."

Don Stefano gave a nod of assent.

"If I were to help you," he said, "perhaps--"

"We might find it out, Excellency," Domingo quickly interrupted him.
"Well, help me, help me, I ask for nothing better."

"Hum! for instance--but notice that I affirm nothing; I suppose, that
is all."

"_¡Caray!_ I am well aware of it. Go on, Excellency, do not trouble
yourself."

"Then, I say--have you not a certain weakness for money?"

"For gold, especially."

"That is what I meant to say."

"The fact is, gold is very tempting, Excellency."

"I do not wish to regard it as a crime, my friend. I only mention it;
besides, that passion is so natural--"

"Is it not?"

"That you must be affected by it."

"Well, I confess, Excellency, that you have guessed it."

"Look you! I was sure of it."

"Yes, money gained honestly."

"Of course! Thus, for instance, suppose anyone offered you a thousand
piastres to discover the secret of Don Miguel Ortega's palanquin?"

"Hang it!" the bandit said, fixing a sharp glance on the stranger, who,
for his part, examined him attentively.

"And if that somebody," Don Stefano went on, "gave you in addition,
as earnest penny, a ring like this?" While saying this, he made a
magnificent diamond ring flash in the bandit's eyes.

"I would accept," the latter said, with a greedy accent, "even if I
were compelled, in order to discover that secret, to imperil the share
I hope for in Paradise."

Don Stefano turned to Brighteye. "Unfasten this man," he said, coldly,
"we understand each other."

On feeling himself free, the half-breed gave a bound of joy. "The
ring!" he said.

"There it is," Don Stefano said, as he handed it to him; "all is
arranged."

Domingo laid his right-hand thumb across the left, and raised his head
proudly. "On the Holy Cross of the Redeemer," he said, in a clear and
impressive voice, "I swear to employ all my efforts in discovering
the secret Don Miguel hides so jealously; I swear never to betray the
Caballero with whom I am treating at this moment: this oath I take in
the presence of these three Caballeros, pledging myself, if I break it,
to endure any punishment, even death, which it may please these three
Caballeros to inflict on me."

The oath taken by Domingo is the most terrible a Spanish American can
offer; there is not a single instance of it ever having been broken.
Don Stefano bowed, convinced of the bandit's sincerity.

At this moment, several shots, followed by horrible yells, were heard
at a short distance off. Brighteye started. "Don José," he said to the
stranger, as he laid his hands on his shoulder, "Heaven favours us.
Return to the camp; tomorrow night I shall probably have some news for
you."

"But those shots?"

"Do not trouble yourself about them, but return to the camp, I tell
you, and let me act."

"Well, as you wish it, I will retire."

"Till tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow."

"And I?" Domingo said. "Caramba, comrades, if you are going to play at
knives, can you not take me with you?"

The old hunter looked at him attentively. "Eh!" he said, at the
expiration of a moment, "your idea is not a bad one; you can come if
you desire it."

"That is capital, for it is a pretext ready made to explain my absence."

Don Stefano smiled, and after reminding Brighteye once again of their
meeting for the following night, he left the thicket, and proceeded
toward the camp. The two hunters and the half-breed were left alone.



CHAPTER IV.

INDIANS AND HUNTERS.


As we have already said, at the spot where the three hunters were
standing, the Rio Colorado formed a wide sheet, whose silvery waters
wound through a superb and picturesque country. At times, on either
bank, the ground rose almost suddenly into bold mountains of grand
appearance; at other places, the river ran through fresh and laughing
prairies, covered with luxuriant vegetation, or graceful and undulating
valleys, in which grew trees of every description.

It was in one of these valleys that Brighteye's canoe had been pulled
in. Sheltered on all sides by lofty forests, which begirt them with a
dense curtain of verdure, the hunters would have escaped, even during
the day, from the investigations of curious or indiscreet persons, who
might have attempted to surprise them at this advanced hour of the
night, by the flickering rays of the moon which only reached them after
being followed through the leafy dome that covered them: they could
consider themselves as being perfectly secure.

Reassured by the strength of his position, Brighteye, so soon as Don
Stefano had left him, formed his plan of action with that lucidity
which can only be obtained from a lengthened knowledge of the desert.

"Comrade," he said to the half-breed, "do you know the desert?"

"Not so well as you, certainly, old hunter," the latter answered,
modestly, "but well enough to be of good service to you in the
expedition you wish to attempt."

"I like that way of answering, for it shows a desire of doing well.
Listen to me attentively; the colour of my hair, and the wrinkles that
furrow my forehead, tell you sufficiently that I must possess a certain
amount of experience; my whole life has been spent in the woods; there
is not a blade of grass I do not know, a sound which I cannot explain,
a footstep which I cannot discover. A few moments back, several shots
were fired not far from us, followed by the Indian war yell; among
those shots I am certain I recognized the rifle of a man for whom I
feel the warmest friendship; that man is in danger at this moment--he
is fighting the Apaches, who have surprised and attacked him during
sleep. The number of shots leads me to suppose that my friend has only
two companions with him; if we do not go to his help, he is lost, for
his adversaries are numerous; the thing I am about to attempt is almost
desperate; we have every chance against us, so reflect before replying.
Are you still resolved to accompany Ruperto and myself; in a word, risk
your scalp in our company?"

"Bah!" the bandit said, carelessly, "a man can only die once; perhaps
I shall never again have so fine an opportunity of dying honestly.
Dispose of me, old trapper--I am yours, body and soul."

"Good; I expected that answer; still, it was my duty to warn you of
the danger that threatened you: now, no more talking, but let us act,
for time presses, and every minute we waste is an age for the man we
wish to save. Walk in my moccasins; keep your eye and ear on the watch;
above all, be prudent, and do nothing without orders."

After having carefully inspected the cap on his rifle, a precaution
imitated by his two companions, Brighteye looked round him for a few
seconds, then, with that hunter's instinct which in them is almost
second sight, he advanced with a rapid though silent step in the
direction of the fighting, while making the men a sign to follow him.

It is impossible to form an idea, even a distant one, of what a night
march is on the prairie, on foot, through the shrubs, the trees which
have grown together, the creepers that twine in every direction.
Walking on a shifting soil, composed of detritus of every nature
accumulated during centuries, at one place forming mounds several feet
high, surrounded by deep ditches, not only is it difficult to find a
path through this inextricable confusion, when walking quietly onward,
with no fear of betraying one's presence, but this becomes almost
impossible when you have to open a passage silently, not letting a
branch spring back, or a leaf rustle; for that sound, though almost
imperceptible, would be enough to place the enemy you wish to surprise
on his guard.

A long residence in the desert can alone enable a man to acquire the
necessary skill to carry out this rude task successfully. This skill
Brighteye possessed in the highest degree; he seemed to guess the
obstacles which rose at each step before him--obstacles the slightest
of which, under such circumstances, would have made the most resolute
man recoil, through his conviction of it being an impossibility to
surmount them.

The two other hunters had only to follow the track so cleverly and
laboriously made by their guide. Fortunately, the adventurers were
only a short distance from the men they were going to help; had it
been otherwise, they would have needed nearly the whole night to join
them. Had Brighteye wished it, he could have skirted the forest and
walked in the long grass--a road incomparably more easy, and especially
less fatiguing; but, with his usual correctness of conception, the
hunter understood that the direction he took was the only one which
would permit him to go straight to the scene of action without being
discovered by the Indians, who, in spite of all their sagacity, would
never suspect that a man would dare to attempt such a route.

After a walk of about twenty minutes, Brighteye stopped--the hunters
had arrived. On lightly moving the branches and brambles aside, they
witnessed the following scene.

Before them, and scarce ten paces off, was a clearing. In the centre of
that clearing three fires were burning, and were surrounded by Apache
warriors, smoking gravely, while their horses, fastened to pickets,
were nibbling the young tree shoots.

Marksman was standing motionless near the chiefs, leaning on his rifle,
and exchanging a few words with them at intervals. Brighteye understood
nothing of what he saw; all these men seemed on the best terms with the
hunter, who, for his part, did not display the slightest uneasiness,
either by his gestures or his face.

We have said that, after the Indians' sudden attack, Marksman advanced
towards them, waving a buffalo robe in sign of peace. The Indians
stopped, with that courteous deference which they display in all their
relations, in order to listen to the hunter's explanations. A chief
even stepped towards him, politely inviting him to say what he wanted.

"My red brother does not know me! Then, is it necessary that I should
tell him my name, that he may know with whom he is speaking?" Marksman
said, angrily.

"That is useless. I know that my brother is a great white warrior. My
ears are open; I await the explanation he will be good enough to give
me."

The hunter shrugged his shoulders disdainfully.

"Have the Apaches become cowardly or plundering coyotes, setting out in
flocks to hunt on the prairies? Why have they attacked me?"

"My brother knows it."

"No, as I ask it. The Antelope Apaches had a chief--a great
warrior--named Red Wolf. That chief was my friend. I had made a treaty
with him. But Red Wolf is, doubtlessly, dead; his scalp adorns the
lodge of a Comanche, as the young men of his tribe have come to attack
me, treacherously, and against the sworn peace, during my sleep."

The Chief frowned, and drew himself up.

"The Paleface, like all his countrymen, has a viper's tongue," he said,
rudely; "a skin covers his heart, and the words his chest exhales are
so many perfidies. Red Wolf is not dead; his scalp does not adorn the
lodge of a Comanche dog; he is still the first chief of the Antelope
Apaches. The hunter knows it well, since he is speaking to him at this
moment."

"I am glad that my brother has made himself known," the hunter replied,
"for I should not have recognized him from his way of acting."

"Yes, there is a traitor between us," the Chief said, drily; "but that
traitor is a Paleface, and not an Indian!"

"I wait till my brother explains himself. I do not understand him;
a mist has spread over my eyes--my mind is veiled. The words of the
Chief, I have no doubt, will dissipate this cloud."

"I hope so! Let the hunter answer with an honest tongue, and no deceit.
His voice is a music which for a long time sounded pleasantly in my
ears, and rejoiced my heart. I should be glad if his explanation
restored me the friend whom I fancied I had lost."

"Let my brother speak. I will answer his questions."

At a sign from Red Wolf, the Apaches had kindled several fires, and
formed a temporary camp. In spite of all his cleverness, doubt had
entered the heart of the Apache chief, and he wished to prove to
the white hunter, whom he feared, that he was acting frankly, and
entertained no ill design against him. The Apaches, seeing the good
understanding that apparently prevailed between their sachem and the
hunter, had hastened to execute the order they received. All traces
of the contest disappeared in a moment, and the clearing offered the
appearance of a bivouac of peaceful hunters receiving the visit of a
friend.

Marksman smiled internally at the success of his plan, and the way
in which he managed, by a few words, to give quite a different turn
to the position of affairs. Still he was not without anxiety about
the explanation the Chief was going to ask of him. He felt he was in
a wasps' nest, from which he did not know how he should contrive to
emerge, without some providential accident. Redskin invited the hunter
to take a seat by his side at the fire, which he declined, however, not
being at all certain how matters would end, and wishing to retain a
chance of escape in the event of the explanation becoming stormy.

"Is the pale hunter ready to reply?" Red Wolf asked him.

"I am awaiting my brother's good pleasure."

"Good! Let my brother open his ears, then. A Chief is about to speak."

"I am listening."

"Red Wolf is a renowned Chief. His name is cared by the Comanches, who
fly before him like timid squaws. One day, at the head of his young
men, Red Wolf entered an altopelt (village) of the Comanches. The
Buffalo Comanches were hunting on the prairies; their warriors and
young men were absent. Red Wolf burned the cabins, and carried off the
women prisoners. Is that true?"

"It is true."

"Among the women was one for whom the heart of the Apache chief spoke.
That woman was the Cihuatl of the sachem of the Buffalo Comanches. Red
Wolf led her to his hut and treated her not as a prisoner, but as a
well-beloved sister."

"What did the pale hunter?"

The Chief broke off and looked steadily at Marksman; but the latter did
not move a feature.

"I wait till my brother answers me, in order to know with what he
reproaches me," he said.

Red Wolf continued, with a certain degree of animation in his voice,--

"The pale hunter, abusing the friendship of the Chief, introduced
himself into his village, under the pretext of visiting his red
brother. As he was known and beloved by all, he traversed the village
as he pleased, sauntered about everywhere, and when he had discovered
Eglantine, he carried her off during a dark night, like a traitor and a
coward."

At this insult, the hunter pressed the barrel of his rifle with a
convulsive movement; but he immediately recovered his coolness.

"The Chief is a great warrior," he said, "he speaks well. The words
reach his lips with an abundance that is charming. Unfortunately, he
lets himself be led astray by passion, and does not describe matters as
they occurred."

"Wah!" the Chief exclaimed, "Red Wolf is an impostor, and his lying
tongue ought to be thrown to the dogs."

"I have listened patiently to the Chief's words, it is his turn to hear
mine."

"Good! Let my brother speak."

At this moment, a whistle, no louder than a sigh, was audible. The
Indians paid no attention to it, but the hunter quivered, his eye
flashed, and a smile played round the corner of his lips.

"I will be brief," he said. "It is true that I introduced myself into
my brother's village, but frankly and loyally to ask of him, in the
name of Mahchsi-Karehde, the great sachem of the Buffalo Comanches, his
wife, whom Red Wolf had carried off. I offered for her a rich ransom,
composed of four guns, six hides of she-buffalos, and two necklaces of
grizzly bears' claws. I acted thus, in the intention of preventing a
war between the Buffalo Comanches and the Antelope Apaches. My brother,
Red Wolf, instead of accepting my friendly proposals, despised them. I
then warned him, that, by will or force, Flying Eagle would recover his
wife, treacherously carried off from his village while he was absent.
Then I withdrew. What reproach can my brother address to me? Under what
circumstances did I behave badly to him? Flying Eagle has got back his
wife; he has acted well--he was in the right. Red Wolf has nothing to
say to that. Under similar circumstances, he would have done the same.
I have spoken. Let my brother answer if his heart proves to him that I
was wrong."

"Good!" the Chief answered. "My brother was here with Eglantine a few
minutes ago; he will tell me where she is hidden, Red Wolf will capture
her again, and there will no longer be a cloud between Red Wolf and his
friend."

"The Chief will forget that woman who does not love him and who cannot
be his. That will be better, especially as Flying Eagle will never
consent to give her up."

"Red Wolf has warriors to support his words," the Indian said, proudly,
"Flying Eagle is alone; how will he oppose the will of the sachem?"

Marksman smiled.

"Flying Eagle has numerous friends," he said, "he is at this moment
sheltered in the camp of the Palefaces, whose fires Red Wolf can see
from here, glistening in the darkness. Let my brother listen. I believe
I hear the sound of footsteps in the forest."

The Indian rose with agitation.

At this moment three men entered the clearing. They were Brighteye,
Ruperto, and Domingo.

At the sight of them, the Apaches, who were thoroughly acquainted with
them, rose tumultuously and uttered a cry of astonishment, almost of
terror, while seizing their weapons. The three hunters continued to
advance calmly, not caring to trouble themselves about these almost
hostile demonstrations.

We will explain in a few words the appearance of the hunters and their
interference, which was probably about to change the aspect of affairs.



CHAPTER V.

MUTUAL EXPLANATIONS.


Brighteye and his two companions, owing to the position they occupied,
not only saw all that occurred in the clearing, but also heard, without
losing a word, the conversation between Marksman and Red Wolf.

For many long years the two Canadian hunters had been on intimate
terms. Many times had they undertaken together some of those daring
expeditions which the wood rangers frequently carry out against the
Indians. These two men had no secrets from each other; all was in
common between them--hatred as well as friendship.

Brighteye was thoroughly acquainted with the events to which Marksman
alluded, and, had not certain reasons, we shall learn presently,
prevented him, he would have probably aided his friend in rescuing
Eglantine from Red Wolf. Still, one point remained obscure on his mind;
that was the presence of Marksman in the middle of the Indians, the
quarrel which had begun in shouts and yells, and had now apparently
terminated with an amicable conversation.

By what strange concourse of events was it that Marksman, the man best
acquainted with Indian tricks, whose reputation for skill and courage
was universal among the hunters and trappers of the Western Prairies,
now found himself in an equivocal position, in the midst of thirty or
forty Apaches, the most scoundrelly treacherous and ferocious of all
the Indians who wander about the desert? This it was that the worthy
hunter could not explain, and which rendered him so thoughtful. At
the risk of whatever might happen, he resolved to reveal his presence
to his friend by means of a signal arranged between them long ago, in
order to warn him that, in case of need, a friend was watching over
him. It was then that he gave the whistle, at the sound of which we saw
the hunter start. But this signal had a result which Brighteye was far
from expecting. The branches of the tree, against the trunk of which
the Canadian was leaning, parted, and a man, hanging by his arms, fell
suddenly to the ground a couple of yards from him, but so lightly, that
his fall did not produce the slightest sound.

At the first glance, Brighteye recognized the man who seemed thus to
fall from the sky. Owing to his self-command, he displayed none of the
amazement this unforeseen appearance produced in him. The hunter rested
the butt of his rifle on the ground, and addressed the Indian politely.

"That is a strange idea of yours, Chief," he said, with a smile, "to
go promenading on the trees at this hour of the night."

"Flying Eagle is watching the Apaches," the Indian answered, with a
guttural accent. "Did not my brother expect to see me?"

"In the prairie we must expect everything, Chief. Still, I confess that
few meetings would be so agreeable to me as yours, especially at this
moment."

"My brother is on the trail of the Antelopes?"

"I declare to you, Chief, that an hour ago I did not expect I was so
near them. Had I not heard your shots, it is probable that at this
moment I should be quietly asleep in my bivouac."

"Yes, my brother heard the rifle of a friend sing, and he has come."

"You have guessed rightly, Chief. But now tell me all about it, for I
know nothing."

"Has not my pale brother heard Red Wolf?"

"Of course; but is there nothing else?"

"Nothing. Flying Eagle rescued his wife; the Apaches pursued him, like
cowardly coyotes, and this night surprised him at his fire."

"Very good. Is Eglantine in safety?"

"Eglantine is a Comanche woman; she knows not fear."

"I am aware of that--she is a good creature; but that is not the
question at this moment. What do you purpose doing?"

"Wait for a favourable moment, then utter my war yell, and fall on
these dogs."

"Hum! your project is rather quick. If you will allow me, I will make a
slight change."

"Wisdom speaks by the mouth of the pale hunter. Flying Eagle is young:
he will obey."

"Good; the more so, because I shall only act for your welfare. But now
let me listen, for the conversation seems to me to be taking a turn
extremely interesting for us."

The Indian bowed, but made no reply, while Brighteye bent forward,
better to hear what was said. After a few minutes the hunter probably
considered that it was time for him to interfere, for he turned to the
Chief and whispered in his ear, as he had done during the whole of the
previous conversation--"Let my brother leave this affair to me; his
presence would be more injurious than useful to us. We cannot attempt
to fight so large a number of enemies, so prudence demands that we
should have recourse to stratagem."

"The Apaches are dogs," the Comanche muttered, angrily.

"I am of your opinion; but, for the present, let us feign not to
consider them such. Believe me, we shall soon take our revenge;
besides, the advantage will be on our side, as we are cheating them."

Flying Eagle let his head drop.

"Will the Chief promise me not to make a move without a signal from
me?" the hunter said, earnestly.

"Flying Eagle is a sachem. He has said that he will obey Greyhead."

"Good. Now look, you will not have long to wait."

After muttering these words, with that mocking accent peculiar to him,
the old hunter resolutely thrust the brambles on one side, and walked
firmly into the clearing, followed by his two companions. We have
already described the emotion produced by this unforeseen arrival.

Flying Eagle returned to his ambush up the tree, from which he had only
come down to speak with the hunter, and give him the information he
required. Brighteye stopped by Markham's side.

"Friend," he then said, in Spanish, a language which most of the
Indians understand, "your order is executed. Flying Eagle and his wife
are at this moment in the camp of the Gambusinos."

"Good," Marksman answered, catching his meaning at once; "who are the
two men who accompany you?"

"Two hunters the Chief of the Gachupinos sent to accompany me, in spite
of my assurances that you were among friends. He will soon arrive
himself at the head of thirty horsemen."

"Return to him, and tell him that he has no longer any occasion
to trouble himself; or, stay, I will go myself, to prevent any
misunderstanding."

These words, spoken without any emphasis, and naturally, by a man
whom each of the Indians present had been frequently in a position to
appreciate, produced on them an effect impossible to describe.

We have already mentioned several times, in our different works, that
the Redskins unite the greatest prudence with the maddest temerity, and
never attempt any enterprise without calculating beforehand all the
chances of success it may offer. So soon as those chances disappear, to
make room for probable ill results, they are not ashamed to recoil, for
the very simple reason that with them honour, as we understand it in
Europe, only holds a secondary place, and success alone is regarded.

Red Wolf was assuredly a brave man; he had given innumerable proofs of
that in many a combat; still, he did not hesitate, in behalf of the
general welfare, to sacrifice his secret desires, and in doing so, as
we believe, he gave a grand proof of that family feeling, and almost
instinctive patriotism, which is one of the strongest points in the
Indian character. Clever as he was, the Apache Chief was completely
deluded by Brighteye, whose imperturbable coolness and unexpected
arrival would have sufficed to lead astray an individual even more
intelligent than the man with whom he had to deal. Red Wolf made up his
mind at once, without any thought of self.

"Greyhead, my brother, is welcome at my fire," he said; "my heart
rejoices at greeting a friend; his companions and himself can take
their places round the council fire; the calumet of a Chief is ready to
be offered them."

"Red Wolf is a great Chief," Brighteye replied; "I am pleased at the
kindly feeling he experiences towards me. I would accept his offer with
the greatest pleasure, did not urgent reasons oblige me to rejoin, as
soon as possible, my brothers the Palefaces, who are waiting for me at
a short distance from the spot where the Antelope Apaches are encamped."

"I hope that no cloud has arisen between Greyhead and his brother,
Red Wolf," the Chief remarked, in a cautious tone: "two warriors must
esteem each other."

"That is my opinion too, Chief, and that is why I have presented myself
so frankly in your camp, when it would have been easy to have had
several warriors of my nation to accompany me."

Brighteye knew perfectly well that the Apaches understood Spanish, and
consequently nothing he had said to Markham escaped them; but it was to
his interest, as well as that of his comrade, to pretend to be ignorant
of the fact, and accept as current coin the insidious propositions of
the Chief.

"His friends, the Palefaces, are encamped not far from here?" the Chief
remarked.

"Yes," Brighteye replied, "at the most from four to five bowshots in a
westerly direction."

"Wah! I am vexed at it," the Indian said, "for I would have accompanied
my brother to their camp."

"And what prevents your coming with us?" the old hunter said,
distinctly. "Would you fear an ill reception by chance?"

"Och! who would dare not to receive Red Wolf with the respect due to
him?" the Apache said, haughtily.

"No one, assuredly."

Red Wolf leaned over to a subaltern chief, and whispered a few words
in his ear; the man rose, and left the clearing. The hunters saw this
movement with anxiety, and exchanged a glance, which said, "Let us keep
on our guard." They also fell back a few paces, as if accidentally,
and drew nearer together, in order to be ready at the first suspicious
sign; for they knew the perfidy of the men among whom they were,
and expected anything from them. The Indian sent off by the Chief
re-entered the clearing at this moment. He had been absent hardly ten
minutes.

"Well?" Red Wolf asked him.

"It is true," the Indian answered, laconically.

The sachem's face was overclouded; he felt certain then that Brighteye
had not deceived him; for the man he had sent out of the camp had
been ordered by him to assure himself whether the fires of a party of
white men could be really seen a short distance off; his emissary's
reply proved to him that no treachery could be possible, that he must
continue to feign kindly feelings, and separate on proper terms from
the troublesome guests, whom he would have liked so much to be rid of
in a very different manner. At his order the horses were unhobbled, and
the warriors mounted.

"Day is approaching," he said; "the moon has again entered the great
mountain. I am about to start with my young men. May the Wacondah
protect my pale brothers!"

"Thank you, Chief," Marksman answered. "But will you not come with us?"

"We are not following the same path," the Chief replied drily, as he
let his horse go.

"That is probable, accursed dog!" Brighteye growled between his teeth.

The whole band started at full speed, and disappeared in the gloom.
Soon the sound of their horses' hoofs could no longer be heard, as they
became mingled in the distance with those thousand sounds, coming from
no apparent cause, which incessantly trouble the majestic silence of
the desert.

The hunters were alone. Like the Augurs of ancient Rome, who could not
look at each other without laughing, little was needed for the hunters
to burst into a loud burst of delight after the hurried departure of
the Apaches. At a signal from Marksman, Flying Eagle and Eglantine
came to join the wood rangers, who had already seated themselves
unceremoniously at the fire of which they had so cleverly dispossessed
their enemies.

"Hum!" Brighteye said, as he charged his pipe, "I shall laugh for a
long time at this trick; it is almost as good as the one I played the
Pawnees in 1827, on the Upper Arkansas. I was very young at that time;
I had been traversing the prairie for only a few years, and was not, as
I now am, accustomed to Indian devilries; I remember that--"

"By what accident did I meet you here, Brighteye?" his friend asked,
hastily interrupting him.

Marksman knew that so soon as Brighteye began a story, no power on
earth would stop him. The worthy man, during the course of a long and
varied career, had seen and done so many extraordinary things, that
the slightest event which occurred to him, or of which he was merely
a witness, immediately became an excuse for one of his interminable
stories. His friends, who knew his weakness, felt no hesitation about
interrupting him; still we must do Brighteye the justice of saying that
he was never angry with his disturbers; for ten minutes later he would
begin another story, which they as mercilessly interrupted in a similar
way.

To Marksman's question, he replied,--"We will talk, and I will tell you
that." Then, turning to Domingo, he said,--"My friend, I thank you for
the assistance you have given us. Return to the camp, and do not forget
your promise. Above all, do not omit to narrate all you have seen,
to--you know who!"

"That is agreed, old hunter. Don't be uneasy. Good-bye."

"Here's luck."

Domingo threw his rifle over his shoulder, lit his pipe, and walked in
the direction of the camp, where he arrived an hour later.

"There," Marksman said, "now I believe nothing will prevent your going
ahead."

"Yes; one thing, my friend."

"What is it?"

"The night is nearly spent; it has been fatiguing to everybody.
I presume that two or three hours' sleep are necessary, if not
indispensable, especially as we are in no hurry."

"Tell me only one thing first, and then I will let you sleep as long as
you please."

"What is it?"

"How you happened so fortunately to come to my aid."

"Confound it! That is exactly what I was afraid of. Your question
obliges me to enter into details far too long for me to be able to
satisfy you at this moment."

"The truth is, my friend, that, in spite of the lively desire I feel to
spend a few days with you, I am compelled to leave you at sunrise."

"Nonsense! It is not possible."

"It is, indeed."

"But what is your hurry?"

"I have engaged myself as scout with a caravan, which I have given the
meeting at two o'clock tomorrow afternoon, at the Del Rubio ford. That
appointment has been made for the last two months. You know that an
engagement is sacred with us hunters, and you would not like to make me
break my word!"

"Not for the hides of all the buffalos killed every year on the
prairie. Towards what part of the Far West will you guide these men?"

"I shall know that tomorrow."

"And with what sort of people have you to do? Are they Spaniards, or
Gringos?"

"On my word, I fancy they are Mexicans. Their chief's name, I think, is
Don Miguel Ortega, or something like it."

"Hallo!" Brighteye exclaimed, with a start of surprise; "what's that
you said?"

"Don Miguel Ortega. I may be mistaken, but I hardly think so."

"That is strange," the old hunter said, as if speaking to himself.

"I do not see anything strange in it; the name appears to me common
enough."

"To you, possibly. And you have made an agreement with him?"

"Signed and sealed."

"As scout?"

"Yes, I say, a thousand times."

"Well, comfort yourself, Marksman; we have many a long day to spend
together."

"Do you belong to his party?"

"Heaven forbid!"

"Then, I don't understand anything."

Brighteye seemed to be reflecting seriously for a few moments; then he
turned to his friend, and said,--

"Listen to me, Marksman! So surely as you are my oldest friend, I do
not wish to see you going to the deuce your own road. I must give you
certain information, which will be indispensable to you in doing your
duty properly. I see that we shall not sleep this night, so listen to
me attentively. What you are about to hear is worth the trouble."

Marksman, startled by the old hunter's solemn accent, looked at him
anxiously. "Speak!" he said to him.

Brighteye collected his thoughts for a moment, and then took the word,
beginning a long history, to which his audience listened with a degree
of interest and attention which increased with every moment; for never,
till that day, had they heard the narrative of events so strange and
extraordinary.

The sun had risen for a long time, but the hunter was still talking.



CHAPTER VI.

A DARK HISTORY.


Freed from all the observations, more or less pertinent, with which
it pleased the prolix hunter to embellish it, the following is the
remarkable story the Canadian told his hearers. This narrative is so
closely connected with our story, that we are compelled to repeat it in
all its details:--

"Few cities offer a more enchanting appearance than Mexico. The
ancient capital of the Aztecs lies stretched out, slothful and idle
as a Creole maid, half veiled by the thick curtain of lofty willows
which border at a distance the canals and roads. Built at exactly
equal distance from two oceans, at about 7,500 feet above their level,
or at the same height as the hospice of St. Bernard, this city,
however, enjoys a delicious tempered climate, between two magnificent
mountains--Popocatepetl, or the burning mountain, and Intaczehuatl, or
the white woman--whose rugged peaks, covered with eternal snows, are
lost in the clouds. The stranger who arrives before Mexico at sunset,
by the eastern road--one of the four great ways that lead to the City
of the Aztecs, and the only one now remaining isolated in the middle
of the waters of Lake Tezcuco, on which it is built--experiences, at
the first sight of this city, a strange emotion, for which he cannot
account. The Moorish architecture of the edifices; the houses painted
of bright colours; the numberless domes of churches and convents which
rise above the azoteas, and cover--if we may use the expression--the
entire capital with their vast yellow, blue, and red parasols, gilded
by the parching rays of the declining sun; the warm and perfumed
evening breeze which comes sporting through the leaf-laden branches;
all this combines to give Mexico a perfectly Eastern air, which
astonishes and seduces at the same time. Mexico, entirely burnt down by
Fernando Cortez, was rebuilt by that conqueror after the original plan;
all the streets intersect at right angles, and lead to the Plaza Mayor
by five principal arteries."

"All Spanish towns in the New World have this in common--that, in
all, the Plaza Mayor is built after the same plan. Thus, at Mexico,
on one side are the Cathedral and the Sagrario; on the second, the
Palace of the President of the Republic, containing the ministerial
offices--four in number, barracks, a prison, &c.; on the third side
is the Ayuntamiento; while the fourth is occupied by two bazaars--the
Parián, and the Portal de los Flores."

"On July 10, 1854, at ten of the night, after a torrid heat, which
compelled the inhabitants to shut themselves up in their houses
the whole day through, the breeze rose and refreshed the air, and
everybody, mounted on the flower-covered azoteas, which make them
resemble hanging gardens, hastened to enjoy that serene placidity
of American evenings, which seems to rain stars from the azure sky.
The streets and square were thronged with promenaders; there was an
inextricable throng of foot passengers, horsemen, men, women, Indians
and their squaws, where the rags, silk and gold were arranged in the
quaintest manner, in the midst of cries, jests, and merry bursts of
laughter. In a word, Mexico, like the enchanted city of the Arabian
Nights, seemed to have been aroused by the bell of Oración from a
centennial sleep--such joy did all faces display, and so happy did all
seem to inhale the fresh air."

"At this moment, a non-commissioned officer, who could be easily
recognised as such by the vine stick he held in his hand, turned out
of the Calle San Francisco, and mingled with the crowd that thronged
the Plaza Mayor, giving himself all the airs peculiar to soldiers
in all parts of the world. He was a young man, of elegant features,
haughty glance, and his slight moustache was coquettishly turned up.
After walking round the square two or three times, ogling maidens and
elbowing the men, he approached, with the same careless air he had
displayed from the beginning, a shop built against one of the portales,
in which an old man with a ferret-face and cunning look was shutting up
in the drawers of a poor table, stained with a countless number of ink
spots, paper, pens, sand, and envelopes--in a word, all the articles
requisite for the profession of a public writer--the trade which the
little old man really carried on, as could be seen from a board hung
over the door of his shop, on which was written, in white letters on a
black ground,--_Juan Battista Leporello, Evangelista_. The sergeant
looked for a few seconds through the panes, which were covered with
specimens of calligraphy, and then, doubtless satisfied with what he
saw, he tapped thrice with his stick on the door."

"A chain was moved in the interior; the soldier heard a key turned in
the lock, then the door opened slightly, and the evangelista thrust his
head out timidly."

"'Ah, 'tis you, Don Annibal! _Dios me ampare_. I did not expect you so
soon,' he said, in that cringing tone which some men employ when they
feel themselves in the hands of a man stronger than themselves."

"'_¡Cuerpo de Cristo!_ play the innocent, old coyote,' the sergeant
replied roughly, 'who but I would dare to set foot in your accursed
den?'"

"The evangelista shrugged his shoulders with a grin, and pushed his
silver spectacles with their round glasses up on his forehead."

"'Eh, eh,' he said, coughing mysteriously, 'many people have recourse
to my good offices, my young Springold.'"

"'It is possible,' the soldier answered, thrusting him rudely back, and
entering the shop. 'I pity them for falling into the hands of an old
bird of prey like you; but it is not that which brings me here.'"

"'Perhaps it would be better for both you and me, if your visits had
another motive from the one that brings you here!' the evangelista
remarked, timidly."

"'Truce to your sermons; shut the door, fasten the shutters, so that no
one can see us from the street, and let us talk, for we have no time to
lose.'"

"The old man made no reply; he at once set about closing the shutters,
which at night protected his shop from the assaults of the rateros,
with a celerity for which no one would have given him credit; then he
sat down by his visitor's side, after carefully bolting the door."

"These two men, seen thus by the light of a smoky candle, offered a
striking contrast; one young, handsome, strong, and daring; the other
old, broken, and hypocritical: both taking side glances at each other,
full of a strange expression, and with an apparent cordiality, which
probably hid a deep hatred, talking in a low voice ear to ear, they
resembled two demons conspiring the ruin of an angel."

"The soldier was the first to speak, in a tone hardly above his breath,
so much did he seem to fear being overheard."

"'Look you, Tío Leporello,' he said, 'let us come to an understanding;
the half hour has just struck at the Sagrario, so speak; what have you
learnt new?'"

"'Hum!' the other said, 'not much that is interesting.'"

"The soldier flashed a suspicious glance at him, and appeared to be
reflecting."

"'That is true,' he said, at the end of a moment, 'I did not think of
that; where could my head be?'"

"He drew from the breast pocket of his uniform a purse tolerably well
filled, through the meshes of which glistened sundry ounces, and then a
long navaja, which he opened and placed on the table near him. The old
man trembled at the sight of the sharpened blade, whose blue steel sent
forth sinister rays; the soldier opened the purse, and poured forth
the pieces in a joyous cascade before him. The evangelista immediately
forgot the knife, only to attend to the gold, attracted involuntarily
by the trinkling of the metal, as by an irresistible magnet."

"The soldier had done all we have just described with the coolness of a
man who knows that he has unfailing arguments in his possession."

"'Then,' he said, 'rake up your memory, old demon, if you do not wish
my navaja to teach you with whom you have to deal, in case you have
forgotten.'"

"The evangelista smiled pleasantly, while looking covetously at the
ounces. 'I know too well what I owe you, Don Annibal,' he said, 'not to
try to satisfy you by all the means in my power.'"

"'A truce to your unnecessary and hypocritical compliments, old ape,
and come to facts. Take this first, it will encourage you to be
sincere.'"

"He placed several ounces in his hand, which the evangelista disposed
of with such sleight of hand, that it was impossible for the soldier to
know where they had gone."

"'You are generous, Don Annibal--that will bring you good fortune.'"

"'Go on; I want facts.'"

"'I am coming to them.'"

"'I am listening.'"

"And the sergeant leaned his elbows on the table, in the position of a
man preparing to listen, while the evangelista coughed, spat, and by
an old habit of prudence, though alone with the sergeant in his shop,
looked round him suspiciously."

"The sounds on the Plaza Mayor had died out one after the other; the
crowd had dispersed in every direction, and returned to their houses,
and the greatest silence prevailed outside; at this moment eleven
o'clock struck slowly from the Cathedral, and the two men started
involuntarily at the mournful sounds of the clock; the serenos chanted
the hour in their drawling, drunken voice; then all was quiet."

"'Will you speak, yes or no?' the soldier suddenly said, with a
menacing accent."

"The evangelista bounded on his butaca, as if aroused from sleep, and
passed his hand several times over his forehead. 'I am beginning,' he
said in a humble voice."

"'That is lucky,' the other remarked, coarsely."

"'You must know, then----but,' he observed, suddenly interrupting
himself, 'must I enter into all the details?'"

"'_Demonios!_' the soldier exclaimed, passionately, 'let us have an
end of this once for all; you know I want to have the most complete
information; _Canarios!_ do not play with me like a cat with a mouse;
old man, I warn you, that game will be dangerous for you.'"

"'Well, this morning, I had just settled myself in my office; I was
arranging my papers and mending my pens, when I heard a discreet tap at
the door; I rose and went to open it; it was a young and lovely lady,
as far as I could judge, for she was _embossed_ in her black mantilla,
so as not to be seen.'"

"'Then it was not the woman who has come to you every day for a month?'
the soldier interrupted."

"'Yes; but as you have doubtlessly remarked, on each of her visits, she
is careful to change her dress, in order to prevent my recognizing her;
but, in spite of these precautions, I have been too long accustomed to
ladies' tricks to allow myself to be deceived, and I recognized her by
the first glance that shot from her black eye.'"

"'Very good: go on.'"

"'She stood for a moment before me in silence, playing with her
fan, with an air of embarrassment. I offered her a chair politely,
pretending not to recognize her, and asking her how I could be of
service to her.' 'Oh,' she answered me, with a petulant voice, 'I want
a very simple matter.' 'Speak, señorita; if it is connected with my
profession, believe me, I shall make a point of obeying you.' 'Should
I have come, had it not been so?' she replied; 'but are you a man who
can be trusted?' and while saying this, she fixed on me a searching
glance. I drew myself up, and replied in my most serious tone, as I
laid my hand on my heart--'An evangelista is a confessor; all secrets
die in his breast.' She then drew a paper from the pocket of her saga,
and turned it about in her fingers, but suddenly began laughing, as
she said, 'How foolish I am, I make a mystery of a trifle; besides, at
this moment you are only a machine, as you will not understand what you
write.' I bowed at all hazards, expecting some diabolical combination,
like those she has brought to me every day for a month.'"

"'A truce to reflections,' the sergeant interrupted."

"'She gave me the paper,' the evangelista continued, 'and, as was
arranged between you and me, I took a sheet of paper, which I laid
upon another prepared beforehand, and blackened on one side, so that
the words I wrote on my papers were reproduced by the black page on
another--the poor Niña not in the least suspecting it. After all,
the letter was not long, only two or three lines; but, may I be sent
to purgatory,' he added, crossing himself piously, 'if I understood
a syllable of the horrible gibberish I copied: it was doubtlessly
Morisco.'"

"'Afterwards?'"

"'I folded up the paper in the shape of a letter, and addressed it.'"

"'Ah, ah!' the soldier said, with interest, 'that is the first time.'"

"'Yes, but the information will not be of much use to you.'"

"'Perhaps:--what was the address?'"

"'Z. p. v. 2, calle S. P. Z.'"

"'Hum!' the soldier said, thoughtfully; 'that is certainly rather
vague. What next?'"

"'Then she went away, after giving me a gold ounce.'"

"'She is generous.'"

"'Pore Niña!' the evangelista said, laying his hooked fingers over his
dry eyes, with an air of tenderness."

"'Enough of that mummery, which I do not believe. Is that all she said
to you?'"

"'Nearly so,' the other said, with hesitation."

"The sergeant looked at him. 'Is there anything else?' he remarked, as
he threw him several gold coins, which the evangelista disposed of at
once."

"'Almost nothing.'"

"'You had better tell me, Tío Leporello, for, as an evangelista, you
know that the reason why letters are written, is generally found in the
postscript.'"

"'On leaving my office, the señorita made a sign to a _providencia_
which was passing. The carriage stopped, and though the niña spoke in
a very low voice, I heard her say to the driver, 'To the convent of the
Bernardines.'"

"The sergeant gave an almost imperceptible start."

"'Hum!' he said, with an indifferent air, perfectly well assumed; 'that
address does not mean much. Now give me the paper.'"

"The evangelista fumbled in his drawer, and drew from it a sheet of
white paper, on which a few almost illegible words were written. So
soon as the soldier had the paper in his hands he eagerly perused it;
it appeared to have a great interest for him, for he turned visibly
pale, and a convulsive tremor passed over his limbs; but he recovered
himself almost immediately."

"'It is well,' he said, as he tore up the paper into imperceptible
fragments; 'here's for you.'"

"And he threw a fresh handful of ounces on the table."

"'Thanks, caballero,' Tío Leporello exclaimed, as he bounded greedily
on the precious metal."

"An ironical smile played round the soldier's lips, and, taking
advantage of the old man's position, as he leant over the table to
collect the gold, he raised his knife, and buried it to the hilt
between the evangelista's shoulders. The blow was dealt so truly,
and with such a firm hand, that the old man fell like a log, without
uttering a sigh or giving a cry. The soldier regarded him for a moment
coldly and apathetically, then, reassured by the immobility of his
victim, whom he believed dead,--"

"'Come,' he muttered, 'that is all the better; at any rate, he will not
speak in that way.'"

"After this philosophical funeral oration, the assassin tranquilly
wiped his knife, picked up the gold, put out the candle, opened the
door, closed it carefully after him, and walked off with the steady,
though somewhat hasty step of a belated traveller hurrying to his home."

"The Plaza Mayor was deserted."



CHAPTER VII.

A DARK HISIORY CONTINUED.


"Ancient Mexico was traversed by canals, like Venice, or, to speak more
correctly, like Dutch towns, for generally in all the streets there
was a path between the canal and the houses. At the present day, when
all the streets are paved, and the canals have disappeared save in one
quarter of the city, it is difficult to understand how Cervantes, in
one of his novels, could compare Venice with Mexico; but if the canals
are no longer visible, they still exist underground; and in certain low
quarters, where they have been converted into drains, they manifest
their presence by the foetid odours which they exhale, or by the heaps
of filth and stagnant water."

"The sergeant, after so skilfully settling accounts with the hapless
evangelista, crossed the Plaza, and entered the Calle de la Monterilla."

"He walked for a long time along the streets with the same quiet step
he had adopted on leaving the evangelista's stall. At length, after
about twenty minutes' walk through deserted streets and gloomy lanes,
whose miserable appearance became with every step more menacing, he
stopped before a house of more than suspicious aspect, above the door
of which a flaring candle burned behind _un retablo de las animas
veneritas;_ the windows of the house were lit up, and on the azotea the
watchdogs were mournfully baying the moon. The sergeant tapped twice
on the door of this sinister abode with his vine stick."

"It was a long time ere he was answered. The shouts and singing
suddenly ceased in the inside: at length the soldier heard a heavy step
approaching; the door was partly opened--for everywhere in Mexico an
iron chain is put up at night--and a drunken voice said harshly,--"

"'_¿Quién es?_ (Who's there?)'"

"'Gente de paz,' the sergeant answered."

"'Hum! it is very late to run about the _tuna_ and enter the vilaio,'
the other remarked, apparently reflecting."

"'I do not wish to enter.'"

"'Then what the deuce do you want?'"

"'_Pan y sal por los Caballeros errantes,'_[1] the sergeant answered,
in a tone of authority, and placing himself so that the moonbeams
should fall on his face."

"The man fell back, uttering an exclamation of surprise."

"'_¡Valga me Dios!_ señor Don Torribio!' he exclaimed, with an accent
of profound respect; 'who could have recognized your Excellency under
that wretched dress? Come in! come in! they are waiting impatiently for
you.'"

"And the man, who had become as obsequious as he had been insolent a
few moments previously, hastened to undo the chain, and threw the door
wide open."

"'It is unnecessary, Pepito,' the soldier continued, 'I repeat to you
that I shall not come in. How many are there?'"

"'Twenty, Excellency.'"

"'Armed?'"

"'Completely.'"

"'Let them come down directly. I will wait for them here. Go, my son,
time presses.'"

"'And you? Excellency,'"

"'You will bring me a hat, an esclavina, my sword and pistols. Come,
make haste!'"

"Pepito did not let the order be repeated. Leaving the door open, he
ran off. A few minutes after, some twenty bandits, armed to the teeth,
rushed into the street, jostling one another. On coming up to the
soldier, they saluted respectfully, and, at a sign from him, remained
motionless and silent."

"Pepito had brought the articles demanded by the man whom the
evangelista called Don Annibal, himself Don Torribio, and who,
probably, had several other names, although we will keep temporarily to
the latter."

"'Are the horses ready?' Don Torribio asked, as he concealed his
uniform under the esclavina, and placed in his girdle a long rapier and
a pair of double-barrelled pistols."

"'Yes, Excellency,' Pepito answered, hat in hand."

"'Good, my son. You will bring them to the spot I told you; but as it
is forbidden to go about the streets on horseback by night, you will
pay attention to the celadores and serenos.'"

"All the bandits burst into a laugh at this singular recommendation."

"'There,' Don Torribio continued, as he put on a broad brimmed hat,
which Pepito had brought him with the other things, 'that is all right;
we can now start. Listen to me attentively, Caballeros!'"

"The leperos and other scoundrels who composed the audience, flattered
by being treated as caballeros, drew nearer to Don Torribio, in order
to hear his instructions. The latter continued,--"

"'Twenty men, marching, in a troop, through the streets of the city
would, doubtless, arouse the susceptibility and suspicions of the
police agents; we must employ the greatest prudence, and, above all,
the utmost secrecy in order to succeed in the expedition for which I
have collected you. You will, therefore, separate, and go one by one
under the walls of the convent of the Bernardines; on arriving there,
you will conceal yourselves as well as you can, and not stir without my
orders. Above all, no disputes, no quarrelling. You have understood me
clearly?'"

"'Yes, Excellency,' the bandits answered, unanimously."

"'Very good. Be off, then, for you must reach the convent in a quarter
of an hour.'"

"The bandits dispersed in every direction with the rapidity of a flock
of buzzards. Two minutes later they had disappeared round the corners
of the nearest streets. Pepito alone remained."

"'And I?' he respectfully asked Don Torribio. 'Do you not wish,
Excellency, for me to accompany you? I should be very bored if I
remained here alone.'"

"'I should be glad enough to take you with me; but who would get the
horses ready if you went with me?'"

"'That is true. I did not think of it.'"

"'But do not be alarmed, Muchacho, if I succeed as I hope, you shall
soon come with me.'"

"Pepito, completely reassured by this promise, bowed respectfully to
the mysterious man, who seemed to be his chief, and re-entered his
house, carefully closing the door after him."

"Don Torribio, when left alone, remained for several seconds plunged
in deep thought. At length he raised his head, drew his hat over his
eyes, carefully wrapped himself in his esclavina, and walked off
hurriedly, muttering, 'Shall I succeed?'"

"A question which no one, not even himself, could have answered."

"The convent of the Bernardines stands in one of the handsomest
quarters of Mexico, not far from the Paseo de Bernardo, the fashionable
promenade. It is a vast edifice, built entirely of hewn stone, which
dates from the rebuilding of the city after the conquest, and was
founded by Fernando Cortez himself. Its general appearance is imposing
and majestic, like all Spanish convents; it is almost a small city
within a large one, for it contains all that can be agreeable and
useful for life--a church, a hospital, a laundry, a large kitchen
garden, and a well-laid out flower garden, which offers pleasant shade,
reserved for the exercise of the nuns. There are wide cloisters,
decorated with grand pictures by good masters, representing scenes in
the life of the Virgin, and of St. Bernard, to whom the convent is
dedicated; these cloisters, bordered by circular galleries, out of
which the cells of the nuns open, enclose sandy courts, adorned with
pieces of water, in which fountains refresh the air at the burning
midday hour. The cells are charming retreats, in which nothing that can
promote comfort is wanting: a bed; two butacas covered with prepared
Cordovan leather, a _prie Dieu_, a small toilet table, in the drawer
of which you are sure to find a looking-glass, and several holy
pictures, occupy the principal space. In a corner of the room may be
seen, between a guitar and a scourge, a statue of the Virgin, of wood
or alabaster, wearing a coronal of white roses, before which a lamp
is continually burning. Such is the furniture which, with but few
exceptions, you are certain to find in the nuns' cells."

"The convent of the Bernardines contained, at the period when our story
is laid, one hundred and fifty nuns, and about sixty novices. In this
country of toleration, it is rare to see nuns cloistered. The sisters
can go into town, pay and receive visits; the regulations are extremely
mild, and, with the exception of the offices, at which they are bound
to be present with great punctuality, the nuns, when they have entered
their cells, are almost at liberty to do as they please, nobody taking
the trouble, or seeming to do so, of watching them."

"We have described the convent cells, which are all alike; but that of
the Mother Superior merits a particular description. Nothing could be
more luxurious, more religious, and yet more worldly, than its general
appearance. It was an immense square room, with large Gothic windows,
with small panes set in lead, upon which sacred subjects were painted
with admirable finish and admirable touch. The walls were covered
with long, stamped, and gilded hangings of Cordovan leather, while
valuable pictures, representing the principal events in the life of
the patron saint of the convent, were arranged with that symmetry and
taste only to be met with in people belonging to the Church. Between
the pictures hung a magnificent Virgin, by Raphael, before which was
an altar. A silver lamp, full of perfumed oil, hung from the ceiling,
and burnt night and day before the altar, which thick damask curtains
hid, when thought proper. The furniture consisted of a large Chinese
screen, concealing the couch of the abbess,--a simple frame of carved
oak, surrounded by white gauze mosquito curtains. A square table, also
of oak, on which were a few books and a desk, occupied the centre of
the room; in a corner a vast library, containing books on religious
subjects, and displaying the rich bindings of rare and precious works
through the glass doors, a few butacas and chairs, with twisted feet,
were arranged against the wall. Lastly, a silver brazier, filled with
olive kernels, stood opposite a superb coffer, the chasing of which was
a masterpiece of the Renaissance."

"During the day, the light, filtered through the coloured glass, spread
but a gentle and mystic radiance around, which caused the visitor to
experience a feeling of respect and devotion, by giving this vast
apartment a stern and almost mournful aspect."

"At the moment when we introduce the reader into this cell, that is
to say, a few moments prior to the scene we have just described, the
abbess was seated in a large straight-backed easy chair, which was
surmounted by an abbatical crown, while the cushion of gilt leather was
adorned with a double fringe of silk and gold."

"The abbess was a little, plump woman, of about sixty years of age,
whose features would have appeared unmeaning, had it not been for the
bright and piercing glance that shot, like a jet of lava, from her grey
eyes, when a violent emotion agitated her. She held in her hand an open
book, and seemed plunged in profound meditation."

"The door of the cell opened gently, and a girl, dressed in the
novice's robe, advanced timidly, scarce grazing the floor with her
light and hesitating foot. She stopped in front of the easy chair, and
waited silently till the abbess raised her eyes to her."

"'Ah! it is you, my child,' the Mother Superior at length said,
noticing the novice's presence; 'come hither.'"

"The latter advanced a few paces nearer."

"'Why did you go out this morning without asking my permission?'"

"On hearing these words, which the maiden, however, must have expected,
she turned pale, and stammered a few unintelligible words."

"The abbess continued, in a stern voice:--"

"'Take care, Niña! although you are still a novice, and will not take
the veil for several months, like all your companions, you are under my
authority--mine alone.'"

"These words were spoken with an intonation which made the maiden
tremble."

"'I Holy mother!' she murmured."

"'You were the intimate friend, almost the sister, of that young fool
whom her resistance to our sovereign will snapped asunder like a reed,
and who died this morning.'"

"'Do you really believe that she is dead, mother?' the girl answered
timidly, and in a voice interrupted by grief."

"'Who doubts it?' the abbess exclaimed, violently, as she half rose in
her chair, and fixed a viper's glance on the poor child."

"'No one, madam, no one,' she said, falling back with terror."

"'Were you not, like the other members of the community,' the abbess
continued, with a terrible accent, 'present at her funeral? Did you not
hear the prayers uttered over her coffin?'"

"'It is true, my mother!'"

"'Did you not see her body lowered into the convent vaults, and the
tombstone laid over it, which the angel of divine justice can alone
raise at the day of judgment? Say, were you not present at this sad
and terrible ceremony? Would you dare to assert that this did not take
place, and that the wretched creature still lives, whom God suddenly
smote in his wrath, that she might serve as a warning to those whom
Satan impels to revolt?'"

"'Pardon, holy mother, pardon! I saw what you say. I was present at
Doña Laura's interment. Alas! doubt is no longer possible; she is
really dead!'"

"While uttering the last words, the maiden could not restrain her
tears, which flowed copiously. The abbess surveyed her with a
suspicious air."

"'It is well,' she said; 'you can retire: but I repeat to you, take
care; I know that a spirit of revolt has seized on your heart as well,
and I shall watch you.'"

"The maiden bowed humbly to the Mother Superior, and moved as if to
obey the order she had received."

"At this moment a terrible disturbance was heard. Cries of terror and
threats reechoed in the corridor, and the hurried steps of a tumultuous
crowd could be heard rapidly approaching."

"'What is the meaning of this?' the abbess asked with terror; 'What is
this noise?'"

"She rose in agitation, and walked with tottering step toward the door
of the cell, on which repeated blows were being struck."

"'Oh, heavens!' the novice murmured, as she turned a suppliant glance
toward the statue of the Virgin, which seemed to smile on her; 'Have
our liberators at length arrived?'"

       *       *       *       *       *

"We will return to Don Torribio, whom we left walking with his
companions toward the convent."

"As tad been arranged between himself and his accomplices, the young
man found all the band collected under the convent walls. Along the
streets the bandits, not to be disturbed by the serenos, had tied and
gagged them and carried them off, as they met them, separately. Thanks
to this skilful manoeuvre, they reached their destination without
hindrance. Twelve serenos were captured in this way: and, on reaching
the convent, Don Torribio gave orders for them to be laid one atop of
the other at the foot of the wall."

"Then, drawing from his pocket a velvet mask, he covered his face with
it (a precaution imitated by his comrades), and, approaching a wretched
hut which stood a short distance off, he stove in the door with his
shoulder. The owner rose up, frightened and half dressed, to inquire
the meaning of this unusual mode of rapping at his door; but the poor
fellow fell back with a cry of terror on perceiving the masked men
assembled before his door. Don Torribio, being in a hurry, commenced
the conversation by going straight to the subject matter:--'_Buenas
noches_ Tío Salado. I am delighted to see you in good health,' he said
to him."

"The other answered, not knowing exactly what he said,--"

"'I thank you, Caballero. You are too kind.'"

"'Make haste! get your cloak, and come with us.'"

"'I?' Salado said, with a start of terror."

"'Yourself.'"

"'But how can I be of service to you?'"

"'I will tell you. I know that you are highly respected at the convent
of the Bernardines--in the first place as a pulquero; and, secondly, as
_hombre de bien y religioso._'"

"'Oh! oh! to a certain extent,' the pulquero answered, evasively."

"'No false modesty. I know you have the power to get the gates of that
house opened when you please; it is for that reason I invite you to
accompany us.'"

"'_¡Maria Purísima!_ What are you thinking of, Caballero' the poor
fellow exclaimed, with terror."

"'No remarks! Make haste! or, by Nuestra señora del Carmen, I will burn
your rookery.'"

"'A hollow groan issued from Salado's chest; but, after taking one
despairing glance at the black masks that surrounded him, he prepared
to obey. From the pulquería to the convent was only a few paces--they
were soon passed, and Don Torribio turned to his prisoner, who was more
dead than alive."

"'There, _compadre_,' he said, distinctly, 'we have arrived. It is now
your place to get the door opened for us.'"

"'In heaven's name,' the pulquero exclaimed, making one last effort at
resistance, 'how do you expect me to set about it? You forget that I
have no means--'"

"'Listen,' Don Torribio said, imperiously; 'you understand that I have
no time for discussion. You will either introduce us into the convent,
and this purse, which contains fifty ounces, is yours; or you refuse,
and in that case,' he added, coldly, as he drew a pistol from his
girdle, 'I blow out your brains with this.'"

"A cold perspiration bedewed the pulquero's temples. He was too well
acquainted with the bandits of his country to insult them for a moment
by doubting their words."

"'Well!' the other asked, as he cocked the pistol, 'have you
reflected?'"

"'_Cáspita_, Caballero! Do not play with that thing. I will try.'"

"'Here is the purse to sharpen your wits,' Don Torribio said."

"The pulquero clutched it with a movement of joy, any idea of which it
is impossible to give; then he walked slowly towards the convent gate,
while cudgelling his brains for some way in which to earn the sum he
had received, without running any risk--a problem, we confess, of which
it was not easy to find the solution."


[1] Literally "Bread and salt for the knight-errants."



CHAPTER VIII.

A DARK HISTORY CONCLUDED.


"The pulquero at length decided on obedience. Suddenly a luminous
thought crossed his brain, and it was with a smile on his lips that
he lifted the knocker. At the moment he was going to let it fall, Don
Torribio caught his arm."

"'What is the matter?' Salado asked."

"'Eleven o'clock struck long ago; everybody must be asleep in the
convent, so perhaps it would be better to try another plan.'"

"'You are mistaken, Caballero,' the pulquero answered; 'the portress is
awake.'"

"'Are you sure of it?'"

"'Caramba!' the other answered, who had formed his plan, and was afraid
he would be obliged to return the money, if his employé changed his
mind. 'The convent of the Bernardines is open day and night to persons
who come for medicines. Leave me to manage it.'"

"'Go on, then,' the chief of the band said, letting loose his arm."

"Salado did not allow the permission to be repeated, through fear
of a fresh objection, and he hastened to let go the knocker, which
resounded on a copper bolt. Don Torribio and his companions were
crouching under the wall."

"In a moment the trapdoor was pushed back, and the wrinkled face of the
portress appeared."

"'Who are you, my brother?' she asked, in a peevish, sleepy voice. 'Why
do you come at this late hour to tap at the gates of the convent?'"

"'_Ave Maria purísima!_' Salado said, in his most nasal tone."

"'_Sin pecado concebida_, my brother,--are you ill?'"

"'I am a poor sinner, you know, sister; my soul is plunged in
affliction.'"

"'Who are you, brother? I really believe that I can recognise your
voice; but the night is so dark, that I am unable to distinguish your
features.'"

"'And I sincerely trust you will not see them,' Salado said, mentally;
then added, in a louder voice, 'I am Señor Templado, and keep a locanda
in the Calle Plateros.'"

"'Ah! I remember you now, brother.'"

"'I fancy that is biting,' the pulquero muttered."

"'What do you desire, brother? Make haste to tell me, in the most holy
name of your Saviour!' she said, crossing herself devotedly, a movement
imitated by Salado; 'for the air is very cold, and I must continue my
orisons, which you have interrupted.'"

"'Vulgo mi Dios! sister; my wife and two children are ill; the Reverend
Pater Guardian, of the Franciscans, urged me to come and ask you for
three bottles of your miraculous water.'"

"We will observe, parenthetically, that every convent manufactures in
Mexico a so-called miraculous water, the receipt of which is carefully
kept secret; this water, we were told, cures all maladies--a miracle
which we were never in a position to test, for our part. We need hardly
say, that this universal panacea is sold at a very high rate, and
produces the best part of the community's revenue."

"'Maria!' the old woman exclaimed, her eyes sparkling with joy at the
pulquero's large order. 'Three bottles!'"

"'Yes, sister. I will also ask your permission to rest myself a little;
for I have come so quick, and the emotion produced by the illness of my
wife and children has so crushed me, that I find it difficult to keep
on my legs.'"

"'Poor man!' the portress said, with pity."

"'Oh! it would really be an act of charity, my sister.'"

"'Señor Templado, please look around you, to make sure there is no one
in the street. We live in such wicked times, that a body cannot take
enough precautions.'"

"'There is no one, my sister,' the pulquero answered, making the
bandits a sign to get ready."

"'Then I will open.'"

"'Heaven will reward you, my sister.'"

"'Amen,' she said, piously."

"The noise of a key turned in a lock could be heard, then the rumbling
of bolts, and the door opened."

"'Come in quickly, brother,' the nun said."

"But Salado had prudently withdrawn, and yielded his place to Don
Torribio. The latter rushed at the portress, not giving her time to
look round, seized her by the throat, and squeezed her windpipe as if
his hand were a vice."

"'One word, sorceress,' he said to her, 'and I will kill you!'"

"Terrified by this sudden attack from a man whose face was covered by a
black mask, the old woman fell back senseless."

"'Devil take the old witch!' Don Torribio exclaimed, passionately; 'Who
will guide us now?'"

"He tried to restore the portress to her senses, but soon perceiving
that he should not succeed, he made a sign to two of his men to tie
and gag her securely; then, after recommending them to stand sentry at
the door, he seized the bunch of keys entrusted to the nun, and began,
followed by his comrades, to find his way into the building inhabited
by the sisters. It was not an easy thing to discover, in this immense
Thebaïd, the cell occupied by the abbess, for it was that lady alone
whom Don Torribio wanted."

"Now, to converse with the abbess, she must first be found, and it was
this that embarrassed the bandits, though masters of the place they had
seized by stratagem. At the moment, however, when they began to lose
all hopes, an incident, produced by their inopportune presence, came to
their aid."

"The bandits had spread, like a torrent that had burst its dykes,
through the courts and cloisters, not troubling themselves in the least
as to the consequences their invasion might have for the convent; and,
shouting and cursing like demons, they appeared to wish to leave no
nook, however secret it might be, unvisited; but it is true that, in
acting thus, they only obeyed the orders of their chief."

"The nuns, accustomed to calmness and silence, were soon aroused by
this disturbance, which they, for a moment, believed occasioned by an
earthquake; they rushed hurriedly from their beds, and, only half
dressed, went, like a flock of frightened doves, to seek shelter in the
cell of the abbess."

"The Mother Superior, sharing the error of her nuns, had succeeded in
opening her door; and, collecting her flock around her, she walked
toward the spot whence the noise came, leaning majestically on her
abbatical cross."

"Suddenly she perceived a band of masked demons, yelling, howling, and
brandishing weapons of every description. But, before she could utter
a cry, Don Torribio rushed toward her. 'No noise!' he said. 'We do not
wish to do you any harm; we have come, on the contrary, to repair that
which you have done.'"

"Dumb with terror at the sight of so many masked men, the women stood
as if petrified."

"'What do you want of me?' the Mother Superior stammered, in a
trembling voice."

"'You shall know,' the Chief answered; and, turning to one of his men,
he said, 'the sulphur matches.'"

"A bandit silently gave him what he asked for."

"'Now listen to me attentively, Señora. Yesterday, a novice belonging
to your convent, who some days back refused to take the veil, died
suddenly.'"

"The abbess looked around her with a commanding air, and then addressed
the man who was speaking to her."

"'I do not know what you mean,' she replied boldly."

"'Very good! I expected that answer. I will go on; this novice,
scarcely sixteen years of age, was Doña Laura de Acevedo del Real del
Monte; she belonged to one of the first families in the Republic. This
morning, her obsequies were performed, with all the ceremony employed
on such occasions, in the church of this convent; her body was then
lowered, with great pomp, into the vaults reserved for the burial of
the nuns.'"

"He stopped, and fixed on the Mother Superior eyes that flashed through
his mask like lightning."

"'I repeat to you that I do not know what you mean,' she replied
coldly."

"'Ah, very good! Then listen to this, señora, and profit by it; for you
have fallen, I swear it, into the hands of men who will show you no
mercy, and will be moved neither by your tears nor your airs of grace,
if you compel them to proceed to extremities.'"

"'You can do as you please,' the Mother Superior answered, still
perfectly collected. 'I am in your hands. I know that for the moment,
at least, I have no help to expect from any one; but Heaven will give
me strength to suffer martyrdom.'"

"'Madam,' Don Torribio said with a grin, 'you are blaspheming, you
are wittingly committing a deadly sin; but no matter, that is your
business: this is mine. You will at once point out to me the entrance
of the vault, and the spot where Doña Laura is reposing. I have sworn
to carry off her body from here, no matter at what cost. I will
fulfil my oath, whatever may happen. If you consent to what I ask, my
companions and myself will retire, taking with us the body of the poor
deceased, but not touching a pin of the immense riches the convent
contains.'"

"'And if I refuse?' she said, angrily."

"'If you refuse,' he replied, laying a stress on each word, as if he
wished the lady addressed fully to understand them, 'the convent will
be sacked, these timid doves will become the prey of the demon.' He
added, with a gesture which made the nuns quiver with terror. 'And I
will apply to you a certain torture, which I do not doubt will loosen
your tongue.'"

"The abbess smiled contemptuously."

"'Begin with me,' she said."

"'That is my intention. Come,' he added, in a rough voice, 'to work.'"

"Two men stepped forward, and seized the Mother Superior; but she
made no attempt to defend herself. She remained motionless, seemingly
apathetic; still an almost imperceptible contraction of her eyebrows
evidenced the internal emotion she endured."

"'Is that your last word, señora?' Don Torribio inquired."

"'Do your duty, villains!' she replied, with disdain. 'Try to conquer
the will of an old woman.'"

"'We are going to do so. Begin!' he ordered."

"The two bandits prepared to obey their chief."

"'Stay, in Heaven's name!' a maiden exclaimed, as she rushed bravely
before the Mother Superior, and repulsed the bandits."

"It was the novice with whom the abbess was speaking at the moment the
convent was invaded. There was a moment of breathless hesitation."

"'Be silent, I command you!' the abbess shrieked. 'Let me suffer. God
sees us!'"

"'It is because He sees us that I will speak,' the maiden answered,
peremptorily; 'it is He who has sent these men I do not know, to
prevent a great crime. Follow me, Caballeros; you have not a moment to
lose; I will lead you to the vaults.'"

"'Wretch!' the abbess cried, writhing furiously in the hands of the men
who held her. 'Wretch! my wrath will fall on you.'"

"'I know it,' the maiden responded, sadly; 'but no personal
consideration will prevent my accomplishing a sacred duty.'"

"'Gag that old wretch. We must finish our work,' the Chief commanded."

"The order was immediately executed. In spite of her desperate
resistance, the Mother Superior was reduced to a state of impotence in
a few moments."

"'One of you will guard her,' Don Torribio continued, 'and at the least
suspicious sign blow out her brains,' Then, changing his tone, he
addressed the novice, 'A thousand thanks, señorita! complete what you
have so well begun, and guide us to these terrible vaults.'"

"'Come, Caballeros,' she answered, placing herself at their head."

"The bandits, who had suddenly become quiet, followed her in silence,
with marks of the most profound respect. At a peremptory order from Don
Torribio, the nuns, now reassured, had dispersed and returned to their
cells."

"While crossing the corridor, Don Torribio went up to the girl, and
whispered in her ear two or three words, which made her start."

"'Fear nothing,' he added. 'I but wished to prove to you that I knew
all. I only desire, señorita, to be your most respectful and devoted
friend.'"

"The maiden sighed, but made no reply."

"'What will become of you afterwards? Alone in this convent, exposed
defencelessly to the hatred of this fury, who regards nothing as
sacred, you will soon take the place of her we are about to deliver. Is
it not better to follow her?'"

"'Alas, poor Laura!' she muttered, hoarsely."

"'Will you, who have done so much for her up to the present, abandon
her at this supreme moment, when your assistance and support will
become more than ever necessary to her? Are you not her foster sister?
her dearest friend? What prevents? You! an orphan from your earliest
youth, all your affections are concentrated on Laura. Answer me, Doña
Luisa, I conjure you!'"

"The maiden gave a start of surprise, almost of terror."

"'You know me!' she said."

"'Have I not already said that I knew all? Come, my child, if not for
your own sake, then for hers, accompany her. Do not compel me to leave
you here in the hands of terrible enemies, who will inflict frightful
tortures on you.'"

"'You wish it?' she stammered sadly."

"'She begs you by my lips.'"

"'Well, be it so; the sacrifice shall be complete. I will follow
you, though I know not whether, in doing so, I am acting rightly or
wrongly; but, although I do not know you, although a mask conceals your
features, I have faith in your words. You seem to have a noble heart,
and may heaven grant that I am not committing an error.'"

"'It is the God of goodness and mercy who inspires you with this
resolution, poor child.'"

"Doña Luisa let her head sink on her breast as she breathed a sigh that
resembled a sob."

"They went onwards, side by side, without exchanging another word. The
party had left the cloisters, and were now crossing some unfinished
buildings, which did not seem to have been inhabited for many a long
year."

"'Where are you leading us, then, Niña?' Don Torribio asked. 'I fancied
that in this convent, as in others, the vaults were under the chapel.'"

"The maiden smiled sadly. 'I am not leading you to the vaults,' she
answered, in a trembling voice."

"'Where to, then?'"

"'To the _in pace!_'"

"Don Torribio stifled an angry oath."

"'Oh!' he muttered."

"'The coffin that was lowered into the vaults this morning in the sight
of all,' Doña Luisa continued, 'really contained the body of my poor
Laura; it was impossible to do otherwise, owing to the custom which
demands that the dead should be buried in their clothes, and with
uncovered faces; but so soon as the crowd had departed, and the doors
of the chapel were closed on the congregation, the Mother Superior
had the tombstone removed again, the body brought up, and transferred
to the deepest _in pace_ of the convent. But here we are,' she said,
as she stopped and pointed to a large stone in the paved floor of the
apartment in which they were."

"The scene had something mournful and striking about it. In the
deserted apartment the masked men were grouped around the maiden
dressed in white, and only illumined by the ruddy glare of the torches
they waved, bore a strange likeness to those mysterious judges who in
old times met in ruins to try kings and emperors."

"'Raise the stone,' Don Torribio said, in a hollow voice."

"After a few efforts the stone was raised, leaving open a dark gulf,
from which poured a blast of hot and foetid air. Don Torribio took a
torch, and bent over the orifice."

"'Why,' he said, at the expiration of a moment, 'this vault is
deserted.'"

"'Yes,' Doña Luisa answered, simply, 'she, whom you seek, is lower.'"

"'What! lower?' he cried, with a movement of terror, which he could not
control."

"'That vault is not deep enough; an accident might cause a discovery;
shrieks could be heard from outside. There are two other vaults like
this, built above each other. When, through any reason, the abbess has
resolved on the disappearance of a nun, and that she shall be cut off
for ever from the number of the living, the victim is let down into the
last cave, called _Hell!_ There all noise dies away; every sob remains
unechoed; every complaint is vain. Oh! the Inquisition managed matters
well; and it is so short a time since its rule ended in Mexico, that
some of its customs have been maintained in the convents. Seek lower,
Caballero, seek lower!'"

"Don Torribio, at these words, felt a cold perspiration beading at the
roots of his hair. He believed himself a prey to a horrible nightmare.
Making a supreme effort to subdue the emotion that overpowered him, he
went down into the vault by means of a light ladder leaning against
one of the walls, and several of his comrades followed him. After some
searching, they discovered a stone like the first. Don Torribio plunged
a torch into the gulf."

"'Empty!' he exclaimed, in horror."

"'Lower, I tell you! Look lower,' Doña Luisa cried, in a gloomy voice,
who had remained on the edge of the topmost vault."

"'What had this adorable creature done to them to endure such
martyrdom?' Don Torribio exclaimed, in his despair."

"'Avarice and hatred are two terrible counsellors,' the maiden
answered; 'but make haste! make haste! every moment that passes is an
age for her who is waiting.'"

"Don Torribio, a prey to incredible fury, began seeking the last vault.
After a few moments, his exertions were crowned with success. The
stone was scarce lifted, ere, paying no attention to the mephitic air
which rushed from the opening and almost extinguished his torch, he
bent over."

"'I see her! I see her!' he said, with a cry more resembling a howl
than a human voice."

"And, waiting no longer, without even calculating the height, he leaped
into the vault. A few moments later he returned to the hall, bearing in
his arms Doña Laura's inanimate body."

"'Away, friends, away!' he exclaimed, addressing his companions; 'let
us not stay an instant longer in this den of wild beasts with human
faces!'"

"At a sign from him, Doña Luisa was lifted in the arms of a sturdy
lepero, and all ran off in the direction of the cloisters. They soon
reached the cell of the Mother Superior. On seeing them, the abbess
made a violent effort to break her bonds, and writhed impotently like a
tiger, while flashing, at the men who had foiled her hideous projects,
glances full of hatred and rage."

"'Wretch!' Don Torribio shouted, as he passed near her, and
disdainfully spurned her with his foot; 'be accursed! your chastisement
commences, for your victim escapes you.'"

"By one of those efforts which only hatred which has reached its
paroxysm can render possible, the abbess succeeded in removing her gag
slightly."

"Perhaps!' she yelled, in a voice which sounded like a knell in Don
Torribio's ears."

"Overcome by this great effort, she fainted."

"Five minutes after, there was no one in the convent beyond its usual
inmates."



CHAPTER IX.

BRIGHTEYE AND MARKSMAN.


At this point in his narrative Brighteye stopped, and began, with a
thoughtful air, filling his Indian pipe with tobacco.

There was a lengthened silence. His auditors, still under the influence
of this extraordinary influence, dared not venture any reflections. At
length Marksman raised his head. "That story is very dramatic and very
gloomy," he said, "but pardon my rude frankness, old and dear comrade,
it seems to me to have no reference to what is going on around us, and
the events in which we shall, probably, be called upon to be interested
spectators, if not actors."

"In truth," Ruperto observed, "what do we wood rangers care for
adventures that happen in Mexico, or any other city of the _Tierras
Adentro_? We are here in the desert to hunt, trap, and thrash the
Redskins. Any other question can affect us but slightly."

Brighteye tossed his head in a significant manner, and laid his pipe
mechanically by his side.

"You are mistaken, comrades," he continued; "do you believe, then, that
I should have made you waste your time in listening to this long story,
if it did not possess an important reality for us?"

"Explain yourself, then, my friend," Marksman observed, "for I honestly
confess that, for my part, I have understood nothing of what you have
been good enough to tell us."

The old Canadian raised his head, and seemed, for a few moments, to be
calculating the sun's height. "It is half past six," he said; "you
have still more than sufficient time to reach the ford of the Rubio,
where the man is to wait, to whom you have engaged yourself as guide.
Listen to me, therefore, for I have not quite finished. Now that I have
told you the mystery, you must learn what has come out to clear it up."

"Speak!" Marksman replied, in the tone of a man who is resolved to
listen through politeness to a story which he knows cannot interest him.

Brighteye, not seeming to remark his friend's apathetic condescension,
went on in the following terms:--"You have remarked that Don Torribio
provided for everything with a degree of prudence which must keep off
any suspicion, and cover this adventure with an impenetrable veil.
Unfortunately for him, the evangelista was not killed. He could not
only speak, but show a copy of each of the letters he daily handed
to the young man--letters which the latter paid so dearly for, and
which, with that prudence innate in the Mexican race, he had previously
guarded, to employ, if needed, as a weapon against Don Torribio; or,
as was more probable, to avenge himself if he fell a victim to any
treachery. This was what happened:--The evangelista, found in a dying
state by an early customer, had strength enough to make a regular
declaration to the Juez de Lettras, and hand him the letters ere he
died. This assassination, taken in connection with the attack on the
serenos by a numerous band, and the invasion of the Convent of the
Bernardines, furnished a clue which the police begun following with
extreme tenacity; especially as the young lady whose body had been
so audaciously carried off had powerful relations, who, for certain
reasons known to themselves, would not let this crime pass unpunished,
and spent their gold profusely. It was soon learned that the bandits,
on leaving the convent, mounted horses brought by their confidants, and
started at full speed in the direction of the Presidios. The police
even succeeded in discovering one of the men who supplied the horses.
This individual, Pepito by name, bought over by the money offered
him, rather than frightened by threats, stated that he had sold to
Don Torribio Carvajal twenty-five post horses, to be delivered at the
Convent of the Bernardines at two o'clock in the morning. As these
horses were paid for in advance, he, Pepito, did not trouble himself
at all about the singularity of the spot, or of the hour. Don Torribio
and his companions had arrived, bearing with them two women, one of
whom appeared to have fainted, and immediately galloped off. The trail
of the ravishers was then followed to the Presidio de Tubar, where Don
Torribio allowed his party to rest for several days. There he purchased
a close palanquin, a field tent, and all the provisions necessary for a
lengthened journey in the desert, and one night suddenly disappeared,
with all his band, which was augmented by all the adventurers he could
pick up at the Presidio, no one being able to say in what direction
he had gone. This information, though vague, was sufficient up to a
certain point, and the relations of the young lady were continuing
their search."

"I fancy I am beginning to see what you want to arrive at," Marksman
interrupted him; "but conclude your story; when you have finished, I
will make sundry observations, whose justice you will recognize, I am
sure."

"I shall be delighted to hear them," Brighteye said, and went on:--"A
man who, twenty years ago, did me a rather important service, whom I
had not seen since, and whom I should assuredly not have recognized,
had he not told me his name--the only thing I had not forgotten--came
to me and my partner Ruperto, while we were at the Presidio de Tubar,
selling a few panther and tiger skins. This man told me what I have
just repeated to you: he added that he was a near relation of the young
lady, reminded me of the service he had rendered me--in a word, he
affected me so greatly, that I agreed to take vengeance on his enemy.
Two days later we took up the trail. For a man like myself, accustomed
to follow Indians' signs, it was child's play and I soon led him almost
into the Spanish caravan commanded by Don Miguel Ortega."

"The other was called Don Torribio Carvajal."

"Could he not have changed his name?"

"For what good in the desert?"

"In the consciousness that he would be pursued."

"Then the relatives had a great interest in this pursuit?"

"Don José told me he was the young lady's uncle, and felt a paternal
tenderness for her."

"But I fancy she is dead, or at least you told me so, if I am not
mistaken."

Brighteye scratched his ear. "That is the awkward part of the affair,"
he said; "it seems she is not dead at all; on the contrary."

"What!" Marksman exclaimed; "she is not dead! That uncle knows it,
then; it was by his consent that the poor creature was buried alive!
But, if that is the case, there must be some odious machination in the
business."

"On my word, if I must confess it, I fear so too," the Canadian said,
in a hesitating voice. "Still, this man rendered me a great service. I
have no proof in support of my suspicions, and----"

Marksman rose, and stood in front of the old hunter. "Brighteye," he
said to him, sternly; "we are fellow countrymen; we love each other
like brothers; for many long years we have slept side by side on the
prairie, sharing good fortune and ill between us, saving each other's
lives a hundred times, either in our struggles with wild beasts, or our
fights with the Indians--is it so?"

"It is true, Marksman, it is true, and anyone who said the contrary
would lie," the hunter replied with emotion.

"My friend, my brother, a great crime has been committed, or is on the
point of being committed. Let us watch--watch carefully; who knows
if we may not be the instruments chosen by Providence to unmask the
guilty, and cause the innocent to triumph? This Don José, you say,
wishes me to join you; well, I accept. Yourself, Ruperto, and I, will
go to the ford of the Rubio, and, believe me, my friend, now that I am
warned, I will discover the guilty party, whoever he may be."

"I prefer things to be so," the hunter answered, simply. "I confess
that the strange position in which I found myself weighed heavily
upon me. I am only a poor hunter, and do not at all understand these
infamies of the cities."

"You are an honest man, whose heart is just and mind upright. But
time is slipping away. Now that we are agreed as to our parts, and
understand one another, I believe we shall do well by starting."

"I will go whenever you please."

"One moment. Can you do without Ruperto for a little while?"

"Yes."

"What's the matter?" the latter asked.

"You can do me a service."

"Speak, Marksman, I am waiting."

"No man can foresee the future. Perhaps, in a few days we shall need
allies on whom we may be able to count. These allies the Chief here
present will give us whenever we ask for them. Accompany him to his
village, Ruperto: and, so soon as he has arrived there, leave him, and
take up our trail--not positively joining us, but managing so that, if
necessary, we should know where to find you."

"I have understood," the hunter said, laconically, as he rose. "All
right."

Marksman turned to Flying Eagle, and explained what he wanted of him.

"My brother saved Eglantine," the Chief answered, nobly; "Flying Eagle
is a sachem of his tribe. Two hundred warriors will follow the warpath
at the first signal from my father. The Comanches are men; the words
they utter come from the heart."

"Thanks, Chief," Marksman answered, warmly pressing the hand the
Redskin extended to him; "may the Wacondah watch over you during your
journey!"

After hastily eating a slice of venison cooked on the ashes, and
drinking a draught of pulque--from which, after the custom of his
nation, the only one which does not drink strong liquors, the Comanche
declined to take a share--the four men separated; Ruperto, Flying
Eagle, and Eglantine going into the prairie in a western direction;
while Brighteye and Marksman, bending slightly to the left, proceeded
in an easterly course, in order to reach the ford of the Rubio, where
the latter was expected.

"Hum!" Brighteye observed, as he threw his rifle on to his left arm,
and starting with that elastic step peculiar to the wood rangers; "we
have some tough work cut out for us."

"Who knows, my friend?" Marksman answered, anxiously. "At any rate, we
must discover the truth."

"That is my opinion, too."

"There is one thing I want to know, above all."

"What is it?"

"What Don Miguel's carefully-closed palanquin contains."

"Why, hang it! a woman, of course."

"Who told you so?"

"Nobody; but I presume so."

"Prejudge nothing, my friend; with time, all will be cleared up."

"God grant it!"

"He sees everything, and knows everything, my friend. Believe me, that
if it hath pleased Him to set those suspicions growing in our hearts
that trouble us now, it is because, as I told you a moment ago, He
wishes to make us the instruments of His justice."

"May His will be done!" Brighteye answered, raising his cap piously. "I
am ready to obey Him in all that He may order me."

After this mutual exchange of thoughts, the hunters, who till
this moment had walked side by side, proceeded in Indian file, in
consequence of the difficult nature of the ground. On reaching the tall
grass, after emerging from the forest, they stopped a moment to look
around.

"It is late," Marksman observed.

"Yes, it is nearly midday. Follow me, we shall soon catch up lost time."

"How so?"

"Instead of walking, would you not be inclined to ride?"

"Yes, if we had horses."

"That is just what I am going to procure."

"You have horses?"

"Last night Ruperto and I left our horses close by here, while going
to the meeting Don José had made with us, and in which I was obliged to
employ a canoe."

"Eh! eh! those brave beasts turn up at a lucky moment. For my part, I
am worn out. I have been walking for many a long day over the prairie,
and my legs are beginning to refuse to carry me."

"Come this way, we shall soon see them."

In fact, the hunters had not walked one hundred yards in the direction
indicated by Brighteye, ere they found the horses quietly engaged in
nibbling the pea vines and young tree shoots. The noble animals, on
hearing a whistle, raised their intelligent heads, and hastened toward
the hunters with a neigh of pleasure. According to the usual fashion in
the prairies, they were saddled, but their _bozal_ was hung round their
necks. The hunters bridled them, leapt on their backs, and started
again.

"Now that we have each a good horse between our legs we are certain of
arriving in time," Marksman observed; "hence, it is useless to hurry
on, and we can talk at our ease. Tell me, Brighteye, have you seen Don
Miguel Ortega yet?"

"Never, I allow."

"Then you do not know him?"

"If I may believe Don José, he is a villain. For my own part, never
having had any relations with him, I should be considerably troubled to
form any opinion, bad or good, about him."

"With me it is different. I know him."

"Ah!"

"Very well indeed."

"For any length of time?"

"Long enough, I believe, at any rate to enable me to form an opinion
about him."

"Ah! Well, what do you think of him?"

"Much good and much bad."

"Hang it? ah!"

"Why are you surprised? Are not all men in the same case?"

"Nearly so, I grant."

"This man is no worse or no better than the rest. This morning, as
I foresaw that you were about to speak to me about him, I wished to
leave you liberty of action by telling you that I was only slightly
acquainted with him; but it is possible that your opinion will soon be
greatly modified, and, perhaps, you will regret the support you have
hitherto given Don José, as you call him."

"Would you like me to speak candidly, Marksman, now that no one, but He
above, can hear us?"

"Do so, my friend. I should not be sorry to know your whole thoughts."

"I am certain that you know a great deal more about the story I told
you last night than you pretend to do."

"Perhaps you are right; but what makes you think so?"

"Many things; and in the first place this."

"Go on."

"You are too sensible a man. You have acquired too great an experience
of the things of this world, to undertake, without serious cause, the
defence of a man who, according to the principles we profess on the
prairie, you ought to regard, if not as an enemy, still as one of those
men whom it is often disagreeable to come in contact, or have any
relations with."

Marksman burst into a laugh. "There is truth in what you say,
Brighteye," he at length remarked.

"Is there not?"

"I will not attempt to play at cunning with you; but I have powerful
reasons for undertaking the defence of this man, but I cannot tell you
them at this moment. It is a secret which does not belong to me, and of
which I am only the depositary. I trust you will soon know all; but,
till then, rely on my old friendship, and leave me to act in any way."

"Very good! At any rate, I am now beginning to see clearly, and,
whatever may happen, you can reckon upon me."

"By Jove! I felt certain we should end by understanding one another;
but, silence, and let nothing be seen. We are at the meeting place.
Hang it! the Mexicans have not kept us waiting. They have already
pitched their camp on the other side of the river."

In fact, a hunter's camp could be seen a short distance off, one side
resting on the river, the other on the forest, and presenting perfectly
fortified outworks, with the front turned to the prairies, and composed
of bales and trees stoutly interlaced.

The two hunters made themselves known to the sentries, and entered
without any difficulty. Don Miguel was absent; but the Gambusinos
expected him at any moment. The hunters dismounted, hobbled their
horses, and sat down quietly by the fire.

Don Stefano Cohecho had left the Gambusinos at daybreak, as he had
announced on the previous evening.



CHAPTER X.

FRESH CHARACTERS.


In order to a right comprehension of ensuing facts, we will take
advantage of our privilege as story tellers, to go back a fortnight,
and allow the reader to be witness of a scene intimately connected with
the most important events of this history, and which took place a few
hundred miles from the spot where accident had collected our principal
characters.

The Cordillera of the Andes, that immense spine of the American
continent, the whole length of which it traverses under different names
from north to south, forms, at various elevations, immense _llanos_, on
which entire people live at a height at which all vegetation ceases in
Europe.

After crossing the Presidio de Tubar, the advanced post of civilization
on the extreme limit of the desert, and advancing into the mediano
region of the _tierra caliente_ for about one hundred and twenty miles,
the traveller finds himself suddenly, and without any transition, in
front of a virgin forest, which is no less than three hundred and
twenty miles deep, by eighty odd miles wide.

The most practised pen is powerless to describe the marvels innumerable
inclosed in that inexhaustible network of vegetation called a virgin
forest, and the sight, at once strange and peculiar, majestic and
imposing, which it offers to the dazzled sight. The most powerful
imagination recoils before this prodigious fecundity of elementary
nature, continually springing up again from its own destruction with
a strength and vigour ever new. The creepers, which run from tree to
tree, from branch to branch, plunge, at one moment, into the earth,
and then rise once more to the sky, and form, by their interlacing
and crossing, an almost insurmountable barrier, as if jealous nature
wished to hide from profane eyes the mysterious secrets of these
forests, beneath whose shade man's footsteps have only reached at long
intervals, and never unpunished. Trees of every age and species grow
without order or symmetry, as if sown by chance, like wheat in the
furrows. Some, tall and slight, count only a few years; the extremities
of their branches are covered by the tall and wide boughs of those
whose haughty heads have seen centuries pass over them. Beneath their
foliage softly murmur pure and limpid streams, which escape from the
fissures of the rocks, and, after a thousand meanderings, are lost in
some lake or unknown river, whose bright waters had never reflected
aught in their clear mirror save the sublime secrets of the solitude.
There may be found, pell-mell and in picturesque confusion, all
the magnificent productions of tropical regions:--The acajou; the
ebony; the palisander; the stunted mahogany; the black oak; the cork;
the maple; the mimosa, with its silvery foliage; and the tamarind,
thrusting in every direction their branches, laden with, flowers,
fruits, and leaves, which form a dome impenetrable to the sunbeams.
From the vast and unexplored depths of these forests emerge, from time
to time, inexplicable noises--furious howls, feline miauls, mocking
yells, mingled with shrill whistling or the joyous and harmonious song
of the birds.

After plunging boldly into the centre of this chaos, and struggling
hand to hand with this uncultivated and wild nature, the traveller
succeeds, with axe in one hand and torch in the other, in gaining, inch
by inch, step by step, a road impossible to describe. At one moment, by
crawling like a reptile over the decaying leaves, dead wood, or guano,
piled up for centuries; or by leaping from branch to branch, at the
tops of the trees, standing, as it were, in the air. But woe to the man
who neglects to have his eye constantly open to all that surrounds
him, and his ear on the watch: for, in addition to the obstacles
caused by nature, he has to fear the venomous stings of the serpents
startled in their lairs, and the furious attacks of the wild beasts.
He must also carefully watch the course of the rivers and streams he
meets with, determine the position of the sun during the day, or guide
himself at night by the Southern Cross; for, once astray in a virgin
forest, it is impossible to get out of it--it is a maze, from which no
Ariadne's web would help to find the issue.

At last the traveller, after he has succeeded in surmounting the
dangers we have describe, and a thousand others no less terrible, which
we have passed over in silence, emerges on an immense plain, in the
centre of which stands an Indian city. That is to say, he finds himself
before one of those mysterious cities into which no European has yet
penetrated, whose exact position even is unknown, and which, since
the conquest, have served as an asylum for the last relics of Aztec
civilization.

The fabulous accounts given by some travellers about the incalculable
wealth buried in these cities, has inflamed the covetousness and
avarice of a great number of adventurers, who, at various periods,
have attempted to find the lost road to these queens of the Mexican
prairies and savannahs. Others again, only impelled by the irresistible
attraction extraordinary enterprises offer to vagabond imaginations,
have also, especially during the last fifty years, set out in search of
these Indian cities, though up to the present time success has never
crowned these various expeditions. Some have returned disenchanted, and
half killed by this journey toward the unknown; a considerable number
have left their bodies at the foot of precipices or in the quebradas,
to serve as food for birds of prey; while others, more unfortunate
still, have disappeared without leaving a trace, and no one has ever
heard what has become of them.

Owing to events, too long to narrate here, but which we shall describe
some day, we have lived, against our will, in one of these impenetrable
cities, though, more fortunate than our predecessors, whose whitened
bones we saw scattered along the road, we succeeded in escaping
from it, through dangers innumerable, all miraculously avoided. The
description we are about to give, then, is scrupulously exact, and
cannot be doubted, for we write from personal observation.

Quiepaa Tani, the city which presents itself to the traveller's sight
after leaving the virgin forest, of which we have given a sketch,
extends from east to west, and forms a parallelogram. A wide stream,
over which several bridges of incredible lightness and elegance are
thrown, runs through its entire length. At each corner of the square an
enormous block of rock cut perpendicularly on the side that faces the
plains, serves as an almost impregnable fortress; these four citadels
are also connected by a wall twenty feet thick, and forty feet high,
which, inside the city, forms a slope sixty feet wide at the base. This
wall is built of native bricks, made of sandy earth and chopped straw;
they are called _adobes_, and are about a yard long. A wide and deep
fosse almost doubles the height of the walls. Two gates alone give
access to the city. These gates are flanked by towers and pepper boxes,
exactly like a mediaeval fortress; and, what adds to the correctness of
our comparison, a small bridge, made of planks, extremely narrow and
light, and so arranged as to be carried away on the slightest alarm, is
the only communication between these gates and the exterior.

The houses are low, and terminate in terraces, connected with each
other; they are slight, and built of wicker and canaverales covered
with cement, in consequence of the earthquakes so frequent in these
regions; but they are large, airy, and pierced with numerous windows.
None of them are more than one story in height, and the fronts are
covered with a varnish of dazzling whiteness.

This strange city, seen from a distance, as it rises in the midst of
the tall prairie grass, offers the most singular and seductive sight.

On a fine evening in the month of October, five travellers, whose
features or dress it would have been impossible to distinguish, owing
to the obscurity, came out of the forest we have described above,
stopped for a moment, with marked indecision, on the extreme edge of
the wood, and began examining the ground. Before them rose a hillock,
which, if no great height, yet cut the horizon at right angles.

After exchanging a few words, two of these persons remained where they
were; the other three lay down on their faces, and, crawling on their
hands and feet, advanced through the rank grass, which they caused to
undulate, and which completely concealed their bodies. On reaching the
top of the mound, which they had found such difficulty in scaling, they
looked out into the country, and remained struck with astonishment and
admiration.

The eminence, at the top of which they were, was perpendicular on the
other side, like all the rest of the ground which extended on either
side. A magnificent plain lay expanded a hundred feet below them, and
in the centre of the plain, at a distance of about a thousand yards
from them, stood, proud and imposing, Quiepaa Tani,[1] the mysterious
city, defended by its massive towers and thick walls. The sight of this
vast city in the midst of the desert produced on the minds of the three
men a feeling of stupor, which they could not explain, and which for
a few moments rendered them dumb with surprise. At length one of them
rose on his elbow, and addressed his comrades.

"Are my brothers satisfied?" he said, with a guttural accent, which,
though he expressed himself in Spanish, proved him to be an Indian.
"Has Addick (the Stag) kept his promise?"

"Addick is one of the first warriors of his tribe; his tongue is
straight, and the blood flows clearly in his veins," one of the men he
addressed, answered.

The Indian smiled silently, without replying;--this smile would have
given his companions much matter for thought, had they seen it.

"It seems to me," the one who had not yet spoken said, "that it is very
late to enter the city."

"Tomorrow, at sunrise, Addick will lead the two Paleface maidens to
Quiepaa Tani," the Indian answered; "the night is too dark."

"The warrior is right," the second speaker remarked, "we must put off
the affair till tomorrow."

"Yes, let us return to our friends, whom a longer absence may alarm."

Joining deeds to words, the first speaker turned round, and, exactly
following the track his body had left in the grass, he soon found
himself, as well as his companions, who imitated all his movements, at
the skirt of the forest, into which, after their departure, the two
persons they left behind had returned.

The silence which reigns beneath these gloomy roofs of foliage and
branches during the day, had been succeeded by the dull sounds of a
wild concert, formed by the shrill cries of the night birds, which
woke, and prepared to attack the loros, humming birds, and cardinals,
belated far from their nests; the roaring of the cougars; the
hypocritical miauling of the jaguars and panthers, and the snappish
barks of the coyotes, which reechoed, with a mournful sound, from the
roofs of the inaccessible caverns and gaping pits which served as
lurking places for these dangerous guests.

Returning on the trail they had traced with their axes, the three men
soon found themselves near a fire of dead wood, burning in the centre
of a small clearing. Two women, or rather girls, were crouching,
pensive and sad, by the fire. They counted scarce thirty years between
them; they were lovely, and of that creole beauty which the divine
pencil of a Raphael has been alone able to reproduce. But at this
moment they were pale, seemed fatigued, and their faces reflected a
gloomy sorrow; At the sound of the approaching steps they raised their
eyes, and a flash of joy illumined their faces like a sunbeam.

The Indian threw some sticks on the fire, which was threatening to
go out, while one of the hunters occupied himself with giving their
provender to the horses, hobbled a short distance off.

"Well, Don Miguel," one of the ladies said, addressing the hunter
who had taken a seat by her side, "shall we soon near the end of our
journey?"

"You have arrived, señorita; tomorrow, under the guidance of our friend
Addick, you will enter the city, that inviolable asylum, where no one
will pursue you."

"Ah!" she continued, looking absently at the Indian's gloomy and
apathetic face; "we shall separate tomorrow."

"We must, señorita; the care for your safety demands it."

"Who would dare to seek me in these unknown districts?"

"Hatred dares everything. I implore you, señorita, to put faith in my
experience; my devotion to you is unbounded. Though still very young,
you have suffered enough, and it is time that a blessed sunbeam should
brighten your dreary brow, and dispel the clouds which thought and
grief have been so long collecting on it."

"Alas!" she said, as she let her head droop, to hide the tears that ran
down her cheeks.

"My sister, my friend, my Laura!" the other maiden said, embracing her
tenderly, "be courageous to the end. Shall I not be with you? Oh, fear
nothing!" she added, with a charming expression. "I will take half your
grief on myself, and your burthen will seem less heavy."

"Poor Luisa!" the maiden murmured, as she returned her caresses.
"You are unhappy through me. How shall I ever be able to repay your
devotion?"

"By loving me, as I love you, cherished angel, and by regaining hope."

"Before a month, I trust," Don Miguel said, "your persecutors will be
prevented from troubling you again. I am playing a terrible game with
them, in which my head is the stake; but I care little, so long as I
save you. On leaving you, permit me to take with me, in my heart, the
hope that you will in no way attempt to leave the refuge I have found
for you, and that you will patiently await my return."

"Alas, Caballero! you are aware that I live only by a miracle; my
relatives, my friends, indeed, all those I loved, have abandoned me,
except my Luisa, my foster sister, whose devotion to me has never
swerved; and you, whom I do not know, whom I never saw, and who
suddenly revealed yourself to me in my tomb, like the angel of divine
justice; since that terrible night, when, thanks to you, I emerged from
my sepulchre, like Lazarus, you have shown me the kindest and most
delicate attentions; you have taken the place of those who betrayed me;
you have been to me more than a father."

"Señorita!" said the young man, at once confused and happy at these
words.

"I say this to you, Don Miguel," she continued, with a certain feverish
animation, "because I am anxious to prove to you that I am not
ungrateful. I know not what God, in His wisdom, may do with me; but I
tell you, that my last thought, my last prayer will be for you. You
wish me to await you; I will obey you. Believe me, I only dispute my
life through a certain feeling of anxiety, like the gambler at his last
stake," she added, with a heartbreaking smile; "but I understand how
much you need liberty of action for the rude game you have undertaken.
Hence, you can go in peace; I have faith in you."

"Thanks, señorita; this promise doubles my strength. Oh, now I am
certain of success!"

A rude jacal of branches had been prepared for the maidens by the other
hunters and the Indian warrior, and they retired to rest.

Although the young man's mind was so full of restless alarms, after a
few moments of deep thought he laid himself down by the side of his
companions, and soon fell asleep. In the desert nature never surrenders
its claims, and the greatest grief rarely succeeds in gaining the
victory over the material claims of the human organization.

Scarce had the first sunbeams begun to tinge the sky of an opal hue,
ere the hunters opened their eyes. The preparations for starting were
soon completed; the moment of separation arrived, and the parting was a
sad one. The two hunters had accompanied the maidens to the edge of the
forest, in order to remain longer with them.

Doña Luisa, taking advantage of an instant when the road became so
narrow that it became almost impossible for two to walk side by side,
drew nearer Don Miguel's hunting companion.

"Do me a service," she whispered, hurriedly.

"Speak," he answered, in the same key.

"That Indian inspires me with but slight confidence."

"You are wrong; I know him."

She shook her head petulantly. "That is possible," she said; "but will
you do me the service I want of you?--if not, I will ask Don Miguel,
though I should have preferred him not knowing it."

"Speak, I tell you."

"Give me a knife and your pistols."

The hunter looked her in the face. "Good!" he said presently. "You are
a brave child. Here is what you ask for." And, without anyone noticing
it, he gave the objects she wished to obtain from him, adding to them
two little pouches, one of gunpowder, the other of bullets.

"No one knows what may happen," he said.

"Thanks," she answered, with a movement of joy she could not master.

This was all that she said; and the weapons disappeared under her
clothes, with a speed and resolution which made the hunter smile. Five
minutes after, they reached the skirt of the virgin forest.

"Addick," the hunter said laconically; "remember that you will answer
to me for these two women."

"Addick has sworn it," the Indian merely replied. They separated; it
was impossible to remain longer at the spot where they were, without
running the risk of being discovered by the Indians. The maidens and
the warrior proceeded toward the city.

"Let us mount the hill," Don Miguel said, "in order to see them for the
last time."

"I was going to propose it," the hunter said, simply.

They went, with similar precautions, to the spot they had occupied for
a few moments on the previous evening.

In the brilliant beams of the sun, which had gloriously risen, the
verdurous landscape had assumed, a truly enchanting aspect. Nature
was aroused from her sleep, and a most varied spectacle had been
substituted for the gloomy and solitary view of the previous night.
From the gates of the city, which were now widely opened, emerged
groups of Indians on horseback and on foot, who dispersed in all
directions with shouts of joy and shriller bursts of laughter. Numerous
canoes traversed the stream, the fields were populated with flocks
of vicunas, and horses led by Indians, armed with long goads, who
were proceeding toward the city. Women quaintly attired, and bearing
on their heads long wicker baskets filled with meat, fruit, and
vegetables, walked along conversing together, and accompanying each
phrase with that continual, sharp, and metallic laugh, of which the
Indian nation possess the secret, and the noise of which resembles very
closely that produced by the full of a quantity of pebbles on a copper
dish.

The maidens and their guide were soon mixed up in this motley crowd, in
the midst of which they disappeared. Don Miguel sighed.

"Let us go," he said in a deep voice.

They returned to the forest. A few moments later, they set out again.

"We must separate," Don Miguel said when they had crossed the forest;
"I shall return to Tubar."

"And I am going to try to render a small service to an Indian chief, a
friend of mine."

"You are always thinking of others, and never of yourself, my worthy
Marksman; you are ever anxious to be of use to someone."

"What would you have, Don Miguel? It seems to be my mission--you know
that every man has one."

"Yes!" the young man answered in a hollow voice. "Good-bye!" he added
presently, "do not forget our meeting."

"All right! In a fortnight, at the ford of the Rubio; that is settled."

"Forgive me my chariness of speech during the few days we have spent
together; the secret is not mine alone, Marksman; I am not at liberty
to divulge it, even to so kind a friend as yourself."

"Keep your secret, my friend; I am in no way curious to know it; still,
it is understood that we do not know one another."

"Yes; that is very important."

"Then, good-bye."

"Good-bye!"

The two horsemen shook hands, one turned to the right, the other to the
left, and they set off at full speed.


[1] Literally, _Quiepaa_, sky, _tani_, mountain, in the Zapothecan
language.



CHAPTER XI.

THE FORD OF THE RUBIO.


The night was gloomy, not a star shone in the sky; the wind blew
violently through the heavy boughs of the virgin forest, with that
sad and monotonous soughing which resembles the sound of great waters
when the tempest menaces; the clouds were low, black, and charged
with electricity; they coursed rapidly through the sky, incessantly
veiling the wan disk of the moon, whose cold rays only rendered the
gloom denser; the atmosphere was oppressive, and those nameless noises,
dashed back by the echoes like the rolling of distant thunder, rose
from the quebradas and unknown barrancas of the prairies; the beasts
howled sadly all the notes of the human register, and the night birds,
troubled in their sleep by this strange uneasiness of nature, uttered
hoarse and discordant cries.

In the camp of the Gambusinos all was calm; the sentries were watching,
leaning on their rifles, and crouching near the expiring fire. In the
centre of the camp two men were smoking their Indian pipes, and talking
in a low voice. They were Brighteye and Marksman.

At length, Brighteye knocked the ashes out of his pipe, thrust it into
his girdle, stifled a yawn, and rose, throwing out his legs and arms to
restore the circulation.

"What are you going to do?" Marksman asked him, turning cautiously
round.

"Sleep," the hunter answered.

"Sleep!"

"Why not? the night is advanced; we are the only persons watching, I
feel convinced; it is more than probable that we shall not see Don
Miguel before sunrise. Hum! the best plan for the moment, at least, is
to sleep, at any rate, if you have not decided otherwise."

Marksman laid his finger on his lip, as if to recommend silence to his
friend.

"The night is advanced," he said, in a low voice; "a terrible storm is
rising. Where can Don Miguel be gone? This prolonged absence alarms me
more than I can express: he is not the man to leave his friends thus,
without some powerful reason, or perhaps--"

The hunter stopped, and shook his head sorrowfully.

"Go on," Brighteye said; "tell me your whole thought."

"Well, I am afraid lest some misfortune has happened to him."

"Oh, oh, do you think so? Still, this Don Miguel, from what I have
heard you say, is a man of well-tried courage and uncommon strength."

"All that is true," Marksman replied, with a preoccupied air.

"Well! do you think that such a man, well armed, and acquainted with
prairie life, is not able to draw himself out of a difficulty, whatever
the danger which threatens him?"

"Yes, if he has to deal with a loyal foe, who stands resolutely before
him, and fights with equal weapons."

"What other danger can he fear?"

"Brighteye, Brighteye!" the hunter continued, sadly, "you have lived
too long among the Missouri fur traders."

"Which means--?" the Canadian asked, somewhat piqued.

"Come, my friend, do not feel vexed at my remarks; but it is evident to
me, that you have, in a great measure, forgotten prairie habits."

"Hum! that is a serious charge against a hunter, Marksman; and in what,
if you please, have I forgotten desert manners?"

"By Jove! in seeming no longer to remember that, in the country where
we now are, every weapon is good to get rid of an enemy."

"Eh! I know that as well as you, my friend; I know, too, that the most
dangerous weapon is that which is concealed."

"That is to say, treachery."

The Canadian started. "Do you fear treachery, then?" he asked.

"What else can I fear?"

"That is true," the hunter said, with a drooping head; "but," he added,
a moment after, "what is to be done?"

"That is the very thing that embarrasses me. Still I cannot remain much
longer in this state; the uncertainty is killing me; at all risks I
must know what has happened."

"But in what way?"

"I know not, Heaven will inspire me."

"Still, you have an idea?"

"Of course, I have."

"What is it?"

"This--and I count on you to help me in carrying it out."

Brighteye affectionately pressed his friend's hand. "You are right," he
said: "now for your idea."

"It is very simple; we will leave the camp directly, and go along the
river side."

"Yes,--I would merely draw your attention to the fact, that the storm
will soon break out, and the rain is already falling in large drops."

"The greater reason to make haste."

"That is true."

"Then you will accompany me?"

"By Jove! did you doubt it, perchance?"

"I am a goose; forgive me, brother, and thank you."

"Why so? on the contrary, I ought to thank you."

"How so?"

"Why, thanks to you, I am going to take a delightful walk."

Marksman did not answer; the hunters saddled and bridled their horses,
and after inspecting their arms with all the care of men who are
convinced that they will soon have occasion to use them, they mounted
and rode toward the gate of the camp. Two sentries were standing
motionless and upright at the gate; they placed themselves before the
wood rangers. The latter had no intention of going out unseen, as they
had no reason for hiding their departure.

"You are going away?" one of the sentries asked.

"No; we are merely going to make a survey of the country."

"At this hour?"

"Why not?"

"Hang it! I think it pleasanter to sleep in such weather, than ride
about the prairie."

"You think wrong, comrade," Marksman answered, in a peremptory tone;
"and, in the first place, bear this in mind, I am not accountable for
my actions to anyone; if I go out at this hour in the storm which is
threatening, I have possibly powerful motives for my conduct; now,
will you or no let us pass? Remember, however, that I shall hold you
responsible for any delay you occasion in the execution of my plans."

The tone employed by the hunter in addressing them struck the two
sentries; they consulted together in a low voice; after which, the man
who had hitherto spoken turned to the two hunters, who were quietly
awaiting the result of this deliberation. "You can pass," he said; "you
are at liberty to go wherever you think proper. I have done my duty in
questioning you, and may Heaven grant you are doing yours in going out
thus."

"You will soon know. One word more."

"I am listening."

"Our absence will probably be short; if not, we shall return by
sunrise; still, pay great attention to this recommendation: should you
hear the cry of the jaguar repeated thrice, at equal intervals, mount
at full speed, and come, not you alone, but followed by a dozen of your
comrades, for, when you hear that cry, a great danger will menace the
Cuadrilla. Now, you understand me?"

"Perfectly."

"And will you do what I advise?"

"I will do so, because you are the friends we expected, and treachery
could not be feared from you."

"Good."

"I wish you luck."

The hunters went on, and the gate was immediately closed after them.

The wood rangers had scarce entered the prairie, ere the hurricane,
which had threatened since sunset, broke out furiously. A brilliant
flash of lightning crossed the sky, followed almost instantaneously by
a startling clap of thunder. The trees bowed beneath the fury of the
blast, and the rain began falling in torrents. The adventurers advanced
with extreme difficulty, amid the chaos of the infuriated elements;
their horses, startled by the howling of the tempest, reared and shied
at every step. The darkness had become so dense, that, although walking
side by side, the two men could scarce see each other. The trees,
twisted by the omnipotent blast, uttered almost human cries, answered
by the mournful howling of the terrified wild beasts, while the stream,
swollen by the rain, rose into waves, whose foaming crests broke with a
crash against the sandy banks.

Brighteye and Marksman, case-hardened against the desert temporales,
shook their heads contemptuously at every effort of the gust, which
passed over them like an ardent simoom, and continued to advance,
searching with the eye the gloom that enveloped them like a heavy
shroud, and listening to the noises which the echoes bandied about.

In this way they reached the ford of the Rubio, without exchanging a
syllable. Then they stopped, as if by mutual agreement.

The Rubio, a lost and unknown affluent of the Great Rio Colorado del
Norte, into which it falls after a winding course of hardly twenty
leagues, is in ordinary times a narrow stream, on which Indian canoes
have a difficulty in floating, and which horses can ford almost
anywhere, with the water scarce up to their girths; but at this hour
the placid stream had suddenly become a mad and impetuous torrent,
noisily rolling along, in its deep and muddy waters, uprooted trees,
and even masses of rock.

To dream of crossing the Rubio at this moment would have been signal
folly; a man so rash as to attempt the enterprise, would have been
carried off in a few seconds by its furious waves, whose yellow surface
grew wider every moment.

The hunters remained for a moment motionless beneath the torrents of
rain that inundated them, regarding with thoughtful eye the water
that still rose and rose, and holding in with great difficulty their
startled horses, which reared with hoarse snorts of fear.

These men, with their hearts of bronze, stood stoically amid the
frightful uproar of the unchained elements, not seeming to notice the
awful tempest that howled around them, and as calm and easy minded as
if they were comfortably seated in some snug cave, near a merry fire
of twigs. They had only one idea, that of assisting the man whom they
suspected of running a terrible danger at this moment.

Suddenly they started, and quickly raised their heads, while looking
fixedly and eagerly in front of them. But the darkness was too thick;
they could distinguish nothing.

In the midst of the thousand sounds of the tempest, a cry had struck
their ear. This cry was a last appeal, a harsh and prolonged cry of
agony, such as the strong man conquered by fatality utters, when he is
forced to confess his impotence, when everything fails him at once,
and he has no other resource than Heaven. The two men leaned forward
quickly, and placing their hands to their mouth funnel wise, uttered in
their turn a shrill and lengthened cry.

Then they listened. At the end of a moment a second cry, more piercing
and desperate than the first, reached their ears.

"Oh!" Marksman shouted, as he rose in his stirrups and closed his fists
in fury, "that man is in danger of death."

"Whoever he is, we must save him," Brighteye answered, boldly.

They had understood each other. But how to save this man? Where was he?
What danger menaced him? Who could answer these questions which they
mentally asked themselves?

At the risk of being carried off by the torrent, the hunters forced
their horses to enter the river, and lying almost on the necks of the
noble animals, they investigated the waters. But, as we have said, the
darkness was too thick, they could see nothing.

"The demon interferes," Marksman said, in despair. "Oh, heavens! shall
we let this man die without going to his aid?"

At this moment a flash of lightning crossed the sky, with a dazzling
zigzag. By its fugitive gleam, the hunters saw a horseman struggling
furiously against the efforts of the waves.

"Courage! courage!" they shouted.

"Help!" the stranger replied, in a shaking voice.

There was no time for hesitation, for every second was an age.

The man and horse struggled courageously against the torrent that bore
them away, and the hunters' resolution was formed in a second. They
silently shook hands, and at the same moment dug their spurs into
their horses' flanks; the animals reared with a shriek of pain, but,
compelled to obey the iron hands that held them, they bounded in terror
into the middle of the stream.

Suddenly two shots were heard; a bullet passed with a whistle between
our two friends, and a cry of pain was heard from the water. The man
they had come to help was wounded. The storm was still increasing; the
flashes succeeded each other with extraordinary rapidity. The hunters
noticed the stranger clinging to his saddle, and letting his horse
carry him where it liked; then, on the other bank, a man with his body
bent forward, and his rifle shouldered, in readiness to fire.

"Each man his own," Marksman said, laconically.

"Good!" Brighteye said, with equal brevity.

The Canadian took the reata hanging at the saddlebow, and swinging it
round his head, awaited the gleam of the next flash. It did not last
long, but though it was so rapid, Brighteye had taken advantage of
the transient gleam to hurl his reata. The leather cord whizzed out,
and the running knot at the end fell on the neck of the horse which
wrestled so bravely with the torrent.

"Courage! courage!" Brighteye shouted; "help, Marksman, help!" And
giving a smart shake to his horse, he made it rise on its hind legs
just as it was losing its footing, and forced it toward the river.

"Here I am," Marksman said, who was watching for the opportunity to
fire: "patience, I am coming."

Suddenly he pulled the trigger, the bullet went forth, and from the
other bank a cry of pain and rage reached the hunters.

"He is hit," Marksman said; "tomorrow I shall know who the scamp is;"
and throwing his rifle behind him, he hurried forward to join Brighteye.

The horse the Canadian had lassoed, feeling itself supported and
dragged toward the bank, seconded, with that intelligence possessed by
these noble animals, the efforts made to save it.

The two hunters held on the reata. The united strength of their steeds,
helped by the lassoed horse, succeeded in breasting the current, and
after a minute's struggle, they at length reached the bank. So soon as
they were comparatively in safety, the Canadians leaped from their
saddles, and rushed toward the stranger's horse.

So soon as it felt _terra firma_ under its feet, the noble animal
had stopped, apparently comprehending that, if it advanced, it would
cast its master against the rocks that covered the ground, for,
although insensible, he still held the bridle firmly clasped in his
clenched hand. The hunters cut the bridle, raised the man they had so
miraculously saved in their arms, and carried him a few paces further
to the foot of a tree, where they gently laid him; then, both eagerly
bending over his body, awaited a flash which would enable them to see
him.

"Oh!" Marksman said, as he drew himself up, with an expression of
grief, mingled with terror, "Don Miguel Ortega!"



CHAPTER XII.

DON STEFANO COHECHO.


As we related a short time back, after leaving Brighteye Don Stefano
had returned to the camp of the Gambusinos, into which he had managed
to enter again unseen.

Once inside the camp, the Mexican had nothing more to fear; he went
back to the fire, near which his horse was picketed, patted the
noble brute, which turned toward him, and pricked up its ears at his
approach, and then lay down calmly, rolled himself in his wraps, and
fell asleep with that placidity peculiar to consciences at rest.

Several hours elapsed, and no sound arose to disturb the calmness that
brooded over the camp. Suddenly Don Stefano opened his eyes, for a hand
had been gently laid on his right shoulder.

The Mexican looked at the man who interrupted his sleep; by the
light of the paling stars he recognized Domingo. Don Stefano rose,
and silently followed the Gambusino. The latter led him to the
entrenchments, probably with the design of speaking without fearing
indiscreet ears.

"Well?" Don Stefano asked him, when the Gambusino had made a sign that
he could speak.

Domingo, obeying the order he had received from Brighteye, concisely
related to him all that had happened in the prairie. On learning that
the Canadian had succeeded in meeting Marksman, Don Stefano gave
a start of joy, and began listening to the Gambusino's story with
increasing interest. When the latter at last finished, or at any rate
remained silent, he asked him--"Is that all?"

"All," the other answered.

Don Stefano drew out his purse, and took from it several gold pieces,
which he handed to Domingo; the latter took them with a gesture of
pleasure.

"Did Brighteye give you no message for me?" the Mexican asked again.

The other seemed to reflect for a moment. "Ah!" he said, "I forgot; the
hunter bade me tell you, Excellency, not to leave the camp."

"Do you know the reason of this recommendation?"

"Certainly; he intends to join the Cuadrilla this evening at the ford
of the Rubio."

The Mexican's brow grew dark. "You are sure of that?" he said.

"That is what he said to me."

There was a few moments' silence. "Good!" he then continued; "the
hunter added nothing further?"

"Nothing."

"Hum!" Don Stefano muttered, "after all, it is of no consequence;"
then, leaning heavily on the Gambusino's shoulder, he looked him
fiercely in the face. "Now," he added, laying a stress upon every word,
"remember this carefully; you do not know me, whatever happens; you
will not breathe a syllable of the way in which we met on the prairie."

"You may be assured of it, Excellency."

"I am assured," the Mexican replied, with an accent which made Domingo
tremble, brave as he was: "remember the oath you took, and the pledge
you gave me."

"I shall remember."

"If you keep your promise, and are faithful to me, it will be mine to
keep you from want for life,--if not, look out."

The Gambusino shook his shoulders with disdain, and answered
ill-temperedly--"It is unnecessary to threaten me, Excellency; what is
said is said; what is promised is promised."

"We shall see."

"If you have nothing else to recommend to me, I believe we had better
separate. The day is beginning to break; my comrades will soon awake,
and I fancy you are no more anxious than I am to be surprised together."

"You are right." They then parted. Don Stefano returned to his place,
while the Gambusino laid himself down where he was, and both slept, or
seemed to do so.

With the first beams of the sun, Don Miguel raised the curtain of the
tent, and walked toward his guest; the latter was soundly asleep. Don
Miguel felt unwilling to trouble this peaceful sleep; he sat down at
the fire, brought together the logs, blew them up, rolled one maize
cigarette, and smoked philosophically, while awaiting his guest's
awakening.

By this time all was movement in the camp; the Gambusinos were
attending to their morning duties, some leading the horses to water,
others lighting the fires, in order to prepare breakfast for the
Cuadrilla; in short, everybody was engaged in his own way on the
general behalf.

At length Don Stefano, on whose face a sunbeam had been playing for
some minutes, thought it advisable to wake; he turned round, stretched
his limbs, and opened his eyes, while yawning several times.

"_Caramba!_" he said, as he drew himself up, "it is day already; how
quickly a night is passed; I feel as if I had been hardly an hour
asleep."

"I see with pleasure that you have slept soundly, Caballero," Don
Miguel said politely to him.

"What! is that you, my host?" Don Stefano exclaimed, with perfectly
well-acted surprise; "the day will be a happy one for me, since the
first face I notice, on opening my eyes, is that of a friend."

"I accept the compliment as politeness on your part."

"On my word, no: I assure you that what I say to you is the sincere
expression of my thought," the Mexican said, simply; "it is impossible
to do the honours of the desert better, or comprehend the holy laws of
hospitality more thoroughly."

"I thank you for the good opinion you are kind enough to have of me.
I trust that you will not leave us yet, but consent to remain several
days with us."

"Would I could, Don Miguel--Heaven is my witness, that I should
be delighted to enjoy your charming company for a short time;
unfortunately, that is utterly impossible."

"Why so?"

"Alas! an imperious duty compels me to leave you this very day; I am
really in despair at this vexatious mischance."

"What motive can be so powerful as to force you to leave us so
suddenly?"

"A very trivial motive, and which will probably make you smile. I am
a merchant of Santa Fé; a few days back, the successive failures of
several houses at Monterey, with which I am extensively connected,
obliged me to leave my house suddenly, in order to try and save, by my
presence, a few waifs from the shipwreck with which I am threatened; I
set out without asking anybody's advice, and here I am."

"But," Don Miguel objected, "you are still along way from Monterey."

"I know it; and it is that which drives me to despair. I have a
frightful fear of arriving too late; the more so, as I have been warned
that the people with whom I have to do are rogues: the sums they owe me
are large, and form, I am sorry to say, the largest part of my fortune."

"_Cáspita!_ if that is the case, I can understand that you are anxious
to get there. I could not suspect that you had so serious a motive for
pressing on."

"You see how it is; so pity me, Don Miguel."

All this conversation was carried on by the two men with a charming
ease, and a simplicity perfectly well assumed on both sides; still
neither was duped: Don Stefano, as so often happens, had committed the
enormous fault of being too clever, and advancing beyond the limits of
prudence, while trying to persuade this man of the sincerity of his
words. This feigned sincerity had aroused Don Miguel's suspicions for
two reasons: in the first place, if Don Stefano were going from Santa
Fé to Monterey, he was not only off the road he ought to have followed,
but was completely turning his back on those two towns--an error which
his ignorance of the topography of the country made him commit without
suspecting it. The second instance was equally premature: no merchant
would have ever attempted, however grave the motive of such a journey,
to cross the desert alone, for fear of the Indian bravos, the pirates,
the wild beasts, and countless other dangers no less great, to which he
would be exposed, without possible hope of escaping them.

Still, Don Miguel pretended to admit, without discussion, the reasons
his guest offered him, and it was with an air of the utmost conviction
that he answered,--"In spite of the earnest desire I may have of
enjoying your agreeable society longer, I will not detain you, friend,
for I understand how urgent it must be for you to hurry on."

Don Stefano bowed with an almost imperceptible smile of triumph.

"In short," Don Miguel added, "I wish that you may succeed in saving
your fortune from the claws of those rogues; but at any rate, I hope,
Caballero, that we shall not separate before breakfasting. I confess
that your refusal to accept a share of my scanty supper last night
pained me."

"Oh," Don Stefano interrupted him, "believe me, Caballero--"

"You gave me a very admirable excuse," Don Miguel continued, "but,"
he added, significantly, "we Gambusinos and adventurers are singular
fellows--we fancy, rightly or wrongly, that the guest who refuses to
eat with us is our enemy, or will become so."

Don Stefano gave a slight start at this unforeseen attack. "How can you
imagine such a thing, Caballero?" he said, evasively.

"It is not I who suppose, but all of us; it is a prejudice, a foolish
superstition; call it as you like, but so it is," he said, with a
smile as sharp as a dagger's point, "and nothing will change our
nature; so that is settled, we will breakfast together, then I will
wish you a prosperous journey, and we shall part."

Don Stefano's face assumed an expression of despair.

"Really, I am the plaything of ill luck," he said, with a toss of the
head.

"How so?"

"Good gracious, I know not how to explain it to you; it is so absurd,
that I really dare not--"

"Pray speak, Caballero; although I am only an illiterate adventurer, I
may possibly manage to understand you."

"The truth is, I shall hurt your feelings."

"Not the least in the world: are you not my guest? a guest is sent by
heaven, that is to say, is sacred."

Don Stefano hesitated.

"Well," Don Miguel said, with a laugh, "I will have breakfast served;
perhaps that will undo your tongue."

"That is the embarrassing point!" the Mexican exclaimed, quickly, with
an accent of chagrin; "the fact is, that, in spite of my great desire
to be agreeable to you, I cannot accept your kind invitation."

The young man frowned. "Ah, ah!" he said, fixing a suspicious glance on
the speaker, "why so?"

"That is the very thing I dare not confess to you."

"You can, Caballero; have I not told you that you had the right to say
anything?"

"Good heavens, you force me to it," he continued, in a voice that grew
even more melancholy; "first imagine, then, that I have made a vow to
Nuestra señora de los Ángeles, never to take food before sunset, so
long as this accursed journey lasts."

"Ah!" Don Miguel said, with an accent of but slight conversion, "but
last evening, when I offered you supper, the sun had set a long time, I
fancy."

"Listen; I have not finished."

"Go on."

"And even then," the Mexican continued, "only to eat one of the maize
tortillas I carry with me in my alforjas, and which I had blessed by
a priest, prior to my departure from Santa Fé; you see, all this must
seem to you very ridiculous, but we are fellow countrymen, we have
Spanish blood in our veins, and instead of laughing at my foolish
superstition, you will pity me."

"_Cáspita!_ the more so, because you have a rude penance to undergo. I
will not attempt to make you give up your superstition, for I too have
mine; I believe that it is best not to return to the subject."

"You are not angry with me, at least?"

"I--why should I be angry?"

"Then we are still good friends?"

"More than ever," Don Miguel remarked, with a laugh. Still, the way
in which these words were pronounced, but slightly reassured the
Mexican--he took a side glance at the speaker, and then rose.

"Are you going?" the young man asked him.

"If you will permit me, I shall start."

"Do so, my guest."

Don Stefano, without further reply, immediately began saddling his
horse.

"You have a noble brute there," Don Miguel observed.

"Yes, he is a purely bred barb."

"That is the first time I ever saw one of that precious race."

"Pray have a good look at him."

"I thank you, but I should be afraid of delaying you;--hola! my
horse," he added, addressing Domingo.

The latter brought up a mustang full of fire, on the back of which Don
Miguel leaped at a bound, while Don Stefano also mounted.

"If you have no objection, I will have the honour of accompanying you a
little way, unless," he added, with a sarcastic smile, "you have made a
vow which prevents it."

"Come," Don Stefano said, reproachfully, "you are angry with me."

"On my faith, no; I swear it."

"Very good: we will start when you please."

"I am at your orders."

They spurred their horses, and went out of the camp. They had scarce
gone twenty yards, ere Don Miguel pulled up his horse and stopped.

"Are you going to leave me already?" Don Stefano asked him.

"I shall not go a step further," the young man answered, and drawing
himself up fiercely and frowning, he said in a haughty tone, "Here you
are no longer my guest; we are out of my camp in the desert; I can,
therefore, explain myself clearly and plainly, and _voto a brios_, I
will do so."

The Mexican regarded him with surprise. "I do not understand you," he
said.

"Perhaps so: I hope it is so, but I do not believe it. So long as you
were my guest, I pretended to believe the falsehoods you told me; but
now that you are to me no more than the first comer, a stranger, I wish
to tell you my thoughts frankly. I do not know by what name to address
you to your livid face, but I am certain that you are my enemy, or, at
any rate, a spy of my enemies."

"Caballero! these words--" Don Stefano exclaimed.

"Do not interrupt me," the young man continued, violently. "I care
little who you are; it is sufficient to have asked you: I thank you
for having entered my camp, at any rate; if ever I meet you again,
I shall recognize you: but let me give you one piece of advice on
parting: shake the dust off your boots on leaving me, and do not come
across me again, for it might bring you misfortune."

"Threats!" the Mexican interrupted, pale with rage.

"Take my words as you please, but remember them in the interest of your
safety; although I am only an adventurer, I give you at this moment
a lesson in honesty you will do well to profit by; nothing would be
easier for me than to acquire proofs of your treachery; I have with me
twenty devoted comrades, who, at a sign, would treat you very scurvily;
and who, by searching your clothes and alforjas, would doubtless find
among your _blessed tortillas_," he said, with a sardonic smile, "the
reasons for the conduct you have employed toward me ever since we met;
but you have been my guest, and that title is your safeguard: go in
peace, but do not cross my path again."

While uttering the last words, he raised his arm and dealt a vigorous
blow with his _chicote_ on the rear of Don Stefano's horse. The barb,
but little used to such treatment, started off like an arrow from a
bow, in spite of all his rider's efforts to hold him in.

Don Miguel looked after him for a moment, and then returned to the
camp, laughing heartily at the way in which he had ended the interview.

"Come, lads," he said to the Gambusinos, "let us be off at once; we
must reach the ford of the Rubio before sunset, where the guide is
awaiting us."

And half an hour later the caravan set out.



CHAPTER XIII.

THE AMBUSCADE.


No incident worthy of description troubled the journey during the day.
The Cuadrilla traversed an undulating country, intersected by streams
of slight depth, on the banks of which grew tall bushes, and clumps of
cottonwood trees, peopled by an infinity of birds, of every description
and variety of plumage: on the horizon a long yellowish line, above
which hung a dense cloud which indicated the Rio Colorado Grande del
Norte.

As Don Miguel had announced, the ford of the Rubio was reached a few
minutes before sunset. We will explain here in a few words the mode in
which caravans camp in the desert; this description is indispensable,
in order that the reader may understand how it is easy to leave or
return to the camp unnoticed.

The Cuadrilla, in addition to the baggage mules, had with it fifteen
waggons, loaded with merchandise. When the spot for camping was
selected, the waggons were arranged in a square, with a distance of
thirty-five feet between each: between the intervals were stationed six
or eight men, who lit a fire, round which they assembled to cook, eat,
smoke, and sleep. The horses were placed in the middle of the square,
not far from the mysterious tent, which occupied exactly the centre.
Each horse had the two off legs hobbled with a cord twenty inches long.
We may remark that, although a horse thus hobbled feels very awkward at
first, it soon accustoms itself to it sufficiently to be able to walk
slowly. Besides, this prudential measure is taken in order that the
horses may not stray, or be carried off by the Indians. Two horses are
also put together, one with its feet tied, and the other only held by
a picket rope, so that, in case of an alarm, it may gallop round its
companion, which thus serves, as it were, as a pivot.

The space left free between the waggons was filled up with fascines,
trees piled up on top of one another, and the mule bales.

Nothing is more singular than the appearance of one of these camps on
the prairie. The fires are surrounded by picturesque groups, seated
or standing; some cooking, others mending their clothes or their
horses' trappings, others furbishing their weapons; at intervals,
bursts of laughter rise from the midst of the groups, which announce
that merry stories are going the rounds, and that they are trying to
forget the fatigues of the day, and preparing for those of the morrow.
Then, to complete the picture, from distance to distance behind the
entrenchments sentinels, calm and motionless, lean on their rifles.

From the description we have given, it is easy to understand that the
waggons form a species of embrasures, by means of which an active man
crawling under the carts can easily go out without being noticed by
the sentries, and return whenever he pleases, without attracting the
attention of his comrades, whose glances, usually directed on the
prairie, have no reason to watch what goes on inside the camp.

So soon as all was in order, and each installed as comfortably as
circumstances permitted, Don Miguel had a fresh horse brought him,
which he mounted, and addressed his comrades collected around him.
"Señores," he said, "business of a pressing nature obliges me to go
out for a few hours. Watch carefully over the camp during my absence;
above all, let no one enter. We are now in regions where the greatest
caution is necessary to guard against the treachery which incessantly
menaces, and assumes every shape in order to deceive those whom
negligence prevents being on their guard. The guide we are expecting so
impatiently will, doubtless, arrive in a few moments. All know him by
repute; perhaps he may come alone, or he may have somebody with him.
This man, in whom we must place the greatest confidence, must, during
my absence, be entirely free in his actions--go and come without the
slightest obstacle being offered him. You have understood me; so follow
my instructions point by point. Besides, I repeat, I shall soon return."

After making a farewell signal to his comrades, Don Miguel left the
camp, and proceeded to the Rubio, the ford of which, being nearly dry
at the moment, he easily crossed.

What the chief of the adventurers had said to his comrades with
reference to Marksman, was an inspiration of Heaven; for, if he had
not peremptorily ordered that the hunter should be allowed to act as
he pleased, it is probable that the sentinels would have barred his
passage; and, in that case, the young man, deprived of the providential
aid of the two backwoodsmen, would have been hopelessly lost.

After crossing the ford, Don Miguel urged his horse at full speed
straight ahead. This furious race lasted nearly two hours, through
thickets, which at every moment grew more closely together, and
gradually were metamorphosed into a forest.

After crossing a deep gorge, whose perpendicular sides were covered
with impenetrable thickets, the young man arrived at a species of
narrow lane, into which the paths of wild beasts opened, and in the
centre of which an Indian, dressed in his war costume, and smoking
gravely, crouched over a fire of _bois de vache_; while his horse,
hobbled a short distance off, was busily browsing on the young tree
shoots. So soon as he saw the Indian, Don Miguel pushed on even at
greater speed. "Good evening, Chief!" he said, as he leaped lightly to
the ground, and amicably pressed the hand the warrior held out to him.

"Wah!" the Chief said to him, "I no longer expected my pale brother."

"Why so, as I had promised to come?"

"Perhaps it would have been better for the Paleface to remain in his
camp. Addick is a warrior; he has discovered a trail."

"Good; but trails are not wanting on the prairie."

"Och! this is wide, and incautiously trodden; it is a Paleface trail."

"Bah! what do I care?" the young man remarked, carelessly. "Do you
fancy my band the only one crossing the prairie at this moment?"

The Redskin shook his head. "An Indian warrior is not mistaken on the
war trail. It is the trail of an enemy of my brother's."

"What makes you suppose that?"

The Indian did not seem willing to explain himself more clearly; he
turned his head, and, after a moment, said, "My brother will see."

"I am strong--well-armed. I care very little for those who would try to
surprise us."

"One man is not worth ten," the Indian remarked, sententiously.

"Who knows?" the young man answered, lightly. "But," he continued,
"that is not the question of the moment. I have come here to seek the
news the Chief promised me."

"The promise of Addick is sacred."

"I know it, Chief, and that is why I did not hesitate to come. But time
is slipping away. I have a long journey to go, to join my comrades
again. A storm is getting up; and I confess that I should like very
little to be exposed to it during my return. Be kind enough to be
brief."

The Chief bowed in assent, and pointed to a place by his side.

"Good. Now begin, Chief; I am all attention," Don Miguel said, as he
threw himself on the ground. "And, in the first place, how comes it
that I have not seen you till today?"

"Because," the Indian answered, phlegmatically, "as my brother knows,
it is far from here to Queche Pitao (the City of God). A warrior is but
a man; Addick has accomplished impossibilities to join his Paleface
brother sooner."

"Be it so, Chief; I thank you. Now let us come to facts. What has
happened to you since our parting?"

"Quiepaa Tani opened its gates wide before the two young pale virgins.
They are in safety, in the Queche, far from the eyes of their enemies."

"And did they give you no message for me?"

The Indian hesitated for a second.

"No," he said at length; "they are happy, and they wait."

Don Miguel sighed. "That's strange," he muttered.

The Chief took a stealthy look at him. "What will my brother do?" he
asked.

"I shall soon be near them."

"My brother is wrong. No one knows where they are. For what good reveal
their refuge?"

"Soon, I hope, I shall be free to act without fearing indiscreet eyes."

A gloomy flame sparkled in the Indian's eye.

"Wacondah alone is master of tomorrow," he said.

Don Miguel looked at him.

"What does the Chief mean?"

"Nothing but what I say."

"Good. Will my brother accompany me to my camp?"

"Addick will return to Quiepaa Tani, that he may watch over those whom
his brother has confided to him."

"Shall I see you again soon?"

"Perhaps so," he answered evasively: "but," he added, "did not my
brother say that he expected soon to go to the Queche?"

"Yes."

"When will my brother come?"

"At the latest, on the first day of next month. Why this question?"

"My brother is a Paleface: if Addick himself does not introduce him
into the Queche, the white Chief cannot enter it."

"That is true; at the period I stated, I will meet you at the foot of
the mound where we parted."

"Addick will be there."

"Good! I count upon you; but now I must leave you: night is rapidly
falling; the wind is beginning to blow furiously. I must be off."

"Farewell," the Chief said laconically, making no attempt to stop him.

"Good-bye."

The young man leapt into the saddle, and started at full speed. Addick
watched him depart with a pensive air; then, when he had disappeared
behind a clump of trees, he leaned slightly forward, and imitated twice
the hiss of a cobra capello. At this signal the branches of a thicket
a short distance from the fire parted cautiously, and a man appeared.
After looking suspiciously around him, he walked toward the Chief, in
front of whom he stopped.

The man was Don Stefano Cohecho. "Well?" he said.

"Has my father heard?" the Indian asked, in an equivocal tone.

"All."

"Then I have nothing to tell my father."

"Nothing."

"The storm is beginning: what will my father do?"

"What is agreed on. Are the Chiefs warriors ready?"

"Yes."

"Where are they?"

"At the appointed spot."

"Good; let us start."

"I am ready."

These two men, who had evidently known each other for a long while,
came to an understanding in a few words.

"Come!" Don Stefano said in a loud voice.

A dozen Mexican horsemen appeared.

"Here is a reinforcement, in case the warriors are not sufficient," he
said, turning to the Chief.

The latter checked a movement of ill temper, and replied, as he
shrugged his shoulders disdainfully,--"What need of twenty warriors
against a single man?"

"Because the man is worth a hundred," Don Stefano said, with an accent
of conviction which caused the Chief to reflect.

They started. In the meantime, Don Miguel had galloped on: still,
he was far from suspecting the plot that was at this moment being
formed against him; and, if he hurried on, it was not through any
apprehension, but because the wind, whose violence increased every
minute, and the heavy drops of rain, which began falling, warned him
to seek shelter as speedily as possible. While galloping, he reflected
on the short interview he had had with the Redskin warrior. While
turning over in his mind the words exchanged between them, he felt a
vague alarm, a secret fear, invade his heart, though it was impossible
to account for the emotion he experienced; he fancied he could read
treachery behind the Chief's studied reticence; he now remembered that
he at times seemed embarrassed while talking with him. Trembling lest a
misfortune had happened to the young ladies, or a peril menaced them,
he felt his anxiety heightened; the more so, as he knew not what means
he should employ to insure the fidelity of the man whom he suspected of
perfidiousness.

Suddenly, a dazzling flash shot across the open, his horse suddenly
bounded aside, and two or three bullets whistled past him. The young
man sat up in his saddle. He was in the middle of the gorge he had
traversed a few hours previously; a profound obscurity enveloped him on
all sides, and in the shadow all around him, he fancied he could detect
the outlines of human forms. At this moment, other shots were fired at
him, his hat was carried off by a bullet, and several arrows passed
close to his face.

Don Miguel raised his head boldly. "Ah! traitors!" he shouted in a loud
voice. And, lifting his horse with his knees, he rushed forward at
headlong speed, holding the bridle between his teeth, half bending over
his steed's neck, and with a revolver in each hand.

A frightful war yell was heard, mingled with piercing imprecations
uttered in Spanish.

Don Miguel passed like a tornado through the body of men moving round
him, and discharged his revolvers in the thickest of his unknown
enemies. Cries of pain and rage, bullets and arrows pursued him, but
did not check the headlong speed of his horse, which seemed no longer
to touch the earth, and rapidly did it course along.

Behind him the young man heard the galloping of several horses,
hastening in pursuit. "Treachery, treachery!" he shouted, brandishing
his sabre, making his horse rear, and bounding like a jackal in the
midst of the throng which incessantly closed in upon him.

Suddenly, at the height of the contest, at the superior moment when
he felt his strength was deserting him, three shots came from the
darkness, and his assailants, attacked in the rear, were compelled in
their turn to defend themselves against invisible foes.

"We are coming!" a stout voice shouted, whose energetic accent made the
assailants tremble. "Hold your own! hold your own!"

Don Miguel responded by a terrific yell, and threw himself into the
thick of the fight with redoubled efforts: now that he knew himself
to be supported, he felt he was saved. The crowd gave way in the
shadow, like ripe corn beneath the reaper's scythe; the compact mass
of assailants parted asunder, and three men, or three demons, rushed
into the hole they had made, and bounded forward to the side of the
adventurer.

"Ah, ah!" the latter exclaimed, with a bitter burst of laughter, "the
fight is now equal; forward, comrades, forward!" And he threw himself
once more into the medley, followed by these intrepid allies.

Who were these men? Whence did they come? he did not know or dream of
asking them. Besides, this was not the moment for explanations: they
must conquer or die.

"Kill him, kill him!" a man yelled, who rushed upon him every moment
with uplifted sabre, and in all the ferocious ardour of an inveterate
hatred.

"Ah! it is you, Don Stefano Cohecho!" Don Miguel shouted; "I felt sure
we should meet; your voice has denounced you."

"Death to him!" the latter answered.

The two men rushed upon each other, their horses met with a terrible
shock, and the man whom the adventurer took for Don Stefano rolled on
the ground.

"Victory!" Don Miguel shouted, as he cut down with his machete all
within his reach.

His unknown friends, who were still by his side, rushed after him. In
spite of all their efforts, the attacking party were unable to keep
their position, and began flying in every direction. The gorge was
free; no obstacle longer opposed Don Miguel's flight: he pressed his
horse, and the noble beast redoubled its ardour. When so far free,
the young man looked around him. His unknown defenders had suddenly
disappeared, as if by enchantment.

"What is the meaning of this?" he murmured.

At this moment he felt on his left arm something resembling a blow from
a whip: a bullet had struck him. This wound recalled him to a sense of
his present position.

His enemies had rallied, and recommenced their pursuit. Before him he
heard the yellow waters of the Rubio growling; the wrath of heaven and
of man seemed leagued together to overwhelm him; it was then that a mad
terror seized upon him; he fancied himself lost, and uttered that first
cry of agony heard by the hunters.

Still, his pursuers gained rapidly upon him; without hesitation or
reflection, he plunged into the Rubio with his horse; some twenty
bullets dashed up the water round him; he turned bravely on his steed,
and fired the last shots from his revolvers, uttering that cry to
which the hunters had replied with the word,--"Courage!"

But human nature has limits which it cannot pass. This last effort
exhausted the little strength left him, and, frantically clutching
the bridle of his horse, he rolled into the river and fainted, while
saying, in a stifled voice,--"Laura, Laura!"

Two shots crossed each other above his head, one fired by the man who
was aiming at him from the bank, the other by Marksman. The stranger
uttered a yell like a wild beast, turned away staggering like a drunken
man, and disappeared.

Who was this man?--was he dead or merely wounded?



CHAPTER XIV.

THE TRAVELLERS.


The events we have undertaken to narrate are so mingled with incidents
intertwined in each other by that fatality of accident which governs
human life that we are compelled once more, to our great regret, to
interrupt our story, and let the reader be present at a scene which
took place not far from the Rubio ford, on the same day that the events
occurred which we have described in preceding chapters.

At about one o'clock of the _tarde_, that is to say, at the moment
when the beams of the sun, which has reached its zenith, pour down
on the prairie such an intense heat, that everything which lives and
breathes seeks shelter in the deepest part of the woods, three horsemen
passed over the ford, and boldly entered the path Don Miguel Ortega was
destined to follow a few hours later.

These horsemen were white men, and what is more, Mexicans; it was
easy to perceive, at the first glance, that they had not the slightest
connection with any class of the adventurers who, under various names,
such as Gambusinos, hunters, trappers, wood rangers, or pirates,
swarm on the Western Prairies, which they incessantly cross in every
direction.

The dress of these horsemen was that usually worn by the Mexican
hacenderos on the frontiers:--The wide brimmed hat, gallooned, and
decorated with the toquilla, the manga; the short calzoneras, open at
the knee; the zarapé; the _botas vaqueras_, and the _armas de agua_,
without which no one ventures on the desert. They were armed with
rifles, revolvers, navajas, and machetes. Their horses, at this moment
oppressed by the heat, but slightly refreshed by passing the ford, held
their heads up proudly, and showed that, if necessary, they could have
gone a long journey, in spite of their apparent fatigue.

Of the three horsemen, one seemed to be the master, or at least the
superior, of the other two. He was a man of fifty years of age, with
hard, energetic features, imprinted, however, with rare frankness,
and great resolution; he was tall, well built, and robust; and he sat
upright and stiff on his saddle, with that confidence which denotes the
old soldier. His companions belonged to the class of Indios Manzos, a
bastard race, in which Spanish blood and Indian blood are so mixed that
it is impossible to assign them any characteristic type. Still, the
richness of their dress, and the way in which they rode by the first
horseman's side, rendered it easy to guess that they were confidential
servants, men whose fidelity had been long proved--almost friends, in
short, and not domestics, in the vulgar acceptation of the term. As far
as it is possible to recognize the age of an Indian, in whose face
traces of decrepitude are nearly always invisible, these two men must
have reached middle age, that is, from forty to forty-five years.

These three horsemen rode a short distance behind each other, with
a thoughtful and sorrowful air: at times they turned a glance of
discouragement around, stifled a sigh, and continued their journey with
drooping heads, like men convinced they have undertaken a task beyond
their strength, but whom their will and, before all, their devotion
urge onwards at all risks.

The presence of these strangers on the banks of the Rubio was, indeed,
one of those unusual facts which no one would have been able to
explain, and which would certainly have greatly surprised the hunters
or Indians who might have seen them.

In the country where they now were, animals were rare; hence they were
not hunting. These regions, remote from all civilized zones, fatally
bordered unexplored countries, the last refuge of the Indians; these
men were, therefore, neither traders nor ordinary travellers.

What reason could have been so powerful as to urge them to bury
themselves in the desert, so few in number, where every human face must
be to them that of an enemy? Where were they going? what were they
seeking? This question none but the men themselves could have answered.

The ford had been passed; before them lay extended a barren and sandy
plain, opening on the gorge to which we have already alluded. On this
plain not a blade of grass glistened: the burning beams of the sun
descended perpendicularly on the parched sand, which rendered the heat,
if possible, more oppressive and stifling. The eldest of the travellers
turned to his companions:--"Courage, Muchachos!" he said, in a gentle
voice and a sad smile, as he pointed to the edge of the forest, not
more than three miles from them, whose close and thick vegetation
promised them a refreshing shade. "Courage! we shall soon rest."

"Your Excellency need not trouble yourself about us," one of the
criados answered; "what your Excellency endures without complaining, we
can also endure."

"The heat is stifling: hence, like yourselves, I feel the want of a few
hours' rest."

"If absolutely necessary, we could go on a long time yet," the man who
had already spoken said, "but our horses can hardly drag themselves
along. The poor beasts are almost foundered."

"Yes, men and beasts want rest. However strong our will may be, there
are limits before which the human organization must yield. Courage! in
an hour we shall have arrived."

"Come, come, Excellency, do not think of us any more."

The first traveller made no answer, and they continued their journey in
silence.

They soon reached the gorge, which they passed through, and found
themselves among thickets, which, gently approaching, began to offer
them a scanty shade, but, just as they reached the spot the first
traveller had pointed out for their halt, he suddenly stopped and
turned to his companions,--"Look there," he said, "Do you not see a
slight pillar of smoke rising in the thicket, down there in front of
us, a little on the left of the skirt of the forest?"

They looked. "In truth," the elder answered, "there can be no mistake
about it, although from here it might be taken for a mist; still, the
way in which the spiral rises, and its blue tinge, prove that it is
smoke."

"After the ten mortal days we have been wandering about these immense
solitudes without meeting a living soul, that fire must be welcome to
us, for it indicates man, that is, friends; let us go straight up to
them, then; perhaps we shall obtain from them some valuable information
about the object of our journey."

"Pardon me, Excellency," the criado answered, quickly, "when we quitted
the Presidio, you promised to place yourself in my hands, so excuse my
giving you some advice, which, under present circumstances, will be
very useful to you."

"Speak, my excellent Bermudez, I place the most perfect confidence in
your experience and fidelity; your advice will be well received by me."

"Thanks, Excellency," the man answered, whom he had called Bermudez,
"I have been a long time your vaquero, and in that capacity have been
frequently mixed up both with hunters and Indians, which has given me
certain notions of desert life, by which I have profited, although I
never before went so far on to the prairie as today. Hence, in the
spot where we are, we must above all avoid a meeting with our fellow
men, and only accost them prudently, while employing the greatest
precautions; the more so, as we do not know whom we have before us, and
if we have to deal with friend or foe."

"It is true; your remark is correct; but, unfortunately, it is a little
late."

"Why so?"

"Because, if we have seen the smoke of their fire, it is probable the
people down there saw us long ago, and are spying all our movements,
especially as we made no attempt at concealment."

"That is certain, Don Mariano, that is certain," Bermudez continued,
with a shake of his head. "Hear, then, what, with your permission,
Excellency, I propose, in order to avoid any misunderstanding, which
is always unpleasant; you will remain here with Juanito, while I go on
alone, and push on my reconnoissance up to the fire."

Don Mariano hesitated to reply, for it seemed to him hard to refuse his
old servant thus.

"Decide, Excellency," the latter said, quickly; "I know the Redskin
way of talking; they will salute me either with a shower of arrows, or
a bullet; but, as they are generally very bad shots, they are almost
certain not to hit me, and then I will easily enter into negotiations
with them. You see that the risk I have to run is not tremendous."

"Bermudez is right, Excellency," Juanito answered, sententiously; being
a methodical and silent man, who never took the word save under grave
circumstances; "you must let him act as he thinks proper."

"No!" Don Mariano said, resolutely, "I will never consent to that. God
is master of our existence; He alone can dispose of it at His will: if
any accident happened to you, my poor Bermudez, I should never pardon
myself; we will continue to advance together; at any rate, if they are
enemies before us, we shall be able to defend ourselves."

Bermudez and Juanito were preparing to answer their master's
objections, and the discussion would have probably lasted a long while,
but at this moment the galloping of a horse was heard, the grass
parted, and a rider appeared about a dozen paces from the group. It was
a white man, and dressed in the garb of the prairie hunters. "Hold,
Caballeros," he cried, as he made a friendly sign with his hand, and
checked his horse; "advance without fear, you are welcome: I noticed
your indecision, and am come to put an end to it."

The three men exchanged glances.

"I thank you for your cordial invitation," Don Mariano at length
answered, "and accept it gladly."

All suspicion being done away with, the four persons walked together
toward the fire, which they reached a few moments later. Near this fire
were two Indians, man and wife.

The travellers dismounted, took off saddle and bridle, and after giving
their horses food, seated themselves with a sign of satisfaction by
their new friends, who did the honour of their provisions and bivouac
with all the cordial simplicity of the desert.

The reader has doubtless recognized Ruperto, Flying Eagle, and
Eglantine, whom we left proceeding toward the Chief's village, whither
Ruperto had received orders from Marksman to accompany the Chief.

Don Mariano and his companions were not only fatigued, but also
excessively hungry; the hunter and the Indians left them at full
liberty to assuage their appetites, and when they saw them light their
papelitos, they imitated them, and the conversation began. Turning at
first on the ordinary topics of the desert, the weather, the heat, and
the abundance of game, it soon grew more intricate, and assumed even a
serious character.

"Now that the meal is ended, Chief," Ruperto said, "put out the fire;
it is unnecessary for us to reveal our presence to the vagabonds who
are doubtless prowling about the prairie."

Eglantine, at a sign from Flying Eagle, put out the fire.

"It was, indeed, your smoke which betrayed you," Don Mariano remarked.

"Oh!" Ruperto said, with a laugh, "because we wished it; had we not,
we should have made our fire so as to remain unseen."

"You wish, then, to be discovered?"

"Yes; it was a throw of the dice."

"I do not understand you."

"What I say to you seems an enigma, but you will soon be able to
understand it. Look," the hunter added, stretching out his arm in the
direction of the gorge, "do you see that horseman going at full speed?
In a quarter of an hour, at the most, he will be up with us; owing to
the precaution I have taken, he will pass without noticing us."

"Do you fear anything from that horseman?"

"Nothing; on the contrary, the Chief and myself are here to help him."

"You know him then?"

"Not the least in the world."

"Hum! you are becoming more and more incomprehensible, Caballero."

"Patience," the hunter said, with a laugh, "did I not tell you you
should soon have a solution of the enigma?"

"Yes, and I confess that my curiosity is so excited, that I am
impatiently waiting it."

In the meanwhile, the horseman Ruperto had pointed out to Don Mariano
came up rapidly, and soon passed, as the hunter had foreseen, a
few paces from the bivouac, without noticing it. So soon as he had
disappeared in the forest, Ruperto began again:--"A few hours ago,"
he said, "not far from the spot where we now are, the Chief and I,
without wishing it, overheard a conversation of which this horseman was
the object, a conversation in which the question was simply to make
him fall into an odious snare. I do not know who this horseman is,
nor do I wish to know it, but I have an instinctive repulsion to all
that in the slightest degree resembles treachery. This Indian Chief,
like myself, immediately resolved on saving this Caballero, if it were
possible; we knew that he must pass by here, as he had an appointment
with one of the men whom accident, or rather Providence, had made us
so singularly listen to. Two men, however brave they may be, are very
weak against some twenty bandits, still we did not lose courage, but
resolved, if Heaven sent us no allies, bravely to attempt the adventure
by ourselves; the more so, as the persons whose bloodthirsty plans we
had surprised seemed to us to be atrocious villains; still, by the
Chief's advice, I lit this fire, certain that if any traveller came
this way the smoke would serve him as a beacon, and assuredly lead him
here; you see, Caballero, that I was not mistaken, as you have come."

"And I am glad I have," Don Mariano warmly replied: "I most readily
join in your plan, which appears to be suggested in every respect by an
honest and good heart."

"Do not make me out better than I am, Caballero," the hunter made
answer; "I am only a poor devil of a wood ranger, very ignorant of city
matters; but under all circumstances, I obey the inspirations of my
heart."

"And you are right, for they are sound and just."

"Thanks; now we are in force, I assure you that the pícaros, however
numerous they may be, will see some fun; but we have still time before
us; rest yourselves, sleep a few hours; when the moment arrives, we
will arrange what to do."

Don Mariano was too tired to need a repetition of this invitation; a
few moments later he and his companions were plunged in a deep and
restorative sleep. At sunset Ruperto woke them, "It is time," he said.

They rose; for the few hours' rest had restored them all their
strength. The arrangements to be made were simple, and soon decided on.

We have seen what took place; Addick and Don Stefano, themselves
surprised, when they expected to surprise Don Miguel, not knowing
how many enemies they had to contend with, fled after an obstinate
struggle. Don Mariano and Ruperto, satisfied with having saved Don
Miguel, retired so soon as the issue of the combat appeared no longer
dubious.

Recalled, however, to the banks of the Rubio by the shots fired at
the last moment by Don Miguel, they saw a man and rushed toward him,
possibly more with the hope of helping him than taking him prisoner.
The man had fainted. Don Mariano and Ruperto raised him in their arms,
and transported him beneath the covert of the forest, where Eglantine
had contrived with great difficulty to light a fire; but when they were
enabled to see the wounded man's face by the glare, both uttered a cry
of stupefaction.

"Don Stefano Cohecho!" Ruperto exclaimed.

"My brother!" Don Mariano said, with mingled grief and horror.



CHAPTER XV.

RECALLED TO LIFE.


With the first gleam of day, the terrible hurricane, which had raged so
cruelly through nearly the whole night, gradually calmed; the wind had
swept the sky, and borne far away the gloomy clouds which studded the
blue heavens with black spots; the sun rose majestically in floods of
light; the trees, refreshed by the tempests, had reassumed that pale
green hue, sullied on the previous day by the dusty sand of the desert;
and the birds, hid in countless myriads beneath the dense foliage,
poured forth that harmonious concert which they offer every morning
at sunrise to the All High--a sublime and grand hymn, a ravishing
hymn, whose rhythm, full of simple melodies, causes the man buried
in this ocean of verdure to indulge in sweet dreams, and plunges him
unconsciously into a melancholy reverie of the hope, whose realization
is in heaven.

As we have said, Don Miguel Ortega, saved by the tried courage and
presence of mind of the two wood rangers, was carried by them to the
foot of a tree, beneath which they laid him.

The young man had fainted. The hunters' first care was to examine his
wounds: he had two, one on the right arm, the other on the head, but
neither of them was dangerous. The wound in the arm bled profusely, a
bullet had torn the flesh, but had produced no fracture of the bone, or
any grave accident; as for the wound in the head, evidently produced by
a sharp instrument, the hair had already matted over it, and checked
the haemorrhage.

Don Miguel's faintness was produced by the loss of blood in the first
place, and next by the nervous excitement of a long and obstinate
struggle, and the immense amount of strength he had been compelled to
expend to resist the numerous enemies who had treacherously attacked
him.

The wood rangers, owing to the life they led, and the innumerable
accidents to which they are constantly exposed, are obliged to possess
some practical knowledge of medicine, and particularly of surgery.
Pupils of the Redskins, simples play a great part in their medical
system. Brighteye and Marksman were masters of the art of treating
wounds summarily, after the Indian fashion. After carefully washing
the wounds, and removing the hair from that on the head, they plucked
_oregano_ leaves, formed them into a species of cataplasm, by slightly
moistening them with spirits diluted in water, and applied this
primitive remedy to the wounds, fastening it on with leaves of the
_abanigo_, cut into strips, round which they wound aloe threads. Then,
with the blade of a knife, they slightly opened the wounded man's
tightly closed jaws, and poured a few drops of spirits into his mouth.
In a few moments Don Miguel half opened his eyes, and a fugitive glow
coloured his pallid cheeks.

The hunters, with their hands crossed on the muzzles of their rifles,
carefully inspected the wounded man's face, trying to read on his
features the probable results of the means they had thought it
necessary to employ, in order to relieve him.

The man who recovers from a deep fainting fit is not at the first
moment conscious of external objects, nor does he remember what has
happened: the equilibrium of his faculties, suddenly interrupted by the
successive blows they have experienced, is only re-established slowly
and gradually, in proportion as the eye grows brighter, the memory
clearer. Don Miguel looked around him with a glance that contained no
warmth or expression, and almost immediately closed his eyes again, as
if already wearied by the effort he had been forced to make in opening
them.

"In a few hours his strength will be restored, and before three days
there will not be a trace of it," Brighteye said, tossing his head
sententiously. "By Jove! he is one of those sturdy fellows I like."

"Is he not?" Marksman answered,--"so young and so valiant? What a rude
attack he sustained."

"Yes, and bravely, we must say; still, for all that, if we had not been
there, he would have found it difficult to get out of the scrape."

"He would have perished, there is not the least doubt of it, and that
would have been unfortunate."

"Very unfortunate! however, he is well out of it. By the way, what are
we going to do with him now? We cannot stay here for ever; on the other
hand, he is unable to make a movement; but we must take him back to
the camp, his men will feel alarmed at his absence, and who knows what
would happen if it were prolonged?"

"That is true; we cannot think of putting him on his horse, so we must
hit on some other expedient."

"By Jove! that will not trouble us; the torpor into which he has fallen
will last about two hours; in the meantime, he will be hardly capable
of uttering a few words, and vaguely recalling what has happened to
him; it is not, therefore, necessary for both of us to remain by him,
one will be enough--say myself: you will go to the camp, state what has
occurred, tell the Gambusinos in what condition their Chief is, ask for
help, and bring it here as speedily as possible."

"You are right, Brighteye, on my word; your advice is excellent, and I
will set about it at once. I shall not be gone more than two hours, so
keep good watch, for we do not know who may be prowling round us, and
spying our movements."

"Don't be frightened, Marksman, I am not one of those men who let
themselves be surprised;--stay, I remember an adventure that occurred
to me in every respect similar to this. It was a long time ago, in
1824, I was very young, and--"

But Marksman, who heard with secret terror his comrade beginning one
of his interminable stories, hastily interrupted him without ceremony,
saying--"By Jove! I have been acquainted with you for a long time,
Brighteye, and know what manner of man you are, so I go perfectly easy
in mind."

"No matter," the hunter replied, "if you would let me explain--"

"Useless, useless, my friend; explanations are uncalled for from a man
of your stamp and experience," Marksman said, as he leaped into his
saddle, and started at full speed.

Brighteye looked after him for a long time. "Hum!" he said,
thoughtfully; "the Lord is my witness that that man is one of the most
excellent creatures in existence; I love him as a brother, and regret
that I can never make him understand how useful and precious it is to
keep up a recollection of past events, so as not to feel embarrassed
when any of those difficulties so common in desert life suddenly spring
up:--well, I cannot help it." And he began once more examining the
wounded man, with that intelligent attention he had not once ceased
testifying toward him.

Don Miguel had not made a movement; more than an hour had elapsed,
and when the effects of the fainting fit wore off, he instantaneously
fell into that heavy, agitated sleep, from which nothing could arouse
him for a long time. Brighteye, seated by his side, with his rifle
betwixt his legs, philosophically smoked his Indian pipe, waiting, with
the patience peculiar to hunters, till some symptom told him that the
wounded man had succeeded in shaking off that torpor of evil augury
which had seized upon him.

The old Canadian would have desired, even at the risk of an intense
fever setting in, that a sudden commotion should recall the young man
roughly to life; he built on the arrival of the Gambusinos to obtain
this result, and he frequently consulted the desert with anxiety to try
and perceive them, but he saw and heard nothing: all was silent around
him.

"Come," he muttered at times, bending a dissatisfied glance at Don
Miguel, who lay stretched at his feet, "the shock has been too rude,
and nothing _will_ happen to restore him to a consciousness of life; on
my soul, I am most unlucky."

At the moment when, perhaps for the hundredth time, he repeated this
sentence with ever-increasing annoyance, he heard at a short distance
off a rather loud rustling, and the breaking of some dead branches.

"Eh, eh!" the hunter said, "what is the meaning of this?"

He raised his head smartly, and looked carefully around; suddenly he
broke into a concentrated burst of laughter, and his eyes sparkled with
joy.

"By Jove!" he said, gaily, "this is exactly what I want. Heaven has
sent that young gentleman to draw me from my dilemma, and he is right
welcome."

At about twenty paces from the hunter, a magnificent jaguar, crouching
on the largest branch of an enormous cochineal tree, fixed a glaring
look upon him, while at intervals passing one of its fore claws over
its ears, with the airs and purring sound peculiar to the feline race.
This wild beast, probably terrified by the hurricane of the past night,
had not been able to regain its den, toward which it was proceeding,
when it found the two men in its path.

The jaguar, or American tiger, far from attacking men, carefully avoids
a meeting with them, and only accepts a combat when compelled and
driven to bay, but then it becomes terrible, and a contest with it is
frequently mortal, unless its opponent is accustomed to the numerous
tricks it employs to insure the victory. At the moment the tiger
perceived the hunter, the latter saw the tiger, hence the combat was
imminent. The two enemies remained for several minutes in an attitude
of observation; their glances crossed like sword blades.

"Come, make up your mind, sluggard," Brighteye muttered.

The jaguar uttered a hoarse yell, sharpened its formidable claws for
a few seconds on the branch which served it for a pedestal, and then,
drawing itself up, bounded on the hunter. The latter did not stir; with
his rifle to his shoulder, his feet well apart and firmly fixed, and
his body bent slightly forward, he followed with a careful eye all the
movements of the wild beast; at the moment the latter made its spring,
the hunter pulled the trigger.

The tiger turned a somersault with a ferocious yell, and fell at
Brighteye's feet. The Canadian bent down to it, but the jaguar was
dead; the hunter's bullet had entered its brain through the right eye,
and killed it on the spot. At the howl of the brute, and the sound
of Brighteye's rifle, Don Miguel opened his eyes and suddenly raised
himself on his elbow, with a terrified look, and features contracted by
a strange and terrible emotion, which reddened his face.

"Help! help!" he shouted in a thundering voice.

"Here I am!" Brighteye exclaimed, as he rose up, and forced him to lie
down again.

Don Miguel looked at him.

"Who are you?" he said, at the expiration of a minute; "what do you
want with me? I do not know you."

"That is true," the hunter said, imperturbably, and addressing him like
a child, "but you will soon know me: do not be alarmed; for the moment,
it is enough for you to know that I am a friend."

"A friend!" the wounded man repeated, trying to restore order to his
ideas, which were still confused, "what friend?"

"By Jove!" the hunter said, "you do not count them by thousands, I
suppose; I have been your friend for some hours past. I saved you at
the moment when you were dying."

"But all that tells me nothing--teaches me nothing. How am I here? how
are you here?"

"Those are a good many questions all at once, and it is impossible
for me to answer them: you are wounded, and your state forbids any
conversation. Will you drink?"

"Yes," Don Miguel answered, mechanically. Brighteye held his gourd to
him.

"Still," he continued, after a moment, "I have not been dreaming."

"Who knows?"

"Those shots, the shouts I heard?"

"Quite a trifle;--a jaguar I killed, and which you can see a few yards
off."

There was silence for a few minutes: Don Miguel was thinking deeply;
light was beginning to dawn on his mind, his memory was returning.
The hunter anxiously followed on the young man's face the incessant
progress of returning thought. At length a flash of intelligence lit up
the young man's eye, and fixing his feverish glance on the old hunter,
he asked him,--"How long is it since you saved me?"

"Scarce three hours."

"Then, since the events that brought me here--there has only passed--?"

"One night."

"Yes!" the young man continued in a deep voice, a terrible voice, "I
fancied I was dead."

"You only escaped by a miracle."

"Thanks."

"I was not alone."

"Who else came to my assistance? tell me his name, that I may preserve
it preciously in my memory."

"Marksman."

"Marksman!" the wounded man exclaimed, tenderly, "always he. Oh! I
ought to have expected that name, for he loves me."

"Yes."

"And what is your name?"

"Brighteye."

The young man trembled, and held out his arm. "Your hand," he said;
"you were right just now in saying you were a friend, you have been so
for a long time, Marksman has often spoken to me about you."

"We have been connected for thirty years."

"I know it: but where is he, that I do not see him?"

"He went, about two hours back, to the camp of the Cuadrilla to bring
help."

"He thinks of everything."

"I remained here to watch over and take care of you during his absence;
but he will soon return."

"Do you believe that I shall be long helpless?"

"No; your wounds are not serious. What floors you at this moment is the
moral shock you received, and chiefly the blood you lost when you fell
in a fainting state into the Rubio."

"Then that river--"

"Is the Rubio."

"I am, then, on the spot where the struggle ended?"

"Yes."

"How many days do you think I shall remain in this state?"

"Four or five at the most."

There was silence for several minutes.

"You told me that it is the weakness of my senses, produced by the
moral shock I received, which overpowers me, I think?" Don Miguel began
again.

"Yes, I said so."

"Do you believe that a firm and powerful will could produce a
favourable reaction?"

"I do."

"Give me your hand."

"There it is."

"Good: now help me."

"What are you going to do?"

"Get up."

"By Jove! I was right in saying you were a man. Come, I consent: have a
try."

After a few minutes spent in fruitless efforts, Don Miguel at length
succeeded in standing upright.

"At last!" he said, triumphantly.

At the first step he took, he lost his balance, and rolled on the
ground. Brighteye rushed toward him.

"Leave me," he shouted to him, "leave me; I wish to get up by myself."

He succeeded: this time he took his precautions better, and succeeded
in walking a few steps. Brighteye regarded him with admiration.

"Oh! the will must subdue the matter," Don Miguel continued, with
frowning brow and swollen veins, "I will succeed."

"You will kill yourself."

"No, for I must live; give me something to drink."

For the second time Brighteye handed him the gourd; the young man
eagerly raised it to his lips. "Now!" he exclaimed, with a feverish
accent, as he returned the gourd to the hunter, "to horse."

"What, to horse?" Brighteye said, with stupefaction.

"Yes; I must be moving."

"Why, that is madness."

"Let me alone, I tell you, I will hold on; but as the wound in the left
arm prevents my getting into the saddle, I must claim your assistance."

"You wish it."

"I insist on it."

"Be it so; and may God be merciful to us."

"He will protect us, be assured."

Brighteye helped the young man into the saddle; against the hunter's
previsions, he kept firm and upright. "Now," he said, "take up your
jaguar's skin, and let us be off."

"Where are we going?"

"To the camp; Marksman will be greatly astonished to see me, when he
believes me to be half dead."

Brighteye silently followed the young man; he gave up any further
attempts to understand this strange character.



CHAPTER XVI.

THE SEARCH AFTER TRUTH.


In spite of Don Miguel's firm will to overcome the pain, the horse's
movement occasioned him a degree of suffering which made his features
quiver, and drops of cold perspiration stand on his face, which was
pale as that of a corpse; at times his sight troubled him, he found
everything turning around him, he tottered in his saddle, and held on
convulsively to his horse's mane through fear of falling.

"Stupid matter," he muttered in a hoarse voice, "shall I not succeed in
conquering you?"

Then he redoubled his efforts to seem apathetic, smiled on Brighteye,
and gaily addressed him.

For the first time in his life, the old hunter felt himself nonplussed:
though he ransacked his memory to try and find an analogous
circumstance to this in the course of his varied life, to his great
regret he was forced to confess to himself that he had never witnessed
anything like it. This annoyed him, and he therefore walked with a
dissatisfied air by the young man's side.

Still they advanced. Suddenly, however, they heard the sound of horses
near them on the trail they were following.

"Here is Marksman," Don Miguel said.

"That is probable."

"He will be greatly astonished to meet me coming toward the help he is
bringing."

"That is certain."

"Let us hurry our horses on a little."

Brighteye looked at him. "You have sworn, then, to bring on a
congestion of the brain?" he said to him plainly.

"How so?" the young man asked in surprise.

"By Jove! that is easy to see," the hunter went on, hastily; "for an
hour you have been committing one act of madness after the other; but
do not deceive yourself, Caballero, what you take for strength is only
fever. It is that alone which sustains you, so take care, do not
obstinately continue an impossible struggle, from which, I warn you,
you will not emerge the victor. I let you act as you pleased, because
I saw no harm in doing so up to the present; but, believe me, you have
done enough. You have measured your strength, and know what you are
capable of doing under urgent circumstances. That is all you want; so
now let us stop and wait."

"Thank you," Don Miguel said, cordially squeezing his hand; "you are
really my friend, your rude words prove it to me. Yes, I am a madman;
but what would you? I am in a strange position, when every hour I lose
may entail extreme dangers on myself and other persons, and I am afraid
of succumbing before I have accomplished the task which misfortune has
imposed on me."

"You will succumb much sooner if you will not be reasonable. Four or
five days are soon passed; and, besides, what you cannot do, your
friends will accomplish."

"That is true. You make me blush for myself. I am not only mad, but
also ungrateful."

"Come, do not talk about that any more. The noise is approaching.
They are probably your companions; still they might be enemies, for
everything must be expected in the desert. Let us enter this thicket,
where we shall be perfectly concealed from the eyes of the comers. If
it be Marksman, we will show ourselves; if not, we will keep close."

Don Miguel warmly approved of the idea, for he understood that, in
case of a fight, he should be but slight help to his companion in his
present condition. The two men disappeared in the thicket, which closed
on them, and they awaited, pistol in hand, the arrival of the persons.

Brighteye was not mistaken. It was really Marksman, returning with
some fifteen Gambusinos. When they were only a few paces off, the two
horsemen showed themselves. Marksman could not believe his eyes. He
did not understand how the man he had left deprived of consciousness,
stretched out on the ground like an inert and almost lifeless body, had
possessed the strength to come and meet him, and to sit so upright and
firm in his saddle.

Don Miguel enjoyed for a little while his triumph, and the admiration
he inspired in these men, with whom the sole supremacy is that of
strength, and then bent down with a smile to Marksman.

"You are not the less welcome with the help you bring me," he said in
a low voice; "this help has become, at this moment, very necessary, if
not indispensable; for my resolution alone keeps me in the saddle."

"You must make haste to return to the camp, and, for fear of accident,
lie down on a litter."

"A litter?" Don Miguel objected.

"You must, believe me. It is urgent that you should reassume, as soon
as possible, the command of your Cuadrilla, so do not waste your
strength in useless bravado."

Don Miguel bowed without replying, for he understood the truth of the
hunter's remark. So, after getting off his horse with the aid of the
two Canadians, he himself ordered his companions to make the litter in
which he should be carried to the camp.

Marksman passed his arm through the young man's, and, making a sign to
Brighteye to follow them, led him a few paces from the party, and made
him sit down on the grass.

"Now that you are in a condition to answer me, profit by the time
during which your litter is being made. You have plenty to tell me."

The young man sighed. "Question me," he said.

"Yes, that will be better. How and by whom were you attacked?"

"I cannot tell you. It is a strange history; so confused that it is
impossible for me, in spite of all my efforts, to disentangle it."

"No matter. Tell me what happened to you; perhaps we, who are better
accustomed to the prairies than yourself, will find a thread which will
guide us through this apparently inextricable labyrinth."

Don Miguel then told all the facts that had occurred, in all their
detail. At the name of Addick, Marksman frowned; when the Mexican spoke
of Don Stefano, the hunters exchanged an intelligent glance; but when
the young man reached that singular turn in the combat when, on the
point of succumbing, he had been suddenly surrounded by strangers, who
disappeared as if by enchantment, after disengaging him, the hunters
displayed marks of the greatest surprise.

"Such," Don Miguel concluded, "was the odious ambush into which I fell;
and to which I should have been a victim, if you had not arrived so
opportunely to save me. Now that you know all as well as I do, what is
your opinion?"

"Hum!" the hunter said; "all that is really very extraordinary. There
is at the bottom of the affair a dark machination, carried out with
a diabolical skill and perversity which startles me. I have certain
suspicions which I wish first to clear up; hence, I cannot give you my
opinion at once. Before all, I must investigate certain matters; but
trust to me for that. But these men who came so fortunately to your
help--did you not see them?--did you not speak to them?"

"You forget," Don Miguel said, with a smile, "that they appeared in the
thick of the fight; brought as it were by the hurricane, that raged so
furiously. The time would have been badly chosen for conversation."

"That is true; I did not know what I was saying. But," the hunter
added, striking the ground with the butt of his rifle, "I will not
be beaten. I swear to you that I shall soon have discovered who your
enemies are, whatever care they may take, and precautions employ, to
conceal themselves."

"Oh! I intend to go in pursuit of them, so soon as I have got back my
strength."

"You, Caballero," Marksman remarked drily, "have first to get well. On
reaching your camp, you will have to shut yourself up, as in a citadel,
and not take a step till you have seen me again."

"What! do you intend to leave me, then?"

"Brighteye and myself are going to start directly. We should be of no
use near you, while we may be of service elsewhere."

"What do you intend to do?"

"On our return, you shall know all."

"I cannot remain in such a state of uncertainty. Besides, I do not
understand you."

"Yet it is clear enough. I intend, aided by Brighteye, to tear the mask
from this Don Stefano--a mask which, in my opinion, hides a very ugly
countenance--to know who this man is, and why he is such an obstinate
enemy to you."

"Thanks, Marksman; now I am easy in my mind. Go; do all that seems
proper to you. I am convinced that you will accomplish everything that
can be humanly accomplished. But, before separating, promise me one
thing."

"What is it?"

"Promise me, that so soon as you have obtained all the information
you are going to seek, you will bring it to me, without undertaking
anything against this man, on whom I intend to take personally--you
understand me, Marksman, personally--exemplary vengeance."

"That is your affair. I shall not interfere with you. Every man has his
task in this world; the man is your enemy, and not mine. So soon as I
have succeeded in bringing you face to face, or at least putting you
opposite each other in an equal position, you will do as you please. I
shall wash my hands of it."

"Good, good!" Don Miguel muttered. "If any day I hold that demon in my
clutches, as he held me in his, he shall not escape, I swear!"

"So it is settled, we can start?"

"When you please."

Brighteye had hitherto listened calmly to the conversation; but at this
remark he stepped forward, and laid his hand on Marksman's arm. "One
moment," he said.

"What, more last words?" the hunter answered.

"Only a word; but one which, I fancy, possesses some value in the
present state of affairs."

"Make haste, then!"

"You wish to discover who this Don Stefano is, as he thinks proper to
call himself, and I approve it; but there is another matter, I fancy,
quite as serious, which we ought to try and make out first."

"What is it?"

Brighteye turned his head to the right, and then to the left, bent
his body slightly forward, and lowering his voice so that the
persons he addressed could hardly hear him, he continued in a severe
tone,--"Desert life in no way resembles that in the towns. Down there
people know each other slightly or intimately, either by name or
through personal relations; they are frequently connected by interests
more or less direct; in a word, socialities exist between all the
inhabitants of towns, attaching them one to the other, and forming
them, as it were, into one family. In the desert this is no longer the
case; egotism and personality are the masters; the 'I' is the supreme
law; each man only thinks of himself, only acts for himself, and I will
say, further, only loves himself."

"Cut it short, for goodness sake, Brighteye; cut it short!" Marksman
said impatiently. "What the deuce are you driving at?"

"Patience!" the imperturbable Canadian said; "patience! and you shall
know. In short, then, in the desert, unless a man has lived for years
side by side with another--sharing pain and pleasure, good fortune
and ill, with him--he lives alone, without friends, only counting
indifferent persons as enemies. In the trap to which Don Miguel almost
fell a victim last night, two sorts of people revealed themselves
spontaneously to him. These were, first, inveterate enemies, and then
equally staunch friends. Do not fancy," the hunter continued, growing
warm, "that I have not calculated the range of the words I have just
made use of; you would be greatly mistaken. Does it not seem strange
to you, as it does to me, now that you are cool, and reason in all
the plenitude of your faculties,--does it not seem strange to you, I
repeat, that, at a given moment, without it being possible to know
how or why--these men suddenly emerged, as it were, from the ground,
to lend you a hand; then, when the danger was past, or nearly so,
they disappeared as suddenly as they came, leaving no trace of their
passage, and not breaking the incognito which covered them,--is not
this strange?--answer!"

"In truth," Marksman muttered, "I did not think of that till now; the
conduct of those men is inexplicable."

"That is exactly what must be explained!" Brighteye exclaimed
violently. "The prairie is not so densely populated that, at a given
moment, and amid a frightful hurricane, there should be men ready to
defend you for the mere satisfaction of doing so; those people must
have had secret motives for doing so, and that object it is urgent for
us to discover. Who tells us that they did not form part of the band
which attacked you? that it was not a trick to seize you more easily--a
part of the game, the execution of which our unforeseen presence
destroyed? I repeat to you, we must, before all, find these men, know
who they are, and what they want; in a word, whether they are friends
or enemies."

"It is very late now to undertake such a search," Don Miguel observed.

The two hunters smiled, as they exchanged a significant glance. "Very
late for you, certainly, who do not possess the key of the desert,"
Brighteye replied; "but with us it is different."

"Yes," Marksman supported him: "let us only find a trace of their
passage, however light it may be--a footstep on the damp sand, so as to
hold one end of their trail--that will be enough to reach the other,
and we shall give a good account of these strangers, whose conduct,
as Brighteye observed very truly, is too strange and too fine to be
honest."

"Oh! why cannot I follow you?" Don Miguel exclaimed, regretfully.

"Get well first; then, I am certain, your part will begin; for, before
three days, we shall bring you all the information you want today, and
without which you can effect nothing."

"So you promise me that in three days--"

"Yes, in three days we shall return from our expedition. Trust to our
promise, and nurse yourself, so as to be able to begin the campaign at
once."

"I shall be ready."

"So, now, good-bye! the sun is already high in the heavens; we have not
a moment to lose."

"Good-bye, and good luck!"

The hunters cordially pressed Don Miguel's hand, remounted their
horses, and went off rapidly in the direction of the Rubio ford. The
chief of the Gambusinos, laid on a litter, went quickly back to his
camp, which he reached a little before sunset.



CHAPTER XVII.

DON MARIANO.


We will now return to Don Stefano Cohecho, whom we left in a fainting
state between Ruperto and Don Mariano.

The double exclamation drawn from the hunter and the Mexican traveller,
on recognizing the man they had picked up on the river bank, had
plunged all three of them into a profound state of stupefaction.
Bermudez was the first to recover his coolness, and he walked up to his
master. "Come, Don Mariano," he said to him, "do not stay here. Perhaps
it will be as well that, when your brother opens his eyes, he should
not see you."

Don Mariano fixed a burning glance on the wounded man. "How is it that
I find him here?" he said, as if speaking to himself. "What is he
doing in these savage regions? It was false, then, what he wrote about
important business calling him to the United States, and that he had
started for New Orleans?"

"Señor Don Estevan, your brother," Bermudez replied gravely, "is one
of those darkly-intriguing men with whom it is impossible to know
their thoughts, or guess their motives or action. You see the hunter
gives him a name which does not belong to him. For what purpose does
he conceal himself, then? Believe me, Don Mariano, there is a mystery
beneath this which we will clear up, with the aid of Heaven; but let us
be prudent; let us not reveal our presence to Don Estevan; there will
always be time to do so when we discover that we have been deceived."

"That is true, Bermudez; your advice is good, and I will follow it;
but, before retiring, let me assure myself as to his present condition.
That man is my brother; and, however great the injuries he has done me
may be, I should not like to see him die without assistance."

"Perhaps it would be better," Bermudez muttered.

Don Mariano looked at him angrily, and bent over the wounded man. The
latter was still in a fainting state. Eglantine lavished on him those
delicate and intelligent attentions, of which women of all nations and
every colour possess the secret, but yet could not recall him to life.

"Pray, Excellency, take my advice," Bermudez urged, "and retire."

Don Mariano took a last look at his brother, and seemed to hesitate;
then turning away, with an effort, he said--"Let us go." The old
servant's face brightened.

"I recommend this man to you," Don Mariano added, addressing Ruperto.
"Pay him all the attention his condition demands and humanity orders."

The hunter bowed. The Mexican gentleman walked a few steps toward his
horse, which, with those of his companions, was fastened to a young
ebony tree. Don Mariano retired with regret: a secret voice seemed to
warn him to remain. At the moment he placed his foot in the stirrup, a
hand was laid on his arm, and he turned sharply. A man was standing by
his side. It was Flying Eagle.

The chief had left to the whites the care of transporting the wounded.
With the instinct peculiar to his race, he had examined with the
utmost attention the scene of the ambush and all the spots whither the
accidents of the combat had led the fighters. His object in thus acting
had been to discover some trace, some sign, which, in case of need,
might be useful to those who had an interest in discovering the causes
of the snare laid for Don Miguel. Accident had aided him admirably,
by supplying him with a proof whose value must be immense, and which,
doubtlessly, Don Stefano would have bought back with his best blood, in
order to destroy it. Unfortunately, this proof, interesting as it was,
was a sealed letter for the Indian, and in his hands possessed no value.

Flying Eagle immediately thought of Don Mariano, who would probably
explain to him the importance of the mysterious find he had made. After
turning it over several times, he hid it in his bosom, and with the
characteristic decision of his race, walked rapidly back to the camp,
where he was certain of finding the Mexican.

"Is my father going away?" the Redskin asked.

"Yes," Don Mariano answered; "but I am glad to see you, Chief, before
my departure, that I may thank you for your cordial hospitality."

The Indian bowed. "My father can decipher the 'collars' of the
Palefaces. I think," he continued, "the whites have great knowledge. My
father must be a chief of his nation."

Don Mariano looked at the Comanche in surprise.

"What do you mean?" he asked him.

"Our Indian fathers taught us to preserve, on the skins of animals,
prepared for the purpose, the interesting events that happened in
our tribe in the old ages of the world. The Palefaces know all; they
possess the great medicine; they also have collars."

"Certainly, we have books, in which, by means of recognized signs, the
history of nations, and even the thoughts of men, can be traced."

The Indian made a gesture of joy.

"Good!" he said; "my father must know these signs, for his head is
grey."

"I do know them. Can the simple knowledge I possess be of any service
to you?"

Flying Eagle shook his head negatively.

"No," he said; "not to me, but perhaps to others."

"I do not understand you, Chief; be good enough, therefore, to explain
yourself more clearly, for I wish to go away before that man regains
his consciousness."

The Indian took a side glance at the injured man.

"He will not open his eyes for an hour," he said. "Flying Eagle can
talk to his father."

In spite of himself, Don Mariano felt interested in knowing what the
Indian wished to tell him; so he resolved to wait, and made him a sign
to speak. The chief continued in a low voice,--"Let my father listen,"
he said. "Flying Eagle is not an old gossiping woman; he is a renowned
chief. The words his breast breathes are all inspired by the Wacondah.
Flying Eagle loves the Palefaces, because they have been good to him,
and have, in certain circumstances, rendered him great services. After
the fight, the Chief went over the field of battle; near the spot where
the man fell whom my father brought here, Flying Eagle found a medicine
bag, containing several collars. The Indian looked at them on all
sides, but could not understand them, because the Wacondah had spread
over his eyes the thick bandage which prevents the Redskins equalling
the Whites. Still the Chief, suspecting that perhaps this mysterious
bag, useless to him, might be important for my father, or some of his
friends, previously concealed it in his breast, and ran in all haste
to hand it to my father. Here it is," he added, drawing a portfolio
from his bosom, and handing it to Don Mariano; "let my father take it;
perhaps he will be able to discover what it contains."

Though the Redskin's action was perfectly natural on his part, and the
portfolio and its contents might be matters of indifference to the
gentleman, he only took it from the Chief's hands with reluctance. The
Indian folded his arms and waited, perfectly satisfied with what he had
done.

Don Mariano absently examined the portfolio he held in his hand. It was
made of very ordinary shagreen, with no ornaments or gilding; it could
be seen that it was more for use than luxury; and it was crammed with
papers, and fastened with a small silver clasp. The examination, begun
absently, suddenly assumed a great importance for Don Mariano, for his
eyes had fallen on these words, half effaced, engraved in letters of
gold on one of the sides of the portfolio,--"Don Estevan de Real del
Monte."

At the sight of these words, which revealed to him the name of the
owner of the object he held, he gave a start of surprise. While turning
and speaking, he came on his brother, who still lay unconscious, and by
a movement independent of his will, his hand squeezed it forcibly. This
pressure opened the hasp, and several papers fell out.

Bermudez stooped quickly, and handed them to his master. The latter
mechanically held out his hand to receive them, and return them to the
portfolio; but Bermudez checked him resolutely.

"Heaven gives you the means to know the truth at last," he said; "do
not neglect the opportunity it affords you, or you may repent it when
too late."

"Violate my brother's secrets!" Don Mariano muttered, with a movement
of repulsion.

"No," Bermudez retorted drily, "but learn how he became master of
yours. Excellency, remember the object of our journey."

"But if I were discovered--if he were not guilty?"

"All the better. In that way you will acquire certainty."

"What you urge me to do is wrong. I have no right to act so."

"Well, I, who am only a wretched Criado, Excellency, whose actions have
no serious import, will assume that right for your sake, Excellency."
And by a gesture swift as thought, he seized the portfolio.

"Wretch!" Don Mariano shouted. "Stay, what are you going to do?"

"Save, perhaps, her you love, as you dare not do it yourself."

"My father will leave his slave free," the Indian interposed, "the
Wacondah inspires him."

Don Mariano had not the courage to resist longer, for involuntarily
an unknown feeling he could not explain, told him that he was wrong,
and Bermudez did well to act so. The half-caste had, with the greatest
coolness, opened the papers, not appearing to care for any seeming
impropriety in his conduct.

"Oh!" he suddenly exclaimed, "did I not tell you, Excellency, that
Heaven placed in your hands the proofs you had so long been seeking in
vain? Read! read! and if it be possible, still doubt the testimony of
your eyes, and refuse longer to believe in your brother's perfidy, and
odious treason."

Don Mariano seized the papers with a feverish gesture, and hurriedly
read them. After reading them two or three times, he stopped, raised
his eyes to heaven, and then let his head fall in his hands with an
expression of the utmost pain. "Oh, oh!" he muttered, in despair, "my
brother! my brother!"

"Courage!" Bermudez said, softly.

"I will have it," he answered; "the hour of justice has arrived."

A strange change had suddenly taken place in him. This man, a few
moments previously so timid, and whose hesitation was extreme, was
metamorphosed. He seemed to have grown; his features had assumed an
imposing rigidity, and his eyes flashed fire.

"No more childish fears," he said; "no further tergiversation. We must
act."

Then turning to Flying Eagle, he asked him,--

"Is that man seriously wounded?"

The Indian carefully examined Don Stefano.

During the whole period of the examination, no one uttered a word.
Everyone understood that Don Mariano had at length formed an energetic
resolution, and that he would accomplish it remorselessly, and without
hesitation, no matter what the consequences might be to him hereafter.

Flying Eagle returned in a few minutes.

"Well?" the gentleman asked him.

"That man is not really wounded," the Indian answered; "he has only
received a serious contusion on the head, which has plunged him into a
sort of lethargic faint, from which he will not recover for an hour."

"Very well; and on waking, in what state will he be?"

"Very weak; but that weakness will soon wear off, and tomorrow he will
be as right as before he received the blow."

A bitter smile played round Don Mariano's lips. "Tell that hunter, your
friend, to come here; I must speak to you both," he said. "I have a
service to ask of you."

The Chief obeyed.

"I am at your service, Excellency," Ruperto remarked.

"We will hold a council," Don Mariano then said. "Is not that the term
you employ in the desert when you have to discuss important business?"

The hunter and the Indian made a sign of assent.

"Listen to me attentively," the gentleman continued, in a firm and
impressive voice. "The man there is my brother, and he must die. I
do not wish to kill him, but to try him. All you now present will be
his judges; I his accuser. Will you aid me to accomplish an act of
vengeance, but a deed of the most rigorous justice? I repeat to you, I
will accuse him before you all, and documents in hand. He will be at
liberty to defend himself; your conscience will be clear; he will have
entire freedom to do so; and, moreover, you will condemn or acquit him,
according to the opinion you form on the evidence. You have heard me;
reflect; I await your reply."

There was a supreme silence. After a few moments, Ruperto took the
word. "In the desert, where human justice does not penetrate," he said,
"the law of God must prevail. If we have a right to kill the noxious
and malevolent brutes, why should we not the right to punish a villain?
I accept the office you offer me, because in my heart I am persuaded
that in doing so I am doing my duty, and am useful to society, of
which I make myself the avenger."

"Good!" Don Mariano answered. "I thank you. And you, Chief?"

"I accept," the Comanche said distinctly. "Traitors must be punished,
no matter to what race they belong. Flying Eagle is a chief; he has the
right to sit at the council fire, in the first rank of the Sachems, and
condemn or acquit."

"It is now your turn," Don Mariano continued, addressing his servant;
"answer."

Bermudez stepped forward a pace, and bowed respectfully to Don Mariano.
"Excellency," he said, "we knew this man when he was a child; we
dandled him on our knees. At a later date he became our master; our
hearts would not be free in his presence. We cannot judge him; we ought
not to condemn him. We are only fit to execute the sentence, whatever
it may be, which is dealt out to him, if we receive the order. Old
slaves, liberated by the kindness of their master, are never equal to
him."

"Those feelings are what I expected from you. I thank you for your
frankness, my children. In truth, you should not interfere in this
matter. Heaven, I hope, will send us two men with loyal hearts and firm
will to take your places, and fulfil the duty of judges impartially."

"Heaven has heard you, Caballero," a rough voice said; "we are here at
your disposal."

The branches of the thicket near which our characters were, were then
torn boldly asunder, and two men appeared. They walked a few steps
forward, rested their rifles on the ground, and waited.

"Who are you?" Don Mariano asked.

"Hunters."

"Your name?"

"Marksman."

"And yours?"

"Brighteye. For about half an hour we have been hidden behind this
bush. We heard all you said, and hence it is useless to repeat your
statement. But there is another man who must be present at the trial."

"Another man! Who?"

"The one he attacked so traitorously, whom you drew from his hand, and
whom we saved."

"Ha! who knows where to find that man at present?"

"We do," Marksman said, "as we only left him an hour ago, to take up
your trail."

"Oh, if that is the case, you are right; that man must come."

"Unfortunately, he is seriously wounded; but if he cannot come of
himself, he can be carried: and I know not why, but his presence seems
to me not only necessary, but even indispensable, in order to clear up
certain facts which it is our duty to fathom."

"What do you mean?"

"Patience, Caballero! you will soon understand. This man's camp is not
far off, and he can be here before sunset."

"But who will warn him?"

"Myself," Brighteye answered.

"I thank you for the hearty offer."

"We are possibly more interested than yourself in clearing up this
mysterious machination," Marksman answered.

At a sign from his friend, Brighteye remounted his horse, which he had
left in the thicket, and rode off at full speed, while Don Mariano
followed him with a glance at once curious and puzzled. "You speak to
me in riddles," he said to Marksman, who was still leaning on his rifle.

The latter shook his head.

"The history, whose odious incidents will be unrolled before you, is a
sad one, Excellency, and you have not the key, in spite of the proofs
you believe you possess."

Don Mariano sighed, and two burning tears ran down his cheeks, which
were furrowed by grief.

"Courage, _mi amo!_" Bermudez said. "Heaven is at length on your side."

The gentleman pressed the hand of his faithful servant, and turned his
head away to conceal the emotion he felt.



CHAPTER XVIII.

BEFORE THE TRIAL.


When Brighteye went off, Marksman, the Indian, and Ruperto approached
the wounded man, who was still plunged in the same state of lethargy,
and collected around him, in order to await his recovery.

Don Mariano, whose scruples were now extinguished, and who was anxious
to know all the windings of his brother's dark machinations, in order
to have solid arguments for the accusations he was about to bring
against him before that supreme tribunal he had so unexpectedly found,
withdrew from his servants into a dense coppice, where, free from all
glances, he opened the portfolio with feverish impatience, and began
reading the papers it contained, with a horror that increased with
every fresh letter he unfolded.

Don Mariano did not wish his brother to be aware of his presence before
being confronted with his judges, for he counted on his unexpected
apparition to foil his perspicacity and presence of mind, by making
him lose his coolness. Hence he concealed himself in a spot invisible
to the most searching glance, reserving the right of appearing at the
decisive moment.

More than an hour elapsed, ere Don Stefano, in spite of Eglantine's
incessant care, made a movement indicating his return to life. Still
the three men, crouched silently round him, did not for a moment relax
in their watchfulness; they understood the full extent of the act they
were about to accomplish, and desired, with that intuitive mistrusting
possessed by loyal souls, that the man they were about to try should be
sufficiently collected, and so far in possession of his faculties, as
to defend his life bravely.

At the moment when the sun, rapidly declining on the horizon,
lengthened the shadows of the trees, and only appeared through the
lower branches like a huge ball of fire, the evening breeze passed like
a fresh breath over the pale brow of the wounded man, who uttered a
deep sigh at the feeling of comfort this beneficial freshness caused
him to experience, after the stifling heat of the day.

"He is going to open his eyes," Marksman muttered.

Flying Eagle laid his finger on his lips as he pointed to the wounded
man.

Low as the hunter had spoken, Don Stefano had heard him; though not,
perhaps, understanding the meaning of the words that had struck his
ears, but sufficiently so to recall him to a sense of existence.

Don Stefano was no common man, and a worthy son of the bastard race
of Mexico. Cunning was the most prominent point in his eminently
dissimulating character; accustomed ever to judge men and things badly,
distrust seemed innate in his heart. Marksman's words warned him to
keep on his guard, without stirring, without opening his eyes, lest he
should reveal his return to life; he made a supreme effort to recall
the events that preceded his accident, so as to arrive, from deduction
to deduction, at the position in which he now was, and guess, if that
were possible, into whose hands chance, or his ill fortune, had made
him fall.

The task Don Stefano imposed on himself was not easy, for, by the force
of circumstances, he was deprived of his most potent auxiliary, sight,
which would have enabled him to recognize the persons who surrounded
him, or, at any rate, perceive were they friends or enemies. Thus,
though he listened with the utmost attention, in order to catch a word
or a phrase to guide him in his suppositions, and show him how to base
his calculations on probable, if not positive, data, as the hunters,
warned by the Chief, and suspecting a trick, abstained for their part
from making a gesture or uttering a word, all his previsions were
foiled, and he remained in the most utter ignorance.

This prolonged silence further heightened Don Stefano's anxiety, and
presently threw him into such a state of alarm that he resolved, at all
risks, on removing his doubts. Putting his plans almost at once into
execution, he made a movement as if to rise, and suddenly opened his
eyes, and took an inquiring and searching glance around.

"How do you feel?" Marksman asked, as he bent over him.

"Very weak," Don Stefano answered, in a suffering voice. "I feel a
general heaviness, and frightful buzzing in my ears."

"Good," the hunter continued, "that is not dangerous. It is always so
after a fall."

"I have had a fall, then?" the wounded man continued, whom the sight
of Ruperto, an old acquaintance, began to reassure.

"Hang it! it is probable, as we found you lying on the banks of the
Rubio."

"Ah, you found me, then?"

"Yes, about three hours back."

"Thanks for the aid you gave me; had it not been for that, I should
probably be dead."

"Very possibly; but do not be in a hurry to thank us."

"Why not?" Don Stefano suddenly said, as he cocked his ears at this
ambiguous answer, which seemed to him a disguised threat.

"Eh, who knows?" Marksman retorted, simply; "No one can answer for the
future."

Don Stefano, whose strength was rapidly returning, and who had already
regained all his lucidity of mind, rose quickly, and fixed on the
Canadian a glance which seemed meant to read his most intricate
thoughts. "I am not your prisoner, though?"

"Hum!" was all the hunter replied.

This interjection made the wounded man thoughtful, and disturbed him
more than a long phrase. "Let us speak frankly," he said, after a few
moments' reflection.

"I wish for nothing better."

"Of you, then, there is one I know," he continued, pointing to Ruperto,
who gave a silent nod of assent. "I never, to my knowledge, injured
that man; on the contrary--"

"That is true," Ruperto answered.

"I never saw you, so you can have no feelings of animosity against me."

"That is correct. This is the first time Providence has brought us face
to face."

"There remains this Indian warrior, who, like yourself, is a perfect
stranger to me."

"All that is correct."

"For what reason, then, can I be your prisoner? Unless, as I cannot
believe, you belong to those birds of prey, called pirates, who swarm
in the desert?"

"We are not pirates, but frank and honest hunters."

"A further reason why I should address my question to you again, and
ask you if I am your prisoner or no?"

"The question is not so simple as you suppose, although we have no
reproaches to bring against you personally. Have you not insulted or
offended other persons since you have been on the prairie?"

"I?"

"Who else but you? Did you not try, no later than last night, to
assassinate a man in an ambuscade you laid for him?"

"Yes; but that man is my enemy."

"Well! Suppose, for a moment, we are friends of that man!"

"But it is not so. It cannot be."

"Why not? What makes you suppose so?"

Don Stefano shrugged his shoulders contemptuously.

"You must think me very foolish," he said, "if you would try to make me
believe that quibble."

"It is not so much one as you imagine."

"Nonsense! If I had fallen into the hands of that man, he would have
had me conveyed to his camp, in order to revenge himself on me in
the presence of the bandits he commands, and to whom the sight of my
punishment would, doubtlessly, have been too agreeable for him to have
tried to deprive them of the delightful sight."

The old hunter, whose language had hitherto been ironical and face
malicious, suddenly changed his tone, and became as serious and stern
as he had previously been sarcastic. "Listen," he said, "and profit
by what you are going to hear. We are not the dupes of your feigned
weakness. We know very well that your strength has nearly returned. The
advice I give you is frank, and intended to guard you against yourself;
you are not our prisoner, it is true, and yet you are not free."

"I do not understand you," Don Stefano interrupted him, the last words
clouding over his face, which had suddenly grown brighter.

"Not one of the persons present," Marksman continued, "has any charge
to bring against you. We do not know who you are; and before today, I,
at least, was entirely ignorant of your existence; but there is a man
who asserts that he has against you--not feelings of hatred, for that
would be a matter to settle between yourselves in a fair fight--but
motives of complaint sufficiently great to justify your immediate
trial."

"My trial!" Don Stefano repeated, in the utmost astonishment; "but
before what tribunal does that man intend to try me? We are here in the
desert."

"Yes; and you seem to forget it. In the desert, where the laws of
cities are powerless to punish the guilty, there is a terrible,
summary, implacable legislature, to which, in the common welfare, every
aggrieved person has a right to appeal, when suspicious circumstances
demand it."

"And what is this law?" Don Stefano asked, whose pale face had already
assumed a cadaverous hue.--

"It is Lynch law."

"Lynch law?"

"Yes; and in the name of that law we, who, as you say, you do not know,
have been assembled to try you."

"Try me! But that is impossible. What crime have I committed? Who is
the man that accuses me?"

"I cannot answer these questions. I do not know the crime of which you
are accused, nor the name of your accuser; but believe me, we have no
hatred or prejudice against you, and we shall, therefore, be impartial.
Prepare your defence during the few moments left you, and when the
moment arrives, try to prove your innocence, by confounding your
accuser--a thing which I ardently desire."

Don Stefano let his head fall in his hands with an expression of
despair. "But how would you have me prepare my defence, when I am
ignorant of the nature of the crimes imputed to me? Give me a light
through the darkness, a flash, however slight, that I may be able to
guide myself, and know where I am."

"In speaking as I did, Caballero, I obeyed my conscience, which
ordered me to warn you of the danger that threatened you. It would be
impossible for me to tell you more, for I am as ignorant as yourself."

"Oh! it is enough to drive a man mad," Don Stefano exclaimed.

At a sign from Marksman, Ruperto and Flying Eagle rose. The hunter
nodded to Eglantine to imitate their example. All four withdrew, and
Don Stefano was left alone.

The Mexican rolled on the ground with the insensate fury of a man
before whom an insurmountable obstacle suddenly rises, and who, driven
into a desperate position, is forced to confess himself vanquished.
A prey to the deepest anxiety, ignorant whither to turn in order
to dispel the tempest growling over his head, he sought in vain in
his mind for the means to escape from the hands that held him. His
inventive genius, so fertile in schemes of every description, furnished
him with no subterfuge, no stratagem, that would aid him advantageously
in supporting this supreme contest with the unknown. In vain he racked
his brains: he found nothing. Suddenly he drew himself up, and by a
movement rapid as thought, thrust his hand into his chest. "Ah!" he
exclaimed, sorrowfully, and let his hand fall again by his side, "what
has become of my portfolio?" He searched eagerly around him, but found
nothing. "I am lost," he added, "if those men have found it. What shall
I do? What will become of me?"

A sound of horses was heard in the distance, gradually approaching
the spot where the hunters were encamped. The sound soon became more
distinct, and it was easy to recognize the advent of a numerous party
of horsemen. In fact, within a quarter of an hour, some thirty mounted
men, led by Brighteye, entered the clearing. "Brighteye among these
bandits!" Don Stefano muttered. "What can be the meaning of it?"

His uncertainty did not last long. The new arrivals escorted a man whom
Don Stefano recognized at once. "Don Miguel Ortega! oh, oh!" Then he
added, with one of those cunning smiles habitual to him, "Now I know
my accuser. Come, come," he said to himself, "the position is not so
desperate as I supposed. It is evident these men know nothing, and my
precious papers have not fallen into their hands. Hum! I fancy that
this terrible Lynch law will be wrong this time, and I shall escape
from this peril, as I have done from so many others."

Don Miguel had passed without seeing Don Stefano, or perhaps, as was
more likely, without appearing to notice him. As for the prisoner,
interested as he was in observing everything, and not allowing the
slightest detail to escape his notice, he followed with watchful eye,
while feigning the most indifferent behaviour, all the movements
of the hunters. After gently depositing the litter at the side of
the clearing opposite to that where Don Stefano lay, the Gambusinos,
instead of dismounting, formed a large circle, and remained motionless,
rifle on thigh, thus rendering any attempt at flight impossible.

Buffalo skulls, intended to act as seats, were arranged in a semicircle
round a fire of dry branches. On these skulls, five in number, five men
immediately took their seats, arranged in the following order:--Don
Miguel Ortega, performing the duties of president, in the centre,
having on his right Marksman, on his left Brighteye, and then the
Indian Chief and a Gambusino. This tribunal in the open air, in the
heart of the virgin forest, surrounded by these horsemen, in their
strange costume, motionless as bronze statues, produced an effect
at once imposing and striking. These five men, with stern looks and
frowning eyebrows, calm and apathetic, bore a marvellous resemblance to
that Holy Vehm, which in old times, on the banks of the Rhine, took the
place of legal justice, no longer able to repress crime, and gave its
judgments in the open air, to the hoarse growling of the winds, and the
mysterious murmurs of the waters.

In spite of his daring, Don Stefano felt a shudder of terror all over
him, as he looked round the clearing, and saw all eyes fatally fixed
upon him, with the implacable rigidity of desert force and justice.
"Hum!" he muttered to himself, "I believe I shall have a difficulty to
get out of the scrape, and was too hasty in claiming victory."

At this moment, two hunters, at a sign from Don Miguel, quitted the
ranks, dismounted, and approached the wounded man. The latter made an
effort, and succeeded in gaining his feet. The hunters took him by
the arms, and led him before the tribunal. Don Stefano drew himself
up, crossed his arms on his chest, and bent a sardonic glance on the
men before whom he was led. "Oh, oh!" he said, with a mocking accent,
addressing Don Miguel, "it is you, then, Caballero, who are my accuser?"

The captain shrugged his shoulders slightly. "No," he replied; "I am
not your accuser, but your judge."



CHAPTER XIX.

FACE TO FACE.


After these words, there was a moment of expectation--almost of
hesitation. A leaden silence seemed to brood over the forest.

Don Stefano was the first to overcome the feeling of terror which
involuntarily pervaded him. "Well!" he said, with a contemptuous tone,
and a clear, cutting voice; "if it be not you, where is this accuser?
Will he hide himself, now that the hour has arrived? Will he recoil
before the responsibility he has assumed? Let him appear--I am ready
for him!"

Don Miguel shook his head. "When he does appear, you may, perhaps, find
that he has come too soon," he answered.

"What do you want with me, then?"

"You shall hear."

Don Miguel was pale and sombre; a sad smile played round his
discoloured lips; it was evident that he was making extraordinary
exertions to overcome his weakness and keep his seat. After a few
moments' consideration, he raised his head. "What is your name?" he
asked.

"Don Stefano Cohecho," the accused answered without hesitation.

The judges exchanged a glance.

"Where were you born?"

"At Mazatlán, in 1808."

"What is your profession?"

"Merchant, at Santa Fé."

"What motive brought you into the desert?"

"I have told you already."

"Repeat it!" Don Miguel said, with perfect coldness.

"I would remark that these questions, perfectly unnecessary for you,
are beginning to grow tiresome."

"I ask you what motive brought you into the desert?"

"The failure of several of my correspondents compelled me to take a
journey, in the hope of saving some fragments of my endangered fortune.
I am in the desert, because there is no other road to the town I wish
to reach."

"Where are you going?"

"To Monterey. You see the docility with which I answer all your
questions," he said, with the impertinent tone he had assumed ever
since he was led before his judges.

"Yes," Don Miguel replied, slowly, and laying a stress on each word,
"you display great docility. I wish, for your own sake, you were
equally truthful."

"What do you mean by that remark?" Don Stefano asked, haughtily.

"I mean that you have answered each of my questions with a falsehood,"
Don Miguel said, coolly and drily.

Don Stefano frowned, and his tawny eye emitted a flash. "Caballero!" he
said, violently, "such an insult--"

"It is no insult," the adventurer answered, in his old tone; "it is the
truth, and you know it as well as I."

"I should be curious to know the meaning of this," the Mexican tried to
say.

Don Miguel looked at him fixedly; and, in spite of his impudence, Don
Stefano could not endure the glance.

"I will satisfy you," the adventurer said.

"I am listening."

"To my first question you answered that your name was Don Stefano
Cohecho?"

"Well?"

"That is false; for your name is Don Estevan de Real del Monte."

The accused gave a slight start. Don Miguel continued:--"To my second
question, you replied that you were born at Mazatlán, in 1808. That is
false; you were born at Guanajuato, in 1805."

The adventurer waited a moment, to give the man he addressed time to
reply. But Don Estevan, whose right name we will in future adhere to,
did not think it advisable to do so. He remained cold and gloomy. Don
Miguel smiled contemptuously, and continued:--

"To my third question, you answered that you carried on the business
of a merchant, and were established at Santa Fé. That is all false.
You never were a merchant. You are a senator, and reside in Mexico.
Lastly--You said you were only crossing the desert on your road to
Monterey, where the interests of your pretended business called you. As
for the latter assertion, I need hardly, I believe, prove its falsehood
to you, for that is palpable from the other answers you made. Now I
await your reply, if you have one to make--which I doubt."

Don Estevan had had time enough to recover from the rude blow he had
received; hence he did not feel alarmed, as he believed he could guess
whence the attack came, and by what means those in whose presence he
now was had obtained this information about him. Hence he replied in
a sarcastic tone, and drawing in his lips spitefully,--"Why do you
fancy I cannot answer you, Caballero? Nothing is more easy; on the
contrary, _cáspita!_ because, during my fainting fit, you--shall I say
robbed me? No, I am polite; I will therefore say--adroitly carried
off my portfolio; and because, after opening it, you obtained certain
information, you throw it in my face, convinced that I shall feel
disarmed by your being so conversant with my affairs. Nonsense! You
are mad, on my soul. All these things are absurdities, which will not
bear analysis. Yes, it is true that my name is Don Estevan. I was born
at Guanajuato, in 1805, and am a senator--what next? Those are strong
motives on which to base an accusation against a Caballero! _Cuerpo
de Cristo!_ Am I the only man in the desert who assumes a name other
than his own? By what right do you, who only call each other by your
surnames, wish to prevent me from following your example? It is the
height of absurdity; and if you have no better reason to allege, I must
ask you to let me go and attend to my affairs in peace."

"We have others," Don Miguel answered, in an icy tone.

"I know your reasons. You, Don Miguel, who are also called Don
Torribio, and sometimes Don José, accuse me of having laid a trap for
you, from which you were only saved by a miracle. But that is a matter
between ourselves, in which Heaven alone must be the arbiter."

"Do not bring that name forward. I have already told you that I was not
your accuser, but your judge."

"Very good. Restore me my portfolio, and let us stop here, believe me,
for in all this there is no advantage for you, unless you have resolved
to assassinate me, which is very possible; and in that case I am at
your service. I do not pretend to contend against the thirty or forty
bandits who surround me. So kill me if you think proper, and let us
have an end of it."

Don Stefano uttered these words with a tone of sovereign contempt,
which his judges, like men whose mind is made up beforehand, did not
appear to notice.

"We have not stolen your portfolio," Don Miguel answered; "not one of
us has seen it, much less opened it. We are not bandits, and have no
design to assassinate you. We are assembled to try you according to
the regulations of Lynch Law; and we perform this duty with all the
impartiality of which we are capable."

"If that be the case, let my accuser appear, and I will confound him.
Why does he hide himself so obstinately? Justice must be done in the
sight of all. Let this man come, who asserts that he has such heavy
crimes to bring against me--let him come, and I will prove him a vile
calumniator."

Don Estevan had scarcely uttered these words, ere the branches of
a neighbouring bush were drawn back, and a man appeared. He walked
hastily toward the Mexican, and laid his hand boldly on his shoulder.

"Prove to me, then, that I am a vile calumniator, Don Estevan," he
said, in a low and concentrated voice, as he regarded him with an
expression of implacable hatred.

"Oh," Don Estevan exclaimed, "my brother!" and lolling like a drunken
man, he recoiled a few paces, his face covered with a deadly pallor,
his eyes suffused with blood, and immeasurably dilated. Don Mariano
held him with a firm hand, to prevent him falling on the ground, and
placed his face almost close to his.

"I am your accuser, Estevan," he said. "Accursed one, what have you
done with my daughter?"

The other made no reply. Don Mariano regarded him for a moment with an
expression impossible to describe, and disdainfully threw him off with
a gesture of sovereign contempt. The wretch tottered, and stretched
out his arms, trying instinctively to keep up; but his strength failed
him; he fell on his knees, and buried his face in his hand, with an
expression of despair and baffled rage, the hideousness of which no
pencil could render.

The spectators remained calm and stoical. They had not uttered a
word or made a sign; but a secret terror had seized upon them, and
they exchanged looks which, if the accused had seen them, would have
revealed to him the fate which in their minds they reserved for him.

Don Mariano gave his two servants a signal to follow him, and, with
one on either side, he took his place in the centre of the clearing,
in front of the improvised tribunal, and began speaking in a powerful,
clear, and accented voice. "Listen to me, Caballeros, and when I
have told you all I have to say about the man you see there crushed
and confounded, before I had even uttered a word, you will judge him
according to your conscience, without hatred or anger. That man is my
brother. When young, for a reason it is unnecessary to explain here,
my father wished to drive him from his presence. I interceded for him,
and though I did not obtain his entire pardon, still he was tolerated
beneath the paternal roof. Days passed, years slipped away; the boy
became a man; my father, at his death, gave me his whole fortune, to
the prejudice of his other son, whom he had cursed. I tore up the
will, summoned that man to my side, and restored him, a beggar and a
wretch, that share of the wealth and comfort of which his father, in my
opinion, had not the right to deprive him."

Don Mariano stopped, and turned to his servants. The two men stretched
out their right hands together, took off their hats, and said, in one
voice, as if replying to their master's dumb questioning,--"We affirm
that all this is strictly true."

"Hence this man owed me everything--fortune, position, future; for,
owing to my influence, I succeeded in having him elected a senator.
Let us now see how he rewarded me for so many kindnesses, and the
extent of his gratitude. He had succeeded in making me forget what I
regarded as errors of youth, and persuade myself that he was entirely
reformed: his conduct was ostensibly irreproachable; under certain
circumstances, he had even displayed a rigour of principle, for which
I was obliged to reprove him; in a word, he had succeeded in making
me his dupe. Married, and father of two children, he brought them up
with a strictness which, in my eyes, was a proof of his reformation;
and he carefully repeated to me often--'I do not wish my children
to become what I have been.' Owing to one of those numberless
_pronunciamientos_ which undermine and dismember our fine country, I
was an object of suspicion to the new government, through some dark
machination, and compelled to fly at once to save my threatened life,
I knew not to whom to confide my wife and daughter, who, in spite of
their desire, could not follow me. My brother offered to watch over
them. A secret presentiment, a voice from heaven, which I did wrong to
despise, warned my heart not to put faith in this man, nor accept his
proposition. Time pressed; I must depart; the soldiers sent to arrest
me were thundering at the door of my house; I confided what was dearest
to me in the world to that coward there, and fled. During the two years
my absence lasted, I wrote letter after letter to my brother, and
received no reply. I was suffering from mortal alarm, and was almost
resolved, at all risks, to return to Mexico, when, thanks to certain
friends who were indefatigable in my behalf, my name was erased from
the list of postscripts, and I was permitted to return to my country.
Scarcely two hours after receiving the news, I set out. I arrived at
Veracruz four days later. Without taking time to rest, I mounted a
horse, and galloped off, only leaving my wearied steed to take another,
along the seventy leagues of road separating the capital from the
port, and dismounted at my brother's door. He was away, but a letter
from him informed me that, compelled by urgent business to proceed to
New Orleans, he would return in a month, and begged me to await him.
But not a word about my wife and daughter; not a syllable about the
fortune I had entrusted to him. My alarm was changed into terror, and I
presaged a misfortune. I left my brother's house, half mad, remounted
the almost foundered horse that had brought me there, and proceeded as
rapidly as possible to my own house. Windows and doors were closed; the
house I had left so gay and animated was silent and gloomy as a tomb. I
stood for a moment, not daring to rap at the door. At length I made up
my mind, preferring the reality, however horrible it might be, to the
uncertainty which drove me mad."

At this point in his story Don Mariano stopped. His voice was broken
by the internal emotion he experienced, and which it was impossible for
him to master any longer.

There was a solemn silence. Don Estevan had not changed his position.
Since the beginning of his brother's narrative, he appeared to be
plunged in profound grief, and crushed by remorse.

Presently, Bermudez, seeing that his master was incapable of continuing
his narrative, took the word in his turn,--"It was I who opened the
door. Heaven is my witness that I love my master, and unhesitatingly
would lay down my life for him. Alas! I was fated to cause him the
greatest grief it is possible for a man to suffer--forced to answer
the questions he pressed on me. I told him of the decease of his wife
and daughter, who had died a few weeks after each other in the convent
of the Bernardines. The blow was terrible; Don Mariano fell as if
struck by lightning. One evening, when, as was his custom since his
return, Don Mariano was alone in his bedroom, with his face buried
in his hands, giving way to sorrowful reflections, while regarding,
with eyes full of tears, the portrait of the dear beings he was never
to see again, a man wrapped up in a large cloak, and with a sombrero
pulled down over his eyes, demanded speech of señor de Real del Monte.
On my remarking that his Excellency saw nobody, this man insisted with
strange tenacity, declaring he had to hand to my master a letter, the
contents of which were of the utmost importance. I know not how it was,
but the man's tone appeared to me so sincere, that, in spite of myself,
I infringed the positive orders I had received, and led him to Don
Mariano."

That gentleman at this moment raised his head, and laid his hand on the
old servant's arm. "Let me continue now, Bermudez," he said. "What I
have to add is not much."

Then, turning to the hunters, who still appeared cold and apathetic,
he went on,--"When this man was in my presence, he said, without any
introductory remarks, 'Excellency, you weep for two persons who were
very dear to you, and whose fate is unknown to you.' 'They are dead,' I
replied. 'Perhaps so,' he said. 'What will you give the man who brings
you, I will not say good news, but a slight hope?'"

"Without replying, I rose, and went to a cabinet, in which I kept my
gold and jewels. 'Hold out your hat,' I said to him. In a second the
hat was full of gold and diamonds. The stranger put them all out of
sight, and said, with a low bow,--'My name is Pepito; I am a little of
all trades. A man, whose name you need not know, gave me this strip of
paper, with orders to hand it to you immediately on your arrival in
Mexico. I only learned your return this morning, and have now come to
carry out the order I received.'"

"I tore the paper from his hands, and read it, while Pepito deluged me
with thanks, to which I did not listen, and then retired. This was what
the paper contained."

Don Miguel stretched out his arm toward Don Mariano.

"'A friend of the Real del Monte family,'" the Gambusino said, in a
loud voice, "'warns Don Mariano that he has been shamelessly deceived
by the man in whom he placed entire confidence, and who owed everything
to him. That man poisoned Doña Serafina de Real del Monte. Don
Mariano's daughter was buried alive in the _In pace_ of the Bernardine
convent. If señor del Monte desires to examine thoroughly the frightful
machinations of which he has been the victim, and perchance see
again one of the two persons whom the man who deceived fancied had
disappeared for ever, let Don Mariano keep the contents of this letter
the most profound secret, feign the same ignorance, but quietly make
preparations for a long journey, which no one must suspect. On the next
5th November, at sunset, a man will be at the Teocali do Quinametzin
(the Giant). This man will accost Don Mariano by pronouncing two
names, those of his wife and daughter. Then he will tell him all that
he is ignorant of, and perhaps be able to restore him a little of the
happiness he has lost.' The note ended here, and was not signed."

"That is true," Don Mariano said, utterly astounded; "but how did you
learn these details? It was doubtlessly yourself who--"

"When the time arrives, I will answer you," Don Miguel said, in a
peremptory tone. "Go on."

"What more shall I say? I started for the strange meeting promised
me, nourishing in my heart I know not what mad hopes. Alas! man is
so constituted that he clings to everything which can aid him in
doubting a misfortune. This day, God, who has probably taken pity on
me, made me meet the man who is my brother; the sight of him caused
me an astonishment I cannot express. How could it be him, when he had
written me he was gone to New Orleans? A vague suspicion, which I had
hitherto repulsed, gnawed at my heart with such force, that I began to
believe, though it appeared to me very horrible, that my brother was
the traitor to whom I owed all my misfortunes. Still I doubted, I was
undecided, when this portfolio, lost by the wretch and found by the
Indian Chief, Flying Eagle, suddenly tore off the thick bandage that
covered my eyes, by giving me all the proofs of the odious machinations
and crimes committed by this wretch, this cruel fratricide, for the
ignoble object of robbing me of my fortune to enrich his children.
Here is the portfolio. Read the papers it contains, and decide between
my villainous brother and myself."

While saying this, Don Mariano offered the portfolio to Don Miguel,
who, however, declined it.

"Those proofs are unnecessary for us, Don Mariano," he said; "we
possess others more convincing still."

"What do you mean?"

"You shall understand." And Don Miguel rose.

Without being able to explain why it was so, Don Estevan felt a shiver
all over his body, for he guessed, by a species of intuition, that his
brother's accusation contained nothing so terrible as the facts Don
Miguel was preparing to reveal. He threw up his head slightly, bent
forward, and with panting chest and dilated nostrils, fascinated, as
it were, by the chief of the adventurers, he awaited, with constantly
increasing anxiety, what Don Miguel was going to say.



CHAPTER XX.

THE JUDGMENT.


The sun had disappeared on the horizon; shadows had assumed the place
of light; the darkness falling from the sky had covered the forest
with an impenetrable brown shroud. The Gambusinos lighted branches of
_ocote_, and then the clearing, in which the events we are describing
took place, was fantastically lighted by torches, whose flickering,
ensanguined glare played on the trees and the persons collected under
their dense foliage, and gave the whole scene a strange and sinister
stamp.

Don Miguel, after looking around to demand attention, began
speaking:--"As you have found that portfolio," he said, "I have
nothing more to tell you. It was really your brother who committed the
fearful crime with which you charge him. Fortunately, his object could
not be completely attained. Your wife is dead, it is true, Don Mariano;
but your daughter still lives. She is in safety, and it was I who was
fortunate enough to tear her from her tortures, and from that _In pace_
in which she was thrust alive. I will restore your daughter to you, Don
Mariano, pure and uncontaminated as when I took her from her tomb."

Don Mariano, so fierce in grief, was unable to bear joy. The commotion
the news produced was so violent, that he rolled unconsciously on
the ground; clasping his hands fervently with a last effort to thank
Heaven for having granted him so much joy, after visiting him with so
much suffering. The gentleman's servants, aided by several Gambusinos,
hastened round him, and paid him all the attention his condition
demanded.

Don Miguel allowed time for the emotion produced by Don Mariano's fall
to calm, and then made a sign for silence. "It is now our turn, Don
Estevan," he said. "Furious at seeing one of your victims escape you,
you did not fear to pursue her even to this spot. Knowing that it was
I who saved her, you laid a snare for me, in which you hoped I should
perish. The hour has arrived to settle our accounts."

On seeing that he no longer had his brother as his adversary, Don
Estevan regained all his boldness and impudence. At this address he
drew himself up coldly, and fixed a sarcastic glance on the young man.
"Oh! oh!" he said ironically; "my good gentleman, you would not be
sorry to assassinate me, eh? so as to make me hold my tongue. Do you
fancy me the dupe of the fine sentiments you utter so complacently?
Yes, you saved my niece, that is true; and I should thank you for it,
did I not know you so thoroughly."

At these singular words, his hearers made a movement of surprise, which
did not escape Don Estevan's notice. Satisfied with the effect he found
he had produced, he went on.

The scoundrel had judged the question at the first glance. Unable
completely to exonerate himself, he resolved to turn the difficulty,
which he expected to do the more easily, because the only person
capable of contradicting him was unable to hear him and put matters
in the right light. He assumed a placid countenance, and said, with
affected honesty:--"Good heavens! not one of us is infallible. Who
does not commit an error, at least once in his life? Far from me be
the thought of lessening the opprobrium of the deed I am accused of.
Yes, I broke my pledged faith; I deceived my brother, the man to whom
I owed all. You see, Caballeros, that I do not attempt to exculpate
myself; but between that fault and the committal of a crime, there is
a vast difference, and, thanks to Heaven, I cannot be accused of an
assassination; and I throw back the responsibility of this shameful
deed on the right person."

"Who is that man?" Don Miguel asked, involuntarily astonished and
terrified by the fellow's cunning.

"Oh," he said, with imperturbable coolness, "I will throw the
responsibility on those too zealous people who ever understand much
more than they should understand, and who, either through covetousness
or some other motive, always go further than they ought. I confess that
I certainly desired to get hold of my brother's fortune; but I intended
to do so legally."

The Gambusinos, all scoundrels gifted with a marvellously elastic
conscience, which naturally rendered them very unscrupulous as to
deeds more or less reprehensible, were, however, terrified on hearing
such a theory. They asked each other, in a low voice, with the simple
credulity of semi-savages, if the man before them, who spoke thus, were
really their fellow being, or whether the Evil Spirit had not assumed
this shape in order to deceive them?

"Understand me clearly, Caballeros," Don Estevan continued, in a voice
growing, every moment firmer, "the Mother Superior of the Bernardines
is my relative, and has an unbounded affection for me. When I let her
see through my plans, she urged me to persevere, assuring me that
she knew an infallible means to make my projects succeed. I believed
her words the more easily, because these means were very simple,
and consisted in compelling my niece to take the veil. I looked no
further, I swear to you. Poor child, I loved her too dearly to desire
her death! All went on as I desired, though I in no way interfered;
my sister-in-law died; that death seemed to me perfectly natural,
after the numberless sorrows that had overpowered her. I am accused
of having poisoned her. It is false! Perhaps she was so; I will not
affirm the contrary; but in that case my relative must be accused of
the crime, whose object it was, evidently, to bring the fortune I
coveted nearer to my grasp. I wrote at once to my brother, telling him
of this death, which really grieved me; but he did not receive the
letter. I see nothing astonishing in that, because he was continually
going from town to town, as his fancy led him. I frequently went to
the convent to visit my niece; she seemed to me determined to take the
veil. The Mother Superior, for her part, incessantly told me not to
trouble myself about anything; hence I let matters go on without any
interference on my part. On the day my niece was to take the veil, I
went to the convent; then, something unusual and scandalous occurred.
At the moment of professing, the girl refused distinctly to become a
nun, and I retired in despair at this misadventure. In the evening, a
nun came to my house and told me that my niece, after a very violent
scene with the Mother Superior, had been attacked by congestion of the
brain, and died suddenly. This news caused me considerable grief. All
night I walked about my room, deploring the irreparable misfortune
which overwhelmed my unhappy brother. On reflection, a suspicion sprung
up in my mind. This death appeared to me peculiar, and I dreaded
a crime. In order to clear up my doubts, I hurried to the convent
at daybreak; there a fresh surprise awaited me. The community were
upset--terror was visible on every face. During the night a band of
armed men entered the convent; my niece was torn from her tomb and
carried off by these men, who at the same time took away a young
novice. Then, convinced that I was not deceived, and that a crime had
been committed, I shut myself up with the Mother Superior in her cell,
and, by menaces and entreaties, succeeded in dragging the truth from
her. My horror was extreme on learning that my unfortunate niece had
really been interred alive. One thing was left me to do; one duty to
fulfil. I must discover traces of her, rescue her, and restore her to
her father's arms. I did not hesitate, but set out two days later. That
is the entire truth; my conduct has been reprehensible, even culpable;
but, I swear it, it has not been criminal."

The audience had listened to this daring justification with icy
silence. When Don Estevan stopped speaking, not a sign of approval gave
him a hope of having convinced his hearers.

"Supposing--though I do not admit it, for there are too many proofs to
the contrary--that what you assert be true," Don Miguel answered him,
"for what reason did you wish to assassinate me, when I had saved her
whom you had wished to restore to her father's arms?"

"Do you not understand that?" Don Estevan exclaimed, in feigned
surprise. "Must I tell you everything?"

"Yes, everything," the young man answered, coldly.

"Well, yes, I did wish to assassinate you, because at the Presidio de
Tubar I was assured that you had only carried off my niece for the
purpose of dishonouring her. I wished to avenge on you the outrage I
believed you had done her."

Don Miguel turned pale at this insult. "Villain!" he shouted, in a
voice of thunder, "do you dare to utter such an atrocious calumny?"

The auditors had started in horror at Don Estevan's words, and, feeling
himself conquered, in spite of all his audacity, he was compelled to
bow his head beneath the weight of the general reprobation.

Marksman then rose. "Caballeros," he said, "you have heard the
accusation brought against this man by his brother. During the whole
time that accusation lasted, you remarked his countenance; now you have
heard his defence. We have allowed him to say what he pleased, without
trying to interrupt or intimidate him: the hour has now arrived to
pronounce judgment. It is always a serious thing to condemn a man, even
the worst of malefactors. Lynch law, you know as well as I, admits no
compromises; it kills or it acquits. Although chosen to try this man,
we will not alone assume the responsibility of the act. Reflect, then,
seriously before answering the questions I shall address to you, and,
before all, remember that on your answer depends the life or death of
this wretched man. Caballeros, on your soul and conscience, is this man
guilty?"

There was a moment of supreme silence; all the faces were grave, all
hearts beat forcibly. Don Estevan, with frowning brow, pale face, but
firm look--for he was brave--waited, a prey to an anxiety which he
could only conceal by the firmness of his will.

Marksman, after waiting several minutes, went on in a slow and solemn
voice,--"Caballeros, is this man guilty?"

"Yes!" all exclaimed, unanimously.

At this moment, Don Mariano, through the care of his servants,
was beginning to give signs of life, precursors of his return to
consciousness. Brighteye bent over to Marksman. "Is it right," he
whispered, "that Don Mariano should be present at his brother's
condemnation?"

"Certainly not," the old hunter said, quickly; "the more so, as
now that the first outbreak of wrath has passed, he would probably
intercede in his favour. But how shall we get him away?"

"I'll manage that, and take him to the Gambusinos' camp."

"Make haste!"

Brighteye rose, and walked to Bermudez, in whose ear he whispered a
few words; then the two servants, taking their master under the arms,
disappeared with him in the thickets, followed by the hunter and
Eglantine, to whom the Canadian had made a sign to come. In the state
of agitation and excitement the Gambusinos were in, no one noticed this
departure, and not even the sound of several horses going away was
heard.

Don Estevan alone noticed this removal, the purpose of which he
understood. "I am lost," he muttered.

Marksman made a sign, and silence was restored, as if by enchantment.
"What penalty does the culprit deserve?" he asked.

"Death!" the audience replied, like a funeral echo.

Then, turning to the condemned man, Marksman continued--"Don Estevan de
Real del Monte, you, who came into the desert with criminal intentions,
have fallen beneath the stroke of Lynch law; it is the law of God;
eye for eye, tooth for tooth; it admits of only one punishment, that
of retaliation; it is the primitive law of old times restored to
humanity. You condemned a hapless maiden to be buried alive, and perish
of hunger. You will also be buried alive, to die of hunger; but as
you might long call on death ere it came to your aid, we will give
you the means to put an end to your sufferings when the courage to
endure them longer fails you. We are more merciful than you were to
your unhappy victim; for you will be only interred up to the armpits,
your left arm will remain at liberty, and we will place within your
reach a pistol, with which you can blow out your brains when you have
suffered sufficiently. I have spoken. Is this sentence just?" he added,
addressing his audience.

"Yes," they said, in a low and concentrated voice. "Eye for eye, tooth
for tooth!"

Don Estevan had listened with horror to the old hunter's words; the
fearful punishment to which he was condemned had struck him with
stupor; for though he expected death, that prepared for him seemed
so frightful, that at first he could not believe it; still, when he
saw, at a sign from Marksman, two Gambusinos set to work digging a
hole, his hair stood upright with terror, an icy perspiration beaded
on his temples, and he cried, in a hoarse voice, as he clasped his
hands,--"Oh, not that atrocious death, I implore you; kill me at once!"

"You are condemned, and must endure your punishment, such as it was
pronounced," the old hunter answered.

"Oh, give me the pistol you promised me, that I may blow out my brains
on the spot. You will be avenged."

"We are not taking vengeance; the pistol will be left you when we
depart."

"Oh, you are implacable!" he said, as he fell to the ground, where he
writhed in impotent rage.

"We are just," Marksman merely answered.

Don Estevan, having arrived at the height of fury, leaped up suddenly,
and, bounding like a jaguar, rushed head down, against a tree, with the
intention of dashing out his brains. But the Gambusinos watched his
movements too closely to let him carry out his desperate resolve; they
seized, and, despite his obstinate resistance and wild ravings, they
bound him, and rendered it impossible for him to make a movement. His
wrath then changed to despair. "Oh!" he shouted, "were my brother here,
he would save me. Oh, heavens! Mariano, help me, help me!"

Marksman walked up to him.

"You are about to be placed in your grave," he said to him. "Have you
any final arrangements to make?"

"Then this horrible punishment is true?" he said, wildly.

"It is true."

"You must be wild beasts, then."

"We are your judges."

"Oh, let me live, be it only for a day!"

"You are condemned."

"Maldición on you, demons with human faces! Assassins, who gives you
the right to kill me?"

"By the right every man possesses to crush a serpent. For the last
time, have you any arrangements to make?"

Don Estevan, crushed by this fearful contest, kept silence for an
instant; then two tears slowly dropped from his fever-burned eyes, and
he murmured in a gentle, almost childlike voice,--"Oh, my sons, my poor
darlings! What will become of you when I am no longer here?"

"Make haste," the hunter said.

Don Estevan fixed a haggard eye upon him. "I have two sons," he said,
speaking as in a dream; "they have only me left, alas! and I am about
to die! Listen, if you are not utterly a wild beast. Swear to perform
what I ask of you?"

The hunter felt moved by this poignant grief.

"I swear it," he said.

The condemned seemed to be collecting his ideas. "Paper and a pencil,"
he said.

Marksman still held the portfolio; he tore a leaf from it, and gave it
to him, with the pencil.

Don Estevan smiled bitterly at the sight of his portfolio. He clutched
the paper, and hurriedly wrote a few lines, which he gave to the
hunter. An extraordinary change had taken place in the prisoner's face;
his features were calm, his glance gentle and suppliant. "Here," he
said, "I count on your word. Take this letter; it is for my brother.
I recommend my children to him; it is for their sake I am dying. No
matter! if they are happy, I shall have attained my object--that is all
I want. My brother is good; he will not abandon the unhappy orphans I
leave as a heritage to him. I implore you, give him that paper."

"Within an hour it shall be in his hands; I swear it!"

"Thanks. Now do with me what you please; I care little. I have insured
the welfare of my children; that was all I wished for."

The hole had been dug. Two Gambusinos seized Don Estevan, and lowered
him into it. When he was standing upright in the hole, the ground was
just on a level with his armpits; his right arm was fastened along his
side, the other left free. Then the earth was piled up around this
living man, who was already no more than a corpse. When the hole was
filled up, a Gambusino approached the condemned man with a scarf.

"What are you going to do?" he asked in terror, though he guessed the
man's purpose.

"To gag you," the Gambusino said, brutally.

"Oh!" he remarked.

He allowed himself to be gagged without resistance, and was, indeed,
hardly conscious of what was being done with him. Marksman then placed
a pistol under the wretch's quivering hand, and took off his hat. "Don
Estevan," he said, in a grave and solemn voice, "men have condemned
you. Pray to God that He may be merciful to you, for you have no hope
but in Him."

The hunters and Gambusinos then remounted their horses, extinguished
the torches, and disappeared in the darkness, like a legion of black
phantoms. The culprit was left alone in the gloom, which his remorse
peopled with hideous spectres. With neck stretched out, eyes widely
dilated, and ears on the watch, he looked and listened. So long as he
heard the echo of the horses' footfalls in the distance, a wild hope
still filled his soul; he waited--he expected. What did he await--what
expect? He could not have said, himself; but man is so constituted.
Gradually every sound died out, and Don Estevan at length found himself
alone, in the heart of an unknown desert, with no hope of help from
anyone. Then he uttered a profound sigh, closed his hand on the pistol,
and placed the icy muzzle against his temple, muttering for the last
time the name of his children.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the meantime the Gambusinos withdrew, a prey to that feeling of
undefinable uneasiness which involuntarily contracts the heart of
every man, when he has accomplished an act in which he knows that he
had, perhaps, no right to take the initiative--even when recognizing
its necessity and even strict justice. No one spoke; all heads were
bowed. They rode along, gloomy and thoughtful, by each other's side,
not daring to interchange their reflections, and listening to the
mysterious sounds of the solitude. They had just reached the last
limits of the forest covert: before them the waters of the Rubio
glistened like a long, silver ribbon in the pale moonlight. They had
gained the ford, when suddenly the distant explosion of a firearm
resounded hoarsely, driven back by the echoes of the Quebradas.
Instinctively these men, for all they were so brave and well tried,
shuddered, and stopped with a movement of stupor--almost of terror.
There was a minute of ghostly silence. Marksman understood that he must
break the gloomy dream which weighed like remorse on all these men.
Hence, masking with some difficulty the emotion that almost choked him,
he said, in a grave voice:--"Brothers! the vengeance of the desert is
satisfied. The scoundrel we condemned has at length done justice on
himself."

There is in the human voice a strange and incomprehensible power. The
few words uttered by the Scout sufficed to restore to all these men
their pristine energy.

"May heaven be merciful to him!" Don Miguel responded.

"Amen!" the Gambusinos said, crossing themselves piously.

From this moment the heavy weight that oppressed them was removed; the
culprit was dead. The unpleasant logic of an accomplished fact once
again justified Lynch Law, and at the same time stifled regret and
remorse, by putting an end to the cruel uncertainty which had hitherto
oppressed them.

Don Stefano once dead, the girl he had so pitilessly pursued was saved,
in the eyes of these iron-hearted men: this reason alone was sufficient
to extinguish in them all pity for the criminal. A sudden reaction took
place in them, and their rebel natures, momentarily subdued, rose again
stronger and more implacable than ever.

At a signal from the Canadian, the party recommenced their march, and
soon disappeared among the sandhills which cover the banks of the Rubio
ford. The desert, for an instant troubled by the sound of the horses'
feet on the pebbles, fell back into its calm and majestic silence.



CHAPTER XXI.

BRIGHTEYE.


Brighteye, as we mentioned, aided by the two servants, had succeeded in
carrying off Don Mariano, who was still in a half-fainting state, in
order to spare him the atrocious sight of his brother's execution. The
motion and the night air rapidly restored the old gentleman to life. On
opening his eyes, his first word, after looking around him to see where
he was, was to ask about his brother. No one answered; the people who
led him along redoubled their speed.

"Stay!" Don Mariano then shouted, as he rose with an effort, and tore
the bridle from the hands of his leader. "Stop--I insist!"

"Are you in a condition to manage your own horse?" Brighteye asked him.

"Yes," he replied.

"Then we will let loose; but on one condition."

"What is it?"

"That you will promise to follow us."

"Am I your prisoner, then?"

"Oh, no! far from that!"

"Why, then, is this attempt to force my will?"

"We are merely acting on your behalf."

"How am I here?"

"Cannot you guess?"

"I am waiting for your explanation."

"We did not wish that, after accusing your brother, you should witness
his execution."

Don Mariano, overpowered, let his head droop, sadly. "Is he dead?" he
asked, with a shudder.

"Not yet," Brighteye answered.

The hunter's accent was so gloomy, his face so mournful, that the
Mexican gentleman was struck with terror. "Oh, you have killed him!" he
muttered.

"No," Brighteye answered, drily, "he must die by his own hand. He will
kill himself."

"Oh! that is horrible! In Heaven's name tell me all; I prefer the
truth, however fearful it may be, to this frightful uncertainty."

"Why describe the same to you? You will know all the details only too
well presently."

"Very good," Don Mariano answered, resolutely, as he stopped his horse;
"I know what is left me to do."

Brighteye looked at him in a very peculiar manner, and laid his hand
on his bridle. "Take care," he said, drily, "not to let yourself be
carried away by the first impulse, which is always unreflecting, and
regret presently what you have done tonight."

"Still, I cannot let my brother perish," he exclaimed; "I should be a
fratricide."

"No! for he has been justly condemned. You were only the instrument
Divine Justice employed to punish a criminal."

"Oh! your spurious arguments will not convince me, my master. If, in a
moment of passion and senseless hatred, I forgot the ties that attached
me to that unhappy man, now that I see and understand all the horror of
my action, I will repair the evil I have done."

Brighteye pressed his arm forcibly, leaned over to his ear, and
said:--"Silence! you will destroy him by trying to save him. It is not
your place to try it; leave that to others."

Don Mariano tried to read in the hunter's eye the determination he
seemed to have formed, and, letting go of the bridle, he went on with
a thoughtful air. A quarter of an hour later, they reached the Rubio
ford. They stopped on the bank of the river, which, having fallen back
into its narrow bed, flowed on calmly and gently at this moment.

"Go to the camp," Brighteye said; "it is useless for me to accompany
you further. I am going," he added, with a significant glance at Don
Mariano, "to join the Gambusinos. Continue your road gently, and you
will arrive at the camp only a few minutes before us."

"Then you return?" Don Mariano asked.

"Yes!" Brighteye answered; "good-bye for the present."

"For the present!" the old gentleman said, as he held out his hand.
The hunter took it, and pressed it cordially. Don Mariano urged
his horse into the water, and his servants silently imitated him.
Brighteye remained motionless on the bank, and watched them cross. Don
Mariano turned, waved his hand to him, and the three men disappeared
in the tall grass. So soon as they were out of sight, Brighteye
turned his horse round, and regained the covert of the virgin forest.
The hunter seemed to be sadly troubled with thought. At length, on
reaching a certain spot, he halted and looked around, inquiringly
and suspiciously. The deepest silence and most complete tranquillity
prevailed all round him.

"It must be!" the hunter muttered. "Not to do it would be worse than a
crime, for it would be cowardice. Well, Heaven will judge between us."

After again carefully examining the neighbourhood, probably reassured
by the silence and solitude, he dismounted, took off his horse's bridle
to let it graze at its ease, hobbled it lest it should stray too far,
threw his rifle over his shoulder, and cautiously entered the forest.

The hunter was doubtlessly ruminating on one of those schemes whose
execution demands the continual tension of a man's faculties, for his
progress was slow and calculated, his eye constantly peered into the
gloom. With head outstretched, he listened to the nameless sounds
of the desert, stopping at times when an unusual rustling in the
brambles struck his ear, and revealed to him the presence of some
unknown being. Suddenly he stopped, remained for a second motionless,
and then disappeared in an inextricable medley of leaves, brambles,
and creepers, in which his presence could not possibly be suspected.
Scarcely was he hidden, ere the hoofs of several horses reechoed in the
distance, beneath the dense dome of forest verdure. Gradually the sound
came nearer, the steps grew more distinct, and a band of horsemen at
length appeared, marching in close column. They were the hunters and
Gambusinos.

Marksman was conversing in a low voice with Don Miguel, carried on a
litter on the shoulders of two Mexicans, for he was still too weak to
sit a horse. The little party advanced gently, owing to the wounded man
they had in their midst, and were proceeding toward the Rubio ford.

Brighteye watched his comrades pass, without making a movement to
reveal his presence. It was evident that he wished them to remain
ignorant of the fact that he had turned back, and that the motives
which impelled him to act must remain a secret between him and Heaven.
It was in vain that he looked for Flying Eagle and Eglantine among
the Gambusinos: the two Redskins had separated from the band. This
absence appeared greatly to vex the hunter. Still, after a minute, his
face resumed its serenity, and he shrugged his shoulders with that
careless air which indicates that a man has put up with an annoyance
against which he cannot contend. When the Gambusinos had disappeared,
the hunter emerged from his hiding place: he listened for a moment to
the sound of the horses' hoofs, which grew every moment weaker, and
soon died out in the distance. Brighteye drew himself up. "Good!" he
muttered, with an air of satisfaction; "I can now act as I please,
without fear of being disturbed, unless Flying Eagle and his squaw have
remained prowling about the place. Bah! we shall soon see; besides,
that is not probable, for the Chief is too anxious to rejoin his tribe,
to amuse himself by losing his time here. I will go on, at any rate."

With this, he threw his rifle on his shoulder, and set out again with
a light and deliberate step, though not neglecting the precautions
usual in the desert on any march; for, by night, the wood rangers know
that they are ever watched by invisible foes, be they men or beasts.
Brighteye thus reached the skirt of the clearing, in which the dramatic
events we have described took place, and in which there only remained
at this moment a man buried alive, face to face with his crimes,
with no hope of possible help, and abandoned by all nature, if not
by Heaven. The hunter stopped, lay down on the ground, and looked. A
funeral silence, the silence of the tomb, brooded over the clearing.
Don Estevan, with eyes dilated by fear, his chest oppressed by the
earth, which collected round his body, with a slow and continuous
movement, felt the breath gradually departing from his lungs, his
temples beat ready to burst, the blood boiled in his veins, drops of
icy perspiration beaded at the roots of his hair, a bloodstained veil
was stretched over his eyes, and he felt himself dying.

At this supreme moment, when all deserted him at once, the wretched man
uttered a hoarse and piercing cry; tears burst from his proud eyes; his
hand, as we have stated, nervously clutched the butt of the pistol left
to abridge his punishment, and he raised the barrel to his temples,
muttering, with an accent of indescribable despair--"Heaven! Heaven!
pardon me!"

He pulled the trigger. Suddenly a hand was laid on his arm, the bullet
whizzed into the air, and a severe yet gentle voice replied--"God has
heard you. He pardons you!"

The wretch turned his head wildly, looked, with an air of terror, at
the man who spoke thus, and, too weak to resist the terrible emotion
that agitated him, he uttered a cry resembling a sob, and fainted.

As the reader will doubtlessly have guessed, the man who arrived so
opportunely for Don Estevan was Brighteye. "Hum!" he said, with a shake
of his head, "it was time for me to interfere."

Then, without losing a moment, the worthy fellow busied himself with
drawing from his tomb the man he wished to save. It was a rude task,
especially as he lacked the necessary tools. The Gambusinos had
laboured conscientiously, and filled up the hole in such a way that the
man they were burying was solidly blocked in.

Brighteye was compelled to dig with his knife, while using the utmost
precautions not to wound Don Estevan. At times the hunter stopped,
wiped his perspiring brow, and looked at the pale face of the Mexican,
who was still in a faint; then, after a few moments of this silent
contemplation, he shook his head two or three times, and set to work
again with redoubled ardour.

These two men in the desert, surrounded by dense gloom, offered a
strange spectacle. Certainly, had a wayfarer been able to see what
was taking place in this unknown clearing, in the heart of the virgin
forest, peopled by wild beasts, whose hoarse roars rose at intervals
in the darkness, as if protesting against this invasion of their
domain--he would have fancied himself witness of some diabolical
incantation, and have fled at full speed, a prey to the wildest terror.
Still Brighteye went on digging. His task progressed but slowly,
because, in proportion as he went deeper, his difficulties grew greater.

For a moment the hunter stopped, in despair of succeeding in saving
the condemned man; but this moment of discouragement lasted a very
short time. The Canadian, ashamed of the thought, began digging again
with that feverish energy which the reaction of a powerful will upon
a passing weakness imparts to a man of resolution. At length, after
extraordinary difficulties, the task, twenty times interrupted and
twenty times recommenced, was completed. The hunter uttered a shout of
triumph and pleasure; he then seized Don Estevan under the armpits,
drew him vigorously towards him, and, with some trouble, succeeded in
laying him on the ground. His first task was to cut asunder the bonds
that formed an inextricable network round the wretch's body; he opened
his clothes, to give his lungs the necessary freedom to inhale the
external air, then half filled a calabash of water from his gourd,
and threw the contents over Don Estevan's face. The fainting fit had
been produced by the emotion he felt on seeing a saviour arrive at the
moment when he believed that he had nought left but to die. The sudden
shock of the cold water effected a favourable reaction; he gave out a
sigh, and opened his eyes.

His first movement, on regaining consciousness, was to look defiantly
up to heaven; then he held out his hand to Brighteye. "Thanks!" he said
to him.

The hunter fell back, and declined to take the proffered hand. "You
must not thank me," he said.

"Who then?"

"God!"

Don Estevan drew in his pale lips contemptuously; but soon
understanding that he must deceive his saviour, if he wished for a
continuance of that protection which he cared not yet to do without, he
said, with feigned humility--"That is true. God first, and you next."

"I," Brighteye continued, "have only performed a duty--paid a debt;
now we are quits. Ten years ago, you rendered me an important service;
today I have saved your life. I discharge you from all gratitude, and
you must do the same with me. From this hour we no longer know each
other--our ways are different."

"Will you abandon me thus?" he said, with a movement of terror, which
he could not overcome.

"What more can I do?"

"All!"

"I do not understand you."

"It would have been better to leave me to die in the hole, into which
you helped to place me, than save me to die of hunger in the desert,
become the prey of wild beasts, or fall into the hands of the Indians.
You know, Brighteye, that on the prairies a disarmed man is a dead
man; you do not save me at this moment, but render my agony longer and
more painful, since the weapon which, in their cruel generosity, your
friends left me to put an end to my misfortunes, when courage and hope
failed me, can no longer serve me at present."

"That is true," Brighteye muttered.

The hunter let his head sink on his chest, and reflected deeply for
several seconds. Don Estevan anxiously followed in the loyal and
characteristic face of the hunter all the emotions by turns reflected
there. The Canadian continued--"You are right in asking me for weapons.
If you are deprived of them, you run the risk of being, in a few hours,
in a similar position to that from which I took you."

"You allow it."

"By Jove! there is no doubt about it."

"Then be generous to the end. Give me the means of defending myself."
The hunter shook his head.

"I did not think of that," he said.

"Which means, that had you thought of it, you would have let me die."

"Perhaps so."

This word fell like the blow of a sledgehammer on Don Estevan's heart.
He gave the hunter a suspicious glance. "What you say, then, is not
well," he remarked.

"What would you have me answer you?" the other retorted. "In my eyes
you were justly condemned. I ought to have let justice follow its
course. I did not do so. Perhaps I was wrong. Now that I regard the
matter in cool blood, while allowing that you are right in asking me
for arms, and that it is indispensable for you to have them, in the
first place for your personal safety, and next to provide for your
wants, I am afraid to give them to you."

Don Estevan had sat down by the hunter's side; he was playing
carelessly with the discharged pistol, and appearing to listen very
attentively to what Brighteye was saying. "Why so?" he answered.

"Well, for a very simple reason. I have known you for a long time, as
you are well aware, Don Estevan. I know that you are not the man to
forget an insult. I am convinced that, if I give you arms, you will
only think of vengeance, and it is that I wish to avoid."

"As for that," the Mexican exclaimed, with a fiendish laugh, "you can
only think of one method--leaving me to die of hunger. Oh, oh, yours
is singular philanthropy, _compañero!_ You have rather a brutal way
of arranging matters for a man who piques himself on his honour and
loyalty."

"You do not understand me. I will not give you arms--that is true;
but, at the same time, I will not leave the service I have done you
incomplete."

"Hum! and what will you do to effect that result? I am curious to know
it," Don Estevan said, with a grin.

"I will escort you to the frontiers of the prairie, guarding you from
all danger during the journey, defending you, and hunting for you. That
is simple enough, I believe."

"Very simple, indeed; and, on getting there, I will purchase arms, and
return to seek my revenge."

"Not so."

"Why not?"

"Because you will swear to me on the spot, by your honour, to forget
every feeling of hatred toward your enemy, and never to return to the
prairie."

"And if I will not swear?"

"Then it will be different. I shall leave you to your fate; and as that
will have happened by your own fault, I shall consider myself entirely
quits with you."

"Oh! oh! but assuming that I accept the harsh conditions you force on
me, I must know how we are to travel. The road is long from here to the
establishments, and I am not in a condition to go afoot."

"That is true, but need not trouble you. I have left my horse in a
thicket, a few paces from the Rubio. You will ride it till I can
procure another."

"And you?"

"I will follow on foot. We hunters are as good, walkers as riders.
Come, make up your mind."

"Well, I must do what you desire."

"Yes; I believe that is the best for you. Then you consent to take the
oath I demand?"

"I see no way of getting out of the scrape otherwise. But," he
suddenly said, "what is the matter behind that tree?"

"Where?" the hunter asked.

"Over there," Don Estevan continued, pointing in the direction of a
dense clump of trees.

The hunter turned his head quickly towards the spot indicated by the
Mexican. The latter lost no time in seizing the pistol he had been
playing with by the end. He raised it quickly, and dealt a blow with
the butt on the hunter's head. The blow was given with such force and
precision, that Brighteye stretched out his arms, closed his eyes, and
rolled on the ground with a heavy sigh.

Don Estevan regarded him for a moment with an expression of contempt
and satisfied hatred, "Idiot!" he muttered, kicking him aside, "you
ought to have made those absurd conditions before saving me; but for
the present it is too late. I am free, _Cuerpo de Cristo!_ I will
avenge myself."

After uttering these words, and looking up to heaven defiantly, he bent
over the hunter, stripped him of his weapons without the slightest
shame, and left him, not even stopping to see were he dead or only
wounded. "It is you, accursed dog!" he went on, "who will die of
hunger, or be devoured by wild beasts. As for myself, I no longer fear
anything, for I have in my hands the means to accomplish my vengeance."

And the wretch walked hurriedly from the clearing to look for
Brighteye's horse, which he intended to mount.



CHAPTER XXII.

THE CAMP.


The Gambusinos reached their camp a little before sunrise. During their
absence, the few men left in charge of the entrenchments had not been
disturbed.

Don Mariano awaited the return of the Mexicans with lively impatience.
So soon as he saw them, he went to meet them.

Marksman was gloomy. The reception he gave the gentleman, though
cordial, was still rather dry. The hunter, although convinced he had
accomplished a duty in condemning Don Estevan, was for all that sad,
when thinking of the responsibility he had taken on himself in the
affair.

It is one thing to kill a man in action while defending one's life,
in the midst of the intoxication of battle, another to try and coldly
execute an individual against whom no personal motive of hatred or
anger is felt. The old Canadian, in his heart, feared Don Mariano's
reproaches. He knew the human heart too well not to be assured that the
gentleman, when he regarded in cold blood the action he had excited the
Gambusinos to commit, would detest it, and curse the docile instruments
he had found. However great Don Estevan's crimes against Don Mariano
might be, however cruel his conduct, it was not his brother's place to
accuse him, or to demand his death at the hands of these implacable
men, in whom all feelings of clemency are extinguished through the
rough life they are forced to lead.

Now that some hours had elapsed since Don Estevan's condemnation,
Marksman, who had begun to reflect again, and was able to regard that
action under a different light, had asked himself if he really had the
right to act as he had done, and if what he took for a deed of stern
and strict justice were not an assassination and disguised vengeance.
Hence he expected that Don Mariano, on seeing him, would reproach him,
and ask his brother's life at his hands.

The hunter prepared to answer the questions Don Mariano was doubtless
going to address to him; and so soon as he perceived him, his brow,
already troubled by sad thoughts, grew even more overcast. But Marksman
was mistaken, not a reproach, not a word having reference to the
judgment passed Don Mariano's lips; not an allusion, however remote,
caused the hunter to suspect that the gentleman intended to attack that
delicate subject.

The Canadian breathed again; but during the few moments they occupied
in returning to the camp side by side, he took a side glance at Don
Mariano's face. The old gentleman was pale and sad, but his countenance
was calm, and his features apathetic.

The hunter shook his head. "He is turning over some scheme in his
mind," he muttered, in a low voice.

So soon as the camp was entered, and the barriers were closed again
behind the Gambusinos, Don Miguel, after placing sentries at the
entrenchments, turned to Marksman and Don Mariano. "The sun will rise
in about two hours," he said to them; "deign to accept my hospitality,
and accompany me to my tent."

The two men bowed. Don Miguel made his bearers a sign to place the
litter on the ground. He rose, helped by Marksman, and leaning on the
hunter's arm, entered the tent, followed by Don Mariano. The curtain
fell behind them.

The Gambusinos, wearied with their night march, had hastened to
unsaddle their horses and give them food. Then, after throwing some
handfuls of dried wood on the fires, in order to revive the flame,
they wrapped themselves in their frasadas and zarapés, and lay down
on the ground, where they speedily fell asleep. Ten minutes after the
adventurers' return, they were all in the deepest sleep. Three men
alone were awake, and they were assembled in the tent, and holding a
conversation, at which we will invite the reader to be present.

The interior of the tent into which Don Miguel had introduced his two
companions was furnished in the most simple fashion. In one corner was
the hermetically closed palanquin; in the opposite one, several furs
stretched on the ground marked the place of a bed; four or five buffalo
skulls served as chairs; it was impossible to meet with anything so
simple and less comfortable than this.

Don Miguel threw himself on the bed, bidding his comrades, by a
graceful bow, to sit down on the buffalo skulls. Marksman and Don
Mariano drew them up by their host's side, and sat down silently. Don
Miguel then took the word. "Caballeros," he said, "the events which
have occurred this night, to which I shall not further allude, require
to be clearly explained, especially in the provision of the probable
complications which may result from them in the affairs which, I hope,
we shall undertake ere long. What I have to say regards and interests
you peculiarly, Don Mariano. Hence I address myself principally to
you. As for Marksman, he knows pretty nearly all the connecting links
of what I am about to tell you. If I beg him to be present at the
interview I wish to have with you, it is first owing to the old
friendship that unites us, and secondly, because his advice will be of
great help to us in the further resolutions we shall have to take."

Don Mariano looked at the adventurer in a way which made him comprehend
that he understood not a syllable of this long prelude.

"Do you not remember, Don Mariano," the Canadian then said, "that
before sending Brighteye to the camp to fetch Don Miguel, I told you
that you were ignorant of the most interesting portion of the history?"

"Yes; I remember it, although, at the moment, I did not attach to the
statement all the value it deserved."

"Well, if I am not mistaken, Don Miguel is about to explain these
frightful machinations to you in a few words." Then he added, as if
on reflection, "There is one man I should like to see here. It is
important that he should know the whole truth also; but since our
return to the camp I have not seen him."

"Whom do you mean?"

"Brighteye, whom I asked to accompany you here."

"He did so; but on reaching the camp, as he doubtlessly supposed that I
had no further need of his protection, he left me."

"Did he not tell you for what object?" the hunter asked, looking firmly
at the old gentleman.

Don Mariano, in his heart, was troubled by this inquiry; but wishing
to leave to Brighteye the care of explaining his absence, and not at
all desirous of avowing his wish to save his brother, he replied, with
a degree of hesitation he could not entirely conceal,--"No; he told
me nothing, I fancied that he had joined you again, and am as much
surprised as yourself at his absence."

Marksman frowned slightly. "That is strange," he said. "However," he
added, "he will not fail to return soon, and then we shall know what
he has been about."

"Yes. Now, Don Miguel, I am at your orders. Speak; I am listening to
you attentively," Don Mariano said, not at all wishful to see the
conversation continued on that subject.

"Give me my real name, Don Mariano," the young man answered, "for it
will perhaps inspire you with some confidence in me. I am neither Don
Torribio Carvajal, nor Don Miguel Ortega. My right name is Don Leo de
Torres."

"Leo de Torres!" Don Mariano exclaimed, rising with stupefaction. "The
son of my dearest friend."

"It is so," the young man answered, simply.

"But no; that is not possible. Basilio de Torres was massacred, with
his entire family, by the Apache Indians, amid the smoking ruins of his
hacienda, twenty years ago."

"I am the son of Don Basilio de Torres," the adventurer continued.
"Look at me carefully, Don Mariano. Do not my features remind you of
anyone?"

The gentleman approached, laid his hand on the adventurer's shoulder,
and examined him for a few moments with the profoundest attention. "It
is true," he then said, with tears in his eyes, "the resemblance is
extraordinary. Yes, yes," he exclaimed, impetuously; "I now recognize
you."

"Oh!" the young man continued, with a smile, "I have in my possession
the documents that guarantee my identity. But," he said, "that is not
the question. Let us return to what I wished to say to you."

"How is it that since the fearful catastrophe which made you an orphan,
I never heard any mention of you? I, the best friend, almost the
brother of your father, I should have been so happy to provide for
you."

Don Leo, to whom we will henceforth give his real name, frowned; his
brow was furrowed with deep wrinkles. He answered, with a sorrowful
accent and trembling voice,--"Thank you, Don Mariano, for the
friendship you evince for me. Believe that I am worthy of it; but, I
implore you, let me keep in my heart the secret of my silence. One day,
I trust, I shall be permitted to speak, and then I will tell you all."

Don Mariano pressed his hand. "Act as you think proper," he said, with
deep emotion; "only remember one thing--that you have found in me the
father you lost."

The young man turned his head away to conceal the tears he felt rising
in his eyes. There was a lengthened silence without; the barking of
the coyotes alone disturbed at intervals the imposing solitude of the
desert. The interior of the tent was only lighted by a torch of ocote
wood fixed in the ground, whose flickering flame played on the faces
of the three men with shadows and lights which imprinted on their
countenances a strange and fantastic expression.

"The sky is beginning to be studded with broad white bands," Don Leo
continued: "the owls hidden beneath the leaves are saluting the return
of day; the sun is about to rise; permit me, in a few words, to explain
to you the facts with which you are unacquainted; for if I believe my
presentiments, we shall soon have to act vigorously, in order to repair
the ill deeds committed by Don Estevan."

The two men bowed in affirmation. Don Leo went on:--"Certain reasons,
unnecessary to give here, led me to Mexico a few months ago. Owing to
those reasons, I led rather a singular life, frequenting the worst
society, and mingling, when the occasion offered, in society more or
less corrupt, according as you understand my words. Do not believe,
from what I have said, that I was engaged in any criminal operations,
for you would commit a grave error. I merely, like a goodly number of
my countrymen, carried on certain contraband trade; perhaps regarded
with an evil eye by government officials, but which had nothing very
reprehensible about it."

Marksman and Don Mariano exchanged a glance; they understood, or
fancied they did. Don Leo feigned not to notice this glance.

"One of the places I frequented most assiduously," he said, "was the
Plaza Mayor. There I visited an evangelista, a man of about fifty, half
Jew, half pawnbroker, who, under a venerable appearance, concealed the
most venal soul and most corrupt mind. This thorough scamp, through
the thousand secret negotiations he carried on, and his duties of
evangelista, was thoroughly acquainted with the secrets of an infinite
number of families, and all the infamies daily committed in that
immense capital. One day, when I happened to be in his shop at the
Oración, a young girl entered. She was lovely, and seemed respectable.
She trembled like a leaf on entering the scoundrel's den; the latter
put on his most captivating smile, and obsequiously asked how he could
serve her. She turned a timid glance around, and noticed me. I know not
why, I scented a mystery. I pretended to be asleep, with my head on the
table, and my forehead resting on my crossed arms."

"'That man!' she said, pointing to me."

"'Oh!' the evangelista answered, 'he is intoxicated with pulque; he is
a poor sergeant, of no importance; besides, he is asleep.'"

"She hesitated; then, seeming suddenly to form a resolution, she drew a
small paper from her bosom."

"'Copy that,' she said to the evangelista, 'and I will give you two
ounces.'"

"The old villain seized the paper, and looked at it."

"'But it is not Castilian,' he said."

"'It is French,' she answered, 'But what consequence is it to you?'"

"'To me, none.'"

"He prepared his paper and pens, and copied the note without further
observation. When it was finished, the girl compared the two notes,
gave a smile of satisfaction, tore up the original, folded the note,
and dictated a short address to the evangelista. Then she placed the
letter in her bosom, and went out, after paying the agreed on price,
which the evangelista seized gaily, for he had gained more in a few
minutes than he usually did in a month. The girl had scarce departed,
ere I raised my head: but the evangelista made me a sign to re-assume
my position. He had heard the key turning in his door. I obeyed, and
lucky it was I did so, for a man entered almost immediately. This man
evidently desired not to be known. He was carefully wrapped up in a
large rebozo, and the brim of his sombrero was pulled down over his
eyes. On entering, he gave an angry start."

"'Who is that man?' he asked, pointing to me."

"'I A poor drunkard asleep.'"

"'A young girl has just left here.'"

"'It is possible,' the evangelista answered, put on his guard by the
question."

"'No ambiguous phrases, scoundrel,' the stranger answered haughtily.
'I know you, and pay you,' he added, as he threw a heavy purse on the
table. 'Answer!'"

"The evangelista quivered. All his scruples disappeared at the sight of
the gold sparkling through the meshes of the purse."

"'A young girl has just left here?' the stranger continued."

"'Yes.'"

"'What did she want of you?'"

"'To copy a letter written in French.'"

"'Very good. Show me the letter.'"

"'She folded it up, wrote an address, and took it away.'"

"'I know all that.'"

"'Well?'"

"'Well!' the stranger retorted, with a grin, 'as you are no fool, you
kept a copy of the note, and that copy I must have.'"

"The man's voice had struck me. I could not tell why. As his back
was almost turned to me, I made the evangelista a sign, which he
understood."

"'I did not think of that,' he answered."

"He assumed such a simple face as he said this, that the stranger was
deceived. He made a move of annoyance. At length he said,--'She will
return.'"

"'I do not know.'"

"The stranger shrugged his shoulders. 'I know it though. Every time she
comes, you will keep a copy of what she makes you write. The answers
will come here?'"

"'Not to my knowledge.'"

"'You will not deliver them till you have shown them to me. I shall
return tomorrow; and do not be such a fool as you have been today, if
you wish me to make your fortune.'"

"The evangelista grinned a smile. The stranger turned to go away. At
this moment the corner of his cloak caught in the table, and I saw his
face. I needed all my self-command not to utter a cry on recognizing
him, for it was Don Estevan, your brother. He drew his cloak over his
face again with a stifled curse, and went away. He had scarce gone
ere I leaped up. I bolted the door, and placed myself in front of the
evangelista. 'It is now our turn,' I said to him."

"He made a movement of terror. My face had a terrible expression, which
made him fall back against the wall, clutching the purse he had just
received, and which he doubtless supposed I wished to take from him."

"'I am a poor old man,' he said to me."

"'Where is the copy you refused that man?' I said sharply."

"He bent down to his desk, took the copy, and handed it to me,
trembling. I read it with a shudder, for I understood."

"'Stay,' I said, giving him an ounce; 'every time you will hand me
the young lady's note, I allow you to show it also to that man. But
remember this carefully; not one of the answers written by the person
who has just left will be handed by you to the lady until I have read
it. I am not so rich as that stranger, still I can pay you properly.
You know me. I have only one thing more to say. If you betray me, I
will kill you like a dog.'"

"I went out, and, as I closed the door, I heard the evangelista mutter
to himself, 'Santa Viring, into what wasp's nest have I got?'"

"This is the key of the mystery. The young lady I saw at the
evangelista's was a novice in the convent of the Bernardines, where
your daughter was. Doña Laura, not knowing in whom to confide, had
begged her to let Don Francisco de Paulo Serrano know--"

"My brother-in-law! her godfather!" Don Mariano exclaimed.

"The same," Don Leo continued. "She had, I said, desired her friend,
Doña Luisa, to let señor Serrano receive the note, in which she
revealed to him her uncle's criminal machinations, and the persecutions
to which she was exposed, while imploring him, as her father's best
friend, to come to her aid, and take her under his protection."

"Oh, my poor child!" Don Mariano murmured.

"Don Estevan," Don Leo continued, "had by some means learned your
daughter's intentions. In order to be thoroughly acquainted with her
plans, and be able to overthrow them at the right moment, he pretended
to be entirely ignorant of them; let the young girl carry the letters
to the evangelista, reading the copies, and answering them himself, for
the simple reason that señor Serrano did not receive your daughter's
letters, because Don Estevan had bought his valet, who gave them to
him with seals unbroken. This skilful perfidy would doubtless have
succeeded, had not accident, or rather providence, placed me so
fortunately in the evangelista's shop."

"Oh!" Don Mariano muttered, "the man was a monster."

"No," Don Leo remarked; "circumstances compelled him to go much further
than he perhaps intended. Nothing proves that he meditated the death of
your daughter."

"What would he then?"

"Your fortune. By forcing Doña Laura to take the veil, he gained his
object. Unfortunately, as always happens when a man enters on that
thorny path which fatally leads to crime, although he had coldly
calculated all the chances of success, he could not foresee my
intervention in the execution of his plans--an intervention which must
make them fail, and compel him to commit a crime, in order to ensure
success. Doña Laura, persuaded that Don Francisco's protection would
not fail her, scrupulously followed the advice I sent her by means of
letters I myself wrote in the name of the friend she addressed. For my
own part, I held myself in readiness to act when the moment arrived. I
will enter into no details on this subject. Doña Laura refused to take
the vows in the church itself. The scandal was extreme, and the abbess,
in her fury, resolved to put an end to matters. The hapless young lady,
sent to sleep by means of a powerful narcotic, was buried alive in the
_in pace_, where she must die of hunger."

"Oh!" the two men exclaimed, shuddering with horror.

"I repeat to you," Don Leo continued, "that I do not believe Don
Estevan capable of this barbarity. He was probably the indirect
accomplice, but nothing more; the abbess was the sole culprit. Don
Estevan accepted accomplished facts; he profited by them, nothing more.
We must suppose so, for the honour of humanity; otherwise, this man
would be a monster. Warned on the same day of what had occurred in
the convent, I collected a band of banditti and adventurers. Then, at
nightfall, I entered the building by stratagem, and, pistol in hand,
carried off your daughter."

"You!" Don Mariano exclaimed, with a movement of surprise, mingled with
joy. "Oh, heavens! then she is saved--she is in safety!"

"Yes; at a place where I, aided by Marksman, concealed her."

"Don Estevan would never have found her," the hunter added, with a
crafty smile.

The gentleman was fearfully agitated. "Where is she?" he exclaimed. "I
will see her. Tell me where my poor darling child is."

"You can understand," the young man answered, "that I did not keep her
near me. I knew that Don Estevan's spies and your brother himself were
pursuing me, and following my every step. After placing Doña Laura in
safety, I enticed all the pursuers on to my trail. In this way, this
palanquin," he said, pointing to it, "contained Doña Laura till we
reached the Presidio de Tubar. I was careful to let her be seen once or
twice; no more was needed to make it supposed that she was still with
me. By the care I took to keep the palanquin constantly closed, and let
no one approach it, I hoped to lead my enemies after me, and, once I
had them in the desert, punish them. My calculations were more correct
than Don Estevan's, for Heaven, helped me. Now that the criminal has
been punished, and Doña Laura has no more to fear, I am ready to make
known her place of concealment, and lead you to her."

"Oh, my God! Thou art just and merciful," Don Mariano exclaimed, with
an expression of ineffable joy. "I shall see my child again. She is
saved."

"She is lost, if you do not make haste," a sepulchral voice replied.

The three men turned in terror. Brighteye, with a pale and bleeding
face, his clothes torn and bloodstained, was standing upright and
motionless in the entrance of the tent, holding the curtain back.



CHAPTER XXIII.

FLYING EAGLE.


The Indians, owing to the life they are compelled to lead, and the
education they receive, are of an essentially suspicious character.
Accustomed to be constantly on their guard against everything that
surrounds them, to regard intentions ostensibly the most honest as
concealing treachery and perfidy, they have acquired an uncommon skill
in guessing the projects of persons with whom accident brings them in
contact, and foiling the snares set for them by their enemies.

Mahchsi Karehde, we have already said, was an experienced warrior, as
wise in council as he was valiant in war, and, though still very young,
he justly enjoyed a great reputation in his tribe.

So soon as Marksman had, in the name of Lynch law, pronounced Don
Estevan's sentence, there was a species of disorder among the hunters,
who broke their ranks, and began eagerly conversing together, as
generally happens in such a case. Flying Eagle took advantage of the
general attention being diverted, and no one noticing him, to give
Eglantine, whose eyes were incessantly fixed on him, a signal, which
the young woman understood, and he silently stepped into a thicket,
where he disappeared before anyone noticed his absence.

After walking for about twenty minutes in the forest, the Chief,
probably supposing he was far enough off, stopped, and turned to his
squaw, who had remained a little distance behind the whole time. "Let
the Palefaces," he said, "accomplish their work. Flying Eagle is a
Comanche warrior; he must no longer interfere between them."

"The Chief will return to his village?" Eglantine asked, timidly.

The Indian smiled craftily. "All is not over yet," he replied. "Flying
Eagle will watch over his friends."

The young woman let her head fall, and, seeing that the Indian had
seated himself, prepared to light the campfire; but the Chief stopped
her by a sign. "Flying Eagle does not wish to be discovered," he said.
"Let my sister take her place by his side, and wait; a friend is in
danger at this time."

At this moment a great noise of breaking branches could be heard not
far from the spot where the Redskins had halted. The Indian listened
attentively for a few moments, with his head on the ground. "Flying
Eagle will return," he said, as he rose.

"Eglantine will wait for him," the squaw said, looking at him tenderly.

The Chief laid by her side the weapons that might have impeded him in
the project he meditated; he only kept his reata, which he carefully
coiled round his right hand, and crept in the direction of the sound
he had heard, which every moment grew louder. He had scarce advanced
twenty yards, by forcing his way through the intertwined creepers and
tall grass that barred his passage, ere he perceived, a few paces off,
a magnificent black horse, which, with ears laid back, head extended,
and all four feet fixed on the ground, was snorting in alarm; its
nostrils covered with foam, and its mouth bleeding.

"Wah!" the Chief muttered, stopping short, and admiring the splendid
animal. He drew a few steps nearer, being careful not to startle the
animal more, which followed all his movements with a restless eye; and,
at the instant he saw it bound to escape, he made his reata whistle
round his neck, and threw it with such skill, that the running knot
fell on the horse's shoulders. The latter tried, for three or four
minutes, to regain the liberty so suddenly snatched from it; but soon
recognizing the futility of its efforts, it yielded once again to
slavery, and allowed the Indian to approach, with no further attempts
to maintain the struggle. The animal was not a wild horse, but Don
Estevan's magnificent barb, which he had probably lost during the
fight, when he was wounded. The horse's trappings were partly broken
and torn by the branches; but still they were in a good state of
service.

The Chief, delighted with the windfall accident procured him, mounted
the horse, and returned to Eglantine, who, submissive and obedient as a
true Indian woman, had not stirred since his departure.

"Flying Eagle will return to his village mounted on a horse worthy of
so great a Chief," she said, on noticing him.

The Indian smiled haughtily. "Yes," he answered, "the sachems will be
proud of him."

And with the simple childishness so well suited to the primitive
roughness of these men of iron, he amused himself, for some time,
with making the horse perform the most difficult passes and curvets,
happy at the terrified admiration of the woman he loved, and who could
not refrain from trembling on perceiving him manage this magnificent
animal with such ease. The Chief at length dismounted, and, while still
holding the bridle in his hand, sat down by the young woman's side.

They remained thus for a long time, without exchanging a word. Flying
Eagle seemed to be reflecting deeply; his eyes wandered about in the
darkness, as if wishing to penetrate it, and distinguish some distant
object in the distance. He listened eagerly to the sounds of the
solitude, while playing mechanically with his scalping knife. "There
they are," he suddenly cried, as he rose, as if moved by a spring.

Eglantine looked at him with astonishment.

"Does not my sister hear?" he asked her.

"Yes," she replied in a moment, "I hear the sound of horses in the
forest."

"They are the Palefaces returning to their camp."

"Shall we follow them?"

"Flying Eagle never leaves, without a reason, the path made by his
moccasins. Eglantine will accompany the warrior."

"Does my father doubt it?"

"No; Eglantine is a worthy daughter of the Comanches; she will come
without a murmur. A Paleface, a friend of Mahchsi Karehde, is in danger
at this moment."

"The Chief will save him?"

The Indian smiled. "Yes," he said; "or, if I arrive too late for that,
I will at least avenge him, and his soul will quiver with joy in the
blessed prairies, on learning from his people that his friend has not
forgotten him."

"I am ready to follow the Chief."

"Let us go, then; it is time."

The Indian leaped into his saddle at a bound, and Eglantine prepared
to follow on foot. Indian squaws never mount the warhorse of their
husbands or brothers. Condemned, by the laws that govern their tribe,
to remain constantly bowed beneath a yoke of iron, to be reduced to
the most complete abjectness, and devote themselves to the harshest
and most painful tasks, they endure everything without complaining,
persuaded that it must be so, and that nothing can save them from the
implacable tyranny that weighs on them from their birth to their death.
In compelling his wife to follow him on foot, through a virgin forest,
by impracticable roads, rendered more difficult through the darkness,
Flying Eagle was convinced that he was only doing a very simple and
natural thing. Eglantine, for her part, understood it so, for she did
not make the slightest remark.

They set out, then, turning their back on the noise, and proceeding
towards the clearing. For what object did the Chief retrace his steps,
and return to the spot he had left an hour previously, in order to get
rid of the Gambusinos? We shall probably soon learn.

When about a hundred yards from the clearing, they heard a shot. Flying
Eagle stopped. "Wah!" he said, "what has happened? Can I be mistaken?"

Immediately dismounting, he gave his wife his horse to hold, bidding
her follow him at a distance; and, gliding through the grass, he
advanced hurriedly toward the clearing, feeling much alarmed by the
shot, which he could not account for, as the idea did not for a moment
occur to him that Don Estevan had fired it with the intention of
killing himself. The Chief was convinced that a man of that stamp would
never give the game up, however desperate it was. His appreciation was
not entirely false.

Persuaded of this, Flying Eagle, fearing a mishap, the possibility of
which he seemed to have foreseen, hastened to reach the clearing, in
order to settle his doubts, and trembling to see them converted into a
certainty.

On reaching the skirt of the clearing, he stopped, removed the branches
cautiously, and looked out. The darkness was so dense, that he could
distinguish nothing; a funereal silence prevailed over this portion
of the forest. Suddenly the bushes parted, a man, or rather a demon,
bounded out like a jackal, passed him with extreme velocity, and was
soon lost in the darkness.

A sad presentiment contracted the Redskin's heart; he made a movement
to rush after the stranger, but altered his mind almost in the same
moment. "Let us look here first," he muttered, "I am certain of finding
that man again when I please."

He entered the clearing. The deserted fires no longer gave out any
light. All was shadow and silence. The Chief walked rapidly toward
the spot where the grave had been dug. It was empty, Don Estevan had
disappeared. On the slope formed of the earth thrown out of the hole, a
man lay, motionless.

Flying Eagle bent over him, and examined him attentively for some
seconds. "I knew it," he muttered, as he drew himself up with a smile
of disdain; "that must happen, the Palefaces are gossiping old women.
Ingratitude is a white vice--vengeance a red virtue."

The Chief stood thoughtfully, with his eyes fixed on the wounded man.
"Shall I save him?" he at length said. "For what good? It is almost
better to let the coyotes tear him limb from limb; the red warriors
laugh at their fury. This man," he added, "was, yet, one of the best of
those plundering Palefaces who come to drive us from our last refuge.
Wah! what do I care our races are hostile, the wild beasts will finish
him--to each his prey."

And he made a move to withdraw. Suddenly he felt a hand laid on his
shoulder, and a soft voice muttered gently in his ear,--"This Paleface
is the friend of the grey head who delivered Eglantine. Is my father
ignorant of it?"

The Chief started at this question, which answered so truly his
innermost thoughts; for, while speaking to himself, and tying to prove
that he did right in abandoning the wounded man, the Indian knew
very well that the deed he premeditated was reprehensible, and that
honour commanded him to help the man stretched out at his feet. "Does
Eglantine know this hunter?" he answered evasively.

"Eglantine saw him for the first time two days ago, when he so
courageously saved the friend of the Chief."

"Wah!" the Indian muttered, "my sister speaks true. This warrior is
brave, his heart is large, he is the friend of the Redskins. Flying
Eagle is a Chief renowned for his goodness of soul, he will not abandon
the Paleface to the hideous coyotes."

"Mahchsi Karehde is the greatest warrior of his nation, his head is
full of wisdom. What he does is well."

Flying Eagle smiled with satisfaction at this compliment. "Let us
examine this man's wounds."

Eglantine lighted a branch of ocote, which she made into a torch. The
two Indians bent down over the wounded man, who still lay motionless,
and by the oscillating light of the torch examined him more attentively.

Brighteye had only a slight wound, produced by the butt of the pistol
by which he had been struck; the force of the blow, by producing an
abundant hemorrhage, had caused a stunning sensation, followed by a
syncope. The wound was narrow, of no great depth, and on the upper
part of the forehead between the eyebrows. Don Estevan had tried to
kill the worthy hunter in the same way as the bulls in the corridas.
The experienced Espadas often amuse themselves by killing the animals
in this fashion, in order to display their skill before the assembled
spectators. This blow, though dealt with a firm hand, was too hurried,
and had not been calculated with sufficient precision to be mortal.
Still it is evident that if the Indian Chief had not succoured him
before daybreak, the hunter would have been devoured alive by the wild
beasts prowling about in quest of prey.

All Indians, when travelling, carry by a sling a parchment bag, which
they call the medicine bag. It contains the simples these primitive
men employ to cure the wounds they receive in combat, their surgical
instruments, and the powders intended to get rid of fevers.

After examining Brighteye's wound, the Chief tossed his head with
pleasure, and immediately set about dressing. With a sharp instrument,
made of an onyx, and with the edge of a razor, he first cleared off the
hair round the wound; then he felt in his medicine bag, pulled out a
handful of oregano leaves, which he carefully pounded and mixed up with
Catalonian refino. We will remark here, that in all Indian medicaments
spirits play a great part. He added to this mixture a little water and
salt, formed the whole into a thick paste, and, after washing the wound
twice with spirits and water, he applied this species of cataplasm to
it, fastening it on with abanigo leaves. This simple remedy produced an
almost instantaneous effect; within ten minutes the hunter gave a sigh,
opened his eyes, and sat up, looking round him like a man suddenly
roused from a deep sleep, and who does not completely recognize
external objects.

Brighteye, however, was a man endowed with far too powerful an
organization for this state to last long; he soon managed to restore
order in his ideas, recalled what had passed, and the treachery dealt
him by the man he had saved. "Thanks, Redskin," he said, in a still
weak voice, and holding out his hand to the Indian, who pressed it
cordially.

"My brother feels better?" he asked, with solicitude.

"I feel as well as if nothing had happened to me."

"Wah! my brother will then avenge himself on his enemy."

"Trust me for that; the traitor shall not escape me, so truly as my
name is. Brighteye," the hunter answered energetically.

"Good! my brother will kill his enemy, and hang up his scalp at the
entrance of his wigwam."

"No, no, Chief; that revenge may suit a Redskin, but it is not that of
a man of my race and colour."

"What will my brother do, then?"

The hunter smiled cleverly, but after a few moments continued the
conversation, though not in answer to the Indian's questions. "How long
have I been here?" he said.

"About an hour."

"No longer?"

"No."

"Heaven be praised. My assassin cannot be gone far."

"Och! An evil conscience is a powerful spur," the Indian observed,
sententiously.

"That is true."

"What will my brother do?"

"I do not know yet; the position I am in is very delicate," Brighteye
answered, thoughtfully, "Urged by my heart, and the memory of a service
done me long ago, I committed an action which may be interpreted in
various ways. I now perceive that I was wrong; still, I confess to you,
Redskin, that I do not at all wish to be exposed to the reproaches of
my friends. It is hard for a man of my age, whose hair is white, and
who must possess experience, to have it said that he has acted like a
child, and is an old fool."

"Still, you must make up your mind."

"I know it. That is the thing which torments me; the more so as it is
urgent that Don Miguel and Don Mariano should be warned as speedily as
possible of what has happened, in order to remedy the consequences of
my folly."

"Listen," the Chief remarked. "I understand how repugnant the
confession you have to make will be to you. It is excessively painful
for an old man to bow his head under reproaches, however well deserved
they may be."

"Well!"

"If you consent, I will do what you have so much difficulty in
resolving on. While you accompany Eglantine, I will go to your friends,
the Palefaces; I will tell them what has happened. I will put them on
their guard against their enemy, and you will have nothing to fear from
their anger."

At this proposition, an indignant flush suffused the hunter's face.
"No," he exclaimed, "I will not add cowardice to my fault. I will
endure the consequences of my deed,--all the worse for myself. I thank
you, Chief; your proposition comes from a good heart, but I cannot
accept it."

"My brother is the master."

"Let us make haste," the hunter continued; "we have lost too much time
already. Heaven alone knows what may be the consequences of my deed,
and the misfortunes that will probably spring from it. It is impossible
for me to prevent them, it is my duty to do everything to lessen their
effect. Come, Chief, follow me; let us proceed to the camp without
further delay."

While uttering these words, the hunter rose with feverish impatience.

"I am unarmed," he said; "the villain has stripped me."

"Let my brother not feel vexed at that," the Indian answered; "he will
find the needful arms at the camp."

"That is true. Let us go and look for my horse, which I left a few
yards off."

The Indian stopped him. "It is useless," he said.

"Why so?"

"That man has taken it."

The hunter struck his brow in his discouragement. "What shall I do?" he
muttered.

"My brother will take my horse."

"And you, Chief?"

"I have another."

At a sign from Flying Eagle, Eglantine led up the horse. The two men
mounted; the Chief took his squaw up behind him, and leaning over the
necks of their horses, they started at full gallop in the direction of
the Gambusino camp, which they reached about an hour later without any
fresh incident.



CHAPTER XXIV.

QUIEPAA TANI.


We must return to the two chief characters of our story, whom we have
neglected too long. For that purpose we will go back a little way, and
take up our narrative at the moment when Addick, followed by the two
young ladies Don Miguel confided to him, set out for Quiepaa Tani.

A quiver of extraordinary voluptuousness passed over the Indian so
soon as he saw himself in the plains with the maidens, free from the
inquisitive glances of Don Miguel, and those even more clear-sighted of
Marksman. His eye, sparkling with pleasure, passed from Doña Laura to
Doña Luisa, unable to rest longer on one than the other. He found them
both so lovely, that he was never satiated with gazing on them with the
frenzied admiration Indians experience at the sight of Spanish women,
whom they infinitely prefer to their own squaws.

While mentioning this peculiarity to the reader, we must add that for
their part the Spaniards eagerly seek the good graces of the Indian
women, in whom they find, irresistible charms. Is this the effect of a
wise combination of Providence, wishing to effect the complete fusion
of the two people? No one knows; but what cannot be doubted is, that
there are few Spaniards in America who have not sundry drops of Indian
blood in their veins.

The young Indian chief, in possession of his two captives--for it was
thus he regarded them so soon as they were placed in his charge--had
at first thought of conducting them to his tribe, to decide presently
which he would select; but several reasons made him abandon this plan
almost as soon as he formed it. In the first place, the distance to
traverse, before reaching his village, was immense, and it was not very
probable he could manage it in the company of two frail and delicate
girls, who could not endure the numberless fatigues of a desert
journey. On the other hand, the city was only a couple of miles before
him; the crowd, momentarily increasing, hampered his movements; and the
dark outlines of the two hunters, standing out blackly on the top of
the mound, warned him that, at the slightest suspicious movement, he
would see two formidable adversaries rise before him.

Making a virtue of necessity, then, he shut up in the depths of his
heart the emotions that agitated him, and resolved, ostensibly,
to accomplish his mission, by entering the city; but he intended
to confide the maidens to his foster brother, Chicukcoatl (Eight
Serpents), Amantzin of Quiepaa Tani, who, in his functions as High
Priest of the Temple of the Sun, would be able to hide them from the
sight of all, until the day when, all obstacles being removed, Addick
would be free to act as he pleased, and take back his captives.

The two unhappy girls, violently separated from the only friends left
to them, had fallen into a state of prostration, which prevented them
from noticing the hesitations and tergiversations of the perfidious
guide in whose hands they found themselves. Surrendered defencelessly
to the will of a savage, who could, if he thought proper, treat them
with the utmost violence, although he had guaranteed their safety, they
knew that they had no human succour to expect. They were compelled to
leave their fate in the hands of Heaven, and resigned themselves with a
Christian spirit to the hard trials they would doubtless have to endure
during their residence among the Indians.

The three travellers, mixed up in the dense crowd of persons proceeding
like themselves to the city, soon reached the edge of the fosse,
followed by the inquisitive glances of those who surrounded them, for
the Indians speedily recognized the young girls as Spaniards.

Addick having, by a glance, bidden his companions be prudent, assumed
the most careless air he could well affect, although his heart beat as
if ready to burst, and presented himself at the gateway.

After crossing the wooden bridge, he stood in apparent apathy before
the gate; a lance was lowered before the strangers, and barred their
passage. A man, whom it was easy to recognize, by his rich costume,
as an influential chief of the city, rose from a butaca, on which he
was carelessly seated, smoking his pipe, advanced with measured steps,
and stopped, carefully examining the group formed by Addick and his
companions.

The Indian, at first surprised and almost frightened by this hostile
demonstration, recovered almost immediately; a flash of joy burst from
his savage eye; he bent over to the sentry, and whispered a few words
in his ear. The Redskin immediately raised his lance with a respectful
gesture, fell back a step, and made room for them to pass. They entered.

Addick walked hastily toward the Temple of the Sun, congratulating
himself on having so easily escaped the danger which had been suspended
for several minutes over his head. The maidens followed him with
that resignation of despair which bears so striking a likeness to
docility and deference, but which is, in reality, only the recognized
impossibility of escaping a fate one fears. While our friends are
crossing the streets of the city to reach their destination, we will
describe, in a few words, Quiepaa Tani, the exterior of which the
reader is only acquainted with. The narrow streets, running at right
angles, open on an immense square, situated exactly in the centre of
the city, and which bears the name of Conaciuhtzin.[1] It is probable
that it was in compliment to the sun that the Indians conceived
this square, from which the streets of the city radiate; for it is
impossible to imagine a more correct representation of the planet
they adore than this mysteriously and emblematically significant
arrangement. Four magnificent palaces rise in the direction of the
four cardinal points. On the western side is the great temple, called
Amantzin-expan, surrounded by an infinite number of chiselled columns
of gold and silver. The appearance of this edifice is most imposing.
You reach it by a flight of twenty steps, each made of a single stone,
thirty feet in length; the walls are excessively lofty, and the roof,
like that of all the other buildings, is terraced. The Indians,
though perfectly acquainted with the art of building subterranean
arches, are completely ignorant of the way of raising domes in the
air. The interior of the temple is relatively very simple. Long
tapestries, embroidered with feathers of a thousand different hues,
and representing, in hieroglyphic writing, the entire history of the
Indian religion, cover the walls. In the centre of the temple stands
the _teocali_, or isolated altar, surmounted by a brilliant sun, made
of gold and precious stones, supported on the great _ayotl_, or sacred
tortoise. By an ingenious artifice, each morning the first beams of
the rising sun fall on this splendid idol, and make it sparkle with
such brilliant fire, that it really seems to be animated, and lights up
the surrounding scene. Before the altar is the sacrificial table, an
immense block of marble, representing one of those Druidic _menhies_
so common in old Armorica. It is a species of stone table, supported
by four blocks of rock. The table, slightly hollowed in the centre,
is supplied with a conduit, intended to carry off the blood of the
victims. We must remark that human sacrifices are growing daily rarer.
We are, fortunately, far from an epoch when, in order to dedicate a
temple, sixty thousand human victims were immolated in one day at
Mexico. At present these sacrifices only take place under the most
exceptional circumstances; and, in that case, the victims are selected
from the prisoners condemned to death. At the back of the temple is a
space closed in with heavy curtains, entrance to which is interdicted
to the people. These curtains conceal the top of a staircase leading
to vast cellars, which extend under the whole temple, and which the
priests alone have the right to enter. It is in the most secret and
retired spot of these vaults that the sacred fire of Motecuhzoma burns
uninterruptedly. The floor of the temple is covered with leaves and
flowers, renewed every morning.

On the southern side of the square is the _Tanamitec_, or Palace of
the Chief. This palace, whose name, literally translated, signifies "a
spot surrounded by water," is merely a succession of reception rooms
and immense courts, employed by the warriors entrusted with the defence
of the city for their military exercises. A separate building, to
which visitors are not admitted, is set apart for the residence of the
chief's family. Another building serves as arsenal, and contains all
the arms of the city, such as arrows, saoaies, lances, bows, and Indian
shields from the most remote period; European sabres, swords, and guns,
which, after fearing for so long, the Indians have learned to employ as
well as ourselves, if not better. The greatest curiosity, undoubtedly,
contained in this arsenal is a small cannon which belonged to Cortez,
and which that conqueror was compelled to abandon on the high road,
during his precipitate retreat from Mexico on the _noche triste_. This
cannon is still an object of fear and veneration to the Indians; for
many recollections of the conquest have remained in their hearts after
so many years and vicissitudes of every description.

On the same square stands the famous _Ciuatl-expan_, or Palace of the
Vestals. It is here that, far from the glance of men, the Virgins of
the Sun live and die. No man, the High Priest excepted, can penetrate
to the interior of this building, reserved for the women dedicated to
the sun. A fearful death would immediately punish the daring man who
attempted to transgress this law. The life of the Indian vestals bears
considerable resemblance to that of the nuns peopling the European
convents. They are shut up, take a vow of perpetual chastity, and
pledge themselves never to speak to a man, unless it be their father
or brother, and in that case they can only converse through a grating
and in the presence of a third party, while careful to veil their
faces. When, during the ceremonies, they appear in public, or assist in
the religious festivals in the temple, they are completely veiled. A
vestal convicted of letting a man see her face is condemned to death.

In the interior of their abode they amuse themselves with feminine
occupations, and privately perform the rites of their religion. Their
vows are voluntary. A young girl cannot be admitted into the ranks of
the Virgins of the Sun until the High Priest has acquired the certainty
that no one has forced her to this determination, and that she is
really following her vocation.

Lastly, the fourth palace, situated on the eastern side of the square,
is the most splendid, and at the same time the most gloomy of all.
It is called the Iztlacat-expan, or Palace of the Prophets. It is
the residence of the priests. It would be impossible to describe the
mysterious, sad, and cold appearance of this residence; the windows of
which are covered with a wicker frame, so closely interwoven, as almost
to entirely exclude the light of day. A gloomy silence perpetually
prevails in this building; but at times, in the middle of the night,
when all are reposing in the city, the Indians awake in terror at the
strange sounds that appear to issue from the Iztlacat-expan. What is
the life of men who inhabit it? In what do they spend their time? No
one knows. Woe to the imprudent man, who, curious for information
on this point, would try to surprise the secrets of which he should
remain in ignorance; for the vengeance of the insulted priests would be
implacable.

If the vow of chastity be imposed on the vestals, it is not so with
regard to the High Priest and his assistants; still we must remark,
that very few of them marry, and all abstain, at least openly, from
any connection with the other sex. The noviciates of the priests
lasts ten years, and it is only at the expiration of that period,
and after undergoing numberless trials, that the novices assume the
title of Chalchiuh. Until then they can alter their minds, and embrace
another career; but the case is extremely rare. It is true, that if
they took advantage of the law's permission, they would be infallibly
assassinated by their brothers, who would fear seeing a portion of
their secrets unveiled to the public. In other respects the priests are
highly respected by the Indians, whose love they contrive to acquire;
and we may say, that next to the chief, the Amanani is the most
powerful man in the tribe.

Among peoples with whom religion is so powerful a lever, it may
be observed that the temporal and spiritual power never come into
collision; each knows how far his attributes extend, and follows the
line traced for him, without trying to infringe on the rights of the
other. Owing to this intelligent diplomacy, priests and chiefs act in
concert, and double their strength.

The European, habituated to the tumult, noise, and movement of the
cities of the old world, whose streets are constantly encumbered by
vehicles of every description, and with the passers-by, who come into
collision at each step, would be strangely surprised at the sight of
the interior of an Indian city. There, there are no noisy ways of
communication, bordered by magnificent shops, offering to the curiosity
or greed of the purchasers and rogues the superb and dazzling specimens
of European industry; there are no carriages, not even carts; the
silence is only disturbed by the step of the few passers hastening
back to their dwellings, and who walk with the imposing gravity of
professors or magistrates of all nations.

The houses, which are all hermetically closed, allow none of
the internal noises to be heard from the street. Indian life is
concentrated in the family, and closed against the stranger; the
manners are patriarchal, and the public way never becomes, as is too
often the case amongst our civilized peoples, the disgraceful scene of
the disputes, quarrels, or fights of the citizen.

The vendors collect in immense bazaars, where, until midday, they
sell their merchandise; that is to say, fruits, vegetables, and meat;
for all other trade is unknown to the Indians, each family weaving or
making for itself the garments, furniture, or household articles it
requires. Then, when the sun has run half its course, the bazaars are
closed, and the Indian traders, who all inhabit the country, quit the
city, to return next morning with fresh vegetables. Each family lays in
its stock for the day.

Among the Indians the men never work, the women are entrusted with
the purchases, the household cares, and the preparation of all that
is indispensable for existence. The men, too proud to do any domestic
work, hunt or go on the warpath.

The payment for what is purchased is not effected, as in Europe, by
means of coins, which are generally only known to, or accepted by,
the coast Indians, who traffic with the whites; but by means of a
free exchange, which is practised by all the tribes residing in the
interior. The plan is most simple. The purchaser exchanges some article
for that he wishes to acquire, and all is settled.

Now that we have made Quiepaa Tani known to the reader, let us
terminate this chapter by saying that Addick and his companions, after
wandering for some time through the streets, at length reached the
Iztlacat-expan.

The Indian Chief had, as he desired, found a complaisant auxiliary
in the Amanani, who swore, on his head, to guard, with scrupulous
attention, the prisoners entrusted to him.

We may as well add, that Addick told the High Priest that the ladies
he confided to his care were the daughters of one of the most powerful
men in Mexico, and that, in order to compel him to grant his protection
to the Indians, he had resolved on taking one of them to wife; still,
as the two girls pleased him equally--and for that reason it had
been impossible for him, up to that moment, to make a choice between
them--he prudently abstained from pointing out the object of his
purpose. Then he added, in order completely to conquer the good graces
of the man he took as his accomplice, and whose sordid avarice had long
been known to him, that a magnificent present would amply reward him
for the guardianship he begged him to accept.

Tranquil for the future about the fate of the two maidens, and the
first part of the plot he had formed having completely succeeded,
Addick purposed to carry out the second in the same way; he
consequently took leave of those he had sworn to protect, and whom he
betrayed so shamefully: and, mounting his horse again, he left the
city, and proceeded, at full speed, towards the ford of the Rubio,
where he knew he should meet Don Miguel.


[1] Square of the Sun.



CHAPTER XXV.

A TRIO OF VILLAINS.


Leaving Addick to depart at full gallop from Quiepaa Tani, let us
turn for a little while to the maidens whom, prior to his departure,
he confided to the Amantzin. The latter shut the maidens up in the
Ciuatl-expan, inhabited by the Virgins of the Sun. Although prisoners,
they were treated with the utmost respect, after the orders Addick had
given, and they would have probably endured the annoyance of their
unjust captivity with patience, had not a deep alarm as to the fate
reserved for them, and an invincible sorrow, resulting from the events
to which they had been victims, and the terrible circumstances which
had led them to their present condition, by suddenly separating them
from their last defender, seized upon them.

It was now that the difference of character between the two friends
was clearly shown. Doña Laura, accustomed to the eager homage of the
brilliant cavaliers who visited her father's house, and the enjoyment
of a slothful and luxurious life, as is that of all rich Mexican
families, suffered on feeling herself so roughly deprived of the
delights and caresses by which her childhood had been surrounded;
forgetting the tortures of the convent only to remember the joys of the
paternal mansion, and incapable of resisting the sorrow that preyed
upon her, she fell into a state of discouragement and torpor which she
did not even attempt to combat.

Doña Luisa, on the contrary, who found in her present condition but
little change from her noviciate, while deploring the blow that struck
her, endured it with courage and resignation: her well-tempered soul
accepted misfortune as the consequence of her devotion to her friend.
Unconsciously, perhaps, another feeling had for some time past glided
into the maiden's heart--a feeling which she did not attempt to
explain, whose strength she did not thoroughly know; but which doubled
her courage, and made her hope for a deliverance, if not prompt, at
least possible, executed by the man who had already risked everything
for her friend and herself, and would not abandon them in the fresh
tribulations by which they were assailed, owing to the odious treachery
of their guide.

When the two friends conversed together at times about any probability
of deliverance, Laura did not dare to pronounce the name of Don Miguel,
and through a reserve, the reason of which may be easily divined, she
pretended to rely on the name and power of her father. Luisa, more
frank, contented herself with answering that the bravery and devotion
that Don Miguel had displayed were a sure guarantee that he would, ere
long, come to their assistance.

Laura, whom her companion had not thought it advisable to inform of
the numberless obligations which she owed the young man, could not
understand the connection that could possibly exist between him and the
future, and cross-questioned Luisa. But the latter remained dumb, or
eluded the question.

"In truth, my friend," Laura said to her, "you speak incessantly of Don
Miguel. We certainly owe him great gratitude for the service he has
rendered us; but now his part is almost played out; my father, warned
by him of the position in which we are, will come, ere long, to deliver
us."

"_Querida de mi corazón_"[1] Luisa answered her, with a toss of her
head; "who knows where your father is at this moment? _I_ trust in
help from Don Miguel, because he alone saved us from his own impulse,
without hope of reward of any sort, and he is too loyal and too much of
a gentleman not to finish an enterprise he has begun so well."

This last sentence was uttered by the young lady with such an air of
conviction, that Laura felt surprised at it, and raised her eyes to her
friend, who felt herself instinctively blush beneath the weight of this
inquiring glance.

Laura added nothing; but she asked herself what could be the nature
of the feeling which urged her friend to defend a man whom no one
attacked, and to whom she, Luisa, only owed such slight obligations,
and, indeed, scarce knew?

From that day, as if by a tacit agreement, they never spoke of Don
Miguel, and his name was never mentioned by the maidens.

It is a strange fact, and yet undoubtedly true, that priests, no matter
of what country they are, or the religion to which they belong, are
continually devoured by a desire to make proselytes at any price. The
Amantzin of Quiepaa Tani, in this respect, resembled all his brethren;
he would not allow the opportunity to slip which was apparently
afforded him of converting two Spanish girls to the religion of the
Sun. Gifted with a great intellect, thoroughly convinced of the
excellence of the religious principles he professed, and, besides,
an obstinate enemy of the Spaniards, he conceived the plan, so soon
as Addick intrusted him with the care of the maidens, of making them
priestesses of the Sun. In America, there is no lack of instances
of conversions of this nature, for what may seem monstrous to us is
regarded as perfectly natural in that country.

The Amantzin planted his batteries in consequence. The maidens did
not speak Indian; on his side, he did not know a word of Spanish; but
this difficulty, apparently enormous, was quickly removed by the High
Priest. He was related to a renowned Indian warrior, of the name of
Atoyac, the very man, indeed, who was sentry at the gate of the city
upon Addick's arrival. This man had married a civilized Indian girl,
who, brought up not far from Monterey, spoke Spanish sufficiently
well to make herself understood. She was a woman of about thirty
years of age, although she appeared at least fifty. In these regions,
where growth is so rapid, a woman is usually married at the age of
twelve or thirteen. Continually forced to those hard tasks which, in
other countries, fall to the lot of men, their freshness speedily
disappears; on reaching the age of twenty-five, they are attacked by a
precocious decrepitude, which, ten years later, converts into hideous
and repulsive beings women who, in their youth, were endowed with great
beauty and exquisite grace, of which many European women would be
justly proud.

Atoyac's wife was named Huitlotl, or the Pigeon. She was a gentle and
simple creature, who, having herself suffered much, was instinctively
urged to sympathize with the sufferings of others. Hence, in spite of
the law which forbade the introduction of strangers into the Palace
of the Virgins of the Sun, the High Priest took on himself to let the
Pigeon enter the presence of the maidens.

A person must have been a prisoner himself among individuals whose
language he does not understand, in order to imagine the satisfaction
which the prisoners must have felt on at length receiving a visit from
somebody who could converse with them, and help them to subdue the
utter weariness in which they passed their time. The Indian was hence
accosted as a friend, and her presence regarded as a most agreeable
interlude.

In the second interview, however, the Spaniards guessed with what an
interested design these visits were permitted, and then a real tyranny
succeeded on the short joyous conversation of the first day. It was
a permanent punishment to the maidens. As Spaniards, and attached to
the religion of their fathers, they could not fulfil the High Priest's
hopes, while the Indian woman, incapable of playing the false and
roguish part to which she was condemned, did not hide from them that,
in spite of the honied words and insinuating manner of the Amanani,
they must expect to suffer the most frightful tortures, if they refused
to devote themselves to the worship of the Sun. The prospect was far
from being reassuring. The maidens knew the Indians to be capable
of putting their odious threats in execution without the slightest
remorse; hence, while promising in their hearts to remain staunch in
the faith of their fathers, the poor creatures were devoured by mortal
alarm.

Time passed away, and the High Priest began to grow impatient at the
slowness of the conversion. The little hope the two maidens had kept up
of escaping from the sacrifice demanded of them was gradually deserting
them. This painful situation, which was further aggravated by the
absence of all news from without, at length produced an illness whose
progress was so rapid, that the High Priest considered it prudent to
suspend the execution of his ardent project of proselytism.

Let us leave the wretched prisoners for a few moments, almost
felicitating themselves on the change that had taken place in their
health, as it for a time at least almost freed them from the odious
presence to which they were exposed, and take up the course of events
which happened to other persons who figure in this story.

So soon as Don Estevan found himself at liberty, he dug his spurs into
the flanks of Brighteye's horse, and began a furious race across the
forest, whose evident object was to remove him as speedily as possible
from the clearing which had all but proved so fearfully fatal to him.
A prey to a mad terror which every moment that passed doubled, the
wretched man galloped haphazard, without object or idea, following
no direction, but flying straight before him, pursued by the hideous
phantom of the death which, for an hour that was as long as an age, had
bent over his shoulders, and had already stretched forth its skeleton
hand to seize him, when a miraculous accident sent a liberator.

Don Estevan, in proportion as lucidity re-entered his brain, and
calmness sprung up again in his thoughts, became once more the man
he had ever been; that is to say, the implacable villain so justly
condemned and executed by Lynch law. Instead of recognising in his
deliverance the omnipotent finger of Providence wishing thus to show
him the path of repentance, he only saw a naturally accidental fact,
and entertained but one thought--that of avenging himself on the men
who prostrated him and set their feet on his chest.

No one could say how many hours he thus galloped in the darkness,
revolving schemes of vengeance, and casting ironical looks of defiance
at Heaven. The whole night was passed in this mad race, and sunrise
surprised him at a long distance from the spot where he had undergone
his sentence.

He stopped for a moment in order to restore a little connection in his
ideas and look around him. The trees, rather scattered at the spot
where he halted, enabled him to see between their trunks a plain in
front of him, terminating in the distance in tall mountains, whose
blue-grey summits mingled in the horizon with the sky: a rather wide
river flowed silently between two scarped banks, denuded of vegetation.
Don Estevan gave a sigh of relief. Supposing, as was not at all
probable, that anyone had started in pursuit, the rapidity of his
flight, and the innumerable turns he had taken, must have completely
hidden his trail. He advanced slowly to the edge of the forest,
resolved to stop for an hour or two to rest his panting steed, and
himself take that repose so absolutely necessary after so much fatigue
and agony. So soon as he reached the first trees of the wood, he
stopped again. Assured himself by a glance round that no human being
was in the vicinity, and reassured by the calmness and silence that
reigned around him, he dismounted, unsaddled and hobbled his horse,
and, lying down on the ground, he began reflecting. His position was
far from agreeable. He was alone, almost unarmed, in a strange country,
compelled to fly from men of his own colour, and obliged to depend on
himself alone to face all the events which might occur, and the dangers
that surrounded him on every side.

Assuredly, a man more resolute than was Don Estevan, and gifted by
nature with a more powerful organization than he possessed, would, in
his place, have felt greatly embarrassed, and would have given way,
if not to despair, at least to discouragement. The Mexican, overcome
by the atrocious emotions and extraordinary fatigue he had endured
during the fatal night which had just passed, fell involuntarily into
such a state of prostration and insensibility, that gradually external
objects disappeared from his sight, and he only existed in his mind,
that ever-shining beacon in the human brain, and which God in his
infinite goodness allows to shine there in the darkest gloom, in order
to restore to the creature, in extreme situations, the feeling of his
strength and the will to struggle.

For a long time Don Estevan had been seated, with his elbow on his
knee and his head on his hand, looking without seeing, listening
without hearing, when he suddenly started, and drew himself up sharply.
A hand had been gently laid on his shoulder. Slight as the touch was,
it was enough to arouse the Mexican, and restore him to a sense of his
present situation. He looked up: two men, two Indians, were by his
side; they were Addick and Red Wolf.

A gleam of joy shone in Don Estevan's eye: these two men, he had a
presentiment, were two allies. He wanted them without hoping ever to
meet them. In fact, in the desert, who can be certain of meeting those
he seeks?

Addick fixed a sardonic glance on him. "Och!" he said, "my pale brother
sleeps with his eyes open; his fatigue, it seems, is great."

"Yes," Don Estevan answered.

There was a moment of silence. "I did not hope to find my brother again
so soon, and in such an agreeable position," the Indian continued.

"Ah!" Don Estevan said again.

"Yes, aided by my brother Red Wolf and his warriors, I had set out to
bring help, if it were possible, to the Paleface."

The Mexican looked at him suspiciously. "Thanks," he at length said,
with piercing irony; "I required help from nobody."

"All the better--that does not astonish me: my brother is a great
warrior in his nation; but perhaps the help now useless to him will be
of service to him later."

"Listen, Redskin," Don Estevan said; "take my advice, let us not deal
in repartees, but be frank towards each other. You know a great deal
more of my affairs than I should have wished anyone to discover. How
you learned it is of little consequence; still, if I understand you,
you have a proposal to make to me, a proposal you doubtless think I
shall accept, because of the position in which you find me. Make it,
then, frankly, briefly, as a man ought to do, and let us come to an
end, instead of wasting precious time in idle discourse and useless
beating about the bush."

Addick smiled craftily. "My brother speaks well," he said, in a honied
voice; "his wisdom is great. I will be frank with him; he wants me; I
will serve him."

"_Voto a brios!_ that is talking like a man; that pleases me. Go on,
Chief; if the end of your speech resembles the beginning, I do not
doubt we shall come to an understanding."

"Wah! I am convinced of it; but, before sitting down to the council
fire, my brother needs to regain his strength, weakened by a long fast
and heavy fatigue. Red Wolf's warriors are encamped close by. Let my
brother follow me. When he has taken a little nourishment, we will
settle our business."

"Be it so. Go on; I follow you," Don Estevan answered.

The three men then went off in the direction of the Redskin camp, which
was not more than a hundred paces from the spot they left.

The Indians understand hospitality better than any other people,
excepting the Arabs--that virtue ignored in cities, where, to the
disgrace of civilized peoples, a cold egotism and shameful distrust is
substituted for it. Don Estevan was treated by the Indians as well as
it was possible for them to do. After he had eaten and drank as much as
he wanted, Addick returned to the charge. "Will my Paleface brother
hear me at present?" he said. "Are his ears open?"

"My ears are open, Chief. I am listening to you with all the attention
of which I am capable."

"Does my brother wish to avenge himself on his enemies?"

"Yes," Don Estevan exclaimed, passionately.

"But those enemies are powerful; they are numerous. My brother has
already succumbed in the contest he tried to wage with them. A man,
when he is alone, is weaker than a child."

"That is true," the Mexican muttered.

"If my brother consents to grant to Red Wolf and Addick what they will
ask of him, the Red Chiefs will help my brother to avenge himself, and
ensure him success."

A feverish flush covered Don Estevan's face; a convulsive tremor flew
over his limbs. "_Voto a brios!_" he muttered, gloomily; "whatever be
the condition you lay down, I accept it, if you serve me as you say."

"My brother must not pledge himself lightly," the Indian retorted, with
a grin. "He does not know the condition yet; perhaps he will regret
having been so hasty."

"I repeat to you," Don Estevan repeated firmly, "that I accept the
condition, whatever it be. Let me know it, then, without further delay."

The cautious Indian hesitated, or appeared to hesitate, for two or
three minutes, which seemed an age to the Mexican. At length he went
on, in a perfidiously gentle voice. "I know where the two Palefaced
maidens are whom my brother seeks in vain."

Don Estevan, at these words, bounded as if he had been stung by a
serpent. "You know it!" he shouted, as he squeezed his arm violently,
and looked fixedly at him.

"I know it," Addick answered, still with perfect calmness.

"It is not possible."

The Indian smiled contemptuously. "It was under my guardianship," he
said, "and guided by me, that they reached their present abode."

"And you can lead me to it?"

"I can."

"On the instant?"

"Yes, if you accept my conditions."

"That is true; tell me them."

"Which does my brother prefer, these young girls, or vengeance?"

"Vengeance!"

"Good; the young pale girls will remain where they are. Addick and Red
Wolf are alone; their cabins are desolate; they each need a wife. The
warriors hunt; the cihuatls prepare the food, and nurse the papooses.
Does my brother understand me?"

These words were pronounced with so strange an intonation, that the
Mexican shuddered involuntarily, but he recovered almost immediately.
"And if I accept?" he said.

"Red Wolf has two hundred warriors. They are at my brother's service,
to aid him in accomplishing his vengeance."

Don Estevan let his head fall in his hands. For a few moments he
remained motionless. This man, who had so coolly resolved on his
niece's death, hesitated at the odious proposition now made him. This
condition seemed to him more horrible than death.

The Indians waited, apparently apathetic witnesses of the contest
that was going on in the heart of the man they wished to seduce. They
watched this conflict of good and evil inclinations, coldly calculating
the chances of success offered them by the evil instincts of the wretch
they held beneath their eye. However, the struggle was not long. Don
Estevan raised his head, and said, with a calm voice, cold face, and no
sign of emotion,--"Well, be it so, the die is cast. I accept, and will
keep my word; but first keep yours."

"We will keep it," the Indians answered.

"Before the eighth sun," Addick added, "my brother's enemies will be in
his power; he will deal with them as he thinks proper."

"And now, what must I do?" Don Estevan asked.

"Here is our plan," Addick replied.

The three men then discussed the plan of campaign they intended to
follow, in order to gain the object they proposed. But, as we shall
soon see it work out, we will leave it, to return to our other
characters.


[1] Cherished one of my heart.



CHAPTER XXVI.

A HUNT ON THE PRAIRIE.


The persons collected in Don Miguel's tent could not repress a movement
of surprise, almost of terror, at the sudden appearance of Brighteye,
pale, bleeding, and with disordered garments. The hunter had stopped in
the entrance of the tent, tottering, and looking around with haggard
eyes, while his face gradually assumed an expression of sorrow and
profound discouragement. All these men, accustomed to the incessantly
changing life of the desert, whose courage, incessantly put to the
rudest trials, was surprised at nothing, felt themselves, however,
shudder, and a foreboding of misfortune.

Brighteye still remained motionless and dumb. Don Miguel was the first
to recall his presence of mind, and succeeded in regaining sufficient
mastery over himself to address the newcomer. "What is the matter,
Brighteye?" he asked him in a voice which he tried in vain to render
firm; "of what sad news are you the bearer?"

The Canadian passed his hand several times over his damp forehead, and,
after casting a last suspicious glance around him, he at length found
courage to reply in a low and inarticulate voice--"I have terrible news
to announce."

The adventurer's heart beat audibly; still, he mastered his emotion,
and said in a calm voice, with a sigh of resignation--"It will be
welcome, for we can hear nothing from you which is not so. Speak, then,
my friend, we are listening to you."

Brighteye hesitated, a feverish flush mounted over his face; but,
making a supreme effort, he said, "I have betrayed you--betrayed you
like a coward."

"You!" they all exclaimed, unanimously, in denial, and shrugging their
shoulders.

"Yes, I!"

These two words were uttered in the tone of a man whose resolution is
definitely formed, and who loyally accepts the responsibility of an act
which he recognises in his heart as culpable.

His hearers regarded him in stupor. "Hum!" Marksman muttered, shaking
his head sorrowfully; "there is something incomprehensible in all this.
Leave it to me to find it out," he continued, addressing Don Miguel,
who seemed preparing to address fresh questions to the hunter. "I know
how to make him speak."

The adventurer consented with a mute sign, and then fell back on his
bed, while bending an interrogatory glance on the Canadian.

Marksman quitted the spot he had hitherto occupied, and walking up to
Brighteye, laid his hand on his shoulder. The Canadian quivered at this
friendly touch, and looked sorrowfully at the old hunter. "By Jove!"
the latter said, with a smile, "deuce take me if our ears were not
tingling just now! Come, Brighteye, old comrade, what is the matter?
Why this terrified look, as if the sky was on the point of falling on
our heads! What means this pretended treachery of which you accuse
yourself, and whose flagrant impossibility I guarantee; I, who have
known you these forty years?"

"Do not pledge yourself so for me, brother," Brighteye answered, in a
hollow voice; "I have broken the law of the prairies. I have betrayed
you, I tell you."

"But, in the devil's name, explain yourself! You cannot have bargained
to our injury with those Apache dogs, our enemies? Such a supposition
would be ridiculous."

"I have done worse."

"Oh! oh! What, then?"

"I have--" Brighteye hesitated.

"What?"

Don Mariano suddenly interposed. "Silence!" he said, in a firm voice,
"I guess what you have done, and thank you for it. To me it belongs to
justify you in the sight of our friends, so let me do so."

All eyes were curiously turned on the gentleman.

"Caballeros," he continued, "this worthy man accuses himself of
treachery towards you, because he consented to do me an immense
service. In a word, he has saved my brother."

"Can it be possible?" Don Miguel passionately exclaimed.

Brighteye bowed in affirmation.

"Oh!" the adventurer said, "wretched man, what have you done?"

"I would not be a fratricide," Don Mariano nobly answered.

This word burst like a bombshell amid these lion-hearted men. They let
their heads sink instinctively, and quivered involuntarily.

"Do not reproach this honest hunter," Don Mariano continued, "with
having saved that wretch. Has he not been sufficiently punished? The
lesson has been too rude for him not to profit by it. Forced to allow
his defeat, bowed beneath shame and remorse, he is now wandering alone
and without help beneath the omnipotent eye of God, who, when his hour
arrives, will inflict on him the chastisement for his crimes. Now, Don
Estevan is no longer an object of alarm to us; we shall never meet him
again on our path."

"Stop!" Brighteye shouted, vehemently; "were it as you state, I should
not reproach myself so greatly for having consented to obey you. No,
no, Don Mariano, I ought to have refused. When the serpent is dead, the
venom is dead also! Do you know what this man did? So soon as he was
free, thanks to me, immediately forgetting that I was his saviour, he
treacherously tried to deprive me of the life I had just restored him.
Look at the gaping wound on my skull," he added, suddenly raising the
bandage that surrounded his head, "here is the proof of his gratitude
he left me on separating from me."

All present uttered an exclamation of horror.

Brighteye then narrated, in their fullest detail, the events which had
occurred. The hunters listened attentively. When his story was ended,
there was a moment of silence.

"What is to be done?" Don Miguel muttered, sorrowfully. "All must be
begun afresh. There is no lack of villains on the prairie with whom
this man can come to an understanding."

Don Mariano, overwhelmed by what he had just heard, remained gloomy and
silent, taking no part in the discussion, recognizing in his heart the
fault he had committed, but not feeling the courage to avow it, and
thus assume the immense responsibility of the sentence passed by the
wood rangers.

"We must come to an end of this," Marksman said, "moments are precious.
Who knows what that villain is doing while we are consulting? Let us
raise the camp as speedily as possible, and proceed to those maidens,
for they must be saved in the first place. As for ourselves, we shall
be able to foil the scoundrel's machinations, when aimed directly at
ourselves."

"Yes," Don Miguel exclaimed, "let us start. Heaven grant that we arrive
in time."

And forgetting his weakness and wounds, the adventurer rose boldly.
Brighteye stopped him. The old hunter, freed from the burthen that
weighed so heavily on his conscience, had regained all his boldness and
freedom of mind.

"Permit me," he said, "to have to deal with a powerful foe. Let us
not act lightly, or let ourselves be deceived this time. Hear what I
propose."

"Speak," Don Leo answered.

"From what I know of this unhappy story, you, Don Miguel, aided by my
old companion, Marksman, have hidden these young girls in a place where
you suppose them safe from the attack of your enemy."

"Yes," the adventurer answered, "except by treachery."

"We must always suspect treachery as possible in the desert," the
hunter went on, roughly; "you have a proof of it before you; hence
redouble your prudence. Don Miguel and his Cuadrilla will, guided by
us, set out immediately in pursuit of Don Stefano. Believe me, the
most important thing for us is to secure the person of our enemy, and,
by heavens, I swear to do all humanly possible to catch him. I have a
terrible account to settle with him now," he added, with an expression
of concentrated hatred which no one misunderstood.

"But the young ladies?" Don Leo exclaimed.

"Patience! Don Miguel; if you possessed as much strength as good will,
I should have reserved for you the honour of going to seek them in the
asylum you so judiciously selected for them; but that task will be too
rude for you; leave to Marksman, then, the care of carrying it out, and
be assured he will give you a good account of it."

Don Leo de Torres remained for a moment gloomy and thoughtful. Marksman
took his hand, and pressed it warmly. "Brighteye's advice is good,"
he said; "under the present circumstances, it is the only plan we can
follow; we must play a game of trickery with our adversaries, in order
to foil their villainy. Leave that to me; I have not been christened
'The Scout' in vain. I swear to you, on my life, that I will bring the
two maidens back to you."

The adventurer breathed a sigh. "Do as you think proper," he said, in
a sorrowful voice, "as I am quite powerless."

"Good, Don Leo!" Don Mariano exclaimed; "I perceive that your
intentions are truly honourable, and I thank you for your self-denial.
As for you, my worthy friend," he said, turning to Marksman, "though I
am old, and but little accustomed to desert life, I will accompany you."

"Your desire is just, señor, and I have no right to oppose it, as it
is your daughter I am going to try and save; the fatigue you will
endure, and the perils you incur during this expedition, will add to
the happiness you experience in embracing your daughter, when I have
succeeded in restoring her to you."

"Now," Brighteye said, "do you, Marksman, who know the direction you
are about to follow, give us a place of meeting, where we can assemble
again when each of us has accomplished his allotted task."

"That is important," the Canadian answered; "it would be even as well
if a detachment from Don Miguel's Cuadrilla were to proceed directly to
the meeting place we select, in order that, in the event of a mishap,
each band can find succour or support there."

"Fifteen of my most resolute men shall go at once to encamp at the spot
you select, Marksman," Don Miguel said, "in order to be ready to go
wherever their presence is necessary."

"We are carrying on regular warfare; do not forget that; hence we must
neglect no precaution. Ruperto, who is an old buffalo hunter, will,
with your permission, Don Miguel, take the command of this party, and
proceed to Amaxtlan."[1]

"Oh, I know the spot well," Ruperto interrupted; "I have often hunted
beaver and otter there."

"That is all right," Marksman continued. "Now, whatever happens, we
must all be at the appointed place this day month, except through a
grave impediment, and, in that case, the detachment missing will send a
scout to Ruperto, in order to inform him of the cause of its delay. Is
that agreed?"

"Yes," his auditors answered.

"But," Don Miguel added, "I suppose that you will not go alone with Don
Mariano?"

"No; I shall also take Domingo, who, for certain reasons known to
myself, I shall not be sorry to have constantly under my hand. Don
Mariano's two servants will also follow me; they are brave and devoted.
I need no more people."

"They are very few," Don Leo remarked.

The old hunter smiled in a peculiar way. "The less We are, the better
it will be," he said, "for the dangerous enterprise we meditate; our
little band will pass invisible, where a larger party would be stopped;
trust to me for that."

"I have one more word to add."

"Say it."

"Succeed!"

The Canadian smiled again, but this time with an expression of tender
pity. "I shall succeed," he answered, simply, as he forcibly pressed
the hand his friend offered him.

The two men understood one another. Don Leo then left the tent.

Soon all was bustle in the camp. The Gambusinos were busily engaged in
destroying the entrenchments, loading the waggons, and saddling the
horses; in short, everybody made preparations for a hurried departure.

"Did you not tell me, Marksman," asked Brighteye, "that you were picked
up by Flying Eagle?"

"Yes," the other answered.

"Did the Chief leave you at once, then?"

"No; he followed me to the camp, and so did Eglantine."

"Heaven be praised! He will accompany me on my expedition; he is a
brave and experienced warrior; his help, I believe, will be very
necessary to the success of my plans. Where is he?"

"A few steps off; let us go and find him, for I have also something to
say to him."

The two hunters left the camp together. They soon perceived Flying
Eagle, squatting by a fire, and calmly smoking his Indian calumet; his
wife sat motionless by his side, anxious to satisfy his slightest wish.
On seeing the hunters, the Chief took the pipe from his mouth, and
saluted them courteously.

Brighteye knew that the Comanche had taken several measurements of
the footsteps left by Don Estevan on his flight, and he wished to
ask the Chief for them, as he hoped to employ them in following his
enemy's trail. The Indian gave them to him without the slightest
hesitation. The hunter placed them carefully in his bosom, with a nod
of satisfaction. "Eh!" he muttered to himself. "This will enable me to
find one end of the trail; with the help of heaven, I hope that I shall
soon hold the other."

In the meanwhile, Marksman had seated himself by Flying Eagle's side.

"Does my red brother still intend to return to his tribe?" he asked
him.

"The Sachem has been absent for a long time," the Indian answered; "his
sons are anxious to see him."

"Good!" the hunter said; "it should be so. Flying Eagle is a renowned
Chief; his sons have need of him."

"The Comanches are too wise to notice the absence of a warrior."

"My brother is modest; but his heart flies toward the village of his
fathers."

"Are not all men the same?"

"That is true; the feeling of one's country is innate in the heart of
man."

"The Palefaces are raising their camp."

"Yes."

"Are they returning to the side of the great Salt Lake, into their
stone villages?"

"No; they are starting for a great buffalo hunt in the prairies, down
by the endless river with the golden waves."

"Wah!" the Chief said, with a certain degree of emotion; "then many
moons will pass ere I see my brother again."

"Why so, Chief?"

"Does not the great Pale hunter accompany his brothers?"

"No!" Marksman answered, laconically.

"Och! my brother must be laughing. What will the Palefaces do, if he
does not accompany them?"

"I am going in the direction of the sun!"

The Indian started, and fixed a piercing glance on the speaker. "The
direction of the sun," he said, as if speaking to himself.

"Yes," Marksman continued; "to the evergreen prairies of the country
of Acatlan,[2] on the banks of the fair streams of Atonatiah."[3]

The Chief started violently. Marksman remained calm, and apparently
indifferent, although he attentively followed the various emotions
which contracted the Chief's features, in spite of the mask he tried to
draw over them. "My brother is wrong," he said, presently.

"Why so?"

"My brother is ignorant that this land of which he speaks is sacred.
Never has the foot of a white man trodden it with impunity."

"I know it," the hunter answered, carelessly.

"My brother knows it, and persists in going there?"

"Yes."

There was a silence of several moments' duration between the two men,
the Indian hastily puffing the smoke from his calumet, a prey to an
emotion he could not master. At length he spoke again. "Every man
has his destiny," he said, in that sententious tone peculiar to the
Indians. "My brother doubtless attaches a great importance to this
journey."

"An immense importance, Chief; I am going to that country, though
perfectly aware of the perils that await us, for interests of value,
and impelled by a will more powerful than my own."

"Good! I do not ask my brother's secrets. The heart of a man is his
own; he alone must read in it. Flying Eagle is a powerful Sachem;
he also follows that road; he will protect his Pale brother, if the
hunter's intentions are pure."

"They are so."

"Wah! my brother has the word of a Chief; I have spoken." After
uttering these words, the Indian took up his calumet again, and
began smoking silently. Marksman was too conversant with the Indian
manners to press him further. He rose, with joy in his heart at having
succeeded in obtaining an ally so powerful as the Comanche Chief, and
he went in all haste to make the preparations for departure.

For their part, during the conversation we have reported, the
Gambusinos had not remained inactive. Don Miguel or Don Leo, whichever
it pleases the reader to call him, had so urged on his men, that
everything was ready,--waggons loaded and horsed, and the riders
mounted, with rifle on thigh, only awaited the signal for setting out.
Don Miguel selected from his band fifteen old Gambusinos, practised in
Indian tricks, and in whom he believed he could trust. He said a few
words to them, explanatory of his intentions, and placed them under
Ruperto's command, with orders to obey him as they would himself. The
Gambusinos swore to do so. This duty accomplished, he summoned Domingo.
The Gambusino came up to his Chief with that cunningly indolent manner
familiar to him, and waited respectfully for his orders. When Domingo
learned what was expected from him, he was in no way flattered by the
confidential commission his Chief gave him, especially as he was not at
all anxious to be under the immediate supervision of Marksman, whose
peering glance incessantly occasioned him a nervous tremor, and whose
assiduous watchfulness was most disagreeable to him. Still, as it was
impossible openly to disobey Don Miguel, the worthy Gambusino made up
his mind for the worst, making himself a secret promise to keep on his
guard, and double his prudence.

When Don Miguel had completed all the duties of a wise and intelligent
Chief, he mounted his horse, though with difficulty, owing to the
weakness occasioned by his wounds. He placed himself at the head
of his band, to the right of Brighteye, and after giving a parting
salutation to Don Mariano and Marksman, he ordered his men to start.
The two parties set out immediately, that led by Ruperto turning to
the left, and proceeding toward the mountains, and Brighteye, with his
men, temporarily following the course of the Rubio. All now left in
the deserted camp were Marksman, Don Mariano, Flying Eagle, Eglantine,
the two servants, and Domingo, who followed with a look of envy his
gradually disappearing comrades. The old hunter, for reasons he kept
secret, did not wish to set out before sunset. Scarcely had that planet
disappeared on the horizon, amid floods of vapours, ere the night set
in, and the landscape was almost immediately plunged in dense gloom. We
have already several times remarked that, in high American latitudes,
there is no twilight, or, at least, it is so weak, that night arrives
almost without any transition.

Marksman, since the departure of the two first detachments, had not
uttered a syllable, or made a movement; his comrades, doubtless for
motives resembling his own, respected their Chief's silence; but night
had scarcely set in, ere the hunter rose sharply. "Start!" he said, in
a quick voice.

All rose. Marksman took an inquiring glance around. "Leave the horses,"
he said; "they are useless to us. We are not going to begin a journey,
but a manhunt. We must be unimpeded in our movements, for the trail
we shall follow is difficult. Juanito, you will remain here with the
animals, until you hear from us."

The creole made a sign of discontent. "I should have preferred to
follow you, and not quit my master," he said.

"I understand that, but I want a courageous and resolute man to guard
our horses, and I cannot select a better one than you; besides, I
trust that you will not remain alone long. Still, as we do not know
what route we shall have to follow, or what obstacles may arise, build
yourself a tent. Hunt, do what you think proper, but remember that you
must not stir from this place without my orders."

"That is agreed, compadre," Juanito answered; "you can start when you
please. If your journey were to last six months, you will be certain to
find me here on your return."

"Good," Marksman said; "I reckon on you."

Then he whistled his mustang, which ran up at the summons, and laid
its intelligent head on its master's shoulder. It was a noble animal,
rather tall, with a small head, but its eyes flashed with ardour; its
wide chest, its firm and nervous legs, all denoted the blood horse.
Marksman seized the reata which hung from a ring fixed to the saddle,
unfastened it, rolled it round his body, and then, giving the mustang a
light tap on the croup, watched it depart with a sigh of regret.

The hunter's comrades were provided with their arms and provisions,
consisting of pemmican, or buffalo meat, dried and pounded, and maize
tortillas.

"Come, let us start," the Canadian said, throwing his rifle over his
shoulder.

"A pleasant journey, and happy return," Juanito said, unable to prevent
himself accompanying that adieu by a sigh, in which it could be easily
read how vexed he felt at being thus left behind.

"Thanks," the adventurers answered.

So soon as they left the camp, they walked in Indian file, that is to
say, one behind the other, the second placing his foot exactly in the
steps of the first, and the third in those of the second, and so on to
the last. The latter, however, as closing the march, was careful to
efface, as far as was possible, the traces left by himself and those
who preceded him.

Juanito, after looking after them for some minutes, as they descended
the mound, at the top of which the camp was, cautiously returned, and
seated himself by the fire. "Hum!" he muttered, "I shall not have
much fun here, but what must be must be." And with this philosophical
reflection, the worthy Mexican lit his cigarette, and began
smoking peacefully, while following with interest the blue wreaths
fantastically entwined by the evening breeze that rose from the smoke
of his Havanah tobacco, whose perfume he inhaled with all the methodic
phlegm of a true Indian Sagamore.


[1] The spot where a river divides into several branches.

[2] The country of reeds.

[3] Sun of the water.



CHAPTER XXVII.

A HUNT ON THE PRAIRIE--(_concluded_).


In the new world, when people are travelling in Indian regions, and
do not desire to be tracked by the Redskins, they must be careful to
go to the east, if their business lies in the west, and _vice versa;_
in a word, imitate the manoeuvres of a ship, which, if surprised by
a contrary wind, is obliged to tack, and thus gradually approaches
the point it wishes to reach. Marksman was too conversant with the
cleverness and craft of the Indians not to act in a similar fashion.
Although the presence of Flying Eagle was, to a certain point, a
guarantee of security, still, not knowing with what Indian tribe
accident might bring him in contact, Marksman resolved not to be
discovered by anybody, were that possible.

Fenimore Cooper, the immortal historian of the North American Indians,
has, in his excellent works, initiated us into the tricks employed
by the Tuscaroras, Mohicans, and Hurons, when they wish to foil the
researches of their enemies; but, no offence to the numerous admirers
of the sagacity of young Uncas, a magnificent type of the Delaware
nation (of which he was not, however, the last hero, for it still
exists, though sadly, diminished), the Indians of the United States are
only children, when compared with the Comanches, Apaches, Pawnees, and
other nations of the great western prairies, who may justly be regarded
as their masters in every respect. The reason is very simple, and easy
of comprehension. The northern tribes never existed in the condition
of political powers. Each of them governs itself, separately, and, to
some extent, according to its fancy. The Indians composing them rarely
ally themselves with their neighbours, and have, from time immemorial,
constantly led a nomadic life. Hence they have only possessed the
instincts (though highly developed, we grant) of men constantly
inhabiting the forests; that is to say, a marvellous agility, a great
fineness of hearing, and a miraculous length of sight--qualities, by
the way, which may be also found in the Arabs, and generally in all
wandering tribes, whatever be the nook of earth that shelters them. As
for their sagacity and skill, the wild beasts taught them, and they
only had the trouble of imitating them.

The Mexican Indians join to the advantages we have mentioned the
remains of an advanced civilization--a civilization which, since the
Conquest, has taken refuge in inaccessible lurking places, but, for all
that, no less exists. The families, or tribes, regard themselves as
the members of one great whole--the nation. Now, the American nations,
continually fighting with the Spaniards on one side, and the North
Americans on the other, have felt the necessity of doubling their
strength, in order to triumph over the two formidable enemies who
incessantly harass them, and their descendants have gradually modified
what was injurious in their manners, to appropriate those of their
oppressors, and combat them with their own weapons. They have carried
these tactics so far--which have hitherto saved them, not only from
serfdom, but also from extermination--that they are perfect masters in
trickery and cunning; their ideas have grown larger, their intelligence
has been developed, and they have ended by surpassing their enemies in
craft and diplomacy, if we may employ the expression. And this is so
true, that for the last three hundred years the latter have not only
failed in subduing, but in preventing their periodical incursions,
which the Comanches proudly call the _Mexican Moon_, and during which
they destroy everything they come across with impunity.

Can we really regard as savages these men, who, formerly driven back
by the dread of fire arms, and the sight of horses, animals of whose
existence they were ignorant, and compelled to conceal themselves in
inaccessible ravines, have yet defended their territory inch by inch,
and, in certain districts, have actually reconquered a portion of
their old estates? Better than anyone, we know that there are savages
in America, savages in the fullest sense of the term; but they have
proved a cheap conquest, and they daily disappear from the earth, for
they possess neither the necessary intelligence to understand, nor
the energy to defend themselves. These savages to whom we allude,
before being subject to the Spaniards or Anglo-Americans, were so to
the Mexicans, the Peruvians, and the Araucanos of Chili, owing to
their intellectual organization, which scarce elevates them above the
brutes. We must not confound this race of helots, who are an exception
in the genus, with the great untamed nations whose manners, necessarily
alluring, we are attempting to portray here; for in spite of the
efforts they make to withdraw themselves from its influence, that
European civilization they despise rather through the hereditary hatred
of their conquerors and the whole race generally, than from any other
motive, surrounds, crushes, and invades them on all sides. Perhaps,
before a hundred years are past, the emancipated Indians, who smile
with pity at the paltry contests going on between the phantom republic
that surrounds them, and the colossal pigmy of the United States which
menaces them, will take their rank again in the world, and raise their
heads proudly; and that will be just, for they are heroic natures,
richly endowed, and capable, under good direction, of undertaking or
carrying out great things. In Mexico itself, since the period when that
country proclaimed its so-called independence, all the eminent men who
have risen either in arts, diplomacy, or war, belong to the pure Indian
race. In support of our statement, we will cite a fact of immense
significance:--The best history of southern America, published up to
this day, was written by an Inca, Garcillasso de la Vega. Is not this
conclusive? is it not time to condemn all those systematically absurd
theories which insist on representing the red family as a bastard race,
incapable of amelioration, and fatally destined to disappear?

Ending here this digression, which is perhaps, too lengthy, but is
indispensable for the due comprehension of the facts that follow, we
will take up our narrative again, at the point where we broke it off.

After a march of three hours, rendered fatiguing and difficult by the
lofty grass, the adventurers reached the skirt of the forest. About
midnight, Marksman, after allowing his comrades two hours' rest,
started again. At sunrise they reached a species of canyon, or narrow
gorge, formed by two walls of perpendicular rocks, and were constrained
to march for four hours in the bed of a half dried-up torrent, in which
their footsteps fortunately left no mark. During several days their
journey over abrupt and desolate mountains was effected with great
toil, but did not offer any incident worthy of narration. At length
they found themselves again in the region of the _tierras calientes_;
the verdure reappeared, and the heat became sensible. Hence the
adventurers, who had suffered extremely from the cold in the lofty
regions of the Serranía, experienced a feeling of marked comfort on
inhaling the gentle and perfumed atmosphere, in contemplating the azure
sky and dazzling sun which had now taken the place of a grey and leaden
sky, and the limited, fog-laden horizon, which they had left behind
them. Toward the end of the fourth day after leaving the mountains,
Marksman uttered a shout of satisfaction, on noticing the skirt of
the immense virgin forest, toward which he was marching, rise in the
distant azure of the prairie. "Courage, my friends!" he said; "we shall
soon obtain the shadow and freshness lacking here."

The adventurers, without replying, hurried their steps, like men who
perfectly appreciated the value of the promise made them. Night had
completely set in, when they reached the banks of a rather high river,
whose vicinity the tall grass had concealed from them, although for
some minutes they had heard the continued rustling of the water over
the pebbles. Marksman resolved to wait till the next day, and look for
a ford. The party camped, but the fire was prudently not lighted. The
adventurers wrapped themselves in their zarapés, after taking a scanty
meal, and soon fell asleep. Marksman alone watched. Gradually the moon
sunk on the horizon: the stars began to dim and go out in the depths of
the sky. The hunter, whose eyes fatigue closed against his will, was
about to yield to sleep, when suddenly a strange and unexpected sound
made him start. He drew himself up, as if he had received an electric
shock, and listened. A slight rustling agitated the reeds that bordered
the river, whose calm and motionless waters resembled a long silvery
ribbon. There was not a breath of air. The hunter laid his hand on
Flying Eagle's shoulder; the latter opened his eyes, and gazed at him.
"The Indians," Marksman muttered in the Chief's ear. Then, crawling on
his hands and knees, he glided down the slope, and entered the water.
Then he looked around him. The moon shed sufficient light to let him
survey the country for a long distance, but, in spite of the attention
he devoted, he could see nothing. All was calm; but he waited with eye
fixed, and ear on the watch. Half an hour passed, and the sound which
had aroused him was not repeated. However closely he listened, no sound
arose to disturb the silence of night. Still Marksman felt certain he
was not mistaken. In the desert all sounds have a cause, a reason; the
hunters know them, and can distinguish them, being never deceived as
to their nature. The hunter was immersed, however, in the water up to
his waist belt. In America, if the heat of the day is stifling, the
nights, to make up for it, are excessively fresh, and Marksman felt an
icy coldness invading his whole body. Tired of waiting, and believing
that he was deceived, he was at length preparing to return to the bank,
when, at the moment he was preparing to carry out his design, a hard
body struck his chest.

He looked down, and instinctively thrust out his hands. He stifled a
cry of surprise; what had touched him was the side of a canoe, gliding
noiselessly through the reeds, which it parted in its passage. This
canoe, like all the Indian boats in these parts, was made of birch
bark, detached from the tree by means of boiling water. Marksman
examined the canoe, which seemed to be moving without the assistance of
any human being, and rather drifting with the current than proceeding
in a straight line. Still one thing astonished the Canadian: the canoe
was moving without the slightest oscillation. Evidently an invisible
being, probably an Indian, was directing it, but where was he? Was
he alone? This it was impossible to guess. The Canadian's anxiety
was extreme; he did not dare make the slightest move, through fear
of imprudently revealing his presence. And yet the canoe was moving
on. Resolved to know how it was, Marksman gently drew his knife, and,
holding his breath, bent down in the river, and only let the top of
his face emerge from the water. What he expected happened: in a moment
he saw the eyes of an Indian, who was swimming behind the canoe, and
pushing it with his arm, sparkle in the gloom like two live coals.
The Redskin held his face on a level with the water, and was looking
searchingly around him. The Canadian recognized an Apache. Suddenly
the stranger's eyes were fixed on the hunter. The latter; judged that
the time had arrived, and bounding with the suppleness and speed of a
jaguar, he seized his enemy by the throat; giving him no time to utter
a cry of alarm, he buried his knife in his heart. The Apache's face
turned black; his eyes were dilated; he struck the water for a moment
with his legs and arms; but soon his limbs stiffened, a convulsion
passed over his body, and the current bore him away, leaving behind a
slight reddish trace. He was dead. The Canadian, without the loss of a
moment, clambered into the canoe, and, holding on to the reeds, looked
across to the spot where he had left his comrades. The latter, warned
by Flying Eagle, had cautiously come up, bringing with them the rifle
left by the hunter on the bank.

So soon as they were together again, they freed the canoe from the
reeds that barred its passage, and, by Marksman's advice, after
embarking, and turning the canoe into the current, they lay down
in the bottom. For some time they had been gliding along gently,
believing themselves hidden from the invisible enemies they supposed
to be concealed around them, when suddenly a terrible clamour broke
out, like a thunderclap. The body of the Apache killed by Marksman,
after following the current for some distance, had stopped in some
grass and dead leaves, exactly opposite an Indian camp, near which
the adventurers had passed a few hours previously, not suspecting its
presence. At the sight of their brother's corpse, the Redskins uttered
the formidable howl of grief we mentioned, and rushed tumultuously
toward the bank, pointing to the canoe.

Marksman, seeing himself discovered, seized the paddles, and, aided by
Flying Eagle and Domingo, he was in a few minutes out of range. The
Apaches, furious at this flight, and not knowing with whom they had
to deal, overwhelmed their enemies with all the insults the Indian
tongue could supply, calling them hares, ducks, dogs, owls, and other
epithets, borrowed from the nomenclature of the animals they hate or
despise. The hunter and his companions did not trouble themselves about
these impotent insults; they began paddling vigorously, which soon
restored the circulation in their limbs.

The Indians then changed their tactics; several long-barbed arrows were
shot at the canoe, and several shots were even discharged; but the
distance was too great, and the water was only dashed up by the bullets.

Thus the night passed.

The adventurers paddled eagerly; for they had noticed that the river,
owing to its countless bends, was visibly drawing nearer to the forest
they had so much interest in reaching. Still, believing that they no
longer had anything to fear from their enemies, they laid down the
paddles for a few moments, to rest, and take a little food.

The day rose while they were thus engaged, and a magnificent landscape
was unfolded before the dazzled eyes of the adventurers. "Oh!" Flying
Eagle exclaimed, with an expression of surprise.

"What is the matter?" Marksman answered at once, who understood that
the Chief had noticed something out of the common.

"Look!" the Comanche said, emphatically, holding his arm out in the
direction they had come during the night.

"_Virtudieu!_" the Canadian shouted. "Two canoes in pursuit of us. Oh,
oh! we must make a fight of it."

"_Cuerpo del Cristo!_" Domingo said, in his turn, with a bound, which
almost upset the frail boat.

"What is the matter now?"

"Look!"

"A thousand demons!" the hunter exclaimed. "We are beset."

In fact, two canoes were rapidly coming up in the rear of the
adventurers, while two others, starting from, the opposite sides of
the river, were pulling ahead of them, with the evident intention of
barring their passage, and cutting off their retreat.

"_Voto a Dios!_ these Redskins want to make us dance a singular
_jaleo_" Domingo muttered. "What do you say, old hunter?"

"Good, good!" Marksman replied gaily; "we'll find the music. Attention,
comrades, and redouble your energy."

At a sign from him, all the men took up paddles, and gave such an
impetus to their canoe, that it seemed to fly over the water. The
situation was becoming critical for the whites. Marksman, upright, and
leaning on his rifle, coldly calculated the chances of this inevitable
rencontre. He did not fear the boats in pursuit, for they were at too
great a distance behind, to hope to catch him; all his attention was
concentrated on those in front, between which he must pass. Each stroke
of the paddle diminished the distance which separated the white men
from the Redskins. The hostile canoes, as far as could be judged from
a distance, seemed overloaded, and only advanced with some difficulty.
Marksman had judged the situation with an infallible glance, and formed
one of those daring resolutions, to which he owed the reputation he
enjoyed, and which resolution could alone save him and his friends, in
these critical circumstances.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

RED SKINS AND WHITE.


Marksman, as we have said, had formed a final resolution. Instead of
trying to escape by passing between the two canoes, which would have
entailed a risk of being run down, he turned slightly to the left, and
paddled straight toward the canoe nearest his own.

The Indians, who did not at first comprehend the meaning of this
manoeuvre, greeted him with shouts of joy and triumph. The adventurers
kept silence, but they redoubled their efforts, and continued to
advance. A sarcastic smile played round the lips of the Canadian
hunter. As his canoe drew nearer to that of the Apaches, he noticed
that the left bank of the river was indented, and at this moment
perceived that this was caused by an islet very near the land, but
leaving a sufficient passage for his boat, which would thus avoid a
bend again on the pursuing foe. The main point was in reaching the
point of the islet before the Indians in the first canoe did so. The
latter had at length begun to suspect, if they did not completely
guess, the intentions of their intrepid adversary; hence they, for
their part, changed their tactics, and altered their steering. Instead
of going to meet the Whites, as they had done up to this moment, they
suddenly tacked, and paddled vigorously in the direction of the island.

Marksman understood that he must stop their progress at all risks. Till
then, not a shot or an arrow had been fired on either side. The Apaches
were so persuaded that they would succeed in capturing the adventurers,
that they thought it useless to proceed to those extremities. The
Whites, on their part, who also felt the necessity of saving their
powder in a hostile country, where it would be impossible to renew
their stock, had hitherto imitated them through prudence, however much
they might have desired to come to blows. Still, the Indian canoe was
now not more than fifty yards from the isle. The hunter, after taking
a final glance around, bent down to his comrades, and said a few words
in a low voice. They immediately laid down their paddles, and, seizing
their rifles, rested them on the gunwales of the boat, after putting in
a second bullet. Marksman had done the same. "Are you ready?" he asked,
a moment after.

"Yes!" the adventurers answered.

"Fire, then, and aim low."

The five shots sounded like one.

"Now to your paddles, and quick!" the hunter said, giving the example,
as usual.

Eight arms took up the paddles again, and the light canoe began
bounding once more over the water. The hunter alone reloaded his rifle,
and waited on his knee, ready to fire.

The effect of the volley was soon visible,--the five shots, all aimed
at the same spot, had opened an enormous breach in the side of the
Indian boat, just on a level with the water line. Cries of terror and
pain rose from the group of Apaches, who leapt into the water one after
the other, swimming in every direction. As for the canoe, left to
itself, it floated a little way, gradually filled with water, and at
length sunk.

The adventurers, believing themselves freed from their enemies, relaxed
their efforts for a moment. Suddenly, Flying Eagle raised his paddle,
while Marksman clubbed his rifle. Two Apaches, with athletic limbs and
ferocious glances, were trying to fasten on the canoe and upset it.
But they soon fell back with fractured skulls, and floated down the
stream. A few moments later the hunters reached the passage.

Several Apaches, however, had managed to swim to the island: so soon
as they emerged from the water, they set out in pursuit of the whites,
running along the bank; for want of better instruments, they hurled
stones at them, for they could not use their damp rifles, and they had
lost their bows and arrows through their sudden plunge in the river.

Though the weapons employed by the Apaches for the moment were so
primitive, Marksman recommended his companions to redouble their
efforts, in order to escape as soon as possible from these immense
projectiles, which, from behind every tuft of grass and elevation of
the ground, fell sharp as hail round the canoe,--for the Redskins,
according to their habit, took care not to let themselves be seen,
through fear of bullets. Still, this situation was growing unbearable,
and they must emerge from it. The hunter, who was eagerly watching
an opportunity to give his obstinate foes a severe lesson, at length
fancied he had found it. He saw, a few yards from him, a tuft of
floripondios moving slightly; quickly shouldering his rifle, he aimed,
and pulled the trigger.

A terrible yell burst from the medley of floripondios, canaverales,
creepers, and aquatic plants which formed this hedge, and an Apache,
bounding like a wounded tiger, rushed forward with the intention of
seeking shelter behind the tree that grew a short distance from him
in the centre of the islet. Marksman, who had reloaded his rifle,
pointed it at the fugitive, but raised it again directly. The Apache
fell on the ground, and was rolling in the last convulsions. At the
same instant a dozen Indians rushed from behind the shrubs, raised the
corpse in their arms, and disappeared with the speed of a legion of
phantoms.

A sudden calm, an extraordinary tranquillity, succeeded the extreme
agitation and irregular cries which had aroused the echoes a few
moments previously.

"Poor wretch!" Marksman muttered, as he laid his rifle again in the
bottom of the canoe, and seized a pair of paddles; "I am vexed at what
has happened to him. I believe they have enough; now that they know the
range of my rifle, they will leave us in peace."

The hunter had calculated correctly: in truth, the Redskins gave no
further signs of life.

What we say here must not in any way surprise the reader: every
Indian understands honour in its own fashion. The Indians hold it as
a principle never to expose themselves uselessly to any danger. With
them success alone can justify their actions; hence, when they no
longer consider themselves the stronger, they renounce, without shame,
projects they have conceived and prepared for many weeks.

The adventurers at length doubled the point of the island. The second
canoe was already a very long way behind them, as for those they had
just perceived behind them, they only looked like dots on the horizon.
When the Redskins in the second canoe saw that the adventurers had
gained a start which it was impossible for them to pick up, and that
they were escaping, they made a general discharge of their weapons,--a
powerless demonstration, which injured nobody, for the bullets and
arrows fell a considerable distance short of the White men; then they
turned back to join their comrades, who had sought shelter on the
island.

Marksman and his companions were saved. After paddling for about an
hour longer, in order to place sufficient distance between themselves
and their enemies they took a moment's rest, and washed the contusions
they had received from several stones that had struck them with fresh
water. In the ardour of the engagement, they had not noticed the
blows, but now that the danger was past, they were beginning to suffer
from them. The forest which, in the morning, owing to the constant
meanderings of the river, was so far from them, was now much nearer,
and they hoped to reach it before night, after a short interruption.
They, therefore, took to their paddles again with renewed ardour,
and continued their voyage. At sunset, the canoe disappeared beneath
an immense dome of foliage belonging to the virgin forest, which the
river crossed at an angle. So soon as the darkness began to fall,
the desert woke up, and the howling of wild beasts proceeding to the
watering places were heard hoarsely echoing in the unexplored depths
of the forest. Marksman did not consider it prudent at this hour to
enter a strange country, which doubtless contained dangers of every
description. Consequently, after pulling for some time, to find a
suitable landing place, the hunter gave the order to pull into a
point of rock, which jutted out in the water, and formed a species of
promontory, on which it was easy to land.

So soon as he stepped ashore, the Canadian walked round the rock, in
order to look at the vicinity, and know in what part of the forest they
were. This time chance had served them better than they could have
dared to hope. After removing, with great pains and minute precautions,
the creepers and brambles that choked the path, the hunter suddenly
found himself at the entrance of a natural path, probably formed by one
of those volcanic convulsions so frequent in this country. On seeing
it, he stopped, and lighting an _ocote_ branch, with which he had been
careful to provide himself, he boldly, entered the grotto, followed by
his companions. The sudden appearance of the light startled a swarm
of night birds and bats, which began flying heavily, and escaping in
every direction. Marksman continued his progress, not troubling himself
about these gloomy hosts, whose lugubrious sports he interrupted so
unexpectedly. This grotto was high, spacious, and airy. It was, under
the present circumstances, a precious discovery for the adventurers;
for it offered them an almost secure shelter for the night against the
researches of the Apaches, who assuredly had not given up the pursuit.
The adventurers, after exploring the cavern on all sides, and assuring
themselves that it had two exits, which secured the means of flight,
if they were attacked by too numerous enemies, returned to their boat,
drew it from the water, and carried it on their shoulders to the
extremity of the grotto. Then, with that patience of which Indians and
wood rangers are alone capable, they effaced the least traces, the
slightest imprints, which might have allowed their place of debarkation
to be discovered, or the retreat they had chosen guessed. The bent
blades of grass were raised, the creepers and brambles they had moved
drawn together, and after the task was accomplished, no one could
have suspected that several persons had passed through them. After
this, collecting an ample stock of dead wood and _ocote_ branches, for
torches, they reentered the grotto, with the manifest intention of at
last taking a little of that rest they needed so greatly. All these
preparations took time; hence, the night was already far advanced when
the adventurers, after swallowing a hasty meal, at length wrapped
themselves in their zarapés, and lay down, with their feet to the fire,
and their rifles in their hands. Nothing disturbed their sleep, which
was continuing when the first sunbeams purpled the horizon with their
joyous tints. It was Marksman who aroused his companions.

Flying Eagle was not in the grotto. This absence in no way alarmed the
hunter; he was too well acquainted with the Comanche sachem to fear any
treachery on his part.

"Up!" he cried to the sleepers. "The sun has risen; we have rested
enough; it is time to think of our business."

In an instant all were afoot.

The hunter was not mistaken: the fire was scarce kindled, ere
Flying Eagle made his appearance. The Chief bore on his shoulders a
magnificent elk, which he threw silently on the ground, and then seated
himself by Eglantine's side.

"On my word, Chief," Marksman said, gaily, "you are a man of
precaution; your hunt is welcome; our provisions were beginning to
diminish furiously."

The Comanche smiled with pleasure at this remark, but he made no
other reply: like all his fellows, the Indian only spoke when it was
absolutely necessary.

At a sign from the Canadian, Domingo, who was a first-rate hunter,
immediately set to work breaking up the elk. The pemmican, queso,
and Indian corn remained in the adventurer's alforjas, thanks to
the succulent steaks cut adroitly from the animal by Domingo, and
which, roasted on the ashes, procured them a delicious breakfast; the
festival was crowned with a few drops of pulque, from which the two
Comanches abstained, according to the custom of their nation. Pipes and
cigarettes were then lighted, and each began smoking silently.

Marksman reflected on the steps he must take, while Domingo and
Bermudez prepared everything for departure; at length, he decided on
speaking. "Caballeros," he said, "we have arrived at the spot where
our journey really commences; it is time for me to tell you where
we are going. So soon as we have crossed this forest, which will not
take long, we shall have before us an immense plain, in the midst of
which stands a city; this city is called by the Indians Quiepaa Tani;
it is one of those mysterious cities in which, since the conquest, the
Mexican civilization of the Incas has taken refuge; to that city we are
proceeding, for the maidens we wish to save have sought shelter there.
That city is sacred; woe to the European or white man who is discovered
in its vicinity! I confess to you that the perils we have hitherto
incurred are as nothing to be compared with those that probably await
us, ere we gain the end we have proposed to ourselves. It is impossible
for all of us to dream of entering that city; the attempt would be
madness, and only result in our being massacred for no good. On the
other hand, we might find it necessary to meet there those devoted
companions, who, in the hour of danger, would come to our aid. I have,
therefore, resolved on this: Bermudez will proceed to the spot where
we left Juanito; then both, leading the horses with them, will join
Brighteye's and Ruperto's detachments at the agreed on spot, and guide
them here. What is your opinion, Caballeros? Do you approve my plan?"

"In every point," Don Mariano answered, with a bow.

"And you, Chief?"

"My brother is prudent; what he does is well."

"What? I am going to leave you!" poor Bermudez muttered, addressing his
master.

"It must be, my friend," the latter answered; "but not for long, I
hope."

"Try to remember the road we have followed, so as not to make a
mistake in returning," the hunter remarked.

"I will try."

"Eh, old hunter?" Domingo said with a grin. "Why the deuce do you not
send me, who am a wood ranger, and have the desert at my fingers' ends,
instead of this poor man, who, I feel sure, will leave his bones on the
way?"

Marksman gave the Gambusino a piercing glance, which made him blush
and look down. "Because," he answered, laying a stress on each word,
"friend Domingo, I feel such a powerful inclination toward you, that I
cannot consent to let you out of my sight for a moment! You understand
me, I suppose?"

"Perfectly, perfectly," the Gambusino stammered; "you need not get in a
passion, old hunter. I will stay. What I said was in your behalf; that
was all."

"I appreciate your offer, as it deserves," the Canadian answered,
sarcastically; "so let us say no more about it." Then he continued,
addressing Bermudez, "As we may possibly soon require help, try, on
your return, to take a shorter and more direct road. You hear?"

"And understand; be at rest. I am too satisfied of the recommendations
you give me, to neglect them."

"A last word. I have told you that it was absolutely necessary, for
the success of the difficult expedition we are attempting, that we
should find here, in case of need, a strong detachment of resolute men;
warn Ruperto to be doubly prudent, and avoid, as far as possible, any
meeting, and, of course, any quarrel with the Indians."

"I will tell him."

"Now put the canoe in the water; and good luck."

"Heaven grant you may succeed in saving my poor Niña," the old servant
said, with an emotion he could not overcome. "I would joyfully give my
life for her."

"Go in peace, my friend," Marksman answered, affectionately. "You have
already sacrificed much."

The adventurers then left the grotto, not without first looking round
to see there was no danger. A profound silence prevailed beneath the
impenetrable forest covert. They then raised on their shoulders the
canoe, in which they had placed provisions for the comrade who was
about to leave them, and it soon floated lightly on the water. Bermudez
took his parting farewell, and then turning away, with an effort,
leaped into the canoe, seized the paddles, and went off.

"We shall meet again soon," Don Mariano said, with emotion.

"Soon, if Heaven decree it!" Bermudez answered.

"Amen!" the adventurers piously murmured.

Marksman followed, for a long time, the course of the canoe, and then
turned hastily to his comrades. "His is a devoted heart," he muttered,
as if speaking to himself. "Will he get there?"

"God will protect him!" Don Mariano answered.

"That is true," the hunter said, passing his hand over his forehead.
"I am mad, on my word, to have such thoughts, and, what is more,
ungrateful to Providence, which has hitherto watched over us with such,
solicitude."

"Well spoken, my friend," Don Mariano remarked. "I feel a presentiment
that we shall succeed."

"Well, would you have me speak frankly to you?" the hunter said, gaily.
"I feel the same presentiment; so forwards!"

Flying Eagle at this moment laid his hand on the hunter's shoulder.
"Before starting, I should like to hold a council with my brother," he
said; "the case is grave."

"You are right, Chief; let us return to the grotto; our movements must
be combined with the utmost prudence, so that when the moment arrives,
we may not commit an irreparable mistake which would hopelessly
compromise the success of our expedition."

The Comanche made a sign of assent, and preceding his friends, returned
to the cavern. The fire was not yet completely out, but smouldered in
the ashes; in a second it blazed up again, and the four men seated
themselves gravely round it. The Chief then took his calumet from his
girdle, filled it with sacred tobacco, lit it, and after slowly drawing
two or three mouthfuls of smoke, passed it to Marksman. The calumet
then passed round, without a word being uttered, until the tobacco
contained in the bowl was consumed. When nothing remained but the ash,
the Chief shook it out in the fire, returned the calumet to his girdle,
and addressed Marksman. "A Chief would speak," he said.

"My brother can speak," the hunter answered, with a bow: "our ears are
open."

The Sachem, after making his wife a sign to retire out of range
of voice, which, according to the Indian custom, Eglantine did
immediately, bowed reverently to the members of the council, spoke, as
follows.



CHAPTER XXIX.

THE COUNCIL.


Flying Eagle, since the commencement of the expedition, in which
he had consented to take a share, had constantly played a passive
part, accepting, without discussion, the combinations proposed by
Marksman, executing frankly and faithfully the orders he received
from the hunter; in a word, entirely performing the part of a warrior
subordinate to a chief whose duty it is to think for him: hence the
new attitude suddenly assumed by the Sachem filled the Canadian with
surprise, for he had no notion on what subject the debate was about to
turn, and he feared in his heart lest, in the critical situation he
was in at the moment, the Comanche intended to leave him to his own
resources, or, perhaps, raise obstacles to the execution of his plans.
Hence he impatiently awaited the explanation of his ally's strange
conduct.

The Chief, still apathetic, rose, and bowing once again, began to
speak:--"Palefaces, my brothers," he said, in his guttural and
sympathetic voice, "for more than a moon we have been together on the
same path, sharing the same fatigue, sleeping side by side, eating
the produce of the same chase; but the chief you admitted to share
your labour and perils has not, till this day, been allowed to advance
so far in your confidence as a friend should do. Your heart has even
remained to him closed and covered with a thick cloud. Your projects
are as unknown to him as on the first day. The words your chest
breathes are and remain to him inexplicable riddles. Is this right? is
it just? No! Why did you summon me? Why did you beg me to accompany
you, if I am ever to remain a stranger to you? Up to the present I have
shut up in my heart the bitterness which your suspicious conduct caused
me. Not a complaint rose from my heart to my lips, on seeing myself
treated in a manner so ill suited to my rank and the relations I have
maintained with you. Even at this moment I would continue to maintain
silence if my friendship for you was not stronger than the resentment
caused by your ungenerous conduct toward me. We are on the holy land
of the Indians; the ground we tread on is sacred; perils surround us,
numberless snares are laid for our steps on all sides. Why should I
teach you to avoid them, if your plans are not at length revealed to
me, and unless I know whether the path we are following is that of war
or of hunting? Speak with frankness--take the skin from your heart,
as I have done from mine. Enlighten me as to the conduct you intend
to pursue, and the object you propose, so that I may aid you by my
counsels should that be necessary, and that, being your ally, I should
no longer be kept aloof from your deliberations, which is a disgrace to
the nation of which I have the honour to be a member, and unworthy of
a warrior like myself. I have spoken, brothers. I await your answer,
which I am convinced will be such as warriors so wise and experienced
as yourselves ought to give."

During the long speech of the Comanche Chief, Marksman had repeatedly
given signs of impatience, and, had he not feared making a breach in
the rules of Indian etiquette by interrupting him, he would certainly
have done so; it was with great difficulty he succeeded in restraining
himself and maintaining that apathetic appearance absolutely demanded
in such circumstances. So soon as the Chief took his place again, the
hunter rose, and after bowing to the audience, he spoke in a firm
voice, with these words:--"The Wacondah is great. He holds in his right
hand the hearts of all men, whatever their colour may be. He alone can
know their intentions and read their souls. The reproaches you address
to me, Chief, have an appearance of justice which I will not discuss
with you. You may have supposed, from the conduct which circumstances
have hitherto constrained me to hold toward you, that I did not grant
you all the confidence you so justly desired; but it is not so; I
waited till the hour for speaking arrived, not only to explain to you
my intentions, but also to claim your assistance and intervention. As
you wish me to explain myself at once, I will do so; but, perhaps, it
would have been better for you to wait till the forest in which we now
are was traversed."

"I will remark to my brother that I demand nothing of him. I thought it
my duty to make certain observations to him; if he does not find them
just, his heart is good. He will pardon me when he remembers that I am
only a poor Indian, whose intellect is obscured by a cloud, and that I
had no intention to wound him."

"No, no, Chief," the hunter said quickly; "as we are on this question,
it is better to clear it up at once, in order not to have to return to
it again, and that nothing may arise between us for the future."

"I am at my brother's orders, ready to hear, if it pleases him, and
willing still to wait, if he considers it necessary."

"I thank you, Chief; but I adhere to my first resolution. I prefer to
tell you all."

The Comanche smiled cunningly. "Is my brother really resolved to
speak?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Good. Then my brother has nothing to add. All that he has to say to me
I know. He can tell me nothing more than I have guessed myself."

The hunter could not repress a start of surprise. "Oh, oh," he
muttered, "what is the meaning of that, Chief? Why, then, the
reproaches you addressed to me?"

"Because I wished to make my brother understand that a friend must
hold nothing concealed from another, especially when that friend has
been proved for long years, when his fidelity is staunch, and he can be
depended on like a second self."

The hunter smiled slightly, but at once regained his gravity. "Thanks
for the lesson you give me, Chief," he said, holding out his hand
cordially. "I deserve it, for I really failed in my confidence to you.
The service I expect from you is so important for us that I put off
daily asking it of you, and, in spite of myself, I confess I should
probably not have made up my mind till the very last moment."

"I know it," the Comanche said, his good temper entirely restored.

"Still," the hunter continued, "in spite of the assurance that you know
my plans, it would be, perhaps, as well for me to enter into certain
details of which you are ignorant."

"I repeat to my brother that I know all. Flying Eagle is one of the
first Chiefs of his nation; he has a quick ear and a piercing sight.
For nearly two moons he has not left the great Pale warrior; during
that period many events have happened, many words have been spoken
before him. The Chief has seen, he has heard, and all is as clear in
his mind as if these things had been drawn for him on one of those
collars which the white men know so well how to make, and some of which
he has seen in the hands of the Chief of the Prayer."

"However great your penetration may be, Chief," the hunter objected, "I
can scarcely imagine you are so well acquainted with my intentions as
you suppose."

"Not only do I know my brother's intentions, but I am also aware of the
service he expects from me."

"By Jove! Chief, you will cause me enormous pleasure by telling it to
me; not that I doubt your penetration, for the red men are renowned for
their cleverness. Still, all this seems to me so extraordinary that I
should like to be convinced, were it only for my personal satisfaction,
and to prove to the persons who hear us how wrong we white men are in
imagining that we are so superior in intellect, when, on the contrary,
you Indians leave us far behind."

"Hum!" Domingo muttered, "what you say there is rather strong, old
hunter. It is notorious that the Indians are brute beasts."

"That is not my opinion," Don Mariano remarked, "though I know very
little of the Redskins, with whom I never entered into any connection
before this occasion. Still, since my arrival in these regions, I have
seen them accomplish acts so astonishing, that I should not feel at all
surprised if this Chief had completely read our plans, as he assures
us."

"I think so too," the hunter added. "However, we shall judge. Speak,
Chief, that we may know as soon as possible what opinion to form of the
penetration you flatter yourself with possessing."

"Flying Eagle is not a chattering old woman, who boasts rightly and
wrongly; he is a Sachem, whose deeds and words are ripely meditated. He
does not pretend to know more than his brothers, the Palefaces; still,
the experience he has acquired serves him in the place of wisdom, and
helps him to explain what he sees and hears."

"That is well, Chief. I know that you are a valiant and renowned
warrior. Our ears are open; we are listening to you with all the
attention you deserve."

"My brother, the great hunter, wishes to enter Quiepaa Tani, where the
two white maidens are sheltered, one of whom is the daughter of the
Chief with the grey beard. These two women were confided to an Apache
Sachem, called Addick. My brother, the hunter, is anxious to arrive at
Quiepaa Tani, because he fears treachery from the Apache Chief, whom he
suspects of having allied himself with the white man who was hired by
the Palefaces to carry off the two women, and make them disappear. I
have spoken. Have I truly understood the intentions of my brother, or
am I deceived?"

His auditors regarded each other with amazement. The Chief enjoyed his
triumph for a moment, and then continued--"Now, this is the service the
hunter wishes to ask of the Comanche Sachem--"

"By heavens, Chief!" Marksman exclaimed, "I must confess that all you
have said is true. How did you learn it? I know not how to explain it,
although I grant we have said enough on the subject in your presence to
enable you to guess it; but as for the service I expect from you, if
you can tell me that, I will allow you to be the greatest--"

"Let my brother not be rash," the Chief interrupted him, with a
proud smile, "lest he should soon take me for an adept of the great
_medicine_."

"Hum!" the hunter said, gravely, "I should not like to swear you are
not."

"Och! my brother shall judge. No Paleface has, till this day, succeeded
in entering Quiepaa Tani; still my brother wishes, at all hazards, to
visit the city, in order to obtain certain information about the two
pale virgins. Unfortunately, my brother does not know how to set about
his plan, nor how he would succeed in saving the maidens, if he found
them in danger. That is why he thought of Flying Eagle. He said to
himself that his red brother was a Chief, and must have friends or
relations in Quiepaa Tani; that the entrance to the city, forbidden
him through his colour, was not so to the Chief, and that Flying Eagle
would obtain for him the information he could not obtain himself."

"Yes, that is what I thought, Chief. Why should I conceal it? Am I
mistaken? Will you not do that for me?"

"I will do better," the Indian answered. "Let my brother listen.
Eglantine is a woman; no one will notice her; she will enter the city
unperceived, and obtain the information the hunter needs better than
the Chief can. When the moment for action arrives, Flying Eagle will
help the hunter."

"By Jove! you are right, Sachem; your idea is better than mine. It is
preferable in every respect that Eglantine should go on the discovery.
A woman cannot inspire suspicions, and she can learn news better than
anyone. Let us start, then, without any further delay. So soon as we
have crossed the forest, we will send her to the Tzinco."

Flying Eagle shook his head, and kept his hold of the hunter's arm, who
had already risen to set out. "My brother is quick," he said; "let me
say one word more."

"Let us see."

"Eglantine will go ahead; my brother will have news sooner."

Don Mariano rose, and pressed the Comanche's hand with emotion. "Thanks
for the good thought that has occurred to you, Chief," he said to him.
"You have delicate feelings; your heart is noble; it can sympathize
with a father's sorrow. Once again I thank you."

The Indian turned away, to conceal the trace of agitation on his face,
which, in his idea, was unworthy a Chief, who, under all circumstances,
must remain stoical.

"In truth," Marksman said, "the Chief's proposal will make us gain
precious time; his idea is excellent."

Flying Eagle made Eglantine a sign to approach him, which she at once
obeyed. The Chief then explained to her in his tongue what she was to
do, to which she listened with charming grace, standing timidly before
him. When Flying Eagle had given her his instructions most fully, and
she perfectly understood what was wanted of her, she turned gracefully
to Don Mariano and Marksman, and said, with a smile almost prophetic
--"Eglantine will learn."

These two words filled the poor father's heart with joy and hope.
"Bless you, young woman!" he said; "bless you, for the kindness you
show me at this moment, and that you intend to show me."

The separation between husband and wife was as it should be with
Indians; that is to say, grave and cold. Whatever love Flying Eagle
felt for his companion, he would have been ashamed, in the presence of
strangers, and above all of whites, to display the slightest emotion,
or allow the feelings of his heart towards her to be guessed. After
bowing once more to Don Mariano and Marksman in farewell, Eglantine
hastened away, with that quick and high step which renders the Indians
the first walkers in the world. Though the Chief's stoicism was so
great, still he looked after his young wife, until she disappeared
among the trees.

As nothing pressed them at the moment, the adventurers allowed the
great heat of the day to pass, and only set out when the declining
sun appeared like a ball of fire, almost on a level with the ground.
Their march was slow, owing to the countless difficulties they had
to surmount, in forcing their way through the intertwined creepers
and brambles, which they had to cut down with axes at every step. At
length, after a four days' march, during which they had to endure
extraordinary fatigue, they saw the trees growing more sparsely,
the scrub become less dense, and, between the trees they perceived
a deep and open horizon. Although the adventurers were in the heart
of a virgin forest, where, according to all probability, they could
not expect to meet anybody of their own species, they neglected no
precaution, and advanced very prudently in Indian file, with the finger
on the trigger, eye and ear on the watch; for being so near one of the
sacred Indian cities, they might expect, especially after the smart
skirmish a few days previous, to be tracked by scouts sent in search
of them. Toward the evening of the fourth day, at the moment they were
preparing to camp for the night in a vast clearing on the banks of a
nameless stream, so many of which are met with in the virgin forests,
Marksman, who was marching at the head of the little party, suddenly
stopped, and looked down on the ground, with signs of the utmost
astonishment.

"What is it?" Don Mariano anxiously asked him.

Marksman did not answer him; but he turned to the Indian Chief, and
said, with a certain degree of alarm, "Look yourself, Chief; this seems
to me inconceivable."

Flying Eagle stooped down in his turn, and remained a long time
examining the marks which seemed to trouble the hunter so greatly. At
length he rose.

"Well?" Marksman asked him.

"A band of horsemen has passed by here this very day," he replied.

"Yes," the hunter said; "but who are the horsemen? Where do they come
from? That is what I want to know."

The Indian resumed his inspection, with an attention more minute than
before. "They are Palefaces," after a pause, he said.

"What! Palefaces!" Marksman exclaimed, with a voice prudently
suppressed; "it is impossible! Think where we are. Never has a white
man, excepting myself, penetrated into these regions."

"They are Palefaces," the Chief insisted, "Look, one of them stopped
here and dismounted; here is the mark of his steps; his foot crushed
that tuft of grass; one of his nails in his shoe left a black line on
that stone."

"That is true," Marksman muttered; "the Indian moccasins do not leave
such marks. But who can these men be? How did they get here? What
direction have they followed?"

While Marksman was asking himself these questions, and hopelessly
seeking the solution of the problem, Flying Eagle had walked some
paces, attentively following the marks, which were perfectly plain on
the ground.

"Well, Chief," the hunter asked, as he saw him returning, "have you
found anything which can put us on the right scent?"

"Wah!" the Indian said, with a toss of his head. "The trail is fresh;
the horsemen are not far off."

"Are you sure of it, Chief? Remember how important it is for us to know
who the people are we have for neighbours."

The Comanche remained silent for a moment, plunged in serious thought.
Then he raised his head. "Flying Eagle," he said, "will try to satisfy
his brother. Let the Palefaces remain here till his return; the Chief
will take up the trail; he will soon tell the hunter if the men are
friends or enemies."

"By Jove! I will go with you, Chief," Marksman sharply replied. "It
shall not be said that, in order to be useful to us, you exposed
yourself to a serious danger, without having a friend near to back you
up."

"No," the Indian went on; "my brother must remain here; one warrior is
sufficient."

Marksman knew that, when once the Chief had formed a resolution,
nothing could make him alter it. Hence he no longer urged it. "Go
then," he said, "and act as you please. I know that what you do will be
right."

The Comanche threw his rifle over his shoulder, lay down on the ground,
and crawled like a serpent amid the underwood.

"And what are we to do?" Don Mariano asked.

"Await the Chief's return," Marksman answered; "and while doing so,
prepare supper, the need of which I am certain you are beginning to
feel, like myself."

The adventurers installed themselves, as well as they could, in the
clearing, following Marksman's advice, and awaiting the return of the
scout, whose absence, however, was much longer than they expected; for
night had fallen long before he made his appearance.



CHAPTER XXX.

THE SECOND DETACHMENT.


As we have said in our previous chapter, Flying Eagle started on the
trail of the horsemen whose footsteps had been perceived by Marksman.
The Indian was really one of the finest sleuth-hounds of his nation;
for, although night fell rapidly, and soon prevented him from
distinguishing the traces which served to guide him in his search, he
continued not a bit the less to advance with a sure and certain step.
About ten minutes after leaving his companions, the Chief rose to his
feet, and not appearing to attach great importance to the marks on the
ground, he continued his search, satisfying himself with looking, from
time to time, peeringly at the trees and shrubs that surrounded him.
Flying Eagle continued walking thus for an hour without hesitation or
checking his speed. On reaching a spot where the trees fell back on
both sides, thus forming an open space into which several wild beast
tracks opened, the Chief stopped for a moment, cast an investigating
and suspicious glance around, clutched his rifle, which he had hitherto
carried on his back, inspected the priming carefully, and bending his
body to a level with the tall grass, he advanced with measured steps
toward a thicket, the branches of which he drew aside, and in which
he speedily disappeared. So soon as he was completely concealed, the
Comanche knelt down, gradually opened the leafy curtain that hid him,
and looked out. Suddenly Flying Eagle rose, uncocked his rifle, which
he threw back again on his shoulder, and stepped forth with head erect,
and a smile on his lips.

In the centre of a large clearing, illumined by three or four fires,
some twenty men were encamped, picturesquely grouped round the fires,
and joyously preparing their evening meal, while their horses grazed
a short distance off. These horsemen, whom Flying Eagle recognized at
the first glance, were Don Leo de Torres, Brighteye, and the Gambusinos
detached in pursuit of Don Estevan. The Indian approached the fire near
which Don Leo and the hunters were seated, and stopped in front of
them.

"May the Wacondah watch over my brothers!" he said, in salutation; "a
friend has come to visit them."

"He is welcome," Don Leo answered gracefully, as he held out his hand.

"Yes," Brighteye went on, "a thousand times welcome; though there's
reason that his presence should surprise us."

The Chief bowed, and took his place between the two whites.

"How is it we meet you here?" the hunter asked.

"The question my brother asks me at this moment is exactly what I was
preparing to ask myself."

"How so?" Don Miguel asked.

"Does not my brother, the Paleface, know where he is at this moment?"

"Not at all. Since our separation, we have constantly followed the
trail of an enemy, though we could not catch him up; that trail has led
us to parts strange to Brighteye himself."

"I am bound to confess it. This is the second time such a thing has
occurred to me, and under exactly similar circumstances. The first
time, I remember, it was in 1843. I was on the--"

"But if the hunter does not know these regions," Flying Eagle
interrupted him unceremoniously, "my brother, the warrior knows them."

"I?" Don Leo said. "Not the least in the world, Chief. I assure you it
is the first time I have come this way."

"My brother is mistaken, he has been here already; but, like all the
Palefaces, my brother's memory is short, he has forgotten."

"No, Chief. I am too well acquainted with the desert not to recognize,
at the first glance, any spot which I have once visited."

The Indian smiled at this pretension, which was so poorly justified.
"Yes, that has happened to my brother today," he said, "though only
three moons, at the most, have passed since he visited these parts in
company with the Pale hunter, to whom he gave the name of Marksman."

The adventurer started, and a lively emotion could be seen on his face.
"What do you mean, Redskin, in Heaven's name?" he said quickly.

"I mean that Quiepaa Tani is there," the Indian answered, stretching
out his arm in a south-western direction; "that we are but a half day's
journey distant from it at the most."

"Can it be possible?"

"Oh!" the young man exclaimed, energetically, as he suddenly rose;
"thanks for these good news, Chief!"

"What are you going to do?" Brighteye asked him.

"What am I going to do? Cannot you guess it? Those we wish to save are
only a few leagues from us, and you ask me that question!"

"I ask it of you because I fear, through your impetuosity and
imprudence, lest you might compromise the success of our expedition."

"Your words are harsh, old hunter; but I pardon them, because you
cannot understand my feelings."

"Perhaps I can, perhaps I cannot, Don Miguel; but, believe me, in an
expedition like ours, stratagem alone can lead to success."

"Deuce take stratagem, and he who recommends it," the young man
exclaimed passionately. "I wish to deliver the girls whom, through my
mad confidence, I led into this snare."

"And whom you lose for ever by another act of madness. Trust in the
experience of a man who has lived in the desert more years than you
count months in your life. Since we have been following Don Estevan's
trail, you have seen that a strong party of Indian horsemen has joined
him, I think? At two paces from a holy city, whose population is
immense, do you intend to contend with your fifteen Gambusinos against
several thousand brave and experienced Redskin warriors? That would be
committing suicide with your eyes open. If Don Estevan is proceeding
in this direction, it is because he also knows that the maidens are in
Quiepaa Tani. Do not let us hurry, but watch our enemy's movements,
without revealing our presence, or letting him suspect we are so near
him. In that way I answer for our success on my head."

The young man had listened to these remarks with the greatest
attention. When Brighteye ceased, he pressed his hand affectionately,
and sat down at once by his side. "Thanks, my old friend," he said,
"thanks for the rough way in which you have spoken to me. You have
brought me back to my senses. I was mad. But," he added a moment after,
"what is to be done? How to save these unhappy maidens?"

Flying Eagle, during the preceding conversation, had remained calm and
silent, apathetically smoking his Indian calumet; on hearing Don Leo
speak thus, he understood it was time for him to interfere. "The Pale
warrior can regain his courage," he said; "Eglantine is in Quiepaa
Tani; tomorrow at sunrise we shall have news of the pale virgins."

"Oh! oh!" the young man said joyously. "So soon as your wife returns
from that nest of demons, I promise her, Chief, the handsomest pair of
bracelets, and the prettiest earrings an Indian cihuatl ever yet wore."

"Eglantine needs no reward for serving her friends."

"I know it, Chief; but you will not refuse me the satisfaction of
giving her this slight token of my gratitude, Chief?"

"My brother is at liberty to do so."

"Halloh!" Brighteye suddenly remarked, "by what chance did you come to
our camp this night?"

"Have you not understood?"

"On my word, no. We were far from suspecting you to be so near us."

"That is true," Don Miguel remarked: "but now that I know where we are,
all is explained."

"Yes; but that does not tell us why the Chief came to find us here."

"Because," Flying Eagle replied, "we discovered your footsteps crossing
the trail we followed."

"That is true; and you came to reconnoitre."

The Chief nodded an assent.

"Have our friends stopped far from here?"

"No," the Indian said, "I am going to rejoin them, in order to tell
them who are the men I have seen. My absence has been long; the
Palefaces are soon alarmed. I am going."

"One moment," Brighteye observed. "As chance has brought us together
again, perhaps it will be better not to separate again; we shall,
possibly, need one another."

"What is your advice, Chief? Will it be better for us to accompany you
to your bivouac, or will you join us?"

"We will come hither."

"Make haste, then; for I am curious to know what has happened to you
since our separation at the ford of the Rubio."

"Flying Eagle is a good runner," the Chief answered, "but he has only
the feet of a man."

"By the way, why did you not come on horseback"

"Our horses were left at the camp of the great river. A trail is better
followed afoot."

"That is easily remedied. How many are you?"

"Four."

"What, four? I fancied you were more."

"Yes, but the Pale hunter will explain to you why two of our comrades
have left us."

"Good. I will accompany you."

Don Leo immediately gave orders to have four horses got ready, and
recommended Brighteye to watch over the camp during his absence, then,
mounting his horse, in which he was imitated by the Chief, the two set
off, leading the horses intended for the men they were going to find.
The two men only took twenty minutes in covering the ground which
Flying Eagle had spent more than an hour in crossing, owing to the
precautions he was compelled to take when following an unknown trail,
which might belong to enemies. They found Marksman and Don Mariano
with loaded rifles, and keeping good watch. While awaiting Flying
Eagle's return, they had fallen asleep; but the steps of the horses
awoke them, and they stood on their defence in case of the worst. On
their awakening, however, a very disagreeable surprise awaited them.
They found only two instead of three. Domingo, the Gambusino, had
disappeared. So soon as he recognized Don Miguel, the Canadian said,
with extreme agitation--"Dismount, dismount, Caballero! We must all go
beating."

"What humbug at this hour, Marksman!" Don Miguel answered. "Why, you
must be mad!"

"I am not mad," the Canadian said, hurriedly; "but I repeat, dismount
and hunt; we are betrayed!"

"Betrayed!" Don Miguel exclaimed, starting with surprise; "by whom? in
Heaven's name!"

"By Domingo! The traitor has fled during our sleep! Oh! I was right to
distrust his coppery face!"

"Domingo fled!--a traitor! You are mistaken!"

"I am not. Hunt after him, I tell you, in the name of those you have
sworn to save."

No more was needed to exasperate the young man; he bounded from his
steed, and seized his rifle. "What is to be done?" he asked.

"Scatter over the ground," the hunter rapidly answered. "Each go a
different way; and may Heaven bless our search! We have lost too much
time already."

Without any further exchange of words, the four men buried themselves
in the forest in four different directions. But the darkness was dense.
Beneath the cover, where, even by day, the sunbeams penetrated with
difficulty, on this black and moonless night they could distinguish
nothing two steps ahead of them; and if, instead of flying, the
Gambusino had contented himself with hiding in the vicinity, the
hunters would evidently have passed without noticing him. The search
lasted a long time, for the hunters comprehended the importance of
finding the fugitive again; but, in spite of all their skill, they
could discover nothing. Marksman, Don Mariano, and Don Miguel had been
back by the fire several minutes; they were communicating to each
other the closeness of their pursuit, when, suddenly, a dazzling flash
crossed the forest, and a shot was heard, almost immediately followed
by a second. "Let us run up," Marksman shouted. "Flying Eagle has found
the vermin. Never was a better sleuth-hound after game."

The three men ran at full speed in the direction of the shots they had
heard. On approaching, they found that an obstinate contest was going
on. The war yell of the Comanches, uttered in Flying Eagle's powerful
voice, permitted them no doubt on that head. At length, they debouched
on the scene of action. Flying Eagle, with his foot on the chest of a
man thrown down before him, and who writhed like a serpent to escape
the fearful pressure, leant his back against a black oak, and, tomahawk
in hand, was defending himself like a lion against half a dozen Indians
who attacked him together. The three white men clubbed their rifles,
and rushed into the medley with a terrible cry of defiance. The effect
of this diversion was instantaneous. The Redskins dispersed in all
directions, and fled like a legion of phantoms.

"After them!" Don Miguel howled, as he rushed forward.

"Stop!" Marksman shouted, as he seized him by the arm; "you might as
well pursue the cloud carried off by the wind. Let the scoundrels
escape, we shall find them again, I warrant."

The adventurer perceived that a pursuit in the dark would be giving an
enormous advantage to his enemy, who was better acquainted with the
country, and probably very numerous; hence he stopped with a sigh of
regret. The Chief was then surrounded, and complimented on his glorious
resistance. The Sachem received the remarks with his habitual modesty.

"Wah!" he merely answered, "the Apaches are cowardly old women. One
Comanche warrior is sufficient to kill six times ten of them, and
twenty more."

By a miraculous hazard, the brave Indian had only received a few
insignificant wounds, to which, in spite of his friend's earnest
entreaties, he paid no further attention than washing them with cold
water.

"But," Marksman suddenly said, stooping down, "whom have we here? Eh!
if I am not mistaken, it is our fugitive!"

It was really Domingo. The poor wretch had his thigh broken;
doubtlessly foreseeing the fate that awaited him, he howled with pain,
but would give no other answer.

"It would be a good deed," Don Mariano said, "to dash out this poor
fellow's brains, to terminate his sufferings."

"Let us be in no hurry," the implacable hunter remarked. "Everything
will have its season. Let Flying Eagle explain to us how he found him."

"Yes, that is important," Don Miguel said.

"It is the Wacondah who delivered this man into my hands," the Chief
answered, sententiously. "I had ransacked the forest with as much care
as the darkness permitted me, and was returning to you, wearied with
nearly two hours' fruitless search, when, at the moment I least thought
of it, I was attacked by more than ten Apaches, who rushed on me from
all sides at once. This man was at the head of the assailants. He fired
his gun at me, but did not hit me. I answered in the same way; but more
successfully, for he fell. I immediately set my foot on his chest, for
fear he should escape me, and defended myself to my best against my
enemies, in order to give you time to come to my assistance. I have
spoken."

"By heavens, Chief!" the hunter exclaimed, enthusiastically, "you
are a brave warrior! What you have done is grand. This villain, on
leaving us, found a party of these birds of prey, and was, doubtlessly,
returning with the intention of attacking us during our sleep."

"Well!" Don Mariano remarked, "he is found again; so all is for the
best."

The wounded man made a great effort, and, leaning on his right hand,
he drew himself up and gave a ghastly grim "Yes, yes," he answered, "I
know I am about to die; but it will not be without vengeance."

"What do you say, villain?" Don Mariano exclaimed.

"I say that your brother knows all, my fine gentleman, and will succeed
in foiling your plans."

"Viper! what have I done to make you act thus towards me?"

"You did nothing," he replied, with a demoniac grin; "but," he added,
pointing to Don Miguel, "I have hated that man for a long time."

"Die, then, villain!" the exasperated young man shouted, as he set the
cold muzzle of his rifle on his forehead.

Flying Eagle turned the weapon aside.

"This man is mine, brother," he said.

Don Miguel slowly removed his rifle, and turned to the Chief. "I
consent; but on condition that he dies."

A sinister smile played for a second round the Indian's thin lips.
"Yes," he said, "and by an Apache, death." Then, unfastening the bow
he wore by the side of his panther skin quiver, he placed the string
round the Gambusino's skull, and, forming a tourniquet, by means of an
arrow passed through the string, while, with his knee buried between
the wretch's shoulders, he seized his hair in his right hand, and
drew it to him. He scalped in this manner, inflicting on him the most
abominable torture that can be imagined, since, instead of cutting
the skin with his knife, he literally tore it off by means of the
string. The bandit, with his face inundated with blood, and disfigured
features, clasped his hands by a supreme effort, exclaiming, with an
expression impossible to describe--"Kill me! oh, for pity's sake, kill
me!"

The Comanche placed his furious face close to the bandit's. "Traitors
are not killed," he said, in a hollow voice. And then, seizing him by
the neck, he thrust the blade of his knife between the clenched teeth,
forced the mouth open, and tore out his tongue, which he threw from him
in disgust. "Die like a dog!" he yelled; "thy lying tongue shall betray
never more."

Domingo uttered a cry of pain so horrible that the hearers started with
terror, and rolled senseless on the ground.[1]

Flying Eagle contemptuously kicked the bandit's body aside, and turned
to his companions. "Let us go," he said.

They followed him in silence, terrified by the scene of which they had
been witnesses. An hour later, they found Brighteye at the bivouac.

At sunrise, Flying Eagle approached Marksman and gently touched him on
the shoulder. "What do you want?" the hunter asked, as he woke.

"The Sachem is going to meet Eglantine," the Chief answered, simply.
And he went away.

"There is something human in those savage fellows after all," the
hunter muttered, as he watched him depart.


[1] The author saw this punishment inflicted on a North American by an
Apache.



CHAPTER XXXI.

THE TLACATEOTZIN.[1]


Two hours after sunrise, Flying Eagle returned to the camp, followed
by Eglantine: the council immediately assembled to hear the news.
The young Indian woman had not learned much: it was contained in one
sentence.

The two Mexican girls were still in the city. Addick was absent, but
expected at any moment. These news, slight as they were, were, however,
good; for, though the details were wanting, the hunters knew that their
enemies had not yet had time to act. The point was now to get before
them and carry off the girls, ere they had time to prevent it. But
to do so, they must enter the city, and there lay the difficulty. A
difficulty which, at the first blush, appeared insurmountable.

In this moment of distress, all eyes were turned to Flying Eagle.
The Chief smiled. Through the expression of agony depicted on every
countenance, the Indian guessed what was expected of him. "The hour
has arrived," he said. "My Pale brothers demand of me the greatest
sacrifice they can demand of a Sachem--that is to say, to open to
them the gates of one of the last refuges of the Indian religion,
the principal sanctuary where still is preserved intact the law of
Tlhui-camina,[2] the greatest, the most powerful, and most unhappy of
all the sovereigns who have governed the country of Hauahuac: still,
in order to prove to my Pale brothers how red the blood is that flows
in my veins, and how pure and cloudless my heart is, I will do it for
them, as I have promised."

At the assurance given by Flying Eagle, whose word could not be
doubted, every face brightened. The Chief continued--"Flying Eagle has
no forked tongue; what he says, he does; he will introduce the great
Pale hunter into Quiepaa Tani; but my brothers must forget that they
are warriors and brave: cunning alone can make them triumph. Has the
great hunter of the Palefaces understood the words of the Chief? Is he
resolved to trust to his prudence and sagacity?"

"I will act as you point out, Chief," Marksman replied, for he knew
that the Comanche was addressing him. "I promise to let myself be
entirely guided by you."

"Wah!" the Indian continued, with a smile. "All is well, then: before
two hours, my brother will be in Quiepaa Tani."

"May Heaven grant it be so, and my poor child be saved!" Don Mariano
muttered.

"I have been long used to contend in cunning with Indians," the hunter
answered. "Up to the present, thanks to Heaven! I have always come off
pretty well from my meetings with them. I have good hopes of success
this time."

"We will hold ourselves in readiness to come to your aid, if needed,"
Don Miguel observed.

"Above all, take care not to be tracked; you know that traitor of a
Domingo has put them on your scent."

"Trust to me for that, Marksman," Brighteye eagerly interposed; "I know
what it is to play at hide and seek with the Indians. It is not the
first time this happens to me; and I remember, in 1845, at the hour I
was--"

"I know," the Canadian cut him short, "that you are not the man to let
yourself be surprised, my friend, and that is enough for me; but keep a
good lookout, so as to be ready at the first signal."

"And what will that signal be? for we must understand one another
thoroughly, in order to avoid any misunderstanding, which, annoying at
all times, would, in our present circumstances, be utter ruin."

"You are right. When you hear the cry of the hawk repeated thrice, at
equal intervals, then you must act vigorously."

"That is understood," Brighteye said; "trust to me for that."

"I am ready," Marksman said to the Chief. "What must I do?"

"In the first place, dress yourself," Flying Eagle answered.

"What! dress myself?" the hunter said, surveying his person with
surprise.

"Wah! does my brother fancy he will enter Quiepaa Tani in his Paleface
clothes?"

"That is true; an Indian disguise is absolutely necessary. Wait a
minute."

The _travestissement_ did not take long to effect. Eglantine modestly
retired into the forest, so as not to be present at the hunter's
toilet. In a few minutes Marksman took from his alforjas a razor, with
which he removed beard and moustache. During this time the Chief had
plucked a plant, which grew abundantly in the forest. After extracting
the juice, Flying Eagle helped the Canadian, who had removed all his
garments, to stain his body and face. Then the Chief drew on his chest
an _ayotl_, or sacred tortoise, accompanied by several fantastic
ornaments that had nothing warlike about them, and which he reproduced
on his face. After that, he gave the hunter's black hair a white tinge,
intended to make him look very aged; for among the Indians the hair
retains its colour for a long period. He knotted his curls on the top
of his head, after the fashion of the Yumas--the most travelled of the
Redskins--and to the left of this tuft, to show that it adorned the
head of a pacific Chief, he fixed a passagallo feather, instead of a
scalp lock, as is the custom with the warriors.

When these preparations were completed, Flying Eagle asked the
Europeans, who had curiously followed the metamorphosis, how they liked
their comrade.

"My word," Brighteye answered, simply, "if I had not been present
at the transformation, I should not recognize him; and, by the way,
I remember a singular adventure that occurred to me in 1836. Just
imagine--"

"Well, and what do you say?" the Indian continued, pitilessly cutting
the Canadian short, and turning to Don Miguel.

The latter could not refrain from laughing on looking at the hunter. "I
consider him hideous; he bears such a resemblance to a Redskin, that I
feel sure he can risk it boldly."

"Och! the Indians are very clever," the Chief muttered. "Still, I
believe that, disguised thus, if my brother is willing thoroughly to
represent the character he has assumed, he has nothing to fear."

"I mean to do it. Still, I would remark, Chief, that I do not yet know
what part you mean me to play."

"My brother is a Tlacateotzin--a great medicine man of the Yumas."

"By Jove! the idea is a good one. In that way I can get in anywhere."

The Comanche bowed with a smile.

"I shall be very clumsy, if I do not succeed," the hunter continued.
"But as I am a doctor, I must not forget to furnish myself with
medicaments."

Thereupon Marksman rummaged his alforjas, took out of them all that
might have compromised him, and only left in them a little box of
specifics, which he always carried about him,--a precious store he had
employed on many an occasion. He closed the alforjas, threw them on his
back, and turned to the Chief.

"I am ready," he said to him.

"Good. Myself and Eglantine will go in front, in order to make the road
easy for my brother."

The hunter gave a sign of assent. The Indian called his wife, and both,
after taking leave of the adventurers, went off.

So soon as the Chief was out of sight, the hunter in his turn said
good-bye to his comrades. It was, perhaps, the last time he would see
them; for who could foresee the fate reserved for him among these
ferocious Indians, into whose hands he was about defencelessly to
surrender himself?

"I will accompany you to the edge of the forest," Don Miguel said, "in
order fully to understand the means I must employ to be able to run up
at the first signal."

"Come," the hunter said, laconically.

They went away followed by the eyes of all their comrades, who saw
Marksman depart with an indescribable feeling of anxiety and sorrow.
The two men walked side by side, without exchanging a word. The
Canadian was plunged in deep thought; Don Miguel seemed a prey to an
emotion which he could not succeed in overcoming. In this way they
reached the last trees of the forest. The hunter stopped. "It is here
we must part," he said to his companion.

"That is true," the young man muttered, as he looked sadly around. Then
he was silent. The Canadian waited a moment. Seeing, at length, that
Don Miguel would not speak, he asked him,--"Have you anything to say to
me?"

"Why do you ask me that question?" the young man asked him, with a
start.

"Because," the hunter answered, "you have not come so far, Don Leo,
merely to enjoy my company a little longer. You must, I repeat, have
something to say to me."

"Yes, it is true," he said, with an effort; "you have guessed it. I
wish to speak with you; but I know not how it is, my throat rises.
I cannot find words to express my feelings. Oh, if I possessed your
experience, and your knowledge of Indian language, no other than
myself, I assure you, Marksman, would have gone to Quiepaa Tani."

"Yes, it must be so," the hunter muttered, speaking to himself, rather
than answering his friend; "and why should it not be so? Love is the
sun of youth. All love in this world. Why should two handsome and
well-made beings alone remain insensible to each other and not love?
What do you wish me to say to them for you?" he added quickly.

"Oh!" the young man exclaimed, "you perceived, then, that I loved her?
You are master, then, of the secret which I did not dare to confess to
myself!"

"Do not be alarmed about that, my friend. The secret is as safe in my
heart as in yours."

"Alas, my friend! the words I should wish to say to her my mouth alone
could utter with the hope of making them reach her heart. Say nothing
to her, that will be best; but you can tell her that I am here, and
watching over her, and that I shall die or she will be free soon in her
father's arms."

"I will tell her all that, my friend."

"And then," he added, breaking, by a feverish movement, a little steel
chain round his neck, which held a small bag of black velvet, "take
this amulet. It is all that is left to me of my mother," he said,
with a sigh; "she hung it round my neck on the day of my birth. It is
a sacred relic--a piece of the true cross, blessed by the pope; give
it to her, and let her guard it preciously, for it has preserved me
from many perils. That is all I can do for her at this moment. Go,
my friend, save her, as I am compelled to form silent vows for her
deliverance. You love me, Marksman. I will only add one word,--from the
attempt you make at this moment my life or death will result. Farewell!
farewell!"

Seizing the hunter's hand with a nervous movement, he pressed it
forcibly several times, and, turning quickly away, not to let his
tears be seen, he rushed into the forest, where he disappeared, after
making a last sign with his hand to his friend, who was watching his
departure. After Don Miguel's departure, the Canadian stood for a
moment a prey to extraordinary sorrow. "Poor young man!" he muttered,
with a profound sigh, "is that the state people are in when they love?"
In a moment he overcame the strange emotion which contracted his heart,
and boldly raised his head. "The die is cast!" he said. "Forward!" Then
assuming the easy, careless step of an Indian, he proceeded, slowly to
the plain, while looking inquiringly around him.

In the brilliant beams of the sun, which had risen radiantly, the green
plain the hunter was crossing assumed a really enchanting appearance.
As on the first occasion when he came to this country, all was in
motion around him.

The Canadian, who, by the help of his new exterior, was able to
examine at his leisure all that went on around him, curiously examined
the animated scene he had before his eyes: but what most fixed his
attention was a band of horsemen in their war costume, or rather paint,
armed with those long javelins and barbed spears which they wield with
such dexterity, and whose wounds are so dangerous. Most of them also
carried a strong rifle and a reata at their girdle, and, marching in
good order, they advanced at a trot towards the city, seeming to come
from the opposite direction to that which the hunter was following.

The numerous persons spread over the plain had stopped to examine them.
Marksman, profiting by this circumstance, hurried on to mingle with the
crowd, among whom, as he hoped, he was speedily lost, no one thinking
of paying the slightest attention to him. The horsemen continued to
advance at the same pace, not appearing to notice the curiosity they
excited. They were soon about forty yards from the principal gateway.
On arriving there they were stopped At the same moment, three horsemen
galloped out of the city, bounded over the drawbridge, and went to
meet them. Three warriors then left the first party and approached
them. After a few hastily exchanged words, the six horsemen rejoined
the detachment, which had remained motionless in the rear, and entered
the city with it. Marksman, who followed the party closely, neared
the gate at the very moment the last horseman disappeared in the
city. The hunter understood that the moment for boldness had arrived.
Assuming the most careless air he could put on, although his heart
was ready to burst, he presented himself in his turn for admission.
He noticed Flying Eagle and his squaw standing some distance off, and
conversing with an Indian who seemed to hold a certain rank. This
doubled the bold Canadian's courage; he crossed the bridge undauntedly,
and arrived with apparent stoicism at the gateway. A lance was then
levelled before him, and barred his passage. At a sign from Flying
Eagle, the Indian with whom he had been speaking left him and proceeded
toward the gate. He was a tall warrior, to whom his iron-grey hair
and the numerous wrinkles in his face imparted a certain character of
gentleness, intelligence, and majesty. He said a word to the sentry,
who was barring the hunter's passage; he raised his lance at once, and
fell back a few paces with a respectful bow. The old Indian made the
Canadian a sign to enter. "My brother is welcome in Quiepaa Tani," he
said gracefully, as he saluted the hunter; "my brother has friends
here."

Marksman, owing to the life he had so long led on the prairies, spoke
several Indian dialects with as much fluency as his mother-tongue.
From the question the Redskin addressed to him, he felt that he was
backed up; he therefore assumed the necessary coolness to play his part
properly, and answered,--"Is my brother a Chief?"

"I am a Chief."

"Och! let my brother question me. Ometochtli will answer."

In thus changing his personality, as it were, the hunter had been
careful to change his name also. After a long and barren research, he
at length selected that of Ometochtli, as best adapted to the person
he wished to represent; for, despite its apparently formidable look,
it simply means "two rabbits," a most inoffensive name, and perfectly
coinciding with the hunter's new character.

"I shall not question my brother," the Chief said, cautiously. "I know
who he is and whence he comes. My brother is one of the adepts of the
great medicine, of the wise nation of the Yumas."

"The Chief is well informed," the hunter remarked. "I see that he has
spoken with Flying Eagle."

"Has my brother left his nation for long?"

"It will be seven moons at the first leaves since I put on the
moccasins of a hunter."

"Wah!" the Chief continued, with a certain appearance of respect;
"where are the hunting grounds of my brother's nation situated?"

"Near the great shoreless lake."

"Does my brother intend to practise medicine at Quiepaa Tani?"

"I have only come here for that purpose, and to worship the Wacondah in
the magnificent temple which the piety of the Indians has raised to him
in the holy city."

"Very good. My brother is a wise man; his nation is peaceful," he said,
as he raised his head, and drew up his tall form, proudly. "I am a
warrior, and my name is Atozac."

By a strange accident, the first Indian with whom Marksman conversed
was the same who received Addick, and whose wife was selected by the
High Priest to serve as his interpreter with the maidens.

"My brother is a great Chief," he replied to the Indian's words.

The latter bowed with superb modesty on receiving this flattering
remark. "I am a son of the sacred tribe to whom the guardianship of the
temple is confided," he said.

"May the Wacondah bless the race of my brother."

The Chief was completely under the charm; the hunter's compliments had
intoxicated him. "My brother, Two Rabbits, will follow me. We will join
the friends who are awaiting us, and then proceed to my _calci_, which
will be his during the whole period of his stay in Quiepaa Tani."

Marksman bowed respectfully. "I am not worthy, to shake the dust off my
moccasins on the threshold of his door."

"The Wacondah blesses those who practise hospitality, my brother. Two
Rabbits is the guest of a Chief; let him follow me, then."

"I will follow my brother, since such is his will."

And, without further resistance, he began walking behind the old Chief,
charmed in his heart at having emerged so well from the first trial.
As we said, Flying Eagle and Eglantine had stopped a few paces off,
and they soon found them. All four, without uttering a word, proceeded
toward the house inhabited by the Chief, which was situated at the
other extremity of the city. This long walk allowed the hunter to
take a look at the streets which he crossed, and obtain a superficial
acquaintance with Quiepaa Tani. They at length reached the Chief's
house. Heutotl--the Pigeon--Atozac's wife, seated cross-legged on a
mat of maize straw, was making tortillas, probably intended for her
husband's dinner. Not far from her were three Or four female slaves,
belonging to that bastard race of Indians to which we have already
alluded, and to which the title of savages may be justly applied. When
the Chief and his guests entered the cabin, the Pigeon and her slaves
raised their eyes in curiosity.

"Heutotl," the Chief said, with dignity, "I bring you strangers. The
first is a great and renowned Comanche Sachem. You know him already, as
well as his squaw."

"Flying Eagle and Eglantine are welcome in the _calci_ of Atozac," she
answered.

The Comanche bowed slightly, but did not utter a word.

"This one," the Chief continued, pointing toward the hunter, "is a
celebrated Tlacateotzin of the Yumas. His name is Two Rabbits; he will
also dwell with us."

"The words I addressed to the Sachem of the Comanches, I repeat for the
great medicine man of the Yumas," she said with a gentle smile; "the
Pigeon is his slave."

"My mother will permit me to kiss her feet," the Canadian said,
politely.

"My brother will kiss my face," the Chief's wife responded, holding up
her cheek to Marksman, who respectfully touched it with his lips.

"My brothers will take a draught of pulque," the Pigeon continued; "the
roads are long and dusty, and the sunbeams hot."

"Pulque refreshes the parched throat of travellers," Marksman answered.

The presentation was concluded. The slaves drew up butacas, on which
the travellers reclined. Vessels of red earth, greatly resembling the
Spanish alcaforas, filled with pulque, were brought in, and the liquor,
poured out by the mistress of the house in horn cups, was presented by
her to the strangers with that charming and attentive hospitality of
which the Indians alone possess the secret.


[1] Literally, the "Man-God," a name given by certain Comanche tribes
to those who practice the healing art.

[2] Surname of Motecuhzoma I.,--"He who shoots arrows up to the sky."
The hieroglyphic of this king is, in fact, an arrow striking heaven.



CHAPTER XXXII.

THE FIRST WALK IN THE CITY.


While pretending to be absorbed in eagerness to respond to the eager
politeness of his host, the Canadian attentively examined the interior
of the house in which he was, in order to form an idea of the other
residences in the city; for he justly assumed that all must be built
almost after the same plan.

The room in which Atoyac received his guests was a large, square
apartment, whose whitewashed walls were decorated with human scalps,
and a row of weapons, kept in a state of extreme cleanliness. Jaguar
and ocelot skins, zarapé, and frasadas were piled up on a sort of
large chests, in all probability intended to serve as beds. Butacas
and other wooden seats, excessively low, composed the furniture of the
room, in the centre of which stood a table rising not more than ten
inches from the ground. These simple arrangements are found almost
identical, by the way, in almost all Indian _callis_, which are usually
composed of six rooms. The first is the one we have just described;
it is the ordinary living room of the family. The second is intended
for the children; the third is the sleeping room. The fourth contains
the looms for weaving zarapés, which the Indians work with inimitable
skill. These looms, made of bamboo, are admirable for the simplicity of
their mechanism. The fifth contains provisions for the rainy season,
the period when hunting becomes impossible; while the sixth, or last,
is set aside for the slaves. As for the kitchen, there is really none,
for the food is prepared in the _corral_, that is to say, in the open
air. Chimneys are equally unknown, and each room is warmed by means of
large earthen brasiers. The internal arrangements of the _calli_ are
entrusted to the slaves, who work under the immediate superintendence
of the mistress of the house. These slaves are not all savages. The
Indians completely requite the whites for the misfortunes they deal
them. Many wretched Spaniards, captured in war, or victims to the
ambuscades the Redskins incessantly lay for them, are condemned to the
hardest servitude. The fate of these unhappy beings is even more sad
than that of their companions in slavery, for they have no prospect
of being set at liberty some day; they must, on the contrary, expect
to perish sooner or later, the victims of the hatred of their cruel
masters, who pitilessly avenge on them the numberless annoyances they
have themselves endured under the tyrannical and brutalizing system
of the Spanish Government. Hence, under the pressure of this hard
captivity a man may truly apply to himself the despairing words writ up
by the divine Dante Alighieri over the gates of his Inferno, _Lasciate
ogni speranza_.

Atoyac, to whom chance had so providentially guided the Canadian, was
one of the most respected Sachems of the warriors of Quiepaa Tani.
In his youth he had lived long among the Europeans, and the great
experience he had acquired while traversing countries remote from his
tribe had expanded his intellect, extinguished in him certain caste
prejudices, and rendered him more sociable and civil than the majority
of his countrymen. While drinking his pulque in small sips, as the
gourmand should do who appreciates at its just value the beverage
he is imbibing, he conversed with the hunter, and gradually, either
through the influence of the pulque, or the instinctive confidence the
Canadian inspired him with, he became more communicative. As always
happens under such circumstances, he began with his own affairs, and
narrated them in their fullest detail to the hunter. He told him he was
father of four sons, renowned warriors, whose greatest delight it was
to invade the Spanish territory, burn the haciendas, and destroy the
crops, and carry off prisoners; next he related to him the travels he
had made, and seemed anxious to prove to Two Rabbits that his courage
as a warrior, his experience, and military virtues, did not forbid him
recognizing all there was noble and respectable in science; he even
insinuated that, although a Sachem, he did not disdain, at times, to
study simples and investigate the secrets of the great medicine, with
which the Wacondah, in his supreme goodness, had endowed certain chosen
men for the relief of the whole of humanity.

Marksman affected to be deeply touched by the consideration the
powerful Sachem, Atoyac, evinced for the sacred character with which he
was invested, and resolved in his heart to profit by his host's good
feeling toward him to sound him adroitly about what he was so anxious
to know, that is, the state in which the maidens were, and in what
part of the city they were shut up. As, however, Indian suspicions can
be very easily aroused, and it was necessary to employ the greatest
patience, the hunter did not allow his intentions to be in any way
divined, and waited patiently.

The conversation had gradually become general; still, more than an
hour had already elapsed, and in spite of all his efforts, aided by
those of Flying Eagle, the hunter had not yet succeeded in approaching
the subject he had at heart, when an Indian presented himself in the
doorway.

"The Wacondah rejoices," the newcomer said, with a respectful bow. "I
have a message for my father."

"My son is welcome," the Chief answered; "my ears are open."

"The great council of the Sachems of the nation is assembled," the
Indian said; "they only await my father Atoyac."

"What is there new, then?"

"Red Wolf has arrived with his warriors. His heart is filled with
bitterness. He wishes to speak to the council. Addick accompanies him."

Flying Eagle and the hunter exchanged a glance.

"Red Wolf and Addick returned!" Atoyac exclaimed, with amazement. "That
is strange! What can have brought them back so soon, and together, too?"

"I know not; but they entered the city hardly an hour ago."

"Did Red Wolf command the warriors who arrived this morning?"

"Himself. My father could not have seen him when he passed by here.
What shall I answer the Chief?"

"That I am coming to the council."

The Indian bowed and went away. The old man rose with ill-concealed
agitation, and prepared to go out. Flying Eagle stopped him. "My father
is affected," he said; "there is a cloud on his mind."

"Yes," the Chief answered, frankly; "I am sad."

"What can trouble my father, then?"

"Brother," the old Chief said, bitterly, "many moons have passed since
the last visit paid by you to Quiepaa Tani."

"Man is only the plaything of circumstances; he can never do what he
has projected."

"That is true. Perhaps it would have been better for you and for us had
you not remained away so long."

"Often, often I had the desire to come, but a fatality always prevented
me."

"Yes, it must be so; were it not for that, we should have seen you.
Many things that have happened, would not have occurred."

"What do you mean?"

"It would be too long to explain to you, and I have no time to do so
at this moment; I must proceed to the council, where I am awaited.
Suffice it for you to know, that for some time an evil genius has
breathed a spirit of discord among the Sachems of the great council.
Two men have succeeded in obtaining a dangerous influence over the
deliberations, and forcing their ideas and wishes upon all the chiefs."

"And these men, who are they?"

"You know them only too well."

"But what are their names?"

"Red Wolf and Addick."

"Wah!" Flying Eagle said. "Take care; the ambition of those men may, if
you do not pay attention, bring great misfortunes on your heads."

"I know it; but can I prevent it? Am I, alone, strong enough to combat
their influence, and cause the propositions to be rejected which they
impose on the council?"

"That is true," the Comanche answered, thoughtfully; "but how to
prevent it?"

"There would be a way, perhaps," Atoyac said, in an insinuating voice,
after a short silence.

"What?"

"It is very simple. Flying Eagle is one of the first and most renowned
Sachems of his nation."

"Well?"

"As such, he has a right, I believe, to sit in the council?"

"He has."

"Why does not he go there, then?"

Flying Eagle turned an inquiring glance on the hunter, who was
listening to this conversation with an apathetic face, though his heart
was ready to burst; for he guessed, by a species of presentiment, that
in this council questions of the highest importance to him would be
discussed. From the Chief's dumb inquiry he understood that if he
remained longer a stranger to the discussion, he would appear, in his
host's eyes, to display an indifference toward the welfare of the city,
which the latter might take in ill part. "Were I so great a Chief as
Flying Eagle," he said, "I should not hesitate to present myself at
the council. Here, the interests of one nation or the other are not
discussed; but vital questions often arise, affecting the welfare of
the red race generally. To abstain, under such circumstances, would, in
my opinion, be giving the enemies of order and tranquillity in the city
a proof of weakness, by which they would, doubtless, profit to insure
the success of their anarchical projects."

"Do you believe so?" Flying Eagle remarked, with feigned hesitation.

"My brother, Two Rabbits, has spoken well," Atoyac said, eagerly.
"He is a wise man. My brother must follow his advice, and with the
more reason, because his presence here is known to everybody, and his
absence from the council would certainly produce a very evil effect."

"As it is so," the Comanche answered, "I can no longer resist your
wish; I am ready to follow you."

"Yes," the hunter added, meaningly, "go to the council; perhaps your
unexpected presence will suffice to overthrow certain projects, and
prevent great misfortunes."

"I will behave in such a manner as to overawe our enemies," the
Comanche answered, evasively, who, while feigning to address these
words to his host, really intended them for the hunter.

"Let us go," said Atoyac.

Flying Eagle bowed silently, and went forth.

The hunter remained alone in the _calli_ with the two women. The
Pigeon, during the previous conversation, had been busy talking in a
low voice with Eglantine. Almost immediately after the departure of the
two warriors, the woman rose and prepared to go out. Eglantine, without
saying a word, laid her finger on her lip, and looked at the hunter. He
wrapped himself in his buffalo robe, and addressed Atoyac's wife.

"I do not wish to trouble my sister," he said. "While the chiefs are in
council, I will take a walk, and examine, with greater attention, the
magnificent Temple, of which I only had a glimpse on coming here."

"My father is right," she answered; "the more so, as Eglantine and
myself have also to go out, and we should have been compelled to leave
my father alone in the _calli_."

Eglantine smiled softly as she nodded to the hunter. The latter,
suspecting that Flying Eagle's squaw had discovered the retreat of the
maidens during the conversation with her friend, and that the desire
she evinced to get rid of him had no other design but to obtain more
ample information about them, made not the slightest objection, and
walked slowly out of the _calli_, with all the majesty and importance
of the wise personage he represented. Besides, the Canadian was not
sorry to be alone for a little while, that he might reflect on the
means he should employ to approach the two maidens, which it seemed
to him by no means easy to manage. On the other hand, he intended
to employ the liberty left him in taking a turn round the city, and
obtaining all the topographical knowledge he needed. Not knowing in
what way his stay in the city would terminate, and how he should leave
it again, he, at all risks, carefully studied the plan of the streets
and buildings, from the double point of view of an attack or an escape.

The hunter had assumed such a mask of placidity and indifference; his
questions were asked with so nonchalant an air, that not one of those
he addressed dreamed for a moment of suspecting him; and, as always
happens, he succeeded in obtaining--thanks to his skill--remarkably
precious details about the weak points in the city,--how it was
possible to enter and leave it after the closing of the gates, and
other equally valuable information, which the hunter carefully
classified in his mind, and which he resolved to put to good use when
the moment arrived.

In Quiepaa Tani there are a good many unoccupied persons, who spend
their lives in wandering about, a prey to an incurable _ennui_. It was
with these people that the hunter formed an acquaintance during his
lengthened walk round the city, listening with the greatest patience
to their prolix and tedious narrations, when, certain of having drawn
from them all he could, he left them, to begin the same scheme a little
further on with others.

Marksman remained away for three hours. When he returned to the
_calli_, Atoyac and Flying Eagle had not come back; but the two women,
seated on mats, were conversing with a certain degree of animation.

On seeing him, Eglantine gave him an intelligent glance. The hunter
fell back on a butaca, drew out his pipe, and began smoking. After
exchanging a dumb bow with the pretended medicine man, the women again
resumed their palaver.

"So," Eglantine said, "the prisoners taken from the whites are brought
here!"

"Yes," the Pigeon answered.

"That surprises me," the young woman continued; "for it would be only
necessary for one of them to escape, and the exact situation of the
city would be revealed to the Gachupinos, who would soon appear in the
place."

"That is true; but my sister is ignorant that no one escapes from
Quiepaa Tani."

Eglantine bowed her head with an air of doubt.

"Och!" she said, "the whites are very crafty; still, it is certain that
the two young Pale maidens we have just seen will not escape,--they are
too well guarded for that. I do not know why, but I feel a great pity
for them."

"It is the same with me, poor children! So young, so gentle, so pretty;
separated eternally from all those who are dear to them. Their fate is
frightful!"

"Oh, very frightful! But what is to be done? They belong to Addick;
that Chief will never consent to restore them to liberty."

"We will go and see them again, shall we not, my sister?"

"Tomorrow, if you will."

"Thanks; that will render us very happy, I assure you."

The last words especially struck the hunter. At the sudden revelation
made to him, Marksman felt such an emotion, that he needed all his
strength and self-command to prevent the Pigeon noticing his confusion.

At this moment Atoyac and Flying Eagle appeared. Their features were
animated, and they seemed in a state of rage, the more terrible,
because it was suppressed.

Atoyac walked straight to the hunter, who had risen to receive him. On
noticing the animation depicted on the Indian's face, Marksman thought
that he had plainly discovered something concerning himself, and it
was not without some suspicion that he awaited the communication his
host seemed anxious to make to him.

"Is my father really an adept of the great medicine?" Atoyac asked,
fixing a searching glance on him.

"Did I not tell my brother so?" the hunter answered, who began to feel
himself seriously threatened, and looked inquiringly at Flying Eagle.
The latter smiled.

The Canadian reassured himself a little; it was plain that, if he saw
any danger, the Comanche would not be so calm.

"Let my brother come with me, then, and bring with him the instruments
of his art," Atoyac exclaimed.

It would not have been prudent to decline this invitation, though
rather roughly given; besides, nothing proved to him that his host
entertained evil designs against him. The hunter, therefore, accepted.
"Let my brother walk in front; I will follow him," he contented himself
with answering.

"Does my brother speak the tongue of the barbarous Gachupinos?"

"My nation lives near the boundless Salt Lake. The Palefaces are our
neighbours; I understand, and speak slightly, the tongue they employ."

"All the better."

"Have I to cure a Paleface?" the Canadian inquired, anxious to know
what was wanted of him.

"No," Atoyac replied. "One of the great Apache chiefs brought hither,
some moons back, two women of the Palefaces. They are ill; the evil
spirit has entered into them, and at this moment Death is spreading his
wings over the couch on which they repose."

Marksman shuddered at this unexpected news; his heart almost broke; an
involuntary tremor passed over his limbs; he required a superhuman
effort to overcome the deep emotion he felt, and to reply to Atoyac, in
a calm voice--"I am at my brother's orders, as my duty commands."

"Let us go, then," the Indian answered.

Marksman took his box of medicaments, placed it cautiously under his
arm, left the _calli_ at the heels of the Sachem, and both proceeded
hastily towards the palace of the Vestals, accompanied, or, more
correctly speaking, watched at a distance, by Flying Eagle, who
followed in their footsteps, not once letting them out of sight.



CHAPTER XXXIII.

EXPLANATORY.


We are now compelled to go back a little way, in order to clear up
certain facts which necessarily remained in the shade, and which it is
urgent for the reader to know.

We have related how Don Estevan, Addick, and Red Wolf easily came to an
understanding, in order to obtain a common vengeance. But, as generally
happens in all treaties, each having begun by stipulating for his
private advantage, it fell out that Don Estevan was about to reap the
least profit from the partnership.

Few whites can rival the Redskins in craft and diplomacy. The Indians,
like all conquered peoples, bowed so long beneath a brutalizing yoke,
retained only one weapon, which is often deadly, however, by means
of which they contend most with success against their fortunate
adversaries. This weapon is cunning--the arm of cowards and the weak,
the defence of slaves against their masters.

The conditions offered by the two Indian Chiefs to Don Estevan were
clear and precise. The Chiefs, by means of the warriors they had at
their disposal, would help the Mexican in seizing and avenging himself
on his enemies, inflicting on them any punishment he thought proper;
in return, Don Estevan would make over his niece and the other maiden,
now prisoners at Quiepaa Tani, to the Chiefs, who would do to them what
they pleased, Don Estevan giving up all right of interference with
them. These conditions being well and duly defined, the Indian Chiefs
set to work in fulfilling the clauses of the treaty as quickly as
possible.

Red Wolf had a hatred for the two hunters and Don Miguel, which was
the more inveterate, because he had been conquered in the various
encounters he had with the three men. He, therefore, eagerly seized
the opportunity that offered to take his revenge, believing certain
this time of repaying his abhorred enemies all the humiliation they had
inflicted on him, and the ill they had done him.

In less than four days, Addick and Red Wolf succeeded in collecting
a band of nearly one hundred and fifty picked warriors--obstinate
enemies for the whites, and to whom the coming expedition was a real
party of pleasure. When Don Estevan saw himself at the head of so large
and resolute a band, his heart dilated with joy, and he felt himself
ensured of success; for what could Don Miguel attempt with the few men
he had at his disposal?

The road was long, almost impracticable. To reach Quiepaa Tani, it
was necessary to cross abrupt mountains, virgin forests, and immense
deserts; and even supposing the Gambusinos succeeded in overcoming
these seemingly insurmountable difficulties, when they arrived before
the city, what could they do? Would they, scarce thirty at most,
attempt to take by assault a city of nearly 20,000 souls, defended by
strong walls, surrounded by a wide moat, and containing 3,000 picked
men, the most renowned warriors of all the Indian nations, specially
entrusted with the defence of the sacred city, and who would, without
any hesitation, fall to the last man, sooner than surrender? Such a
supposition was absurd; hence Don Estevan dismissed it so soon as it
occurred to him.

The first care of the Indian Chiefs was to learn in what direction
their enemies were. Unfortunately for the Redskins, the arrangements
made by the hunters were so adroit, that they were compelled to follow
their enemy on three different trails, and break up their war party, if
they wished to watch the Gambusinos on all sides. This was the first
occasion of a dissension between the three associates. Addick and Red
Wolf, when the question of a separation arose, naturally wished each
to take the command of a body, an arrangement which displeased Don
Estevan, and to which he would not at all consent, remarking, with
some degree of justice, that in the affair they had in hand everything
depended on the Chiefs; that the warriors had nothing to do but watch
the movements of their enemy, while they, the Chiefs, must remain
together, in order to arrange the necessary combinations in their
plans, and be enabled to act with vigour when the occasion presented
itself. The truth was, that Don Estevan, forced by circumstances into
an alliance with the two Sachems, had not the slightest confidence in
his honourable associates. He despised them as much as he was despised
by them, and felt certain that, if he allowed them to leave him,
under any pretence, he should never see them again; that they would
desert him on the prairie, remorselessly leaving him to get out of
the dilemma in the best way he could. The Indians perfectly understood
their partner's thoughts, but, far too cunning to let him see they
had read them, they pretended to admit the reasons he gave them, and
recognize their correctness. The Chiefs, therefore, remained together
and pushed on, only accompanied by twenty men, and having divided the
others into two bands, to watch the Gambusinos.

Don Estevan was eager to reach Quiepaa Tani, in order to remove the
maidens from the city, and have them in his hands, in order, by
their presence, to stimulate the ardour of his allies. They set out.
A singular thing then happened. Six detachments of warriors were
following each other's trail for more than a month, each marching in
the footsteps of the previous one, and not suspecting that it was in
its turn followed by another. Matters went on thus without leading
to any encounter until the night when Domingo disappeared in the
virgin forest. This is how it happened. Marksman had well judged the
Gambusino, when suspecting him to be capable of treachery. That is why
he requested he should be left with him, that he might watch him with
greater care. Unfortunately, since the departure from the ford of the
Rubio, in spite of the incessant watchfulness kept up by Marksman, he
had never detected in the Gambusino the slightest doubtful movement
which would corroborate his suspicions, or convert them into certainty.
Domingo did his duty with apparent honesty and frankness. When they
reached the bivouac, the little arrangements for the night were made;
and the meal over, the Gambusino was one of the first to roll himself
in his zarapé, lie down, and go to sleep from alleged weariness. In
short, the bandit managed to behave so cleverly, and to mask his
baseness, that the hunter, clever as he was, was taken in. Gradually
his vigilance relaxed, his distrust went to sleep, and, though not
reckoning greatly on the Gambusino's fidelity, he ceased looking after
him incessantly, as he did during the first days. And then they had
covered a great deal of ground during the past month; the hunters were
in a completely unknown country: hence it was not presumable that the
Gambusino, almost new to desert life, would venture to desert the
people with whom he was, and risk wandering alone in the desert, where
he would have every chance of dying of hunger in a few days. This
merely proved one fact, that Marksman, in spite of all his cleverness,
did not know the man with whom he had to deal, and did not suspect the
tenacity of purpose which forms the backbone of the Mexican character.

Domingo hated the hunter because he had unmasked him, and with the
patience that characterizes the race to which he belonged, he awaited
the opportunity for vengeance, feeling certain, by the force of
events, that it must present itself from one day to the other. In the
meanwhile, he looked and listened. The hunters did not hesitate to
speak before him, for the reason that Marksman would, in that case,
have been obliged to tell his companions the suspicions he entertained
of the Gambusino, a thing that his innate loyalty prevented him doing.
Thus Domingo had profited by the opportunity to learn all the details
of the expedition of which he was an involuntary member--details he
intended to tell as clearly as possible to the person they interested
most, so soon as chance brought them together.

On the evening when Marksman discovered that trail which troubled him
so greatly, Domingo, while foraging about on his own account, found
something which he carefully avoided showing his comrades. It was no
other than a tobacco pouch of small dimensions, richly ornamented with
gold embroidery, such as rich Mexicans usually carry. Domingo very
well recollected having seen it in Don Estevan's hand. The pouch must,
then, have been lost by him. For the present he hid it in his bosom,
intending to examine it more at his leisure, when he did not fear any
surprise from his companions.

Flying Eagle followed the trail, as we have seen, and his friends,
after lighting the fire, preparing the meal, and eating a few
mouthfuls, waited his return.

The day had been fatiguing; the Indian's return was deferred; Marksman
and Don Mariano, after conversing for a long time, felt their eyelids
weighed down and gently close; in short, they yielded to their fatigue,
lay down, and were soon buried in a deep sleep. As for Domingo, he had
been sleeping for an hour, as if he never intended to wake again. A
singular thing happened, however. Don Mariano and Marksman had scarce
closed their eyes, ere the Gambusino opened his eyes, and that so
freshly, that everything led to the belief that he had not been to
sleep at all, and never felt more wakeful than at the present moment.
He looked suspiciously around, and remained for some time motionless;
but, after a few moments, reassured by the gentle and regular breathing
of his companions, he sat up gently. He hesitated for several moments,
but then took the tobacco pouch from the place where he had concealed
it, and examined it with the closest attention. This pouch had scarcely
anything to distinguish it from others; but one circumstance struck the
hunter: the pouch was nearly half full of tobacco, and that tobacco
was fresh. Hence it could not have been long lost by Don Estevan--a
few hours, at the most. If that were so, as there was every reason to
assume, Don Estevan could not be far off, and must be a league, or at
the most two, from their bivouac. This reasoning was logical; hence
the Gambusino drew from it the conclusion that the opportunity he had
been waiting for so long had at length arrived, and he must seize it
at all risks. This conclusion once admitted, the rest can be easily
understood. The Gambusino rose, glided like a snake into the underwood,
and went off in search of Don Estevan.

Accident is the master of the world; it regulates matters at its will;
its combinations are at times so strange, that it seems to take a
malignant pleasure in making the most odious plans succeed, contrary
to all expectations. This is what happened in the present case. The
Gambusino had not been wandering about the forest for more than hour,
groping his way as well as he could in the dark, which enwrapped him
like a shroud, when he arrived, at the moment he least expected it, in
sight of a fire lighted on the extreme verge of the forest. He walked
at once towards the brilliant flame he had noticed, instinctively
persuaded that near the _brasero_ which served him as a beacon he
should find the man he was looking for. His presentiments had not
deceived him. The camp, towards which he was proceeding, was really
that of Don Estevan and his allies, who, we must allow, did not believe
themselves so near their enemies. Had they done so, they would have
indubitably employed all the precautions usual in the desert to conceal
their presence.

The sudden appearance of the Gambusino in the circle illumined by the
fire was a perfect tableau. The Indians and Don Estevan himself were
so far from expecting the man's arrival, that there was a moment of
fearful confusion, during which the Gambusino was seized, thrown down,
and bound, ere he had time to utter a syllable in his defence. The
warriors seized their arms, and scattered about the neighbourhood, in
order to assure themselves that the man who had so suddenly come among
them was alone, and they had nothing to fear.

At length the alarm gradually cooled down; they felt easier, and
thought about questioning the prisoner. This was what the latter
desired, and which he earnestly requested, ever since he had been so
roughly pounced on. He was led into the presence of the three Chiefs,
and at once recognised by Don Estevan. "Eh!" the latter said, with a
grin. "It is my worthy friend, Domingo. What on earth brings you here,
my fine fellow?"

"You shall learn, for I have merely come to do you a service," the
bandit answered, with his usual effrontery. "I should be obliged,
though, by your having me untied if it is possible. These cords cut
into my flesh, and cause me such suffering, that I shall be unable to
utter a word until I have got rid of them."

When the bandit's request had been accomplished, he told all he had
heard in the fullest detail, without any pressing. The revelations of
the Gambusino caused his hearers considerable reflection, and they next
asked how he knew that they were so near? Domingo completed his story
by stating how he had found the tobacco pouch, and how, after his two
companions, Marksman and Don Mariano, fell asleep, he left them to go
in search of Don Estevan.

In the Gambusino's story one thing especially struck Don Estevan, and
that was, that two of his greatest enemies were a few paces from him,
and alone. He at once leaned over to Red Wolf, and whispered a few
words, to which the other responded by a sinister smile. Ten minutes
later, the fire was extinguished. The Apaches, armed to the teeth,
under the guidance of Domingo, glided into the forest, and proceeded
toward the spot where the hunter and the gentleman were tranquilly
reposing, not suspecting the terrible danger that menaced them, and the
treachery to which they were the victims.

We have seen how the Indian's enterprise failed, and in what way
the wretched Domingo received the chastisement for his crime.
Unfortunately, he had found time to speak, and his words had been
carefully garnered. When the Apaches recognized that they had to do
with a stronger party than they expected, and the men they wished to
surprise were on their guard, they withdrew in all haste, in order to
deliberate on the measures they must take to get before their enemies,
and foil their plans. The discussion, contrary to Indian habit, was
not long. In spite of the night, whose dense mantle still covered
the ground, they mounted their horses, and proceeded as speedily as
possible toward Quiepaa Tani, in order to enter the city first, and
have time to call on their friends to help them in the impending
contest.

In spite of all his objections, Don Estevan was left behind, concealed
with some warriors on the outskirts of the forest. The Chiefs, with
all their influence, not daring openly to infringe the Indian laws
by introducing into the city a Paleface other than a prisoner, Don
Estevan was compelled to await their return with resignation. But if
the Indians had lost no time, the hunters, on their side, had so well
profited by it, that, as we have seen, Marksman, disguised as a Yuma
medicine man, entered Quiepaa Tani simultaneously with them.

While Red Wolf made all the preparations for convening the great
council of the Chiefs, Addick left him, and proceeded to the house
of his friend, Cheuch Coatl (Eight Serpents), the Amantzin, or High
Priest. But the latter, on hearing of the young Chief's return, had
shut himself up with the Pigeon, who, accompanied by Eglantine,
had come to pay him a visit. The Amantzin advised her of Addick's
return--which she knew already--and recommended her to maintain silence
as to the active part she had played in the attempted conversion of the
maidens. The Pigeon, whom Eglantine had taught her lesson, promised to
remain dumb. She had told the High Priest of the presence in Quiepaa
Tani of a great Yuma medicine man, whose knowledge might be useful
in restoring the health of Addick's prisoners. The Amantzin thanked
the Indian woman, telling her he should probably see Atozac at the
council, and would not fail to ask him to lead Two Rabbits to him.
Feeling considerably calmer, the Amantzin dismissed the women, and
proceeded to Addick, being well prepared to receive him. At the first
words the young Chief uttered, referring to his great desire to see his
two prisoners as soon as possible, the old man replied that, in order
to be able to watch over them more effectually, and remove them from
the oppressive curiosity of the idlers of the city, who troubled him
with their continual visits, he had been compelled to transfer them
to the Palace of the Virgins of the Sun, until they could be returned
to their legitimate owner. Addick thanked his friend most warmly
for the care he had taken in performing the commission entrusted to
him--thanks which the Chief Priest received with hypocritical modesty,
while regarding the young Chief with a crafty look, which caused him to
feel uncomfortable. Hence, without further beating round the bush, he
resolved on settling the matter at once.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

CONVERSATIONAL.


The two men stood for a moment silently face to face, devouring each
other with their glances, with frowning brows and compressed lips, like
two duellists on the point of crossing swords; and, in truth, they were
about to engage in a duel, the more terrible because the only weapons
they could employ were cunning and dissimulation.

The power of the Indian priests is immense; it is the more terrible,
because it is uncontrolled, and only depends on the deity they invoke,
and whom they compel to interfere in all circumstances when they have
need of his support. No people are so superstitious as the Redskins.
With them religion is entirely physical, they are completely ignorant
of dogmas, and prefer blindly believing the absurdities their diviners
lay before them, rather than give themselves the trouble of reflecting
on mysteries which they do not understand, and which, in their hearts,
they care little for.

We have said that the High Priest of Quiepaa Tani was a man of lofty
intellect, constantly residing in the city, possessing the secrets,
and, consequently, the confidence of most families; he had built up his
popularity on a solid and almost immovable basis. Addick was aware of
this. On several occasions he had been obliged to have recourse to the
occult powers of the soothsayer, and, therefore, perfectly comprehended
the unpleasant consequences which would result to him from a rupture
with such a man. Chiuchcoatl stood with his arms folded on his chest,
and with apathetic face, before the young Chief, whose eyes flashed,
and features expressed the most violent indignation. Still, at the
expiration of a few moments, Addick, by an extraordinary effort of his
will, subdued the fire of his glance, smoothed down the expression of
his face, and offered his hand to the Priest, saying to him in a soft
and conciliatory voice, in which no trace of his internal agitation was
perceptible, "My father loves me. What he has done is well, and I thank
him for it."

The Amantzin bowed deferentially, while slightly touching, with the end
of his three fingers, the hand held out to him. "The Wacondah inspired
me," he said, with a hypocritical voice.

"The holy name of the Wacondah be blessed," the Chief replied. "Will
not my father allow me to see the prisoners?"

"I should like it. Unfortunately, that is impossible."

"What?" the young man exclaimed, with a shade of impatience, he could
not completely hide.

"The law is positive. Entrance to the Palace of the Virgins of the Sun
is prohibited to men."

"That is true; but these young girls are not priestesses. They are
Paleface women whom I brought here."

"I know it. What my brother says is just."

"Well, my father sees that nothing prevents my prisoners being restored
to me."

"My son is mistaken. Their presence among the Virgins of the Sun
has placed them beneath the effect of the law. Forced by imperious
circumstances, I did not reflect on this when I made them enter the
Palace. In order to carry out my son's wishes, I wished to save them at
any price. Now I regret what I have done; but it is too late."

Addick felt an enormous temptation to dash out the brains of the
wretched juggler, who deluded him so impudently with his hypocritical
accent and gentle manner; but, fortunately for the Priest, and probably
for himself, as such a deed, just as it was, would not have gone
unpunished, he succeeded in mastering himself. "Come," he continued,
in a moment, "my father is kind, he would not wish to reduce me to
despair. Are there no means to remove this apparently insurmountable
difficulty?"

The Priest seemed to hesitate. Addick looked earnestly at him, while
awaiting his answer. "Yes," he continued, presently, "there is,
perhaps, one way."

"What?" the young man exclaimed, joyfully. "Let my father speak!"

"It would be," the old man answered, laying a stress on every word,
and, as it were, unwillingly, "it would be by obtaining authority from
the Great Council to remove them from the Palace."

"Wah! I did not think of that. In truth, the Great Council may
authorize that. I thank my father. Oh! I shall obtain the permission."

"I hope so," the Priest answered, in a tone which staggered the young
man.

"Does my father suppose that the Great Council would wish to insult me
by refusing so slight a favour?" he asked.

"I suppose nothing my son. The Wacondah holds in his right hand the
hearts of the Chiefs. He can alone dispose them in your favour."

"My father is right. I will go immediately to the Council. It must be
assembled at this moment."

"In truth," the Amantzin answered, "the first hachesto of the powerful
Sachems came to summon me a few moments before I had the pleasure of
seeing my son."

"Then my father is proceeding to the Council?"

"I will accompany my son, if he consents."

"It will be an honour for me. I can, I trust, count on the support of
my father?"

"When has that support failed Addick?"

"Never. Still, today, above all, I should like to be certain that my
father will grant it to me."

"My son knows that I love him. I will act as my duty ordains," the
Priest replied, evasively. Addick, to his great regret, was forced to
put up with this ambiguous answer.

The two men then went out, and crossed the square, to enter the palace
of the Sachems, where the Council assembled. A crowd of Indians,
attracted by curiosity, thronged this usually deserted spot, and
greeted with shouts the passage of renowned sachems. When the High
Priest appeared, accompanied by the young Chief, the Indians fell
back before them with a respect mingled with fear, and bowed silently
to them. The Amantzin was more feared than loved by the people, as
generally happens with all men who hold great power. Chiuchcoatl did
not seem to notice the emotion his presence produced, and the hurried
whispers that were audible on his passing. With eyes sunk, and modest
even humble step, he entered the palace at the heels of the young
Chief, whose assured countenance and haughty glance formed a striking
contrast with the demeanour his comrade affected.

The place reserved for the meeting of the Great Council was an immense
square hall, extremely simple, and facing north and south; at one end
was fastened to the whitewashed wall a tapestry made of the feathers
and down of rare birds, on which was reproduced, in brilliantly
coloured feathers, the revered image of the sun, resting on the great
sacred tortoise, the emblem of the world. Beneath this tapestry, and
sustained by four crossed spears planted in the ground, was the sacred
calumet, which must never be sullied by contact with the earth. This
calumet, whose red bowl was made of a precious clay, only found in a
certain region of the Upper Missouri, had a tube ten feet in length,
adorned with feathers and gold bells, and from its extremity hung a
small medicine bag of elk skin, studded with hieroglyphics. In the
centre of the hall, in an oval hole, hollowed for the purpose, was
piled, with a certain degree of symmetry, the wood destined for the
council fire, and which could only be lighted by the High Priest. The
hall was lighted by twelve lofty windows, hung with long curtains of
vicuna skin, through which a gloomy and uncertain light filtered,
perfectly harmonizing with the imposing aspect of the vast apartment.

At the moment the Amantzin and Addick entered the place of meeting,
all the Chiefs comprising the Council had arrived; they were walking
about in groups, conversing and waiting. So soon as the High Priest
entered, each took his place by the fire, at a sign from the eldest
Sachem. This Sachem was an old man, whom two warriors held under
the arms to support. A long beard, white as silver--a singular fact
among Indians--fell on his chest; his features were stamped with
extraordinary majesty; and, indeed, the other Chiefs showed him
profound respect and veneration. This Chief was called Axayacatl, that
is to say, "the face of the water." He claimed descent from the ancient
Incas, who governed the country of the Anahuac before the Spanish
conquest, and, like his namesake, the eighth king of Mexico, his totem
was a face, before which he placed the symbol for water. We may remark,
in support of his claim, that his skin had not that reddish hue of new
copper which distinguishes the Indian race, but, on the contrary,
approached the European type. Whatever his descent might be, though,
one thing certain was, that in his youth he had been one of the bravest
and most renowned chiefs of the Comanches, that haughty and untameable
nation, which calls itself the Queen of the Prairies. When Axayacatl's
great age and numerous wounds prevented him waging war longer, the
Indians, by whom he was generally revered, had unanimously elected him
supreme Chief of Quiepaa Tani, and he had performed his duties for
more than twenty years, to the satisfaction of all the Indian nations.
After assuring himself that all the Chiefs were assembled round the
fire, the Sachem took from the hands of the hachesto, who stood by
his side, a lighted log, which he placed in the centre of the wood
prepared for the Council, saying, in a weak, though perfectly distinct
voice,--"Wacondah! thy children are assembling to discuss grave
matters; may the flame, which is thy Spirit, breathe in their hearts,
and raise to their lips words wise and worthy of thee."

The wood--probably covered with resinous matter--caught fire almost
immediately, and a brilliant flame soon mounted, with a whirl, toward
the roof.

While the Sachem was pronouncing the words we have just written, two
subaltern priests had taken the sacred calumet from the spot where
it was placed, and, after filling it with tobacco expressly reserved
for extraordinary ceremonies, they lifted it on their shoulders, and
presented it respectfully to the Amantzin. The latter took, with a
medicine rod, in order to confound evil omens, a burning coal from
the hearth, and lit the calumet, while pronouncing the following
invocation:--"Wacondah! sublime and mysterious being. Thou, whom the
world cannot contain, and whose powerful eye perceives the smallest
insect timidly concealed beneath the grass, we invoke thee, thee whom
no man can comprehend. Grant that the sun, thy visible representative,
may be favourable to us, and not drive far away the holy smoke of the
great calumet which we send toward him."

The Amantzin, still holding the bowl of the calumet in the palm of
his hand, presented the tube in turn to each Chief, beginning with
the eldest. The Sachems each inhaled a few puffs of smoke, with the
decorum and reverence required by etiquette, with their eyes fixed on
the ground, and the right arm laid on the heart. When the tube of the
calumet at length reached the High Priest, he had the bowl held by one
of his acolytes, and smoked till all the tobacco was reduced to ashes.
Then the hachesto approached, emptied the ash into a little elkskin
pouch, which he closed, and threw into the fire, saying in a loud and
impressive voice,--"Wacondah! the descendants of the sons of Aztlan
implore thy clemency. Suffer thy luminous rays to descend into their
hearts, that their words may be those of wise men."

Then the two priests took the calumet again, and placed it beneath the
image of the sun. The old Sachem took the word again. "The council
has assembled," he said, "two renowned Chiefs, who only arrived this
morning at Quiepaa Tani, on their return from a long journey, have,
they say, important communications to make to the Sachems. Let them
speak; our ears are open."

We will enter into no details of the discussion that took place in the
Council; we will not even quote the speeches uttered by Red Wolf and
Addick, for that would carry us too far, and probably only weary the
reader. We need only say, that though the passions of the Sachems were
cleverly played on by the two Chiefs who had called the meeting, and
that sharp attacks were sharply returned, all passed with the decorum
and decency characteristic of Indian assemblies; that, although each
defended his opinion inch by inch, no one went beyond the limits of
good taste; and we will sum up the debate by stating that Red Wolf and
Addick completely failed in their schemes, and that the good sense, or
rather the ill will, of their colleagues prevented them attaining the
object of their desires.

The High Priest, while pretending to support Addick, managed to embroil
the question so cleverly, that the Council declared unanimously that
the two young Palefaces shut up in the Palace of the Virgins of the Sun
must be considered, not as the property of the Chief who brought them
to the city, but as prisoners of the entire confederation, and as such
remain under the guardianship of the Amantzin, to whom the order was
intimated to watch them with the greatest care, and under no pretext
allow the young Chief to approach them. Chiuchcoatl, when he insinuated
to Addick that he should apply to the Council, knew perfectly well
what the result would be but not wishing to make an enemy of the young
man by refusing his request, he adroitly thrust the responsibility of
the refusal on the whole Council, and thus rendered it impossible for
Addick to call him to account for his dishonourable conduct toward him.

Red Wolf had been more fortunate, from the simple reason that his
communication concerned the city. The Apache Chief demanded that
a party of five hundred warriors, commanded by a renowned Chief,
should be called under arms, to watch over the common safety, gravely
compromised by the appearance, in the vicinity of Quiepaa Tani, of
some forty Palefaces, whose evident intention it was to attack and
carry the city by storm.

The Chiefs granted Red Wolf what he asked, and even much more than he
had ventured to hope. Instead of five hundred warriors, it was settled
that a thousand should be called; one-half of them, under the orders
of Atoyac, would traverse the country in every direction, in order
to watch the approach of the enemy, while the other half, under the
immediate orders of the governor, would guard the interior. After this,
the Council broke up.

The High Priest then approached Atoyac, and asked him if he really had
a renowned Tlacateotzin at his house. The other replied, that, on the
same day, a great Yuma medicine man had arrived at Quiepaa Tani, and
done him the honour of entering his _calli_. Flying Eagle then joined
Atoyac in assuring the High Priest that this medicine man, whom he had
known for a long time, justly enjoyed a very extensive reputation among
the Indians, and that he had himself seen him effect marvellous cures.
The Amantzin had no reason to distrust Flying Eagle; he therefore put
the greatest confidence in his words, and, on the spot, begged Atoyac
to bring this Tlacateotzin as speedily as possible to the Palace of
the Virgins of the Sun, that he might devote his attention to the two
Paleface maidens placed under his ward by the Council-General of the
nation, and whose health had inspired him with great fears for some
time past.

Addick heard these words, and rapidly approached the High Priest. "What
does my father say, then?" he exclaimed, in great agitation.

"I say," the Amantzin replied, in his most honeyed voice, "that the two
maidens my son entrusted to my care have been tried by the Wacondah,
who sent them the scourge of illness."

"Is their life in danger?" the young man continued, with ill-suppressed
agony.

"The Wacondah alone holds in his power the existence of his creatures;
still I believe that the danger may be conquered; besides, as my son
has heard, I expect an illustrious Tlacateotzin of the Yuma race, just
come from the shore of the boundless Salt Lake, who, by the aid of his
science, can, I doubt not, restore strength and health to the slaves
whom my son took from the Spanish barbarians."

Addick, at this unpleasant news, could not suppress a movement of
anger, which proved to the High Priest that he was not entirely his
dupe, but suspected what had happened; but, either through respect,
or fear lest he might be mistaken in his supposition, though more
probably because the place where Addick was did not appear to him
propitious for an explanation like that he wished to have with the
Amantzin, he contented himself with begging the old man not to neglect
anything to save the captives, adding, that he would be grateful to him
for any attention he might pay them. Then, suddenly breaking off the
conversation, he bowed slightly to the High Priest, turned his back on
him, and left the hall, talking eagerly in a low voice with Red Wolf,
who had waited for him a few paces off.

The Amantzin looked after the young man with a most peculiar expression
in his eyes; then, resuming his conversation with Atoyac and Flying
Eagle, he begged them to send the Yuma medicine man to them that
evening, if possible. The latter promised this, and then left him to
return to the _calli_, where the physician was doubtless waiting for
them.

Still, what had passed at the council afforded Flying Eagle serious
matter for reflection, by letting him see that the two Apache Chiefs
knew the greater part of Marksman's secret, and if the latter wished
to succeed, he must waste no time, but set to work at once. After
ten minutes' walking, the Chiefs reached the _calli_, where they
found Marksman awaiting them. The hunter, as we have seen, offered no
objections to Atoyac's request, but, on the contrary, after taking up
his medicine box, followed him eagerly.



CHAPTER XXXV.

THE INTERVIEW.


Marksman followed Atoyac to the Palace of the Virgins of the Sun. In
spite of himself, the intrepid hunter felt his heart contract when
he thought of the perilous situation in which he was about to place
himself, and the terrible consequences discovery would entail. Still,
he stood up against this emotion, and succeeded in regaining sufficient
power over himself to affect a tranquillity and indifference which were
far from real. The two men walked silently side by side. The hunter,
fearing this prolonged dumbness might inspire his pride with doubts,
resolved to make him talk, in order to give his thoughts a different
direction from that he feared to see them take. "My brother has
travelled much?" he asked him.

"Where is the warrior of our race whose life has not been spent in
long journeys?" the Indian answered, sententiously. "The Palefaces--my
brother knows it better than I--chase us like wild beasts, and compel
us incessantly to retire before their successive encroachments."

"That is true," the hunter said, shaking his head with a melancholy
air. "What desert is so obscure in which we are now permitted to hide
the bones of our fathers, with the certainty that the plough of the
whites will not come to crush them in tracing its interminable furrow,
and scatter them in every direction?"

"Alas!" Atoyac observed, "the red race is accursed. The day will come
when it will be sought in vain on the immense plains where it was
formerly more numerous than the brilliant stars which stud the vault
of heaven; for it is fatally condemned to disappear from the surface
of the world. The Palefaces are only the terrible implements of the
implacable wrath of the Wacondah against the children of the red
family."

"My father only speaks too well. Formerly our race was all-powerful;
now it has fallen lower than the vilest slave, and has no hope left it
of ever rising again."

"What has become of the powerful emperors of Anahuac, who commanded the
whole earth? Of the numberless cities they founded, but five compose
today the territory of Tlapalean.[1] They are the last refuges of the
children of Quetyalcoalt,[2] who are forced to hide themselves there
like timid deer, instead of boldly treading the countries possessed in
old times by their ancestors."

"But, thanks be rendered to the Wacondah, whose power is infinite,
these five cities are completely sheltered from the insults of the
Gachupinos."

Atoyac shook his head sadly, "My father is mistaken," he said. "Where
is the hidden spot to which Palefaces do not penetrate?"

"That is possible. They effect everything; but up to the present no
Paleface has gazed on Quiepaa Tani. They have not been able to cross
the mountains and traverse the deserts, behind which the sacred city
rises calm and peaceful, deriding the vain efforts of its enemies to
discover it."

"Scarce two suns ago, I should have spoken like my brother. I should
have rejoiced with him at this ignorance of the Palefaces; but today
this is no longer possible."

"How so? What can have happened in so short a space of time, that
compels my brother to alter his opinion so suddenly?" the hunter asked,
growing all at once interested, and fearful of hearing bad news.

"The Palefaces are in the vicinity of the city. They have been seen;
they are numerous and well armed."

"It is not so; my father is mistaken. Cowards or old women were
frightened by their shadow, and spread this report," the Canadian
answered, shivering all over.

"Those who brought the news are neither cowards, afraid of their
shadow, nor chattering old women--they are renowned chiefs. Today, at
the Great Council, they announced the presence of a strong party of
Palefaces, concealed in the forest, whose trees have so long spread out
their protecting branches before us, to conceal us from the piercing
glances of our enemies."

"These men, however numerous they may be, unless they form a real army,
will not venture to attack a city so strong as this, defended by thick
walls, and containing a considerable number of chosen warriors."

"Perhaps. Who can know? At any rate, if the Palefaces do not attack us,
we shall attack them. Not one of them must see again the land of the
Palefaces. Our future security demands it."

"Yes, it must be so; but are you sure that the Chiefs of whom you
speak, and whose names I do not know, may not deceive you, and be
traitors?"

Atoyac stopped and fixed a piercing glance on the Canadian, who endured
it with a calm air and unmoved countenance. "No," he said, a moment
after, "Red Wolf and Addick are no traitors."

The hunter seemed to reflect for a moment, and then exclaimed, with
a resolute air, which imposed on the Indian, "No, indeed, those two
chiefs are not traitors; but they are on the road to become so ere
long. The dangers which menace us they heaped up on our heads to
satisfy their passions and thirst for vengeance."

"Let my brother explain," the Chief said, at the height of
astonishment. "His words are plain."

"I did wrong to utter them," the hunter continued, with feigned
humility. "I am only a man of peace, to whom the omnipotent Wacondah
has given the mission of relieving, according to the knowledge granted
him, the ills of humanity. I, a poor being, ought not to try and
uproot the powerful oak, whose weight in falling would crush me. Let
my brother pardon me. I imprudently allowed my indignation to carry me
away."

"No, no," the Chief exclaimed, pressing his arm forcibly; "it cannot be
so. My father has begun, and he must tell me all."

With that quickness of thought that distinguished him, the hunter had
conceived a plan founded on the distrust which forms the basis of the
Indian character. He pretended resistance to the Chief's instructions,
and was unwilling to enter into details of what he had let him have a
glimpse of; but the more the pretended medicine man declined to speak,
the more did the Chief press him to do so. At length the hunter feigned
to be intimidated by his host's mingled prayers and threats, and still
alleging the fear he felt of drawing on himself the hatred of two
renowned chiefs, he at length consented to give the information for
which Atoyac pressed him so urgently. "Here are the facts," he said. "I
will relate them to my brother exactly as they came to my knowledge.
Still, my brother will pledge me his word, that whatever be the
resolution he forms after hearing my words, he will in no way mix up a
peaceful and timid man in this affair. That my name shall not be even
mentioned, and that the chiefs whose conduct I am now about to unveil,
will not be aware of my presence at Quiepaa Tani?"

"My brother can speak in all confidence. I swear to him by the sacred
name of the Wacondah, and by the great Ayotl, that whatever happens,
his name shall not be mixed up in this affair. No one shall know in
what way I obtained the information he will give me. Atoyac is one of
the first sachems in Quiepaa Tani. When it pleases him to say a thing,
his words do not require to be confirmed by any other testimony than
his own."

As so often happens, under present circumstances, apart from the
discomfort produced by the hunter's reticence, the Chief was not sorry
at the importance the details he was about to learn would assuredly
give him, and the part he would be indubitably called on to play in the
events which would result from them.

"Och!" the hunter said, with a sigh of satisfaction, "if that is
the case, I will speak." Then the Canadian told his complaisant and
credulous hearer a long and wonderfully confused story, in which truth
was so artfully mixed up with falsehood, that it would have been
impossible for the acutest man to distinguish one from the other; but
the result of which was, that, if the whites had reached the vicinity
of the city, Addick and Red Wolf had lured them after them, only
connecting their trail sufficiently for their pursuers not to lose
it. The whole of the facts recounted by the hunter were so skilfully
grouped, that the two chiefs, enveloped in this network of truth
and falsehood, must be inevitably convicted of treason if closely
cross-questioned, which the worthy hunter hoped most sincerely. "I will
allow myself no reflections," he added, in conclusion; "my brother is a
wise chief and experienced warrior: he will judge far better than I, a
poor worm, can of the gravity of the things he has just heard; still, I
implore him to remember what he has promised."

"Atoyac has only one word," the Chief answered. "My father can reassure
himself; but what I have heard is extremely serious. Let us lose no
more time; I must go to the first Chief of the city."

"Perhaps the two Sachems have drawn the Palefaces so near us with a
good intention," the hunter insinuated; "they hope, possibly, to pounce
upon them with greater ease."

"No," Atoyac answered, with a gloomy air; "their intentions can only be
perfidious; their machinations must be foiled as speedily as possible;
if not, great misfortunes will occur, especially after the decision of
the Council, which gives the command of the warriors destined to act in
the city to Red Wolf, under the orders of the governor."

Fortunately for the hunter, Atoyac was a personal enemy of Red Wolf
and Addick, which prevented him noticing with what cunning skill the
Canadian had led him to listen to his narrative.

The two men hastily continued their walk, and in a few minutes reached
the Palace of the Vestals. After a few words with the warrior who had
charge of the gate, the Chief and the medicine man were introduced
into the interior. The High Priest came eagerly toward the newcomers,
whom he had been eagerly expecting. The Amantzin regarded the hunter
with suspicious attention, and made him undergo an interrogatory like
Atoyac's in the morning.

His answers, prepared long before, pleased the High Priest; for, a few
moments after, he led him to the reserved apartments of the Palace,
in order to examine the state of the maidens. The Canadian's heart
trembled with the most violent emotion, and large drops of perspiration
beaded in his face. Indeed, the critical position in which he found
himself, was really of a nature to inspire him with serious alarm. What
he feared most of all was the effect his presence might produce on the
maidens, if, in spite of his perfect disguise, they recognized him at
once, or when he made himself known to them; for it was indispensable
for the success of the trick he intended to play, that those he was
going to see should know with whom they had to deal, and enter fully
into the spirit of the characters he meant them to play in the farce.
These reflections, and many others which rushed on the hunter, imparted
to his face a look of sternness, which was far from injuring him in the
minds of those who accompanied him. They at length reached the entrance
of the secret apartments, whose door, at a sign from the High Priest,
was widely opened before them. But so soon as they entered a large
hall, which, through the absence of all furniture, might be regarded as
a vestibule, the Amantzin turned to Atoyac, and gave him the order to
wait there, while he led the medicine man to the captives.

As we have already said, the abode of the Virgins of the Sun was
interdicted to all men, excepting the High Priest. Under certain
circumstances, one person might be an exception to this rule, and that
was the doctor. Atoyac was too well acquainted with the severe law of
the palace to offer the slightest remark; still, when the High Priest
prepared to leave him, he caught him respectfully by the robe, and bent
to his ear. "My brother will return promptly," he said to him in a low
voice; "I have important news to communicate to him."

"Important news," the Amantzin repeated, as he stared at him.

"Yes," the Chief said.

"And they concern me?" the High Priest continued slowly.

Atoyac smiled confidentially. "I think so," he said, "for they relate
to Red Wolf and Addick."

The High Priest gave a slight start. "I will return in a moment,"
he said, with a gracious nod; then turning to the hunter, who stood
motionless a few steps off, apparently indifferent to what passed
between the two men, he said to him,--"Come."

The hunter bowed, and followed the High Priest. The latter led him
across a long courtyard paved with bricks, and ascending ten steps of
blue and green-veined marble, he conducted him into a small isolated
pavilion, completely separate from the building in which the Virgins
of the Sun were secluded. The High Priest closed the door behind him,
which gave them admission to the pavilion; they crossed a species
of antechamber, and the Amantzin, raising a drapery which hung over
a narrow doorway, introduced the pretended physician into a room
splendidly furnished in the Indian style. The High Priest, wishing,
if possible, to make the maidens forget they were captives, had
gilded their cage with the utmost care, by decorating it with all
the articles of luxury and comfort which he supposed would please
them. In an elegant hammock of cocoa-fibre, overrun with feathers,
and hanging from golden rings, about eighteen inches from the floor,
there reclined a young woman, whose face of excessive pallor bore
the imprint of profound sorrow, and the evident traces of a serious
illness. It was Doña Laura de Real del Monte. By her side, with folded
arms and tear-laden eyes, stood Doña Luisa, her friend, or rather her
sister, through suffering and devotion. The state of prostration into
which Doña Luisa was plunged, proved that, in spite of her strength
of character, she had also, for some time past, given up all hope of
ever leaving the prison in which she was confined. This room, receiving
no light from without, was illuminated by four torches of ocote wood,
passed through gold rings in the wall, whose vacillating flame dimly
lighted up the scene.

On seeing the two men, Doña Laura made a sign of terror, and buried
her face in her hands. The hunter saw that he must precipitate events,
so he turned to his guide, "The Wacondah is powerful," he said, in an
imposing voice; "the sacred tortoise supports the world on its shell.
His spirit eye is on me; it inspires me. I must remain alone with the
patients, that I may read in their faces the nature of the illness that
torments them."

The High Priest hesitated; he fixed on the pretended physician a glance
which seemed to try and read his most secret thoughts. But, although
accustomed for many years to deceive his countrymen by his mystic
juggling, he was, after all, an Indian, and, as such, as accessible to
superstitious fears as those he deluded. He therefore hesitated, "I am
the Amantzin," he said, with a respectful accent. "The Wacondah can
only view with satisfaction my presence here at this moment."

"My father can remain, if such is his pleasure; I do not compel him to
retire," the Canadian answered boldly, as he was determined to gain his
point at all hazards. "Now I warn him that I am in no way responsible
for the terrible consequences his disobedience will entail. The Spirit
that possesses me will be obeyed, for it is jealous. Let my father
reflect."

The High Priest bowed his head humbly. "I will retire," he said; "my
brother will pardon my pressing." And he left the apartment.

The Canadian silently accompanied him to the door of the vestibule,
closed it carefully after him, and ran back to the young ladies, who
recoiled with terror. "Fear nothing," he whispered; "I am a friend."

"A friend!" Doña Laura exclaimed, who had fled, all trembling, into a
corner of the room.

"Yes," he continued hastily; "I am Marksman, the Canadian hunter, the
friend, the companion of Don Miguel."

Doña Laura sat up in her hammock, and a cry of surprise and joy burst
from her chest.

"Silence!" the hunter said; "they may be listening."

Doña Luisa gazed with dilated eyes on this scene, whose meaning escaped
her.

"You, Marksman!" Doña Laura at length said, with an accent impossible
to describe. "Oh! we may be saved, then; we are not abandoned by all."

And, sliding to the ground, she knelt piously, and, with clasped
hands, murmured a fervent prayer, while her eyes filled with tears.
Then, rising suddenly, she seized the hunter's hands, and pressed them
passionately. "Don Miguel," she said; "where is he?"

"He is close by, and waiting for you. But, for Heaven's sake, listen to
me; moments are precious."

"Oh, Caballero! take us away, take us away quickly," Doña Laura at
length said, completely recovered from her emotion.

"Soon."

"Yes, yes, save us!" Doña Laura exclaimed; "my father will reward you."

Marksman smiled. "Your father will be very glad to see you again," he
said, softly.

Doña Laura raised to him her lovely eyes, radiant with joy. "Where is
my father?" she asked him; but then added, "no, I cannot see him. He is
far, very far from here."

"He is with Don Miguel, in the forest. Set your mind at rest."

"Oh, Heaven!" the maiden exclaimed, "it is too much happiness."

At this moment someone could be heard ascending the marble steps.
"Hist!" the hunter said, sharply; "be on your guard."

"But what must we do?" Doña Laura asked, in a low voice.

"Wait, and have confidence."

"What, are you going?"

"Leave us already?" they exclaimed together, with a movement of terror.

"I will return. Leave me to act. Once again, hope and patience."

"Oh, if you were to abandon us; if you did not save us," Laura said, in
despair, "we should have nothing left but to die."

"Oh, have pity on us!" Doña Luisa murmured;

"Trust to me, poor children," the hunter answered, more affected than
he liked to seem by this simple and profound sorrow. "Remember this
carefully--whatever happens, whatever may be told you, whatever sound
you hear, trust to me--to me alone--for I am watching over you. I have
sworn to save you, and I will succeed."

"Thanks!" they replied.

The steps had stopped at the door.

Marksman, after making the maidens a last sign to recommend them
prudence, composed his features, sharply opened the door, and,
without uttering a word, passed by the High Priest, whom he did not
seem to notice, but evinced great marks of agitation, and, making
incomprehensible signs, ran toward the spot where Atoyac was awaiting
him. The Amantzin was dumb with surprise. After a moment, he closed the
doors the hunter had left open, and followed him, but as if he did not
dare to draw towards him.

The maidens did not know whether they were not the sport of a dream.
So soon as they were alone, they fell into each other's arms, sobbing
violently.


[1] Literally, "red country."

[2] Curlyce of Mexico: literally, it means the "serpent covered with
feathers."



CHAPTER XXXVI.

A MEETING.


The Indian Chief could not restrain a cry of terror, and recoiled a
few paces at the sudden apparition of the hunter. The latter stopped
in the centre of the room, and letting his head sink on his chest,
appeared plunged in profound thought. The High Priest, on rejoining
Atoyac, told him, in a few words, in what fashion the medicine man had
quitted the sick chamber, and the Indians, filled with superstitious
fear, stood motionless a few paces from him, respectfully waiting till
he addressed them. The hunter appeared gradually to regain possession
of his faculties; his agitation calmed down; he passed his hand over
his forehead, and sighed like a man at length relieved from a terrible
oppression. The Indians considered the moment favourable to approach
him, and ask him the questions they burned to address to him. "Well, my
father?" they said.

"Speak," the High Priest added. "What is the matter with you?"

The hunter rolled his eyes, uttered a fresh sigh, and muttered, in a
low, choking voice--"The spirit possesses me; it presses the marrow of
my bones."

The Indians exchanged a timid glance, and fell back in terror.

"Wacondah! Wacondah!" the Canadian continued; "why hast thou gifted thy
wretched servant with this unhappy knowledge?"

The Redskins really felt the blood curdle in their veins by these
sinister words; a shudder of terror ran over their limbs, and their
teeth chattered. Marksman walked slowly toward them; they saw him
approaching without daring to make a movement to avoid him. The hunter
laid his right hand on the High Priest's shoulder, fixed a piercing
glance on him, and said, in a hollow voice--"The sons of the sacred
Ayotl must arm themselves with courage."

"What does my brother mean?" the old man muttered, in a tremor.

"A wicked spirit," the hunter continued, coldly, "has entered these
daughters of the Palefaces. This spirit will smite with death, from
this day forth, those who approach them; for the dread knowledge with
which the Wacondah has gifted me has enabled me to convince myself of
the malign influence that weighs upon them."

The two Indians, credulous like all of their race, fell back a step.
Then the hunter, as if to confirm his words, feigned to be attacked by
a fresh crisis, and struggle with the spirit that dwelt in him.

"But what must be done to deliver them from his evil influence?" Atoyac
asked, timidly.

"All strength and all wisdom come from the Wacondah," the Canadian
answered. "I will ask my father, the Amantzin's leave to spend this
night in prayer in the Temple of the Sun."

The Indians exchanged a glance of admiration.

"Be it so, according to my father's wish," the High Priest said, with a
bow; "his wishes are orders to us."

"Above all," the hunter continued, "let no one approach the daughters
of the Palefaces till tomorrow; then, perhaps, the Wacondah will grant
my prayers, by indicating the medicines I must employ."

The High Priest gave a sign of assent.

"It shall be so," he said; "let my father follow me; I will conduct him
to the temple."

"No," Marksman objected; "that is not possible. I must enter the
sanctuary alone. My father will tell me the way to open the door."

The Amantzin obeyed, and explained to him in what way the bars and
bolts were arranged, and how he must set to work to undo them.

"Good," the hunter said; "tomorrow, at sunrise, I will let my father
know the will of the Wacondah, and if there be any hope left of saving
the patients."

"I will wait, my son," the old man replied.

The two Indians bowed respectfully to the medicine man, and retired
together. The hunter was surprised at seeing them go away thus, and
asked himself where they could be proceeding at such an hour. The
departure of the Indians was the only consequence of the confidential
information given to Atoyac by Marksman, and the High Priest and the
Chief were proceeding in all haste to the principal Sachem of the city,
to impart to him all they had learned of the supposed intentions of
Addick and Red Wolf.

We will here return to what we have already told the reader, in order
to make him thoroughly understand the motive of the confidence with
which the Indians accepted the hunter's words. In these countries
soothsayers are, as it were, favourites of fortune, and enjoy an
unbounded supernatural power. As among the Redskins, the practice
of medicine is, properly speaking, only an affectation of religious
rites mingled with ridiculous juggling. The physicians are naturally
considered to be Acyars, and respected as such. And let it not be
supposed that the vulgar alone are imbued with this belief. The chiefs,
warriors, priests even, as we have shown, recognize in them a marked
superiority, even if they do not grant them equally absolute power.

During the latest events we have described, night had set in, but
one of those American nights, so calm and soft, full of intoxicating
perfumes; a weak and delicate light poured from the stars, whose
innumerable army studded the profoundly azure sky with their flashing
light; the moon was standing high in the heavens, and poured down
on the sleeping city its silvery rays, which imparted to objects a
fantastic appearance; a religious silence brooded over the landscape.
The hunter looked after the two men so long as they remained in sight,
and then began crossing the square to reach the palace.

The day had been a trying one to the Canadian. He had been compelled
at every moment to display presence of mind, and struggle in craft
with men whose clear-sighted eyes had been incessantly on the point
of discovering the wolf hidden beneath the sheepskin. Still, he had
valiantly supported his trials, and, from the way affairs had turned,
he had every reason to believe that he should succeed in delivering the
two maidens; hence the worthy hunter's laughter to himself at the way
in which he had played his part, and determined to brave it out boldly
to the end. On reaching the temple, he unfastened the bolts and bars,
and entered the interior, only leaving the doors to behind, for he felt
certain that no one would dare to trouble him, through the sanctity of
the spot in the first place, and then through the superstitious fears
he had succeeded in inspiring the Indians with. In asking the High
Priest's permission to spend the night in the sanctuary, the hunter
had no other design but to cover with the cloak of religion the means
he intended to employ for the escape of the maidens, and, at the same
time, have a few hours' liberty, during which he could arrange his
plans fully, without being disturbed by the hospitality and curiosity
of his host.

The interior of the temple was gloomy. Only one lamp burned before the
sacrificing table, spreading a weak and trembling light, insufficient
to dispel the gloom. Marksman retired to a dark corner, sat down on
the ground, drew his pistols from his bosom, placed them by his side
for fear of a sudden attack, and, after trying with a piercing glance
to sound the dense gloom that surrounded him, feeling reassured by the
deadly silence, he began thinking deeply. Still, by degrees, either
through weariness or the influence of the spot where he was, in spite
of his violent efforts to keep awake, he felt his eyelids grow heavy,
and at length he gave way to the invisible sleep that overpowered
him. He could not say how long he had slept, when a slight noise he
heard, no great distance off, suddenly made him open his eyes. Like
all men accustomed to the active and perilous life of the desert,
where a man must be constantly on his guard, the hunter had acquired
such an exquisite delicacy of sense, that, however great his lassitude
might be, whenever he knew himself to be in a dangerous position, his
sleep was lighter than a child's. Marksman, when hardly awake, looked
around, while careful not to make the slightest movement indicating
that his slumbers were interrupted. He could see nothing; it was still
night, and what was more, the lamp was extinguished. He understood that
someone had entered the temple, and was spying him. But who could have
dared to cross the sacred threshold? Two sorts of persons alone would
venture to do it. A friend or an enemy. As for friends, he had only
one in the city, Flying Eagle. It was evident that the warrior, if he
wished to come to him, would have come openly, and not hiding himself,
which might draw a bullet at his head. Hence it was an enemy; but who?
Those he might have suspected, namely, Addick or Red Wolf, did not know
him, and hence could not have discovered him under his disguise, as he
had deceived sharper eyes than theirs. Besides, during the whole course
of the day, he had not been face to face with the two Chiefs, hence
it could not be they. But who was it, then? This was what the hunter
could not discover, in spite of all his cleverness. In his doubt, and
through fear of being taken unawares, he stretched out his hands till
they touched the pistols, and, with his head up, his eyes open, and
ears on the watch for the slightest sound, he prepared to bravely face
the foe, whoever he might be. The noise, however, which had disturbed
him was not repeated, all remained calm and silent. In vain did the
hunter strive to detect a shadow, even the slightest, or the least
sound. Nothing disturbed the majesty of the sanctuary. Still, Marksman
was not mistaken. He had distinctly heard a footstep timidly pacing the
stones of the temple. A man must have been once in his life in the same
position as the hunter was now in, to understand its agony and terror.
To feel close to you, scarce two yards off, an enemy watching you,
whose furious eye is unpleasantly fixed on you--to know he is there;
to guess it by that species of intuition God has bestowed on him to
foresee a danger, and not dare to stir, fear making the least movement
which might warn him that you were expecting the attack--this position,
comparable with that of the bird fascinated by the snake, is most
cruel, and, in a few minutes, becomes a punishment so intolerable that
death itself is preferable.

Assuredly, Marksman was a man of tried courage. The enterprise he was
now attempting proved in him a rashness, we will not say pushed to
the verge of death, for that is nothing, but to a contempt of those
tortures the Redskins are so ingenious in inventing and varying, so
that they can extract the life from their victim, as it were, drop by
drop. Well, after a quarter of an hour of this expectation, he felt
an involuntary shudder, his hair stood erect, and a cold perspiration
beaded on his temples. "A million demons," he muttered to himself,
"I cannot stand this any longer. I must know what I have to expect,
whatever happens."

At the same moment he leaped to his feet as if moved by a spring, a
pistol in either hand. All at once, a shadow bounded from behind a
pillar with a tiger's leap, and the hunter, seized by the throat,
rolled on the ground, before he could utter a cry. A foot was rested
on his chest, and he saw a hideous face grinning at him, as if through
a cloud. Marksman was alone, abandoned; without help; it was all over
with him, nothing could save him. He gave vent to a stifled sigh, and
closed his eyes, resigned to the fate that awaited him. But, at the
moment he felt he was about to receive the mortal blow, the grasp
on his throat relaxed, and a sarcastic voice said to him, "Get up,
powerful Tlacateotzin, I only wished to prove to you that you were in
my hands."

The hunter rose all bruised, and still troubled by this sudden attack.
The other continued--"What would you give to escape the peril that
menaces you, and be free to return peacefully to the _calli_ of your
host Atoyac?"

But Marksman had had time to recover from his flurry; he had picked up
his pistols; all fear had fled his heart, for he had only to defend
himself against one enemy. This enemy, after for a moment holding
him prostrate, committed the fault of restoring him liberty to move;
their position had suddenly become equal. "I will give you nothing,
Red Wolf," he said, resolutely. "Why did you not kill me when I lay
defenceless at your feet?"

The Indian Chief--for he it was--recoiled, with surprise, on finding
himself so easily recognized. "Why did I not kill you, dog?" he
answered. "Because I had pity on you."

"Because you were afraid, Sachem," the hunter said firmly; "it is a
different thing to kill an enemy in fighting, from assassinating an
adept of the great medicine in the temple of Wacondah, when protected
by his omnipotent hand. I say again, you were afraid."

The hunter guessed rightly; it was his superstitious fear which
suddenly arrested the arm of the Chief, already uplifted to strike. "I
will not discuss matters with you," he said; "but tell me how you so
speedily guessed my name; for I do not know you."

"But I know you; the Wacondah announced your presence to me; I expected
you; if I did not prevent your attack, it was because I wished to
see if you would carry your impiety so far as to sully the reverend
sanctuary of the temple."

The Indian grinned. "You are going too far, sorcerer," he said,
ironically. "Had it not been for a moment of weakness I now regret, you
would be dead."

"Perhaps so. What do you want of me?"

"Do you not know, as you say nothing is hidden from you?"

"I know what reason brings you here. You will try in vain to
dissimulate; if I ask you that question, it is because I would know if
you dare to tell a falsehood."

Red Wolf reflected for a moment, and then continued, with a resolute
accent,--"Listen, sorcerer," he said; "either you are a rogue, as
I believe, or else you are really what you pretend to be--a great
medicine man, inspired by the Wacondah, and beloved by him; in either
case, I wish to clear up my doubts. Woe to you if you try to deceive
me, for I will kill you like a dog, and of your accursed hide, cut into
strips on your quivering body, I will make trappings for my horse; if,
on the contrary, you speak the truth, you will not have a more devoted
friend, or a more faithful servant than myself."

"I despise your hatred, and do not want your friendship, Red Wolf," the
hunter answered, in an imposing tone; "your powerless menaces do not
terrify me; but, in order to make you fully understand the extent of
my knowledge, I consent to do what you ask, and tell you what reason
urged you to come to me."

"Do so, sorcerer, and whatever may happen, Red Wolf will be yours."

The hunter smiled contemptuously, and shrugged his shoulders, "It is
difficult, then, to divine what a man of blood wants? You and Addick,
your worthy accomplice, are leagued with a miserable dog, an outcast of
the Palefaces, to carry off from here two poor young girls confided to
the honour of your accomplice. Today you would like to cheat those with
whom you are allied, and keep the prisoners for yourself. Denounced to
the great Sachem by Atoyac, to whom all your designs are known, who is
also aware that you meditate seizing the supreme power, and becoming
Governor of Quiepaa Tani, you felt that you were lost; then you came to
me with the intention of corrupting me, and inducing me, by the power
I have at my disposal, to help you in carrying off the maidens whom
you covet, so that you may fly with them before the necessary steps
have been taken to arrest you. Is that all? Have I forgot any trifling
detail? Or have I really read your whole thoughts? Answer, Chief, and
contradict me if you dare!"

The Sachem listened to the hunter's long tirade with increasing
trouble; the successive changes of his face while listening to the
sorcerer, would have been a curious study for an observer; and when
Marksman at length concluded, Red Wolf let his head sink in confusion,
and stammered, in an almost indistinct voice,--"My father is truly
a Tlacateotzin; the Wacondah inspires him; his knowledge is immense.
Who is the man who would dare to hide anything from him? His eye, more
piercing than the eagle's, reads all hearts."

"Now you have my answer, Red Wolf," the hunter continued, "retire in
peace, and no longer disturb the meditations in which I am plunged."

"Then," the Chief remarked, with hesitation, "my father will not do
anything for me?"

"Yes, I do much."

"What does my father?"

"I allow you to retire in peace, when, by one sign, it would be easy
for me to lay you dead at my feet."

The Indian drew two or three steps nearer the sorcerer, so as almost to
touch him; the latter, whose watchful ear had just heard the sound of
gentle footsteps coming toward him, did not notice this movement, for
all attention was directed to another quarter. Suddenly his frowning
brow grew smooth, and a smile played on his lips; he had discovered the
cause of this new mystery. "Well," he said to the Chief, "why does Red
Wolf remain here, when I gave him the order to withdraw?"

"Because I hope to induce my father to have better feelings toward me."

"My feelings toward the hunter are as they should be; I cannot change
them."

"Yes, my father is kind; he will help Red Wolf."

"No, I tell you."

"My father will not serve me."

"I will not."

"Is that my father's last word?"

"Yes."

"Then die like the dog you are!" the Redskin howled furiously, as he
rushed with uplifted knife on the hunter.

The latter had, for a few moments, attentively watched all the Chief's
movements. Being thoroughly acquainted with the treacherous and roguish
character of the Apaches, on seeing Red Wolf assume a gentle manner,
he perfectly foresaw what he meditated, and the termination he meant
to give the scene; but, for all that, he did not make the slightest
movement to escape the blow intended for him: he looked his assassin
full in the face, with folded arms and unruffled face. Still, the arm
raised against the hunter did not descend. A man suddenly emerged from
the shade that concealed him, appeared behind Red Wolf, seized his arm,
and twisted it with such force, that the knife dropped, and disappeared
again so rapidly, that the terrified Chief had not even the time to see
whether he had to deal with a man or a spirit.

Red Wolf uttered no cry,--did not even attempt to avenge himself,
but his eyes rolled in their sockets, a convulsive tremor shook his
whole body, and he fell on his knees, murmuring, in a horrified
voice,--"Pardon, pardon, my father."

The hunter fell back a step, as if to avoid the unclean contact of the
wretch prostrate before him, kicked the knife away with disgust, and
said, in a tone of supreme contempt,--"Pick up your weapon, assassin!"
In reply the Chief showed him his dislocated arm, which hung inert by
his side.

"You wished it," the hunter continued. "Did I not warn you that the
Wacondah protected me? Go, retire to your _calli_; keep silence about
all that has happened here. At sunset be with your canoe at the
riverbank below the bridge; I will meet you there, and perhaps cure
you, if you strictly follow the order I give you; above all, forget not
that you must be alone. Go!"

"I will obey my father; my lips will not utter a word without his
order. But how can I leave here, unless you aid me? The spirits that
watch over my father will come to me with death, when I am no longer
in his presence."

"That is true: you have been sufficiently punished. Rise, and lean on
my shoulder; I will help you to walk to the entrance of the temple."

Red Wolf rose without reply; his rebellious spirit was subdued. The
rude lesson he had received at length inspired him with a superstitious
dread of the medicine man, which nothing could overcome.

The hunter gently led him to the outer gate. On arriving there, he
carefully examined his arm, assured himself that nothing was broken,
and dismissed him, saying in a tone in which kindness was mingled with
severity,--"Thank the Wacondah, who had pity on you. In a few days your
wound will be cured; but profit by this lesson, wretch. You will see
me again this evening. Go; now my help is no longer requisite, you can
reach your _calli_ alone."

"I will try," the Chief answered, humbly.

At a bow and sign from the hunter, he began walking slowly. Marksman
looked after him for some time, and then returned to the temple,
being careful to bolt the gate after him this time. At the moment the
hunter disappeared in the temple, the cry of the owl rose in the air,
announcing that the sun would speedily make its appearance.



CHAPTER XXXVII.

COMPLICATIONS.


While these events were taking place in Quiepaa Tani, others we must
narrate were occurring in the camp of the Gambusinos. Don Miguel,
after parting from Marksman at the outskirts of the forest, returned
thoughtfully to the spot where his comrades awaited him. It was
evident that the bold adventurer, dissatisfied in his heart at the turn
affairs had taken, was meditating some desperate project to get near
the maidens. He had spent several hours on the top of the isolated
mound which commanded the whole plain, and which we have before
visited, and thence carefully studied the position of the city. Clearly
this young man, with his ardent character and impetuous passions,
consented very unwillingly to play a second part in an expedition in
which he had been hitherto the leader; his pride revolted at being
compelled to obey another, even though he were his devoted friend, and
he could count on him as on himself. He reproached himself for allowing
Marksman to expose himself thus alone to terrible dangers for a cause
which was his own. The true reason, however, which he did not dare
confess to himself, that, in short, would have gladly made him brave
the greatest perils, and evidently that instinct which impelled him
to revolt secretly against Marksman's prudence, and to take his place
at all risks, was his love for Doña Laura de Real del Monte. He loved
her with that powerful and invincible love which only chosen natures
are capable of experiencing--a love which grows with obstacles, and
which, when it has once taken possession of the heart of a man like
Don Leo, makes him accomplish the most daring and extraordinary deeds.
This love was the more deeply rooted in the young man's heart, because
he was completely ignorant of its existence, and believed he merely
acted through the affection he felt for the young girls, and the pity
their unhappy position inspired him with. If it were so at the outset,
as is true, for he did not know Doña Laura, matters had completely
changed since. A young man does not travel with impunity side by side
with a maiden for more than a month, seeing her incessantly, talking
with her at every moment of the day, and not fall in love with her.
There is in woman a certain charm, which we do not attempt to account
for, which seems to emanate from their being, to be impregnated in all
that surrounds them, which seduces and subjugates the strongest men
involuntarily. The silky rustling of their dress, the soft and airy
turn of the waist, the intoxicating perfume of their floating tresses,
the pure limpidness of their dreamy glance, which is turned toward
heaven, and tries to guess the secrets of which they are ignorant; all,
in short, in these incomprehensible and voluptuously simple beings
seems to command adoration and appeal to love.

Doña Laura especially possessed that fascinating magnetism of the eye,
that slightly infantile gentleness of smile, which annihilate the
will. When her large blue eyes, veiled by long black lashes, kindly
settled on the young man, and were pensively fixed on him, he felt a
quiver over his body, a chill at his heart, and internally affected by
a sensation of immense and unknown pleasure, he wished to die then at
the feet of her who to him was no longer a creature of the earth, but
an angel. During the irregular course of his life, all the adventurer's
acquaintance with the other sex was what the corrupt society of Mexico
could offer; that is, the hideous and repulsive side. Accident, by
suddenly bringing him in contact with a poor and innocent girl like her
he had saved, produced a complete revolution in his ideas, by making
him understand that, until that day, woman, such as Heaven created her
for man, had remained an utter stranger to him. Hence, without noticing
it, and quite naturally, he yielded to the charm that unconsciously
acted on him, and had learned to love Doña Laura with, all the active
strength of his mind, not attempting to explain the new feeling which
had seized on him; happy in the present, and not wishing to think of
the future, which would probably never exist for him. Disregard of the
future is generally the character of all lovers; they only see, and
cannot see beyond, the present, by which they feel, through which they
suffer, or are happy; in which, in a word, they have their being.

Possibly Don Leo, hidden in the heart of the desert with the girl he
had so miraculously saved, had for a few days caressed in his heart
the hope of eternal happiness with her he loved, far from cities and
their dangerous intoxication; but that thought, if ever he entertained
it, had irrevocably faded away upon the fortuitous appearance of Don
Mariano; the meeting with Doña Laura's father must eternally annihilate
the plans formed by the young man. The blow was a heavy one; still,
thanks to his iron will, he endured it bravely, believing that it would
be easy for him to forget the girl in the vortex of the adventurer's
life to which he was condemned. Unfortunately for Don Leo, he was
obliged to undergo the common lot; that is to say, his love grew in
an inverse ratio to the immovable obstacles that had suddenly arisen;
and it was precisely when he recognized that she could never be his,
owing to reasons of family and fortune, which raised an insurmountable
barrier between them, that he understood it was impossible for him
to live without her. Then, no longer striving to cure the wound in
his heart, he yielded completely to that love which was his life,
and only dreamed of one thing--to die in saving her he loved, so as
to draw a word of gratitude from her in his final hour, and perhaps
leave a soft and sad memory in her soul. We can understand that, under
such feelings, Don Leo absolutely insisted on delivering the maidens
himself; hence, from the moment he parted from his friend, he thought
of nothing but the means to enter the city and see her. It was in this
temper that he returned to the camp. Don Mariano was sad; Brighteye
himself seemed to be in a bad temper; in short, all conspired to
plunge him deeper and deeper in his gloom. Several hours passed and
the adventurers did not interchange a word; but at about two in the
afternoon, the hour of the greatest heat, the sentries signalled the
approach of a party of horsemen. All ran to their arms, but soon saw
that the newcomers were Ruperto and his Cuadrilla, whom Don Mariano's
servants had found and brought with them.

Bermudez, following the injunctions he had received from Marksman, had
wished Ruperto to shut himself up with his men in the iron cavern;
but the hunter would listen to nothing, saying that his comrades had
gone further on the sacred soil of the Redskins than they had ever
done before; that they ran the risk at any moment of being crushed by
numbers, massacred, or made prisoners; that he would not abandon them
in such a critical position without trying to go to their help; and
so, in spite of all the criado's observations, the worthy hunter, who
possessed a tolerably strong share of obstinacy, pushed on, until he
at length found the encampment of his friends. Twice or thrice during
his journey he had come to blows with the Indians; but these slight
skirmishes, far from moderating his ardour, had no other result than to
urge him to haste; for now that the Redskins knew that detachments of
Palefaces were wandering in the vicinity of the city, they would not
fail to assemble in large numbers, in order to deal a great blow, and
free themselves from all their daring enemies at once.

The arrival of the Gambusinos was greeted with shouts; Ruperto
especially was heartily welcomed by Don Miguel, who was delighted at
this reinforcement of resolute men at the moment he least expected it.

The apathy which had fallen on the adventurers gave place to the
greatest activity. When the newcomers had performed their various
duties, groups were formed, and conversation commenced with the
vivacity and loquaciousness peculiar to Southern races.

Ruperto was the more pleased at his happy idea of pushing on, when
he learned that there were not only Redskin encampments in the
vicinity, but that one of their most sacred cities was close at hand.
"_Canarios!_" he said, "we shall have to keep sharp watch, if we do not
wish to lose our scalps ere long. These incarnate demons will not let
us tread their soil in peace."

"Yes," Don Leo remarked, carelessly; "I believe we had better not let
ourselves be surprised."

"Hum!" Brighteye remarked, "it would be a disagreeable surprise that
brought a swarm of Redskins on our backs. You cannot imagine how these
devils fight, when they are in large bodies. I remember that, in 1836,
when I was--"

"And the most exposed of us all is Marksman," Don Leo said, cutting
Brighteye short, who sat open-mouthed. "I am sorry that I let him go
alone."

"He was not alone," the Canadian answered. "You know very well, Don
Miguel, that Flying Eagle and his cihuatl, as they call their wives,
accompanied him."

Don Miguel looked at the hunter. "Do you put great faith in the
Redskins, Brighteye?" he asked him.

"Hum!" the latter remarked, scratching his head; "that is according;
and if I must tell the truth, I will say that I do not trust them at
all."

"You see, then, that he was really alone. Who knows what has happened
to him in that accursed city, in the midst of those incarnate demons? I
confess to you that my alarm is great, and that I am fearfully afraid
of a catastrophe."

"Yet, his disguise was perfect."

"Possibly. Marksman is thoroughly acquainted with Indian manners, and
speaks their language like his mother tongue. But what will that avail
him, if he has been denounced by a traitor?"

"Holloa!" Brighteye said; "a traitor? Whom are you alluding to?"

"Why, to Flying Eagle, caramba, or his wife, for only those two know
him."

"Listen, Don Miguel," Brighteye remarked, seriously; "permit me to tell
you my way of thinking frankly; you do wrong in speaking as you now do."

"I?" the young man exclaimed, sharply. "And why so, if you please?"

"Because you only know very slightly--and what you know of them is
good--the people you are dishonouring by that epithet. I have known
Flying Eagle for many a long year; he was quite a child when I saw him
for the first time, and I have always found in him the staunchest good
faith and honour. All the time he remained in our company, he rendered
us services, or, at any rate, tried to render them to us; and, to
settle matters, all of us generally, and yourself in particular, are
under great obligations to him. It would be more than ingratitude to
forget them."

The worthy hunter uttered this defence of his friend with an ardour and
firm tone which confused Don Miguel. "Pardon me, my old friend," he
said, in a conciliatory voice; "I was wrong, I allow; but, surrounded
by enemies as we are, threatened at each moment with becoming victims
to a traitor,--and Domingo's example is there to corroborate my
statement,--I allowed myself to be carried away by the idea--"

"Any idea attacking the honour of Flying Eagle," Brighteye sharply
interrupted, "is necessarily false. Who knows whether, at this moment,
while we are discussing his good faith, he may not be risking his life
on our behalf?"

These words produced a sensation on the hearers; there was a momentary
silence, which the Canadian soon broke, by continuing:--"But I am not
angry with you. You are young, and, from that very fact, your tongue
often goes faster than your thoughts; but, I entreat you, pay attention
to it, for it might entail dire consequences. But enough on the
subject. I remember a singular adventure which occurred to me in 1851.
I was coming from--"

"Now that I reflect more seriously," Don Miguel interrupted, "I fully
allow that I was in the wrong."

"I am happy that you allow it so frankly. Then we will say no more
about it."

"Very good; and now, returning to the old subject, I confess to you
that I also feel anxious about Marksman."

"There, you see."

"Yes, but for other reasons than those you brought forward."

"Tell me them."

"Oh! they are very simple. Marksman is a brave and honest hunter,
thoroughly up to Indian roguery; but he has no one to back him up.
Flying Eagle would prove of but slight assistance to him; if he were
detected, the brave Chief could only be killed by his side; and he
would do so, I am convinced."

"And I too; but what good would that do them? How, after that
catastrophe, should we succeed in saving the maidens?"

Brighteye shook his head. "Yes," he said, "there is the difficulty;
that is the knot of the matter. Unfortunately, it is by no means easy
to remedy that eventuality, which, I trust, will not present itself."

"We must trust so; but if it did, what should we do?"

"What should we do?"

"Yes."

"Hum! You ask me a question, Don Miguel, which it is by no means easy
to answer."

"Well, supposing it to be so, we must still find means of escaping from
the false position in which we shall find ourselves."

"That is quite certain."

"Well, then?"

"Then, on my word, I do not know what I should do. Look you, I am not
a man who looks so far ahead. When a misfortune occurs, it is time
to remedy it, without bothering your brains so long beforehand. All
that I can say to you, Caballero, is that, for the moment, instead of
remaining here, stupidly planted like a flamingo that has lost a wing,
I would give a good deal to be in that accursed city, in a position to
watch over my old comrade."

"Is that the truth? Are you really the man to attempt such an
enterprise?" Don Miguel exclaimed joyously.

The hunter looked at him in surprise. "Do you doubt it?" he said. "When
did you ever hear me boast of things which I was not capable of doing?"

"Do not be angry, my old friend," Don Miguel answered, quickly; "your
words caused me so much pleasure that, at the first blush, I did not
dare to believe them."

"You must always put faith in my words, young man," Brighteye remarked,
sententiously.

"Do not be afraid," Don Miguel said, with a laugh, "in future I will
not doubt them."

"All right, then."

"Listen to me. If you like, we will attempt the affair together."

"Enter the city?"

"Yes."

"By Jove! that is an idea," Brighteye answered, quite delighted.

"Is it not?"

"Yes; but how shall we manage to get in?"

"Leave that all to me."

"Good. Then I will not trouble myself about it further; but there is
another matter."

"What now?"

"We are not presentable in this state," the hunter said, pointing, with
a laugh, to his attire; "by painting my face and hands, I might pass at
a push; but you cannot."

"That is true. Well, let me alone, I will prepare an Indian dress with
which you can find no fault. During that time, do you disguise yourself
in your way."

"It will soon be done."

"And mine too."

The two men rose, delighted, though probably from different reasons.
Brighteye was happy at going to his friend's assistance, while Don
Miguel only thought of Doña Laura, whom he hoped to see again. At
the moment they rose, Don Mariano stopped them. "Are you speaking
seriously, Caballeros?" he asked them.

"Certainly," they answered, "most seriously."

"Very good, then. I shall go with you."

"What!" Don Miguel exclaimed, falling back in stupefaction. "Are you
mad, Don Mariano? You, who do not know the Indians, and cannot speak a
word of their language, to venture into this wasp's nest. It would be
suicide."

"No!" the old man answered resolutely. "I wish to see my child again."

Don Miguel had not the courage to combat a resolution so clearly
announced, so he let his head sink without answering; but Brighteye did
not regard the matter from that light. Perfectly cool, and consequently
seeing far and correctly, he understood the disastrous consequences Don
Mariano's presence would have for them.

"Pardon me," he said, "but with your permission, Caballero, I fancy you
have not carefully considered the resolution you have just formed."

"Caballeros, a father does not reflect when he wishes to see a child
whom he never hoped to hold to his heart again."

"That is true. Still I would remark that what you propose doing, far
from helping you to see your daughter again, will, on the contrary,
sever her from you for ever."

"What do you mean?"

"A very simple thing. Don Miguel and myself are going to mix among
Indians, whom we shall have great difficulty in discovering, though
we know them. If you accompany us, the following will inevitably
happen:--At the first glance, the Redskins will see you are a white
man, and then, you understand, nothing can save you, or us either. Now,
if you insist, we will be off. I am ready to follow you. A man can only
die once; so as well today as tomorrow."

Don Mariano sighed. "I was mad," he muttered, "I knew not what I said.
Pardon me; but I so longed to see my daughter again."

"Have faith in us, poor father," Don Miguel said, nobly; "by what we
have already done, judge what we are still able to do. We will attempt
impossibilities to restore her who is so dear to you."

Don Mariano, succumbing to the emotion which overpowered him, had
not the strength to reply. With eyes filled with tears, he pressed
the young man's hand, and sat down again. The two adventurers then
prepared for the dangerous expedition they meditated, by disguising
themselves. Owing to their acquaintance with Indian habits, they
succeeded in producing costumes harmonizing with the characters they
wished to assume, and in giving themselves a thorough Indian look. When
all the preparations were completed, Don Miguel confided the command
of the cuadrilla to Ruperto, recommending him to exercise the utmost
vigilance, and telling him the signal agreed on with Marksman. Then,
after a final pressure of Don Mariano's hand, who was still plunged
in the deepest grief, the two daring adventurers took leave of their
comrades, threw their rifles on their shoulders, and set out in the
direction of Quiepaa Tani, accompanied by several Gambusinos and by
Ruperto, who was glad to learn the situation of the city, so as to know
how to post his men so that they could run up at the first signal.



CHAPTER XXXVIII.

A WALK IN THE DARK.


The sun was setting as the Gambusinos reached the skirt of the forest
and the limit of the covert. Before them, at a distance of about four
miles, rose the city, amid the verdure of the plain, which formed a
girdle of flowers and grass. The night fell rapidly, the darkness
grew momentarily heavier, mingling all the varieties of the scenery
in a sombre mass; the hour, in short, was most propitious for trying
the bold experiment on which they were resolved. They whispered a
last farewell to their comrades, and boldly entered the tall grass,
in the centre of which they speedily disappeared. Fortunately for the
adventurers, who would have found it impossible to find their way in
the darkness, the tracks of horsemen and foot passengers proceeding to
the city, or coming from it, had traced long paths, all leading direct
to one of the gates. The two men walked along, side by side, for a long
time in silence; each was thinking deeply on the probable results of
this desperate tentative. In the first moment of enthusiasm, they had
dreamed but slightly of the countless difficulties they must meet on
their path, and the obstacles which would doubtlessly at every moment
rise before them; they had only regarded the object they wished to
attain. But now that they were cool, many things to which they had not
paid attention, or which they would not allow to check them, presented
themselves to their thoughts, and, as so frequently happens, made them
regard their expedition under a very different light. Their object now
appeared to them almost impossible to gain, and obstacles grew up, as
it were, under their feet. Unfortunately, these judicious reflections
arrived too late; there was no chance of withdrawal, and they must
advance at all risks. All was calm and tranquil, however; there was
not a breath in the air, not a sound on the prairie, and, as the stars
gradually appeared in the sky, a pale and trembling gleam slightly
modified the darkness, and rendered it less intense, and they began
to see sufficiently well to be able to proceed without hesitation, and
reconnoitre the plain for some distance. Brighteye was not particularly
satisfied with his comrade's obstinate silence; the worthy hunter was
rather fond of talking, especially under circumstances like those he
found himself in at present; hence he resolved to make his companion
talk, in the first place, to hear a human voice--a reason which,
fortunately for themselves, the sedentary, who are exempt from those
great heart storms which yet endow existence with such charms, will not
understand; but the hunter's second reason was still more peremptory
than the first; now that he had embarked on this desperate enterprise,
he wished to obtain certain information from Don Miguel, as to the mode
in which he intended acting, and the plan he meant to adopt. So near
the city, and in an entirely uncovered plain, there was very slight
risk of the adventurers meeting with Indians; the only men they were
exposed to meet were scouts, sent out to reconnoitre, in the extremely
improbable event, that the Indians, contrary to their usual habit of
not making any movement during the night, had considered it necessary
to send out a few men to survey the environs. The two men could
therefore talk together without danger, save from some extraordinary
accident, though, of course, careful not to speak above their breath
and to keep eyes and ears constantly on the watch, so as to notice
a danger so soon as it arose. Brighteye, after coughing gently to
attract his comrade's attention, said, looking around him somewhat
impatiently,--"Eh, eh! the sky has grown enormously bright in the last
few minutes, and the night is not so black; I hope the moon will not
rise ere we reach our destination."

"We have two hours before us ere the moon rises," Don Miguel answered;
"that is more than we want."

"You believe two hours will be sufficient?"

"I am sure of it."

"All the better then, for I am not particularly fond of night walks."

"It is not usual to take them."

"Indeed, during the forty years I have traversed the desert in every
direction, this is only the second occasion of my indulging in a night
walk."

"Nonsense!"

"It is a fact; the first time deserves mentioning."

"How so?" Don Miguel asked absently.

"The circumstances were almost similar; I wanted to save a young girl,
who had been carried off by the Indians. It was in 1835. I was then
in the service of the Fur Company. The Blackfoot Indians, to avenge a
trick played on them by a scamp of an _employé_, hit on nothing better
than surprising Mackenzie fort; then--"

"Listen!" Don Miguel said, seizing his arm. "Do you hear nothing?"

The Canadian, so suddenly interrupted in his story, which he believed
this time he should really finish, did not, however, display any ill
temper, for he was accustomed to such mishaps; he stopped, lay down
on the ground, and listened attentively for two or three minutes,
with the most sustained attention, and then rose, shaking his head
contemptuously. "They are coyotes sharing a deer," he said.

"You are certain of it?"

"You will soon hear them give tongue." In fact, the hunter had scarce
finished speaking ere the repeated barking of the coyotes could be
heard a short distance off.

"You hear," the Canadian said simply.

"It is true," Don Miguel answered.

They resumed their march.

"Is this the way?" Brighteye said. "You remember what we agreed on,
Don Miguel? I trust entirely to you to get into the city, and I do not
exactly see what we shall do."

"I do not know much more myself," the young man responded. "I spent
several hours today in carefully examining the walls, and fancied I
noticed a spot where it would be rather easy for us to pass."

"Hum!" Brighteye remarked. "Your plan does not seem to me very good; it
will probably result in broken bones."

"That is a chance to run."

"Of course; but, without offence, I should prefer something else, if it
be possible."

"That prospect does not frighten you, I hope?"

"Not the least in the world. It is plain that the Indians cannot kill
me; if they could, they would have done so long ago, seeing the time I
have been in the desert."

The young man could not refrain from laughing at the coolness with
which his comrade emitted this singular opinion. "Well, then," he said,
"what reason have you to find fault with my plan?"

"Because it is bad. If the Indians cannot kill me, that does not prove
they will not wound me. Believe me. Don Miguel, let us be prudent: if
one of us is disabled at the start, what will become of the other?"

"That is true; but have you any other plan to propose to me?"

"I think so."

"Well, let me know it. If it be good, I will adopt it; I am not at all
sweet on myself."

"Good; can you swim?"

"Why ask?"

"Answer first, and then I'll tell you."

"I swim like a sturgeon."

"And I like an otter; we are well paired. Now, pay attention to what I
am going to say."

"Move ahead."

"You see that river a little to my right, I suppose?"

"Of course."

"Very good. That river intersects the city, I rather think."

"Yes."

"Supposing that the Redskins are acquainted with our arrival in these
parts, on which side will they apprehend an attack?"

"From the plain, evidently. That is common sense."

"All the better. So the walls will be furnished with sentries, watching
the plain, while the river, whence they fear no danger, will be
perfectly deserted."

"That is true," Don Miguel said, striking his forehead; "I did not
think of that."

"People cannot think of everything," Brighteye observed philosophically.

"My worthy friend, I thank you for that idea. Now we are certain of
entering the city."

"You had better not holloa till you are out--But you know the proverb.
Still, nothing will prevent us trying."

They at once diverged to the left, in the direction of the river,
which they reached after a quarter of an hour's march. The banks were
deserted. The river, calm as a mirror, looked like a wide silver
ribbon. "Now," Brighteye continued, "we need not hurry; although we
can swim, we will reserve that expedient till others fail us. Examine
all the shrubs on one side, while I do so on the other. I am greatly
mistaken, or we shall find a canoe somewhere." The hunter's previsions
did not deceive him. After a few minutes' search, they found a canoe
hidden beneath a quantity of leaves in the midst of a thicket of
lentises and floripondios; the paddles were concealed a short distance
away.

We have already described to the reader the mode adopted by the Indians
in building their boats, which, among other advantages, possesses that
of lightness. Brighteye took the paddles. Don Miguel put the canoe on
his back, and in a few minutes it was afloat. "Now let us get in,"
Brighteye said.

"A moment," Don Miguel observed; "let us muffle the paddles, to prevent
noise."

Brighteye shrugged his shoulders. "Do not let us be too clever," he
said, "for that would injure us. If there are Indians about, they
will see the canoe; if they do not at the same time hear the sound of
paddles, they will suspect a trap, and try to detect the trick. No, no,
let me alone; lay yourself in the bottom of the canoe: fortunately for
us it is small, and the Redskins will never suppose that so small a
boat, pulled by one man, would have the pretension of surprising them.
That which relatively makes the security of our expedition, you must
not forget, is its rashness, even madness. Only Palefaces can hit on
such crack-brained schemes. I remember, in 1835, as I was telling you--"

"Let us be off," Don Miguel interrupted, as he jumped into the canoe,
in the middle of which he laid himself down, in accordance with his
comrade's instructions. The latter followed him with a toss of the
head, and took up the paddles, which he only employed, however, with
an affected carelessness, which gave the boat a slow and measured
movement.

"Look you," the hunter continued, "with the way we are moving, if there
are any of those red devils on the watch, they will certainly take
me for one of their comrades out fishing late, and returning to his
_calli_."

Still, by degrees, and almost imperceptibly, the hunter increased his
speed, so that within half an hour they attained a certain degree of
speed, not great enough, however, to arouse suspicions. They then went
on for about an hour, and at length entered the city. But if they had
expected to land unnoticed, they were mistaken. Near the bridge, the
place where a number of pulled-up canoes showed that the Indians were
in the habit of stopping, Brighteye perceived a sentry leaning on his
long lance and watching them. The Canadian took a glance around, and
assured himself that the sentry was alone. "Good!" he muttered to
himself; "if there's only one, it will not be a long matter."

Then he explained to Don Miguel what the matter was, to which the
latter answered a few words.

"Listen," the hunter said, drawing himself up, "that is the only way."

And he steered the canoe straight toward the sentry. So soon as the
Canadian was within hail--"Wah!" the Indian said, "my brother returns
very late to Quiepaa Tani; everybody is asleep."

"That is true," Brighteye answered, in the language employed by the
sentry; "but I have brought in some splendid fish."

"Eh?" the warrior remarked, seriously; "can I see them?"

"Not only can my brother see them," the Canadian answered, graciously,
"but I authorize him to select any one he pleases."

"Och! my brother has an open hand. The Wacondah will never allow it to
be empty. I accept my brother's offering."

"Hum!" Brighteye muttered, "it is astonishing how the poor devil takes
the bait. He does not at all suspect that he is the fish."

And with this philosophical reflection he continued his progress.
Soon after, the canoe grated on the sand. The Indian, affected by the
Canadian's deceptive offer, would not be beaten by him in politeness,
so he seized the side of the boat and began pulling it up. "Wah!" he
said, "my brother has had a fine fishing, for the canoe is very heavy."

While saying this, he bent down to get a better hold, and began trying
anew. But he had no time; Don Miguel bounded from the boat, and,
clubbing his rifle, dealt a terrible blow of the butt on the wretched
Indian's skull. The poor sentry was killed at once, and rolled on the
sand without uttering a cry.

"There!" Brighteye cried, as he got out in his turn, "that man, at any
rate, will not denounce us."

"We must get rid of him now," Don Miguel observed.

"That will not take long."

The implacable hunter then selected a heavy stone, placed it in the
Redskin's frasada, and let him glide softly into the water. So soon as
this was effected, and every trace of the murder was removed, they drew
the canoe on land by the side of the others, and prepared to start. At
this moment the real difficulties of the enterprise began for them.
How should they find their way in a strange city in the dark? When and
how to find Marksman? These two questions seemed equally impossible of
solution.

"Wah!" Brighteye at length said, "it must be no more difficult to
follow a trail in a city than on a plain. Let us try."

"The first thing is to get away from here as soon as possible."

"Yes, the place is not healthy for us; but suppose we try to find the
great square. There people generally expect to get useful information."

"At this hour? That seems to me rather difficult."

"On the contrary. We will hide till daybreak. The first Redskin who
passes within reach we will oblige to give us news of our friend. A
great physician, like him, must be well known, hang it all," he added,
with a laugh, a gaiety which Don Miguel shared with all his heart.

Singular was the carelessness and recklessness of these two men; in the
centre of a city they had entered by killing one of its inhabitants,
where they knew they would meet only enemies, and where dangers were,
on all sides, hanging over their heads, they still found themselves as
much at their ease as if they had been among friends, and laughed and
jested together, just as if their position was the most agreeable in
the world.

"Well," Brighteye continued, "we are in a very tidy labyrinth. Do you
not think with me that there is a frightful smell of broken bones about
here?"

"Who knows? Perhaps we shall get out of it better than we fancy."

"One thing is certain, we shall soon know all about it."

"Let us take that street in front of us. It is wide and well laid.
Something tells me it will lead us right."

"Heaven's mercy! that is as good as another."

The hunters entered the street ahead of them. Accident had served them
well. After ten minutes' walk, they found themselves at the entrance of
the great square. "There," Brighteye said, in a tone of delight, "luck
is with us. We cannot complain; besides, it must be so. Accident always
favours madmen, and in that character we can claim its entire sympathy."

"Silence!" Don Miguel said, sharply, "there is someone."

"Where?"

The young man extended his arm in the direction of the Temple of the
Sun. "Look!" he cried.

"So there is," Brighteye muttered, a moment later, "but that appears to
be doing like us. He is evidently on the watch. What reason can he have
for being up so late?"

After arranging, in a few words, the two adventurers separated,
and crept, from different sides, toward the night watcher, hiding
themselves, as well as they could, in the shadow, which was not an
easy task. The moon had risen some time previously, and spread a weak
light, it is true, but sufficient to let objects be distinguished for a
considerable distance. The man on whom the adventurers were advancing
still remained motionless at the spot where they had seen him; his body
bent forward, his ear leant against the door of the temple, he seemed
to be listening carefully. Don Miguel and Brighteye were not more than
six paces off, and were preparing to rush on him, when he suddenly
threw himself up. They with difficulty suppressed a cry of surprise.
"Flying Eagle!" they muttered. But although they spoke so low, the
other heard them, and immediately sounded the darkness with a piercing
glance.

"Wah!" he said, on perceiving the two men, and resolutely advanced.

The adventurers left the shadow that protected them, and waited. When
Flying Eagle had arrived almost close to them--"It is I," Don Miguel
said to him.

"And I," Brighteye added.

The Comanche, Chief fell back in a state of stupefaction impossible to
describe. "The grey-head here!" he exclaimed.



CHAPTER XXXIX.

THE GREAT MEDICINE.


As we have stated, Marksman, after leading Red Wolf to the door of the
temple, and seeing him retire, reentered the sanctuary, closing the
door after him. The Comanche Chief was awaiting him, with shoulder
leaning against the wall, and folded arms. "Thanks for your help,
Chief," he said; "without you I was lost."

"For a long time," the Indian replied, "Flying Eagle was hearing,
though invisible, his brother's conversation with Red Wolf."

"Well, we have got rid of him for a long time; I hope, now, nothing
will occur to mar our plans or prevent their success."

The warrior shook his head in contradiction.

"Do you doubt it, Chief?" the hunter asked.

"I doubt it more than ever."

"Why so, when everything is going on as well as we can desire, when all
obstacles are levelled before us?"

"Och! obstacles are levelled, but others greater and more difficult to
overcome arise immediately."

"I do not understand you, Chief. Have you any ill news to tell me? If
so, speak quickly, for time is precious."

"My brother shall judge," the Chief said, simply. Then tuning half
away, he clapped his hand thrice. As if this inoffensive signal had
the power to call up phantoms, two men instantaneously emerged from
the shadow, and appeared before the hunter's astonished eyes. Marksman
looked at them for a moment, and then clasped his hand with surprise,
muttering, "Brighteye and Don Miguel here! Mercy! what will become of
us?"

"Is that the way you receive us, my friend?" Don Miguel asked,
affectionately.

"In Heaven's name what have you come here for? What evil inspiration
urged you to join me when all was going on so well, and success, I may
say, was insured?"

"We have not come to cross your plans; on the contrary, alarmed by the
thought of your being among these demons, we wished to see you and help
you, were that possible."

"I thank you for your good intentions. Unfortunately, they are more
injurious than useful, under present circumstances. But how did you
manage to enter the city?"

"Oh, very easily," Brighteye answered, and he told in a few words how
they had found them. The hunter shook his head.

"It was a bold action," he said, "and I must allow that it was well
carried out. But how does it profit you to have incurred such perils?
Greater ones await you here--profitless, and of no advantage to us."

"Perhaps so; but whatever happens," Don Miguel--answered firmly, "you
understand that I have not blindly exposed myself to all these dangers
without a very powerful motive."

"I suppose so; but I try in vain to discover the motive."

"You need not search long, I will tell you."

"Speak!"

"I must--you understand, I hope, old fellow," he said, laying a stress
on each, syllable--"I must see Doña Laura."

"See Doña Laura! it is impossible," Marksman exclaimed.

"I know nothing about impossibility; but this I know, that I will see
her."

"You are mad, on my soul, Don Miguel; it is impossible, I tell you."

The adventurer shrugged his shoulders disdainfully. "I repeat that I
will see her," he said, with resolution; "even if, to reach her, I were
compelled to wade in blood up to my waist; I insist on it, and it shall
be so."

"But what will you do?"

"I do not know, and care little. If you refuse to help me, well,
Brighteye and I will find means, will we not, old comrade?"

"It is certain, Don Miguel," the latter answered, in the placid tone
habitual to him, "that I shall not leave you in the lurch. As to
finding a plan of reaching the captives, we shall find it, but I will
not answer that it is a good one though."

There was a lengthened silence. Marksman was startled at Don Miguel's
resolution, which he knew to be unbinding; he calculated mentally the
chances, good and bad, which the young man's untoward arrival offered
for the success of his schemes. At last he took the word. "I will
not try," he said to Don Miguel, "any longer to dissuade you from
attempting to see the maidens; I have known you long enough to feel
that it would be useless, and that my arguments would, probably, only
urge you to commit an act of irremediable insanity. I therefore take
upon myself to lead you to Doña Laura."

"You promise it?" the young man exclaimed quickly.

"Yes; but on one condition."

"Speak! whatever it be I accept it."

"Good; when the moment arrives, I will let you know it; but take my
advice, and ask Flying Eagle to perfect your disguise; in the way you
and Brighteye are dressed at this moment, you could not take a step in
the city without being recognized. Now I leave you, for day has broken,
and I must go to the High Priest; I leave you in charge of Flying
Eagle; follow his instructions carefully, for you stake the life, not
only of yourself, but of those you desire to save."

The young man shivered at the thought. "I will obey you," he said, "but
you will keep your promise?"

"I will keep it this very day."

After whispering a few words to Flying Eagle, Marksman left the three
men in the temple and went out.

The Amantzin was preparing to go to the temple at the moment the hunter
entered his palace. Atoyac, curious like the true Indian he was, had
not left the High Priest since the previous evening, in order to be
present at the medicine man's second visit, which, judging from the
first, he assumed would be very interesting. The hunter returned,
accompanied by the Amantzin, who was his shadow, to the maidens'
apartment. He then attained the certainty that Doña Laura could without
inconvenience support the fatigue of being carried out of the Palace
of the Virgins of the Sun. The girl had, with the hope of a speedy
deliverance, regained her strength, and the disease which undermined
her had disappeared, as if by enchantment. As for Luisa, more dubious,
when the High Priest retired (for the hunter demanded to be left alone
with his patients), she said to the Canadian--"We shall be ready to
follow you when you order, Marksman, but on one condition."

"How a condition?" the hunter exclaimed. Then he added, mentally, "What
is the meaning of this? Am I to meet obstacles on all sides? Speak,
Niña," he continued, "I am listening to you."

"Pardon any apparent harshness in my words, we do not doubt your
loyalty. Heaven guard us from it still."

"You do distrust me," the hunter interrupted, in a tone of chagrin.
"However, I ought to expect it, for you both know me too little to put
faith in me."

"Alas!" Doña Laura said. "Such is the misfortune of our position, that,
in spite of ourselves, we tremble to meet traitors on all sides."

"That miserable Addick, to whom Don Miguel trusted," Doña Luisa added,
"how has he behaved to us!"

"That is true; you are obliged to speak so! What can I do to prove to
you certainly that you can place full and entire confidence in me?" The
maidens blushed, and looked at each other with hesitation. "Come," the
hunter said, simply, "I will remove all your doubts. This evening I
will see you again, and a man will accompany me who, I believe, will be
able to convince you."

"Whom do you mean?" Doña Laura asked quickly. "Don Miguel?"

"He will come?" the maidens exclaimed, simultaneously.

"This evening, I promise you."

The girls threw themselves into each other's arms to hide their blushes
and confusion. The hunter, after admiring the graceful group for
a moment, went out, saying in a soft and sympathetic voice,--"This
evening."

The Amantzin and Atoyac were impatiently awaiting the result of the
visit in the vestibule of the palace. When the hunter joined them,
and the High Priest began questioning him as to the condition of the
patients, he seemed to reflect for a moment, then answered in a grave
voice--"My father is a wise man; nothing equals his knowledge; his
heart can repose, for his captives will soon be delivered from the evil
spirit that possesses them."

"My father speaks the truth?" the Amantzin asked, trying to read in the
medicine man's face the degree of credit he should give him.

But the latter was impenetrable. "Listen," he answered, "to what
the Great Spirit revealed to me during the night; at this moment a
Tlacateotzin from a remote hut has arrived at the city; I do not know
him, I never heard his name before this day; it is this divine man who
must aid us in saving the sick maidens. He alone knows what remedies
must be administered to them."

"Still," the High Priest said, with an accent of ill-boded suspicion,
"my father has given us proofs of his immense learning, why does he not
finish alone what he has so well begun?"

"I am a simple man, whose strength resides in the protection the
Wacondah grants me. He has revealed to me the means to restore health
to the sufferers; I must obey."

The High Priest bowed submissively, and requested the hunter to confide
to him what he proposed doing.

"The unknown Tlacateotzin will tell that to my father when he has seen
the captives," Marksman answered, "but he will not have long to wait, I
feel the approach of the divine man. Let my father admit him without
delay."

Exactly at this moment several blows were struck on the outer door. The
High Priest, subdued by the hunter's assurance, hastened to open it.
Don Miguel appeared; thanks to Flying Eagle, he was unrecognizable. It
is almost unnecessary to state that this scene had been arranged by the
hunter and the Comanche Chief during the short conversation they had
before separating. Don Miguel took a scrutinizing look around. "Where
are the sick persons I am ordered by the Wacondah to deliver from the
evil spirit?" he said, in a stern voice.

The High Priest and the hunter exchanged a glance of intelligence.
The two Indians were confounded. The arrival of this man, so clearly
predicted by Marksman, appeared to them a prodigy. We will not describe
the conversation that took place between Don Miguel and the maidens
when they at length met; we will restrict ourselves to saying that,
after an hour's visit, which elapsed to the young folks with the
rapidity of a moment, Marksman succeeded, with great difficulty, in
separating them, and returned with the adventurer to the High Priest,
whose suspicions he feared to arouse.

"Courage!" the hunter whispered during the walk, "all is going on well;
leave me to manage the rest."

"Well?" the High Priest asked, so soon as they appeared.

Marksman drew himself up majestically, and assuming a stern and
imposing accent, said, "Listen to the words which the great Wacondah
breathes in my chest and sends up to my lips; this is what the divine
man here present says: the two suns that follow this are of evil
augury; but on the evening of the third, when the moon spreads its
beneficent light, my son, the Sachem Atoyac, will take the skin of a
vicuna, which my father, the venerated Amantzin, of Quiepaa Tani, will
kill in the arena, which he will bless in the name of Teotl;[1] he will
spread this skin on the top of a hillock, which is a little way out of
the city, in order that the evil spirit, on issuing from the maidens,
may not enter any of the inhabitants, and then lead the captives to the
spot where the skin is stretched out."

"One of them, though," the High Priest remarked, "is incapable of
leaving the hammock on which her body reposes."

"The wisdom of my son dwells in each of his words; but he may reassure
himself the Wacondah will give the necessary strength to those he
wishes to save."

The Amantzin was restrained to bow before this unanswerable argument.

"When what I have explained to my father is done," the Canadian
continued, imperturbably, "he will choose four of the bravest warriors
of his nation, to help him in guarding his captives during the night.
And after I have given the Amantzin and the men who accompany him a
liquor to drink, which will protect them from all evil influences, my
brother, the divine Tlacateotzin, will expel the wicked spirit that
torments the Pale women."

The High Priest and the Sachem listened silently, and seemed to be
reflecting. The Canadian perceived it, and hastened to add, "Although
the Wacondah assists us, and gives us the necessary power to conquer,
still it is necessary that my brother, the Amantzin, and the four
warriors he selects, should pass the night preceding the great medicine
with us in the sanctuary. Atoyac will give, as an offering to the
Wacondah, twenty full cavales to the wise Amantzin. Will my brother do
so?"

"Hum!" the Indian said, but little flattered by the preference, "if I
do so, what shall I gain by it?"

Marksman looked at him fixedly. "The accomplishment before the second
moon," he answered, "of the project which Atoyac has ripened so long in
his mind."

The hunter spoke haphazard; still, it seemed that the blow had told,
for the Sachem answered, with considerable agitation, "I will do it."

"My father is a wise man," the High Priest said, his brow having
brightened when the hunter spoke of the offering of the twenty cavales;
"may the Wacondah protect him."

"My son is kind," the Canadian contented himself with answering, and
took leave of the two men.

On the square, Flying Eagle and Brighteye were awaiting the coming out
of the two adventurers. While proceeding towards their host's _calli_,
Marksman explained his plan in its fullest details to his comrades.
Nothing could be more simple, though, than his scheme, for it consisted
in carrying off the maidens so soon as they were placed on the mound.
This was the only possible chance of success, for they could not dream
of employing force to get them out of the Palace of the Virgins of the
Sun. The delay of three days, fixed by Marksman before attempting his
plan, was necessary, in order to send Flying Eagle off to his tribe, to
fetch the reinforcements they would doubtless greatly need during the
pursuit that must ensue on the rape. Brighteye, at the same time, would
leave the city to warn the Gambusinos of the day selected, so as to
avoid any misunderstanding, and place the hunters in good positions.

The same evening, Flying Eagle, Eglantine, and Brighteye, as had been
arranged, got into Red Wolf's canoe, who was waiting near the hedge.
After the orders he received from Marksman, Eglantine was to remain
in the Gambusino's camp, while Flying Eagle, mounted on the famous
barb he had fortunately inherited from Don Estevan, would proceed
with all speed to his tribe. When Don Miguel and Marksman had seen
their comrades safely off, they returned to Atoyac's cabin. The worthy
Sachem, though he felt very angry at the tax of twenty cavales they
had put on him, received them most cordially, not daring to infringe
the laws of hospitality when dealing with men so powerful as the two
physicians. While conversing, he told them that Addick and Red Wolf had
disappeared from the city, no one knowing what had become of them. As
for Red Wolf, the hunters knew all about it, so his departure did not
trouble them; but it was not the same with Addick, who, as their host
told them, set out at the head of a powerful war party. They suspected
that the young Chief had gone to join Don Estevan, which urged them to
double their prudence, for they expected some perfidious machination
from these two men.

The three days passed away in visits to the maidens and prayers in the
Temple of the Sun. Still, the time seemed very long to Don Miguel and
the ladies, who constantly trembled lest a fortuitous accident should
disturb the well-arranged plan for their deliverance. The last day,
Marksman and Don Miguel were conversing, as they had grown accustomed
to do, with Doña Laura and Doña Luisa, while recommending a passive
obedience to all their injunctions, when they fancied they heard a
rustling at the door of the apartment preceding that in which the
prisoners were confined. Marksman, at once reassuming his borrowed
face, opened the door, and found himself face to face with the High
Priest, who stepped away with the embarrassed air of a man detected in
the satisfaction of his curiosity. Had he heard what the young people
and the hunter had been saying in Spanish? Marksman, after reflection,
did not think so: still, he thought it prudent to recommend his
comrades to be on their guard.

This long day at length terminated, the sun set, and night arrived.
All was ready for departure; the captives, each placed in a hammock,
suspended from the shoulders of four vigorous slaves, were transported
to the top of the mound chosen for the operation, and gently deposited
in the vicuna skin. The High Priest, by Marksman's orders, stationed
his warriors at the four cardinal points. He then uttered a few
mysterious words, to which Don Miguel replied in a low voice, burnt
some odoriferous grass, and bade the Indians and the High Priest kneel
down to implore the unknown deity.

Don Miguel, during this period, gazed on the city, trying to
distinguish if anything extraordinary were occurring. All was calm. The
deepest silence reigned over the place. The two hunters, who had also
knelt, rose up.

"Let my brothers redouble their prayers," Don Miguel said, in a hollow
voice, "I am about to compel the evil spirit to retire from the
captives."

In spite of themselves, the maidens gave a start of terror at these
words. Don Miguel did not seem to notice it, but made a sign to
Marksman. "Let my brothers approach," the latter said. The sentinels
had a hesitation that threatened to degenerate into terror on the
slightest suspicious movement of the medicine men. Don Miguel then
proceeded:--"My brother and I," he said, "are about to return to
prayer; but to prevent the evil spirits seizing on you after leaving
the captives, my brother Two Rabbits will pour out for each a horn
of firewater, prepared and gifted by the Wacondah with the virtue of
saving those who drink it from the attacks of the evil spirit."

The sentries were Apaches. At the word "firewater," their eyes sparkled
with covetousness. Marksman then poured them out a large calabash of
spirits, mixed with a strong dose of opium, which they swallowed at
a draught, with unequivocal signs of pleasure. The High Priest alone
seemed to hesitate, but at length made up his mind, and boldly emptied
the cup, to the great relief of the hunters, whom his hesitation was
beginning to alarm.

"Now!" the Canadian shouted, in a rough voice, "on your knees, all of
you."

The Apaches obeyed, Don Miguel imitating them. Marksman alone
remained standing, while Don Miguel, with his arms stretched to
the north, seemed ordering the evil spirit to retire; the Canadian
began turning rapidly, while muttering incoherent words, which the
adventurer repeated after him. After this, Don Miguel rose, and made an
invocation. Twenty minutes had passed. During this period, an Indian
fell, with his face to the ground, as if humbly prostrating himself.
Soon a second did the same, then a third, then a fourth, and, lastly,
the High Priest fell in his turn. The five Indians gave no signs of
life. Marksman, to make sure, let the nearest man taste the point of
his knife. The poor wretch did not stir; the opium had produced in
him and his comrades such an effect that their necks might have been
twisted before they woke.

Don Miguel then turned to the ladies, who were awaiting with
ever-increasing perplexity the end of this scene. "Fly," he said, "if
you wish to save your lives."

He then seized Doña Laura in his arms, threw her over his shoulders,
took a pistol in his left hand, and dashed down the hill. Marksman,
calmer than the young man, began by imitating thrice the signal agreed
on with his companions. At the expiration of a moment, which seemed
to him an age, the same cry answered him. "Heaven be praised!" he
exclaimed, "we are saved."

He went towards Doña Luisa, and wished to take her in his arms.

"No," she said, with a smile, "I thank you, but I am strong, and can
walk."

"Come on, then, for heaven's sake."

The girl rose. "Go on," she said, "I will follow you; think of your own
safety, I can defend myself." And she showed the hunter the pistols he
gave her two months previously.

"Brave girl!" the hunter said; "but for all that, do not leave me."

He made her go down in front of him, and both soon reached the foot of
the mound. When about half-way to the forest, the hunters were obliged
to stop, for the ladies, exhausted by fatigue and emotion, felt they
could not go further. Suddenly a large party of horsemen, with Don
Mariano, Brighteye, and Ruperto at their head, dashed at a gallop from
the forest, and hurried towards them.

"Ah!" Don Miguel said, with maddening joy, "I have really saved her,
then!"

The maidens mounted the horses prepared for them beforehand, and were
placed in the middle of the detachment.

"My child! my darling daughter!" Don Mariano repeated, as he covered
her with kisses.

The adventurer respected for a few minutes the gentle affection of the
father and daughter, who had so long been separated, and never hoped
to meet again. Two briny tears he could not check ran down his bronzed
cheeks, and in the presence of happiness so perfect, he forgot for a
minute that henceforth an insurmountable barrier was raised between
himself and her he loved so much; but soon regaining his spirits, and
comprehending the necessity of haste, he ordered--

"Forward, forward! we must not be surprised."

All at once a sinister flash crossed the horizon; a sharp whizz was
heard, and a bullet crushed in the skull of a Gambusino, scarce a yard
from Don Miguel. Then a horrible yell, the war cry of the Apaches,
burst forth.

"Back, back!" Marksman exclaimed, "the Redskins are on us."

The Gambusinos, burying their spurs in their horses' flanks, started at
headlong speed.


[1] The great unknown God.



CHAPTER XL.

THE FINAL STRUGGLE.


Marksman was not mistaken. Two parties of Redskins, one led by Addick
and Don Estevan, the other by Atoyac, were pursuing the Gambusinos.
We will explain to the reader, in a few words, this apparent alliance
between Addick and Atoyac. In the last chapter we stated that Marksman
surprised the Amantzin, listening at the door, and though the High
Priest did not understand a word of Spanish, and consequently could
not follow the conversation, still he evidenced a certain degree of
animation which appeared to him suspicious. Still, as he did not dare
openly to oppose the ceremony of the great medicine, which was to
take place in the same evening, he imparted his suspicions to Atoyac.
The latter, already badly disposed towards the two men, feigned,
however, to be astonished at the sudden doubts of the Amantzin, and
treated them as visionary. But at length, as the old man pressed him,
and seemed strongly persuaded that there was some machination hidden
behind the jugglery of the self-called medicine men, he consented
to watch what occurred on the hillock, and be ready to hurry to the
Amantzin's assistance, should he be the dupe of any trickery. This
being properly arranged, so soon as the procession with the captives
left Quiepaa Tani, Atoyac followed it with a band of warriors picked
from his relatives and friends, and, on arriving at the foot of the
mound, he clambered up it through the grass, prepared to see and hear
all that occurred. On hearing the prayers of the few men, the Chief
was on the point of regretting his coming. The noise of voices soon
ceased, and Atoyac, supposing that muttered prayers were now going
on, waited. Still, as the silence was prolonged, Atoyac determined to
climb to the top of the mound, and was utterly astounded at finding
only the Amantzin and the warriors lying on the ground. At first he
believed they were dead, and summoned his comrades, who had remained at
the bottom of the hill. The latter ran up at full speed, and lifted up
the sleepers, whom they shook violently, without being able to arouse
them. Atoyac then guessed a portion of the truth; he called to mind
the signal he had heard, and not doubting that the fugitives had gone
towards the forest, he rushed after them with a yell. Atoyac was the
first to perceive the party, and he it was who fired the shot which
killed the Gambusino. But the position of the whites was becoming
critical; for, on arriving at the edge of the forest, they found
themselves suddenly stopped by Addick's party, which charged furiously.
The ladies were in the centre of the Gambusinos, protected by Don
Mariano and Brighteye, and hence were in comparative safety. While
Marksman and Ruperto wheeled round to repulse the attack of Atoyac's
warriors, and cover the retreat, Don Miguel, wielding a club, which he
took from a wounded Apache, rushed into the thick of the fight with the
leap of a tiger at bay. The combatants, who were too close together
to employ their firearms, murdered each other with knives and lances,
or with fearful blows of clubs and rifle butts. The fearful carnage
lasted twenty minutes, excited by the savage yells of the Indians, and
the no less savage shouts of the Gambusinos, At length, by a desperate
effort, Don Miguel succeeded in bursting the human dyke that barred his
progress, and rushed, followed by his comrades, through the wide and
bloody gap he had opened, at the loss of ten of his most resolute men,
leaving Marksman to oppose the last efforts of the Redskins. Don Miguel
collected his men around him, and all hurried into the depths of the
forest, when they speedily disappeared.

At sunrise, the adventurers reached the grotto where they had once
before sought shelter, and Don Miguel gave the order to halt. It was
time. The horses, panting with fatigue, could scarce stand; besides,
whatever diligence the Apaches might display, the adventurers were a
whole night in advance of them, hence they could take a few hours of
indispensable rest.

Marksman, who soon arrived with the rearguard, confirmed Don Miguel's
views. The Redskins, according to his report, had suddenly returned
towards the city. These news redoubled the serenity of the adventurers.
While the Gambusinos, in different groups, were preparing a meal, and
attending to their wounds, and the maidens, who had retired into the
grotto, were sleeping on a pile of furs and zarapés, Don Miguel and the
two Canadians were bathing, in order to remove the traces of Indian
paint, and, after dressing in their proper clothes, they went to get
a few minutes' necessary rest. Don Miguel alone entered the grotto.
Eglantine, seated at the feet of the sleeping girls, lulled them gently
with the plaintive melody of an Indian song. Don Mariano was asleep not
far from his daughter. The young man thanked the Chief's wife with a
grateful smile, lay down across the entrance of the grotto, and fell
asleep too, after assuring himself that sentries were watching the
common safety.

The first words of the maidens on awaking, were to thank their
liberators. Don Mariano was never wearied of caressing his daughter,
who was at length restored to him; and he knew not how to express his
gratitude to Don Miguel. Doña Laura, with all the _naïve_ frankness
of a young heart, to which evasion is unknown, could not find words
sufficiently strong to express to Don Miguel the happiness with which
her heart overflowed. Doña Luisa alone remained gloomy and thoughtful.
On seeing with what devotion and readiness Don Miguel, with no other
interest than that of serving them, had so frequently risked his life,
the maiden discovered the greatness and nobility of the adventurer's
character; hence love entered her heart, the more violent because
the object yet did not seem to perceive it. Love renders persons
clear-sighted. Doña Luisa soon understood why her companion continually
boasted to her of the young man's generous qualities, and she guessed
the secret passion they felt for each other. A cruel pang gnawed her
heart at this discovery; in vain did she struggle against the horrible
tortures of an unbridled jealousy, for she felt that Don Miguel would
never love her. Still, the young girl yielded hopelessly to the chance
of seeing and hearing the man for whom she would have gladly laid down
her life. As for Don Miguel, he heard nothing, saw nothing; he was
intoxicated with joy, and indulged in the voluptuous felicity with
which Doña Laura's presence inundated him, as she sat, lovely and
careless, between himself and her father. Fortunately, Marksman was not
in love, and he saw clearly the dangers of the position. He summoned a
council, in which it was resolved that they should proceed in all haste
toward the nearest Mexican frontier, in order to place the ladies in
safety, and escape from any pursuit on the part of the Indians. They
must hasten, however, for, owing to an unlucky coincidence, it was
that period of the year called by the Redskins the "Moon of Mexico,"
and which they had selected for their periodical depredations on the
frontiers of that hapless country. Marksman promised to reach the
clearings in four days, by roads known to himself alone.

They set out. The adventurers were not disturbed in their rapid
flight, and, as Marksman had announced, on the afternoon of the fourth
day the party crossed a ford of the Rio Gila and entered Sonora. As
they advanced, however, on the Mexican territory, the hunter's brow
grew gloomier, and the glances he turned in every direction denoted
an anxious mind. The fact was, that the country, which should have
appeared at this season so luxuriant in vegetation, looked so strange
and desolate as to chill the heart. The fields turned up and trampled
by horses' hoofs; the ruins of burnt jacales, scattered here and
there; ashes piled up at places where mills must once have stood,
evidenced that war had passed along the road, with all the horrors
that march after it. About two leagues off, the houses of a fortified
pueblo an old presidio, could be seen glistening in the last beams
of the sun. All was calm in the vicinity; but the calmness was that
of death. Not a human being was visible; no _manada_ appeared on the
desolated prairie; the _recuas_ of the mules, the calls of the _nena_,
could neither be seen nor heard. On all sides, a leaden silence, a
mournful tranquillity, brooded over the scene, and imparted to it,
in the gay light of the sun, a crushing aspect. Suddenly Brighteye,
who rode a little ahead of the party, pulled up his horse, which had
shied so violently as nearly to throw him, and looked down with a cry
of surprise. Don Miguel and Marksman hurried up to him. A frightful
spectacle offered itself to the three men. At the bottom of a ditch
that ran along the road, a pile of Spanish corpses lay pell-mell,
horribly disfigured and stripped of their scalps. Don Miguel ordered
a halt, not knowing whether to advance or retire; it was permissible
to doubt under such circumstances. If they pushed on to the presidio,
it was probably deserted, or perhaps the Redskins had seized on it.
Still some determination must be formed within an hour. Don Miguel
at length noticed a ruined hacienda about five miles to their right;
though precarious, the shelter it afforded was better than bivouacking
on the plain. The adventurers pushed on, and soon reached the farm.
The hacienda bore traces of fire and devastation; the cracked walls
were blackened with smoke, the windows and doors broken in, and several
male and female bodies, half consumed, were piled up in the patio. Don
Miguel led the trembling girls to a room, after the ruins choking the
entrance had been removed; then, after urging them not to leave it, he
joined his companions, who, under Brighteye's directions, were settling
themselves as well as they could in the hacienda. Marksman had gone
out scouting with Ruperto. Don Mariano, excited by paternal love, had
turned engineer, and with the help of a dozen adventurers, was putting
the house in the best state of defence possible.

Like all Mexican frontier haciendas, this one was surrounded by a tall
crenelated wall. Don Miguel had the gate blocked up; then, returning
to the house, he ordered the doors and windows to be put in, had
loopholes pierced, and placed sentries round the wall and on the
azotea. After this, he gave Brighteye the command of twelve resolute
men, and ordered them to ambush behind a wood covered mound, which rose
about two hundred yards from the hacienda. He then counted his forces;
including Don Mariano and his two servants, he had but twenty-one men
with him; but they were adventurers, determined to die to the last man
rather than surrender. Don Miguel did not lose all hope, and when these
precautions were taken, he waited. Ruperto soon arrived, and his report
was not reassuring.

The Redskins had seized the presidio by surprise. The town had been
plundered, then abandoned; it was completely deserted. Numerous parties
of Apaches were visible in all directions, and it seemed certain that
the adventurers could not proceed a league from the hacienda without
falling into an ambuscade.

Marksman at length arrived. He brought with him forty Mexican soldiers
and peasants, who had been wandering about at hazard for two days, at
the risk of being surprised by the Redskins, who pitilessly massacred
every white man who fell into their hands. Don Miguel gladly received
this unexpected help--a reinforcement of forty men was not to be
despised, especially as they were all armed, and capable of doing good
service. Marksman, as a good forager, also brought with him several
mules laden with provisions. The worthy Canadian thought of everything,
and nothing escaped him. When the men had been stationed at the spots
most exposed to a surprise, Don Miguel and Marksman ascended the
azotea, to have a look at the neighbourhood.

Nothing had changed; the plain was still deserted. The calm was of
evil augury. The sun set in a mass of red vapour; the light suddenly
lessened, and night arrived, with its darkness and its mysteries. Don
Miguel, leaving the Canadian alone, went down to the apartment which
served as a refuge to the three females. The ladies were seated, sad
and silent.

Eglantine walked up to him.

"What does my sister want?" the young man asked.

"Eglantine wishes to go," she answered, in her soft voice.

"What, go!" he exclaimed, in surprise; "it is impossible. The night is
dark; my sister would run too much danger on the plain; the calcis of
her tribe are far away on the prairie."

Eglantine assumed her usual pout as she shook her head. "Eglantine will
go," she said, impatiently. "My brother will give her a horse; she must
join Flying Eagle."

"Alas! my poor girl, Flying Eagle is far away at this moment, I am
afraid; you will not find him."

The girl raised her head quickly. "Flying Eagle does not desert his
friends," she said; "he is a great chief. Eglantine is proud to be his
squaw. Let my brother suffer her to go. Eglantine has in her heart a
little bird, that sings softly, and tells her where the Sachem is."

Don Miguel suffered from considerable perplexity; he could not consent
to what the Indian girl asked him; he felt a repugnance to abandon the
woman who had given them so many proofs of devotion since she had been
among them. At this moment he felt a tap on his shoulder; he turned,
and saw Marksman. "Let her go," he said; "she knows better than we do
why she acts thus. The Redskins never do anything without a reason.
Come, dear child, I will accompany you to the gate, and give you a
horse."

"Go, then," Don Miguel said; "but remember that you leave us against my
wish."

Eglantine smiled, and kissed the two ladies, merely whispering one word
to them--"Courage!"

Then she followed Marksman.

"Poor, good creature!" Don Miguel muttered; "she wants to try and be
of use to us again, I feel convinced." Then he turned to the ladies.
"Niñas," he said to them, "regain your courage. We are numerous.
Tomorrow, at sunrise, we shall start again, with no fear of being
disturbed by the Indian marauders."

"Don Miguel," Doña Laura answered, with a sad smile, "you will try in
vain to reassure us. We heard what the men said to each other: they are
expecting an attack."

"Why not be frank with us, Don Miguel?" Doña Luisa added. "It is better
to tell us openly in what position we are, and to what we are exposed."

"Good heavens! do I know it myself?" he replied. "I have taken all the
necessary precautions to defend the hacienda to the last extremity, but
I trust that our trail will not be discovered."

"You are deceiving us again," Doña Laura said, in a reproachful voice,
so gentle that it went straight to the young man's heart.

"Besides," the adventurer continued, not wishing to answer the
interruption, "be certain, señoritas, that, in case of an attack, we
shall all die, my comrades and myself, ere an Apache can cross the
threshold of this door."

"The Apaches!" the maidens exclaimed, for the recollection of their
captivity was still quivering in their heart, and they trembled at the
mere thought of falling into their hands again. Still, this movement of
terror did not last an instant. Doña Laura's face immediately assumed
the angelic expression habitual to it, and she answered Don Miguel with
the softest possible intonation in her voice.

"We have faith in you; we know that you will do all that is humanly
possible to save us. We thank you for your devotion; we know that our
fate is in the hands of God, and we place confidence in Him. Act like a
man, Don Miguel. Do not trouble about us further, but, I implore you,
watch over my father."

"Yes," Doña Luisa added, "do your duty bravely; for our part, we will
do ours."

Don Miguel looked without understanding her. She smiled and blushed,
but said no more. The young man seemed desirous to say a few words,
but, after a moment's hesitation, he bowed respectfully and left the
room. Laura and Luisa then threw themselves in each other's arms, and
embraced tenderly.

When Don Miguel entered the patio, Marksman walked up to him, and
pointed to several rows of black dots, apparently crawling in the
direction of the hacienda. "Look!" he said, drily.

"They are Redskins!" Don Miguel exclaimed.

"I have seen them for the last ten minutes," the hunter continued; "but
we have time yet to prepare for their reception. They will not be here
for an hour."

In truth, an hour passed away in this state of horrible expectation.
Suddenly the hideous head of an Apache appeared over the door of the
court, and looked furiously down into the patio.

"No one can form an idea how impudent these Indians are," Marksman
said, with a grin; and, raising his axe, the body of the Apache rolled
outside, while his head fell, with grinning teeth, almost at Don
Miguel's feet.

Several attempts of the same nature, made at various spots, were
repulsed with equal success. Then the Apaches, who had flattered
themselves with the idea of finding the whites asleep, seeing, on the
contrary, how badly they were received, uttered their war yell, and
rising tumultuously from the ground, where they had been hitherto
crawling, rushed toward the wall, which they tried to escalade on all
sides at once.

A ball of fire flashed from the hacienda, and a shower of bullets
greeted them. Many fell; but the impetus of the charge was not felt.
A fresh discharge at point-blank range was impotent to repulse them,
although it caused them enormous losses. The attackers and attacked
were soon fighting hand to hand. It was an atrocious medley, a horrible
carnage, in which the hands were only unclutched by death, and in which
the conquered, after dragging his conqueror down with him, strangled
him in a last convulsion. For more than half an hour it was impossible
to recognize each other; the rifles, the lances, the arrows, and
machete strokes were interchanged with prodigious rapidity. At length
the Indians fell back; the wall was not yet escaladed. It was but a
short time; the Redskins returned almost immediately to the charge,
and the struggle recommenced with heightened fury. This time, in spite
of the prodigies of valour performed by the adventurers, they were
driven in by the mass of enemies that surrounded them, and compelled to
fall back on the house, contending every inch of ground; but now the
resistance could not last long.

All at once shouts were heard in the rear of the Indians, and
Brighteye poured on them like an avalanche at the head of his party.
The Redskins, surprised and alarmed at this unforeseen attack, gave
way in disorder, and dispersed over the plain. Don Miguel rushed
forward, at the head of twenty men, to support Brighteye, and complete
the defeat of the Indians. The adventurers pursued the Apaches, whom
they furiously massacred; but all at once Don Miguel uttered a cry
of surprise and rage. While he had been led away in pursuit of the
Apaches, other Indians, suddenly springing up in the space left free,
rushed at the hacienda. The Gambusinos turned their horses round, and
retraced their steps at full gallop. It was too late. The hacienda
was invaded. The combat then became a horrible carnage--a nameless
butchery. In the midst of the Apaches, Atoyac, Addick, and Don Estevan
seemed to be multiplied, so rapid were their blows, so aroused was
their fury. On the highest step of the flight leading into the interior
of the house, Don Mariano and some Gambusinos he had rallied were
desperately resisting the repeated attacks of a swarm of Indians.
Suddenly a bloody veil was spread before Don Miguel's eyes; a cold
perspiration poured down his face; the Apaches had forced the entrance,
and were inundating the house.

"Forward! Forward!" Don Leo howled, throwing himself headlong into the
medley.

"Forward!" Brighteye and Marksman repeated.

At this moment the two maidens appeared at the windows, closely
pursued by the Redskins, who seized them in their arms, and carried
them off, in spite of their shrieks and resistance. All was lost! At
this supreme moment, the war cry of the Comanches burst on the air,
and a cloud of warriors, at the head of whom Flying Eagle galloped,
fell like a thunderbolt on the Apaches, who believed themselves the
victors, Surrounded on all sides at once, after a heroic resistance,
the latter were compelled to give ground, and seek safety in flight.
The adventurers were saved at the moment when they believed nothing
was left them but to die, not to fall alive into the hands of their
ferocious enemies.



THE EPILOGUE.


Two hours later, the sun as it rose shone on a touching scene in that
hacienda which had been the scene of so obstinate a contest.

The adventurers and the Comanche warriors, who arrived so fortunately
for them, hastily removed, as far as was possible, the traces of the
combat. The bodies of those who had fallen were piled up in a retired
corner of the patio, and covered with straw. Comanche sentries guarded
some twenty Apache prisoners, and the adventurers were busy, some
bandaging their wounds, others digging wide trenches to inter the dead.

Under the saguon of the horses, two men and a woman had been laid on
trusses of straw, covered with zarapés. The woman was dead; it was
Doña Luisa. The poor child, whose life had only been one long self
denial and continued devotion, was killed by Don Estevan, at the moment
she blew out the brains of Addick, who was carrying off Doña Laura.
The two men were Don Mariano and Brighteye. Don Miguel and Laura were
standing on either side of the old gentleman, anxiously watching for
the moment when he should open his eyes.

Marksman, sad, and with a pale brow, was bending over his old comrade,
who was on the point of death.

"Courage!" he said to him; "courage, brother, it is nothing."

The Canadian tried to smile. "Hum! I know what it is," he said in a
broken voice; "I have ten minutes left at the most, and after that--"

He was silent for a moment, and seemed to be reflecting. "Tell me,
Marksman," he went on, "do you believe God will pardon me?"

"Yes, my worthy friend; for you were a brave and good creature."

"I have always acted in accordance with my heart. Well, it is said that
the mercy of God is infinite; I put my trust in Him."

"Hope, my friend, hope!"

"No matter. I was sure the Indians would never kill me; it was Don
Estevan, look ye, who wounded me, but I split his skull open. The
villain! I ought to have let him die in his pit, like a trapped wolf."

His voice grew momentarily weaker; his eye was more glassy; his life
was ebbing fast.

"Pardon him! Now he is dead, he is no longer dangerous."

"Heaven be praised, I crushed the viper at last! Good-bye, Marksman,
my old comrade. We shall never again hunt buffalo and elk together on
the prairie; we shall no longer sound our war cry against the Apaches.
Where is Flying Eagle?"

"Pursuing the Redskins."

"Oh, he is a fine fellow. He was very young when I first knew him;
it was in 1845. I remember that I was returning from--" He stopped.
Marksman, who had bent as close as possible over him, to hear the words
he uttered in a voice that grew momentarily weaker, looked at him. He
was dead. The worthy hunter had surrendered his soul to God, without
feeling the cruel agonies of death. His friend piously closed his eyes,
knelt down by his side, and binding his pale forehead, prayed fervently
for his old comrade.

Don Mariano, in the meanwhile, had remained in the same state of
apparent insensibility. Don Miguel and Doña Laura each held a hand, and
anxiously questioned his pulse. His two old servants were kneeling in a
corner of the room, and weeping silently.

Suddenly Don Mariano uttered a deep sigh, a bright flush covered his
face, his eyes opened, and for some minutes he seemed trying to recall
his ideas, troubled by the approach of death. At length he made a
supreme effort, sat up, and looking by turns with an expression of
ineffable gentleness at the young people who had fallen on their knees,
he drew their hands towards him and forced them on his heart.

"Don Miguel," he said, in a powerful voice, "guard her! Laura, you
love him, so be happy! My children, I bless you. Oh, God! In thy mercy
pardon the wretched man who is the cause of all our misfortunes. Lord,
receive me into Thy bosom! My children, my children, we shall meet
again!" His body was suddenly agitated by a convulsive tremor, his
features were contracted, and he fell back breathing his last sigh. He
was dead!

After performing the last duties to his old comrade, Marksman followed
Flying Eagle and his warriors. From that moment he was never heard of
again; the death of Brighteye had broken all the energy and will in
this powerful man. Perhaps he is still dragging out the last days of a
wretched existence among those Indians with whom he formed the resolve
of living.

The minute researches made by Don Leo de Torres, after his marriage
with Doña Laura de Real del Monte, led to no result; hence the young
man, to his great regret, was compelled to resign all hopes of ever
paying this simple and yet great-hearted man the debt of gratitude he
owed him.


THE END.





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search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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