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Title: The Rebel Chief - A Tale of Guerilla Life
Author: Aimard, Gustave, 1818-1883
Language: English
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http://www.freeliterature.org (Images generously made
available by the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford.)



THE REBEL CHIEF

A TALE OF GUERILLA LIFE

BY

GUSTAVE AIMARD

AUTHOR OF "THE BEE-HUNTERS," "STRONGHAND," "BUCCANEER CHIEF,"
&c. &c. &c.

LONDON

WARD AND LOCK, 158, FLEET STREET

MDCCCLXV.



CONTENTS.

        I. LAS CUMBRES
       II. THE TRAVELLERS
      III. THE SALTEADORES
       IV. EL RAYO
        V. THE HACIENDA DEL ARENAL
       VI. THROUGH THE WINDOW
      VII. TO THE RANCHO
     VIII. THE WOUNDED MAN
       IX. A DISCOVERY
        X. THE MEETING
       XI. IN THE PLAIN
      XII. POLITICAL
     XIII. THE CONVENTION BONDS
      XIV. THE HOUSE IN THE SUBURBS
       XV. DON MELCHIOR
      XVI. THE ASSAULT
     XVII. AFTER THE BATTLE
    XVIII. THE AMBUSH
      XIX. COMPLICATIONS
       XX. THE SURPRISE
      XXI. THE PRISONERS
     XXII. DON DIEGO
    XXIII. THE SUPPER
     XXIV. THE REVELATION
      XXV. THE AVENGER
     XXVI. SUNNY HOURS
    XXVII. AN HONEST MAN
   XXVIII. LOVE
     XXIX. THE BOLD STROKE
      XXX. THE SORTIE
     XXXI. TRIUMPH
    XXXII. EL PALO QUEMADO
   XXXIII. SETTLEMENT OF ACCOUNTS
    XXXIV. A SUPREME RESOLUTION
     XXXV. JOSÉ DOMINQUEZ
    XXXVI. THE BEGINNING OF THE END
   XXXVII. THE LAST BLOW
  XXXVIII. FACE TO FACE
    XXXIX. THE HATCHET



CHAPTER I.

LAS CUMBRES.


No country in the world offers to the delighted traveller more charming
landscapes than Mexico; among them all, that of Las Cumbres or the
peak, is, without fear of contradiction, one of the most striking and
most agreeably diversified.

Las Cumbres form a succession of defiles in the mountains, through
which winds, with infinite meanderings, the road that runs to Puebla de
los Ángeles (the town of the Angels), so called, because the angels,
according to tradition, built the cathedral there. The road to which
we allude, made by the Spaniards, runs along the side of the mountains
with curves of extraordinary boldness, and is bordered on either side
by an unbroken line of abrupt peaks, bathed in a bluish vapour at each
turn of this road, which is, as it were, suspended over precipices clad
with a luxurious vegetation. The scene changes, and grows more and more
picturesque. The mountain peaks no longer rise behind one another, but
gradually sink into the plain, while on the other hand, those left
behind rise perpendicularly.

On July 2nd, 18--, about four in the afternoon, at the moment when the
sun, already low on the horizon, only shed its beams obliquely on the
earth, calcined by the heat of the mediodía, and when the rising breeze
was beginning to refresh the parching atmosphere, two horsemen, well
mounted, emerged from a thick clump of yuccas, bananas, and purpled
flowered bamboos, and turned into a dusty road, which led by a series
of successive inclines to a valley in which a limpid stream ran through
the verdure, and kept up its pleasant freshness.

The travellers, probably struck by the unexpected sight of the grand
landscape which was so suddenly unfolded before them, stopped their
horses, and after gazing for some minutes admiringly at the picturesque
arrangement of the mountains, they dismounted, took off their horses'
bridles, and sat down on the bank of the stream, with the evident
intention of enjoying for a few minutes longer the effects of this
admirable kaleidoscope, which is unique in the world.

Judging from the direction they were following, the travellers appeared
to come from Orizaba, and to be going to Puebla de los Ángeles, whence
they were at no great distance at the moment.

The two horsemen wore the attire of rich hacenderos, a costume which we
have described too frequently to render a repetition necessary here: we
will only mention one characteristic peculiarity rendered necessary by
the slight degree of security on the roads at the time when our story
takes place. Both were armed in a formidable manner, and carried with
them a complete arsenal. In addition to the six-shot revolvers in their
holsters, others were thrust through their belts. They carried in their
hand a first-rate double barrel, turned out by Devismes, the celebrated
Parisian gunsmith; and thus each was enabled to fire twenty-six rounds,
without counting the machete, or straight sabre, hanging at their
side, the triangular-bladed knife thrust into the right boot, and
the lasso, or reata, coiled on the saddle, to which it was securely
attached by a carefully riveted iron ring.

Certainly if men thus armed were endowed with a fair amount of courage,
they might face without disadvantage even a considerable number of
enemies. However, they did not seem to trouble themselves at all about
the wild and solitary aspect of the spot where they were, and conversed
gaily while half reclining on the green grass, and carelessly smoking
their cigars--real Havana _puros_.

The elder of the riders was a man of from forty to forty-five years,
though he did not seem more than six-and-thirty, above the middle
height; he was elegantly, though powerfully built, his well knit limbs
denoted great bodily strength, he had marked features, and an energetic
and intelligent countenance; his black sparkling eyes, ever in motion,
were soft, but at times emitted brilliant flashes, when they were
animated, and they then gave his face a harsh and savage expression
impossible to describe; he had a lofty and spacious forehead, and
sensual lips; a beard black and tufted like that of an Ethiopian, and
mixed with silvery threads--fell on his chest; a luxuriant head of
hair, thrown back, covered his shoulders, and his bronzed complexion
was of a brick colour. In short, judging from his appearance, he was
one of those determined men who are invaluable in certain critical
circumstances, because a friend runs no risk of being deserted by them.
Although it was impossible to distinguish his nationality, his brusque,
sharp gestures, and his quick imperative speech, seemed to give him a
Southern origin.

His companion--who was much younger, for he did not appear above
eight-and-twenty years of age--was tall, rather thin, and delicate
looking, though not at all sickly; his elegant slim stature, and
extremely small feet and hands, denoted high birth; his features were
fine, his countenance pleasing and intelligent, and stamped with
a great expression of gentleness; his blue eyes, light hair, and,
above all, the whiteness of his complexion, caused him at once to be
recognised as a European belonging to the temperate clime, recently
landed in America.

We have said that the two travellers were conversing together, and
the language they employed was French; the turn of their phrases, and
the want of accent, led to the supposition that they were expressing
themselves in their own language.

"Well, Count," said the elder, "do you regret having followed my
advice, and instead of being jolted over execrable roads, undertaking
this journey on horseback in the company of your humble servant?"

"By Jove! I should be very difficult to please were it so," the one to
whom the title of Count was given replied. "I have travelled through
Switzerland, Italy, and the banks of the Rhine, like everybody else,
and must confess that I never before saw such exquisite scenery as that
which I have gazed on for the last few days--thanks to you."

"You are a thousand times too polite: the scenery is really very fine,
and remarkably diversified," he added, with a sardonic expression which
escaped his companion; "and yet," he remarked with a stifled sigh, "I
have seen finer, still."

"Finer than this?" the Count exclaimed, stretching out his arm, and
describing a semicircle in the air; "Oh, sir, that is not possible."

"You are young, my lord," the first speaker resumed with a sad smile;
"your tourist travels have only been child's play. This attracts you by
the contrast it forms to the other scenery, that is all; having never
studied nature except from an opera stall, you did not suppose that
it could hold such surprises in reserve for you; your enthusiasm has
been suddenly raised to a diapason, which intoxicates you through the
strangeness of the contrasts which are incessantly offered you; but if,
like myself, you had wandered over the savannahs of the interior, the
immense prairies over which the wild children of this country, whom
civilisation has despoiled, roam in freedom--like myself, you would
only have a smile of contempt for the scenery that surrounds us, and
which at this moment you are admiring so conscientiously."

"What you say may be true," Mr. Oliver; "unfortunately I am not
acquainted with the savannahs and prairies to which you refer, and
probably shall never see them."

"Why not?" the first speaker interposed quickly; "You are young, rich,
strong, and free--at least I suppose so. What is there to prevent you
attempting an excursion into the great American desert? You are in a
capital position at this moment to carry out such an expedition; it is
one of those journeys, reputed impossible, of which you will be able to
speak with pride hereafter when you return to your own country."

"I should like it," the Count answered with a tinge of melancholy;
"unluckily that is impossible, for my journey must terminate at Mexico."

"At Mexico?" Oliver repeated in surprise.

"Alas! Yes, sir, so it is; I am not my own master, and am now obeying
the influence of stranger's will. I have simply come to this country to
be married."

"Married! At Mexico! you, my lord?" Oliver exclaimed in astonishment.

"Yes," very prosaically, "married to a woman I do not know, who does
not know mo either, and who doubtless feels no more love for me than I
do for her: we are related--we were betrothed in the cradle, and now
the moment has arrived to keep the promise made in our names by our
parents--that is all."

"But in that case the young lady is French?"

"Not at all: she is Spanish, and I believe a bit of a Mexican."

"But you are a Frenchman?"

"Certainly, and from Touraine to boot," he replied with a smile.

"That being so, allow me to ask, sir, how it happens that--"

"Oh, very naturally so; my story will not be long, and as you seem
inclined to hear it, I will tell it you in a very few words. You know
my name--I am Count Ludovic Mahiet de la Saulay; my family, which
belongs to the Touraine, is one of the oldest in that province, and
goes back to the first Francs; one of my ancestors, so it is said, was
one of the leaders of King Clovis, who gave him, as a reward for his
faithful and valiant services, vast prairies bordered by willows, from
which my family afterwards derived its name. I do not tell you of this
origin through any absurd feeling of pride. Though of noble birth, I
have been educated, thank Heaven, in ideas of progress sufficiently
wide for me to know the value of a title in the present age, and to
recognise that true nobility dwells entirely in elevated sentiments.
Still, I was obliged to tell you these details concerning my family in
order that you might thoroughly understand how my ancestors--who always
held high offices under the different dynasties that have succeeded
each other in France--happened to have a younger branch of the family
Spanish, while the elder remained French. At the epoch of the league,
the Spaniards, summoned by the partisans of the Guises, with whom they
had formed an alliance against King Henry IV., then only called King of
Navarre, were quartered for a rather lengthened period in Paris. I ask
your pardon, my dear Mr. Oliver, for thus entering into details which
may appear to you very wearisome."

"Pardon me, my lord, on the contrary, they greatly interest me; so pray
go on."

The young man bowed and resumed--

"Now, the Count de Saulnay--alive at that time--was an impetuous
partisan of the Guises, and a very intimate friend of the Duke of
Mayence; the Count had three children--two sons, who fought in the
ranks of the army of the League, and a daughter who was maid of honour
to the Duchess of Montpensier, the sister of the Duke of Mayence. The
siege of Paris lasted a long time, it was even abandoned, then resumed
by Henry IV., who eventually bought for ready money a city which he
despaired of seizing, and which the Duc de Brissac, Governor of the
Bastille for the league, sold him. Many of the officers serving under
the Duke de Mendoza, Commander of the Spanish troops, and that General
himself, had their families with them. In short, the younger son of my
ancestor fell in love with one of the Spanish General's nieces, asked
her in marriage, and obtained her hand; while his sister consented,
by the persuasion of the Duchess of Montpensier, to give hers to one
of the General's aides-de-camp. The artificial and politic Duchess,
thought by these alliances to keep the French nobility aloof from
him whom she called, the Béarnais and the Huguenot, and retard his
triumph if she did not render it impossible. As usually happens in such
cases, her calculations proved to be false. The king re-conquered his
kingdom, and those gentlemen most compromised in the troubles of the
league, found themselves compelled to follow the Spaniards on their
retreat, and leave France with them. My ancestor easily obtained his
pardon of the king, who even deigned at a later date to give him an
important command, and take his elder son into his service; but the
younger, in spite of the entreaties and injunction of his father,
never consented to return to France, and settled permanently in Spain.
Still, though separated, the two branches of the family continued to
maintain relations, and to intermarry. My grandfather married during
the emigration a daughter of the Spanish branch: it is now my turn to
contract a similar alliance. You see, my dear sir, that all this is
very prosaic, and not at all interesting."

"Then you are willing, with your eyes shut as it were, to marry a
person you have never seen, and whom you do not even know?"

"What would you have? So matters are; my consent is useless in the
affair; the engagement was solemnly made by my father, and I must
honour his word. Besides," he added with a smile, "my presence here
proves to you that I did not hesitate to obey. Perhaps, had my will
been free, I should not have contracted this union; unfortunately it
did not depend on me, and I was obliged to conform to my father's
wishes. However, I must confess to you that having been brought up
with the continual prospect of this marriage, and knowing it to be
inevitable, I have gradually accustomed myself to the thought of
contracting it, and the sacrifice is not so great to me as you might
suppose."

"No matter," Oliver said with some degree of rudeness; "to the deuce
with nobility and fortune if they impose such obligations--better a
life of adventure in the desert and poor independence; at any rate you
are your own master."

"I am perfectly of your opinion; but for all that, I must bow my head.
Now, will you permit me to ask you a question?"

"Of course, most readily--two if you like."

"How is it that we--who met by accident at the French hotel in
Veracruz, just after I had landed--have become so quickly and
intimately attached?"

"As for that, it is impossible for me to answer. You pleased me at
first sight, your manner attracted me. I offered you my services; you
accepted them, and we started together for Mexico. That is the whole
story. When we arrive there we shall separate, doubtless, never to meet
again, and all will be settled."

"Oh! Oh! Mr. Oliver, permit me to believe that you are mistaken; that,
on the contrary, we shall meet frequently, and that our acquaintance
will soon become a solid friendship."

The other shook his head several times.

"My lord," he said at length, "you are a gentleman, rich, and of good
standing in the world; while I am but an adventurer, of whose past life
you are ignorant, and whose name you scarce know, even supposing the
one I bear at this moment is real; our positions are too different;
there is between us a line of demarcation too distinctly traced for us
ever to stand on a footing of suitable equality toward each other. So
soon as we have re-entered civilisation, I feel--for I am older than
you, and have a greater experience of the world--that I should soon
become a burden to you; hence do not insist on this point, but let us
both remain in our place. This, be convinced, will be better both for
you and me. I am at this moment your guide rather than your friend, and
this position is the only one that suits me: leave it to me."

The Count was preparing to reply; but Oliver sharply seized his arm.

"Silence," he said; "listen--"

"I hear nothing," the young man remarked at the end of a moment.

"That is true," the other replied with a smile; "your ears are not like
mine, open to every sound that troubles the silence of the desert; a
carriage is rapidly coming up from the direction of Orizaba, and is
following the same route as ourselves; you will soon see it appear, for
I can perfectly distinguish the tinkling of the mule bells."

"It is doubtless the Veracruz diligence, in which my servants and
luggage are, and which we are only a few hours ahead of."

"Perhaps it is; perhaps it is not. I should be surprised if it had
caught us up so quickly."

"What does it matter to us?" the Count said.

"Nothing, that is true, if it is the diligence," the other replied
after a moment's reflection; "at any rate it is as well to take our
precautions."

"Precautions, why?" the young man asked in astonishment.

Oliver gave him a look of singular meaning.

"You know nothing as yet about American life," he said presently; "in
Mexico, the first law of existence is always to put yourself on guard
against the possible chances of an ambuscade. Follow me, and do what
you see me do."

"Are we going to conceal ourselves?"

"Of course," he said, with a shrug of his shoulders.

Without any further reply, he went up to his horse, which he
re-bridled, and leapt into the saddle with a lightness and dexterity
denoting great practice, and then started at a gallop for a clump of
liquidambars, distant a hundred yards at the most.

The Count, involuntarily overpowered by the ascendancy which this man
had contrived to obtain over him through his strange mode of dealing
since they had been travelling together, jumped into the saddle and
went after him.

"Good!" said the adventurer, as soon as they found themselves
completely sheltered behind the trees; "Now let us wait."

Some minutes elapsed.

"Look!" Oliver said laconically, stretching out his hand in the
direction of the little wood from which they had themselves emerged two
hours previously.

The Count mechanically turned his head in the direction; at the same
instant some ten irregular horsemen, armed with sabres and long lances,
entered the valley at a gallop, and proceeded along the road towards
the first defile of the Cumbres.

"Soldiers of the Veracruz President," the young man muttered; "what is
the meaning of this?"

"Wait," the adventurer remarked.

The rolling of a carriage soon became distinct, and a berlin appeared,
dragged at a tremendous pace by a team of six mules.

"Maldición!" the adventurer exclaimed with an angry gesture on
perceiving the carriage.

The young man looked at his companion: the latter was pale as a corpse,
and a convulsive tremor ran over all his limbs.

"What is the matter?" the Count asked him with interest.

"Nothing," he answered drily; "look--"

Behind the carriage a second squadron of cavalry came up at a gallop,
following it at a slight distance, and raising clouds of dust as they
passed.

Ere long cavalry and berlin entered the defile, when they soon
disappeared.

"Confound it," the young man said with a laugh; "those are prudent
travellers, at any rate; they will not run a risk of being plundered by
the salteadores."

"Do you think so?" Oliver asked with an accent of biting sarcasm.
"Well, you are mistaken, for they will be attacked within an hour, and
probably by the soldiers paid to defend them."

"Nonsense--that is impossible."

"Would you like to see it?"

"Yes, for the rarity of the fact."

"You will have to take care though, for possibly powder may be burned."

"I hope so too."

"Then you are resolved to defend these travellers?"

"Certainly, if they are attacked."

"I repeat that they will be attacked."

"In that case we will fight."

"That will do: are you a good rider?"

"Don't trouble yourself about me; when you pass I will."

"Well, then, in Heaven's name, we have only just the time to get there;
and mind and keep an eye on your horse, for on my soul, we are about to
have such a ride as you never saw."

The two riders leant over their steeds' necks, and loosing the bridle,
while at the same time digging in the spurs, they started on the track
of the travellers.



CHAPTER II.

THE TRAVELLERS.


At the period when our story takes place, Mexico was going through one
of those terrible crises, whose periodical return has gradually brought
this hapless country into the extremity to which it is now reduced, and
whence it cannot possibly emerge unaided. The following are the facts
that occurred:--

General Zuloaga, nominated President of the Republic, one day found--it
is not known why--power too oppressive for his shoulders, and abdicated
in favour of General Don Miguel Miramón, who was consequently appointed
interim President. The latter, an energetic and most ambitious man,
began by governing at Mexico, where he was careful in the first
instance to have his nomination to the first magistracy approved by
Congress, who unanimously elected him, and by the ayuntamiento.

Miramón hence found himself _de facto_ and _de jure_ legitimate interim
President; that is to say, for the period that must still elapse until
the general elections.

Matters went on tolerably well for a considerable period; but Zuloaga,
doubtless wearied of the obscurity in which he was living, altered his
mind one fine day, and suddenly at a moment when it was least expected,
issued a proclamation to the people, came to an understanding with the
partizans of Juárez, who, in his quality of Vice President on Zuloaga's
abdication, had not recognised the new President, but had himself
elected constitutional President at Veracruz by a so-called national
junta, and published a decree, by which he revoked his abdication, and
took back from Miramón the power he had entrusted to him.

Miramón was but little affected by this unusual declaration, as he
confided in the right he imagined he had, and which Congress had
sanctioned. He went alone to the house inhabited by General Zuloaga,
seized his person, and compelled him to follow him; saying with a
sarcastic smile,--

"As you desire to resume the power, I am going to teach you how a man
becomes President of the Republic."

And, keeping him as a hostage, though treating him with a certain
degree of respect, he obliged him to accompany him on a campaign,
which he undertook in the interior provinces against the generals
of the opposite party, who, as we have said, assumed the name of
Constitutionals.

Zuloaga offered no resistance: he apparently yielded to his fate, and
accepted the consequences of his position so far as to complain to
Miramón about not having a command in his army. The latter allowed
himself to be deceived by this feigned resignation, and promised that
his desire should be satisfied at the first battle. But one fine
morning, Zuloaga and his aides-de-camp, who had been appointed to
guard, rather than do him honour, suddenly disappeared, and it was
learnt a few days after, that they had taken refuge with Juárez, from
whose capital Zuloaga began protesting again more than ever against the
violence done him, and fulminating decrees against Miramón.

Juárez is a cautious, cunning Indian, a profound dissimulator, a
skilful politician. He is the only President of the Republic, since
the declaration of independence, who was not a military man. Issuing
from the lowest classes of Mexican society, he gradually rose, by
dint of tenacity, to the eminent post which he so recently occupied.
Knowing better than anyone else the character of the nation which he
pretended to govern, no one knew so well as he how to flatter popular
passions, and excite the enthusiasm of the masses. Gifted with an
immeasurable ambition, which he carefully concealed beneath the cloak
of a deep love for his country, he had gradually succeeded in creating
a party, which, at the period of which we write, had grown formidable.
The constitutional President organized his government at Veracruz, and
from his cabinet instructed his generals to fight Miramón. Although he
was not recognised by any power but the United States, he acted as if
he were the true and legitimate depository of the national power. The
adhesion of Zuloaga, whom he despised in his heart for his cowardice
and nullity, supplied him with the weapon he needed to carry out his
plans successfully. He made him, so to speak, the standard of his
party, by declaring that Zuloaga must first be restored to the power
which had been violently torn from him by Miramón, and that they would
then proceed to new elections. However, Zuloaga did not hesitate to
recognise him solemnly as sole President, legitimately nominated by the
free election of the citizens.

The question was distinctly laid down. Miramón represented the
conservative party, that is to say, the party of the clergy, large
landowners and merchants; while Juárez represented the absolute
democratic party.

The war then assumed formidable dimensions. Unluckily, money is needed
to wage war, and that was what Juárez was entirely without, for the
following reasons:

In Mexico the public fortunes are not concentrated in the hands of
the government. Each state, each province retains the free disposal
and management of the private funds of the towns forming parts of
its territory; so that, instead of the provinces being dependent on
the government, the government and metropolis endure the yoke of the
provinces, which, when they revolt, stop the subsidies, and place
the power in a critical position. Moreover, two thirds of the public
fortune are in the hands of the clergy, who take very good care not
to part with it, and who, as they pay no taxes, or obligations of any
sort, spend their time in lending out their money at a high rate of
interest, and ostensibly engage in usury, which enriches them, while
they run no risk of losing their capital.

Juárez, though master of Veracruz, found himself, then, in a very
critical position; but he is a man of resources, and felt no
embarrassment in finding the money he wanted. He first began by laying
hands on the customs of Veracruz, then he organised cuadrillas, or
guerillas, who had no scruples in attacking the haciendas of the
partisans of Miramón, Spaniards settled in the country, and generally
very rich, and of foreigners of all nations who possessed any worth
taking. These guerillas did not restrict their exploits to this; they
undertook to plunder travellers and attack convoys: and it must not
be supposed that we are exaggerating the facts, on the contrary, we
are toning them down. We must add, for the sake of being just, that
Miramón, for his part, let no opportunity slip for employing the same
means, when he had the chance; but this was rare, for his position
was not so advantageous as that of Juárez for fishing with profit in
troubled waters.

It is true that the guerilleros acted apparently on their own account,
and were loudly disapproved by both governments, who feigned on some
occasions to act with severity against them; but the veil was so
transparent, that the farce deceived nobody.

Mexico was thus transformed into an immense brigand's cave, in which
one half of the population plundered and assassinated the other. Such
was the political situation of this hapless country at the epoch to
which we allude. It is dubious whether it has much changed since,
unless to become worse.

On the same day that our narrative commences--at the moment when the
sun, still beneath the horizon, was beginning to bar the dark blue sky
with brilliant beams of purple and gold, a rancho, built of reeds, and
resembling--though it was very large--a hen house, offered an animated
appearance, very singular at so early an hour.

This rancho, built in the centre of a grassy patch, in a delicious
situation, only a few paces from the Rincón grande, had been changed a
short time before into a venta, or inn, for travellers surprised by the
night, or who, for some reason, preferred stopping here to pushing on
to the town.

On a rather large space of ground left unoccupied in front of the
venta, the bales of several convoys of mules were ranged in a
semi-circle, and piled on one another with some degree of symmetry. In
the middle of the circle the arrieros crouching near the fire, were
boucaning tasajo for their breakfast, or repairing the saddles of the
animals, which, separated in troops, were eating their provender of
maize placed on pesadas spread out on the ground. A berlin, loaded with
trunks and boxes, was standing in a shed by the side of a diligence,
which had been forced to stop here, owing to an accident to one of
its wheels. Several travellers, who had spent the night in the open
air, rolled up in their sarapes, were beginning to wake, while others
were walking up and down, smoking their papilitos; some who were more
active, had already saddled their horses, and were starting at a
gallop in various directions.

Ere long, the mayoral of the diligence came out from under his vehicle,
where he had slept on the grass, gave his animals their forage, washed
the wounds produced by the harness, and then began summoning the
travellers. The latter, aroused by his shouts, came out of the venta,
half awake, and went to take their places in the coach. They were
nine in number, with the exception of two individuals, dressed in the
European style, and easily to be recognised as Frenchmen. All the rest
wore the Mexican garb, and appeared to be true _hijos del país_, that
is to say, children of the country.

At the moment when the driver, or mayoral--a pure-blooded Yankee--after
succeeding, by dint of Yankee oaths mingled with bad Spanish, in
getting his passengers into the vehicle, which was half dislocated
by the jolting of the road, was taking up the reins to start, the
galloping of horses, accompanied by the rattling of sabres, was heard,
and a band of horsemen, dressed in a sort of uniform, though in very
bad condition, halted in front of the rancho.

This troop, composed of twenty men, with hangdog faces, was commanded
by an alférez, or sub-lieutenant, as poorly attired as his soldiers;
but his weapons were in excellent condition.

This officer was a tall, thin, but muscular man, with a crafty face,
sly eye, and bistre-coloured complexion.

"Hola, compadre," he shouted to the mayoral, "you are starting at a
very early hour, it strikes me."

The Yankee, so insolent a moment before, suddenly changed his manner:
he bowed humbly, with a false smile, and answered in a soothing voice,
while affecting a great joy, which he probably did not feel,--

"Ah! Válgame Dios! It is Señor don José Dominquez! What a fortunate
meeting! I was far from expecting so great a happiness this morning.
Has your Excellency come to escort the diligence?"

"Not today; another duty brings me."

"Oh! Your Excellency is perfectly right; my travellers do not at all
deserve so honourable an escort. They are costeños, who do not appear
to me at all rich. Besides, I shall be obliged to stop at least three
hours at Orezaba, to repair my coach."

"In that case, good-bye, and go to the deuce!" the officer answered.

The mayoral hesitated a moment, but then, instead of stating as he was
ordered, he rapidly got down from his box and went up to the officer.

"You have some news to give me, have you not, compader?" the latter
said.

"I have señor," the mayoral replied with a false laugh.

"Ah, ah," said the other, "and what is it, good or bad?"

"El Rayo is ahead on the road to Mexico." The officer gave an almost
imperceptible start at this revelation, but at once recovered himself.

"You are mistaken," he said.

"No, I am not, for I saw him as I see you now." The officer seemed to
reflect for a minute or two.

"Very good, I thank you, compader, I will take my precautions. And your
travellers?"

"They are poor scamps, with the exception of the two servants of a
French count, whose trunks fill, up the whole coach. The others do not
deserve any notice. Do you intend to examine them?"

"I have not yet decided; I will think over it."

"Well, you will act as you think proper. Pardon me for leaving you,
Señor don José, but my passengers are growing impatient and I must be
off."

"Good-bye then for the present."

The mayoral mounted to his box, lashed his mules, and the vehicle
started at a pace not very reassuring for those whom it contained, and
who ran a risk of breaking their bones at every turn of the road.

So soon as the officer was alone he went up to the ventero who was
engaged in measuring maize for some arrieros, and addressing him
haughtily, asked:

"Eh! Have you not a Spanish caballero and a lady here?"

"Yes," the ventero replied, doffing his hat with a respect mingled with
fear. "Yes, señor officer, a rather aged caballero, accompanied by a
very young lady, arrived here yesterday a little after sunset, in the
berlin which you can see there under the shed: they had an escort with
them. From what the soldiers said, they have come from Veracruz, and
are going to Mexico."

"Those are the people I am sent to serve as their escort as far as
Puebla de los Ángeles; but they do not seem in any hurry to start: yet,
it will be a long day's journey and they would do well to hurry."

At this moment an inner door was opened, a richly dressed gentleman
entered the common room, and after slightly raising his hat and
uttering the usual Ave Maria Purísima, he walked up to the officer who,
on perceiving him, had taken several steps toward him.

This new personage was a man of about fifty-five years of age, but
still in his prime: he was tall and elegant, his features were handsome
and noble, and an expression of frankness and kindness was spread over
his countenance.

"I am Don Antonio de Carrera," he said, addressing the officer; "I
heard the few words you addressed to our host: I believe, Sir, that I
am the person you have orders to escort."

"It is true, señor," the sub-lieutenant politely replied, "the name you
have mentioned is really the one written on the order of which I am
the bearer: I await your good pleasure, ready to do whatever you may
desire."

"I thank you, señor: my daughter is slightly unwell, and I should be
afraid of injuring her delicate health, if I set out at so early an
hour. If you have no objection, we will remain a few hours longer here,
and then set out after breakfast, which I shall feel honoured by your
deigning to share."

"I offer you a thousand thanks, caballero," the officer replied with a
courteous bow; "but I am only a rough soldier, whose society cannot be
agreeable to a lady: be kind enough, therefore, to excuse if I refuse
your gracious invitation, for which, however, I feel as grateful as if
I had accepted it."

"I will not press you, señor, though I should have been flattered to
have you as a guest: it is settled then that we are to remain here a
little while longer?"

"As long as you please, señor: I repeat that I am at your orders."

After this exchange of politeness the two speakers separated, the old
gentleman re-entered the rancho, and the officer went out to give his
squadron orders to bivouac.

The soldiers dismounted, picketed their horses, and began strolling
about, smoking a cigarette, and looking at everything with the restless
curiosity peculiar to Mexicans.

The officer whispered a few words to a private, and the latter,
instead of imitating the example of his comrades, remounted his horse
and went off at a gallop.

About ten in the morning, the servants of Don Antonio de Carrera put
the horses to the berlin, and a few minutes after the old gentleman
came forth.

He gave his arm to a lady, so wrapped up in her veil and mantua that
it was literally impossible to see anything of her face or divine the
elegance of her form.

So soon as the young lady was comfortably seated in the berlin, Don
Antonio turned to the officer who had hurried up to him.

"We will start whenever you please, señor lieutenant," he said to him.

Don José bowed.

The escort mounted: the old gentleman then entered the carriage, the
door of which was closed by a footman who seated himself by the side of
the coachman: four other well armed valets got up behind the carriage.

"Forward!" the officer shouted.

One half the escort went in front, the other half formed the rear
guard. The driver lashed his horses, and carriage and horsemen soon
disappeared in a cloud of dust.

"May heaven protect them," the ventero muttered, as he crossed himself
and tossed in his hand two gold ounces given him by Don Antonio: "the
old gentleman is a worthy man, but unfortunately Don José Dominquez
is with him, and I am greatly afraid that his escort will be fatal to
him."



CHAPTER III.

THE SALTEADORES.


In the meanwhile the carriage rolled along the Orizaba road, surrounded
by its escort. But at a little distance from that town it turned off
and reached by a short cut the Puebla road, along which it advanced in
the direction of the defiles of Las Cumbres: while going at full speed
along the dusty road, the two travellers caroused.

The lady who accompanied the old gentleman was a girl of sixteen or
seventeen years at the most; her delicate features, her blue eyes
bordered by long lashes which, in falling traced a brown semicircle
on her velvety cheeks, her straight nose with its pink or flexible
nostrils, her small mouth, whose coral lips when parted allowed a
glimpse of her pearly teeth, her slightly dimpled chin, her pale
complexion rendered even paler by the silky tresses of raven hair which
surrounded her face and fell on her shoulders, produced one of those
pale and attractive countenances, which are only seen in equinoctial
countries, and which, while not possessing the piquancy of the frail
beauties of our northern climes, have that irresistible attraction
which makes one dream of the angel in the woman, and produces not only
love but adoration.

Gracefully reclining in a corner of her carriage, half buried in masses
of muslin, she allowed her eyes to wander pensively over the country,
only answering absently and in monosyllables the remarks which her
father addressed to her.

The old gentleman, though he affected a certain assurance, appeared,
however, rather restless.

"I tell you, Dolores," he said, "all this is not clear in spite of the
repeated affirmations of the heads of the Veracruz government, and the
protection they feign to grant me. I have no confidence in them."

"Why not, papa?" the young lady asked carelessly.

"For a thousand reasons: the principal one is that I am a Spaniard, and
you know that unfortunately at the present time, that name is a further
motive for the hatred the Mexicans feel against Europeans generally."

"That is only too true, papa, but permit me to ask one question."

"Pray do so, Dolores."

"Well, I should like you to tell me the urgent motive which induced
you to leave Veracruz suddenly, and take this journey with me, more
especially, when usually you never take anyone with you on your
excursions."

"The motive is very simple, my child, serious interests claim my
presence at Mexico, where I must be as soon as possible. On the other
hand, the political horizon is daily growing darker, and I reflected
that a residence at our Hacienda del Arenal might become ere long,
dangerous for our family. I therefore have resolved that, after leaving
you at Puebla with our relation Don Luis de Pezal, whose god-daughter
you are, and who loves you dearly, to push on to Arenal, where I shall
take up your brother Melchior, and convey you to the capital, where
it will be easy for us to find effectual protection, in the event,
unhappily too easy to foresee, of the constituted power being suddenly
overthrown and that of Veracruz substituted for it."

"And you have no other motive, but that, papa?" the young lady said,
leaning forward, with a slight smile.

"What other motive could I have but what I have just told you, my dear
Dolores?"

"You see I do not know, papa, since I ask you."

"You are a curious niña," he continued laughingly, shaking his finger
at her, "you would like to make me confess my secret."

"Then you have a secret, papa?"

"That is possible; but for the present you must be satisfied with
knowing so much, for I shall not tell it to you."

"Really, dear papa?"

"I pledge you my word."

"Oh, in that case I will not press you. I know too well that when you
put on your big voice and knit your brows, it is useless to do so."

"You are a madcap, Dolores."

"No matter. I should have liked to know why you assumed a false name
for this journey."

"Oh! I have no objection to tell you that: my name is too well known,
as that of a rich man, for me to venture to carry it across country
when so many bandits are swarming on the roads."

"You had no other motive?"

"No other, my dear child: I believe that is sufficient, and that
prudence urged me to act as I have done."

"Very good, papa," she replied, shaking her head with a pout: "but,"
she suddenly exclaimed, "I fancy, papa, that the carriage is slackening
its speed."

"It is true," the old gentleman answered, "what is the meaning of
this?".

He pulled down the glass and thrust out his head, but could see
nothing: the berlin was at this moment entering the defile of the
Cumbres, and the road made so many winds, that it was impossible to see
more than thirty yards before or behind. The old gentleman called up
one of the servants who rode close to the carriage.

"What is the matter, Sanchez?" the traveller asked. "I fancy we are not
going so fast as before."

"That is true, señor amo," Sanchez answered, "since we left the plain,
we have not been advancing so rapidly, though I do not know the reason:
the soldiers of our escort appear alarmed, and are talking together in
a low voice, while incessantly looking round them: it is evident that
they fear some danger."

"Could the salteadores or guerillas who infest the roads think of
attacking us?" the old gentleman said with ill-disguised anxiety,
"Pray inquire, Sanchez--Hem! The spot would be capitally chosen for
a surprise, still, our escort is numerous, and unless they have an
understanding with the bandits, I doubt whether the latter would
venture to bar our way. Come, Sanchez, cross-question the soldiers
adroitly, and report to me what you learn."

The servant bowed, checked his horse to let the carriage pass him, and
then prepared to carry out the commission with which his master had
intrusted him.

But Sanchez caught up the berlin again almost immediately: his features
were distorted, his panting voice hissed between his teeth which were
clenched by terror, and a cadaverous pallor covered his face.

"We are lost, señor amo," he muttered, as he bent down to the carriage
window.

"Lost!" the old gentleman exclaimed with a nervous tremor, and giving
his daughter, who was dumb with terror, a glance charged with the most
impassioned paternal love: "Lost! You must be mad, Sanchez, explain
yourself, in Heaven's name."

"It is unnecessary, mi amo," the poor fellow stammered. "Here is Señor
Don José Dominquez, the chief of the escort, coming up: without doubt
he will inform you of what is taking place."

"What is it? Better, on my soul, a certainty however terrible its
nature, than such anxiety."

The carriage had halted on a species of platform, about one hundred
yards square: the old gentleman looked out: the escort still
surrounded, the berlin, but seemed to be doubled: instead of twenty
horsemen there were forty.

The traveller understood that he had fallen into a trap: that any
resistance would be madness, and that the only chance of safety lay
in submission: still, as in spite of his age, he was endowed with a
firm character and energetic mind, he would not thus allow himself
vanquished at the first collision, and resolved to try and render his
troublesome position as agreeable as he could.

After tenderly embracing his daughter, and recommending her to remain
quiet and not interfere, whatever might happen, he opened the carriage
door, and actively sprang into the road, with a revolver in each hand.
The soldiers, though surprised at the action, did not make a move to
oppose it, but remained immoveable in their ranks.

The traveller's four servants ranged themselves behind him
unhesitatingly, with their rifles in readiness to fire on receiving
their master's order.

Sanchez had spoken truly; Don José Dominquez was coming up at a gallop;
but he was not alone, another horseman accompanied him.

The latter was a short, thick set man, with stern features and a
sidelong glance: the reddish tinge of his complexion proved him to be
a full blooded Indian: he wore the sumptuous uniform of a colonel in a
regular army.

The traveller at once recognised this unpleasant personage as Don
Felipe Neri Irzabal, one of the guerillero chiefs of Juárez' party; he
had met him twice or thrice at Veracruz.

It was with a nervous start and a thrill of terror that the old
gentleman awaited the arrival of the two men; still, when they were
only a few paces from him, instead of allowing them to question him, he
was the first to speak.

"Hola, Caballeros," he shouted to them in a haughty voice, "what is the
meaning of this, and why do you thus compel to interrupt my journey?"

"You shall learn, my dear sir," the guerillero replied with a grin;
"and in the first place, that you may know at once what you have to
expect, I arrest you in the name of the country."

"Arrest me! You?" the old gentleman protested. "By what right, pray?"

"By what right?" the other repeated with his ill-omened grin; "Viva
Cristo! I might, if I thought proper, reply that it was by the right of
force, and the reason would be peremptory, I imagine."

"Certainly," the traveller replied sarcastically, "and I presume it is
the only one you can invoke."

"Well, you are mistaken, my good sir; I do not invoke it, but arrest
you as a spy, convicted of high treason."

"Nonsense, you are mad, Señor Coronel. I a traitor and a spy!"

"Señor, for some time past the government of his most gracious
Excellency, President Juárez, has had its eye on you; your movements
have been watched; we know for what motive you so hurriedly left
Veracruz, and with what object you are going to Mexico."

"I am going to Mexico on commercial business, and the President is well
aware of the fact, as he Himself signed my safe conduct, and the escort
that accompanies me was graciously granted me by him, without my having
the necessity to ask for it."

"All that is true, Señor; our magnanimous President--who always feels
a repugnance for rigorous measures--did not wish to have you arrested;
he preferred, through consideration for your grey hairs, to leave you
means of escape; but your last act of treachery has filled up the
measure, and though he has been obliged to force himself to do so, the
President recognised the necessity of acting vigorously against you
without delay. I was sent after you with orders to arrest you, and this
order I now execute."

"And may I know of what treason I am accused?"

"You must know better than anyone else, Señor Don Andrés de la Cruz,
the motives which induced you to give up your own name and assume that
of Don Antonio de Carrera."

Don Andrés--for such in reality was his name--was startled by this
revelation; not that he felt himself guilty, for this change of
name had been effected with the assent of the President; but he was
confounded by the duplicity of the people who arrested him, and who,
for want of better reasons, even played this one to make him fall into
an infamous snare, in order to seize on a fortune which they had long
coveted.

Don Andrés, however, overcame his emotion, and addressed the guerillero
once more.

"Take care of what you are doing, Señor Coronel," he said; "I am not a
nobody, and will not let myself be thus despoiled without complaining;
there is at Mexico a Spanish ambassador, who will be able to procure me
justice."

"I do not know what you mean," Don Felipe answered imperturbably; "If
you are alluding to Señor Pachero, I do not think that his protection
will be very profitable to you; for this gentleman, who entitles
himself ambassador extraordinary of H.M. the Queen of Spain, has
thought proper to recognise the government of the traitor Miramón.
Hence we of the other party have nothing to do with him, and his
influence with the national President is completely null. However, I
have no occasion to discuss the point with you; whatever may happen,
I arrest you. Will you surrender, or do you intend to offer a useless
resistance? Answer."

Don Andrés surveyed the persons who surrounded him; he saw that he had
no hope or support to expect from anyone but his own servants, hence he
let his revolvers fall at his feet, and folded his arms on his chest.

"I surrender to force," he said in a firm voice; "but I protest before
all those who surround me against the violence which is done me."

"Pray protest, my dear sir, you are quite at liberty to do so, and it
is not of the slightest consequence to me. Don José Dominquez," he
added, addressing the officer who had calmly and carelessly witnessed
this scene, "we will at once proceed to a minute inspection of the
baggage, and, above all, the papers of the prisoner."

The old gentleman shrugged his shoulders contemptuously.

"Well played," he said; "unluckily you are a little too late,
caballero."

"What do you mean?"

"Only this, that the money and securities you expect pact to find in
my baggage are no longer there. I knew you too well, señor, not to
have taken my precautions in the provision of what is happening at this
moment."

"Maldición!" exclaimed the guerillero, as he smote the pommel of his
saddle with his fist; "Devil of a gachupeico; do not fancy you will
escape in this way. I will know where you have hidden your treasures,
even if I am obliged to flay you alive."

"Try it," Don Andrés said ironically, and he turned his back on him.

The bandit had revealed himself. The guerillero, after the outbreak
into which his avarice had led him; had no reason to affect moderation
toward a man whom he intended to plunder in such an audaciously cynical
manner.

"Very good," he said, "we shall see," and bending down to Don José's
ear, he whispered to him for a few minutes.

The two bandits were doubtless concerting together the most effectual
means by which to force the Spaniard to reveal his secret, and place
himself at their mercy.

"Don Andrés," the guerillero said a moment after with a nervous grin;
"since that is the case, I will venture to interrupt your journey;
before returning to Veracruz, we will proceed together to your hacienda
of Arenal, where we shall be able to discuss our business far more
comfortably than on this high road; be good enough to get into your
carriage again, and we will start; besides, your daughter, the charming
Dolores, doubtless requires to be re-assured."

The old gentleman turned pale, for he comprehended all the horrible
extent of the threat which the bandit made him; he raised his eyes to
Heaven, and prepared to return to the carriage.

But at the same instant a furious galloping was heard. The soldiers
moved out of the way in terror, and a horseman, coming up at full
speed, dashed like a tornado into the centre of the circle formed round
the berlin.

This horseman was masked, a black veil entirely covered his face.
He suddenly pulled up his horse on its hind legs, and fixing on the
guerillero eyes that flashed like live coals through the holes in the
veil, he asked in a sharp, menacing voice--

"What is going on here?"

By an instinctive gesture, the guerillero gave a pull at his bridle,
and made his horse recoil without replying.

The soldiers and the officer himself crossed themselves in terror, and
muttered in a low voice--

"El Rayo! El Rayo!"

"I asked you a question," the unknown said, after a few moments of
expectation.

The forty odd men who surrounded him piteously hung their heads,
and, gradually falling back, considerably enlarged the circle, as
they cordially felt no desire to enter into a discussion with this
mysterious personage.

Don Andrés felt hope return to his heart; a secret foreboding warned
him that the sudden arrival of this stranger, though it might
not entirely change his position, would at least produce a more
advantageous phase for himself; moreover, he fancied that he could
confusedly recall the stranger's voice, though it was impossible for
him to remember where he had heard it. Hence, while everybody else fell
back in terror, he, on the contrary, approached the stranger with an
instinctive eagerness, for which he could not account.

Don José Dominquez, the commander of the escort, had disappeared; he
had fled disgracefully.



CHAPTER IV.

EL RAYO.


At the period when our story takes place, one man in Mexico had the
privilege of concentrating on himself the curiosity, fears, and, more
than all, the sympathy of all.

This man was El Rayo, that is to say, the Thunder.

Who was El Rayo? Whence did he come? What did he do?

These three questions, short though they were, no one could have
answered with certainty.

And yet a most extraordinary number of legends was current about him.

We will tell in a few words the facts known about him.

Toward the close of 1857 he had suddenly appeared on the road that runs
from Mexico to Veracruz, the police control of which he undertook in
his fashion, stopping convoys and mail coaches, protecting or levying
blackmail on the passengers, that is to say, in the second event,
obliging the rich to bleed their purses slightly in favour of their
companions less favoured than themselves by fortune, and forcing the
leaders of escorts to defend the persons they were ordered to accompany
against the attacks of the salteadores.

No one could have said whether he was young or old, handsome or ugly,
brown or fair, for his face had never been seen uncovered. As for his
nationality, it is equally impossible to determine, for he spoke with
the same facility and elegance Castilian, English, French, German and
Italian.

This mysterious personage was perfectly well informed about everything
that occurred in the territory of the republic; he knew not only the
name and social position of the travellers with whom he thought proper
to have dealings, but was also acquainted with certain peculiar facts
about them which often rendered them very ill at ease.

A stranger thing than any we have yet mentioned was, that El Rayo was
always alone, and never hesitated to bar the way of his adversaries,
no matter what their number might be. We must add that the influence
which his presence exercised over the latter was so great, that the
mere sight of him sufficed to check any wish of resistance, and that a
threat from him made a shudder of terror course through the veins of
those whom he addressed.

The two presidents of the republic, while carrying on a deadly war to
supplant each other, had each separately tried on several occasions to
deliver the highway from so troublesome a caballero, who seemed to them
a dangerous rival; but all their attempts to obtain this result had
failed in a deplorable manner. El Rayo, being put on his guard, no one
knew how, and perfectly informed as to the movements of the soldiers
sent in search of him, always appeared suddenly before them, foiled
their tricks, and compelled them to make a disgraceful retreat.

On one occasion, however, the Government of Juárez hoped that it was
all over with El Rayo, and that he could not escape the measures taken
to seize him.

It was learned that for some nights past he had been sleeping at a
rancho situated a short distance from Paso-del-Macho; a detachment
of twenty dragoons, commanded by Carvayal, one of the most cruel and
determined guerilleros, was immediately, and with the utmost secrecy,
sent to Paso-del-Macho.

The commandant had orders to shoot his prisoner so soon as he seized
him, doubtless to prevent him from making any attempt to escape while
being conveyed from Paso-del-Macho to Veracruz.

The detachment, therefore, set out in all haste; the dragoons, to
whom a large reward was promised if they succeeded in their awkward
expedition, were perfectly prepared to do their duty, as they felt
ashamed of having been so long held in check by one man, and were
burning to take their revenge at last.

The soldiers arrived in sight of the rancho; when about two leagues
from El Paso they had met a monk, who, with his hood drawn over his
face, and mounted on a sorry mule, was trotting on, and telling his
beads.

The commandant invited the monk to join his squadron, which offer the
monk accepted with some degree of hesitation. At the moment when the
detachment, which was marching in rather loose order, reached the
rancho, the monk dismounted.

"What are you doing, padre?" the commandant asked him.

"As you see, my son, I am getting off my mule; business calls me to a
rancho a short distance off, and while leaving you to continue your
journey, I ask your permission to leave you, while thanking you for the
pleasant company you have afforded me since our meeting."

"Oh, oh!" the commandant said, with a coarse laugh, "That will not do,
señor padre; we cannot separate in that manner."

"Why so, my son?" the monk asked, approaching the officer, though still
holding his mule.

"For a very simple reason, my worthy Fray--"

"Pancracio, at your service, señor caballero," the monk said, with a
bow.

"Pancracio--very good," the officer continued. "I want you, or, to
speak more correctly, your good offices: in a word, I want you to
shrive a man, who is about to die."

"Who is it?"

"Do you know El Rayo, señor padre?"

"Santa Virgin! Of course I know him, illustrious commandant."

"Well, it is he who is going to die."

"Have you arrested him?"

"Not yet; but in a few minutes it will be done, as I am seeking him."

"Nonsense! Where is he, then?"

"Why, there, in that rancho you can see," the officer replied, bending
down complacently to the monk, and extending his arm in the direction
he indicated to him.

"Are you sure of it, illustrious commandant?"

"¡Caray! Of course I am."

"Well, I fancy you are mistaken."

"Ah! What do you mean? Do you know anything?"

"Certainly I know something, for I am El Rayo, accursed ladrón!"

And before the officer, startled at this sudden revelation, which
he was so far from expecting, had regained his coolness, El Rayo
had seized him by the leg, hurled him on the ground, leaped into
his saddle, and drawing two revolvers concealed under his gown, he
dashed at full speed upon the detachment, firing with both hands
simultaneously, and uttering his terrible war cry--"El Rayo! El Rayo!"

The soldiers, who were even more surprised than their officer by this
rude, and so unexpected attack, disbanded, and fled in all directions.

El Rayo, after passing through the whole detachment, of whom he killed
seven, and hurled an eighth to the ground with his horse's chest,
suddenly checked the rapid pace of his steed, and after halting for a
few minutes a hundred yards off with an air of defiance, seeing that
the dragoons did not pursue him--which the poor horrified fellows had
no intention of doing, as they only thought of flying, and left their
officer in the lurch--he pulled his horse round, and returned to the
officer, who was still lying on the ground as if dead.

"Eh, Commandant!" he said to him, as he dismounted, "Here is your
horse; take it back, it will serve you to reform your soldiers; for my
part I require it no longer. I am going to wait for you at the rancho,
where, if you still have a desire to arrest me, and have me shot,
you will find, me ready to receive you until eight o'clock tomorrow
morning; so good-bye for the present."

He then waved his hand to him, bestrode his mule, and proceeded to the
rancho, which he at once entered.

We need not add that he slept peacefully till the morning, and that
the officer and soldiers so eager in his pursuit did not dare come to
disturb his rest; they had gone back to Veracruz, without once looking
round.

Such was the man whose unexpected apparition among the escort of the
berlin had caused such great terror to the soldiers, and entirely
chilled their courage.

El Rayo stood for an instant calm, cold, and frowning in the face
of the soldiers grouped in front of him, and then said, in a sharp,
distinct voice--

"Señores, I fancy you have forgotten that no one but myself has the
right to give orders on the high roads of the Republic. Señor Don
Felipe Neri," he added, turning to the officer, who was standing
motionless a few paces from him, "you can turn back with your men; the
road is perfectly free as far as Puebla--you understand me, I suppose?"

"I do understand you, Caballero; still, I fancy," the Colonel replied,
with some hesitation, "that my duty orders me to escort--"

"Not a word more," El Rayo interrupted him violently; "weigh my words
carefully, and mind you profit by them; those whom you expected to meet
a few paces further on are no longer there; the corpses of several of
them are serving as food for the vultures. You have lost the game for
today, so take my advice, and turn back."

The officer again hesitated, and then, urging his horse forward a few
yards, he said, in a voice which emotion caused to tremble--

"Señor, I know not whether you are a man or a demon thus alone to
impose your will on brave men; to die is nothing for a soldier when
he is struck in the chest when facing the enemy; once already I have
recoiled before you, but do not wish to do so again, so kill me today,
but do not dishonour me."

"I like to hear you speak thus, Don Felipe," El Rayo coldly answered,
"for bravery becomes a soldier; in spite of your plundering instincts
and bandit habits I see with pleasure that you do not lack courage,
and I do not despair of converting you some day, if a bullet does
not brutally cut your thread of life, and suddenly arrest your good
intentions. Order your soldiers, who are trembling, like the poltroons
they are, to fall back a dozen paces, for I am going to give you the
satisfaction you desire."

"Ah, Caballero!" the officer exclaimed, "Can it be possible that you
consent?"

"To stake my life against yours?" El Rayo interrupted him,
mockingly--"Why not? You wish for a lesson, and that lesson you are
about to receive."

Without losing an instant the officer turned his horse and ordered his
troopers to fall back, a manoeuvre which they performed with the most
praiseworthy eagerness.

Don Andrés de la Cruz, for we will now restore him his true name, had
looked on with great interest at this scene, in which he had not as yet
ventured to interfere.

When he saw the turn that matters were taking, he thought it, however,
his duty to hazard a few observations.

"Pardon me, Caballero," he said, addressing the mysterious stranger,
"while sincerely thanking you for your intervention in my favour,
permit me to remark that I have been delayed in this defile for a long
time already, and that I should like to continue my journey, in order
to protect my daughter from danger, as soon as possible."

"No danger threatens Doña Dolores, señor," El Rayo coldly answered;
"this delay of only a few minutes cannot possibly have any injurious
consequences for her; besides, I wish you to witness this combat, which
is to some extent fought in support of your cause, hence I beg you to
have patience. But stay, here is Don Felipe returning; the affair will
not take long. Fancy that you are betting on a cock fight, and I am
convinced that you will take pleasure in what is going to happen."

"But still--" Don Andrés interposed.

"You would disoblige me by insisting further, caballero," El Rayo
interrupted him, drily. "You have, as I know, excellent revolvers which
Devismes sent you from Paris; be kind enough to lend one of them to
Señor Don Felipe. They are loaded, I suppose?"

"Yes, sir," Don Andrés replied, offering the officer one of his pistols.

The latter took it, turned it over in his hands, and then raised his
head with an air of disappointment.

"I do not know how to use these weapons," he said.

"Oh, that is very easy," El Rayo courteously replied, "and you will
be perfectly acquainted with their mechanism in an instant. Señor Don
Andrés, be kind enough to explain to this caballero the very simple
management of these weapons."

The Spaniard obeyed, and the officer at once comprehended the
explanation that was given him.

"Now, Señor Don Felipe," El Rayo resumed, still cold and impassive,
"listen to me attentively. I consent to give you this satisfaction
on the condition that whatever the issue of the combat may be, you
agree to turn back immediately after, leaving Señor Don Andrés and his
daughter at liberty to continue their journey if they may think proper:
do you agree to this?"

"Certainly, señor."

"Very good. Now, then, this is what you and I are going to do; so soon
as we have dismounted we will station ourselves twenty paces from each
other: does that distance suit you?"

"Perfectly, Excellency."

"Good; then at a signal given by me, you will fire the six shots of
your revolver; after that I will fire, but only once, as we are in a
hurry."

"Pardon me, Excellency, but suppose I kill you with these six shots?"

"You will not kill me, señor," El Rayo answered coldly.

"Do you think so?"

"I am sure of it; to kill a man of my stamp, Señor Don Felipe," El Rayo
said, with an accent of cutting irony, "a firm heart and a hand of iron
are required: you possess neither."

Don Felipe made no reply, but devoured by a dull rage, with pale brow
and frowning gesture, he resolutely went to place himself twenty paces
from his adversary.

El Rayo dismounted and placed himself facing the officer, with his head
thrown back, his right leg advanced, and his arms folded on his back.

"Now," he said, "pay great attention to aiming true; revolvers, good
though they are, generally have the fault of carrying a little too
high; do not hurry yourself. Are you ready? Well, then, fire."

Don Felipe did not let the invitation be repeated, but rapidly fired
three shots.

"Too quick--much too quick," El Rayo cried to him; "I did not even hear
the whistle of the bullets. Come, be calmer, and try to make good use
of the three shots left you."

All eyes were fixed, all chests were panting. The officer, demoralized
by the coolness of his adversary and the ill success of his firing,
felt involuntarily fascinated by the black motionless statue before
him, whose eyes he could see sparkling like live coals through the
holes of the mask; drops of cold perspiration gathered on his hair,
which stood erect with horror, and his former assurance had abandoned
him.

Still, anger and pride gave him the necessary strength to conceal
from the spectators the frightful agony he was suffering: by a supreme
effort of the will he resumed an apparent calmness, and fired again.

"That is better," El Rayo said mockingly, "but a little too high. Try
another."

Exasperated by this fire, Don Felipe pulled the trigger.

The bullet struck the rock about an inch above the stranger's head.

Only one bullet was now left in the revolver.

"Advance five paces," said El Rayo; "perhaps you will not then throw
away your last chance."

Without replying to this cutting sarcasm, the officer bounded like a
wild beast, stopped at fifteen paces, and fired.

"It is now my turn," the stranger said, as he fell back five paces to
re-establish the distance; "you forgot to take your hat off, caballero,
and that is a want of courtesy which I cannot tolerate."

Then drawing one of the pistols thrust through his belt, he cocked it,
stretched out his arm and fired without taking the trouble of aiming.
The officer's hat was hurled from his head and rolled in the dust.

Don Felipe uttered a howl like a wild beast.

"Oh!" he exclaimed, "You are a demon!"

"No," El Rayo answered, "I am an honest man. Now, begone. I leave you
your life."

"Yes, I will go; but whether you are man or fiend, I will kill you. I
swear it, even if I have to pursue you to the lowest pit of hell."

El Rayo went up to him, seized him violently by the arm, drew him on
one side, and lifting the veil which covered his features, shewed him
his face.

"You recognise me now, I suppose?" he said to him in a hollow voice;
"But remember that now you have seen me face to face, our first meeting
will be mortal. Begone."

Don Felipe made no reply; he remounted his horse, placed himself at
the head of his terrified soldiers, and started at a gallop along the
Orizaba road.

Five minutes later only the travellers and their servants remained
on the plateau. El Rayo, doubtless taking advantage of the moment
of surprise and disorder produced by the close of this scene, had
disappeared.



CHAPTER V.

THE HACIENDA DEL ARENAL.


Four days had passed since the events recorded in our last chapter.
Count Ludovic de la Saulay and Oliver were still riding side by side,
but the place of the scene had completely changed.

All around them extended an immense plain covered with a luxuriant
vegetation, intersected by a few water courses, on the banks of which
were huddled the humble cabins of several unimportant pueblos; numerous
flocks browsed here and there, watched by mounted vaqueros, bearing
the reata on the saddle, a machete at their side, and a long lance in
its rest. Along a road, whose windings formed a yellow track on the
green carpet of the plain, appeared like black dots, teams of mules
hurrying toward the snowy mountains, which closed in the horizon in the
distance; gigantic clumps of trees diversified the landscape, and a
little to the right, on the top of a rather high hill, proudly rose the
massive walls of an important hacienda.

The two travellers were slowly following the last windings of a narrow
track that ran down with a gentle slope to the plain; the curtains of
trees which masqued the view suddenly falling back on the right and
left, the landscape appeared suddenly to rise before them, as if it had
been created by the magic wand of a mighty enchanter.

The Count stopped and burst into a cry of admiration at the sight of
the magnificent kaleidoscope which was displayed before them.

"Ah, ah," said Oliver, "I was aware that you were an amateur, and it
was a surprise I prepared for you; how do you like it?"

"It is admirable; I never saw anything so beautiful," the young man
exclaimed enthusiastically.

"Yes," the adventurer resumed with a stifled sigh, "it is very fair
for a country spoilt by the hand of man. As I have told you several
times, it is only in the savannahs of the great Mexican desert that it
is possible to see nature as God has made it; this is only theatrical
scenery in comparison; a conventional landscape which signifies
nothing."

The Count smiled at this sally.

"Whether conventional or not, I consider this view admirable."

"Yes, yes, I repeat, it is a very fair success. Think how lovely this
landscape must have been in the early days of the world, since, in
spite of all their clumsy efforts, men have not succeeded in entirely
spoiling it."

The young man's laughter was redoubled at these words.

"On my faith," he said, "you are a charming companion, Mr. Oliver; and
when I part from you, I shall often regret your agreeable company."

"In that case get ready to regret me, my lord," he replied with a
smile, "for we have only a few minutes left to pass together."

"How so?"

"An hour at the most; but let us continue our journey. The sun is
beginning to grow hot, and the shadow of the trees down there will be
very agreeable to us."

They loosened their horses' bridles, and slowly went down the almost
insensible incline which would lead them to the plain.

"Are you not beginning to feel the want of a rest after your fatigue,
my lord?" the adventurer asked, as he carelessly rolled a cigarette.

"Really no, thanks to you; this journey has seemed to me delightful,
although slightly monotonous."

"How monotonous?"

"Well, in France frightful stories are told about countries beyond the
sea, where bandits are found in ambush every step you take, and you
cannot go ten leagues without risking your life twenty times; hence it
is with some degree of apprehension that we land on these shores. I had
my head stuffed with stories to make one's hair stand on end. I was
prepared for surprises, ambushes, desperate fights, and all that sort
of thing. Well, after all, I have made the most prosaic journey in the
world, without the slightest accident which I could narrate hereafter."

"You are not yet out of Mexico."

"That is true; but my illusions are destroyed. I no longer believe in
Mexican bandits or ferocious Indians; it is not worth the while to come
so far to see nothing more than is to be seen in this country. Confound
travelling! Four days ago I believed that we were going to have an
adventure; while you left me alone I formed tremendous plans of battle,
and then at the end of two long hours of absence, you returned with a
smiling face to announce to me that you were mistaken, and that you had
seen nothing, and I was obliged to dismiss all my warlike intentions.
This is really having ill luck."

"What would you have?" the adventurer replied, with an accent of almost
imperceptible irony; "Civilization is so gaining on us, that we nowaday
resemble the peoples of the old world, with the exception of a few
slight shades."

"Laugh away, make fun of me, I give you full liberty to do so; but let
us return to our subject, if you please."

"I wish nothing more, my lord. Did you not say among other things,
while talking with me, that you intended to go to the Hacienda del
Arenal, and that if you did not turn from the road instead of pushing
straight on to Mexico, it was because you were afraid of losing
yourself in a country which you do not know, and of not meeting persons
capable of putting you on the right track again?"

"I did say so, sir."

"Oh! Since that is the case, the question is becoming extraordinarily
simplified."

"How so?"

"Look before you, my lord. What do you see?"

"A magnificent building that resembles a fortress."

"Well, that building is the Hacienda del Arenal." The Count uttered a
cry of astonishment.

"Can it be possible? You are not deceiving me?" he asked.

"For what purpose?" the adventurer said gently.

"Why! In this way the surprise is even more charming than I at first
supposed it."

"Ah! By the bye. I forgot one circumstance, which, however is of some
importance to you; your servants and all your baggage have been at the
hacienda for the last two days."

"But how were my servants informed?"

"I warned them."

"You have hardly left me."

"That is true, only for a few minutes, but that was sufficient."

"You are an amiable companion, Mr. Oliver, I thank you sincerely for
all your attentions to me."

"Nonsense, you are joking."

"Do you know the owner of this hacienda?"

"Don Andrés de la Cruz? Very well."

"What sort of man is he?"

"Morally or physically?"

"Morally."

"A true hearted and intelligent man, he does a great deal of good, and
is accessible to the poor as well as the rich."

"Hum! You are drawing a magnificent portrait."

"It is below the truth; he has a great many enemies."

"Enemies?"

"Yes, all the scoundrels in the country, and thanks to God, they swarm
in this blessed country."

"And his daughter, Dolores?"

"Is a delicious girl of sixteen, even better hearted than she is
beautiful, innocent and pure; her eyes reflect heaven, she is an angel
whom God has allowed to descend on earth, doubtless to shame human
beings."

"You will accompany me to the hacienda, sir, I suppose?" said the Count.

"No, I shall not see Señor don Andrés; in a few minutes I shall have
the honour of taking leave of you."

"To meet again soon, I hope!"

"I dare not promise it you, my lord."

They rode on silently, side by side, for a few moments longer.

They had hurried on their horses, and were now rapidly nearing the
hacienda, whose buildings now appeared in their full extent.

It was one of those magnificent residences built in the earliest times
of the conquest, half palace, half fortress, such as the Spaniards
erected at that day on their estates, in order to hold the Indians in
check, and resist their attacks during the numerous revolts which left
a bloody stain on the first years of the European invasion.

The _almanas_, or battlements that crowned the walls, testified to the
nobility of the owner of the hacienda; as gentlemen alone possessed the
right of placing battlements on their mansions, and were very jealous
of their right.

The dome of the hacienda chapel which rose above the walls, could be
seen glistening in the ardent sunbeams.

The nearer the travellers approached, the more lively the landscape
appeared; at each instant they met horsemen, arrieros with their mules.
Indians running with burdens hanging on their back by a thong passed
round their forehead. Then came herds, driven by vaqueros, to change
their pasturage, monks trotting on mules, women, children, in a word
busy persons of all ranks and sexes, who were coming and going, and
crossing each other in all directions.

When they reached the foot of the hill crowned by the hacienda, the
adventurer stopped his horse at the moment when it was entering the
path that led to the main gate of the hacienda.

"My lord," he said, turning to the young man, "we have now reached our
journey's end; permit me to take my leave of you."

"Not before you have promised to see me again."

"I cannot promise that, Count, as our roads are diametrically opposite.
Besides, it will perhaps be better if we never meet again."

"What do you mean?"

"Nothing insulting or personal to you; permit me to shake your hand ere
we part."

"Oh, most willingly," the young man exclaimed, as he warmly offered him
his hand.

"And now farewell--farewell, once again, time flies rapidly, and I
ought to have been a long way from here before now."

The adventurer bent over his horse's neck, and darted with the speed of
an arrow along a track in which he speedily disappeared.

The Count looked after him as long as it was possible to see him; and
when he was hidden by a turn in the road, the young man heaved a sigh.

"What a singular character," he muttered in a low voice. "Oh! I shall
see him again, it must be."

The young man lightly gave his horse the spur, and entered the path,
which would lead him in a few minutes to the top of the hill, and the
principal gate of the hacienda.

The young man dismounted in the first courtyard, and handed his horse
to a groom, who led it away.

At the moment when the Count was walking towards a large door
surmounted by a verandah, and which gave admission to the apartment,
Don Andrés went out, ran eagerly toward him, pressed him warmly to his
heart, and embraced him several times, while saying,--

"Heaven be praised! Here you are, at last! We were beginning to be in a
mortal anxiety about you."

The Count, thus suddenly taken by surprise, had allowed himself to be
seized and embraced without exactly comprehending what was happening
to him, or with whom he had to deal; but the old gentleman, perceiving
the amazement he felt, and which, in spite of his efforts, he could
not succeed in completely concealing, did not leave him long in
embarrassment, but stated his name, adding--

"I am your near relative, my dear Count--your cousin; hence, stand on
no ceremony--act here as if you were at home: this house, with all it
contains, is at your disposal, and belongs to you."

The young man began protesting, but Don Andrés once more interrupted
him.

"I am an old fool," he said. "I am keeping you here, listening to my
maundering, and forget that you have had a long ride, and must need
rest. Come, I wish to have the pleasure of conducting you myself to
your apartments, which have been ready for you for some days past."

"My dear cousin," the Count answered; "I thank you a thousand times for
your kind attention; but I think it would be only polite for you to
introduce me to Doña Dolores, ere I retire."

"There is no hurry for that, my dear Count: my daughter is at this
moment shut up in her boudoir with her women. Let me announce
you first, for I know better than you what is proper under the
circumstances,--and go and rest yourself."

"Very well, my cousin; I will follow you. I will indeed confess, since
you are so good as to place me so thoroughly at my ease, that I shall
not be at all sorry to take a few hours' rest."

"Did I not know it?" Don Andrés replied, gaily; "But all young people
are the same--they doubt nothing."

The hacendero thereupon led his guest to the apartments which had been
tastefully prepared and furnished under the immediate inspection of
Don Andrés, and were intended to serve as the Count's abode during the
whole of the period he might be pleased to spend at the hacienda.

The suite of rooms, though not large, was arranged in a very sensible
and comfortable manner, considering the resources of the country.

It consisted of four rooms. The Count's bedroom, with dressing room and
bathroom attached, a study, serving as a drawing room, an antechamber,
and a room for the Count's valets; so that he might have them within
call by day and night.

By means of a few partitions, the suite bad been separated from and
rendered entirely independent of the other apartments in the hacienda.
It was entered by three doors, one opening on the vestibule, the second
into the common court yard, and the third leading by a flight of steps
to the magnificent huerta, which, through its extent, might pass for a
park.

The Count, newly landed in Mexico, and who, like all foreigners, formed
a false idea of a country which he did not know, was far from expecting
to find at the Hacienda del Arenal a lodging so convenient, and in
such conformity with his rather serious tastes and habits, hence he
was really ravished by everything he saw. He warmly thanked Don Andrés
for the trouble he had been kind enough to take in rendering his stay
in the house agreeable to him, and assured him that he was far from
expecting so cordial a reception.

Don Andrés de la Cruz, highly pleased with this compliment, rubbed his
hands in glee, and at length withdrew, leaving his relative at liberty
to repose, if he thought proper.

When left alone with his valet, the Count, after changing his dress,
and assuming another more suitable to the country than the one he was
wearing, questioned his servant as to the way in which he had performed
the journey from Veracruz, and the reception offered him on his arrival
at the hacienda.

This valet was a man of about the same age as the Count, deeply
attached to his master, whose foster brother he was; a powerfully-built
fellow, tolerably good looking, very brave, and possessing a quality
very precious in a servant--that of seeing nothing, hearing nothing,
and only speaking when he received an express order to do so, and even
then he did it as concisely as possible.

The Count was very fond of him, and placed unbounded confidence in him.
His name was Raimbaut, and was a Basque; continually particular about
etiquette, and professing a profound respect for his master. He never
spoke of him save in the third person, and at whatever hour of the day
or night the Count might call him, he never presented himself before
him, unless dressed in the strict garb he had adopted, and which was
composed of a black coat with a stand-up collar and gold buttons, a
black waistcoat, black knee breeches, white silk stockings, buckled
shoes, and white cravat. Thus dressed, with the exception of powder,
which he did not wear, Raimbaut presented an amazing likeness to the
steward of a great nobleman in the last century.

The Count's second servant was a tall lad, twenty years of age, robust
and sturdy--godson of Raimbaut, who had undertaken to train him for
his duties. He did the heavy work, and wore the Count's livery--blue
and silver: his name was Lanca Ibarru. He was devoted to his master,
and awfully afraid of his godfather, for whom he professed a profound
veneration. He was active, courageous, crafty, and intelligent; but
these qualities were slightly tarnished by his gluttony and pronounced
taste for the _dolce far niente_.

Raimbaut's story was a short one. Nothing at all had happened to him,
with the exception of the order which a strange man had delivered to
him, as from his master, not to continue his journey to Mexico, but to
have himself conducted to the Hacienda del Arenal, which order he had
obeyed.

The Count recognised the truth of what the adventurer had told him: he
dismissed his valet, sat down on a butaca, took up a book, and very
shortly after fell fast asleep.

At about four in the afternoon, just as he was waking, Raimbaut entered
the room, and announced that Don Andrés de la Cruz was waiting for him
to sit down to table, as the hour for the evening meal had arrived.

The Count cast a glance at his toilette, and, preceded by Raimbaut, who
acted as his guide, proceeded to the dining room.



CHAPTER VI.

THROUGH THE WINDOW.


The dining room of the Hacienda del Arenal was a vast, long room,
lighted by Gothic windows lined with coloured glass. The walls, covered
with oak paneling, rendered black by time, gave it the appearance of
a Carthusian refectory in the fifteenth century. An immense horseshoe
table, surrounded by benches, except at the upper end, occupied the
entire centre of the room.

When Count de la Saulay entered the dining room, the other guests,
numbering from twenty to five-and-twenty, were already assembled.

Don Andrés, like many of the great Mexican landowners, had kept up on
his estates the custom of making his people eat at the same table with
himself.

This patriarchal custom, which has long fallen into desuetude in
Europe, was for all that, in our opinion, one of the best our
forefathers left us. This community of life drew together the bonds
which attach masters to servants, and rendered the latter, so to speak,
vassals of the family whose private life they shared up to a certain
point.

Don Andrés de la Cruz was standing at the end of the room, between Doña
Dolores, his daughter, and Don Melchior, his son.

We will say nothing of Doña Dolores, with whom the reader is already
acquainted. Don Melchior was a young man of nearly the same age as
the Count. His tall stature and powerful limbs rendered him a gallant
gentleman, in the common acceptance of the term. His features were
manly and marked, and his beard was black and full. He had a large,
well open eye, a fixed and piercing glance: his very brown complexion
had a slight olive tinge; the sound of his voice was rather rough,
his accent harsh, while his countenance was stern, and its expression
became menacing and haughty upon the slightest emotion. His gestures
were noble, and his manners distinguished; and he wore the Mexican
costume in all its purity.

So soon as the introductions had been made by Don Andrés, the party
took their seats. The hacendero, after bidding Ludovic sit on his right
hand, by his daughter's side, made a sign to the latter. She repeated
the _Benedicite_, the guests said _Amen_, and the meal commenced.

The Mexicans, like their Spanish ancestors, are extremely sober; they
do not drink during meals. It is only when the dulces or sweets are
brought in, that is to say, at dessert, that vessels containing water
are placed on the table.

By a delicate attention, Don Andrés offered wine to his French guest,
who was waited on by his valet, standing behind him, to the general
amazement of the company.

The meal was silent, in spite of the repeated efforts of Don Andrés to
animate the conversation. The Count and Don Melchior limited themselves
to the exchange of a few conventional phrases, and then held their
tongues. Doña Dolores was pale, and seemed to be unwell; she ate hardly
anything, and did not utter a syllable.

At length dinner was over. They rose from table, and the servants of
the hacienda dispersed to go to their work.

The Count, involuntarily disturbed by the cold and measured reception
which Don Melchior had offered him, alleged the fatigue of the journey
as a reason for wishing to retire to his apartments.

Don Andrés consented to this with much repugnance. Don Melchior and
the Count exchanged a ceremonious bow, and turned their backs on each
other. Doña Dolores gave the young man a graceful bow, and the Count
withdrew, after warmly shaking the hand which his host held out to him.

It took Count de la Saulay, who was habituated to the comfortable
elegance and pleasant relations of Parisian life, to become used to the
sad, monotonous, and savage existence at the Hacienda del Arenal.

In spite of the cordial reception which had been given him by Don
Andrés de la Cruz and the attention he did not cease to offer him, the
young man speedily perceived that his host was the sole person of the
family who regarded him favourably.

Doña Dolores, though very polite to him and even gracious in their
daily relations when chance brought them together, still seemed to be
embarrassed in his presence, and to shun every occasion when he could
converse with her in private: so soon as she perceived that her father
or brother was leaving the room, in which she happened to be with
the Count, she at once broke off the begun conversation, blushingly
faltered an excuse, and went away or rather flew away, light and rapid
as a bird, and left Ludovic without further ceremony.

This conduct on the part of a girl to whom he had been betrothed from
his childhood, for whose sake he had crossed the Atlantic almost
against his will, and solely to honour the engagement made by his
family in his name, naturally surprised and mortified a man like Count
de la Saulay, whom his personal beauty, his wit and even his fortune
had not hitherto accustomed to be treated with such strange want of
ceremony and such complete contempt by the ladies.

Naturally but little inclined to the marriage which his family wished
to force himself into, not feeling at all enamoured of his cousin,
whom he had scarce taken the trouble to look at, and whom he was much
disposed to consider a fool, on account of her want of tact towards
himself, the Count would easily have taken advantage of the repugnance
which she seemed to feel for him--would not only have consoled but
congratulated himself on the breaking off of his marriage with her,
had not his self-esteem been too extensively implicated, in a way very
insulting to him.

However great might be the indifference he felt for the young lady,
he was offended at the slight effect his dress, manners and luxurious
habits had produced on her, and the coldly contemptuous way in which
she had listened to his compliments and accepted his advances.

Though sincerely desirous in his heart that this marriage, which
displeased him for a thousand reasons, might not be completed, he
would still have liked that the rupture, without coming absolutely
from him, should not come so distinctly from the young lady, and that
circumstances should permit him while retiring with all the honours of
war, to feel himself regretted by the girl who was to have been his
wife.

Dissatisfied with himself and the persons by whom he was surrounded,
feeling himself in a false position, which could not fail to become
ridiculous ere long, the Count thought of getting out of it as speedily
as possible. But, before provoking a frank and decisive explanation on
the part of Don Andrés de la Cruz, who did not seem to suspect in the
slightest degree the turn affairs were taking, the Count resolved to
know positively what he had to depend on as regarded his affianced; for
with that fatuity natural to all men spoiled by facile successes, he
felt a mental conviction that it was impossible Doña Dolores would not
have loved him, if her heart had not already been captivated by someone
else.

This resolution once formed and fully resolved in his mind, the Count,
who found himself very unoccupied at the hacienda, set about watching
the young lady's conduct, determined, once he had acquired a certainty
to retire and return as speedily as possible to France, which country
he regretted every day more, and which he repented having so suddenly
abandoned, in order to seek so humiliating an adventure two thousand
leagues from home.

In spite of her indifference for the Count, we have remarked, however,
that Doña Dolores felt herself obliged to be polite and attentive to
the Count, although not so amiable as he might have desired: an example
which her brother completely dispensed himself from following towards
his father's guest, whom he treated with such marked coldness, that it
would have been impossible for the Count not to notice it, though he
disdained to let it be seen: hence he feigned to take the young man's
rough and even brutal manner as natural and perfectly in accord with
the manners of the country.

The Mexicans, let us hasten to state, are exquisitely polite, their
language is always carefully chosen and their expressions flowery,
and with the exception of the difference of dress, it is impossible
to distinguish a man of the people from a person of high rank. Don
Melchior de la Cruz, through a singular anomaly, doubtless emanating
from his natural sternness, was perfectly different from his
countrymen: always gloomy, thoughtful and reserved, he generally only
opened his mouth to utter a few sharp words, with a coarse tone and in
a rough voice.

From the first moment that they met, Don Melchior and the Count seemed
equally little satisfied with each other: the Frenchman appeared too
mannered and effeminate to the Mexican and, _per contra_, the latter
repulsed the other by the coarseness of his nature and the triviality
of his gestures and expressions.

But if there had been only this instinctive antipathy between the two
young men, it would probably have disappeared by degrees, and friendly
relations would have been established between them, when they knew
each other better and could consequently appreciate one another's good
qualities; but this was not the case, it was neither indifference nor
jealousy that Don Melchior felt for the Count, but a hearty Mexican
hatred.

Whence did this hatred spring? What unknown familiarity of the Count
had given birth to it? That was Don Melchior's secret.

The young hacendero was completely wrapped up in mysteries: his actions
were as gloomy as his countenance: enjoying unbounded liberty, he used
and abused it as he pleased to the fullest extent by going in and out
without accounting to anybody: it is true that his father and mother,
doubtless accustomed to this behaviour, never asked him any questions
as to where he had been, or what he had been doing, when he reappeared
after an absence which was frequently prolonged for a week.

On such occasions, which were very frequent, he was usually seen
returning at the breakfast hour.

He bowed silently to the company, sat down without uttering a syllable,
ate, then twisted a cigarette, which he lighted, and then withdrew to
his apartments without further notice of the party.

Once or twice Don Andrés, who understood perfectly well how unpolite
such conduct was towards his guest, tried to apologise for his son,
by throwing the blame of this apparent rudeness on his very serious
occupations, which completely absorbed him; but the Count replied that
Don Melchior appeared to him a charming cavalier, that he saw nothing
but what was perfectly natural in his mode of acting towards him, that
the very want of ceremony he displayed was a proof of the friendship
which he evidenced for him by treating him not as a stranger, but as a
friend and relative, and that he would be most sorry if Don Melchior,
on his account, set any restraint on his habits.

Don Andrés, though not duped by his guest's apparent gentleness, had
not considered it prudent to dwell on this subject, and it dropped.

Don Melchior was feared by all the people belonging to the hacienda,
and, according to all appearance, even by his father.

It was evident that this gloomy young man exercised over all who
surrounded him an influence, which though occult, was probably the
more formidable on that account, but no one dared to complain, and the
Count, who alone might have ventured some observations, did not at all
care about doing so for the very simple reason that regarding himself
as a stranger spending a little while in Mexico, he felt no inclination
to mix himself up in matters or intrigues which did not concern him and
could not possibly affect him in the slightest degree.

Nearly two months had elapsed since the young man's arrival at the
hacienda: he had passed the time in reading, or riding about the
country, on which occasions he was nearly always accompanied by the
majordomo of the hacienda, a man of about forty years of age, with a
frank and open face, a short, muscular and powerfully built man, who
appeared to be very intimate with his masters.

This majordomo, Leo Carral by name, had struck up a great liking for
this young Frenchman, whose inexhaustible gaiety and liberality had
touched his heart.

During their long rides over the plain, he took pleasure in perfecting
the Count in art of riding made him understand the defective
principles of the French school, and applied himself to render him a
real _hombre de a caballo_ and a _jinete_ of the first class, just like
himself.

We must add that his pupil profited perfectly by his lessons, and not
only became within a short time a perfect horseman, but also a first
rate shot. Thanks again to the worthy majordomo.

The Count, by the advice of his professor, had adopted the Mexican
garb, an elegant and convenient costume, which he wore with
unparalleled grace.

Don Andrés de la Cruz rubbed his hands with glee on seeing the man
whom he already regarded almost as his son-in-law, assume the garb of
the country--a certain proof in his eyes of the Count's intention to
settle in Mexico. He had even on this occasion adroitly tried to lead
the conversation to the subject he had nearest his heart, that is to
say, the young man's marriage, with Doña Dolores. But the Count who was
always on his guard, avoided this awkward subject, as he had done on
several previous occasions, and Don Andrés withdrew, shaking his head
and muttering--

"Yet we must come to an explanation."

It was at least the tenth time since the Count's arrival at the
hacienda that Don Andrés de la Cruz promised himself to have an
explanation with him, but up to then, the young man had always
contrived to elude it.

One night when the Count, who had retired to his apartments, was
reading later than his wont, at the moment when he closed his book and
prepared to go to bed, raising his eyes accidentally, he fancied he saw
a shadow pass before the glass door that opened on the huerta.

The night was advanced, all the inhabitants of the hacienda were or
ought to be asleep two hours before, who was this prowler whom fancy
impelled to stroll about so late?

Without accounting for the motive that urged him to act so, Ludovic
resolved to find out.

He got up from the butaca in which he was seated, took from a table two
revolvers, in order to be prepared for any event, and opening the door
as softly as he could, he went forth into the huerta and proceeded in
the direction where he had seen the suspicious shadow disappear.

The night was magnificent, the moon shed as much light as broad day,
and the atmosphere was so transparent, that objects could be perfectly
distinguished for a great distance.

As the Count very rarely entered the huerta, and hence was ignorant of
its arrangement, he hesitated to enter the walks which he saw running
before him in all directions, crossing each other as to form a perfect
labyrinth, for he had no inclination to stay out all night, lovely
though it was.

He therefore, stopped to reflect, perhaps he was mistaken, had been the
dupe of an illusion, and what he had taken for a man's shadow, might
possibly be that of a branch agitated by the night breeze, and which
the moon beams had caused to dazzle his eyes.

This observation was not only just, but logical, hence the young man
carefully guarded himself against yielding to it; at the end of an
instant an ironical smile curled his lips and instead of entering the
garden, he cautiously slipped along the wall which formed on this side
a wall of verdure to the hacienda.

After gliding along thus for about ten minutes, the Count stopped,
first to take breath and then to look about him.

"Good," he muttered after looking cautiously around, "I was not
mistaken."

He then bent forward, cautiously parted the leaves and branches and
looked out.

Almost immediately he drew himself back, suppressing a cry of surprise.

The spot where he was, was exactly opposite the suite of apartments
occupied by Doña Dolores de Cruz.

A window in this suite was open, and Doña Dolores leaning on the window
ledge, was talking to a man who was standing in the garden, but exactly
opposite to her, a distance of scarce two feet separated the speakers,
who appeared engaged in a most interesting conversation.

It was impossible for the Count to recognize the man, although he
was only a few yards from him. In the first place, he had his back
turned to him, and then he was wrapped up in a cloak which completely
disguised him.

"Ah!" the Count muttered, "I was not mistaken." In spite of the blow
this discovery dealt his vanity, the Count uttered these words with a
mental satisfaction at having guessed correctly: this man, whoever he
was, could only be a lover.

Still, though the two spoke softly, they did not lower their voices
so as to render them inaudible at a short distance, and while blaming
himself for the indelicate action he was committing, the Count, excited
by vexation and possibly by unconscious jealousy, parted the branches
and bent forward again for the purpose of listening.

The young lady was speaking. "Good heaven," she said with emotion, "I
tremble, my friend, when I pass several days without seeing you: my
anxiety is extreme and I even fear a misfortune."

"Confound it," the Count muttered, "that fellow is dearly beloved."

This aside made him lose the man's reply. The young lady continued:

"Am I condemned to remain much longer here?"

"A little patience: I trust that everything will be ended soon," the
stranger answered in a low voice; "and what is he doing?"

"He is still the same, as gloomy and mysterious as ever," she replied.

"Is he here tonight?"

"Yes."

"Still as ill-tempered?"

"More so than ever."

"And the Frenchman?"

"Ah! Ah!" said the Count, "Let us hear what is thought of me."

"He is a most agreeable person," the young lady murmured in a trembling
voice; "for the last few days he has seemed sad."

"Is he growing weary?"

"I fear so."

"Poor girl," the Count said, "she has perceived that I am growing
tired; it is true that I take but little trouble to conceal the fact.
But, by the way, can I be mistaken, and this man is no lover? It is
very improbable, and yet who knows?" he added fatuously.

During this long aside, the two speakers had continued their
conversation which had been totally unheard by the young man, when he
began to listen again. Doña Dolores was concluding--

"I will do it, as you insist on it: but is it very necessary, my
friend?"

"Indispensable, Dolores."

"Hang it! He is familiar," the Count said.

"I will obey then," the young lady continued,

"Now we must part: I have remained here too long as it is."

The stranger pulled his hat down over his eyes, muttered the word
farewell, for the last time and went off at a quick pace.

The Count had remained motionless at the same spot, a prey to a
profound stupefaction. The stranger passed close enough to touch him,
though without seeing him: at this moment a branch knocked off his hat,
a moon ray fell full on his face and the Count then recognized him.

"Oliver!" he muttered, "It is he then, that she loves."

He returned to his apartments tottering like a drunken man. This last
discovery had upset him.

The young man went to bed, but could not sleep: he passed the whole
night in forming the most extravagant projects. However, toward
morning, his agitation appeared to give way to lassitude.

Before forming any resolution, he said, "I wish to have an explanation
with her, very certainly I do not love her, but for my honour's sake,
it is necessary that she should be thoroughly convinced that I am not
a fool and that I know everything. That is settled: tomorrow I shall
request an interview with her."

Feeling calmer, after he had formed a definitive resolution, the Count
closed his eyes and fell asleep.

On waking, he saw Raimbaut standing at his bed side, with a paper in
his hand.

"What is it? What do you want?" he said to him.

"It is a letter for Monsieur le Comte," the valet answered.

"Ah!" he exclaimed; "Can it be news from France?"

"I do not think so; this letter was given to Lanca by one of the
waiting women of Doña Dolores de la Cruz, with a request to deliver it
to M. le Comte, as soon as he woke."

"This is strange," the young man muttered, as he took the note and
examined it attentively; "it is certainly addressed to me," he
muttered, at length deciding on opening it.

The note was from Doña Dolores de la Cruz, and only contained these few
words, written in a delicate though rather tremulous hand.

"Doña Dolores de la Cruz earnestly requests Señor don Ludovic de la
Saulay to grant her a private interview for a very important affair at
three o'clock in the afternoon of today. Doña Dolores will await the
Count in her own apartments."

"This time I cannot make head or tail of it," the Count exclaimed. "But
stuff," he added, after a moment's reflection; "perhaps it is better
that it should be so, and the proposition come from her."



CHAPTER VII.

THE RANCHO.


The state of Puebla is composed of a plateau mountain, more than five
and twenty leagues in circumference, crossed by the lofty Cordilleras
of Ahamiac.

The plains which surround the town are very diversified, cut up by
ravines, studded with hills, and closed on the horizon by mountains
covered by eternal snows.

Immense fields of aloes, the real vineyards of the country, as pulque,
that beverage so dear to the Mexicans, is made from this plant, extend
beyond the range of vision.

There is no sight so imposing as these commanding aloes, whose leaves,
armed with formidable points, are thick, hard, lustrous, and from six
to eight feet in length.

On leaving Puebla by the Mexico road, about two leagues further on, you
come to the city of Choluta, formerly very important, but which, now
fallen from its past splendour, only contains from twelve to fifteen
thousand souls.

In the days of the Aztecs, the territory, which now forms the State
of Puebla, was considered by the inhabitants a privileged Holy Land,
and the sanctuary of the religion. Considerable ruins, very remarkable
from an archæological point of view, still bear witness to the truth of
our statement; three principal pyramids exist in a very limited space,
without mentioning the ruins on which travellers tread at every step.

Of these three pyramids, one is justly celebrated; it is the one to
which the inhabitants of the country give the name of _Monte hecho
a mano_, the mountain built by human hands, or the great teocali of
Cholula.

This pyramid, crowned with cypresses, and on the top of which now
stands a chapel dedicated to "Nuestra Señora de los remedios," is
entirely constructed of bricks, its height is one hundred and seventy
feet, and its base, according to the calculations of Humboldt, is 1355
feet in length, or a little more than double the base of the pyramids
of Cheops.

Monsieur Ampère remarks, with considerable tact and cleverness, that
the imagination of the Arabs has surrounded with prodigies, the, to
them, unknown cradle of the Egyptian pyramids, whose construction they
refer to the deluge; and the same was the case in Mexico. On this
subject he relates a tradition picked up in 1566, by Pedro del Rio,
about the pyramids of Cholula, and preserved in his MSS., which are now
in the Vatican.

We will in our turn, make a loan from the celebrated savant, and
relate here this tradition, such as he gives it in his _Promenades en
Amérique_.

"During the last great inundation, the country of Ahamioc (the plateau
of Mexico), was inhabited by giants. All those who did not perish in
this disaster, were changed into fishes, except seven giants who took
refuge in the caverns. When the waters began to subside, one of these
giants, of the name of Xelhua, who was an architect, erected near
Cholula, in memory of the mountain of Tlaloc, which had served as a
refuge to him and his brothers, an artificial column of a pyramidal
form. The Gods, seeing with jealousy, this edifice, whose peak was
intended to touch the clouds, and irritated by the audacity of Xelhua,
hurled the heavenly fires against the pyramid, whence it happened, that
many of the builders perished, and the work could not be completed. It
was dedicated to the god of the air, 'Qualzalcoatl.'"

Might we not fancy ourselves reading the Biblical account of the
building of the Tower of Babel?

There is in this narrative an error, which must not be imputed to the
celebrated professor, but which we, in spite of our humble quality of
romance writer, believe it useful to rectify.

Quetzalcoatl--the serpent covered with feathers, the root of which
is _quetzalli_ feathers, and _coatl_ serpent, and not qualzalcoatl,
which means nothing, and is not even a Mexican name--is the god of the
air, the god legislator _par excellence_; he was white and bearded,
his black cloak was studded with red crosses, he appeared at Tula, of
which place he was high priest; the men who accompanied him wore black
garments, in the shape of a cassock, and like him, were white.

He was passing through Cholula, on his way to the mysterious country
whence his ancestors sprang, when the Cholulans implored him to
govern them and give them laws; he consented, and remained for twenty
years among them. After which, considering his mission temporarily
terminated, he went to the mouth of the river Huasacoalio, when he
suddenly disappeared, after solemnly promising the Cholulans that he
would return one day to govern them.

Hardly a century ago the Indians, when carrying their offspring to
the Chapel of the Virgin erected on the pyramid, still prayed to
Quetzalcoatl, whose return among them they piously awaited, we will not
venture to assert that this belief is completely extinct at the present
day.

The pyramid of Cholula in no way resembles those to be seen in Egypt,
covered with earth on all sides; it is a thoroughly wooded mount, the
top of which can be easily reached, not only on horseback, but in a
carriage.

At certain spots landslips had laid bare the sun-dried bricks employed
in the construction.

A Christian chapel stands on the top of the pyramid at the very spot
where the temple dedicated to Quetzalcoatl was built.

We cannot agree with certain authors who have asserted that a religion
of love has been substituted for a barbarous and cruel faith; it would
have been more logical to say that a true religion has followed a false
one.

Never was the summit of the pyramid of Cholula stained with human
blood; never was any man immolated there to the god adored in the
temple, now destroyed, for the very simple reason that this temple
was dedicated to Quetzalcoatl, and that the only offerings laid on
the altar of this god consisted of productions of the earth, such as
flowers and the first fruits of the crops, and this was done by the
express order of the God legislator, an order which his priests did not
dare infringe.

It was about four o'clock, a.m., the stars were beginning to disappear
in the depths of the sky, the horizon was striped with large grey bands
that incessantly changed their colour, and gradually assumed all the
colours of the rainbow, until they at last became blended into one red
mass; day was breaking, and the sun was about to rise. At this moment
two horsemen issued from Puebla, and proceeded at a sharp trot along
the Cholula road.

Both were carefully wrapped up in their zarapés, and appeared well
armed.

At about half a league from the town they suddenly turned to the right
and entered a narrow path cut through a field of agaré.

This path, which was very badly kept up, like all the means of
communication in Mexico, formed numberless turns, and was cut up by so
many ravines and quagmires, that there was the greatest difficulty in
riding along it, without running the risk of breaking one's neck twenty
times in ten minutes. Here and there came arroyos, which had to be
crossed with the water up to the horses' girths; then there were mounds
to ascend and descend; lastly, after at least twenty-five minutes of
this difficult riding, the two travellers reached the base of a species
of pyramid clumsily made by human hands, entirely covered with wood,
and rising about forty feet above the plain.

This artificial hill was crowned by a vaquero's rancho, which was
reached by steps cut at regular distances in the sides of the mound.

On reaching this spot the two strangers halted and dismounted.

The two men then left their horses to themselves, thrust the barrels of
their guns into a crevice at the base of the hill, and pressed on them,
using the butt as a leverage.

Although the pressure was not greatly exerted, an enormous stone, which
seemed completely to adhere to the ground, became slowly detached,
turned on invisible hinges, and unmasked the entrance of a cave which
ran with a gentle incline underground.

This grotto doubtless received air and light through a great number of
imperceptible fissures, for it was dry, and perfectly clear.

"Go, Lopez," said one of the strangers.

"Are you going up above?" the other asked.

"Yes; you will join me there in an hour, unless you see me beforehand."

"Good; that is understood."

He then whistled to the horses, which trotted up, and, at a signal from
Lopez, entered the cavern without the slightest hesitation.

"Good bye for the present," said Lopez.

The stranger gave him an affirmative nod; the servant entered in his
turn, let the stone fall behind him, and it fitted so exactly into the
rock, that there was not the slightest solution of continuity, and it
would have been impossible to find the entrance it concealed, even were
its existence known, unless one had been acquainted beforehand with its
exact position.

The stranger had remained motionless, with his eyes fixed on the
surrounding plain, seeking, doubtless, to assure himself that he was
really alone, and that he had nothing to fear from indiscreet glances.

When the stone had fallen into its place again, he threw his gun on his
shoulder, and began slowly ascending the steps, apparently plunged in
gloomy meditation.

From the top of the mound there was a vast prospect: on one side
Lapotecas, Cholula, haciendas, and villages; on the other, Puebla,
with its numerous painted and conical cupolas, which made it resemble
an eastern city. Then the eye wandered over fields of aloes, Indian
corn, and ajuves, in the midst of which the high road to Mexico wound,
forming a yellow line.

The stranger remained for an instant pensive, with his eyes turned to
the plain, which was completely deserted at this early hour, and which
the first sunbeams were beginning to gild with lustrous tints: then,
after breathing a suppressed sigh, he pushed the hurdle, covered with
a cowhide, which served as door to the rancho, and disappeared in the
interior.

The rancho externally had the wretched appearance of a hut almost
falling into ruins; still, the interior was more comfortably arranged
than might have been reasonably expected in a country where the
exigencies of life, with the lower classes more especially, are reduced
to what is most strictly necessary.

The first room--for the rancho contained several--served as parlour
and sitting room, and communicated with a lean-to outside, used as
a kitchen. The whitewashed walls of this room were adorned, not
with pictures, but with six or eight of those coloured engravings,
manufactured at Epinal, and with which that town inundates the world.
They represented different episodes in the wars of the empires, and
were decently framed and glazed. In a corner, about six feet from the
ground, a statuette, representing Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, the
patron saint of Mexico, was placed on a mahogany console, edged with
points, on which were fixed yellow wax tapers, three of which were
lighted. Six equipales, four butacas, a sideboard covered with various
household articles, and a large table placed in the middle of the room,
completed the furniture of this apartment, which was lighted by two
windows with red curtains. The floor was covered with a mat, of rather
delicate workmanship.

We have omitted mention of an article of furniture very important
through its rarity, and which was most unexpected in such a place: it
was a Black Forest cuckoo clock, surmounted by some bird or other,
which announced the hours and half-hours by singing.

This cuckoo was opposite the entrance door, and placed exactly between
the two windows.

A door opened on the right into the inner room.

At the moment when the stranger entered the rancho, the room was empty.

He leant his gun in a corner, took off his hat, which he laid on a
table, opened a window, up to which he drew a butaca, then rolled a
husk cigarette, which he lit and smoked as calmly and coolly as if he
were at home, though not till he had cast a glance at the clock, and
muttered,--

"Half past five! Good! I have time: he will not arrive before."

While speaking thus to himself, the stranger threw himself back in the
butaca; his eyes closed, his hand loosed its hold of the cigarette, and
a few minutes later he was sleeping soundly.

His sleep had lasted about half an hour, when a door behind him was
cautiously opened, and a pretty woman, three-and-twenty at the most,
with blue eyes and light hair, came into the room stealthily, curiously
stretching out her head, and fixing a kind, almost affectionate, glance
on the sleeper.

The young woman's face evidenced gaiety and maliciousness, blended with
extreme kindness. Her features, though not regular, formed a coquettish
and graceful whole which pleased at the first glance. Her excessively
white complexion distinguished her from the other rancheros' wives, who
are generally copper-coloured Indians: her dress was that belonging to
her class, but remarkably neat, and worn with a coquettishness that
admirably became her.

She thus came up softly to the sleeper, with her head thrown back,
and a finger laid on her lip, doubtless to recommend two persons who
followed her--a middle-aged man and woman--to make as little noise as
possible.

The woman appeared to be about fifty years of age, the man sixty; their
rather ordinary features had nothing striking about them, excepting a
certain expression of energetic decision spread over them.

The woman wore the garb of Mexican rancheros; as for the man, he was a
vaquero.

All three, on coming close to the stranger, stopped before him, and
watched him sleeping.

At this moment a sunbeam entered through the open window, and fell on
the stranger's face.

"Vive Dieu!" the latter exclaimed in French, as he sprang up suddenly
and opened his eyes; "Why, deuce take me, I really believe I was
asleep!"

"Parbleu! Mr. Oliver," the ranchero replied, in the same language;
"what harm is there in that?"

"Ah! There you are, my good friends," he said, with a pleasant smile,
as he offered them his hand; "it is a joyous waking for me, since
I find you at my side. Good day! Louise, my girl. Good day! Mother
Therese; and good day to you, too, my old Loïck! You have cheerful
faces, which it is a pleasure to look at!"

"How sorry I am that you woke up, Mr. Oliver," the charming Louise said.

"The more so, because you were doubtless fatigued," Loïck said.

"Stuff! I have forgotten it. You did not expect to find me here, eh?"

"Pardon me, Mr. Oliver," Therese replied; "Lopez informed us of your
arrival."

"That confounded Lopez cannot hold his tongue," Oliver said, gaily; "he
must always be chattering."

"You will breakfast with us, I hope?" the young woman asked.

"Is that a thing to ask, girl?" the vaquero said; "I should like to see
Mr. Oliver decline, that is all."

"Come, rough, one," Oliver said, laughingly; "do not growl. I will
breakfast."

"Ah! That is all right," the young woman exclaimed. And, aided by
Therese, who was her mother, as Loïck was her father, she instantly
began making preparations for the morning meal.

"But, you know," said Oliver, "nothing Mexican--I do not expect the
frightful cooking of the country here."

"All right!" Louise answered, with a smile; "We will have a French
breakfast."

"Bravo! The news doubles my appetite."

While the two women went backwards and forwards from the kitchen to the
dining room, preparing the breakfast, and laying the table, the two men
remained near the window, and were conversing together.

"Are you still satisfied?" Oliver asked his host.

"Perfectly," the other answered. "Don Andrés de la Cruz is a good
master; besides, as you know, I have but few dealings with him."

"That is true. You only depend on No Leo Carral."

"I do not complain of him. He is a worthy man, although a majordomo.
We get on famously together."

"All the better. I should have been grieved had it been otherwise.
However, it was on my recommendation that you consented to take this
rancho; and if there were anything--"

"I would not hesitate to inform you of it, Mr. Oliver; but in that
quarter all goes well."

The adventurer looked at him fixedly.

"Then something is going wrong elsewhere?" he remarked.

"I do not say so, sir," the vaquero stammered, with embarrassment.

Oliver shook his head.

"Do you remember, Loïck," he said to him, sternly, "the conditions I
imposed on you, when I granted you your pardon?"

"Oh! I do not forget them, sir."

"You have not spoken?"

"No."

"Then Dominique still believes himself?"

"Yes, still," he replied hanging his head; "but he does not love me."

"What makes you suppose so?"

"I am only too certain of it, sir: ever since you took him on the
prairies, his character has completely changed. The ten years he spent
away from me have rendered him completely indifferent."

"Perhaps it is a foreboding," the adventurer remarked in a hollow voice.

"Oh, do not say that, sir," the other exclaimed with horror, "musing is
a bad counsellor: I was very guilty, but if you knew how deeply I have
repented of my crime--"

"I know it and that is the reason why I pardoned you. Justice will be
done, some day, on the real culprit."

"Oh, sir, and I tremble, wretch that I am, at having been mixed up in
this sinister history, whose denouement will be terrible."

"Yes," the adventurer said with concentrated energy,--"very terrible
indeed! And you will help in it, Loïck."

The vaquero gave a sigh, which did not escape the other.

"I have not seen Dominique," he said, with a sudden change of tone; "is
he still asleep?"

"Oh no, you have instructed him too well, sir; he is always the first
of us to rise."

"How is it that he is not here, in that case?"

"Oh," the vaquero said with hesitation, "he has gone out: hang it, he
is free, now that he is twenty-two years of age."

"Already!" the adventurer muttered in a gloomy voice. Then suddenly
shaking his head, he said:

"Let us breakfast."

The meal commenced under rather melancholy auspices, but thanks to the
efforts of the adventurer, the former gaiety soon returned, and the end
of the breakfast was as merry as could be desired.

All at once Lopez suddenly entered the rancho.

"Señor Loïck," he said, "here is your son: I do not know what he is
bringing, but he is on foot and leading his horse by the bridle."

All rose and left the rancho. At about a gunshot from the rancho, they
really saw a man leading a horse by the bridle: a rather heavy burden
was fastened on the animal's back.

The distance prevented them from distinguishing the nature of this
burden.

"It is strange," Oliver muttered in a low voice, after attentively
examining the arrival for some moments, "can it be he? Oh, I must make
certain without delay."

And, after making Lopez a sign to follow him, he rushed down the steps,
to the amazement of the vaquero and the two women who soon saw him
running, followed by Lopez, across the plain to meet Dominique.

The latter had noticed the two men and had halted to await their
arrival.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE WOUNDED MAN.


A profound calm brooded over the country: the night breeze had died
away; no other sound but the continual buzzing of the infinitely little
creatures, that toil incessantly at the unknown task for which they
were created by Providence, disturbed the silence of the night: the
deep blue sky had not a cloud: a gentle, penetrating brilliancy fell
from the stars and the moonbeams flooded the landscape with gleams
that gave a fantastic appearance to the trees and mounts whose shadows
they immoderately elongated: bluish reflections seemed to pervade
the atmosphere whose dearness was such, that the heavy flight of the
coleoptera buzzing round the branches could be easily distinguished:
here and there fireflies darted like will-o'-the-wisps through the tall
grass, which they lit up with phosphorescent gleams as they passed.

It was, in a word, one of those limpid and pure American nights,
unknown in our cold climates less favoured by heaven, and which plunge
the mind into gentle and melancholy reverie.

All at once a shadow rose on the horizon, rapidly increased and soon
revealed the black and still undecided outline of a horseman; the sound
of horses' hoofs striking the hardened ground hurried blows, soon left
no doubt in this respect.

A horseman was really approaching and going in the direction of Puebla;
half asleep on his steed, he held the bridle rather loose, and allowed
it to go much as it pleased, until the animal, on reaching some cross
roads, in the middle of which a cross stood, gave a sudden start and
leaped on one side, cocking its ears and pulling back forcibly.

The rider, suddenly aroused from his sleep or, as is more probable,
from his reflections, would have been thrown, had he not, by an
instinctive movement, gathered up his horse by pulling at the bridle.

"Holah," he exclaimed, drawing himself up sharply and laying his hand
on his machete, while he looked anxiously around, "what is going
on here? Come, Moreno, my good horse, why this terror? There, calm
yourself, my good boy, no one is thinking of us."

But though the master patted it as he spoke, and both seemed to be on
good terms, the animal still continued to pull back and display signs
of the most lively terror.

"This is not natural, by Heaven! You are not accustomed to be thus
frightened for nothing: come, my good Moreno, what is it?"

And the traveller again looked around him, but this time more
attentively and peering at the ground, "Ah!" he said all at once, on
noticing a corpse stretched out on the road, "Moreno is right; there
is something there, the body of some hacendero without doubt, whom the
salteadores have killed to plunder him more at their ease, and whom
they left, without paying further heed to him: let me have a look."

While speaking thus to himself in a low voice, the horseman had
dismounted.

But, as our man was prudent, and, in all probability, long accustomed
to traverse the roads of the Mexican confederation, he cocked his gun,
and held himself in readiness either for attack or defence, in the
event of the individual whom he proposed to succour suddenly rising to
ask him for his money or his life, an eventuality quite in accordance
with the manners of the country, and against which he must place
himself on his guard.

He therefore approached the corpse and gazed at it for an instant with
the most serious attention.

It only required one glance to attain for certainty that there was
nothing to be feared from the unhappy man lying at his feet.

"Hum!" he continued, shaking his head several times, "This poor fellow
seems to be very bad: if he is not dead, he is not worth much more,
well, I suppose I must try to succour him, though I am afraid it will
be lost trouble."

After this fresh aside, the traveller, who was no other than
Dominique, the ranchero's son, to whom we just now alluded, uncocked
his gun which he leant against the road side, so as to have it within
reach in case of need, fastened his horse to a tree, and took off his
zarapé, so as to be less impeded in his movements.

After taking all these precautions quietly and methodically, for he
was a very careful man in everything, Dominique took off the alforjas
or double pockets carried on the back of the saddle, put them on his
shoulder, and kneeling down by the side of the out-stretched corpse, he
opened the wounded man's clothes and put his ear to his chest, in which
was a gaping wound.

Dominique was a man of tall stature, powerful and perfectly
proportioned: his supple limbs were garnished with muscles thick as
cords and hard as marble: he was evidently endowed with remarkable
strength, joined to great skill in all his movements, which were not
without a certain manly grace: he was, in a word, one of those powerful
men uncommon in all countries, but who are most frequently found among
those nations where the exigencies of a life of combat develop the
personal faculties of the individual in frequently extreme proportions.

Although he was only two and twenty years of age, Dominique appeared
at least eight and twenty. His features were handsome, masculine and
intelligent, his black open eyes looked you boldly in the face, his
ample forehead, his auburn hair that curled naturally, his large
mouth with rather thick lips, his fiercely curled moustache, his
well designed and squarely cut chin gave his face an expression of
frankness, boldness and kindness, which was really attractive, while
at the same time rendering him most distinguished looking. A singular
thing in this man, who belonged to the humble class of vaqueros, his
hands and feet were wonderfully small, and his hands more especially
were exquisitely shaped.

Such physically was the new personage whom we introduce to the reader,
and who is intended to play an important part in the course of this
narration. "Well, he will have a job, to recover, if he does recover,"
Dominique continued as he rose, after vainly trying to feel the beating
of his heart. Still he did not let himself be discouraged, he opened
his alforjas and took out linen, a surgical case and a small locked box.

"Luckily I have kept up my Indian habits," he said with a smile, "and
always carry my medicine bag about with me."

Without loss of time he probed the wound and washed it carefully. The
blood dripped drop by drop from the violet edges of the wound, he
uncorked a vial, poured on the wound a few drops of reddish liquor,
and the blood at once ceased flowing as if by enchantment. Then with a
skill that evidenced much practice he bandaged the wound, on which he
delicately laid some herbs pounded and moistened with the red fluid he
had before employed.

The unhappy man gave no sign of life, his body continued to retain the
inert rigidity of a corpse; still a certain moistness existed at the
extremities, a diagnostic which made Dominique suppose that life was
not completely extinct in this poor body. After dressing the wound with
care, he gently raised the man and leaned him against a tree: then he
began rubbing his chest, temples and wrists with rum and water, only
stopping from time to time to examine with an anxious eye his pale
contracted face. Everything appeared to be useless: no contraction,
no nervous quiver indicated the return of life. But there is nothing
so persistent as the will of a man who desires to save his fellow
man. Although he began seriously to doubt the success of his efforts,
far from being discouraged, Dominique felt his ardor redoubled, and
resolved not to give up his exertions, till he had attained the
certainty that they were wasted. A striking picture was offered by the
group formed on this deserted road upon this calm and luminous night,
at the foot of the cross--the symbol of redemption--by these two men,
one of whom impelled by the holy love of humanity lavished on the other
the most paternal care.

Dominique ceased his frictions for a moment and smote his forehead, as
if a sudden thought had risen to his brain.

"Where the deuce can my head be?" he muttered; and feeling in his
alforjas, which seemed inexhaustible, so many things did they contain,
he brought out a carefully stoppered gourd.

He opened the wounded man's clenched teeth with his knife blade, thrust
the gourd between his lips, and poured into his mouth a portion of the
contents, while examining his face anxiously. At the end of two or
three minutes, the wounded man gave a slight shiver, and his eyelids
moved, as if he were trying to open them.

"Ah!" said Dominique with joy, "This time I believe I shall win the
day."

And, laying the gourd by his side, he recommenced his frictions with
renewed ardour. A sigh faint as a breath issued from the wounded man's
lips, his limbs began ere long to lose a little of their rigidity,
life was returning by inches. The young man redoubled his efforts; by
degrees the breathing, though faint and broken, became more distinct,
the features relaxed and the cheek bones displayed two red spots,
although the eyes remained closed, the lips moved as if the wounded man
were trying to utter some words.

"Come," said Dominique with delight, "all is not over yet, but he will
have had a very narrow squeak for it; bravo! I have not lost my time!
But who on earth can have given him so tremendous a sword thrust?
People do not fight duels in Mexico. On my soul! If I were not afraid
of insulting him. I could almost swear I know the man who so nearly
slit up this poor wretch; but patience, he must speak ere long, and
then he will be very clever if I do not learn with whom he has had the
row."

In the meanwhile life, after long hesitating to return to this body
which it had almost abandoned, had commenced an earnest struggle with
death, which it drove further and further away. The movements of the
wounded man became more distinct and decidedly more intelligent. Twice
already his eyes had opened, although they closed again immediately;
but the improvement in him was sensible: he would soon recover his
senses, it was now but a question of time. Dominique poured a little
water into a cup, mixed with it a few drops of the liquid contained in
the gourd, and put it to the patient's mouth: the latter opened his
lips, drank and then gave a gasp of relief.

"How do you feel?" the young man asked him with interest.

At the sound of this unknown voice, a convulsive quiver agitated the
whole of the wounded man's body; he made a gesture as if repulsing a
terrifying image, and muttered in a low voice, "Kill me!"

"Certainly not!" Dominique exclaimed joyfully.

"I had too much trouble in recovering you for that."

The wounded man partly opened his eyes, glanced wildly around, and
at length gazed at the young man with an expression of indescribable
horror.

"The mask!" he exclaimed, "The mask! Oh! Back, back!"

"The brain has suffered a very severe shock," the young man muttered,
"he is suffering from a feverish hallucination which, if it continued,
might produce madness. Hum! The case is serious! What is to be done to
remedy this?"

"Murderer!" the wounded man continued feebly; "Kill me."

"He insists on that as it seems; this man has fallen into some
frightful snare, his troubled mind only recalls the last scene of
murder, in which he acted so unfortunate a part. I must cut this short
and restore him the calmness necessary for his cure, if not, he is
lost."

"Do I not know perfectly well I am lost?" the wounded man who overheard
the last word said; "Kill me, therefore, without making me suffer more."

"You hear me, señor," the young man answered "very good then, listen
to me without interruption: I am not one of the men who brought you
into your present state. I am a traveller, whom accident or rather
Providence brought on this road, to come to your assistance and, as I
hope, to save you: you understand me, do you not? Hence cease to invent
chimeras; forget, if it be possible, for the present at any rate, what
passed between you and your assassins. I have no other desire but that
of being useful to you: without me you would be dead: do not render
more difficult the hard task I have taken on myself: your recovery
henceforth depends on yourself."

The wounded man made a sudden effort to rise, but his strength betrayed
him, and he fell back with a sigh of discouragement; "I cannot," he
murmured.

"I should think not, wounded as you are. It is a miracle that the
frightful sword thrust you received did not kill you on the spot:
hence, do not any longer oppose what humanity orders me to do for you."

"But if you are not the assassin, who are you?" the wounded man asked,
apprehensively.

"Who am I? A poor vaquero, who found you expiring here, and was
fortunate enough to restore you to life."

"And you swear to me that your intentions are good?"

"I swear it, on my honour."

"Thanks!" the wounded man murmured.

There was a rather long silence.

"Oh! I wish to live;" the wounded man resumed, with concentrated energy.

"I can understand the desire--it is quite natural on your part."

"Yes; I wish to live, for I must avenge myself!"

"That sentiment is just, for vengeance is permitted."

"You promise that you will save me--do you not?"

"At least I will do all in my power."

"Oh! I am rich: I will reward you."

The ranchero shook his head.

"Why speak of reward?" he said. "Do you believe that devotedness can
be bought? Keep your gold, caballero--it would be useless to me, for I
have no wants to satisfy."

"Still, it is my duty."

"Not a word more on this subject, I must request, señor. Any pressure
on your part would be a mortal insult to me. I am doing my duty in
saving your life, and have no claim to any recompense."

"Act as you please, then."

"Promise me first not to raise any objection to what I may consider it
proper to do on behalf of your health."

"I promise it."

"Good! In this way we shall always understand one another. Day will
soon appear, and so we must not remain here any longer."

"But when can I go? I feel so faint, that I cannot possibly make the
slightest movement."

"That need not disturb you. I will put you on my horse; and by making
it go at a foot pace, it will carry you, without any dangerous jolts,
to a safe place."

"I leave myself in your hands."

"That is the best thing you could do. Do you wish me to take you to
your house?"

"My house!" the wounded man exclaimed, with ill-disguised terror,
and making a movement as if he would try to fly. "You know me then,
señor--know my residence?"

"I do not know you, and am ignorant where your house is situated. How
could I know such details, when I never saw you before this night?"

"That is true," the wounded man muttered, speaking to himself. "I
am mad! This man is honest." Then, addressing Dominique, he said in
a broken and scarce distinct voice; "I am a traveller. I come from
Veracruz, and was going to Mexico, when I was suddenly attacked,
plundered of everything I possessed, and left for dead at the foot of
this cross, when you so providentially discovered me. As for a home, I
have no other at this moment but the one you may be pleased to offer
me. This is my whole story: it is as simple as truth."

"Whether it be true or not does not concern me, señor. I have no right
to interfere in your affairs against your will. Let me request you,
therefore, to refrain from giving me information which I do not ask of
you--which does not concern me, and which, in your present condition,
can only be injurious to you, first, by causing you too great tension
of mind, and then, by forcing you to speak."

In truth, it was only by a violent effort of the will, that the wounded
man had succeeded in keeping up so long a conversation. The shock he
had received was too powerful, his wound too severe, for him to talk
any longer, without running the risk of falling into a fainting fit
more dangerous than the one from which he had been so miraculously
drawn by his generous saviour. Already he felt his arteries throbbing,
a mist spread before his sight: there was a sinister buzzing in his
ears; an icy sweat beaded on his temples; his thoughts, into which
he had found it so difficult to introduce a little regularity and
coherence, were beginning to desert him again: he understood that any
lengthened resistance on his part would be madness, and he fell back in
a state of discouragement, and heaving a sigh of resignation,--

"My friend," he murmured, in a faint voice, "do with me what you
please; I feel as if I were dying."

Dominique watched his movements with an anxious eye: he hastened to
make him drink a few drops of cordial, with which he had mixed a
soporific. This help was efficacious, and the wounded man felt himself
recalled to life. He tried to thank the young man.

"Silence!" the latter said to him, quickly; "You have talked too much
already."

And he carefully wrapped him in his cloak, and laid him on the ground.

"There!" he continued; "So far you are all right; do not stir, and try
to sleep, while I reflect on the means of removing you from here as
quickly as possible."

The wounded man attempted no resistance; the opium he had swallowed was
already acting upon him: he smiled softly, closed his eyes, and was
soon plunged in a calm and strengthening sleep. Dominique watched him
for a moment asleep with the most entire satisfaction.

"I like better to see him thus than as he was on my arrival," he said,
gladly. "Ah! All is not over yet: now we must be off as rapidly as
possible, if I do not wish to be impeded by the troublesome people who
will soon flock along this road."

He unfastened his horse, put on the bridle again, and led it close
to the wounded man. After making a species of seat on the animal's
back with some blankets, to which he added his zarapé, pulling it off
without the slightest hesitation, he raised the wounded man in his
powerful arms, with as much ease as if he had been a child instead of a
tall, rather corpulent man, and placed him softly on the seat, where he
fastened him as well as he could, while carefully holding him to avoid
a jolt, which might prove fatal.

When the young man felt assured that his patient was in a position as
convenient as circumstances permitted, he started his horse, whose
bridle he held, without leaving his place by the side of the wounded
man, whom he supported, and proceeded straight to the rancho, where we
preceded him about an hour, in order to introduce the adventurer there.



CHAPTER IX.

A DISCOVERY.


Dominique marched very gently, supporting with a firm hand the wounded
man seated in his saddle, watching over him as a mother watches over
her child, having only one desire--that of reaching the rancho as soon
as possible, in order to give this stranger, who, without him, would
have died so miserably, that attention which the precarious state in
which he still was, necessitated.

In spite of the impatience he felt, it was unfortunately impossible to
hurry his horse on for fear of an accident across the broken and almost
impracticable roads he was compelled to follow: hence it was with an
indescribable feeling of pleasure that, in coming within two or three
gunshots of the rancho, he noticed some persons running towards him.
Though he did not recognise them at first, his joy was great, for it
was help arriving for him; and though he would assuredly have been
unwilling to allow it, he recognised its extreme necessity for himself,
and especially for the wounded man, as for some hours he had been
stumbling along tracks nearly always impracticable, constrained to keep
a constant watch on this man, whom, by an incomprehensible miracle, he
had saved from a certain death, and whom the slightest neglect might
kill.

When the men running towards him were only a few yards from him, he
stopped and shouted to them with a joyous air, like a man delighted to
be freed from an oppressive responsibility.

"Eh! Come on! Caray! You ought to have been here long ago."

"What do you mean, Dominique?" the adventurer asked in French. "What
pressing need did you feel for us?"

"Why, that is plain enough, I fancy. Don't you see that I am bringing a
wounded man?"

"A wounded man!" Oliver started with a tiger's bound, which brought him
up to the young man's side. "To what wounded man are you alluding?"

"Hang it! To the one I have seated to the best of my ability on my
horse, and whom I should not be sorry to see in a good bed; of which,
between ourselves, he has the greatest need: for if he be still alive,
it is, on my soul, through some incomprehensible miracle of providence!"

The adventurer, without replying, roughly pulled away the zarapé thrown
over the wounded man's face, and examined it for some minutes with an
expression of agony, grief, anger and regret, impossible to describe.
His face, which had suddenly turned pale, assumed a cadaverous hue;
a convulsive tremour ran over his whole body; his eyes, fixed on the
wounded man, seemed to emit flashes, and had a strange expression.

"Oh!" he muttered in a low voice, convulsed by the storm that agitated
his heart; "That man! It is he--really he! And is not dead!"

Dominique did not understand a word. He gazed at Oliver with amazement,
not knowing what to think of the words he was uttering.

"But tell me," he at length said, with an outburst of passion, "what
is the meaning of this? I save a man--Heaven knows how--by my care: in
spite of a thousand difficulties I succeed in bringing here this poor
wretch, who, without me, I may safely say, would have died like a dog,
and this is how you greet me!"

"Yes, yes, rejoice!" the adventurer said to him, with a bitter accent;
"You have committed a good action. I congratulate you on it, Dominique,
my friend! It will benefit you, be sure, and that ere long!"

"You know that I do not understand you!" the young man exclaimed.

"Well! is there any need that you should understand me, poor boy?" he
replied, with a disdainful shrug of his shoulders. "You have acted
according to your nature, without reflection or afterthought. I have no
more reproaches to address to you, than explanations to offer you."

"But, come; what do you mean?"

"Do you know this man?"

"Really, no. How should I know him?"

"I do not ask you that. Since you do not know him, how is it that you
are bringing him to the rancho, without giving us notice?"

"For a very simple reason. I was returning from Cholula, when I found
him lying across the road, groaning like a bull in the death throes.
What could I do? Did not humanity command me to succour him? Is it
permissible to let a Christian die in such a way without attempting to
aid him?"

"Yes, yes," Oliver replied, ironically; "you acted well, and certainly
I am far from blaming you. Of course, a man could not meet one of
his fellow men in this cruel condition without assisting him." Then,
suddenly changing his tone, and shrugging his shoulders with pity, he
added; "Did you receive such lessons in humanity from the Redskins,
among whom you lived so long?"

The young man attempted to answer, but he hurriedly checked him.

"Enough, now the evil is done," he said to him: "it is of no use
alluding to it. Lopez will convey him to the cavern of the rancho,
where he will nurse him. Go, Lopez, lose no time; lead away this man,
while I talk with Dominique."

Lopez obeyed, and the young man allowed him to do so. He was beginning
to comprehend that possibly his heart had deceived him, and that he had
too easily given way to a feeling of humanity towards a man who was a
perfect stranger to him.

There was a rather lengthened silence. Lopez had gone off with the
wounded man, and had already disappeared in the cavern. Oliver and
Dominique, standing face to face, remained motionless and pensive. At
length the adventurer raised his head.

"Have you spoken with this man?"

"Only a few words."

"What did he tell you?"

"Not much that was sensible, he talked to me about an attack to which
he had fallen a victim."

"Is that all?"

"Yes, or nearly so."

"Did he tell you his name?"

"I did not ask him for it."

"But he must have told you who he is."

"Yes, I think so: he told me that he had come a short time previously
from Veracruz and was proceeding to Mexico, when he was attacked
unawares and plundered by men whom he was unable to recognize."

"He told you nothing else about his name or position?"

"No, not a word."

The adventurer remained pensive for a moment.

"Listen," he then continued, "and do not take what I am going to say to
you in ill part."

"From you, Master Oliver, I will hear anything you have the right to
say everything to me."

"Good! Do you remember how we became acquainted?"

"Certainly: I was a child then, wretched and sickly, dying of want and
misery in the streets of Mexico: you took pity on me, you clothed and
fed me: not satisfied with this, you yourself taught me to read, write
and cypher, and many other things."

"Go on."

"Then, you enabled me to find my parents again, or at least the persons
who brought me up, and whom, in default of others, I have always
regarded as my family."

"Good, what next?"

"Hang it, you know that as well as I do, Master Oliver."

"That is possible, but I wish you to repeat it to me."

"As you please: one day you came to the rancho, you took me away with
you and took me to Sonora and Texas, where we hunted buffalo: at the
end of two or three years, you caused me to be adopted by a Comanche
tribe, and you left me, ordering me to remain on the prairies, and to
lead the existence of a wood ranger, until you sent me an order to
return to you."

"Very good, I see that you have a good memory: go on."

"I obeyed you, and remained among the Indians, hunting and living with
them: six months ago, you came yourself to the banks of the Rio Gila,
where I was at the time, and you told me that you had come to fetch me
and that I must follow you. I followed you, therefore, without asking
an explanation which I did not need: for do I not belong to you, body
and soul?"

"Good, you still retain the same feeling."

"Why should I have changed? You are my only friend."

"Thanks, then you are resolved to obey me in everything?"

"Without hesitation, I swear it."

"That is what I wished to be certain of, now listen to me in your turn:
this man whom you have succoured so foolishly--forgive the word--lied
from the first to the last word he told you. The story he told you
is a tissue of falsehoods: it is not true that he had only arrived
a few days before from Veracruz, it is not true that he is going to
Mexico, and lastly it is not true that he was attacked and plundered by
strangers. This man I know: he has been at Mexico for the last eight
months, he lives at Puebla, he was condemned to death by men who had a
right to try him and with whom he is perfectly well acquainted: he was
not attacked unawares, a sword was placed in his hand, and he received
permission to defend himself--a permission which he took advantage of,
and he fell in fair fight: finally, he was not plundered, because he
had not to do with highwaymen but with men of honour."

"Oh, oh," said the young man, "this alters the case."

"Now answer this: you have pledged yourself to me? What do you mean by
that?"

"This man, when he regained his senses and was able to speak, implored
your protection; did he not?"

"That is true, Master Oliver."

"Good, and what did you answer him?"

"Hang it all, you understand that it was very difficult for me to
abandon the poor fellow in the state he was in, especially after what I
had done for him."

"Good, good; what then?"

"Well then, I promised to cure him."

"Nothing else?"

"Well no."

"And you only promised him this?"

"No, I pledged my word."

The adventurer gave a start of impatience.

"But supposing he recovers," he continued, "which between ourselves
seems rather doubtful; when he is in a good state of health, will you
consider yourself entirely free from him?"

"Oh yes, Master Oliver, completely."

"In that case, it is only a half evil."

"You know that I do not at all understand you?"

"Be content, Dominique, learn that you have not a lucky hand for a good
deed."

"Because?"

"Because the man you have succoured and on whom you lavished such
devoted attentions, is your deadly enemy."

"This man my deadly enemy?" he exclaimed with an astonishment mingled
with doubt; "But I do not know him any more than he knows me."

"You suppose so, my poor fellow; but be convinced that I am not
deceived and am telling you the truth."

"It is strange."

"Yes, very strange, indeed, but it is so: this man is even your most
dangerous foe."

"What is to be done?"

"Leave me to act: I went to the rancho this morning with the intention
of telling you that one of your enemies, the most formidable of all,
was dead: you took care to make me a liar. After all, perhaps it is
better it should be so: what God does is well, His ways are unknown to
us, we must bow before the manifestation of His will."

"Then, it is your intention--?"

"My intention is to order Lopez to watch over your patient: he will
remain in the cavern where he will be taken the greatest care of, but
you will not see him again, as it is unnecessary for you to know any
more about him at present: in my turn, I pledge you my word that all
the attention his condition demands shall be bestowed on him."

"Oh, I trust entirely to you, Master Oliver: but when he's cured, what
shall we do?"

"We will let him go away in peace, he is not our prisoner: be at ease,
we shall find him again without difficulty when we want him: of course
it is understood that no one in the rancho is to go down to him or have
any relations with him."

"Good: in that case you will tell them so, for I cannot undertake it."

"I will do so: but I shall not see him either; Lopez alone will remain
in charge of him."

"Have you nothing more to say to me?"

"Yes, that I intend to take you away with me for a few days."

"Ah, are we going far?"

"You will see: in the meanwhile go to the rancho and prepare everything
you want for your journey."

"Oh, I am ready," he interrupted.

"That is possible, but I am not; have I not to give Lopez orders about
your wounded man?"

"That is true, and besides I must say good-bye to my family."

"That will be very proper, as you will probably be away for some time."

"Good, I understand, we are going to have a famous hunt."

"Yes, we are going to hunt," the adventurer said with an equivocal
smile; "but not at all in the way you suppose."

"All right, I do not care. I will hunt in whatever way you please."

"I reckon on it; but come, we have lost too much time already."

They proceeded toward the mound. The adventurer entered the vault,
and the young man went up to the rancho. Loïck and the two women
were awaiting him on the platform considerably perplexed by the
long conversation he had held with Oliver; but Dominique was
impenetrable--he had lived too long in the desert to let the truth be
drawn from his heart when he thought proper to conceal it. Under these
circumstances, all the questions they showered on him were thrown away;
he only answered by clever evasions, and at last his father and the two
women, despairing of making him speak, resolved to leave him at peace.
His breakfast was all ready on the table. As he was hungry, he took
advantage of this pretext to change the conversation, and while eating,
announced his departure. Loïck made no remark, for he was accustomed to
these sudden absences.

At the end of about half an hour Oliver reappeared. Dominique rose and
took leave of his family.

"You are taking him with you," said Loïck.

"Yes," Oliver replied, "for a few days; we are going into the Tierra
Caliente."

"Take care," said Louise anxiously; "you know that Juárez' guerillas
are scouring the country."

"Fear nothing, little sister," the young man said as he embraced her;
"we shall be prudent. I will bring you back a handkerchief. You know
that I have promised you one for a long time."

"I should prefer your not leaving us, Dominique," she replied sadly.

"Come, come," the adventurer remarked gaily; "do not be alarmed, I
will bring him back safe and sound."

It appears that the occupants of the rancho had great confidence in
Oliver's word, for on this assurance their anxiety became calmed, and
they took leave of the two men in tolerably good spirits. The latter
then left the rancho, descended the mound, and found their horses,
ready to be mounted, awaiting them, tied up to a liquidambar tree.
After giving a last parting signal to the inhabitants of the rancho,
who were assembled on the platform, they leapt into their saddles, and
went off at a gallop across country to strike the Veracruz road.

"Are we really going to the hot lands?" Dominique asked, while
galloping by his comrade's side.

"We are not going so far, or nearly so; I am only taking you a few
miles off to a hacienda, where I want you to make a new acquaintance."

"Bah! Why so? I care very little for new acquaintances."

"This one will be very useful to you."

"Oh, in that case it is different. I confess to you that I am not very
fond of the Mexicans."

"The person to whom you will be introduced is not Mexican, but French."

"That is not at all the same thing; but why do you talk in that
mysterious way? Are you not going to introduce me?"

"No, it is another person whom you know, and for whom you feel some
liking."

"To whom are you alluding?"

"To Leo Carral."

"The majordomo of the hacienda del Arenal?"

"Himself!"

"In that case we are going to the hacienda?"

"Not exactly, but near it. I have given the majordomo a rendezvous,
where he will wait for me, and we are going there now."

"In that case all is for the best. I shall be delighted to see Leo
Carral again. He is a good fellow."

"And a man of honour and trust," Oliver added.



CHAPTER X.

THE MEETING.


Ever since Count de la Saulay's arrival at the hacienda del Arenal,
Doña Dolores had treated him with a degree of reserve which the
marriage projects made by the two families were far from justifying.
The young lady had not only had no private interviews with the man
whom she ought to consider to some extent her betrothed, but had not
indulged in the slightest intimacy, or most innocent familiarity; while
remaining polite, and even gracious, she had contrived, ever since the
first day they met, to raise a barrier between herself and the Count--a
barrier which he had never attempted to scale, and which had condemned
him to remain, perhaps against his secret wishes, within the limits of
the strictest reserve.

In these conditions, and especially after the scene at which he had
been present on the previous evening, we can easily understand what the
stupefaction of the young man must be on learning that Doña Dolores
requested an interview with him. What could she have to say to him?
For what motive did she grant him this meeting? What reason impelled
her to act thus? Such were the questions which the Count did not cease
to ask himself--questions which necessarily remained unanswered. Hence
the young man's anxiety, curiosity, and impatience, were aroused to
the highest degree, and it was with a feeling of joy, which he could
not fully explain, that he at length heard the hour for the interview
strike. Had he been in Paris instead of a Mexican hacienda, he would
have certainly known beforehand what he had to expect from the message
he had received, and his conduct would have been regulated beforehand.

But here the coldness of Doña Dolores toward him--a coldness which had
never once thawed--the preference which after the last night's scene
she seemed to give to another person, all combined to deprive this
interview of the slightest supposition of love. Was it his renunciation
of her hand, and immediate retirement, that Doña Dolores was about to
request of him?

Singular contradiction of the human mind! The Count, who felt for this
marriage a repulsion more and more marked, whose formal intention it
was to have, as soon as possible, an explanation on this subject with
Don Andrés de la Cruz, and whose firm resolution it was to withdraw,
and renounce the alliance so long prepared, and which displeased him
the more because it was forced on him--revolted at the supposition of
this renunciation, which, without doubt, Doña Dolores was going to ask
him; his wounded self-esteem made him regard this question under a
perfectly new light, and the contempt which the young lady seemed to
feel for his hand, filled him with shame and anger.

He, Count Ludovic de la Saulay, young, handsome, rich, renowned for his
wit and elegance, one of the most distinguished members of the jockey
club, one of the gods of fashion, whose conquests occupied every mouth
in Paris, had produced on a half wild girl no other impression but that
of repulsion, had inspired no other feeling but a cold indifference.
There was certainly something desperate about this; for an instant he
went so far as to fancy--for anger blinded him to such an extent--that
he was really in love with his cousin, and he was on the point of
swearing to remain deaf to the tears and supplications of Doña Dolores,
and insisting on the completion of the marriage within the shortest
period possible. But fortunately the pride which had urged him to this
determination suddenly suggested to him a more simple, and assuredly
more agreeable way to escape from the embarrassment.

After taking a complacent glance at his person, a smile of haughty
satisfaction lit up his face; he found himself both physically and
morally so immeasurably above his surroundings, that he only felt a
sort of merciful pity for the poor girl whom the bad education she had
received prevented from appreciating the numberless advantages which
gave him a superiority over his rivals, or understanding the happiness
she would find in an alliance with him.

While revolving all these, and many other thoughts, the Count left his
rooms, crossed the courtyard, and proceeded to the apartments of Doña
Dolores. He remarked, though without attaching much importance to the
fact, that several saddle horses were waiting in the court, held by
peons. At the door of the apartments stood a young Indian girl with
pretty face, and sparkling eyes, who greeted him with a smile and a
profound courtesy, as she made him a sign to enter. The Count followed
her; the waiting maid passed through several elegantly furnished rooms,
and finally raised a curtain of white China crape, embroidered with
large flowers of every hue, and introduced the Count, without saying a
word, into a delightful boudoir, furnished throughout with China lace.

Doña Dolores, half-reclining on a hammock of aloe fibre, was amusing
herself with teasing a pretty parrot half the size of her hand, and was
laughing heartily at the little creature's cries of fury.

The young lady was charming, thus: the Count had never seen her
so lovely. After bowing deeply to her, he stopped in the door,
experiencing an admiration mingled with such great stupefaction, that
Doña Dolores after looking at him for a moment, could not retain her
seriousness, but burst out into a silvery peal of laughter.

"Forgive me, cousin," she said to him, "but you look so singular at
this moment, that I could not help--"

"Laugh, laugh, my fair cousin," the young man replied, resolved to
share this gaiety which he was so far from expecting, "I am delighted
to find you in such good humour."

"Do not stay there, cousin," she continued, "set down here near me in
this butaca," and with her pink finger she pointed to an armchair.

The young man obeyed.

"Cousin," he said, "I have the honour of obeying the invitation which
you deigned to send me."

"Ah, that is true," she answered; "I thank you for your kindness, and
more especially for your punctuality, cousin."

"I could not display too great eagerness in obeying you, cousin, I have
so rarely the happiness of seeing you."

"Is that a reproach you are addressing to me, cousin?"

"Oh, by no means, Madam. I in no way claim the right of offering you
what you are pleased to call reproaches: you are at liberty to act as
you please, and to dispose of me."

"Oh, oh, my dear cousin, I fancy if I were disposed to make trial of
this noble devotion, I should expose myself to shame and you would
refuse me point blank."

"Now we have it," the young man thought and added aloud, "it is my most
sincere desire to please you in everything, cousin. I pledge you my
word as a gentleman, and no matter what you may ask of me, I will obey
you."

"I am much inclined to take you at your word, Don Ludovic," she said,
leaning down to him with a delicious smile.

"Do so, cousin, and you will see from my promptitude in obeying you,
that I am the most devoted of your slaves."

The young lady remained pensive for a moment, then putting back on its
rosewood perch the parrot with which she had been playing up till now,
she leaped from her hammock, and seated herself a short distance from
the Count.

"Cousin," she said to him, "I have a service to ask of you."

"Of me? At length I shall be of some use to you."

"This service," she continued, "is not of great importance in itself."

"All the worse."

"But I fear, lest it may cause you great annoyance."

"What matter, cousin, the annoyance I may experience, if I can be of
service to you."

"Cousin, I thank you, this is the affair: I must take a rather long
ride today, for reasons you will soon appreciate. I cannot and will
not be accompanied by any of the inhabitants of the hacienda, whether
masters or servants. Still, as the roads are not, at this moment,
perfectly secure, and I dare not venture to traverse them alone,
I want with me, in order to protect and defend me if necessary, a
peon whose presence at my side could not give rise to any malevolent
suppositions. I have thought of you as my companion on this expedition.
Do you consent, cousin?"

"With delight: I would merely remark that I am a stranger to this
country, and might lose my way on roads I am unacquainted with."

"Do not trouble yourself about that, cousin, I am a native of the
country, and have no fear about losing my way for fifty leagues round."

"If that is the case, cousin, all is for the best: I thank you for
the honour you deign to do me, and place myself completely at your
disposal."

"It is for me to thank you, cousin, for your extreme kindness; the
horses are saddled, the Mexican garb becomes you admirably, go and put
on your spurs, warn your valet that he will have to accompany you, and
fetch your weapons: that is an important point, for you never know what
may happen, and come back in ten minutes, when I shall be ready for
you."

The Count rose, bowed to the young lady, who responded by a gracious
smile, and left the room.

"By Jove," he muttered as soon as he was alone, "this is delightful,
and the duty she intends for me is most satisfactory. I fancy I am
simply accompanying my delightful cousin to some love appointment. But
how was it possible to refuse her anything! I never saw her looking so
lovely as today. On my soul, she is a charming fay, and unless I take
care, I may end by falling in love with her, unless I have done so
already," he added with a stifled sigh.

He returned to his rooms ordered Raimbaut to get ready to follow him,
which the worthy valet did with the punctuality and silence that
distinguished him, and after buckling on his heavy silver spurs, and
throwing a zarapé over his shoulders, he selected a double-barrelled
gun, a straight sabre, a brace of revolvers, and thus armed went into
the patio. Raimbaut followed his example, had laid in a complete
arsenal. The two men were thus, without exaggeration, capable in case
of need, to face fifteen bandits.

Doña Dolores, already mounted, was talking with her father while
awaiting the Count's arrival. Don Andrés de la Cruz was rubbing his
hands in delight, the good understanding between the young people
charmed him.

"So you are going to take a ride?" he said to the Count; "I wish you
all possible pleasure."

"The señorita has deigned to offer to accompany me," Ludovic answered.

"She has acted admirably, for her choice could not be better."

While exchanging these few words with his future papa-in-law, the Count
had mounted.

"A pleasant trip," continued Don Andrés, "and mind you are careful
whom you meet, Juárez' cuadrillas are beginning to prowl about the
neighbourhood, so I have been informed."

"Do not be alarmed, papa," Doña Dolores replied; "besides," she added
with a charming smile aimed at the young man, "under my cousin's escort
I fear nothing."

"Be off then and get back early."

"We shall return before the oración, papa."

Don Andrés gave them a last farewell nod, and they left the hacienda.
The Count and the young lady galloped side by side. Raimbaut, as a well
trained servant, followed a few paces in the rear.

"I will act as your guide, cousin," the young lady said, when they had
ridden some distance out into the plain and were lost among clumps of
liquidambars.

"I could not desire a better one," Ludovic answered gallantly.

"Stay, cousin," she resumed, giving him a side glance, "I have a
confession to make to you."

"A confession, cousin?"

"Yes, I see you are such a good fellow, that I feel ashamed at having
deceived you."

"You deceived me, cousin?"

"Shamefully," she said with a laugh, "as you shall judge. I am leading
you to a spot where we are expected."

"Where you are expected, you mean."

"No, because it is you they want especially to see."

"I confess, cousin, that I do not understand you at all: I know no one
in this country."

"Are you quite sure of that, my dear cousin?" she asked with a mocking
air.

"Well, I believe so at least."

"Then, you are beginning to doubt."

"You seem so sure of your fact."

"I am so, indeed: the person who expects you, not only knows you, but
is a friend of yours."

"Very good, this makes the matter more puzzling than ever: go on, I
beg."

"I have but very little to add, besides, in a few minutes we shall have
arrived, and I do not wish to keep you in doubt any longer."

"That is very kind of you, cousin, I declare. I am humbly waiting till
you deign to explain."

"I must do so, as your head has such a bad memory. What, sir, you are
but a foreigner, who had been but a little while in a strange land. In
this country, so soon as you landed, you met one man who displayed
some sympathy with you, and you have already forgotten him. Permit me
to remark, my dear cousin, that this offers but poor testimony to your
constancy."

"Crush me, cousin, I deserve all your reproaches. You are right; there
is really one man in Mexico for whom I feel a sincere friendship."

"Ah! Ah! Then I was not mistaken?"

"No; but I was so far from supposing that it was to him you alluded,
that I confess--"

"That you no longer remembered him, eh?"

"On the contrary, cousin; and it would be my most eager desire to see
him again."

"And what is this person's name?"

"He told me it was Oliver; still, I should not like to affirm that it
is really his name."

The young man gave a meaning smile.

"Would it be indiscreet to ask you why you entertain this unfavourable
supposition?"

"Not at all, cousin; but Señor Oliver appeared to me a very mysterious
gentleman; his manners are not those of everybody. As I think, there
would be nothing extraordinary if, according to circumstances--"

"He assumed a name," she interrupted. "Perhaps you are right--perhaps
you are wrong--I could not answer that question; all I can tell you is,
that he is the person who expects you."

"That is singular," the young man muttered.

"Why so?--He has doubtless an important communication to make to you;
at least, so I understood."

"Did he tell you so?"

"Not precisely; but while conversing with me last night he displayed a
desire to see you as soon as possible; that is the reason, cousin, why
I asked you to accompany me on my ride."

This confession was made by the young lady in such simple faith that
the Count was completely staggered by it, and looked at her for a
moment as if he did not comprehend her. Doña Dolores did not notice his
astonishment. With her hand placed as a screen over her eyes, she was
examining the plain.

"Ah," she said a moment after, pointing in a certain direction, "look
at those two men seated side by side in the shade of that clump of
trees; one of these is Oliver, the person who expects you. Let us hurry
on."

"Very good," Ludovic answered, spurring his horse.

And they galloped toward the two men, who, on perceiving them, had
risen to receive them.



CHAPTER XI.

IN THE PLAIN.


Oliver and Dominique, after leaving the rancho, rode for a long time
side by side without exchanging a word; the adventurer seemed to be
reflecting, while for his part the vaquero, in spite of his apparent
_nonchalance_, was greatly preoccupied. Dominique, or Domingo,
according as he was called in French or Spanish, whose physical
portrait we have sketched in a preceding chapter, was, morally, a
strange mixture of good and bad instincts; still, we are bound to add,
that the good nearly always gained the victory. The wandering life he
had led for several years among the indomitable Indians of the prairie,
had developed in him, beside a great personal strength, an force of
will and energy of character, blended with a leonine courage and a
degree of cleverness which might at times be taken for duplicity.
Crafty and distrustful like a Comanche, he had transferred to civilized
life all the practices of the wood rangers, never letting himself be
taken unawares by the most unforeseen events, and opposing an impassive
face to the most scrutinizing glances, he feigned a simplicity by which
the cleverest persons were often deceived; added to this, he generally
displayed a rare frankness, unbounded generosity, exquisite sensibility
of heart, and carried his devotion to those he loved to the extremest
limits, without reflection or afterthought; but on the other hand he
was implacable in his hatreds, and possessed a true Indian ferocity.
In one word, his was one of those strange natures as perfect for good
as for evil, and whom opportunity can as easily make remarkable men as
great villains.

Oliver had profoundly studied the extraordinary character of his
_protégé_, hence he knew better than himself, perhaps, of what he was
capable; and he had frequently shuddered on probing the hidden depths
of this strange organization which did not know itself; and while
imposing his will on the indomitable nature and making it bow as he
pleased, still, like the imprudent beast tamer who plays with a tiger,
he foresaw the moment when the lava boiling dully at the bottom of
this young man's heart would suddenly burst forth under the impetuous
blast of the passions; hence, in spite of the implicit confidence he
seemed to have in his friend, it was with extreme care that he set
certain chords vibrating in him, and he sedulously avoided giving him
a consciousness of his strength, or revealing to him the extent of his
moral power.

After a ride of some hours the travellers arrived about three leagues
from the hacienda del Arenal, on the skirt of a rather thick wood that
bordered the last plantations of the hacienda.

"Let us stop here and eat," Oliver said, as he dismounted; "this is our
destination for the present."

"I am quite willing," Dominique answered; "this confounded sun falling
virtually on my head since the morning, is beginning, I confess, to
tire me, and I should not be sorry to lie down for a little while on
the grass."

"In that case stand on no ceremony, comrade; the spot is glorious for a
rest."

The two men hobbled their horses, which they unbridled, to let them
browze at their ease; and after sitting down opposite each other under
the protection of the dense foliage of the trees, they felt in their
alforjas, which were well stocked with provisions, and began eating
with good appetite. Neither of the men was a great speaker, hence they
disposed of their meal in silence, and it was not till Oliver had lit
a puro and Dominique his Indian calumet, that the former resolved to
speak.

"Well, Dominique," he said to him, "what do you think of the life I
have made you lead for the last five months in this province?"

"To tell you the truth," the vaquero replied, puffing out a dense cloud
of smoke, "I consider it absurd and wearisome to the highest degree.
I should long ago have requested you to send me back to the western
prairies, had I not been convinced that you wanted me here."

Oliver burst into a laugh.

"You are true, friend," he said, as he offered him his hand, "ever
ready to act without observation or comment."

"I flatter myself I am; for is not friendship composed of self-denial
and devotedness?"

"Yes; and that is why it is so rarely met with in this world."

"I pity those who are incapable of experiencing the feeling, for they
deprive themselves of a great enjoyment. Friendship is the only real
link that attaches men to each other."

"Many believe that it is egotism."

"Egotism is only a variety of the species; it is friendship badly
understood, and reduced to low proportions."

"Hang it! I did not fancy you were so strong in paradoxes. Did you
learn these tricks of the tongue among the Indians?"

"The Indians are wise men, my master," the vaquero answered with
a shake of the head; "with them the true is true, and the false
false, while in your cities you have so well succeeded in embroiling
everything, that the cleverest man could not find his way, while the
simple man soon loses the feeling of justice and injustice. Let me
return to the prairies, my friend, my place is not among the paltry
contests that disgrace this country, and make my heart ache with
disgust and pity."

"I would willingly restore you your liberty, my boy, but I repeat that
I have need of you, perhaps for three months longer."

"Three months? That is very long."

"Perhaps you will find the period very short," he said, with a peculiar
expression.

"I do not believe it."

"We shall see; but I have not told you yet what I want of you."

"That is true, and I had better know, so that I may fulfil your
intentions properly."

"Listen to me then: I shall be the more brief, because when the persons
I am expecting arrive, I shall give you more detailed instructions."

"Very good, go on."

"Two persons are going to join us here, a young man, and a young lady;
the latter is Doña Dolores de la Cruz, daughter of the owner of the
hacienda del Arenal: she is sixteen years of age, and very beautiful;
she is a gentle, pure, and simple girl."

"Very good, but that does not concern me, for you know I trouble myself
but slightly about squaws."

"That is true, so I will not dwell on the point: Doña Dolores is
betrothed to Don Ludovic, who will marry her immediately."

"Much good may it do him; and who is Don Ludovic? Some Mexican, I
suppose, stupid and proud, who prances like a canon's mule."

"In that you are mistaken; Don Ludovic is her cousin, Count Ludovic de
la Saulay, belonging to the highest nobility in France."

"Ah, ah! He is the Frenchman in question?"

"Yes: he has come expressly from France to contract with his cousin
this union which has long been arranged between the two families.
Count Ludovic is a most agreeable gentleman, rich, kind, amiable, well
educated, and obliging: in short, an excellent fellow, in whom I take
the most sincere interest, and I wish you to attach yourself to him."

"If he is as you say, all right; before two days we shall be the best
friends in the world."

"Thanks, Dominique, I expected no less from you."

"Eh," said the vaquero, "look there, Oliver, someone is coming,
I fancy: hang it, they are riding fast, they will be on us in ten
minutes."

"They are Doña Dolores and Count Ludovic."

They rose to go and receive the young people, who, in truth, were
coming up at full speed.

"Here we are at last," the young lady said, as she stopped her horse,
with the skill of a practised rider.

With one bound the newcomers reached the ground; after bowing to
Dominique, the Count held out both hands to the adventurer.

"I see you again then, my friend," he said to him; "thanks for
remembering me."

"Did you suppose I had forgotten you?"

"On my word," the young man said gaily, "I almost had the right to do
so."

"My Lord Count," the adventurer then said, "permit me first of all to
introduce to you M. Dominique, he is more than a brother, he is another
self: I shall be pleased if you will transfer to him a small portion of
the friendship you deign to testify to me."

"Sir," the Count replied, bowing gracefully to the vaquero, "I
sincerely regret that I express myself so badly in Spanish, for it
prevents me from proving to you the lively desire I feel to let you see
the sympathy with which you have already inspired me."

"That is of no consequence, Sir," the vaquero replied in French "I
speak your language fluently enough to thank you for your cordial
language, for which I am most grateful."

"Ah, by Jove! Sir, you delight me; this is a charming surprise; pray,
accept my hand, and consider me as entirely at your service."

"Most willingly, sir, and thank you; we shall soon know each other
better, and then, you will reckon me, I hope, in the number of your
friends."

After these words, the two young men warmly shook hands.

"Are you satisfied, my friend?" Doña Dolores asked.

"You are a fairy, dear child," Oliver replied with emotion; "you cannot
imagine how happy you render me."

And he respectfully kissed the forehead which the young lady offered
him. "Now," he continued, changing his tone, "let us turn to business,
for time presses; but we are still one short."

"Who is it?" the young lady asked.

"Leo Carral: let me summon him;" and raising to his lips a silver
whistle, he produced a shrill and long sustained note.

Almost immediately the galloping of a horse was heard in the distance,
which rapidly drew nearer, and the majordomo soon appeared.

"Come on, come on, Leo," the adventurer shouted to him.

"Here I am, señor," the majordomo replied, "entirely at your orders."

"Listen to me attentively," Oliver resumed, addressing Doña Dolores;
"the affair is serious, I am compelled to go away this very day: my
absence may last for a long time; and hence it is impossible for me
to watch over you: unfortunately I have a foreboding that an imminent
danger threatens you, of what nature it is, or when it will burst on
you, I am unable to say, but it is certain. Now, my dear Dolores, what
I cannot do, others will do: these others are the Count, Dominique, and
our friend Leo Carral, all three are devoted to you, and will watch
over you like brothers."

"But, my friend," the young lady interrupted, "you forget, I think, my
father and my brother."

"No, my child, I do not forget them, on the contrary, I bear them in
mind: your father is an aged man, who not only cannot protect anyone,
but needs protection himself, which in the case of need you will not
fail to grant him. As for your brother, Don Melchior, you know, my
dear girl, my opinion about him, and hence it is unnecessary to dwell
on that point: he cannot, or will not defend you. You know that I
am usually well informed, and am rarely mistaken; now, all of you
carefully remember this; be most careful not to let Don Melchior or any
other inhabitant of the hacienda suppose, either from your words or
actions, that you foresee a misfortune; but watch carefully, so as not
to let yourselves be surprised, and take your precautions accordingly."

"We will watch, trust to me," the vaquero replied; "but I have an
objection to offer, my friend, which is not without justice."

"What is it?"

"How shall I manage to get into the hacienda and remain there without
arousing suspicions? This appears to me rather difficult."

"No, you are mistaken; no one at the hacienda knows you but Leo Carral,
I think?"

"That is true."

"Well, you will go there as a Frenchman, a friend of the Count de la
Saulay; and for greater security you will pretend, not to understand a
word of Spanish."

"Permit me," Ludovic observed, "I have spoken several times to Don
Andrés about an intimate friend attached to the French Legation at
Mexico, and whom I expect to visit me at the hacienda at any moment."

"Perfect, Dominique will pass for him, and if he likes, he can talk
broken Spanish; what is the name of the friend you expect?"

"Charles de Meriadec."

"Very good, Dominique will christen himself so; while he is at the
hacienda I will arrange that the man whose name he temporarily assumes,
does not come to disturb him."

"Hum, that is important."

"Fear nothing, I will arrange it; so that is settled; and tomorrow
Monsieur Charles de Meriadec will arrive at the hacienda."

"He will be well received then," Ludovic replied with a smile.

"As for you, Leo Carral, I have no recommendations to give you."

"No, no, my measures have been taken for a long time past," the
majordomo replied; "I have only now to arrange with these gentlemen."

"All is going well, so now let us separate: I should have been a long
way off by this time."

"Are you leaving us already, my friend?" Doña Dolores asked with
emotion.

"I must, my child; be of good cheer, and have confidence in God; during
my absence He will watch over you; farewell."

The adventurer pressed the Count's hand for the last time, kissed the
young lady's forehead, and leapt into the saddle.

"Let me see you again soon," Doña Dolores said to him.

"Tomorrow you will see your friend Meriadec," Dominique said with a
laugh, and he started at a gallop after the adventurer.

"Are you going back with us to the hacienda?" the Count asked the
majordomo.

"Why not?" he replied; "I shall be supposed to have met you during your
ride."

"That is true."

They remounted, and cantered toward the hacienda, which they reached a
little before sunset.



CHAPTER XII.

POLITICAL.


The closing months of 18-- had arrived. Political events were beginning
to press on each other with such rapidity that the least enlightened
minds already understood that they were hurrying towards an imminent
catastrophe. In the South, the troops of General Gutiérrez had gained
a great victory over the constitutional army commanded by General
Don Diego Álvarez (the same who at an earlier period presided at
Guaymas over the court martial that condemned to death our unfortunate
countryman and friend Count Gaston de Raousset Boulbon). The carnage of
the Puitos Indians had been immense: 1200 remained on the battlefield,
and the artillery and abundant materiel fell into the hands of the
victor. But at the same period, there commenced in the interior a
series of opposite events: the first was the flight of Zuloaga, that
president who, after abdicating in favour of Miramón, revoked that
abdication one day without knowing exactly why, without consulting
anyone, and at the moment when it was least expected.

General Miramón then loyally offered to the President of the Supreme
Court of Justice to assume the executive power and convoke the
assembly of the Notables to have himself elected chief magistrate of
the Republic. While this was happening, a new catastrophe added fresh
dangers to the situation. Miramón, whom his continual victories had
probably endowed with imprudent confidence, or more probably impelled
by the desire to come to an end in some way or another, offered battle
at Silao to forces four times his own. He suffered a complete rout,
lost his artillery, and was himself on the point of perishing: it was
only by performing prodigies of valour, and killing with his own hand
several of those that surrounded him, that he succeeded in cutting his
way out of the mêlée and escaping to Queretaro, where he arrived almost
alone. From this place, Miramón, not allowing himself to be crushed
by misfortunes, returned to Mexico, whose inhabitants thus learned
simultaneously his defeat, his arrival, and his intention to offer
himself for election.

The result did not disappoint the secret expectations of the general:
he was elected President by the chamber of Notables almost unanimously.
The general, who knew how time pressed, took the oaths, and immediately
entered on his duties. Although materially the defeat at Silao was
almost nothing, still from a moral point of view the effect produced
was immense. Miramón understood this: he actively employed himself
in restoring a little order in the finances, creating resources,
precarious but sufficient for the urgent necessities of the moment in
raising fresh troops, and taking all the precautions that prudence
suggested. Unfortunately the president was constrained to abandon
several important points in order to concentrate his forces round
Mexico, and these various movements, ill understood by the people,
alarmed them and made them apprehend approaching misfortunes. Under
these circumstances, the president, wishing doubtless to satisfy public
opinion and restore a little tranquillity to the capital, consented
to enter into negotiations with his rival Juárez, which, if they did
not lead to peace, might at any rate produce an armistice which would
temporarily check bloodshed. Unluckily, a fresh complication rendered
all hope of an arrangement impossible.

General Márquez had been sent to the relief of Guadalajara, which
town, it was supposed continued successfully to resist the federal
troops; but all at once, after the federals had carried off a conducta
de plata belonging to English merchants, an armistice was concluded
between the two belligerent corps--an armistice with which the money
of the conducta had no doubt a great deal to do--and General Castillo,
commandant of Guadalajara, abandoned by the majority of his troops,
found himself compelled to leave the town and take refuge on the
Pacific: so that the federals, freed from this obstacle, combined
against Márquez, defeated him, and destroyed his corps, the only one
that still kept the field. The situation thus became more and more
critical: the federals meeting with no further obstacle or resistance
in their victorious march, rose up on all sides and every hope of
negotiations was lost. Fighting must go on at all risks. The fall of
Miramón, consequently, could only be a question of time: the General
doubtless perfectly comprehended this, but he did not let it be seen,
and, on the contrary, redoubled his ardour and activity in order to
parry the incessantly rising embarrassments of his situation.

After appealing to all classes of society, the General at length
resolved to apply to the clergy, whom he had always supported and
protected: they replied to his appeal, raised a tithe on their lands,
and resolved to carry to the mint their gold and silver ornaments,
to be melted and placed at the disposal of the executive power.
Unfortunately, all these efforts were thrown away, the expenses
increased in a ratio with the continually growing dangers of the
situation, and ere long Miramón, after vainly employing all the
expedients which his critical position suggested to him, found himself
with an empty treasury and the sorrowful conviction that it was useless
to dream of refilling it.

We have already had occasion to explain how as each State of the
Mexican confederation remains in possession of the public funds during
a period of revolution, the government sitting at Mexico finds itself
almost continually in a state of utter penury, because it only has
the funds of the State of Mexico at its disposal, while its rivals,
on the contrary, constantly beating up the country in all directions,
not only stop the conductas de plata and appropriate very considerable
sums without the slightest remorse, but also plunder the exchequer of
all the States they enter, carry off the money without the slightest
scruple, and thus find themselves in a position to carry on the war
without disadvantage.

Now, that we have rapidly sketched the political situation in which
Mexico was, we will resume our narrative in the early days of Nov.
18--, that is to say, about six weeks after the period when we
interrupted it. Night was advancing, shadows were already invading the
plain, the oblique beams of the setting sun, gradually expelled from
the valleys, were still clinging to the snowy peaks of the mountains
of Anahuac, which they tinged with vermillion hues: the breeze rustled
through the foliage: vaqueros, mounted on horses as wild as themselves,
were driving across the plain large herds which had wandered all day
at liberty, but at night returned to the corral. In the distance
could be heard tingling the mule bells of some belated arrieros, who
were hurrying to reach the magnificent highway lined enormous aloes,
contemporaries of Motecuhzoma, which runs to Mexico.

A traveller, mounted on a powerful horse and carefully wrapped in the
folds of a cloak which was pulled up to his eyes, was slowly following
the capricious windings of a narrow track which, cutting across
country, joined at about two leagues from the town the high road from
Mexico to Puebla, a road at this moment completely deserted, not only
on account of the approach of night, but also because the state of
anarchy into which the country had so long been plunged, had let loose
numerous bands of brigands who, taking advantage of the circumstances
and waging war in their own way, stripped without any distinction of
political opinion both constitutionals and liberals, and emboldened by
impunity, did not always content themselves with the highway, but even
entered the towns to carry on their depredations. Still, the traveller
to whom we allude appeared to trouble himself very little about the
risks he ran, and continued his venturesome ride at the same quiet and
gentle rate. He went on thus for about three quarters of an hour, and
was not more than a league from the city when, happening to raise his
head, he perceived that he had reached a spot where the track parted
and ran to the right and left: he halted with evident hesitation, but a
moment later took the right hand track. The traveller, after going in
this direction for about ten minutes appeared to know where he was, for
he gave his horse a slight touch of the spur, and made it break into
a long trot. Ere long he reached a pile of blackened ruins, scattered
disorderly over the ground, and near which grew a clump of trees whose
long branches overshadowed the earth around them for a considerable
distance. On reaching this spot, the horseman halted, and after looking
searchingly around him, evidently to make sure that he was alone, he
dismounted, sat down comfortably on a sod of grass, leant against
a tree, threw back his cloak and revealed the pale worn features of
the wounded man whom we saw conducted to the rancho by Dominique, the
vaquero.

Don Antonio de Caserbaz, for such was his name, only appeared the
shadow of his former self--a sort of mournful spectre. His whole life
appeared concentrated in his eyes, which flashed with a sinister gleam
like those of fawns; but in this body, apparently so weak, it could be
seen that an ardent mind and energetic will were enclosed, and that
this man, who had emerged a victor from an obstinate struggle with
death, was pursuing with unswerving obstinacy the execution of dark
resolutions previously formed by him. Scarce cured from his frightful
wound, still very weak, and only enduring with extreme difficulty the
fatigue of a long ride, he had, for all that, imposed silence on his
sufferings, to come thus at nightfall nearly three leagues from Mexico
to a rendezvous which he had himself requested. The motives for such
conduct, especially in his state of weakness, must be of very great
importance to him.

A few minutes elapsed, during which Don Antonio, with his arms crossed
on his chest, and his eyes closed, reflected, and in all probability
prepared himself for the interview he was about to have with the person
he had come so far to see. All at once a sound of horses, mingled with
the clank of sabres, announced that a rather large troop of horsemen
was approaching the spot where Don Antonio was waiting. He drew himself
up, looked nervously in the direction whence the noise came, and rose,
doubtless to receive his visitor. They were fifty in number. They
halted about fifteen paces from the ruins, but remained in the saddle.
Only one of them dismounted, threw his bridle to a horseman, and
walked up to Don Antonio, who, on his side, advanced to meet him.

"Who are you?" Don Antonio asked in a low voice, when he was but five
or six yards from the stranger.

"The man you are expecting, señor Don Antonio," the other immediately
replied; "Colonel Don Felipe Neri Irzabel, at your service."

"Yes, it is you. I recognise you. Approach."

"It is very lucky. Well, señor Don Antonio," the Colonel replied,
offering his hand; "and your health?"

"Bad," said Don Antonio, falling back without touching the hand that
the guerillero offered him.

The latter did not notice this movement, or, if he did, attached no
importance to it.

"You have come with a large escort," Don Antonio continued.

"Caray! Do you fancy, my dear sir, that I have any wish to fall into
the hands of Miramón's scouts? My account would be soon settled if they
caught me. But I fancy that in spite of all the pleasure we feel at
meeting, we had better attend to business without delay. What is your
opinion?"

"I wish for nothing better."

"The General thanks you for the last information you sent him--it was
scrupulously exact; hence he has sworn to reward you as you deserve, so
soon as the occasion offers."

Don Antonio made a gesture of disgust.

"Have you the paper?" he asked, with some degree of eagerness.

"Of course," the Colonel answered.

"Drawn up as I requested?"

"Everything is in it, señor, so set your mind at rest," the Colonel
continued, with a coarse laugh.

"Where could honesty be found at the present day, except among people
of our stamp? What you stipulated is accepted. The whole is signed,
'Ortoga, General-in-Chief of the Federal Army,' and countersigned,
'Juárez, President of the Republic.' Are you satisfied?"

"I will answer you, señor, when I have seen the paper."

"Nothing easier. Here it is," the guerillero said, drawing a large
envelope from his dolman, and presenting it to Don Antonio.

The latter seized it with a movement of joy, and broke the seal with a
febrile hand.

"You will have a difficulty in reading at this moment," the Colonel
said, with a knowing look.

"Do you think so?" Don Antonio asked, ironically.

"Haugh! It is very dark, it strikes me."

"That is of no consequence. I will soon have a light:" and rubbing a
lucifer match on a stone, he lit a rolled up taper, which he drew from
his pocket.

As he read, a lively satisfaction was legible on his face. At length he
put out the taper, folded up the paper, which he carefully secured in
his pocketbook, and then addressed the Colonel.

"Señor, you will thank General Ortega from me. He has behaved toward me
like a perfect caballero."

The guerillero bowed. "I will not fail, señor," he answered;
"especially if you have an information to add to that which you have
already given us."

"I certainly have, and of a very important nature."

"Ah! Ah!" said the other, rubbing his hands eagerly; "pray let me have
it, my dear señor."

"Listen, then. Miramón is at the last gasp. He wants money, and cannot
possibly obtain any. The troops, nearly all recruits, badly armed, and
worse clothed, have not been paid for two months, and are murmuring."

"Very good! Poor dear Miramón! He is in a very bad way, then?"

"The worse for him is, that the clergy, who promised at the outset to
come to his assistance, have now refused their help."

"But," the guerillero remarked, ironically, "how is it that you are so
well informed, my dear sir?"

"Do you not know that I am attaché to the Spanish Embassy?"

"That is true--I forgot it; pray excuse me. What more do you know?"

"The ranks of the partizans of the President are daily growing thinner:
his old friends are abandoning him. Hence, in order to raise him
slightly in public opinion, he has resolved to attempt a sortie, and
attack General Bercozabal's division."

"Come, come! That is worth knowing!"

"You are warned."

"Thanks! We will be on our guard. Is that all?"

"Not yet. Reduced, as I told you, to the last extremity, and wishing to
procure money--no matter by what means, Miramón has resolved to imitate
the robbery of the conducta of 'Laguna Seca,' effected by your party."

"I know," the Colonel interrupted, rubbing his hands. "It was I who
carried out that _negotiation_. Unfortunately," he added, with a sigh
of regret, "such hauls are rare."

"Miramón has therefore resolved," Don Antonio continued, "to carry off
the money of the Convention, which is at this moment at the British
Legation."

"That is a superb idea! Those fiends of heretics will be furious!
Who is the man of genius who suggested to him this idea, which will
infallibly ruin him with England? For the gringos do not understand
jests in money matters."

"I am aware of it: and hence the idea was suggested through my
influence!"

"Señor!" the guerillero said majestically; "In this instance you have
deserved well of your country. But the amount cannot be large?"

"It is a tolerably round sum."

"Ah, ah! How much at a guess?"

"Six hundred and sixty thousand piastres (£132,000)."

The guerillero was dazzled.

"Caray!" he exclaimed, with conviction; "I lay down my arms before him.
He is stronger than I. The affair of the Laguna Seca was nothing in
comparison. But with this sum, hang it all! He will be in a condition
to recommence the war."

"It is too late now; we have arranged for that, and the money will be
spent in a few days," Don Antonio remarked with an ugly smile: "trust
to us for that."

"May Heaven grant it!"

"Such, for the present, is all the information it is possible for me to
give you; I consider it tolerably important."

"Caray," the guerillero exclaimed, "it could not be more so."

"I hope, in a few days, to give you some of a more serious nature."

"Here?"

"Here at the same hour, and by means of the same signal."

"That is settled. Ah! the General will be highly delighted to learn all
this."

"Now let us come to our second matter--that which concerns us two
alone; what have you done since I saw you last?"

"Not much; I have not the means at this moment to enter into the
difficult researches with which you commissioned me."

"And yet the reward is a fine one."

"I do not say it is not," the guerillero replied absently.

Don Antonio gave him a piercing glance.

"Do you doubt my word?" he said haughtily.

"It is my principle never to doubt anything, señor," the Colonel
answered.

"The sum is a large one."

"That is the very thing that terrifies me."

"What do you mean? Explain yourself, Don Felipe."

"On my word," he exclaimed, suddenly making up his mind, "it is, I
believe, the best thing I can do, so listen to me."

"Speak."

"Above all, do not be vexed, my dear señor; business is business, hang
it all, and must be treated on the square."

"That is my opinion too, go on."

"Well, then, you offered me fifty thousand piastres to--"

"I know what for, so pass over it."

"I am quite agreeable: now fifty thousand piastres form a considerable
sum; I have only your word as security."

"Is it not sufficient?"

"Not quite. I know very well that between gentlemen a word is a bond;
but where business is concerned, it is no longer so. I believe you to
be very rich, as you say you are, and as you offer me fifty thousand
piastres; but what proof have I that when the moment arrives to pay me
you will be in a position to do so, however good your will may be?"

Don Antonio, while the guerillero was laying down the matter so
distinctly, suffered from a dull wrath, which was twenty times on
the point of bursting forth, but fortunately he restrained it, and
succeeded in retaining his coolness.

"Well, then, what do you desire?" he asked him in a choking voice.

"Nothing for the present, señor; let us finish our resolution. So soon
as we enter Mexico--which I hope both for you and me will not be long
first--you will take me to a banker I know: he will be responsible for
the sum, and all will be settled. Does that suit you?"

"I can't help myself; but till then?"

"We have more pressing matters to attend to. Some days more or less are
of no consequence, and now that we have nothing more to say to each
other for the present, permit me to take leave of you, my dear sir."

"You are at liberty to retire, señor," Don Antonio replied drily.

"I kiss your hands, my dear sir, and trust I shall see you again
shortly."

"Farewell."

Don Felipe bowed cavalierly to the Spaniard, turned on his heels,
rejoined his cuadrilla, and set off at full speed, followed by his
partisans.

As for Don Antonio, he went back pensively and slowly to Mexico, where
he arrived two hours later.

"Oh!" he muttered, as he pulled up before the house he occupied in the
Calle de Tacuba; "In spite of heaven and hell I will succeed."

What was the meaning of these sinister words which seem to contain the
result of his long meditation?



CHAPTER XIII.

THE CONVENTION BONDS.


Reddish tints were striping the snowy peaks of the Popocatepetl, the
last stars were expiring in the heavens, and opaline gleams were
tinting the summit of the buildings; day was just beginning to break.
Mexico was still sleeping; its silent streets were only disturbed at
long intervals by the hurried footfalls of a few Indians arriving from
the neighbouring pueblos to sell their fruit and vegetables. A few
pulqueros' shops alone timidly set their doors ajar, and were preparing
to serve to the early customers the dose of strong liquor, that
obligado prologue of every day's work. Half-past four struck from the
Sagrario; at this moment a horseman emerged from the Calle de Tacuba,
crossed the Plaza Mayor at a sharp trot, and pulled up right in front
of the gates of the palace of the presidency, which were guarded by two
sentries.

"Who goes there?" one of them shouted.

"A friend," the horseman replied.

"Pass, friend."

"Certainly not," the horseman answered, "for I have business here."

"You wish to enter the palace?"

"Yes."

"It is too soon; come back in two hours."

"In two hours it will be too late, and so I must enter at once."

"Stuff," the sentry said jeeringly, and then added to his companion:
"What do you think of that, Pedrito?"

"Well, well," the other replied with a grin; "I think that the
gentleman must be a stranger, who is making a mistake, and fancies
himself at the door of a mesón."

"Enough of that insolence, scoundrels," the horseman said sternly; "I
have lost too much time already. Warn the officer of the guard, and
make haste about it."

The tone employed by the stranger appeared to make a powerful
impression on the soldiers. After consulting together for a moment in
a whisper--as after all the stranger was in the right, and what he
demanded was provided for in their orders--they resolved to satisfy
him by striking the door with the butt of their muskets. Two or
three minutes later, this door was opened, and offered a passage to
a sergeant, who could be easily recognised by the vine-wood stick,
symbol of his rank, which he carried in his left hand. After enquiring
of the sentries the reason of their summons, he bowed politely to the
stranger, begged him to wait a moment, and went in, leaving the door
open behind him, but almost immediately reappeared, preceding a captain
in full dress uniform. The horseman bowed to the captain, and repeated
the request which he had previously made to the sentries.

"I am very sorry to refuse you, señor," the officer replied, "but my
orders prohibit me from letting anyone into the palace before eight
o'clock; if the reason that brings you here is serious, be kind enough
therefore to return at that hour, and nobody will oppose your entrance."

And he bowed as if taking leave.

"Pardon me, Captain," the horseman continued; "one word more, if you
please."

"Say it, señor."

"It is unnecessary for anyone but yourself to hear it."

"Nothing is easier, señor," the officer replied, as he came near enough
to touch the stranger; "now speak."

The horseman leant down, and murmured in a low voice a few words, which
the officer listened to with marks of the most profound surprise.

"Are you satisfied now, Captain?"

"Perfectly, señor;" and turning to the sergeant, who was standing a few
yards off, he said "open the gate."

"It is unnecessary," the stranger remarked; "with your permission I
will dismount here, and a soldier can hold my horse."

"As you please, señor."

The horseman dismounted, and threw the bridle to the sergeant, who held
it till a private should come to take his place.

"Now, Captain," the stranger continued, "if you wish to set the seal on
your kindness by leading me yourself to the person who expects me, I am
at your orders."

"I am at yours, señor," the officer replied, "and since you desire it,
I shall have the honour of accompanying you."

They then entered the palace, leaving behind them the sergeant and two
sentries in a state of the utmost surprise. Preceded by the captain,
the horseman passed through several rooms, which, in spite of the early
hour, were always crowded, not by visitors, but officers of all ranks,
senators and councillors of the Supreme Court, who seemed to have spent
the night at the palace. A great agitation prevailed among the groups,
among which were blended officers, members of the clergy, and the chief
merchants; they were conversing with considerable animation, but in a
low voice; the general expression of faces was gloomy and anxious. The
two men at length reached the door of a study guarded, by two sentries;
an usher, with a silver chain round his neck, was slowly walking up and
down; at the sight of the two men he hurried up to them.

"You have arrived, señor," said the Captain.

"I have now only to take my leave of you, señor, and offer you my
thanks for your politeness," the horseman answered.

They bowed, and the Captain returned to his post.

"His Excellency cannot receive at this moment; there was an
extraordinary council this night, and his Excellency has given orders
that he is to be left alone," said the usher, bowing ceremoniously to
the stranger.

"His Excellency will make an exception in my favour," the stranger
remarked gently.

"I doubt it, señor; the order is general, and I dare not break it."

The stranger appeared to reflect for a moment.

The usher waited, evidently surprised that the stranger should
persevere in remaining. The other at length raised his head; "I
understand, señor," he said, "how sacred the order you have received
must be to you, hence I have no intention of urging you to disobey
it; still, as the subject that brings me here is of the most serious
nature, let me implore you to do me a service."

"To oblige you, señor, I will do anything that is compatible with the
duties of my office."

"I thank you, señor; however, I assure you, and you will soon receive
proof of my assertion, that, far from reprimanding you, his Excellency,
the President, will feel obliged to you for allowing me to reach his
presence."

"I had the honour of remarking to you, señor--"

"Let me explain to you what I want of you," the stranger interrupted
quickly, "then you will tell me whether you can or cannot do me the
service I ask of you."

"That is fair, speak, señor."

"I will write one word on a piece of paper, and this paper you will
place before his Excellency's eyes, without saying a word, if his
Excellency says nothing to you; I will withdraw; you see there is no
difficulty about it, and that you will in no way transgress the orders
you have received."

"That is true," the usher replied, with a meaning smile, "but I evade
them."

"Do you see any difficulty in doing so?"

"Is it very necessary, then, that you should see his Excellency this
morning?" the usher continued, without answering the question asked him.

"Señor don Livio," the stranger answered in a grave voice, "for though
you do not know me, I know you, I am aware of your devotion to General
Miramón; well, on my honour and faith as a Christian, I swear to you
that it is most urgent for him that I should see him without delay."

"That is sufficient, señor," the usher replied; seriously, "if it only
depended on myself, you would be with him at this moment; there are
paper, pen and ink, on that table, please to write."

The horseman thanked him, took up a pen and wrote in large letters, in
the middle of a sheet, this one word,

ADOLFO

followed by three dots, arranged in a triangle, and then handed it to
the usher.

"There," he said to him.

The usher gazed at him with amazement.

"What!" he exclaimed, "You are--"

"Silence," the stranger said, laying his finger on his lips.

"Oh, you will enter," the usher added, and opening the door, he
disappeared.

But almost immediately the door was opened again, and a powerful voice,
which did not belong to the usher, shouted twice from the interior of
the cabinet,

"Come in, come in."

The stranger entered.

"Come," the President continued, "Come, my dear Don Adolfo, it is
Heaven that sends you," and he advanced towards him, holding out his
hand.

Don Adolfo respectfully pressed the President's hand, and sat down in
an armchair by his side. At the moment when we bring him on the stage,
President Miramón, the general whose name was in every mouth, and who
was justly considered the first warrior of Mexico, as he was her best
administrator, was quite a young man: he was scarce _six-and-twenty
years of age_, and yet, what noble and grand actions he had
accomplished during the three years he had been in power! Physically,
he was tall and elegantly formed; his manner was full of ease; his
features, delicate, distinguished, and full of cleverness, displayed
boldness and intelligence; his wide forehead was already wrinkled by
the effect of thought; his well-opened black eyes had a straight and
clear glance, whose depth, at times disturbed those upon whom he fixed
them; his rather pale face and eyes bordered by a wide brown circle
evidenced a long want of sleep.

"Ah," he said gladly, as he fell back in an easy chair, "my good genius
has returned, he is going to bring me back my happiness, that has fled."

Don Adolfo shook his head mournfully.

"What is the meaning of that movement, my friend?" the President
continued.

"This means, General, that I fear it is too late."

"Too late! How so? Do you not think me capable of taking a startling
revenge on my enemies?"

"I think you capable of every great and noble action, General," he
replied; "unfortunately treachery surrounds you on all sides, and your
friends are deserting you."

"That is only too true," the General said bitterly; "the clergy and
the chief merchants, whose protector I constituted myself, whom I
have defended everywhere and always, selfishly allow me to exhaust
my last resources in protecting them, without deigning to come to
my assistance, they will most likely regret me, if, as is only too
probable, I succumb through their fault."

"Yes, that is true, General, and in the council which you held this
night, of course you assured yourself in a definite manner of the
intentions of these men to whom you have sacrificed everything."

"Yes," he said, frowning, and laying a bitter stress on his words, "to
all my requests, to all my observations, they only gave one and the
same answer: We cannot. They had agreed on it beforehand."

"Pardon my frankness, General, but in that case your position must be
extremely critical."

"Say precarious, and you will be nearer the truth, my friend; the
treasury is completely empty, and it is impossible for me to fill it
again; the army, having received no pay for two months, are murmuring,
and threaten to disband; my officers are going over, one after the
other, to the enemy; the latter is advancing by forced marches on
Mexico; such is the true situation, what do you think of it?"

"It is sad, horribly sad, General; and pardon me the question, and
what do you intend doing to parry the danger?"

The General, instead of answering him, gave him a piercing glance.

"But before we go further, General," Don Adolfo continued, "permit me,
General, to give you an account of my own operations."

"Oh! They have been successful, I feel convinced," the General replied
with a smile.

"I hope that you will find them so, Excellency; do you authorize me to
make my report?"

"Do so, do so, my friend; I long to hear what you have accomplished for
the defence of our noble cause."

"Oh, pardon, General," Don Adolfo said quickly; "I am only an
adventurer, and my devotion is entirely personal to yourself."

"Good, I understand; let me hear this report."

"In the first place, I succeeded in taking from General Dyollado the
remains of the conducta which he carried off at the Laguna Seca."

"Good, that is honourable warfare; for it was with the money of that
conducta that he took Guadalajara from me. Oh, Castello! Well, how much
is it?"

"Two hundred and sixty thousand piastres."

"Hum! A very decent amount."

"Is it not? I next surprised that bandit Cuellar; after that his worthy
partner Carvajal, and lastly their friend Felipe Irzabal had a row with
me; without counting several partizans of Juárez, whom their evil star
brought across my track."

"But the total from these various encounters, my friend?"

"Nine hundred and odd thousand piastres; the guerilleros of the worthy
Juárez are excellent shearing, for they have their arms free, and take
advantage of it to fatten themselves by fishing largely in troubled
waters. In short, I bring you about twelve hundred thousand piastres,
which will be brought here on mules within an hour, and which you are
at liberty to place in the treasury."

"Why, this is magnificent."

"I do what I can, General."

"Hang it all! If all my friends were to beat up the country with such
excellent results, I should soon be rich, and able to carry on the war
vigorously. Unfortunately that is not the case; but this sum, added
to what I have been able to procure in another quarter, makes a very
decent amount."

"What other sum are you alluding to, General? You have found money,
then?"

"Yes," he replied with some hesitation; "a friend of mine, attaché to
the Spanish embassy, suggested the means to me."

Don Adolfo bounded as if he had been stung by a viper.

"Calm yourself, my friend," the General said quickly; "I know that you
are an enemy of the duke; still, since his arrival in Mexico, he has
rendered me great services, as you cannot deny."

The adventurer was pale and gloomy, and made no reply. The General
continued, for, like all honestly-minded men, he felt the necessity of
exculpating himself from a bad action, although the utmost pressure
alone compelled him to commit it. "The duke," he said, "after the
defeat of Silao, when everything failed me at the same moment,
succeeded in inducing Spain to recognize my government, which was very
useful to me, as you will allow, I think?"

"Yes, yes, I allow it, General. Oh, Heaven! What I was told is true,
then!"

"And what were you told?"

"That, being reduced to the last extremity through the obstinate
refusal of the clergy and merchants to assist you, you had formed a
terrible resolution."

"It is true," the General, said, hanging his head.

"But perhaps it is not too late yet; I bring you money; your situation
is changed, and with your permission I will go--"

"Listen," the General said, checking him by a look. The door had just
been opened.

"Did I not forbid you disturbing me?" the President said to the usher,
who was standing respectfully before him.

"General Márquez, Excellency," the usher answered impassively.

The President started, and a slight flush spread over his face.

"Let him come in," he said sharply.

General Márquez appeared.

"Well?" the President asked him.

"It is done," the General replied laconically; "the money is paid into
the treasury."

"How did it come off?" the President continued, with an imperceptible
tremor in his voice.

"I received your Excellency's orders to proceed with a respectable
force to the legation of Her British Majesty, and request of the
English representative the immediate surrender of the funds destined
to pay the bondholders of the English debt, while observing to the
representative that the sum was at this moment indispensable to your
Excellency, in order to place the city in a posture of defence;
moreover, I pledged your Excellency's word for the restitution of
the sum, which must only be regarded as a loan for a few days, and: I
also offered to arrange with your Excellency the mode of payment which
would be most agreeable to him. To all my observations the English
representative restricted himself to replying that the money did not
belong to him, that he was only the responsible holder, and that it was
impossible for him to surrender it. Perceiving that all my objections
must fail in presence of an invincible resolution, after an hour spent
in useless discussion, I at length determined to execute the last
part of the orders I had received; I ordered my soldiers to break the
official seals, and I removed all the money I found, being careful to
have it counted twice in the presence of witnesses, in order to be sure
of the amount of money which I appropriated, in order to restore it in
full hereafter. I thus carried off one million four hundred thousand
piastres (£240,000), which were immediately transported to the palace
by my orders."

After this succinct narration, General Márquez bowed, like a man
convinced that he has perfectly done his duty, and who expects
complimenting.

"And what did the English representative do then?" the President asked.

"After protesting, he hauled down his flag, and, followed by the
whole legation staff, left the city, declaring that he broke off all
relations with your Excellency's government, and that in the face of
the unjust act of spoliation to which he had been a victim,--such are
his own expressions,--he should retire to Jalapa, and await fresh
instructions from the British government."

"Very well, General, I thank you; I shall have the honour of conversing
with you more fully in a moment."

The General bowed and retired.

"You see, my friend," the General remarked, "it is now too late to
restore the money."

"Yes, the evil is irremediable, unhappily."

"What do you advise me?"

"General, you are at the bottom of an abyss; your rupture with England
is the greatest misfortune which can happen to you under the present
circumstances: you must conquer or die."

"I will conquer," the General exclaimed, hotly.

"May Heaven grant it!" the adventurer replied, sorrowfully; "For
victory alone can absolve you."

He rose.

"Are you leaving me already?" the President asked him.

"I must, Excellency; have I not to bring the money here, which I at
least took from your enemies?" Miramón hung his head sadly.

"Pardon me, General, I was wrong, I should not have spoken thus; do I
not know in my own case that misfortune is a bad adviser?"

"Have you nothing to ask of me?"

"Yes, a blank signature."

The General at once gave it to him.

"There," he said, "shall I see you again before your departure from
Mexico?"

"Yes, General--one word more."

"What is it?"

"Distrust that Spanish duke; he is betraying you."

He then took leave of the President, and withdrew.



CHAPTER XIV.

THE HOUSE IN THE SUBURBS.


At the palace gate Don Adolfo found his horse held by a soldier; he
at once leapt into the saddle, and after throwing a coin to the
asistente, he again crossed the Plaza Mayor, and entered the Calle de
Tacuba.

It was about nine in the morning; the streets were crowded with
pedestrians, horsemen, carriages, and carts, proceeding in all
directions. The city, in a word, was leading that feverish existence
of capitals during moments of a crisis, when all faces are restless,
all glances suspicious--when conversations are only held in a low
voice, and people are always led to suppose an enemy in the inoffensive
stranger whom accident makes them suddenly meet.

Don Adolfo, while rapidly advancing through the streets, did not
fail to observe what was going on around him; the ill-disguised
restlessness, the growing anxiety of the population did not escape him.
Earnestly attached to General Miramón, whose noble character, lofty
ideas, and, above all, his real desire for the welfare of his country,
had attracted him, he felt a profound mental grief at the sight of
the general despondency of the masses, and the disaffection of the
people toward the only man, who at this moment, had he been honestly
supported, was able to save them from the government of Juárez--that
is to say, from anarchy organised by the terrorism of the sabre. He
continued to advance without appearing to pay any attention to what
was going on, or to what was being said in the groups collected on the
doorsteps, in the shops, or at the corners of the streets, groups in
which the carrying off of the English money by General Márquez upon the
peremptory order of the President of the Republic, was being discussed
and appreciated in a thousand different ways.

Still, on entering the suburbs, Don Adolfo found the population calmer;
the news had now spread there to any great extent, and those who knew
it appeared to trouble themselves very slightly about it, or perhaps
considered it perfectly simple, although it was really a most arbitrary
act of power. Don Adolfo perfectly understood this distinction; the
inhabitants of the Faubourg, mostly poor people belonging to the lowest
class of the population, were indifferent to an act which could not
affect them, and by which only the rich city merchants could be hurt.
On coming near the Guard, or Gate of Helen, he at length stopped before
an isolated house, of modest, though not poor appearance, whose door
was carefully closed. At the sound of his horse's hoofs, a window was
half opened, a cry of delight was raised in the interior of the house,
and a moment later the gate was thrown wide open to let him pass in.
Don Adolfo entered, crossed the zaguán, reached the patio, where he
dismounted, and fastened his horse to a ring fixed in the wall.

"Why take that trouble, Don Jaime?" a lady who appeared in the patio,
said in a soft and melodious voice; "Do you intend to leave us so
quickly?"

"Perhaps so, sister," Don Adolfo, or Don Jaime made answer; "I can only
remain a very little time with you, in spite of my lively desire to
grant you several hours."

"Very good, brother; in the doubt you can let José lead your horse to
the corral, where it will be more comfortable than in the patio."

"Do as you please, sister."

"You hear, José?" the lady said to an old man servant; "Lead Moreno
to the corral, rub him down carefully, and give him a double feed of
alfalfa. Come, brother," she added, passing her arm through Don Jaime's.

The latter offered no objection, and both entered the home. The chamber
they went into was a dining room, plainly furnished, but with that
taste and neatness which denote assiduous attention; the table was laid
for three persons.

"You will breakfast with us, I suppose, brother?"

"With pleasure; but before all, sister, kiss me, and tell me all about
my niece."

"She will be here in an instant; as for her cousin, he is absent, do
you know it?"

"I fancied he had returned."

"Not yet, and we all were very anxious about him, as we are about you,
for he leads a most mysterious life: going off without saying where to,
staying away frequently a very long time, and then returning without
saying where he comes from."

"Patience, Maria, patience! Do you not know," he said with a shade of
sorrow in his voice, "that we are toiling for you and your daughter?
Some day, ere long I hope, all will be cleared up."

"Heaven grant it, Don Jaime; but we are very solitary, and very anxious
in this small house; the country is in a state of utter disturbance,
the roads are infested by brigands; we tremble every moment lest you or
Don Estevan may have fallen into the hands of Cuellar, Carvajal, or El
Rayo, those bandits without faith or law, about whom frightful stories
are daily told us."

"Reassure yourself, sister, Cuellar, Carbajal, and even El Rayo," he
replied with a smile, "are not so terrible as people think proper to
represent to you; however, I only ask a little patience of you; before
a month, I repeat, sister, all mystery shall cease, and justice be
done."

"Justice!" Doña Maria murmured, with a sigh; "Will that justice restore
me my lost happiness--my son?"

"Sister," he replied with some degree of solemnity, "why doubt the
power of Heaven? Hope, I tell you."

"Alas! Don Jaime, do you really understand the full import of that
remark? Do you know what it is to say to a mother: hope?"

"Maria, do I need to repeat to you that you and your sister are the
two sole ties that attach me to life, that I have devoted my entire
existence to you, sacrificing for the sake of seeing you one day happy,
avenged and restored to the high rank from which you ought not to
have descended, all the joys of family life and all the excitement of
ambition. Do you suppose that you would see me so calm and resolute if
I did not feel the certainty of being on the point of attaining that
object which I have pursued for so many years with so much perseverance
and such great obstinacy? Do you not know me still? Have you no further
confidence in me?"

"Yes, yes, brother, I have faith in you," she exclaimed, as she sank in
his arms; "and that is why I incessantly tremble, even when you tell me
to hope, because I know that nothing can check you, that every obstacle
raised before you will be overthrown, every peril met, and I fear lest
you may succumb in this mad struggle sustained solely on my behalf."

"And for the honour of our name, sister--do not forget that--in order
to restore to an illustrious coat of arms its now tarnished splendour;
but enough of this, here is my niece; of all this conversation,
remember but one word, which I repeat to you--hope!"

"Oh! Oh! Thanks, brother," she said, embracing him for the last time.

At this moment a door opened, and a young lady appeared.

"Ah, my uncle, my dear uncle!" she exclaimed eagerly approaching him
and offering him her cheek, which he kissed several times; "At last you
have arrived, and are most welcome."

"What is the matter, Caruna, my child?" he asked affectionately; "Your
eyes are red, you are pale, you have been crying again."

"It is nothing, uncle--the folly of a nervous and anxious woman, that
is all; have you not brought Don Estevan back with you?"

"No," he replied lightly, "he will not return for some days; but he
is perfectly well," he added, exchanging a significant look with Doña
Maria.

"Have you seen him?"

"Yes, only two days ago. I am slightly the cause of the delay, as I
insisted on his not yet returning, as I wanted him down there; but are
we not going to breakfast? I am literally dying of hunger," he said to
turn the conversation.

"Yes, directly, we were only waiting for Caruna: now she is here, let
us sit down," and she rang a bell.

The same old servant who had led Don Jaime's horse to the corral, came
in.

"You can serve, José," Doña Caruna said to him.

They sat down to table and began their meal.

We will trace in a few lines the portrait of the two ladies whom the
exigencies of our narrative have compelled us to bring on the scene.
The first, Doña Maria, Don Jaime's sister, was still a beautiful woman,
although her sunken and worn features bore traces of great sorrows;
her carriage was noble, her manner graceful, and her smile sweet and
sad. Although she could not be more than forty-two, her hair had turned
perfectly white, and formed a striking contrast with her black eyebrows
and bright flashing eyes, which revealed strength and youth. Doña Maria
was dressed in long mourning robes, which gave her a religious and
ascetic appearance.

Doña Caruna, her daughter, was twenty-two years of age at the most;
she was lovely as her mother--of whom she was the living portrait--had
been at her age. All about her was graceful and dainty; her voice had
an extraordinary sweet modulation, her pure brow evidenced candour, and
from her large black eyes, surmounted by eyebrows traced as if with
a pencil, and fringed with long velvety lashes, escaped a gentle and
hurried glance, filled with a strange charm. Her dress was simple: it
consisted of a white muslin robe, fastened at the waist by a wide blue
ribbon, and a mantilla of embroidered lace. Such were the two ladies.

In spite of the indifference he affected, Don Jaime, the adventurer,
was evidently restless and anxious--at times he held his fork in the
air, forgetting to carry it to his mouth, and apparently listening to
sounds perceptible to himself alone; at other times he sank into so
profound a reverie, that his sister or niece was forced to recall him
to himself by giving him a gentle tap.

"Really, there is something the matter with you, brother," Doña Maria
could not refrain from saying to him.

"Yes," the young lady added, "this preoccupation is not natural, uncle,
it alarms us: what is it?"

"Nothing, I assure you," he answered.

"Uncle, you are concealing something from us."

"You are mistaken, Caruna; I am not concealing anything from you, of a
personal nature at least; but at this moment such an agitation prevails
in the city, that I confess to you plainly I fear a catastrophe."

"Can it be so near at hand?"

"Oh! I do not think so; still, there may be meetings, disturbances, or
things of that sort. I advise you seriously, if you are not absolutely
obliged, not to leave the house today."

"Oh, not today, or tomorrow, brother," Doña Maria eagerly answered;
"for a long time past we have only gone out to go to mass."

"Not even to attend mass for some time hence, sister, I should advise
you."

"Is the danger so great then?" she asked anxiously.

"Yes and no, sister; we are in a critical moment when a government
is on the point of falling, and of being followed by another. You
understand that the government which is being overthrown today is
powerless to protect the citizens; on the other hand, the one that
succeeds it does not yet possess the power, or doubtless the will, to
watch over the public safety; now, under such circumstances, the wisest
course is to protect oneself."

"You really terrify me, brother."

"Good Heavens, uncle, what will become of us?" Doña Caruna exclaimed,
clasping her hands in horror; "These Mexicans frighten me--they are
thorough barbarians."

"Reassure yourself, they are not so wicked as you suppose; they are
badly educated, quarrelsome children, that is all; but their hearts are
good. I have known them for a long time, and can answer for their good
feelings."

"But you know, uncle, the hatred they entertain for us Spaniards."

"Unfortunately, I must allow that they repay us with interest the
injury which they accuse our forefathers of having done them, and
that they detest us cordially; but they do not know that you and I
are Spaniards, and believe you to be _hijas del país_, which is a
protection for you; as for Don Estevan, he passes for a Peruvian,
and everybody is convinced that I am a Frenchman; hence you see that
the danger is not so great as you suppose, and that you have nothing
to fear, at least for the present, if you commit no imprudent act;
besides, you will not remain without protection. I shall not leave you
alone in this house with an old man servant when a catastrophe is so
near at hand; hence, reassure yourselves."

"Are you going to remain with us, uncle."

"I should do so with the greatest pleasure, my dear child; but
unfortunately, I dare not promise it to you, as I fear that it will be
impossible."

"But uncle, what business of so important a nature?"

"Silence, curious one: give me a light for my cigarette, for I do not
know what I have done with my mechero."

"Yes," she went on, as she handed him a match, "always your old tactics
to change the conversation; really, uncle, you are a horrible man."

Don Jaime laughed and lit his cigarette.

"By the bye," he said presently, "have you seen anyone from the rancho?"

"Yes, a fortnight ago Loïck came with his wife Therese, and brought us
some cheeses and two jars of pulque."

"Did he say anything about the Arenal?"

"No, everything was going on there as usual."

"All the better."

"He merely mentioned a wounded man."

"Ah, ah, well."

"Good gracious, I do not remember exactly what he said."

"Stay uncle, I remember, these were the exact words, Señorita, when
you see your uncle, be kind enough to inform him that the wounded
man whom he placed in the vault in Lopez' charge, took advantage of
the absence of the latter to escape, and that in spite of all our
researches, we could not find him again."

"_Maldición!_" Don Jaime exclaimed furiously, "Why did not that ass of
a Dominique let him die like a wild beast: I suspected it would end
thus."

But noticing the surprise depicted on the face of the two ladies on
hearing these strange words, he broke off, and feigning the most
perfect indifference, remarked, "Is that all?"

"Yes uncle; but he recommended me carefully not to forget to warn you."

"Oh, the matter was not worth the trouble, but no matter my dear girl,
I thank you. Now," he added rising from table, "I am obliged to leave
you."

"Already!" the two ladies exclaimed, hurriedly leaping from their seats.

"I must, unless some unforeseen event happen, I must be at a meeting
tonight, a very long distance from here; but if I cannot return so soon
as I hope, I will take care to send Don Estevan in my place, so that
you may not remain without protectors."

"That will not be the same thing."

"I thank you; ah, by the way, before we separate, a word about business
matters. The money I gave you the last time I saw you must be nearly
exhausted, I suppose?"

"Oh, we do not spend much, brother, we live most economically, and a
decent sum is still left us."

"All the better sister, it is always preferable to have too much than
too little, hence, as I am tolerably well off at this moment, I have
put aside for you sixty ounces, of which I will request you to relieve
me."

And feeling in his dolman, he drew out a long red silk purse, through
the meshes of which gold could be seen glittering.

"That is too much, brother: what would you have us do with so large a
sum?"

"Whatever you like, sister, that does not concern me: come, take it."

"Since you insist."

"By the bye, you may possibly find forty ounces over the amount I
specified: use them to dress yourself and Caruna, for I wish her to be
able to appear elegant when she wishes to do so."

"My kind uncle!" the young lady exclaimed, "I am sure that you are
depriving yourself for our sake."

"That is not your business, señorita, I wish to see you looking nice,
that is my whim: it is your duty as a submissive niece to obey me,
without venturing any remarks: come kiss me both and let me be off, for
I have delayed too long already."

The two ladies followed him into the patio, where they helped him to
saddle Moreno, whom Doña Caruna patted and fed with sugar, an attention
for which the noble animal appeared duly grateful. At the moment when
Dom Jaime was giving the old servant orders to open the gate, the hasty
galloping of a horse was audible outside: then, hurried blows were
dealt on the gate.

"Oh, oh!" said Don Jaime, "What is happening?" and he went boldly under
the zaguán.

"Uncle, brother," the two ladies screamed, attempting to arrest him.

"Let me alone," he said to them sharply, "we must know what this means;
who is there?" he shouted.

"A friend," was the reply.

"It is Loïck's voice," the adventurer said, and opened the gate.

The ranchero came in, "Heaven be praised!" he exclaimed on noticing Don
Jaime, "For allowing me to meet you here."

"What has happened?" the adventurer quietly asked.

"A great misfortune," he answered, "the hacienda del Arenal has been
captured by Cuillac's band."

"¡Demonios!" the adventurer shouted, turning pale with passion, "When
did this happen?"

"Three days ago."

The adventurer hurriedly dragged him into the interior of the house.

"Are you hungry? Are you thirsty?" he asked him. "For three days I have
neither eaten nor drank, as I was so anxious to get here."

"Rest, yourself and eat, and then you will tell me what has happened."

The two ladies hastened to place before the ranchero, bread, meat and
pulque. While Loïck was taking the nourishment, of which he had such
pressing need, Don Jaime was walking in agitation up and down the room.
At a sign from him the ladies had discreetly retired, leaving him alone
with the ranchero.

"Have you finished?" he asked, as seeing that he was no longer eating.

"Yes," he answered.

"Now, do you feel capable of narrating to me how this catastrophe
occurred?"

"I am at your orders, señor."

"Speak, then."

The ranchero, after emptying a last glass of pulque in order to clear
his throat, commenced his narrative.



CHAPTER XV.

DON MELCHIOR.


We will substitute our narrative for that of the ranchero, who, indeed,
was ignorant of many of the details, only knowing the facts which had
related to himself. We will go back to the precise moment when Oliver
--for the reader has of course recognised him in Don Jaime--parted from
Doña Dolores and the Count, at a distance of about two leagues from
the hacienda del Arenal. Doña Dolores and the persons who accompanied
her, did not reach the hacienda till a few minutes before sunset. Don
Andrés, alarmed by this lengthened ride, received them with marks of
the most lively joy: but he had noticed them a long way off, and on
seeing Leo Carral with them, he had been reassured.

"Do not remain any longer out of doors, Count," he said to Ludovic,
with a thoroughly paternal anxiety. "I can understand all the pleasure
you of course feel in galloping by the side of that madcap, Dolores;
but you do not know this country, and may lose your way. Moreover, the
roads are at this moment infested with marauders belonging to all the
parties that divide the unhappy republic; and these pícaros have no
more scruple in firing at a gentleman, than in killing a coyote."

"I believe your fears are exaggerated, sir: we have had a delightful
ride, and nothing of a suspicious nature has occurred to trouble it."

While conversing, they proceeded to the dining hall, where dinner was
served up. The meal was silent, as usual, save that the ice seemed to
be broken between the young lady and young man; and--what they had
never done before--they now talked together!

Don Melchior was gloomy and restrained, as usual, and ate without
saying a word; only now and then, evidently astonished at the good
understanding that seemed to prevail between his sister and the French
gentleman, he turned his head toward them, giving them glances of
a singular expression; but the young people feigned not to remark
them, and continued their conversation in a low voice. Don Andrés was
radiant. In his joy he spoke loudly, addressed everybody, and ate and
drank heartily. When they rose from table, Ludovic checked the old
gentleman, as they were taking leave.

"Pardon me," he said; "but I should like a word with you."

"I am at your orders," Don Andrés replied.

"Good heavens! I do not know how to explain it to you, sir. I am afraid
I have acted rather lightly, and have committed an offence against
propriety."

"You, Count!" Don Andrés remarked, with a smile; "You will permit me
not to believe it."

"I thank you for the good opinion you have of me; still I must make you
the judge of what I have done."

"In that case, be kind enough to explain yourself."

"This is the matter, in two words, sir. Thinking that I was going
straight to Mexico, for I was ignorant of your presence here--"

"Quite true; go on."

"Well, I wrote to an intimate friend of mine, an attaché of the French
Legation, to inform him, first, of my arrival, and in the next place,
to beg him to take the trouble of finding me rooms. Now, this friend,
whose name is Baron Charles de Meriadec, and who belongs to a very
old French family, kindly assented to my request, and prepared, to
obtain me what I wanted. While this was going on, I learned you were
living at this hacienda, and you were kind enough to offer me your
hospitality. I immediately wrote to the Baron to stop the affair,
because I should doubtless remain a considerable period with you."

"By accepting my hospitality, Count, you gave me a proof of friendship
and confidence, for which I am extremely grateful."

"I believed that all was settled with my friend, sir; when, this
morning, I received a note from him, in which he tells me that he has
obtained leave, and intends to spend his holiday with me."

"Ah! ¡Caramba!" Don Andrés exclaimed, joyously; "The idea is
delightful, and I shall thank your friend for it."

"Then you do not consider him rather unceremonious?"

"What do you mean by unceremonious, Count?" Don Andrés quickly
interrupted; "are you not almost my son-in-law?"

"But I am not so yet, sir."

"It will not be long first, thank Heaven: hence, you are at home here,
and at liberty to receive your friends."

"Even if they were a thousand in number," Don Melchior, who had
overheard the conversation, said with a sardonic smile.

The Count pretended to believe the young man's kindly intention, and
answered him with a bow.

"I thank you, sir, for joining your father in this matter; for it is
a proof of the good will you are kind enough to display towards me,
whenever the opportunity is afforded you."

Don Melchior understood the sarcasm hidden under these words. He bowed
stiffly, and withdrew with a growl.

"And when does the Baron de Meriadec arrive Don Andrés continued.

"Well, sir, you confuse me; but as I must confess everything, I believe
that he will arrive tomorrow morning."

"All the better. Is he a young man?"

"About my own age, sir. But I must inform you that he speaks Spanish
very badly, and hardly understands it."

"He will find persons here to whom he can talk French: but you were
right to warn me; if not, we might have been taken unawares. I will
give orders to prepare rooms for him this very night."

"Pardon me, sir, but I should be truly sorry to cause you the slightest
derangement."

"Oh! Do not trouble yourself about that. There is no lack of room,
thank goodness; and we shall easily manage to put him in comfortable
quarters."

"That is not what I mean. I know your splendid hospitality, but I think
it would be better to place the Baron near me, for my servants could
wait on him, and my apartments are large."

"But that will bore you horribly."

"Not at all: on the contrary, I have more rooms than I want: he will
take one: in this way we shall be able to talk together at our ease,
whenever we please: as we have not seen each other for two years, we
shall have plenty to talk about."

"Do you press it, Count?"

"I am in your house, sir, and hence cannot press anything: I only make
a request."

"Since that is the case, Count, it shall be done according to your
wish: this evening with your permission, everything shall be put in
order."

Ludovic hereupon took leave of Don Andrés, and retired to his
apartments; but almost immediately after him came peons loaded with
furniture, who in a few minutes converted his drawing room into a
comfortable bed room. The Count, so soon as he was alone with his
valet, informed him of all it was necessary for him to know, so that he
might play his part in such a way as not to make a blunder, since he
had been at the meeting and seen Dominique. At about nine o'clock on
the next morning, the Count was informed that a rider, dressed in the
European fashion and followed by an arriero, driving two mules loaded
with trunks and portemanteaux was approaching the hacienda. Ludovic had
no doubt that it was Dominique, and hence hurried to the hacienda gate:
Don Andrés was already there to do the honour to the stranger.

The Count in his heart felt some anxiety as to the way in which the
vaquero would wear his European dress, so tight and warm and for
that very reason so difficult to wear with ease: but he was almost
immediately reassured at the sight of the handsome, proud young man
who advanced, managing his horse gracefully, and having over his whole
person an incontestable stamp of distinction. For a moment he doubted
whether this elegant cavalier was the same man he had seen on the
previous day, and whose frank but trivial manner had caused him fears
about the part he was undertaking to play, but he was soon convinced
that it was really Dominique who was before.

The two young men greeted each other with marks of the most lively
friendship, and then the Count introduced his friend to Don Andrés.

The hacendero, delighted with the good looks and appearance of the
young man, gave him a most cordial greeting, and then the Count and
the Baron retired, followed by the arriero, who was no other than
Loïck the ranchero. So soon as the mules were unloaded, and the trunks
were placed in the apartments, the Baron--for we will temporarily give
him the title--gave a generous fee to the arriero who most heartily
thanked him and hastened away with his mules, as he did not care to
remain too long at the hacienda, through fear of seeing some face he
knew.

When the two young men were alone, they placed Raimbaut on sentry in
the outer room, to prevent a surprise: and withdrawing into the Count's
bed chamber, they began a long and earnest conversation during which
Ludovic gave the Baron a species of biography of the persons with whom
he was going to live for some time: he dwelt more especially on Don
Melchior, whom he urged him to distrust, and recommended him not to
forget that he merely understood a few words of Spanish, and did not
understand it: this point was essential.

"I have lived a long time with the Redskins," the young man answered,
"and have profited by the lessons I received of them: you will be
surprised at the perfection with which I shall play my part."

"I confess that I am surprised already, you have completely deceived my
expectations: I was far from believing in such a result."

"You flatter me: I will try always to merit your approbation."

"By the way, my dear Charles," the Count continued with a smile, "we
are old friends, college chums."

"Of course, we knew each other when children," the other replied in the
same key.

"Very well then, do not forget."

Upon this, the two young men shook hands cordially, laughing like
schoolboys home for the holidays. A portion of the day was thus spent
without further incident than the introduction of Baron Charles de
Meriadec, by his friend Count Louis de Saulay, to Doña Dolores, and her
brother, Don Melchior de la Cruz, a double introduction in which the
Baron behaved like a practised comedian.

Doña Dolores returned a graceful and encouraging smile for the
compliment which the young man considered himself obliged to pay her.
Don Melchior contented himself with a silent bow, while giving him an
ugly look from under his eyelashes.

"Hum," the Baron said when he found himself again alone with the Count,
"that Don Melchior appears to me to be an ugly customer."

"I entirely share that opinion," the Count answered distinctly.

At about three in the afternoon, Doña Dolores sent to ask the young men
if they would do her the honour of offering her their company for a few
moments: they eagerly accepted and hastened to join her. They crossed
Don Melchior in the courtyard: the young man did not speak to them, but
looked after them till they had entered his sister's apartments.

A month passed, and nothing occurred to disturb the monotonous
existence of the inhabitants of the hacienda.

The Count and his friend frequently went out, accompanied by the
majordomo, either to shoot or simply for a ride; sometimes, though
rarely, Doña Dolores accompanied them.

Now that the Count was no longer alone with her, she seemed to be
less afraid of meeting him and at times even to take pleasure in it:
she favourably accepted his gallantries, smiled at the sallies that
escaped from him and under all circumstances, evidenced perfect
confidence in him. But it was more especially to the pretended Count
that she displayed a marked preference, either because knowing what he
really was, she considered him of no importance, or because, through a
pure caprice of feminine coquetry, she liked to sport with this native,
whose indomitable energy she did not suspect, and wished to try the
power of her charms on the simple young man.

Dominique did not perceive, or pretended not to perceive, the young
lady's manoeuvres: though exquisitely polite to her and most attentive,
he still remained within the strict limits he had laid down for
himself, not wishing to render a man jealous, for whom he professed a
sincere friendship, and whom he knew to be on the point of marrying
Doña Dolores.

As for Don Melchior, his character had grown more and more sombre, his
absences had become longer and more frequent, and on the rare occasions
when accident brought him across the young men, he returned their bow
silently, without deigning to say a syllable to them: in a word, the
repugnance he had felt for them from the outset, had changed with the
course of time into a good and hearty Mexican hatred.

In the meanwhile, political events pressed on with ever increasing
rapidity: Juárez' troops seriously occupied the country: already
scouts belonging to his party had appeared in the neighbourhood of the
hacienda: people talked vaguely of Spanish chateaux taken by assault,
plundered, burnt, and whose owners had been cowardly assassinated by
the guerilleros. The anxiety was great at Arenal: Don Andrés de la
Cruz, who was not reassured as to the future by the fact of his being
a Spaniard, took the most extensive precautions not to be surprized by
the enemy. The question of abandoning the hacienda and retiring to
Puebla had even been agitated several times, but had constantly been
obstinately repelled by Don Melchior.

Still, the strange conduct which the young man displayed ever since the
Count had been at the hacienda, his affectation of keeping aloof, his
long and frequent absences, and, more than all, the recommendations of
Don Oliver, whose mistrust doubtless aroused a long time before, and
based on facts known to himself alone, had led to Dominique's presence
at the hacienda under the name of Baron de Mireadec, aroused the
suspicions of Count de Saulay, suspicions to which the antipathy he had
felt for Don Melchior since the first day of seeing him, almost gave
the strength of certainty.

The Count, after ripe reflections, resolved to communicate his anxiety
to Dominique and Leo Carral, when one evening on entering the patio
he met Don Melchior on horseback proceeding to the hacienda gate. The
Count then asked himself why, at so advanced an hour (it was about
nine o'clock at night), Don Melchior ventured on a moonless night to
go alone into the country, at the risk of falling into an ambush of
Juárez' guerilleros, whose scouts, as he was perfectly well aware, had
been prowling round the hacienda for some days past.

This fresh departure of the young man, for which there was no apparent
motive, dissipated the Count's last doubts, and confirmed him in the
resolution of immediately taking counsel with his two friends.

At this moment Leo Carral crossed the patio and Ludovic called to him.

The majordomo ran up directly.

"Where are you going now?" the Count asked.

"I can hardly tell your Excellency," the majordomo answered. "This
evening I feel more anxious than usual, and I am going to pay a visit
to the neighbourhood of the hacienda."

"Can it be foreboding?" the Count said pensively. "Will you let me
accompany you?"

"I purpose going out and beating up the country a little," No Leo
Carral continued.

"Very good: have my horse and Don Carlos' saddled, we will join you in
an instant."

"Mind, Excellency, not to take any servants, but do our business
ourselves. I have a plan, so let us avoid all chances of treachery."

"Agreed: in ten minutes we will be with you."

"You will find your horses at the gate of the first court. I need not
recommend you to be armed."

"All right."

The Count went to his apartment. Dominique was soon told of the state
of affairs; both left the apartments directly after and found the
majordomo, who, already mounted, was waiting for them at the open gate
of the hacienda. They leapt on their horses and rode out in silence.
The hacienda gate was gently closed after them. They went down the
incline that led to the plain at a sharp trot.

"Eh," the Count said a minute after, "what is the meaning of this? Are
we mounted on spectral steeds, that produce no sound in moving?"

"Speak lower, Excellency," the majordomo remarked, "we are probably
surrounded by spies; as for the thing that perplexes you so, it is only
a very simple precaution; your horse's hoofs are thrust into sheepskin
bags filled with sand."

"Hang it!" Ludovic replied, "It seems, then, that we are on a secret
expedition."

"Yes, Excellency, secret and most important."

"What is it?"

"I suspect Don Melchior."

"But remember, friend, that he is the son and heir of Don Andrés."

"Yes, but as we say on the wrong side of the blanket; his mother was
a Lapotheque Indian, with whom, I do not know why, my master fell in
love, for she was neither beautiful, nor good, nor witty; however, the
result of their connection was a child, and that child is Don Melchior.
The mother died in childbirth, imploring Don Andrés not to abandon the
poor creature; my master promised it, recognised the boy, and brought
him up as if he had been legitimate, and a few years later induced his
wife to receive him into the family. He was thus brought up as if he
were really a legitimate son, the more so, that Doña Lucca de la Cruz
died, only leaving her husband a daughter."

"Ah! Ah!" said the Count, "I am beginning to get a glimpse of the
truth."

"All went on well for some years; Don Melchior, most kindly treated by
his father, gradually came to persuade himself that on the death of Don
Andrés the paternal fortune would fall to him; but about a year ago my
master received a letter, after reading which he had a long and serious
explanation with his son.

"Yes, yes, that letter reminded him of the marriage plan arranged
between his family and mine, and announced my speedy arrival."

"Probably, Excellency; but nothing transpired of what took place
between father and son, except it was noticed that Don Melchior, who
is not naturally of a gay temper, became from that period gloomy
and morose, seeking solitude, and only addressing his father when
absolutely compelled. Although he had hitherto rarely left the
hacienda, he now began to have a wild liking for the chase, and often
stayed away for several days; your sudden arrival at the hacienda, when
he doubtless never expected to see you, augmented his ill-feeling to
a frightful extent, and I am convinced that in his despair at losing
the inheritance he has so long coveted, he will not hesitate before
anything, even a crime, to seize on it. This, Excellency, was what I
thought it my duty to tell you. Heaven knows that if I have spoken, it
was solely from a pure motive."

"Everything is now explained to me, No Leo Carral. I am, like yourself,
persuaded that Melchior meditates some odious treachery against the man
to whom he owes everything, and who is his father."

"Well," said Dominique, "do you wish to know my opinion? If the
opportunity presents itself, it will be a pious task to lodge a bullet
in his wicked brain; the world will in that way get rid of a frightful
villain."

"Amen!" said the Count, with a laugh.

At this moment they reached the plain.

"Excellency, here the difficulties of the enterprise we are about to
undertake really commence," the majordomo then said; "we must act with
the most extreme prudence, and, above all, avoid revealing our presence
to the invisible spies by whom we are indubitably surrounded."

"Fear nothing, we shall be dumb as fishes; go on ahead without fear; we
will prowl on your track after the fashion of Indians on the war path."

The majordomo took the head of the file, and they began advancing
rather rapidly along the paths which were entangled together, and
formed an inextricable network for anyone but Leo Carral.

As we have already stated, the night was moonless, and the sky black as
ink. A profound silence, interrupted at long intervals by the shrill
cries of the night birds, brooded over the country.

They continued to advance thus without exchanging a word for about half
an hour, and then the majordomo halted.

"We have arrived," he said in a low voice; "get off your horses, we are
in safety here."

"Do you think so?" said Dominique; "I fancied during the march the
cries of night birds too well imitated to be true."

"You are right," Leo Carral answered; "they are the enemy's sentries
challenging each other; we have been scented, but thanks to the night
and my acquaintance with the roads, we have temporarily, at any rate
thrown out those who started in pursuit of us, they are seeking us in a
direction opposed to the one in which we are."

"That is what I fancied I could understand," Dominique remarked.

The Count eagerly listened to this conversation, but to no effect, for
what the two men said was Hebrew to him; for the first time since he
had been in the world, accident placed him in a situation so singular;
hence he was completely deficient in experience; he was far from
suspecting that he had passed through all the outposts of a hostile
camp; had been within pistol shot of sentinels ambuscaded on the right
and left, and had escaped death perhaps twenty times by a miracle.

"Señores, take the bags off the horses, as they ace no longer wanted,
while I light a torch of ocote wood," Leo Carral then said.

The young men obeyed, for they tacitly recognised the majordomo as the
leader of the expedition.

"Well, is it done?" the majordomo asked a moment after.

"Yes," the Count answered, "but we cannot see anything; are you not
going to light your torch?"

"It is lighted, but it would be too imprudent to show a light here;
follow me, drawing your horses after you by the bridle."

He went in front again as guide, and they advanced once more, but this
time on foot.

Ere long a light glistened in front of them, and illuminated them
sufficiently to enable them to distinguish surrounding objects.

They were in a natural grotto; this grotto opened at the end of a
passage, sufficiently winding for the light of the torch not to be seen
from the outside.

"Where the deuce are we?" the Count asked, in surprise.

"As you see, Excellency, in a grotto."

"Very good, but you had a reason for bringing us here."

"Certainly I had one, Excellency, and the reason is as follows: this
grotto communicates with the hacienda, by a very long subterraneous
passage; this passage has several issues into the country, and two into
the hacienda itself; of the latter two, one is known to myself alone,
and the other I stopped up this very day; but fearing less Don Melchior
might have discovered this grotto during his rides, I determined to
visit it tonight, and solidly wall it up inside, so as to prevent a
surprise in this way."

"Famously reasoned, No Leo Carral; there is no want of stones, so we
will set to work as soon as you like."

"One moment, Excellency, let us make certain first that other persons
have not got here before us."

"Hum! That appears to me rather difficult."

"You think so," he said, with a slight tinge of irony in his voice.

He took the torch which he had placed on an angle and stooped down to
the ground, but almost immediately rose again, uttering a cry of fury.

"What is it?" the two young men exclaimed anxiously.

"Look," he said, pointing to the ground.

The Count looked.

"We are foiled," he said, a moment after; "it is too late."

"But, explain yourself in Heaven's name," the Count exclaimed, "I do
not understand what you are saying."

"Stay, my dear fellow," said Dominique, "do you not see how the ground
is trampled? Do you not notice the footsteps going in all directions?"

"Well."

"Well, my poor friend, these footsteps were left by the men probably
led by Don Melchior, who have taken this road to enter the hacienda,
where they probably are by this time."

"No," the majordomo remarked, "the footsteps are quite fresh: they
only entered a few minutes before us. The advance they have is nothing,
for on reaching the end of the passage, they will have to destroy the
wall I built, and it is substantial. Let us not be discouraged yet,
therefore, perhaps Heaven will permit us to reach the hacienda in time;
come, follow me, make haste, and leave your horse; ah, it was Heaven
that inspired me not to touch the second outlet."

Then, waving the torch to revise the flame, the majordomo ran along
a side gallery, followed by the two young men. The subterraneous
passage rose with a gentle ascent; the road they had followed to reach
the grotto, wound round the hill on which the hacienda was built;
besides, they had been obliged to make numerous circuits, and march
circumspectly, that is to say, rather slowly, through fear of being
surprised, which had demanded a considerable lapse of time; but now
this was no longer the case, they ran on in a straight line and they
accomplished in less than a quarter of an hour, what, on horseback had
required nearly an hour, and reached the garden.

The hacienda was silent.

"Wake your servants, while I ring the alarm bell," said the majordomo,
"possibly we may save the hacienda."

He ran to the bell, whose sonorous peals soon aroused the inhabitants
of the hacienda, who ran up, half dressed, not at all understanding
what was going on.

"To arms, to arms!" shouted the Count, and his two companions.

In a few words Don Andrés was informed of the state of matters, and
while he had his daughter guarded in her rooms, by some devoted
attendants, and organized the defence as well as circumstances
permitted him, the majordomo, followed by the two young men and their
servants, dashed into the garden.

Ludovic and Dolores had only exchanged one word.

"I am going to my father," she said.

"I will join you there."

"I shall expect you, no one but you will approach me?"

"I swear it."

"Thanks."

And they separated. On reaching the garden, the five men distinctly
heard the hurried blows which the assailants were dealing on the wall.

They ambushed themselves within pistol shot of the issue, behind a
clump of trees and shrubs.

"But, these people must be bandits," the Count exclaimed, "to come in
this way to pillage honest people."

"Of course they are bandits," Dominique replied, "you will soon see
them at work, and no longer have a doubt on the subject."

"In that case, attention," said the Count, "and let us receive them as
they deserve."

In the meanwhile, the blows were redoubled in the passage; ere long one
stone was detached, then a second, then a third, and a rather large
breach was opened in the wall. The guerilleros, dashed forward with a
shout of joy, which was at once turned into a yell of pain. Five shots,
blended in one, had exploded like a formidable clap of thunder.

The battle was beginning.



CHAPTER XVI.

THE ASSAULT.


At the frightful discharge which greeted them, and scattered death in
their ranks, the guerilleros fell back with horror; surprised by those
whom they calculated on surprising, prepared to plunder but not to
fight, their first thought was flight, and an indescribable disorder
broke out in their ranks.

The defenders of the hacienda, whose number had considerably increased,
took advantage of this hesitation to send a shower of bullets among
them. Some resolution must be formed, however, either to advance under
the bullets, or give up the expedition.

The proprietor of the hacienda was rich, as the guerilleros were aware;
for a long time past they had desired to seize this wealth, which
they coveted, and which, whether rightly or wrongly, they supposed to
be hidden in the hacienda; it cost them a struggle to give up this
expedition so long prepared, and from which they promised themselves
such magnificent results.

Still the bullets constantly scattered among them, and they did not
dare to pass the breach. Their chiefs, even more interested than they
in the success of their projects, put an end to any hesitation, by
resolutely arming themselves with pickaxes and crowbars, not only to
enlarge the breach, but also to completely throw down the wall, for
they understood that it was only by a sudden eruption that they could
succeed in overthrowing the opposition which the defenders of the
hacienda offered them.

The latter continued to fire bravely, but most of their shots were
thrown away, as the guerilleros were working under shelter, and were
very cautious not to show themselves in front of the breach.

"They have changed their tactics," the Count said to Dominique, "they
are now engaged in throwing down the wall, and will soon return to the
attack; and," he added, taking a sorrowful glance around, "we shall be
conquered; for the men who accompany us are not capable of resisting a
vigorous attack."

"You are right, friend, the situation is serious," the young man
answered.

"What is to be done?" the majordomo asked.

"Stay, I have an idea," Dominique suddenly said, striking his forehead;
"you have gunpowder here."

"Yes, thank heaven, there is no want of that; but what is the use of
it?"

"Have a barrel brought here as speedily as possible, I answer for the
rest."

"That is easy."

"In that case go."

The majordomo ran off.

"What do you intend to do?" the Count asked.

"You shall see," the young man replied, with flashing eyes; "by Heaven,
a glorious idea has occurred to me. These brigands will probably seize
the hacienda, and we are too weak to resist them, and it is only a
question of time for them; but, by Jupiter, it shall cost them dearly."

"I do not understand you."

"Ah," the young man continued, in a state of feverish excitement; "ah,
they wish to open a wide passage; well, I undertake to make it for
them; wait a while."

At this moment the majordomo returned, bringing not one, but three
barrels on a truck; each of these barrels contained about 120 pounds of
gunpowder.

"Three barrels!" Dominique exclaimed, joyously; "All the better: in
this way each of us will have his own."

"But what do you intend doing?"

"I mean to blow them up, by heaven!" he exclaimed. "Come to work!
Imitate me!"

He took a barrel and unheaded it; the Count and Leo Carral did the same.

"Now," he said, addressing the peons, who were startled by these
sinister preparations; "back, you fellows, but still continue to fire,
and keep them on the alarm."

The three men remained alone with the Count's two servants, who refused
to abandon their master. In a few words Dominique explained his plan
to his companions. They raised the barrels, and gliding silently
behind the trees, approached the grotto. The besiegers, occupied in
destroying the wall inside, and not daring to venture in front of the
breach, could not see what was going on outside. It was therefore an
easy task for the five men to reach the very foot of the wall the
guerilleros were demolishing, without being discovered. Dominique
placed the three powder barrels so as to touch the wall, and on these
barrels, he, aided by his companions, piled all the stones he could
find. Then he took his mechero, drew out the tinder match, from which
he cut off about six inches, lit it, and planted it on one of the
barrels.

"Back! Back!" he said, in a low voice; "The wall no longer holds! See
how it is bulging. It will fall in a moment."

And, setting the example, he ran off at full speed. Nearly all the
defenders of the hacienda, about forty in number, with Don Andrés at
their head, were assembled at the entrance of the huerta.

"Why are you running so hard?" the hacendero asked the young men; "Are
the brigands after you?"

"No, no," Dominique replied; "not yet; but you will soon have news of
them."

"Where is Doña Dolores?" the Count asked.

"In my apartments with her women, and perfectly safe."

"Fire, you fellows!" Dominique shouted to the peons.

The latter recommenced a tremendous fire.

"Raimbaut," the Count said, in a low voice; "we must foresee
everything. Go with Lanca Ibarru, and saddle five horses: mind one of
them is a side-saddle. You understand me, do you not?"

"Yes, my lord."

"You will lead these horses to the door which is at the end of the
huerta. You will wait for me there with Lanca, both well armed. Go."

Raimbaut went off at once, as quiet and calm as if nothing
extraordinary were occurring at the moment.

"Ah!" said Don Andrés with a sigh of regret; "If Melchior was here he
would be very useful to us."

"He will be here soon, señor, you may be sure," the Count remarked,
ironically.

"Where can he be, though?"

"Ah! Who can tell?"

"Ah! Ah!" Dominique exclaimed; "Something is going on down there."

The stones, vigorously assailed by the repeated blows of the
guerilleros, were beginning to fall outwards. The breach was rapidly
entered, but at last a whole piece of wall fell in one mass into the
garden. The guerilleros uttered a loud shout, threw down their picks,
and seizing their weapons, prepared to rush forth. But suddenly a
terrible explosion was heard; the earth quivered as if agitated by
a volcanic convulsion; a cloud of smoke rose to the sky, and masses
of ruins, raised by the explosion, were hurled in all directions. A
horrible cry of agony rang through the air, and that was all: a deadly
silence brooded over the scene.

"Forward! Forward!" Dominique shouted.

The injury caused by the mine was terrible. The entrance of the
passage, completely destroyed, and filled up with masses of earth and
heaped-up stones, had not permitted one of the assailants to pass. Here
and there the disfigured remains of what had been a moment before men,
emerged from the middle of the fragments. The catastrophe must have
been awful, but the passage kept the secret close.

"Oh! Heaven be praised! We are saved!" Don Andrés exclaimed.

"Yes, yes," the majordomo said; "if no other assailants arrive from
another quarter."

Suddenly, as if in justification of the remark, loud cries were heard
blended with shots, and a vivid flame, which rose from the outhouses of
the hacienda, lit up the country with a sinister gleam.

"To arms! To arms!" the peons shouted, as they ran up in alarm. "The
guerilleros! The guerilleros!"

And they speedily saw, by the red glow of the fire which was devouring
the buildings, the black outlines of some hundred men, who hurried up,
brandishing their weapons, and uttering yells of fury. A few paces in
advance of the bandits advanced a man, holding a sabre in one hand, and
a torch in the other.

"Don Melchior!" the old gentleman exclaimed, despairingly.

"By heaven! I will stop him!" Dominique said, taking aim at him.

Don Andrés darted at the gun, which he threw up.

"It is my son!" he said.

The shot passed harmlessly through the air.

"Hum! I fancy you will repent having saved his life, señor," Dominique
coldly replied.

Don Andrés, dragged away by the Count and Dominique, entered his
apartments, all the issues to which his peons hastily barricaded, and
then kept up a sustained fire from the windows on the besiegers.

Don Melchior had an understanding with the partizans of Juárez.
Reduced, as the majordomo had very correctly told the Count, to a
state of desperation by the speedy marriage of his sister, and the
inevitable loss of the fortune of which he had so long entertained
the hope of being sole heir, the young man forgot all moderation,
and, under certain conditions accepted by Cuellar, though with, the
intention of not fulfilling them, he had proposed to the latter to
surrender the hacienda to him; and all the measures had been taken in
consequence. It was then arranged that a portion of the cuadrilla,
under the orders of resolute officers, should attempt a surprise by
the secret passage, which the young man had previously made known.
Then, while this troop was operating, the other of the cuadrilla,
under Cuellar's own orders, and guided by Don Melchior, would silently
scale the walls of the hacienda on the side of the corrals, which the
inhabitants would doubtless neglect to defend. We have related the
success of this double attack.

Cuellar, though he was still ignorant of it, had lost one half of his
cuadrilla, who were buried under the ruins of the grotto. With the
men left him he was at this moment waging an obstinate fight with the
peons of the hacienda, who, knowing they had to deal with the band of
Cuellar, the most ferocious and sanguinary of all Juárez' guerilleros,
and that this band never granted quarter, fought with the energy of
desperation, which renders strength tenfold as great. The combat
lasted some time. The peons, ambushed in the apartments, had lined the
windows with everything that came to hand, and fired under cover at
the assailants scattered about the courtyards, on whom they entailed
considerable losses. Cuellar was furious, not alone at this unforeseen
resistance, but also at the incomprehensible delay of the soldiers of
his cuadrilla who had entered by the grotto, and who should have joined
him long ere this. He had certainly heard the noise of the explosion,
but as he was at the time at a considerable distance from the hacienda,
in a direction diametrically opposed to that where the explosion took
place, the noise had reached his ears indistinctly, and he had paid no
further attention to it; but the inexplicable delay of his comrades at
this moment, when their help would have been so valuable, was beginning
to cause him lively anxiety, and he was on the point of sending one
of his men off to hurry the laggards, when suddenly shouts of victory
were raised from the interior of the buildings he was attacking, and
several guerilleros appeared at the windows, brandishing their weapons
joyously. It was owing to Don Melchior that this decisive success was
obtained. While the main body of the assailants attacked the buildings
in front, he, accompanied by several resolute men, stepped through a
low window, which in the first moment of confusion they had forgotten
to barricade like the rest. He had entered the interior, and suddenly
appeared before the besieged, whom his presence terrified, and on whom
his comrades rushed with sabres and pistols.

At this moment it was no longer a fight but a horrible butchery. The
peons, in spite of their entreaties, were seized by the conquerors,
stabbed, and hurled through the windows into the courtyard. The
guerilleros soon poured through all the buildings, pursuing the
wretched peons from room to room, and pitilessly massacring them. They
thus reached a large drawing room, whose large folding doors were wide
open; but on arriving there they not merely stopped, but recoiled with
an instinctive movement of terror before the terrible spectacle that
was presented to them. This room was splendidly lit up by a number of
candles, placed in all the chandeliers and on the various articles of
furniture. In one corner of the room a barricade had been erected by
piling up the furniture: behind this barricade, Doña Dolores had sought
shelter with all the wives and children of the hacienda peons, two
paces in front of the barricade, four men were standing erect with a
gun in one hand and a pistol in the other. These four men were. Don
Andrés, the Count, Dominique and Leo Carral: two barrels of gunpowder
with the heads knocked out were placed near them.

"Halt," the Count said in a jeering voice, "halt, I request,
caballeros; one step further, and we blow up the house. Do not pass the
threshold, if you please."

The guerilleros were careful not to disobey this courteous hint, for
at the first glance they recognized with whom they had to deal. Don
Melchior stamped his foot savagely on seeing himself thus rendered
powerless.

"What do you want?" he asked in a strangled voice.

"Nothing of you; we are men of honour, and will not parley with a
scoundrel of your stamp."

"You shall be shot like dogs, accursed Frenchmen."

"I defy you to put your threat in execution," said the Count, as he
coolly cocked the revolver he held in his hand and pointed it at the
barrel of gunpowder by his side.

The guerilleros recoiled, uttering shrieks of terror.

"Do not fire, do not fire," they exclaimed; "here is the Colonel."

In fact, Cuellar arrived. Cuellar is a frightful bandit, this statement
will surprise nobody, but we must do him the justice of stating that he
possesses unparalleled bravery. He forced his way through his soldiers,
and soon found himself standing alone in front of them. He bowed
gracefully to the four men, and examined them craftily, and while idly
rolling a cigarette.

"Well," he said gaily, "the affair you have imagined is most
ingenious, and I sincerely compliment you upon it, caballeros. Those
demons of Frenchmen have incredible ideas, on my honour," he added,
speaking to himself; "they never allow themselves to be taken unawares;
there is enough there to send us all to paradise."

"And in case of need we would no more hesitate to do it than we
hesitated to blow up your men, whom you sent as scouts through the
grotto."

"What," Cuellar asked, turning pale, "what is it you are saying about
my soldiers?"

"I am saying," the Count replied coldly, "that you can have their
corpses sought for in the passage, all will be found there, for all
have fallen there."

A shudder of terror ran along the ranks of the guerilleros at these
words.

There was a silence. Cuellar was reflecting. He raised his head, every
trace of emotion had disappeared from his face, and he looked around
him as searching for something.

"Are you looking for a light?" Dominique asked him, as he advanced
toward him candle in hand: "Pray light your cigarette, señor."

And he politely held out the candle.

Cuellar lit his cigarette, and returned the candlestick.

"Thanks, señor," he said.

Dominique rejoined his companions.

"So then," said Cuellar, "you request a capitulation."

"You are mistaken, señor," the Count replied coolly; "on the contrary,
we offer you one."

"You offer us?" the guerillero said with amazement.

"Yes, since we are masters of your life."

"Pardon me," Cuellar said, "that is specious, for on blowing us up, you
will go with us."

"Hang it! That is precisely what we intend." Cuellar reflected once
more.

"Come," he said a moment after, "let us not wage a war of words, but
come to the fact like men: what do you want?"

"I will tell you," the Count answered.



CHAPTER XVII.

AFTER THE BATTLE.


Cuellar was carelessly smoking his cigarette, his left hand was laid on
his long sabre, the end of the scabbard resting on the floor: there was
a charming ease in the way in which he stood at the door of the room,
letting his eyes wander around with a feline gentleness, and emitting
through his mouth and nostrils, with the blessed sensuality of a real
enjoyer, thick clouds of bluish smoke.

"Pardon, señores," he said, "before going further, it is necessary to
have a thorough understanding, I think, so permit me to make a slight
observation."

"Do so, señor," the Count answered.

"I am perfectly willing to treat: I am a very easy man to deal with
as you see, but do not ask of me extravagant things which I should
be forced to refuse you, for I need not tell you that, if you are
determined, I am no less so, and while desiring a bargain equally
advantageous for both sides, still if you are too exorbitant, I should
prefer to blow up with you, the more so because I have a presentiment
that I shall in that way some day or other, and should not be sorry to
go to the deuce in such excellent company."

Although these words were uttered with a smiling air, the Count was
not deceived as to the resolute purpose of the man with whom he was
dealing.

"Oh señor," he said, "you know us very badly, if you suppose us capable
of asking impossibilities of you, still as our position is good, we
wish to take advantage of it."

"And I think you perfectly right, caballero; but as you are a Frenchman
and your countrymen never doubt anything, I thought it my duty to make
this observation to you."

"Be convinced señor," the Count answered, while affecting the same
tranquillity as the other, "that we shall only demand reasonable
conditions."

"You demand," Cuellar repeated, laying a stress on these two words.

"Yes: hence we will not oblige you to leave the hacienda, because
we know that if you went out today, you would recommence the attack
tomorrow."

"You are full of penetration, señor: so pray come to the facts."

"In the first place you will give up the poor peons who have escaped
the massacre."

"I see no difficulty in that."

"With their arms, horses and the little they possess."

"Agreed, go on."

"Don Andrés de la Cruz, his daughter, my friend, myself and Leo Carral,
the majordomo, and all the women and children sheltered in this room,
will be at liberty to retire whenever we please without fear of being
disturbed."

Cuellar made a grimace. "What next?" he said.

"Pardon me, is that settled?"

"Yes, it is settled; what next?"

"My friend and I are strangers, Frenchmen, and Mexico is not at war,
as far as I am aware, with our country."

"It might happen," Cuellar said maliciously.

"Perhaps so, but in the meanwhile we are at peace, and have a claim to
your protection."

"Have you not fought against us?"

"That is true, but we had a right to defend ourselves: we were attacked
and were compelled to fight."

"Good, good, enough of that."

"We therefore request the right to take away with us on mules,
everything that belongs to us."

"Is that all?"

"Nearly so; do you accept these conditions?"

"I do."

"Good, now there only remains a slight formality to fulfil."

"A formality, what is it?"

"That of the hostages."

"Hostages! Have you not my word?"

"Of course."

"Well, what more do you want?"

"As I told you, hostages: you can perfectly understand, señor, that I
would not confide my life and that of my companions, I will not say to
you, for I hold your word and believe it good, but to your soldiers,
who, like the worthy guerilleros they are, would have not the slightest
scruple, if we had the madness to place ourselves in their power, about
plundering us and perhaps worse: you do not command regular troops,
señor, and however strict may be the discipline you maintain in your
cuadrilla, I doubt whether it goes so far as to make your prisoners
respected, when you are not there to protect them by your presence."

Cuellar, flattered in his heart by the Count's remarks, gave him a
gracious smile.

"Hum," he said, "what you say may be true up to a certain point. Well,
who are the hostages you desire, and how many are they?"

"Only one, señor, you see that it is very trifling."

"Very trifling, indeed; but who is this hostage?"

"Yourself," the Count answered distinctly.

"Canarios!" Cuellar said with a grin, "You are a cool hand: that one
would in truth be sufficient."

"For that reason we will have no other."

"That is very unfortunate."

"Why so?"

"Because I refuse, caray! And who would be security for me, if you
please?"

"The word of a French gentleman, caballero," the Count hastily replied,
"a word which has never been pledged in vain."

"On my word," Cuellar continued with that bonhomie of which he
possesses so large a share and which, where it suits him, causes him to
be taken for the best fellow in the world: "I accept, caballero, let
what may happen, for I am curious to try that word of honour of which
Europeans are so proud: it is settled then that I act as your hostage:
now, how long am I to remain with you? It is very important for me to
settle that point."

"We will ask no more of you than to accompany us within sight of
Puebla: once there you shall be at liberty, and you can even, if you
think proper, take with you an escort of ten men to secure your return."

"Come, that is speaking; I am yours, caballero. Don Melchior, you will
remain here during my absence and watch that everything goes on right."

"Yes," Don Melchior replied hoarsely.

The Count, after whispering a few words to the majordomo, again
addressed Cuellar.

"Señor," he said to him, "be kind enough to give orders for the peons
to be brought here: then, while you remain with us, No Leo Carral will
go and make all the preparations for our departure."

"Good," said Cuellar, "the majordomo can go about his business: you
hear, my men," he added, turning to the guerilleros who still stood
motionless, "this man is free, bring the peons here."

Some fifteen poor wretches, with their clothes in rags, covered with
blood, but armed as had been agreed, then entered the drawing room:
these fifteen men were all that remained of the defenders of the
hacienda. Cuellar then entered the room in the door way of which
he had been hitherto standing, and without being invited to do it,
posted himself behind the barricade. Don Melchior, feeling the false
position in which he was placed, now that he remained alone, facing the
besieged, turned away to retire; but at this moment Don Andrés rose,
and addressed him in a loud and imperious voice.

"Stay, Melchior," he said to him, "we cannot separate thus: now, that
we shall never meet again in this world, a final explanation between us
is necessary--even indispensable."

Don Melchior started at the sound of this voice: he turned pale, and
made a movement as if he wished to fly, but then suddenly halted and
haughtily raising his head, said--

"What do you want with me? Speak, I am listening to you."

For a very considerable period, the old man stood with his eyes fixed
on his son with a strangely blended expression of love, anger, grief
and contempt, and at length making a violent effort on himself, he
spoke as follows:

"Why wish to withdraw, is it because the crime you have committed
horrifies you, or are you really flying with fury in your heart at
seeing your parricide foiled and your father saved in spite of all
your efforts to rob him of life? God has not permitted the complete
success of your sinister projects: He chastens me for my weakness for
you and the place you have usurped in your heart: I pay very dearly
for a moment of error, but at length the veil that covered my eyes
has fallen. Go, wretch, marked on the brow by an indelible stigma, be
accursed! And may this curse which I pronounce on you, weigh eternally
on your heart! Go, parricide, I no longer know you."

Don Melchior, in spite of all his audacity, could not sustain the
flashing glance which his father implacably fixed on him: a livid
pallor spread over his face, a convulsive trembling agitated his limbs,
his head was bowed beneath the weight of the anathema, and he recoiled
slowly without turning round, as if dragged away by a force superior to
his will, and at length disappeared in the midst of the guerilleros,
who left a passage for him with a movement of horror.

A funereal silence pervaded the room; all these men, though so little
impressionable, felt the influence of the terrible malediction
pronounced by a father on a guilty son. Cuellar was the first to
recover his coolness.

"You were wrong," he said to Don Andrés, with a shake of his head, "to
offer your son this crushing insult in the presence of all."

"Yes, yes," the old gentleman answered sadly, "he will avenge himself;
but what do I care? Is not my life henceforth crushed?"

And bowing his head on his chest, the old man sank into a deep and
gloomy meditation.

"Watch over him," Cuellar said to the Count, "I know Don Melchior, he
is a thorough Indian."

In the meanwhile, Doña Dolores, who up to this moment had remained,
timidly concealed among her women behind the barricade, rose, removed
some articles of furniture, glided softly through the opening she had
effected, and sat down by the side of Don Andrés. The latter did not
stir; he had neither seen her come nor heard her place herself by his
side. She bent down to him, seized his hand, which she pressed in
her own; kissed him softly on the forehead, and said to him in her
melodious voice, with an accent of tenderness, impossible to describe--

"My father, dear father, have you not a child left who loves and
respects you? Do not let yourself be thus prostrated by grief; look at
me, papa, in Heaven's name! I am your daughter, do you not love me, who
feel so great a love for you?"

Don Andrés raised his face, which was bathed in tears, and opened his
arms to the girl, who rushed into them with a cry of joy. "Oh! I was
ungrateful," he exclaimed, with ineffable tenderness; "I doubted the
infinite goodness of God; my daughter is left to me! I am no longer
alone in the world, I can be happy still!"

"Yes, papa, God has wished to try us, but He will not abandon us in
our misfortune; be brave, forget your ungrateful son; when he repents,
remove the terrible malediction you uttered against him; let him return
penitent to your knees; he has only been led astray, I feel sure; how
could he help loving you, my noble father, you are ever so great and
good?"

"Never speak to me about your brother, child," old man replied with
savage energy, "that man no longer exists for me; you have no brother,
you never had one! Pardon me for deceiving you, by letting you believe
that this villain formed part of our family; no, this monster is not my
son, I was abused myself in supposing that the same blood flowed in his
veins and mine."

"Calm yourself, in Heaven's name, papa, I implore you."

"Come, my poor child," he continued as he pressed her in his arms,
"do not leave me, I want to feel you are here near me, that I may not
believe myself alone in the world, and that I may have the strength to
overcome my despair. Oh, say to me once more, that you love me, you
cannot understand what balm the words are to my heart, and what relief
they offer to my sorrow!"

The guerilleros had dispersed over all parts of the hacienda,
plundering and devastating, breaking the furniture, and forcing locks
with a dexterity that evidenced lengthened practice. Still, according
to the agreement made, the Count's apartments were respected. Raimbaut
and Ibarru, relieved from their long watch by Leo Carral, were busily
engaged in loading on mules, the portemanteaux of the Count and
Dominique; the guerilleros watched them for a while with knowing looks,
laughing to each other at the clumsy way in which the two servants
loaded their mules, and then offered their services to Raimbaut, which
he bravely accepted; then, the same men, who without the slightest
scruple, would have plundered all these articles, which possessed great
value for them, were actively engaged in removing and loading them
with the greatest care, without thinking for a moment of stealing the
smallest article.

Thanks to their intelligent aid, the luggage of the two young men was
in a very short time loaded on three mules, and Leo Carral had only to
see that the horses required for the journey were saddled, which were
effected in a moment, such eagerness and good will did the guerilleros
display in fetching the horses from the corral, and bringing them into
the yard. Leo Carral then returned to the drawing room, and announced
that everything was in readiness for departure.

"Gentlemen, we will go when you please," the Count said.

"At once then."

They left the drawing room, surrounded by the guerilleros, who walked
by their side, uttering loud cries, but still without daring to draw
too near, restrained, according to all appearance, by the respect they
bore their chief.

When all those who were to leave the hacienda were mounted, as well as
ten guerilleros, commanded by a non-commissioned officer, whose duty
it was to serve as escort on their Colonel's release, the guerillero
addressed his soldiers, recommending them to obey in all points Don
Melchior de la Cruz, during his absence, and then gave the signal for
departure. Beckoning the women and children, the little caravan was
composed of about sixty persons, all that were left of the two hundred
servants of the hacienda.

Cuellar rode at the head, by the side of the Count; behind him was Doña
Dolores, between her father and Dominique; next came the peons, leading
the bat mules, under the direction of Leo Carral and the Count's two
servants; the guerilleros formed the rearguard.

They descended the hill at a slow pace, and ere long found themselves
in the plain; the night was dark, it was about two hours after
midnight; the cold was severe, and the sorrowful travellers shivered
under their zarapés. They took the high road to Puebla, which they
reached at the expiration of about twenty minutes, and then broke into
a more rapid pace; the town was only five or six leagues distant, and
they hoped to arrive there at sunrise, or, at any rate, at a very early
hour.

Suddenly a great light tinged the sky with reddish hues, and lit up the
country for a long distance. The hacienda was on fire. At this sight,
Don Andrés cast a sad glance behind him, and gave vent to a deep sigh,
but he did not utter a word. Cuellar was the only person that spoke; he
tried to prove to the Count, that war had painful necessities, that for
a long time past, Don Andrés had been denounced as an avowed partisan
of Miramón, and that the capture and destruction of the hacienda were
only the results of his dislike of President Juárez. All matters to
which the Count, understanding the inutility of a discussion on such a
subject with such a man, did not even take the trouble to reply. They
rode on then for about three hours, without any incident occurring to
disturb the monotony of their journey.

The sun rose, and by the first beams of dawn the domes and lofty
steeples, of Puebla appeared in the distance, with their black and
still indistinct outlines standing out against the dark blue sky.

The Count ordered the party to halt.

"Señor," he said to Cuellar, "you have loyally fulfilled the conditions
stipulated between us; receive my thanks, and those of my unfortunate
companions here; we are not more than two leagues from Puebla, it is
daylight, and it is, therefore, unnecessary for you to accompany us
further."

"In truth, señor, I believe that you can now do without me, and as
you permit it, I will leave you, repeating my regret for what has
occurred, but unfortunately I am not the master, and--"

"No more of this, pray," the Count interrupted, "what is done is
irreparable, for the present at least: so it is useless to dwell on the
subject any longer."

Cuellar bowed. "One word, Señor Conde," he said, in a low voice.

The young man went up to him.

"Let me," the guerillero continued, "give you a piece of advice ere we
part."

"Pray go on, señor."

"You are still far from Puebla, where you will not arrive for two
hours: be on your guard, and carefully watch the country around you."

"What do you mean, señor?"

"It is impossible to know what may happen: I repeat to you, watch."

"Farewell, señor," the young man replied mechanically as he returned
his salute.

After thus courteously taking leave of the party, the guerillero placed
himself at the head of his men and galloped off, though not without
once more recommending the young man to be prudent by a significant
gesture. The Count watched him depart with a pensive air.

"What is the matter, friend?" Dominique asked him.

Ludovic told him what Cuellar had said to him on taking leave.

The vaquero frowned. "There is something in the background," he said;
"in any case the advice is good and we should do wrong to neglect it."



CHAPTER XVIII.

THE AMBUSH.


For some minutes after the departure of the guerillero, the melancholy
caravan silently continued its journey. The last words uttered by
Cuellar had gone home, however: the Count and the vaquero felt
involuntarily restless, and without daring to impart their gloomy
presentiments to each other, they advanced with excessive prudence,
sniffing the air, so to speak, and starting at the least suspicious
movement in the bushes. It was a little past five a.m.: it was that
moment when nature appears to be sunk in contemplation, and when day
and night, struggling together with almost equal force, melt into
each other and produce that opaline gleam, whose misty tints impart
to objects a vague and undetermined appearance, which renders them
somewhat fantastic. A greyish vapour rose from the ground and produced
a transparent fog, which the sunbeams, gradually growing in intensity,
rent at spots, lighting up one part of the landscape and leaving the
other in shadow: in a word, it was no longer night and not yet day. In
the distance the numerous domes of the buildings of Puebla appeared,
standing out in confused masses against the dark blue sky: the trees,
washed by the abundant night dew, had grown green: on each leaf
trembled a crystalline drop of water and their branches agitated by the
morning breeze, smote each other softly with mysterious murmurings:
already the small birds concealed beneath the foliage were uttering
twitterings, and the wild oxen raised their heads above the tall grass
with hoarse lowings. The fugitives were following a winding track beset
on either side by factitious embankments, thrown up for the cultivation
of the agave, which limited the horizon to an extremely narrow circle,
and prevented that careful survey of the environs, which was perhaps
necessary for the general safety of the caravan. The Count approached
Dominique, and leaning over the saddle, said in a low cautious voice:

"My friend, I know not why, but I feel an extreme anxiety: the farewell
of that bandit painfully affected me: it seems to forebode a speedy,
terrible and inevitable misfortune for us, and yet we are only a short
distance from the town, and the tranquillity that prevails around us
ought to reassure me."

"It is this tranquillity," the young man replied in the same key,
"which causes me like yourself indescribable agony: I too have a
presentiment of a misfortune; we are here in a wasp's nest, and no
place would be better for an ambush."

"What is to be done?" the Count muttered.

"I do not know exactly, for it is a difficult case: still I feel
convinced that we ought to redouble our prudence. Place Don Andrés and
his daughter in front, warn the peons to march with finger on trigger,
and be ready for the slightest alarm: in the meanwhile, I will go out
scouting and if the enemy is pursuing us, I will contrive to throw him
off the track: but we must not lose a single instant."

While speaking thus, the vaquero dismounted, threw his bridle to a
peon, placed his gun on his left arm and ascended the right hand
embankment, where he almost immediately disappeared among the bushes
that bordered the path.

When left alone, the Count immediately set about following his friend's
advice: he consequently formed a rearguard of the most resolute and
best armed peons, and gave them orders attentively to watch the
approaches; but he concealed from them, through fear of terrifying
them, the gravity of the events he foresaw. The majordomo, as if he
divined the Count's anxiety and shared his suspicions of an approaching
attack, had placed Don Andrés and his daughter in the centre of a
small group of devoted servants, of whom he took the command, and
hurrying on the horses, he left an interval of about one hundred
yards between himself and the main body. Doña Dolores, overwhelmed by
the terrible emotions of the night, had paid very slight attention
to the arrangements made by her friends, and mechanically followed
the new impulse given her, in all probability unconscious of the new
dangers that menaced her, and only thinking of one thing, watching
over her father, whose state of prostration was becoming more and more
alarming. In fact, since his departure from the hacienda, in spite of
his daughter's entreaties, Don Andrés had not uttered a syllable, with
fixed, lacklustre eyes, with his head bowed on his chest and his body
agitated by a continuous nervous trembling, he left his horse to guide
itself, without appearing to know whither he was going, so utterly had
sorrow broken all his energy and will.

Leo Carral, who was devoted to his master and young mistress and who
understood how incapable the old gentleman would be of offering the
slightest resistance in the probable event of an attack, had especially
recommended the servants he selected to serve as an escort to Don
Andrés, not to lose sight of him; and in the event of a combat, to make
every possible effort to draw him out of the medley, and protect him as
far as possible from danger: then at a signal the Count gave him, he
turned back and rejoined him.

"I see," the Count said, "that like myself you have a foreboding of
danger."

The majordomo shook his head. "Don Melchior will not give up the
game," he replied, "until he has either won or utterly lost it."

"Do you then suspect him to be capable of a horrible trap?"

"This man is capable of anything."

"Why, in that case he is a monster."

"No," the majordomo replied gently, "he is a mixed blood, an envious
and proud man, who knows that fortune alone can obtain him the apparent
consideration which he covets: all means will be right to obtain this
consideration."

"Even parricide?"

"Exactly."

"What you tell me is horrible."

"What would you have, señor? It is so."

"Thank Heaven, we are approaching Puebla, and once inside the town we
shall have nothing more to fear."

"Yes, but we are not there yet: you know the proverb as well as I do,
Excellency."

"What proverb?"

"That twixt the cup and the lip there's many a slip."

"I hope that this time you will be mistaken."

"I wish it, too: but you called me, Excellency?"

"Yes; I had a hint to give you."

"I am anxious to hear it."

"In the case of our being attacked, I insist that you leave us to our
own resources, and escape at full speed towards Puebla, taking with you
Don Andrés and his daughter, while we are fighting. Perhaps you will
have time to place them in safety behind the walls of the town."

"I will obey you, Excellency. No one shall reach my master without
passing over my corpse. Have you nothing more to say to me?"

"No. Return to your post; and may Heaven be gracious to us!"

The majordomo bowed, and galloped up to the small troop, in the centre
of whom were Don Andrés and his daughter. Almost at the same moment
Dominique reappeared on the side of the track: he fetched his horse,
and then stationed himself on the Count's right.

"Well," the latter asked him, "have you discovered anything?"

"Yes, and no," he replied, in a low voice.

His face was gloomy, his eyebrows contracted till they joined. The
Count examined him attentively for a moment, and felt his alarm
redoubled.

"Explain yourself," he at length said to him.

"What is the use? You will not understand me."

"Perhaps not; but speak all the same."

"This is the fact. The plain is completely deserted on our right, left,
and rear; I am certain of that. If the danger really exists, it is not
to be feared in those quarters. If a trap is laid for us--if ambushed
enemies are prepared to rush upon us, this trap is ahead; these enemies
are concealed between the town and us."

"What makes you suppose this?"

"Signs which are certain to me, and which my long residence among the
Indians made me recognise at the first glance. In the regions where
we now are, men generally neglect all the precautions employed on the
prairies, the forgetfulness of one of which would entail the immediate
death of the imprudent hunter or warrior who had thus revealed his
presence to his enemy. Here the trail is easy to recognise, and easier
to follow, for it is perfectly visible even to the most inexperienced
eye. Listen carefully to this:--since we left the hacienda, we have
been--I will not say followed, for the term is not correct under
the circumstances--but accompanied on our right by a large party
of horsemen, who galloped in the same direction as ourselves at the
distance of a gunshot at the most. These men, whoever they may be,
wheeled about half a league from here, drawing slightly nearer to our
left, as if they wished to approach us; but then doubled their pace,
passed us, and entered, ahead of us, the track on which we now are, so
that we are following them at this moment."

"And you conclude from this?"

"That the situation is dangerous, even critical; and that whatever
precautions we may take, I am greatly afraid that we have to deal with
too strong a party. Remark how the path gradually contracts--how the
sides become scarped. We are now in a canyon, and in a quarter of an
hour or twenty minutes at the most, we shall reach the spot where the
canyon opens out into the plain. It is there, be assured, that our
watchers are waiting for us."

"My good fellow, this is only too clear. Unluckily, we have no way of
escaping the fate that menaces us, and we must push on all the same."

"I know it, and it is that which vexes me," the vaquero said with a
suppressed sigh, as he cast a side glance at Doña Dolores. "If the
question only concerned us, it would be soon settled, for we are men,
and could fall bravely; but will our death save that old man and that
poor innocent girl?"

"At least, we will attempt impossibilities to keep them from falling
into the hands of their persecutors."

"We are now approaching the suspicious point, so let us push on, to be
ready for any event."

They forced their horses into a gallop. A few minutes passed, and they
then reached a spot where the path, before entering the plain, made a
rather sharp elbow.

"Look out," the Count said, in a low voice.

All placed their finger on the trigger. The elbow was passed, but
suddenly the whole cavalcade halted with a start of surprise and
terror. The entrance of the canyon was barred by a strong barricade,
composed of branches, trees, and stones, thrown across the path.
Behind this barricade some twenty men were standing motionless and
threatening. The weapons of other men crowning the heights on the right
and left could be seen glistening in the beams of the rising sun. A
horseman was standing in the centre of the path, a little in front of
the barricade. It was Don Melchior.

"Ah! Ah!" he said, with an ironical grin; "Each his turn, caballeros.
I believe that I am at this moment master of the situation, and in a
position to offer conditions."

The Count, without being in the slightest degree disconcerted, drew a
few paces nearer.

"Take care of what you are going to do, señor," he replied; "a treaty
was loyally concluded between your chief and us. Any infraction of that
treaty would be an act of treachery, and the dishonour would fall on
your chief."

"Good!" Don Melchior retorted; "We are partizans, and carry on war
in our fashion, without troubling ourselves about what people may
think. Instead of entering into an idle discussion, which would not be
favourable to you, I fancy it would be more sensible to inform you on
what conditions I will consent to let you pass."

"Conditions! We will not accept a single one, caballero; and if you do
not consent to let us pass, we may compel you to do so, however serious
the consequences of a struggle may be for both of us."

"Try it!" he replied, with an ironical smile.

"We are going to do so."

Don Melchior shrugged his shoulders, and turning to his partizans,
shouted,--

"Fire!"

A frightful detonation was heard, and a shower of bullets hustled round
the little party.

"Forward! Forward!" the Count cried.

The peons rushed with yells of anger against the barricade. The
struggle began--a terrible, fearful struggle; for the peons knew that
no quarter would be granted them by their ferocious adversaries,
and they fought accordingly, performing prodigies of valour--not to
conquer, for they did not believe that possible--but not to fall
unavenged. Don Andrés had torn himself from the arms of his daughter,
who tried in vain to retain him; and, only armed with a machete, boldly
threw himself into the thickest of the fight. The attack of the peons
was so impetuous, that the barricade was crossed at the first bound,
and the two parties fought hand to hand, being too near each other to
employ either guns or pistols.

The partisans stationed on the heights were necessarily reduced to
inaction through fear of wounding their friends, as the two bands
were so mixed up. Don Melchior was far from expecting such a vigorous
resistance on the part of the peons: owing to the advantageous position
he had chosen, he had believed the victory easy and reckoned on
immediate submission. The event singularly deranged his calculations,
and he was beginning to see the consequences of his action. Cuellar,
who would doubtless have forgiven an act of treachery accomplished
without striking a blow, would not pardon him for letting his bravest
soldiers be thus madly killed. These thoughts redoubled Don Melchior's
rage. The small troop, horribly decimated, now only counted a few men
capable of fighting, the rest were either killed or wounded.

Don Andrés' horse had been killed and the old gentleman, though his
blood poured from two wounds, did not the less continue to fight. All
at once he uttered a fearful cry of despair: Don Melchior had dashed
with a tiger's bound into the centre of the group where Doña Dolores
had sought shelter. Hurling down all the peons who came in his way, Don
Melchior seized the girl, in spite of her resistance, threw her across
his horse's neck, and clearing all obstacles, fled, without troubling
himself further about the combat sustained by his comrades. The latter,
on seeing themselves thus abandoned, gave up a fight which no longer
possessed any object for them, and doubtless, in pursuance of an order
previously given them, dispersed in all directions, leaving the peons
at liberty to continue their journey to Puebla, if such were their
desire. The abduction of Doña Dolores had been so rapidly performed by
Don Melchior that no one noticed it at the first moment, and the cry of
despair uttered by Don Andrés alone gave the alarm. Without calculating
the dangers to which they exposed themselves, the Count and the
majordomo dashed in pursuit of Don Melchior. But the young man who was
mounted on a valuable horse, had a considerable advance on their tired
steeds, which was augmented every instant. Dominique cast a glance at
Don Andrés, who had thrown himself on the ground, and raised him gently
saying,

"Have good, hopes, señor, I will save your daughter."

The old gentleman clasped his hands, and after looking at him with an
expression of unspeakable gratitude fainted away. The vaquero remounted
his horse, and driving his spurs into his flanks, he left Don Andrés
in the hands of his servants, and in his turn started in pursuit of
the abductor. Shortly after the pursuit began, the vaquero acquired
the certainty that Don Melchior who was better mounted than himself
and his comrades, would speedily be out of reach. The young man, who
had hitherto galloped in a straight line across country, suddenly made
a sharp whirl, as if an unforeseen obstacle had suddenly risen before
him; and keeping to the right he seemed for some minutes desirous of
reapproaching his pursuers. The latter then tried to bar his passage.
Dominique stopped his horse and dismounted, and cocked his gun.

According to the direction Don Melchior was following at this moment,
he must pass within a hundred yards of him. The vaquero made the
sign of the cross, shouldered his gun and pulled the trigger. Don
Melchior's horse, struck in the head, rolled on the ground, dragging
down the rider in its fall. At the same moment, some thirty partizans
appeared in the distance, galloping at full speed toward the scene of
the ambuscade. Cuellar galloped at their head. Great as was the haste
displayed by the Count and the majordomo to reach the spot where Don
Melchior was lying, Cuellar arrived, before them. Don Melchior rose,
much hurt by his fall, and leant down to his sister to help her to
rise: Doña Dolores had fainted.

"By heavens, señor," Cuellar said in a rough voice, "you are a rude
comrade, you practise treachery and ambushes with a rare talent, but
may the fiend twist my neck sooner than he ought to do, if we ride any
longer in company."

"You select your time badly for jesting, señor," Don Melchior replied;
"this young lady, who is my sister, has fainted."

"Whose fault is it," the partisans exclaimed brutally, "except your
own? With the mere object of carrying her off for I know what purpose,
you have had twenty of the most resolute men in my cuadrilla killed.
But things shall not go on so. I will put them in order, I vow."

"What do you mean?" Don Melchior asked haughtily.

"I mean that you will henceforth do me the great pleasure of going
wherever you like, so long as it is not with us, and that I intend from
this moment to have nothing more in common with you. This is clear, is
it not?"

"Perfectly clear, señor, and hence I will not abuse your patience any
longer: supply me with the requisite horses for my sister and myself,
and I will leave you immediately."

"Hang me if I supply you with anything: as for this young lady, here
are several gentlemen coming who, I am afraid, will hardly let you take
her away with you."

Don Melchior turned pale with rage, but he comprehended that any
resistance on his part was impossible: he folded his arms on his chest,
drew himself up haughtily and waited. The Count, the majordomo, and
Dominique were really hurrying up. Cuellar walked some paces toward
them--and the young man felt rather anxious, for they did not know the
partisan's intentions, and apprehended that he might declare against
them.

But Cuellar hastened to disabuse them: "You arrive opportunely,
señores," he said with a kindly accent: "I hope that you have not done
me the insult of supposing that I was in any way connected with the
trap to which you so nearly fell victims."

"We did not believe it for a moment, señor," the Count politely replied.

"I thank you for the good opinion you entertain of me, señores: of
course you have come to request that this young lady may be delivered
to you."

"That is certainly our intention, señor."

"And if I refuse to let you remove her," Don Melchior said fiercely.

"I shall blow out your brains, señor," the partisan coolly interrupted.
"Believe me, you had better not try to contend with me, but rather
profit by my present good temper to be off: for I might soon repent of
this last reproof of my kindness I give you, and abandon you to your
enemies."

"Be it so," Don Melchior remarked bitterly; "I will retire since I am
compelled to do so;" and looking at the Count disdainfully, he added,
"We shall meet again, señor, and then I hope, if the strength is not
entirely on my side, that at least the chances will be equal."

"You have already been mistaken on that point, señor; I have too much
confidence in God to believe that it will not always be so."

"We shall see," he replied in a hollow voice, falling back a few paces
as if to withdraw.

"And your father--do you not wish to know what the result of your
ambush has been with him?" Dominique then asked him in a tone of dull
menace.

"I have no father," Don Melchior replied savagely.

"No," the Count exclaimed in disgust, "for you have killed him."

The young man shuddered, a livid pallor covered, his face, a bitter
smile contracted his thin lips, and casting a venomous glance at those
who surrounded him, he cried in a choking voice--"Make way; I accept
this new insult; make way for the parricide."

Everybody recoiled with horror watching this monster, who departed
across the plain, apparently calm and peaceful. Cuellar himself watched
him retire with a shake of the head.

"That man is a demon," he muttered, and crossed himself.

This gesture was piously imitated by the soldiers. Doña Dolores was
gently raised in Dominique's arms, placed on the Count's horse, and
the young men, escorted by Cuellar, returned to Don Andrés. The peons
had bound up their master's wounds to the best of their ability. By
the Count's orders, they then made a litter of branches, which they
covered with their zarapés, and the old gentleman was laid on it by his
daughter's side. Don Andrés was still unconscious. Cuellar then took
leave of the Count.

"I regret more than I can express this unfortunate event," he said
with some degree of sadness. "Although this man is a Spaniard, and
consequently an enemy of Mexico, still the lamentable state to which I
see him reduced fills me with compassion."

The young men thanked the rough partisan for this proof of sympathy,
and after collecting their wounded, they finally took leave of him, and
sadly recommenced their journey to Puebla, where they arrived two hours
later, accompanied by several relations of Don Andrés, who, warned by a
peon sent on ahead, had come out to meet them.



CHAPTER XIX

COMPLICATIONS.


Loïck ended his narrative. The ranchero's story had been a long
one. Don Jaime listened, to it from one end to the other without
interruption, with a cold and impassive face, but with flashing eyes.

"Is that all?" he asked Loïck, turning to him.

"Yes, all, Excellency."

"In what way were you so well informed of the slightest details of this
awful catastrophe?"

"It was Domingo himself who related the events to me; he was half mad
with rage and grief, and knowing that I was going to you, he ordered me
to repeat to you--"

Don Jaime sharply interrupted him.

"Very good; did Domingo give you no other message for me?" he asked,
fixing on him a fiery glance.

The ranchero became confused.

"Excellency," he stammered.

"Confound the Briton," the adventurer exclaimed; "what cause have you
to tremble so? Come, speak or choke."

"Excellency," he said resolutely, "I am afraid I have done a stupid
thing."

"By Heaven! I suspected it, if only from your air of contrition. Well,
what is this folly?"

"It is," he continued, "that Domingo appeared in such despair at not
knowing where to find you--he seemed to have such a desire to speak to
you, that--"

"That you could not hold your tongue, and revealed to him--"

"Where you live; yes, Excellency."

After this confession, the ranchero bowed his head, as if he felt
inwardly convinced that he had committed a great fault. There was a
silence.

"Of course you told him under what name I concealed myself in this
house?" Don Jaime continued a moment after.

"Hang it!" Loïck said simply, "if I had not done so he would have had
a difficulty in finding you, Excellency."

"That is true; he is coming then?"

"I fear it."

"It is well."

Don Jaime walked up and down the room reflecting, then approaching
Loïck, who was still motionless at his place, he asked him--

"Did you come alone to Mexico?"

"Lopez accompanied me, Excellency; but I have left him at a pulquería
near the Belem gate, where he is waiting for me."

"Good, you will join him there, but say nothing to him; in an hour, not
sooner, you will return here with him, perhaps I shall want you both."

"Good," he said, rubbing his hands; "all right, Excellency, we shall
come."

"Now, be off."

"Pardon, Excellency, I have a note to deliver to you."

"A note! From whom?"

Loïck felt in his dolman, drew out a carefully sealed letter, and
handed it to Don Jaime.

"Here it is," he said.

The adventurer took a glance at the address.

"Don Estevan!" he exclaimed with a cry of joy, and eagerly broke the
seal.

The note, though short, was written in cypher--it was to the following
effect:--

"Everything is going on admirably; our man is coming of his own accord
to the bait held out to him. Saturday, midnight, peral."

"Hope!"

                                       "CORDOVA."

Don Jaime tore the note up into imperceptible pieces.

"What day is this?" he suddenly asked Loïck.

"Today?" he repeated, startled by this question, which he did not at
all anticipate.

"Ass! I suppose I did not mean yesterday or tomorrow."

"That is true, Excellency--this is Tuesday."

"Why could you not say so at once?"

Don Jaime again walked up and down the room in deep thought.

"Can I go?" Loïck ventured.

"You ought to have gone ten minutes ago," he answered sharply.

The ranchero did not require a repetition of this injunction. He bowed,
and retired. Don Jaime remained alone, but at the end of a minute
the door opened, and the two ladies came in again. Their faces were
anxious, and they timidly approached the adventurer.

"You have received bad news, Don Jaime?" Doña Maria asked.

"Alas! Yes, sister," he answered, "very bad indeed."

"May we hear it?"

"I have no reason for concealing it from you; and, besides, it concerns
people whom you love."

"Heavens!" said Doña Carmen, clasping her hands, "Can it be Dolores?"

"Dolores--yes, my child," Don Jaime answered; "Dolores, your friend;
the Hacienda del Arenal has been surprised and burnt by the Juarists."

"Oh, Heavens!" the two ladies exclaimed sorrowfully; "Poor Dolores! And
Don Andrés?"

"He is dangerously wounded,"

"Thank God, he is not dead."

"He is not much better."

"Where are they at this moment?"

"Sheltered in Puebla, where they arrived under the escort of some of
their peons, commanded by Leo Carral."

"Oh! He is a devoted servant."

"But had he been alone, I doubt whether he would have succeeded in
saving his masters; fortunately Don Andrés had at the hacienda two
French gentlemen, the Count de la Saulnay."

"The gentleman who is going to marry Dolores?" Doña Carmen said eagerly.

"Yes, and the Baron Charles de Meriadec, attaché to the French embassy;
it appears that these two young men performed prodigies of valour, and
that it was through their bravery that our friends escaped the horrible
fate which threatened them."

"May God bless them!" Doña Maria exclaimed; "Though I do not know them,
I already feel an interest in them as if they were old friends."

"You will soon know one of them at least."

"Ah!" the young lady said curiously.

"Yes, I expect the Baron de Meriadec at any moment."

"We will receive him to the best of our ability."

"I wish you to do so."

"But Dolores cannot remain at Puebla."

"That is my opinion. I intend to go to her."

"Why could she not come to us?" Doña Carmen said; "She would be in
safety here, and her father should not want for a nurse."

"What you are saying, Carmen, is very judicious; perhaps it would be
as well for her to live for some time with you. I will think over it;
before all, I must see Don Andrés, that I may convince myself of the
state he is in, and whether he can be removed."

"Brother," Doña Maria observed, "I notice that you have told us
about Dolores and her father, but you have not said a word about Don
Melchior."

Don Jaime's face suddenly grew dark at this remark, and his features
were contracted.

"Can any misfortune have happened to him?" Doña Maria exclaimed.

"Would to Heaven it were so!" he replied with a sadness mingled with
anger; "Never speak to me about that man--he is a monster."

"Great Heaven! You terrify me, Don Jaime."

"I told you, I think, that the Hacienda del Arenal was surprised by the
guerilleros."

"Yes," she said, quivering with emotion.

"Do you know who commanded the Juarists and served as their guide? Don
Melchior de la Cruz."

"Oh!" the two ladies exclaimed in horror.

"Afterwards, when Don Andrés and his daughter obtained permission to
retire safe and sound to Puebla, a man laid a snare for them a short
distance from the town, and treacherously attacked them: this man was
once again Don Melchior."

"Oh, this is horrible!" They said, as they hid their faces in their
hands and burst into sobs.

"Is it not?" he continued; "The more horrible, as Don Melchior had
coldly calculated on his father's death, that he wished by a parricide
to seize his sister's fortune, a fortune to which he had no claim, and
which the approaching marriage of Doña Dolores will entirely strip from
him, or, at least, he believed so."

"This man is a monster!" said Doña Maria.

The two ladies were terrified by this announcement. Their intimacy
with the de la Cruz family was great, the two younger ladies having
been almost brought up together; they loved each other like sisters,
although though Doña Carmen was a little older than Doña Dolores,
hence the news of the misfortune which had so suddenly burst on Don
Andrés filled them with grief. Doña Maria warmly urged Don Jaime to
have Don Andrés and his daughter conveyed to Mexico and lodged in her
house, when Doña Dolores would find that care and consolation which she
must need so greatly after such a disaster.

"I will see, I will strive to satisfy you," Don Jaime replied; "still,
I dare not promise you anything as yet. I intend to start this very day
for Puebla, and if I were not expecting a visit from Baron de Meriadec
I should set out at once."

"It would be the first time," Doña Maria said gently, "that I should
see you leave us almost without regret."

Don Jaime smiled. At this moment they heard the outer gate opened, and
a horse's hoofs re-echo in the zaguán.

"Here is the Baron," said the adventurer, and he went to meet his
visitor.

It was really Dominique. Don Jaime offered him his hand, and giving him
a significant glance, said in French, which language the ladies spoke
very well--

"You are welcome, my dear Baron; I was impatiently expecting you."

The young man understood that he was to retain his incognito till fresh
orders.

"I am really sorry at having kept you waiting, my dear Don Jaime," he
answered, "but I have come at full speed from Puebla, and do not tell
you anything new in saying that it is a long journey."

"I know it," Don Jaime remarked with a smile; "but let me introduce you
to two ladies who desire to know you, and let us not remain any longer
here."

"Ladies," Don Jaime said as he entered, "allow me to introduce to you
Baron Charles de Meriadec, attaché to the French Embassy, one of my
best friends, to whom I have before alluded. My dear Baron, I have the
honour to present to you Doña Maria, my sister, and Doña Carmen, my
niece."

Although the adventurer omitted, no doubt purposely, one-half of the
ladies' names, the young man did not appear to notice it, and bowed
respectfully.

"Now," Don Jaime resumed gaily, "you are one of the family; you are
acquainted with our Spanish hospitality: if you require anything,
speak; we are all at your service."

They sat down, and while taking refreshments, conversed--

"You can speak quite openly, Baron," Don Jaime said; "these ladies are
aware of the frightful events at the hacienda."

"More frightful than you suppose, I fancy," the young man said; "and
since you take an interest in this unhappy family, I am afraid to add
to your grief, and be a messenger of evil tidings."

"We are intimately connected with Don Andrés de la Cruz and his
charming daughter," Doña Maria observed.

"In that case, madam, forgive me if I have only bad news to impart to
you."

The young man hesitated.

"Oh, speak! Speak!"

"I have only a few words to say: the Juarists have seized Puebla; the
town surrendered to the first summons."

"The cowards!" the adventurer said, smiting the table with his fist.

"Were you ignorant of it?"

"Yes; I believed it to be still held by Miramón."

"The first business of the Juarists was, according to their invariable
custom, to plunder and imprison the foreigners, and more especially
the Spaniards residing in the town. Some were even shot without the
pretence of a trial; the prisons are crowded; they have been obliged
to employ several convents in which to bestow their prisoners. Terror
reigns at Puebla."

"Go on, my friend; and Don Andrés?"

"Don Andrés, as, of course, you are aware, is dangerously wounded."

"Yes, I know it."

"His state admits of but slight hopes; the governor of the town,
in spite of the representations of the notables and the entreaties
of all honest people, had Don Andrés arrested as convicted of high
treason--those are the very words of the warrant--in spite of the
tears of his daughter and all his friends, he had been removed to the
dungeons of the old Inquisition; the house occupied by Don Andrés has
been plundered and destroyed."

"Why, this is frightful! It is barbarity!"

"Oh, that is nothing as yet."

"How, nothing?"

"Don Andrés was tried, and as he protested his innocence, in spite
of all the efforts of the judges to make him condemn himself, he was
subjected to torture."

"To torture!" the hearers exclaimed with a start of horror.

"Yes; this wounded, dying old man was suspended by the thumbs, and
received the strappado on two different occasions. In spite of this
martyrdom his torturers did not succeed in making him confess the
crimes with which they charge him, and of which he is innocent."

"Oh, this surpasses all credence!" Don Jaime exclaimed; "And of course
the hapless man is dead?"

"Not yet; or, at least, he was not so on my departure from Puebla. He
had not even been condemned, for his murderers are in no hurry; time is
their own, and they are playing with their victim."

"And Dolores!" Doña Carmen exclaimed; "Poor Dolores! How she must
suffer!"

"Doña Dolores has disappeared; she has been carried off."

"Disappeared!" Don Jaime shouted in a voice of thunder; "And you still
live to tell me of it?"

"I did all I could to be killed," he replied simply, "but did not
succeed."

"Ah! I will find her again," the adventurer continued, "and the Count,
what is he doing?"

"He is in a state of despair and is seeking her, aided by Leo Carral:
while I came to you."

"You did well: I shall not fail you. Then the Count and Leo Carral have
remained at Puebla?"

"Leo Carral alone. The Count was obliged to fly in order to escape the
pursuit of the Juarists and has taken shelter at the rancho with his
servants: every day his youngest valet Ibarru, I think that is his
name, goes to the town to arrange measures with the majordomo."

"Was it from your own impulse that you came to me?"

"Yes, but I first consulted with the Count, as I did not like to act
without having his advice."

"You were right, sister, prepare a suitable apartment for Doña Dolores."

"You will bring her back then?" the two ladies exclaimed.

"Yes, or perish."

"Shall we be off?" the young man cried impatiently.

"In a moment, I expect Loïck and Lopez."

"Is Loïck here?"

"It may be he who brought me the news about the surprise of the
hacienda."

"It was I who sent him."

"I am aware of it. Your horse is fatigued, you will leave it here, when
it will be taken care of, and I will give you another."

"Very good."

"Of course you heard the names of Don Andrés' principal persecutors?"

"They are three in number, the first is the first secretary, the tool
of the new governor, his name is Don Antonio de Cacerbas."

"You have a lucky hand," the adventurer said ironically, "that is the
man whose life you so philanthropically saved."

The young man uttered a roar like a tiger, "I will kill him," he said
hoarsely.

Don Jaime gave him a glance of surprise.

"Then, you hate him thoroughly?" he asked him.

"Even his death will not satisfy me: the man's conduct is strange: he
suddenly arrived in the town two days after the army: he only appeared
and then went off again, leaving behind him a long train of blood."

"We shall find him again: who is the second?"

"Have you not guessed him already?"

"Don Melchior, I suppose."

"Yes."

"In that case, I know where to find Doña Dolores: it was he who carried
her off."

"It is probable."

"And the third?"

"The third is a young man with a handsome face, soft voice, and noble
manners, more terrible than both the others, it is said, though he has
no official title: he seems to hold great power and passes for a secret
agent of Juárez."

"His name?"

"Don Diego Izaguirre."

The adventurer's face brightened.

"Good," he said with a smile, "the affair is not so desperate as I
feared; we shall succeed."

"Do you think so?"

"I am sure of it."

"May heaven hear you!" the two ladies exclaimed with clasped hands.

Doña Maria, ever since the arrival of the pretended baron, had been
suffering from an extraordinary feeling, while the young man was
conversing with Don Jaime. She gazed at him with strange intentness,
she felt her eyes fill with tears and her bosom oppressed, she could
not at all understand the emotion which was caused her by the sight
and voice of this elegant young man, whom she now saw for the first
time; in vain did she search her recollections to discover where she
had already heard his voice, whose accent had something so sweetly
sympathetic about it that went straight to her heart. She studied the
handsome manly face of the vaquero, as if she were to discover in his
features a fugitive resemblance to someone she had formerly known:
but everything was a chaos in her memory, an insurmountable barrier
seemed to be raised between the present and the past, as if to prove
to her that she was allowing herself to be overpowered by a wild hope,
and that the man who was before her, was really a stranger to her.
Don Jaime attentively followed on Doña Maria's face the different
feelings that were in turn reflected on it; but whatever his opinion
on the subject might be, he remained cold, impassive, and apparently
indifferent to the interludes of this family drama, which, however,
must interest him to the highest degree. Loïck arrived followed by
Lopez: a fresh horse was saddled for Dominique.

"Let us go," the adventurer said as he rose, "time presses."

The young man took leave of the ladies.

"You will return, will you not, sir?" Doña Maria graciously asked him.

"You are a thousand times too kind, madam," he answered, "I shall
consider it a happiness to avail myself of your delightful invitation."

They left the room, Doña Maria seized her brother's arm.

"One word, Don Jaime," she said to him in a trembling voice.

"Speak, sister."

"Do you know this young man?"

"Intimately."

"Is he really a French gentleman?"

"He passes for such," he replied, looking at her intently.

"I was mad," she murmured, as she let go the arm she had hitherto held,
and heaved a sigh.

Don Jaime went out without another word. Ere long the hoofs of the
four horses urged at their full speed could be heard clattering in the
street.



CHAPTER XX.

THE SURPRISE


They galloped thus till night without exchanging a word. At sunset they
reached a ruined rancho, standing like a sentry, on the skirt of the
road. The adventurer made a sign and the riders pulled up their horses.
A man came out of the rancho, looked at them, without saying a word,
and then went in again. Some minutes elapsed; the man reappeared, but
this time he came from behind the rancho, and was leading two horses
by the bridle. These horses were saddled. The adventurer and Dominique
leapt down, removed their alforjas and pistols, placed them on the
fresh horses and remounted. The man returned a second time with other
two horses, which Loïck and Lopez mounted. The man, still silent,
collected the bridles of the four horses, and went off dragging them
after him.

"Forwards!" Don Jaime cried.

They set out once more. The silent and rapid ride recommenced. The
night was gloomy and the riders glided through the shadows like
phantoms. All night they galloped thus. At about five a.m. they changed
horses again at a half-ruined rancho. These men seemed made of iron;
though they had been fifteen hours in the saddle, fatigue bad no hold
on them. Not a word had been exchanged between them during this long
ride.

At about ten o'clock in the morning, they saw the domes of Puebla
glittering in the dazzling sunbeams. They had covered one hundred and
twenty-six miles that separated that town from Mexico, in twenty hours,
along almost impracticable roads. At about half a league from, the
town, instead of continuing to advance in a straight line, at a sign
from the adventurer, they turned off and entered a scarce traced path
that ran through a wood. For an hour they galloped after Don Jaime,
who had taken the lead of the cavalcade. They thus reached a rather
extensive clearing, in the centre of which stood an euramada.

"We have arrived," said the adventurer, checking his horse and
dismounting. "We will establish our headquarters here temporarily."

His companions leaped down and prepared to unsaddle their horses.

"Wait," he continued. "Loïck, you will go to your rancho, where the
Count de la Saulnay and his servants are at present, and bring them
here. You, Lopez, will fetch our provisions."

"Are we two going to wait under this euramada, then?" Dominique asked.

"No; for I am going to Puebla."

"Do you not fear being recognised?"

The adventurer smiled. Don Jaime and the vaquero were left alone. They
removed their horses' bridles so that they might graze freely on the
tender grass of the clearing.

"Follow me," said Don Jaime.

Dominique obeyed. They went under the euramada. This is the name given
in Mexico to a species of shapeless hut formed of interlaced branches,
and covered with other branches and leaves; these tenements, though of
very paltry appearance, offer a very sufficient shelter against rain
and sunshine. This euramada, better built than the others, was divided
into two compartments by a hurdle of intertwined branches, which
mounted to the roof and divided the hut into two equal parts. Don Jaime
did not stop in the first compartment, but passed straight into the
second, still followed by Dominique, who for some moments past seemed
to be plunged into serious reflections. The adventurer disturbed a pile
of grass and dry leaves, and drawing his machete, began digging up the
ground. Dominique looked at him in amazement.

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

"As you see, I am clearing the entrance of a vault; come and help me,"
he answered.

Both set to work. Ere long appeared a large flat stone, in the centre
of which a ring was fixed. When the stone was removed, steps, clumsily
cut in the rock, became visible.

"Come down," said the adventurer.

He had lighted a lamp by means of a lucifer match. Dominique cast a
curious glance around him. The spot where he was, situated some seven
or eight yards under ground, formed a sort of octagonal hall of very
considerable dimensions; four galleries, which seemed to run further
underground, entered at so many different points. This hall was amply
supplied with weapons of every description; there were also harness,
clothes, a bed made of leaves and furs, and even books on a shelf
hanging against the side.

"You see one of my dens," the adventurer said with a smile. "I possess
several like this scattered all over Mexico. This vault dates from the
time of the Aztecs, and its existence was revealed to me several years
ago by an aged Indian. You are aware that the province in which we now
are, was anciently the sacred territory of the Mexican religion, and
temples swarmed on it; the numberless underground passages were used by
the priests to go from one place to another without being discovered,
and thus give greater force to miracles of ubiquity which they
pretended to accomplish. At a later date, they served, a refuge to the
Indians persecuted by the Spanish conquerors. The one we are now in,
which runs on one side to the pyramid of Cholula, and on the other to
the very heart of Puebla without counting other issues, was on several
occasions extremely useful to the Mexican insurgents during the war of
Independence--now its existence is forgotten, and the secret is only
known to myself and to you now."

The vaquero had listened to this explanation with the most lively
interest.

"Pardon me," he said, "but there is one thing that I do not exactly
understand."

"What is it?"

"You told me just now that if anyone arrived by chance, we should be at
once warned?"

"Yes, I did say so."

"I do not at all understand how this can be."

"Very simply. You see that gallery, do you not?"

"Yes."

"It terminates with a sort of outlook about a yard square, covered
with shrubs, and impossible to detect at the very entrance of the path
by which it is alone possible to enter the wood; now, by a singular
effect of acoustics, which I shall not at all attempt to explain, all
sounds, of whatever nature they may be, even the slightest, which are
produced near that outlook are immediately repeated here, with such
distinctness, that it is most easy to recognize their nature."

"Oh! In that case I am no longer alarmed."

"Moreover, when the persons we expect have arrived, we will stop up
this hole, which will be useless to us, and leave by the gallery that
opens there in front of you."

While giving these explanations to his friend, the adventurer had
doffed a portion of his garments.

"What are you doing?" Dominique asked.

"I am disguising myself, in order to go and find out how matters stand
at Puebla. The inhabitants of that town are very religious; monasteries
are numerous there, and hence I am going to put on a Camaldoli dress,
by favour of which I can attend to my business without fear of
attracting attention."

The vaquero had sat down on the furs, and was reflecting with his back
against the wall.

"What is the matter, Dominique? You appear to me preoccupied and sad?"
Don Jaime asked him a moment after.

The young man started as if a viper had suddenly stung him.

"I am, in truth, sad, master," he muttered.

"Have I not told you that we shall find Doña Dolores again?" he
continued.

Dominique quivered, and his face became livid; "Master," he said, as he
rose, and hung his head, "despise me, I am a coward."

"You a coward, Domingo! Good God, you speak falsely."

"No, master, I am telling the truth, I have misunderstood my duty,
betrayed my friend, and forgotten your recommendations." He gave a
profound sigh. "I love the betrothed wife of my friend," he added
feebly.

The adventurer fixed his bright eyes on him, "I was aware of it," he
said.

Domingo started and exclaimed in alarm, "You knew it?"

"I did," Don Jaime continued, "And you do not despise me?"

"Why should I? Are we masters of our heart?"

"But she is betrothed to the Count, my friend."

The adventurer made no answer to this exclamation. "And does she love
you in return?" he asked.

"How can I tell?" he exclaimed, "I have hardly dared to confess it to
myself."

There was a lengthened silence. While putting on his monastic garb, the
adventurer examined the young man aside. "The Count does not love Doña
Dolores?" he at length said.

"What! Can it be possible?" he exclaimed, hotly. Don Jaime burst into a
laugh.

"That is the way with lovers," he remarked, "they do not understand
that others have not the same eyes as themselves."

"But he is going to marry her?"

"He ought," he said, laying a marked stress on the word.

"Did he not come to Mexico expressly for the purpose?"

"It is true."

"Then you see he will marry her in that case."

The adventurer shrugged his shoulders.

"Your conclusion is absurd," he said. "Does a man ever know what he
will do? Does the morrow belong to him?"

"But since the misfortunes which have crushed Doña Dolores' family and
herself, the Count has been attempting impossibilities to save the
young lady."

"That proves that the Count is a perfect gentleman and man of honour,
that is all. Besides, he is her relation, and is doing his duty in
trying to save her, even at the risk of his life and fortune."

Dominique shrugged his shoulders several times, "He loves her," he said.

"In that case I will turn the sentence; Doña Dolores does not love
him."

"You think so?"

"I am sure of it."

"Oh, if I could only persuade myself of it, I might hope."

"You are a baby. Now I am off, and do you wait for me here: swear not
to leave this place till my return."

"I swear it."

"Good: I am going to work for you, so hope I shall return soon."

And giving him a last wave of the hand, the adventurer went off by a
side gallery.

The young man remained pensive so long as the sound of his friend's
retiring footsteps reached him, then he fell back on the bed of furs,
murmuring in a low voice, "He bade me hope."

We will leave Dominique plunged in those reflections which, judging
from the expression of his face, must have been agreeable, and follow
Don Jaime on his adventurous expedition. As the vault was situated
about half a league from the town, Don Jaime had that distance to go
underground before he found himself in Puebla. But this long walk
did not appear at all to alarm him: he proceeded at a round pace
along the gallery into which sufficient light penetrated by invisible
interstices, for him to be able to guide himself in the countless
windings he was forced to make. He walked thus for about three parts of
an hour, and at length reached the foot of a staircase, consisting of
fifteen steps.

The adventurer stopped a moment to draw breath, and then went up. When
he reached the top of the steps, he sought for a spring, which he soon
found, and pressed his finger on it. Immediately an enormous stone
became detached from the wall, moved noiselessly on invisible hinges,
and displayed a wide passage. Don Jaime stepped out and thrust back the
stone, which immediately resumed its first position in so perfect a
manner, that it was impossible, even with the most earnest attention,
to perceive the slightest crack or solution of continuity in the wall.

Don Jaime looked searchingly round him: he was alone. The spot where he
was was a chapel of the cathedral of Puebla. The secret door through
which the adventurer had passed opened on a corner of this chapel,
and was concealed by a confessional. These precautions were carefully
taken, and there was no risk of a discovery. Don Jaime left the church
and found himself on the Plaza Mayor. It was about midday, the hour of
the siesta, and the square was almost deserted. The adventurer pulled
the hood over his eyes, hid his hands in his cuffs, and with his head
hanging on his chest, and with a calm and contemplative step he crossed
the square and entered one of the streets that ran from it.

Oliver thus reached the gate of a pretty house, standing in its own
grounds, and which seemed to rise from the centre of a bouquet of
orange and pomegranate trees. As this gate was only on the hasp, the
adventurer pushed it, went in and closed the gate again after him.
He then found himself on the sanded walk that led to the door of the
house, which was raised by a few steps, and covered by a large verandah
in the Mexican fashion. Oliver looked suspiciously around him, but the
garden was deserted. He advanced; but instead of proceeding toward the
house he struck into a side walk, and after a few turns found himself
facing a door apparently belonging to the offices.

On reaching this spot Oliver took a silver whistle hanging round his
neck by a thin gold chain, raised it to his lips, and produced a sweet
and peculiarly modulated sound. Almost immediately a similar whistle
was heard from the interior, the door opened, and a man appeared. The
adventurer made him a Masonic sign, to which the other replied, and
followed him into the house. Without speaking, this man guided him
through several apartments till he reached a door which he opened to
let the adventurer pass through, while he remained behind.

The room into which Oliver was thus introduced was elegantly furnished,
large Venetian blinds interrupted the rays of the sun, the floor was
covered with one of those soft pelates which the Indians alone know how
to manufacture; a hammock of aloe fibre suspended by silver rings from
hooks of the same material divided the room in two. A man was lying in
this hammock fast asleep. It was Don Melchior de la Cruz; a knife with
a curiously embossed silver hilt, with a wide long blade sharp as a
viper's tongue, was placed on a low sandalwood table within reach, by
the side of two magnificent revolvers.

Even in his own house, in the middle of Puebla, Don Melchior thought it
right to be on his guard against a surprise or treachery. His fears,
however, were not at all exaggerated, for the man who is at that moment
before him might fairly be reputed one of his most formidable enemies.

The adventurer surveyed him for some minutes, then advanced softly
to the hammock without producing the slightest noise. He took the
revolvers, concealed them under his gown, seized the knife, and then
gently touched the sleeper. Though the touch, was so light, it sufficed
to arouse Don Melchior. He at once opened his eyes, and stretched out
his arm to the table by a mechanical movement.

"It is useless," Oliver said to him, coldly; "the weapons are no longer
there."

At the sound of this well-known voice Don Melchior sprang up as if
moved by a spring, and fixing a haggard eye on the man standing
motionless before him, he asked, in a voice choked by horror--

"Who are you?"

"Have you not recognized me yet?" the adventurer remarked, jeeringly.

"Who are you?" he repeated.

"Ah! You require a certainty: well, look!" and he threw back his hood
on his shoulders.

"Don Adolfo!" the young man muttered, in a hollow voice.

"Why this astonishment?" the adventurer continued, in the same mocking
voice. "Did you not expect me? Still, you should have supposed that I
would come to seek you."

Don Melchior remained for a moment as if lost in thought. "Be it so,"
he at length said, "After all it is better to come to an end once for
all," and he sat down again, apparently calm and careless, on the edge
of the hammock.

Oliver smiled. "Very good," he said; "I would sooner see you thus: let
us talk, we have time."

"Then you have not come with the intention of assassinating me?" he
asked, ironically.

"Oh! What a bad thought that is of yours, my dear sir! I raise a hand
against you! Oh, no! Heaven preserve me from it! That is the hangman's
business, and I should be most sorry to poach on the manor of that
estimable functionary."

"The fact is," he exclaimed, impetuously, "that you have entered my
house as a malefactor, in disguise, of course, to assassinate me."

"You repeat yourself, and that is clumsy; if I have come to you
in disguise it is because circumstances compelled me to take the
precaution, that is all: moreover, I only followed your example," and
suddenly changing his tone, he added--"by the by, are you satisfied
with Juárez? Has he rewarded your treachery handsomely? I have heard
say that he is a very greedy and mean Indian, and so, I suppose, he
contented himself with making you promises?"

Don Melchior smiled disdainfully.

"Did you thus privily enter my house only to talk such trash to me?" he
asked.

The adventurer rose, drew a revolver, stepped forward, and regarding
him with a look of indescribable contempt, shouted, in a voice of
thunder--

"No, scoundrel, I have come to blow out your brains if you refuse to
reveal to me what you have done with your sister, Doña Dolores!"



CHAPTER XXI.

THE PRISONERS.


For some seconds there was a silence, pregnant with menace. The two men
were standing face to face. This silence Don Melchior de la Cruz was
the first to break.

"Ah, ah, ah!" he said, bursting into a hoarse laugh, and sinking again
on the border of the hammock, "Was I so wrong in saying to you, my dear
sir, that you entered my house for the purpose of assassinating me?"

The adventurer bit his lip savagely, and the unlucky revolver.

"Well, no!" he exclaimed, in a loud voice; "No, I repeat, I will not
kill you, for you are not worthy to die by the hand of an honest man;
but I will compel you to confess the truth to me."

The young man looked at him with a singular expression. "Try it," he
said, with a disdainful shrug of the shoulders.

Then he began carelessly rolling in his fingers a dainty husk
cigarette, lit it, and while sending up to the ceiling a puff of blue
and perfumed smoke, he said--

"Come, I am waiting for you."

"Good! This is what I propose to you: you are my prisoner, well, I will
restore you to liberty if you will deliver Doña Dolores, I will not say
into my hands, but into those of Count de la Saulay, her cousin, whom
she is going to marry immediately."

"Hum! This is serious, my dear sir; please to remember that I am my
sister's legal guardian."

"How her guardian?"

"Yes, since our father is dead."

"Don Andrés de la Cruz dead?" the adventurer exclaimed, leaping up.

"Alas! Yes," the young man replied, hypocritically raising his eyes to
heaven; "we had the grief of losing him the night before last, and he
was buried yesterday morning; the poor old gentleman could not resist
the frightful misfortunes which have overwhelmed our family. Sorrow
crushed him: his end was most affecting."

There was a silence, during which Oliver walked up and down the room.
All at once the adventurer stopped in front of the young man.

"Without any further circumlocution," he said to him, "will you, yes or
no, restore your sister her liberty?"

"No!" Melchior replied, resolutely.

"Good," the adventurer coldly remarked; "in that case, all the worse
for you."

At this moment the door opened, and a tall and elegantly-dressed young
man entered the room. At the sight of this young man a cunning smile
illumined Don Melchior's face.

"Eh!" he said, to himself, "Things may turn out differently from what
this dear Don Adolfo supposes."

The young man bowed politely, and walked up to the master of the house,
with whom he shook hands.

"I am disturbing you?" he said, taking a careless glance at the
supposed monk.

"On the contrary, my dear Don Diego, you could not arrive more
opportunely: but by what chance do I see you at so unusual an hour?"

"I have come to bring you good news: Count de la Saulay, your private
enemy, is in our power; but, as he is a Frenchman, and certain
considerations must be maintained, the general has decided to send him,
under a good escort, to our most illustrious president. Another piece
of good news, you are intrusted with the command of this escort."

"¡Demonios!" Don Melchior exclaimed, triumphantly, "You are a good
friend. But now it is my turn: look carefully at that monk, do you
recognize him? Well, this man is no other than the adventurer called
Don Adolfo, Don Olivero, Don Jaime, or by a hundred names, who has so
long been sought in vain."

"Can it be possible?" Don Diego exclaimed.

"It is true," Don Adolfo said.

"Within an hour you will be dead--shot like a traitor and bandit!"
Melchior exclaimed.

Don Adolfo shrugged his shoulders contemptuously.

"It is evident," Don Diego observed, "that this man will be shot; but
the president alone has the right of deciding his fate, as he declares
that he is a Frenchman."

"Why all the demons seem to belong to that accursed race!" Don Melchior
exclaimed, quite disconcerted.

"Well, really I cannot tell you exactly; as regards this man, as he is
a daring fellow, and you might be considerably embarrassed by him, I
will send him to the president under a separate escort."

"No, no, if you wish to do me a service; let me take him with me; do
not be alarmed, I will take such precautions, that, clever as he is, he
shall not escape me; still, it will be as well to disarm him."

The adventurer silently handed his weapons to Don Diego. At this moment
a footman came in, and announced that the escort was waiting in the
street.

"Very good," said Melchior, "let us be off."

The servant gave his master a machete, a brace of pistols, and a
zarapé, and buckled on his spurs.

"Now we can start," said Don Melchior.

"Come," said Don Diego, "Señor Don Adolfo, or whatever be your name, be
kind enough to go first."

The adventurer obeyed without a word. Twenty-five or thirty soldiers
attired in a rather fantastic uniform, mostly in rags, and resembling
bandits, much more than honest soldiers, were waiting in the street.

These men were all well mounted and armed. In the midst of them were
the Count de la Saulay, and his two servants under strict guard; a
smile of joy lit up Don Melchior's face at the sight of the gentleman;
the latter did not deign to appear to notice his presence. A horse
was prepared for Don Adolfo; at a sign from Don Diego he mounted, and
placed himself of his own accord by the side of the Count, with whom
he shook hands. Don Melchior also mounted.

"Now, my friend," said Don Diego, "a pleasant journey to you. I am
going back to the government house."

"Good bye then," said Melchior, and the escort set out.

It was about two in the afternoon, the greatest heat of the day had
passed, the shops were beginning to open again, and the tradesmen
standing in the door watched the soldiers pass with a yawn. Don
Melchior rode a few yards ahead of his troop; his demeanour was
cold and sedate, he made vain efforts to restrain the joy which he
experienced on at length having his implacable enemies in his hands.
After they had ridden some distance from the town, the lieutenant who
commanded the escort, approached Don Melchior.

"Our men are fatigued," he said to him, "it is time to think about
camping for the night."

"I am willing to do so," the other replied, "provided that the spot is
a secure one."

"I know a few paces from here," the lieutenant continued, "a deserted
rancho, where we shall be very comfortable."

"Let us go there then."

The lieutenant acted as guide, and the soldiers soon entered a path
scarce traced through a very thick wood, and at the end of about
three quarters of an hour reached a large clearing, in the middle of
which stood the rancho announced. The officer gave his men orders to
dismount. The latter eagerly obeyed; for they seemed anxious to rest
after their fatigue.

Leaping from his horse, Don Melchior entered the rancho, in order to
assure himself of the condition it was in. But he had hardly set his
foot in the interior, ere he was suddenly seized, rolled in a zarapé,
and bound and gagged, even before he had the time to attempt a useless
defence.

At the end of some minutes, he heard a clanking of sabres, and a
regular sound of footsteps outside the rancho; the soldiers, or at
least a portion of them, were going away, without paying any attention
to him.

Almost at the same moment he was seized by the feet and shoulders,
lifted up, and carried off. After a few rapid steps, it seemed to him
as if his bearers were taking him down steps that entered the ground;
then, after about ten minutes march, he was softly laid on a bed,
composed of furs as he supposed, and left alone. An utter silence
prevailed around the prisoner, he was really alone. At length a slight
noise became audible, this noise gradually increased, and soon became
loud; it resembled the walk of several persons, whose footsteps grated
on sand.

This noise suddenly ceased. The young man felt himself lifted up
and carried off once more. They carried him for a very considerable
distance, and the bearers relieved each other at regular distances.

At length they stopped again; from the fresher and sharper air that
smote his face, the prisoner conjectured that he had left the tunnel
and was now in the open country. He was laid down on the ground.

"Set the prisoner at liberty," a voice said, whose dry metallic sound
struck the young man.

His bonds were at once unfastened, and the gag and the handkerchief
that covered his eyes removed.

Don Melchior leaped on his feet and looked around him. The spot where
he found himself was the top of a rather lofty hill in the centre of
an immense plain. The night was dark, and a little to the right in
the distance gleamed like so many stars, the lights of the houses in
Puebla. The young man formed the centre of a rather large group, drawn
up in a circle round him. These men were masked, each of them held in
his right hand a torch of ocote wood, whose flame agitated by the wind,
threw a blood red hue over the country, and imparted to it a fantastic
appearance. Don Melchior felt a shudder of terror run over his whole
body, he understood that he was in the power of that mysterious Masonic
association, of which he was himself a member, and which spread over
the whole of Mexico, the gloomy ramifications of its formidable ventas.
The silence was so profound on the hill, all the men so thoroughly
resembled statues in their cold immobility, that the young man could
hear his own heart beating in his breast.

A man stepped forward.

"Don Melchior de la Cruz," he said, "do you know where you are, and in
whose presence?"

"I know it," he replied through his clenched teeth.

"Do you recognise the authority of the men by whom you are surrounded?"

"Yes, because they have the might on their side; any attempt at
resistance or protest would be an act of folly on my part."

"No, it is not for that reason that you come under the authority of
these men, and you are perfectly aware of the fact; but because you
voluntarily connected yourself with them by a compact. In making this
compact, you accepted their jurisdiction, and gave them the right to
be your judges, if you broke the oaths which you took of your own full
accord--"

Don Melchior shrugged his disdainfully.

"Why should I attempt a useless defence?" he said; "for am I not
condemned beforehand. Hence execute without further delay, the sentence
which you have already tacitly pronounced."

The masked man darted at him a flashing glance through the openings in
his mask.

"Don Melchior," he continued in a hard and deeply marked voice, "it is
neither as parricide, nor as fratricide, nor as robber, that you appear
before this supreme tribunal, I repeat to you, but as a traitor to your
country, I call on you to defend yourself."

"And I refuse to do so," he replied in a loud firm voice.

"Very good," the masked man continued coldly; then, planting his torch
in the ground, he turned to the spectators. "Brothers," he said, "what
punishment has this man deserved?"

"Death!" the masked man answered, in a hollow voice.

Don Melchior was not at all affected.

"You are condemned to death," the man continued who had hitherto
spoken. "The sentence will be executed at this spot. You have half an
hour to prepare to meet your God."

"In what way shall I die?" the young man asked, carelessly.

"By the rope."

"That death as soon as another," he said, with an ironical smile.

"We do not arrogate the right of killing the soul with the body,"
the masked man continued; "a priest will hear the confession of your
faults."

"Thanks!" the young man said, laconically.

The masked man stood for a second, as if expecting that Don Melchior
would address another request to him; but seeing that he continued to
maintain silence, he took up his torch again, fell back two paces,
waved it thrice, and extinguished it beneath his foot. All the other
torches were put out at the same moment. A slight rustling of dry
leaves and broken branches was heard, and Don Melchior found himself
alone. Still, the young man did not deceive himself as to this apparent
solitude. He understood that his enemies, though invisible, continued
to watch him. A man, however well tempered his mind may be, however
great his energy, though he has looked death in the face a hundred
times, when he is twenty years of age, that is to say, when he finds
himself scarcely on the threshold of existence, and the future smiles
on him through the intoxicating prism of youth, cannot thus completely
forget himself, and, without any transition, pass from life to death,
without feeling an utter and sudden enervation of all his intellectual
faculties, and suffering a horrible agony and nervous contraction of
all his muscles, especially this death which awaits him full of life
and youth, is inflicted on him coldly at night, and has an indelible
brand of infamy. Hence, spite of all his courage and resolution, Don
Melchior suffered an awful agony. At the root of every hair, which
stood on end with terror, gathered a drop of cold perspiration. His
features were frightfully contracted, and a livid and earthy pallor
covered his face. At this moment a hand was gently laid on his
shoulder. He started as if he had received an electric shock, and
sharply raised his head. A monk was standing before him, with his hood
pulled down over his face.

"Ah!" he said, rising; "Here is the priest."

"Yes," said the monk in a low, but perfectly distinct voice; "kneel
down, my son: I am prepared to receive your confession."

The young man started at the sound of this voice, which he fancied he
recognised; and his ardent and scrutinising glance was fixed on the
monk standing motionless before him. The latter knelt down, making him
a signal to imitate him. Don Melchior mechanically obeyed. These two
men thus kneeling on the desert crest of this hill, faintly lit up by
the feeble and flickering light of the lanthorns, which rendered the
darkness that surrounded them on all sides more profound, offered a
strange and striking spectacle.

"We are watched," said the monk. "Display no agitation; keep your
nerves quiet, and listen to me. We have not a moment to lose. Do you
recognise me?"

"Yes," Don Melchior said, faintly; who, feeling a friend at his side,
involuntarily clung to hope, the sentiment which last survives in the
human heart: "Yes, you are Don Antonio de Cacerbas."

"Dressed in the garb I am now wearing," Don Antonio continued; "I was
on the point of entering Puebla, when I was suddenly surrounded by
masked men, who asked me whether I was in orders? On my affirmative
reply--a reply made at all hazards, in order not to destroy an
incognito which is my sole safeguard against my enemies, these men
carried me off with them, and brought me here. I witnessed your trial
while shuddering with terror for myself, if I were recognised by these
men, from whom I escaped once before solely by a miracle; but, whatever
may happen, I am resolved to share your fate. Have you weapons?"

"No. But of what use are weapons against so large a body of enemies?"

"To fall bravely, instead of being ignominiously hung."

"That is true!" the young man exclaimed.

"Silence, unhappy man!" Don Antonio said, sharply.

"Take this revolver and this dagger. I have the same for myself."

"All right!" he said, clutching the weapons to his chest; "Now I am no
longer afraid of them."

"Good! That is how I wished you to feel. Remember this: the horses are
waiting ready saddled down there on the right, at the foot of the hill.
If we succeed in reaching them, we are saved."

"Whatever happens, thanks, Don Antonio. If Heaven decrees that we shall
escape--"

"Promise me nothing," Don Antonio said, quickly; "there will be time
hereafter to settle our accounts."

The monk gave his penitent absolution. A few minutes elapsed. At length
Don Melchior rose with a firm and assured countenance, for he was
certain of not dying unavenged. The masked men suddenly reappeared, and
once more crowned the top of the hill. The one who hitherto had alone
spoken, approached the condemned man, by whose side Don Antonio had
stationed himself, as if to exhort him in his last moments.

"Are you ready?" the stranger asked.

"I am," Don Melchior coldly replied.

"Prepare the gallows, and light the torches!" the masked man ordered.

There was a great movement in the crowd, and a momentary disorder. The
members were so convinced that flight was impossible, and besides, it
was so improbable that the condemned man should attempt to escape his
fate, that for two or three minutes they relaxed their watchfulness.
Don Melchior and his friend took advantage of this moment of
forgetfulness.

"Come!" Don Antonio said, hurling to the earth the man nearest him.
"Follow me!"

"All right!" Don Melchior boldly replied, as he cocked his revolver,
and drew his knife.

They rushed head foremost into the midst of the conspirators, striking
right and left, and forcing a passage. Like most desperate actions,
this one succeeded through its sheer madness. There was a gigantic
mêlée, a frightful struggle for some minutes between the members,
who were taken off their guard, and the two men who were resolved to
escape, or perish with arms in their hands. Then the furious gallop of
horses became audible, and a mocking voice shouting in the distance,--

"Farewell, for the present!"

Don Melchior and Don Antonio were galloping at full speed along the
Puebla road. All hope of catching them was lost: however, they had left
sanguinary traces behind them--ten corpses lay on the ground.

"Stop!" Don Adolfo shouted to the men who were running to their horses.
"Let them fly. Don Melchior is condemned--his death is certain. But,"
he added, thoughtfully; "who can that accursed monk be?"

Leo Carral, the majordomo, leant over to his ear.

"I recognised the monk," he said; "he was Don Antonio de Cacerbas."

"Ah!" he said, passionately; "That man again!"

A few minutes later, a cavalcade, composed of about a dozen horsemen,
were trotting sharply along the high road to the capital. This party
was led by Don Jaime, or Oliver, or Adolfo, whichever the reader may
please to call him.



CHAPTER XXII.

DON DIEGO.


Don Melchior de la Cruz resolved to seize at any price the fortune
of his father, which his sister's marriage threatened to make him
hopelessly lose, had rushed headlong into politics, hoping to find amid
the failures which had so long distracted his country, the occasion to
satisfy his ambition and insatiable avarice by fishing largely in the
troubled waters of revolutions. Endowed with an energetic character
and great intelligence, a true political condottiere, passing without
hesitation or remorse from one party to another, according to the
advantages offered him, ever ready to serve the man who paid him best,
he had contrived to render himself master of important secrets which
made him feared by all, and gained him a certain degree of credit with
the chiefs of parties whom he had served in turn; a well-born spy he
had managed to get in everywhere, and join all the fraternities and
secret societies, for he possessed in a most eminent degree the talent
so envied by the most renowned diplomatists, of naturally feigning
the most opposite feelings and opinions. It was thus that he became
a member of the mysterious society Union and Strength, by which he
was eventually condemned to death, with the predetermined resolution
of selling the secrets of this formidable association whenever a
favourable opportunity presented itself. Don Antonio de Cacerbas
was shortly after made a member of the same association. These two
men were made to understand each other at the first word, and they
did so. The most intimate friendship ere long united them. When, at
the beginning of their connexion, Don Antonio de Cacerbas, owing to
anonymous revelations, was convicted of treachery, condemned by the
mysterious association, and obliged to defend his life against one of
the members, fell beneath his adversary's sword, and was left for dead
on the road, where Dominique found him, as we have previously related.
Don Melchior, who had been watching this sanguinary execution from a
distance, resolved, were it possible, to save this man who inspired
him with such warm sympathy. After the departure of his comrades, he
hurried up as soon as he dared with the intention of succouring the
wounded man, but did not find him; chance, by bringing Dominique to
the spot, had deprived him, to his great regret, of the opportunity he
desired for rendering Don Antonio his debtor. At a later date, when
Don Antonio, half cured, escaped from the grotto where he was being
nursed, the two men met again; more fortunate this time, Don Melchior
had rendered his friend important services. The latter, in his turn,
had been able on several occasions to let the young man profit by the
occult influence which he had at his disposal. The only difference was,
that if Don Antonio was thoroughly aware of his partner's affairs,
of the object he proposed to himself, and the means he intended to
employ in attaining it, the same was not the case with Don Melchior
as regarded Don Antonio de Cacerbas, who remained an undecipherable
mystery to him. Still the young man, though he had several times tried
to make his friend speak, and lead him into confessions which would
have given certain prerogatives, but never succeeded, did not for all
that resign the hope of discovering one day what the other appeared to
have so great an interest in hiding.

The last service which Don Antonio had rendered him, by making him so
unexpectedly escape from the implacable justice of the members of the
Union and Strength society, had rendered Don Melchior temporarily,
at any rate, dependant on him. Don Antonio seemed to make it to some
extent a point of honour not to remind Don Melchior of the immense
danger from which he had saved him; he continued to serve him as he
had hitherto done. The first care of the young man, on returning to
Puebla, had been to proceed in all haste to the convent in which he had
confined his sister after carrying her off; but, as he had a secret
presentiment, he found the bird flown. Don Antonio had said but a few
words to him on this subject, but they had a terrible eloquence.

"Only the dead do not escape," he had remarked.

Don Melchior bowed his head, recognising the correctness of this
remark. All the young man's searches in Puebla were vain: no one could
or would tell him anything; the mother superior of the convent was dumb.

"Let us go to Mexico; we shall find her there if she be not dead
already," Don Antonio said to him.

They set out. What means Don Antonio employed to discover the retreat
of Doña Dolores, we are unable to say, but so much is certain, that two
days after his arrival in the capital, he was acquainted with the young
lady's residence.

Let us leave for a short season these two men, whom we shall meet
again but too soon, and describe how Doña Dolores had been liberated.
The young lady was placed, by Don Melchior's orders, in a convent of
Carmelite nuns. The mother superior--whom Don Melchior succeeded in
winning to his interests by a large sum of money he paid her, and
the promise of larger sums if she executed his orders zealously and
intelligently--did not allow the young lady to receive any visitors
but her brother, she was forbidden to write letters, and those that
arrived for her were pitilessly intercepted. Dolores thus passed sad
and monotonous days in a narrow cell, deprived of all relations with
the outer world, and no longer retaining even the hope of being some
day restored to liberty; her brother had made known to her his will
in this respect; he insisted on her taking the veil. This was the
only method Don Melchior had found to force his sister to give up her
fortune to him, by renouncing the world. Still Don Melchior, though he
had got himself named his sister's guardian, could not have taken her
to a convent without a written order of the governor; but this had been
easily obtained, and handed by Don Diego Izaguirre--private secretary
to his Excellency the Governor--to the mother superior when the young
lady was taken to the convent.

At about nine o'clock on the night of the day when Don Melchior had
been so adroitly carried off by Don Adolfo, whom he believed his
prisoner, three men wrapped in thick cloaks, and mounted on handsome
and powerful Spanish genets, stopped at the gate of the convent,
at which they rapped. The lay sister opened a wicket in this gate,
exchanged a few words in a low voice with one of the horsemen who had
dismounted, and evidently satisfied with the answers she received, she
set the gate on the jar to admit this late visitor. The latter threw
his horse's bridle to one of his companions; while the latter awaited
him outside, he went in, and the gate was closed after him. After
passing along several corridors, the porteress opened the abbess' cell,
and announced Don Diego Izaguirre, private secretary to His Excellency
the Governor. Don Diego, after exchanging a few compliments, drew a
sealed letter from his dolman, and handed it to the superior, who
opened and hastily read it.

"Very good, señor," she answered, "I am ready to obey you."

"Please, madam, carefully to bear in mind the tenour of the order I
have communicated to you, and which I am compelled to request back.
Everybody, you understand, madam," he said, laying a marked stress on
the word, "must be ignorant how Doña Dolores has left the convent: this
recommendation is of the highest importance."

"I will not forget it, señor."

"You are at liberty to say that she has escaped. Now, madam, be kind
enough to warn Doña Dolores."

The superior left Don Diego in her cell, and went herself to fetch Doña
Dolores. So soon as he was alone, the young man tore into impalpable
fragments the order he had shown the superior, and threw them into the
brasero, when the fire immediately consumed them.

"I am not at all desirous," Don Diego said as he watched them burning,
"that the governor should perceive one day the perfection with which I
imitate his signature, for it might cause him to feel jealous;" and he
smiled with an air of mockery.

The superior was not absent more than a quarter of an hour.

"Here is Doña Dolores de la Cruz," said the abbess; "I have the honour
of delivering her into your hands."

"Very good, madam; I hope soon to prove to you that his Excellency
knows how, when the opportunity offers, worthily to reward those
persons who obey him without hesitation."

The mother superior bowed humbly, and raised her eyes to Heaven.

"Are you ready, señorita?" Don Diego asked the young lady.

"Yes," she answered laconically.

"In that case be kind enough to follow me."

"Go on," she said, wrapping herself in her cloak, and taking no
further leave of the abbess. They then left the cell, and guided by
the superior, reached the convent gate. By some slight pretext the
abbess had had the precaution to remove the porteress. She opened the
gate herself, and then, when Don Diego and the young lady had passed
through, she gave a farewell bow to the secretary, and closed the gate
again, as if anxious to be delivered from the alarm that his presence
caused her.

"Señorita," Don Diego said respectfully, "be kind enough to mount this
horse."

"Señor," she said in a sad but firm voice, "I am a poor defenceless
orphan: I obey you, because any resistance on my part would be madness;
but--"

"Doña Dolores," said one of the horsemen, "we are sent by Don Jaime."

"Oh!" she exclaimed joyfully, "'Tis the voice of Don Carlos."

"Yes, señorita; re-assure yourself, then, and be good enough to mount
without further delay, as we have no time to spare."

The young lady leapt lightly on Don Diego's horse.

"Now, señores," the young man said, "you no longer wait me--good bye;
gallop your hardest, and I wish you a pleasant journey."

They dashed away like a whirlwind, and soon disappeared in the darkness.

"How they race!" the young man said laughingly; "I fancy Don Melchior
will have some difficulty in catching them."

And wrapping himself in his cloak, he returned on foot to the palace of
the government, where he resided. The two men who accompanied the young
lady were Dominique and Leo Carral. They galloped the whole night. At
sunrise they reached an abandoned rancho, where several persons were
awaiting them. Doña Dolores joyfully recognised among them Don Adolfo
and the Count. Surrounded by these devoted friends, she had nothing
more to fear. She was saved. The journey was a continued maze, but her
joy was immense when she arrived in Mexico, and under the escort of her
brave friends entered the small house, where every preparation had been
made to receive her. She fell weeping into the arms of Doña Maria and
Doña Carmen. Don Adolfo and his friends discreetly retired, leaving the
ladies to their confidences. The Count, in order to watch more closely
over the young lady, hired a house in the same street, and offered to
share it with Dominique, who eagerly accepted it. It was arranged, in
order not to arouse suspicion or attract attention to the house of the
three ladies, that the young men should only pay them short visits at
rather lengthened intervals. As for Don Adolfo, the young lady had
scarcely been installed in his house ere he recommenced his wandering
life, and once more became invisible. Sometimes after nightfall he
would suddenly turn up at the young men's house, of which Leo Carral
had undertaken the management, declaring that as the Count was going to
marry his young mistress, he was his master, and he regarded himself as
his majordomo; the Count, not to grieve the worthy servant, had left
him _carte blanche_ in these rare appearances. The adventurer conversed
for some time on indifferent topics with the two friends, and then left
them, after recommending them to be vigilant.

Matters went on well for some days; Doña Dolores, under the beneficial
impression of happiness, had resumed all her girlish gaiety and
confidence; she and Carmen twittered like hummingbirds from morn till
night in every corner of the house; Doña Maria herself, yielding to the
influence of this frank and simple joy, seemed quite rejuvenated, and
at times her earnest features were even illumined by a smile.

The Count and his friend, by their visits, which, in spite of Don
Jaime's advice, became gradually more frequent and long, produced
a variety in the calm monotonous existence of the three voluntary
recluses, who never set foot in the street, and were in utter ignorance
of what was taking place around them.

One evening when the Count was playing a game of chess with Dominique
for the sake of killing time, and the two young men who took but slight
interest in the game were sitting face to face, ostensibly arranging
clever schemes, but in reality thinking of other things, there was a
violent knocking at the street door.

"Who the deuce can come at this hour?" they both exclaimed with a start.

"It is past midnight," Dominique said.

"If it is not Oliver," the Count remarked, "I cannot think who it is."

"It is he, of course," Dominique added.

At this moment the room door was opened, and Don Jaime entered.

"Good evening, gentlemen," he said; "you did not expect me at this
hour, eh?"

"We always expect you, my friend."

"Thanks: with your permission," he added, and turning to the servant
who showed him a light, said, "get me some supper, if you please,
Master Raimbaut."

The latter bowed and left the room.

Don Jaime threw his hat on a table, and sat down on a chair, fanning
himself with his handkerchief.

"Ouf!" he said; "I am dying of hunger, my friends!"



CHAPTER XXIII.

THE SUPPER.


The young men examined the adventurer with a surprise that they tried
in vain to conceal, and which, spite of themselves, was reflected on
their faces.

Raimbaut, aided by Lanca Ibarru, brought in a ready-laid table, which
he placed before Don Adolfo.

"By Jove, gentlemen!" the adventurer said gaily, "Master Raimbaut
has had the charming attention to lay covers for three, evidently
foreseeing that you would not refuse to keep me company; forget your
thoughts for a moment, then, I beg, and come to table."

"Most willingly," they replied, as they took the seat by his side.

The meal began; Don Adolfo ate with good appetite while talking with
a humour and quickness they had never noticed in him before. He was
inexhaustible; it was a rolling fire of sallies, witticisms, and neatly
told anecdotes that poured from his lips. The young men looked at each
other, for they did not at all comprehend this singular temper; for,
in spite of the gaiety of his remarks and his easiness of manner,
the adventurer's brow remained thoughtful, and his face retained its
habitual coldly sarcastic expression. Still, excited by this most
communicative gaiety, they soon forgot all their anxieties, and allowed
themselves to be won by this apparently so frank joy, ere a contest of
laughter and merry remarks was mingled with the clink of glasses and
the rattle of the knives and forks. The servants were dismissed, and
the three friends left alone.

"Really, gentlemen," Don Adolfo said as he uncorked a bottle of
champagne, "of all meals, in my opinion, supper is the best; our
fathers liked it, and were right; among other good customs that are
departing, this one is going, and will soon be entirely forgotten. I,
for one, shall regret it sincerely." He filled his companions' glasses.
"Permit me," he continued, "to drink your health in this wine, one of
the most delicious productions of your country." And after hobnobbing,
he emptied the glass at one draught. The bottles rapidly succeeded
each other, for the glasses were no sooner filled than emptied. They
soon began to grow excited. Then they lit cigars, and attacked the
liqueurs--Jamaica rum, Catalaña refino, and French brandy. With their
elbows on the table, and enveloped in a dense cloud of fragrant smoke,
they went on talking with less reservation, and insensibly--they did
not perceive it themselves--their conversation assumed a more earnest
and confidential character.

"Bah!" Dominique suddenly said, throwing himself back comfortably in
his chair, "Life is a good thing, and above all a beautiful one."

At this outburst, which fell into the centre of the conversation like
an aërolite, the adventurer burst into a sharp, nervous laugh.

"Bravo!" he said, "That is first-class philosophy. This man, who
was born, he does not know of whom or where, who has sprung up like
a sturdy mushroom, never knowing any other friend save myself, who
does not possess a shilling, considers life a beautiful thing and
congratulates himself on enjoying it. By Jove! I should be curious to
hear this fine theory developed a little."

"Nothing is easier," the young man replied, without any excitement.
"I was born I know not where, that is true: but it is a blessing for
me. The whole earth is my country. To whatever nation they may belong,
men are my countrymen. I do not know my parents: but who knows whether
this is not also a blessing for me? By their desertion they freed me
from respect and gratitude for the cares they might have bestowed on
me, and left me at liberty to act as I pleased, without having reason
to fear their control. I never had but one friend: but how many men can
flatter themselves with possessing even so much? Mine is kind, sincere,
and devoted. I have always felt him near me, when I wanted him to share
my joy or sorrow; to support me and attach me by his friendship to the
great human family, from which I should be exiled without him. I do not
possess a shilling: that is also true--but what do I care for wealth? I
am strong, brave, and intelligent; ought not man to work? I accomplish
my task like the rest, perhaps better, for I envy nobody and am happy
with my lot. You see clearly, my dear Adolfo, that life is to me at
least a good and beautiful thing, as I said just now. I defy you, the
skeptic and disabused man, to prove to me the contrary."

"Perfectly answered, on my word," the adventurer said. "All these
reasons, though specious and easy to refute, do not the less appear
very logical, and I shall not take the trouble to discuss them. Still,
I will remark, my friend, that when you treat me as a skeptic, you are
mistaken; disabused, perhaps, I am, but a skeptic I shall never be."

"Oh, oh!" the two young men exclaimed simultaneously. "That demands an
explanation, Don Adolfo."

"And I will give it you, if you insist upon it: but what is the good?
Stay, I have a proposal to make to you, which I think will please you."

"Go on; speak."

"It is now nearly morning, in a few hours it will be day, none of us
are sleepy, so let us remain as we are and continue to talk."

"Certainly; I desire nothing better for my part," the Count said.

"And I the same. But what shall we talk about?" Dominique observed.

"If you like, I will tell you an adventure or a history--give it which
name you like--that I heard this very day, and whose correctness I can
guarantee; for the person who told it me, I have known a long time, and
he played an important part in it."

"Why not tell us your own history, Don Adolfo? It must be filled with
touching events and curious incidents," the Count said meaningly.

"Well, you are mistaken, Count," Oliver answered, simply. "Nothing can
be less touching than what you are pleased to call my history; it is
much the same as that of all smugglers, for you know, I believe," he
added, confidentially, "that I am nothing else. The existence of all of
us is the same; we act cunningly to pass the goods intrusted to us, and
the custom house officers do the same to prevent it and seize us. Hence
arise combats, which sometimes, though rarely, thank Heaven! become
blood-thirsty. Such is substantially the history you ask of me, my dear
Count. You see that there is nothing essentially interesting in it."

"I do not press you, dear Don Adolfo," the Count answered with a smile.
"Pass on to something else, if you please."

"In that case," Dominique said to the adventurer, "you are at liberty
to begin your history whenever you please."

Oliver filled a champagne glass with Catalaña refino, emptied it at a
draught, and then struck the table with the handle of his knife.

"Attention, gentlemen," he said. "I am about to begin. I must before
all claim your indulgence for certain gaps, and also for some obscure
points which will be found in my narrative. I must again remark that
I am merely repeating what was told to me, that consequently there
are many things of which I am ignorant, and that I cannot be rendered
responsible for reticences, probably made purposely by the first
narrator, who no doubt had motives known to himself alone, for leaving
in the dark some incidents of the day, which is, however, very curious,
I assure you."

"Begin, begin," they said.

"There is another difficulty in the narrative," he continued
imperturbably, "it is that I am utterly ignorant in what country it
occurred: but that is only of relative importance, as men are nearly
the same everywhere, that is to say, agitated and governed by identical
vices and passions; all that I fancy I can be certain of is, that it
took place in the Old World--but you shall judge for yourselves. Well,
then, there was in Germany--let us suppose, if you please, that the
scene of this truthful history is laid in Germany--there was, I was
saying, a rich and powerful family, whose nobility went back to the
most remote period. You know, of course, that the German nobility are
the oldest in the world, and that the traditions of honour have been
preserved among them almost intact to the present day. Now, the Prince
of Oppenheim-Schleswig, we will call him, so as the head of the family
is a prince--had two sons nearly of the same age, as there were only
two or three years' difference between them; both were handsome and
endowed with brilliant intellects, these two young gentlemen had been
educated with the utmost care, under the eyes of their father, who
attentively watched their education. It is not the same in Germany
as in America, for there the power of the head of the family is very
extensive and most respected. There is something truly patriarchal
in the way in which the internal discipline of the household is
maintained. The young men profited by the lessons they received, but as
they grew older their characters became more marked, and it was soon
easy to recognise a great difference between them, although both were
perfect gentlemen in the common acceptation of the term. Their moral
qualities, however, were completely different; the first was gentle,
affable, obliging, earnest, attached to his duties, and extremely
attached to the honour of his name. The second displayed very different
tastes, although he was very proud and punctilious; still, he did not
fear to compromise the respect he owed his name in the lowest resorts
and amongst the worst company; in a word, he led a most dissipated
and rackety life. The prince bewailed in secret the debauchery of
his younger son; he several times summoned him to his presence, and
addressed severe remonstrances to him. The young man listened to his
father respectfully, promised amendment, and went on the same as
before. France declared war against Germany. The Prince of Oppenheim
was one of the first to obey the orders of the emperor, and place
himself under his banner; his sons accompanied him as aides-de-camp,
and went under fire for the first time by his side. A few days' after
his arrival at the camp the prince was intrusted with a reconnaissance
by the general in chief; there a sharp skirmish with the enemy's
foragers, and, in the height of the action, the prince fell from his
horse. His friends gathered around, him, he died: but it was a strange
circumstance, and one never explained, that the bullet which caused his
death had entered between his shoulders--he was shot from behind."

Don Adolfo stopped.

"Give me some drink," he said to Dominique.

The latter poured him out a glass of punch; he swallowed it almost
burning, and after passing his hand over his pale, dark forehead, he
resumed with pretended carelessness.

"The prince's two sons were some distance away when this catastrophe
occurred, they galloped up at once, but only found their father's
bleeding and disfigured corpse. The sorrow of the two young men was
immense, that of the elder gloomy and restrained, as it were; that
of the younger, on the contrary, noisy. In spite of the most minute
research, it was impossible to discover how the prince, while at the
head of his troops by whom he was adored, could have been struck from
behind: this always remained a mystery. The young men left the army and
returned home: the elder had assumed the title of prince and had become
head of the family, as in Germany the law of entail exists in all its
rigour, the younger was completely dependant on his brother, but the
latter would not leave him in this inferior and humiliating condition.
He gave up to him his mother's fortune, which was very considerable,
left him perfectly his own master, and authorised him to take the title
of marquis."

"Of duke, you mean," the Count interrupted.

"That is true," Don Adolfo continued, biting his lips. "Since he was a
prince--but you know that we republicans," he added, "are but little
used to these pompous titles, for which we profess the most profound
contempt."

"Go on," Dominique said carelessly.

Don Adolfo continued: "The duke realised his fortune, bade farewell
to his brother, and started for Vienna. The prince, who remained on
his estate among his vassals, did not hear from his brother for long
intervals; but the news he received about him was not of a pleasing
nature. The duke now set no bounds to his licentiousness, and matters
attained such a point that the prince was at length compelled to
interfere seriously, and give his brother an order to leave the
kingdom--I mean the empire--immediately, and the latter obeyed without
a murmur. Several years elapsed, during which the duke travelled over
the whole of Europe. Writing but rarely to his elder brother, he,
however, on each occasion, spoke of the change that had taken place in
him, and the radical reformation of his conduct. Whether he believed
in these protestations or not, the prince thought he could not refrain
from announcing to his brother that he was on the point of marrying a
noble, young, lovely, and rich heiress, that the marriage was about
to take place immediately, and probably expecting that distance would
prevent it, he invited his brother to be present at the nuptial
ceremony. If such was his idea, he was mistaken--the duke arrived on
the very eve of the marriage. His brother received him very well, and
gave him apartments in his palace. On the morrow the projected union
was accomplished."

"The duke's conduct was irreproachable: remaining with his brother,
he seemed anxious to please him in everything, and prove to him on
every possible occasion that his conversion was sincere. In short, he
played his part so well, that everybody was deceived, the prince first
of all, who not only restored him his friendship, but soon granted
him his entire confidence. The duke had returned from his travels
for some months; he seemed to regard life earnestly, and to have
but one desire, that of repairing the faults of his youth. Welcomed
in all families, at first with a slight coldness, but ere long with
distinction, he had almost succeeded in causing the errors of his past
life to be forgotten, when extraordinary rejoicings took place in
the county on the occasion of some _fête_ or anniversary. The prince
naturally assumed the initiative, as was his duty; and by his brother's
instigation he even resolved to take a part in them himself, in order
to give them greater lustre."

"It was intended to represent a species of tournament: the first nobles
of the surrounding country eagerly offered their assistance to the
prince, and at length the jousting day arrived. The prince's young
wife, who was in an advanced state of pregnancy, impelled by one of
those presentiments which come from the heart, and never deceive, tried
in vain to prevent her husband from entering the lists, confessing
to himself through her tears that she apprehended a misfortune. The
duke joined his sister-in-law in urging his brother to abstain from
appearing at the tournament otherwise than as a spectator; but the
prince, who considered his honour involved, was immoveable in his
resolution, jested, treated their fears as chimerical, and mounted
his horse to proceed to the scene of the tournament. An hour later he
was brought back dying. By an extraordinary accident, an unheard-of
fatality, the unfortunate prince had met with death at the spot
where he should only have found pleasure. The duke displayed extreme
sorrow at the frightful death of his brother. The prince's will was
immediately opened; he appointed his brother sole heir to all his
property, unless the princess, who, as I said, was in an advanced state
of pregnancy, gave birth to a son, in which case this son would inherit
his father's fortune and titles, and would remain till his majority
under the guardianship of his uncle."

"On learning her husband's death, the princess was suddenly seized
with the pangs of labour, and was delivered of a daughter. The second
clause of the will being thus annulled, the Duke assumed the title of
prince, and took possession of his brother's fortune. The princess, in
spite of the most enticing offers her brother-in-law made her, refused
to continue to reside as a stranger in a palace where she had been
mistress, and returned to her family."

The adventurer made a pause.

"How do you like this history?" he asked his hearers, with an ironical
smile.

"I am waiting till you give us the counterpart," the Count replied,
"before I offer my opinion about it."

The adventurer gave him a clear and piercing glance.

"Then," he said, "you fancy this is not all?"

"Every history," the Count retorted, "is composed of two distinct
parts."

"That is to say?"

"The true part, and the false."

"Will you explain yourself?"

"Willingly: the false part is that which is public, which everybody
knows, and can comment on and repeat as he likes."

"Good," he said, with a slight inclination of the head; "and the true
part?"

"That is the secret, the mysterious part, only known to two or three
persons at the most--the sheepskin removed from the wolfs shoulders."

"Or the mask of virtue torn from the face of the villain!" he
exclaimed, with a terrible outburst: "Is it not that?"

"Yes, indeed, it is."

"And you wait for this second part of the story?"

"I do," the Count answered, sternly.

The adventurer sat for two or three minutes with his face buried in his
hands, then raised his head haughtily, emptied the glass before him,
and then said, in a loud, metallic voice--

"Well, listen, then, for by heaven! I swear to you that what you are
going to hear is worth the trouble, this time."



CHAPTER XXIV.

THE REVELATION.


There was a rather long silence, during which the guests remained
plunged in profound meditations.

At length Don Adolfo broke the charm that seemed to enchain them, by
suddenly speaking again.

"The princess had a brother, at that time a young man of two-and-twenty
at the most, adroit in all manly exercises, brave as his sword, a
great favourite with the ladies, whose fondness he returned, and
who concealed beneath a frivolous exterior an earnest character, a
capacious intellect, and an indomitable will. This brother, whom we
will call Oclau, if you like, felt a sincere attachment for his sister;
he loved her for all that she had suffered, and was the first to urge
her to leave the palace of her defunct husband, and return to her
family, chaining her down, and rejecting the offer of service made by
the prince, her brother-in-law. Oclau felt a strong repulsion for the
prince, although there was nothing in the eyes of society to justify
the conduct he adopted towards him. Still, he did not break off all
relations with him; he visited him now and then, though rarely, it is
true. These interviews, always cold and constrained on the part of the
young man, were cordial and eager on that of the prince, who essayed by
his gracious manner, and continually renewed offers of services, to win
over again this man, whose aversion he had divined. The princess, who
had retired to her family, brought up her daughter far from the world,
with tenderness and absolute devotion. On her husband's death she put
on mourning, which she has not left off since: but this mourning she
wore even more in her heart than in her garments, for the catastrophe
which had deprived her of her husband was ever present to her mind, and
with the tenacity of loving hearts, for whom time does not progress,
her grief was as lively as on the first day; if at times, in the
retreat to which she voluntarily confined herself, her brother-in-law's
name was accidentally pronounced, a convulsive tremor suddenly agitated
her whole person, her pale face became livid, and her large eyes,
burned by fever, and inundated with tears, were at such times fixed on
her brother Oclau with a strange expression of reproach and despair,
seeming to say to him that the vengeance he had promised her was long
delayed. The prince, now a made man, had reflected that he was the last
of his race, and that it was urgent, if he did not wish the family
titles and estates to pass to distant collaterals, to have an heir to
his name; consequently, he commenced negotiations with several princely
families of the country, and at the period we have now reached, that
is to say, about eight years after his brother's death, there was a
strong report about the prince's marriage with the daughter of one of
the noblest houses of the Germanic Confederation. Nothing could be more
suitable than this alliance, destined to augment the already proverbial
importance and wealth of the house of Oppenheim-Schleswig: the lady
was young, fair, and connected by marriage to the reigning family of
Habsburg. The prince, consequently, attached great importance to this
union, and hurried on its completion by all the means in his power.
While this was occurring, Count Oclau was obliged by the settlement
of some important business, to leave home, and go for some days to a
town about twenty leagues distant. The young man bade farewell to his
sister, got into a post chaise, and set out. On the next day but one,
at about eight p.m., he arrived at the town of Bruneck, and stopped
at a house belonging to him, which was in the principal square of the
town, and only a few yards from the governor's palace."

"Bruneck is a very pretty little Tyrolese town, built on the right bank
of the Rienz; the population, amounting to fifteen or sixteen hundred
at the most, still retain the patriarchal, simple and stern manner
of sixty years ago. Count Oclau remarked with surprise on entering
the town that the greatest agitation prevailed there: in spite of
the advanced hour, the streets his chaise passed through were filled
with a restless crowd, who were running about in all directions with
singular vociferations; most of the houses were illuminated, while
large bonfires were lighted on the market square. So soon as the Count
had entered his house; he inquired as he sat down to supper the cause
of this extraordinary excitement. This is what he learned:--Tyrol is
an excessively mountainous country--the Switzerland of Austria; now,
most of these mountains serve as lurking places for numerous bands of
malefactors, whose sole occupation is to plunder the travellers whom
their unlucky star brings within reach, to plunder the villages, and
even towns at times. For some years a bandit chief, more adroit and
enterprising than the rest, at the head of a considerable band of
resolute and well-disciplined men, had desolated the country, attacking
travellers, burning and plundering the villages, and not hesitating, in
case of need, to resist detachments of soldiers sent in pursuit of him,
who very frequently returned much maltreated from their encounters with
him. This man, in the end, inspired the population of this country with
such terror that the inhabitants had grown to tacitly recognize his
authority, and obey him tremblingly, as they felt persuaded that it was
impossible to vanquish him. The Austrian Government naturally refused
to admit this compact made with the brigands, and resolving to destroy
them at any price, employed the most energetic efforts to capture the
chief. For a very long period all the efforts were fruitless; this
man, admirably served by his spies, was kept perfectly well acquainted
with the attempts about to be made against him; he formed his plans in
consequence, and easily succeeded in escaping from his pursuers, and
foiling all the traps that were laid for him."

"But what force had been unable to affect treachery at last
accomplished. One of the associates of Red Arm (such was the bandit's
_alias_) dissatisfied with the share given him in a rich booty made
a few days previously, and believing himself injured by the chief,
resolved to take vengeance by betraying him."

"A week later Red Arm was surprised by the troop, and made prisoner
with the principal members of his band."

"The few men who escaped, demoralized by the capture of their chief,
soon fell in their turn into the hands of the soldiers, so that the
entire band was destroyed."

"The trial of the bandits was not a long one; they had been condemned
to death, and executed immediately. The chief and two of his first
lieutenants were alone reserved, in order to render their punishment
more exemplary. They were to be executed on the morrow, and that was
the reason why the town of Bruneck was in such a state of excitement."

"The neighbouring peasants had flocked out to witness the punishment
of the man before whom they had so long trembled, and in order not to
miss this spectacle which had such attractions for them, they camped in
the streets and in the squares, impatiently awaiting the hour for the
execution."

"The Count attached but very slight importance to the news; and as he
felt tired from having travelled two days along execrable roads, he
prepared to go to bed soon after supper."

"Just as he was entering his bedroom a servant appeared, and exchanged
a few words in a low voice with the valet."

"'What is it?' Count Oclau asked, turning round."

"'Pardon, my lord,' the servant respectfully replied, 'but a person
desires to speak to your Excellency.'"

"'Speak to me at this house?' he said, in surprise, 'It is impossible;
I have hardly arrived ere my coming is known: tell the man to return
tomorrow, it is too late tonight.'"

"'I told him so, my lord, and he replied that tomorrow would be too
late.'"

"'This is extraordinary! Who is the man?'"

"'A priest, my lord, and he added, that what he has to tell your
Excellency is most serious, and that he earnestly implores you to
receive him.'"

"The young man, greatly perplexed at a visit at so late an hour,
repaired the disorder in his dress, and wandered to the dining room,
curious about the solution of this enigma."

"A priest was standing in the centre of the room. He was a very aged
man, his hair, white as snow, fell in long masses on his shoulders, and
gave him a venerable appearance, which was completed by the expression
of goodness and calm grandeur spread over his face."

"The Count bowed to him respectfully, and begged him to be seated."

"'Excuse me, my lord,' he replied with a bow, and still remained on his
feet, 'I am the prison chaplain: you have doubtless heard of the arrest
of certain malefactors?'"

"'Yes, sir; some vague information on the subject has been given me.'"

"'Several of these unhappy men,' he continued, 'have already endured
the terrible fate to which human justice condemned them. The most
guilty of all, their chief, is about to undergo his at sunrise
tomorrow.'"

"'I am aware of it.'"

"'This man,' the chaplain went on, 'on the point of appearing before
God, his supreme judge, to whom he will have a terrible account to
render, has felt, owing to my efforts to lead him to repentance,
remorse enter his heart. Your arrival in this town which he learnt I
know not how, has appeared to him a warning of Providence. He at once
sent for me, and begged me to go to you, my lord.'"

"'To me!' the young man exclaimed, in amazement, 'What can there be in
common between me and this villain?'"

"'I do not know, my lord, for he told me nothing on that subject. He
implores you to proceed to his dungeon, as he desires to reveal to you
a secret of the highest importance.'"

"'What you say, confounds me, sir: this man is an utter stranger to me;
I do not comprehend in what way my life can be mixed up with his.'"

"'He will doubtless explain this to you, my lord; but I advise you
to consent to the interview this man implores,' the priest answered
without any hesitation. 'For many years I have been a prison chaplain,
and have seen many criminals die. Men do not speak falsely in the
presence of death. The strongest and bravest man becomes very small
and weak when facing that unknown thing called Eternity; he begins to
tremble, and, no longer daring to hope the goodness of men, he turns
to that of God. Red Arm, the unhappy man who is about to die tomorrow,
knows that nothing can save him from the terrible fate that awaits him:
hence, for what object would he, on the threshold of death, request an
interview with you, unless it be to redeem, by the revelation he wishes
to make to you, one of his most horrible crimes, though it is possibly
the least known of all. Believe me, my lord, the hand of Providence is
in all this: it is no accident that brought you to this town precisely
at the moment of this terrible expiation. Consent to follow me, and
enter with me the dungeon where this unhappy man is doubtless awaiting,
with the most lively anxiety, and while counting the minutes, your
arrival. Even supposing that this revelation does not possess for you
the importance this unhappy man fancies, could you refuse to grant
this last consolation to a man who is about so fatally to be erased
from the number of the living? I implore you, my lord, to consent to
follow me.'"

"The young man's determination was soon formed. He wrapped himself in a
cloak and set out of his house, accompanied by the priest. In spite of
the late hour, for it was near midnight, the square was full of people.
The crowd, far from diminishing, was increased every moment by the
arrival of newcomers, who flocked in from the neighbouring villages.
Bivouacs were everywhere established. The Count and his guide forced
their way with some difficulty through the crowd up to the prison, in
front of which several sentries were posted."

"At a word from the chaplain the prison door was immediately opened.
The Count entered, and preceded by the worthy priest, and followed by a
gaoler they went toward the condemned man's cell."

"The gaoler, with a torch in his hand, silently guided the two visitors
along a numerous series of passages, and then, on reaching a door
barred with iron from top to bottom, he checked him, uttering but one
word:--'Enter!'"

"They went into the dungeon--we employ this usual term, although
nothing less resembled a dungeon than the room they entered. It was a
rather spacious cell, lighted by two gothic windows, lined with heavy
bars on the exterior. The furniture consisted of a bed, that is to say,
a frame on which a cow hide was stretched, a table and various chairs,
while a looking glass hung on the wall. At the end of the room was an
altar hung with black, for the condemned man was in chapel. Daily,
since the passing of the sentence, the chaplain had said two low masses
there for the culprit."

At this singular account of the _capilla_ which only exists in Spain
and her dependencies, the two hearers exchanged a side glance which the
adventurer did not remark. The latter went on, without suspecting the
error he had unreflectingly committed.

"The condemned man was seated in an equipal, with his head in his hand,
with his elbow on the table, he was reading by the light of a smoky
lamp."

"On the entrance of the visitors he immediately rose and bowed to them
with the most exquisite politeness."

"'Gentlemen, pray take seats, and do me the honour of awaiting for
a few minutes the arrival of the persons I have sent for,' he said,
drawing up butacas, 'their presence is indispensable, for at a later
date no one must be able to cast a doubt on the truth of the revelation
I wish to make to you.'"

"The chaplain and the Count gave a sign of assent and sat down. There
was a silence for some minutes, only interrupted by the regular steps
of the sentry stationed in the passage to guard the condemned man, and
who passed and repassed in front of his dungeon."

"Red Arm had returned to his equipal, and seemed to be reflecting. The
Count took advantage of this circumstance to examine him attentively."

"He was a man of not more than forty years of age, he was of tall
stature, and powerfully built, and his gestures displayed ease and
elegance. His rather large head was, doubtless through a habit of
commanding, thrown back, his features were handsome and strongly
marked, while his glance had extraordinary intensity. A singular
expression of gentleness and energy that was spread over his face,
gave it a strange look impossible to describe; his black hair curling
naturally, fell in large curls on his broad shoulders. His costume,
entirely of black velvet, and peculiarly cut, formed a contrast to the
dull pallor of his complexion, and added, even if possible, to the
striking appearance of his whole person."

"A sound of footsteps was heard outside, a key grated in the lock,
and the door opened: two men appeared. The gaoler, after introducing
them into the dungeon without saying a word, went out and closed the
door after him. The first of these two men was the director of the
prison, an active old gentleman still, in spite of his sixty years,
with calm features and venerable aspect, whose white hair cut short on
his temples fell behind on his coat collar. The second was an officer
--a major his gold epaulettes proved; he was young, and appeared scarce
thirty, while his features had nothing very remarkable about them: he
was one of those men born to wear a uniform, and who if dressed in
civilian garb would appear ridiculous, so thoroughly are they created
for a soldier's harness. Both bowed politely, and waited, without
uttering a word, till they received an explanation of the request
sent them to come to this dungeon. The condemned man understood their
motive. After the first salutations had been exchanged, he hastened to
make known to them his motive for requesting them to come to him at
this supreme moment when he had nothing more to hope from man."

"'Gentlemen,' he said to them in a firm, voice, 'in a few short hours
I shall have satisfied human justice, and will appear before that
of God, which is far more terrible. Since the day when I began the
implacable struggle which I have carried on against society, I have
committed many crimes, secured many hatreds, and been the accomplice of
an incalculable number of odious actions. The sentence passed on me is
just, and though resolved to undergo--like a man whom death has never
terrified--the punishment to which I am condemned, I think it my duty
to confess to you with the greatest sincerity and deepest humility that
I repent of my crimes, and that, far from dying impenitent, I shall die
imploring God not to pardon me, but to regard my repentance with pity.'"

"'Good, my son,' the chaplain said gently; 'take refuge in God, His
mercy is infinite.'"

"There was a silence of some minutes, which Red Arm was the first to
interrupt."

"'I should have liked at this supreme moment,' he said, 'to repair
the evil I have done. Alas! This is impossible, my victims are really
done, and no human power would be able to restore them the life of
which I so cowardly deprived them; but among these crimes there is
one--the most frightful of all perhaps--which, it is true, I cannot
fully repair, but whose effects I hope to neutralise by revealing to
you its sinister incidents, and divulging to you the name of the man
who was my accomplice. God, by unexpectedly bringing Count Oclau to
this town, doubtless wished to force me to this expiation; I submit
without a murmur to His will, and perhaps He will deign to pity me
on account of my obedience. Gentlemen, in requesting you to come to
me, I wish to procure the person most interested in my narrative, the
indispensable witnesses who will enable human justice to punish the
criminal hereafter without fear of error. Hence, gentlemen, take note
of my words, for I swear to you on the brink of the tomb that they are
perfectly true.'"

"The condemned man ceased, and appeared to be collecting his thoughts.
His hearers waited with the most eager curiosity; the Count more
especially tried in vain to conceal by a cold and stern, air the
anxiety that was contracting his heart. A secret presentiment warned
him that the light was at length about to shine, and that the hitherto
impenetrable secret which surrounded his family, and the clue of
which he had so long sought, was about to be divulged to him. Red Arm
continued, after selecting from among the papers that crowded his table
a rather large bundle, which he opened and placed before him."

"'Though eight years have elapsed,' he said, 'since the period when
these events happened, they have remained so fresh in my mind that as
soon as I heard of the arrival of Count Oclau in this town, a few hours
sufficed me to write a detailed account of them. I am about to read to
you, gentlemen, this frightful history, after which each of you will
attach his signature beneath mine at the end of this manuscript, in
order to give it the necessary authenticity for the use which the Count
will think it his duty to turn it to hereafter on behalf of his family,
and to punish the guilty man. I in all this have only been the paid
accomplice and the instrument employed to strike the victim.'"

"'This precaution is very good,' the prison director then said: 'we
will sign this revelation unhesitatingly, of whatever nature it may
be.'"

"'Thanks, gentlemen,' the Count remarked, 'though I am as ignorant as
yourselves of the facts which are about to be revealed; still, for
certain private reasons, I feel almost convinced that what I am going
to hear is of great importance to the happiness of certain members of
my family.'"

"'You shall judge of that, my lord,' the condemned man said, and
immediately began reading his manuscripts."

"This reading lasted nearly two hours. The result of the collected
facts was this: first, that when the Prince of Oppenheim Schleswig was
killed, the bullet came from the gun of Red Arm, who was concealed
in a thicket, and paid by the prince's younger son to commit this
parricide. Once he had entered on this slippery path of crime, the
young man followed it without hesitation or remorse in order to reach
the object he meditated, that of seizing the paternal fortune. After
a parricide, a fratricide was nothing to him, and he executed it with
a Machiavellism full of atrocious precautions. Other crimes, more
awful still were it possible, were recorded with a truth of detail so
striking, and supported by such undeniable proofs, that the witnesses
summoned by the condemned criminal asked themselves, with horror,
if it were possible that such an atrocious monster could exist, and
what horrible punishment was reserved for him by that divine justice
which he had mocked with such frightful cynicism for so many years.
The princess, on learning her husband's death, had been seized by the
pangs of childbirth, and was delivered--not of a daughter as everybody
believed--but of twins, of whom the boy was carried off, and the prince
got rid of him in order to annul the clause in his brother's will which
left to his posthumous son the titles and entire fortune of the family."

"The Count, with his face buried in his hands, fancied himself
suffering from a horrible nightmare; in spite of the aversion he had
ever felt for his brother-in-law, he would never have dared suspect him
capable of committing so coldly, and at lengthened intervals, a series
of odious crimes patiently arranged and meditated under the impulse
of the vilest and most contemptible of all passions, the thirst for
gold. He asked himself if, in spite of undeniable proofs he had thus
unexpectedly obtained, there was in the whole empire a tribunal which
would dare assume the possibility of punishing crimes so odious and so
beyond human nature. On the other hand this revelation, if made public,
would irresistibly dishonour a family to which he was closely allied:
would not this dishonour be reflected on his own family? All these
thoughts whirled in the Count's brain, causing him horrible grief, and
increasing his perplexity, for he knew not what resolution to form in
so serious a case, he dared not ask advice of anyone, or seek support."

"Red Arm rose, and walking up to the Count, said--'My lord, take this
manuscript, it is now yours.'"

"The Count mechanically took the manuscript which was offered him."

"'I can understand your astonishment and horror, sir,' the condemned
man continued; 'these things are so terrible, that in spite of these
stamps of truth, the exceptional circumstances under which they were
written, and the authority of the persons who have signed the statement
after hearing it read, it runs the risk of being doubted; hence I wish
to protect you from all suspicion of imposture, my lord, by adding to
this document some undeniable proofs.'"

"'Do you possess them?' the Count said, with a start."

"'I do. Be good enough to open this portfolio: it contains twenty odd
letters from your brother-in-law, addressed to me, and all relating to
the facts recorded in this manuscript.'"

"'Oh, Heavens!' the Count exclaimed, clasping his hands; but suddenly
turning to Red Arm, he added,--"

"'This is strange.'"

"The convict smiled."

"'I understand you,' he answered; 'you are asking yourself how it is
that, holding letters so compromising to the Prince of Oppenheim, he
did not employ the power he possesses to put me out of the way, and
regain possession of these proofs of his guilt?'"

"'In truth,' the Count replied, amazed at finding his meaning so
thoroughly divined; 'the Prince, my brother-in-law, is a man of
extreme prudence, and he had too great an interest in destroying these
overwhelming proofs.'"

"'Certainly; and he would not have failed, I feel convinced, to employ
the most expeditious means in succeeding; but the Prince was ignorant
that these proofs remained in my possession. This is how, whenever he
appointed a meeting with me by letter, so soon as I arrived in his
presence, I burned a letter exactly like the one I had received from
him, in order to prove to him with what good faith I acted, and what
confidence I had in him, so that he never supposed I had kept them. In
the next place, immediately after your sister's confinement, supposing
rightly that the Prince, having succeeded in his object, would desire
to get rid of me, I prevented him by leaving the country suddenly. I
remained in foreign parts for three years. At the expiration of that
period, I spread a report of my death. I managed so that the news
should reach the Prince most naturally, and as a certain thing; then I
returned here. The Prince never knew my name--we gentlemen adventurers
have a custom not only of changing our _alias_ frequently, for an
incognito is a safeguard for us--but also of always wearing three
or four at once, in order to establish a confusion about ourselves,
through which we find ourselves in perfect safety; so that, in spite of
his attempts, even if the Prince had made any, of which I am ignorant,
he has not succeeded in learning my existence, much less in discovering
me.'"

"'But for what object did you keep these letters?'"

"'The very simple one of employing them against him; so as to compel
him by the fear of a revelation to supply me with the sums I might
require, when I felt inclined to give up my perilous career. As I was
suddenly surprised, I could not make the desired use of them, but now I
do not regret it.'"

"'I thank you,' the Count replied, warmly; 'but cannot I do anything
for you in your present extremity, as a recognition of so great a
service?'"

"Red Arm looked cautiously around; in order to give the Count full
liberty to converse with the condemned man, the chaplain and the two
officers had retired into the most distant corner of the cell, where
they seemed to be talking with great animation."

"'Alas, my lord!' he said, lowering his voice; 'It is too late now. I
should have liked--'"

"'Speak, and possibly I may be able to satisfy this last desire.'"

"'Well, be it so. It is not death that terrifies me, but, mounting an
ignoble scaffold, to be exposed alive to the laughter and insults of
people whom I have so long seen tremble before me: this it is that
troubles my last moments, and renders me unhappy. I should like to foil
the expectations of the ferocious crowd, who are rejoicing in the hope
of my punishment; and that, when the moment arrives, only my corpse
should be found. You see clearly that you can do nothing for me, my
lord.'"

"'You are mistaken,' he answered, quickly. 'I can, on the contrary,
do everything. Not only will I spare you the punishment, but your two
comrades, if they like, can escape it by a voluntary death.'"

"A flash of joy glittered in the convict's savage eye."

"'Are you speaking the truth?' he asked."

"'Silence!' said the Count; 'What interest could I have in deceiving
you, when, on the contrary, my most eager desire is to prove my
gratitude to you?'"

"'That is true; but in what way?'"

"'Listen to me. This ring I am wearing contains a poison of great
subtlety. You have only to open the locket and inhale the contents to
fall dead. This poison kills without suffering, and with the rapidity
of lightning. One of my ancestors brought this ring from New Spain,
where he was Viceroy. You are acquainted with the profound skill of the
Indians in making poisons. Here is the ring; I offer it to you. Do you
accept it?'"

"'Certainly!' he exclaimed, as he seized it, and quickly concealed it
in his bosom. 'Thanks, my lord; you now owe me nothing, we are quits.
You do more for me by the gift of this ring than I have done for you.
Thanks to you, I and my poor comrades will be able to escape the
ignominious fate that awaits us.'"

"They then went up to the other persons, who, on seeing the
conversation ended, at once broke off their own."

"'Gentlemen,' said Red Arm, 'I thank you sincerely for having deigned
to be present at the revelation which my conscience ordered me to make.
Now I feel more tranquil. Only a few short moments separate me from
death. Would it be asking too much to let me pass these few moments
with my two comrades, who, condemned like myself, must also die today?'"

"'It is a last consolation,' said the chaplain."

"The governor of the prison reflected for a moment."

"'I see no inconvenience in granting you this request,' he at length
said. 'I will give the necessary orders that your companions be brought
here, and you will remain together till the moment of the execution.'"

"'Thanks, sir!' Red Arm gratefully exclaimed. 'This favour--the only
one you could grant me, is of great value to me. Bless you for so much
kindness!'"

"By the governor's order, the sentinel summoned the gaoler, who ran up
and opened the dungeon."

"'Farewell, gentlemen,' said the convict; 'God be with you!'"

"They went out. The Count, after taking leave of the chaplain and
the other two persons, left the prison, crossed the square, filled
with an immense crowd, and hurried home. At this moment six o'clock
struck. It was the hour appointed for the execution. Suddenly, as if
by enchantment, a silence of death prevailed in this crowd, an instant
before so noisy and agitated. Their vengeance was at length about to be
satisfied."



CHAPTER XXV.

THE AVENGER.


"Immediately he reached home, the Count gave orders for his departure.
He had completely forgotten the business for which he came to Bruneck:
besides, had the business been even more important than it really was,
it could not have retained him, so great was his anxiety to get away.
Still, he was obliged to remain ten hours longer in the town. It was
impossible to procure horses before three o'clock in the afternoon."

"He profited by this hindrance to take a little rest; in truth, he was
utterly worn out with fatigue. He soon fell into so deep a sleep that
he did not even hear the furious cries and vociferations of the crowd
assembled in the square, on seeing that, instead of three criminals,
whom they had so long awaited in order to enjoy their punishment, and
satiate a vengeance so long desired, only three corpses were offered
them. At the moment when the gaoler and officials entered the dungeon
to lead the condemned men to the gallows, they only found their
corpses; the men were quite dead. When the Count woke, all was over,
the shops were opened again, and the town had reassumed its accustomed
appearance. The Count enquired after his carriage, the horses had been
put in and it was waiting at the door. The final preparations were soon
made; the Count went down."

"'Where are we going, Excellency?' the postillion asked, hat in hand."

"'The Vienna road,' the Count replied, making himself as comfortable as
he could in the corner of the carriage."

"The postillion cracked his whip, and they set off at full speed.
The Count had reflected, and the following was the result of his
reflections:--Only one person was powerful enough to render him
thorough and prompt justice, that person was the Emperor. He must,
consequently, apply to the Emperor, and that was the reason why he
was going to Vienna. It is a long distance from Bruneck to Vienna; at
that period, more especially when railways were only just beginning,
and only existed in few places, journeys were long, fatiguing and
expensive. This lasted twenty-seven days. The Count's first business on
arriving, was to enquire after his Imperial Majesty; the court was at
Schönbrunn. Now Schönbrunn, the Saint Cloud of the Austrian Emperors,
is only a league and a half from Vienna. Still, not to lose precious
time in false steps, he must obtain an audience with the Emperor as
speedily as possible. Count Oclau was of too great a family to be
kept waiting long; two days after his arrival in Vienna an audience
was granted him. The palace of Schönbrunn stands, as we said, about
a league and a half from Vienna, beyond the suburb of Maria itself
and a little to the left. This imperial palace, commenced by Joseph
I., and finished By Maria Theresa, is a simple, elegant, and graceful
building, though not without a certain majesty. It is composed of a
large main building with two wings, with a double flight of steps
leading to the first floor; low buildings running parallel to the main
edifice, serve as offices and stables, and are attached to the end of
the east of the wings, leaving merely an aperture of about thirty feet,
on either side of which stands an obelisk, which thus completes the
courtyard. A bridge thrown across the Vienne, a thin stream of water
which falls into the Danube, gives access to the palace, behind which
extends in an amphitheatrical form, an immense garden, surmounted by a
belvedere, placed on the top of a large grass plot, which is flanked on
the right and left by magnificent coppices full of shadow, freshness,
and twittering birds. Schönbrunn, rendered celebrated by Napoleon I.
residing there twice, and by the painful death of his son, bears a
stamp of indescribable sadness and languor, everything is gloomy, dull,
and desolate; the court with its formal etiquette and brilliant parades
only imperfectly succeeds at lengthened intervals, in galvanizing this
corpse. Schönbrunn, like the palace of Versailles, is only a body
without a soul, and nothing could restore it to life."

"The Count arrived at Schönbrunn ten minutes before his audience,
which was fixed at noon. A chamberlain on duty awaited him, and at
once introduced him to his majesty. The Emperor was in a private room,
leaning upon a mantelpiece. The reception granted the Count was most
affable. The audience was a long one, it lasted nearly four hours, no
one ever learned what passed between the sovereign and the subject.
The last sentence of this confidential interview was alone heard. At
the moment when the Count took leave of the Emperor, his majesty said,
while giving him his hand to kiss--"

"'I believe it will be better to act thus on behalf of the whole of the
nobility, every effort must be made at any cost, to avoid the frightful
scandal which the publicity of so horrible an affair would arouse; my
support will never fail you. Go, my lord, and Heaven grant that you may
succeed with the means I place at your service.'"

"The Count bowed respectfully, and retired. The same evening he left
Vienna, and took the road which would lead him home. At the same time
with him, a cabinet courier sent by the Emperor, started on the same
road."

On reaching this point in his narrative, the adventurer paused, and
addressing Count de la Saulay, asked him:--"Do you suspect what passed
between the Emperor and the Count?"

"Nearly," the latter answered.

"Oh!" he said, in amazement; "I should be curious to know the result of
your observations."

"You authorize me then to tell you?"

"Certainly."

"My dear Don Adolfo," the Count continued, "as you are aware, I am
a nobleman; in France the king is only the first gentleman of his
kingdom, the _primus inter pares_, and I suppose that it is much
the same everywhere now; any attack upon one of the members of the
nobility affects the sovereign as seriously as all the other nobles
of the empire. When the Regent of France condemned Count de Hom to
be broken alive on the wheel upon the Place de Grivé, for robbing
and murdering a Jew in the Rue Quincampoix, he replied to a nobleman
of the court, who interceded with him on behalf of the culprit, and
represented to him that the Count de Hom, allied to reigning families,
was his relative: 'When I have any bad blood, I have it taken from
me;' and turned his back on the petitioner. But this did not prevent
the nobility from sending their carriages to the execution of Count de
Hom. Now, the fact you are talking about is nearly similar, with this
exception, that the Emperor of Austria, less brave than the Regent of
France, while allowing that justice ought to be dealt upon the culprit,
recoiled from a publicity, which, according to his views, would brand
a stigma of infamy upon the entire nobility of his country; hence,
like all weak men, he satisfied himself with half measures, that is to
say, he probably gave the Count a blank signature, by means of which
the latter, on the first plausible pretext, might put down his noble
relative, kill him, or even have him assassinated, without other form
of trial, and in this way, obtain by the destruction of his enemy the
justice he claimed; since, the Prince once dead, it would be easy to
restore to his sister-in-law or her son, in the event of his being
recovered, the titles and fortune which his uncle had so criminally
appropriated. This, in my opinion, is what was arranged between the
Emperor and the Count at the long audience granted at Schönbrunn."

"Matters turned out so in reality, Count, with the exception that the
Emperor insisted that hostilities should not commence between the
Count and the Prince, until the latter was beyond the frontiers of the
empire, and the Count requested the Emperor to place at his disposal
all the means of action he possessed, in order to try and find his
nephew again, if he still lived, and to this the Emperor consented."

"The Count returned then to his castle, provided with a blank signature
of his majesty, which gave him the most extensive powers to carry
out his vengeance, and in addition, with an order entirely in his
majesty's handwriting, empowering him to obtain the aid of all the
imperial agents, both at home and abroad, at the first requisition. The
Count, as you of course understand, was but moderately satisfied with
the conditions which the Emperor had imposed on him; but recognising
the impossibility of obtaining more, he was obliged to give way.
For himself, he would have certainly preferred, whatever might have
been the consequence, a public trial, to the paltry and disgraceful
vengeance that was permitted him; but it was better, in the interests
of his sister and nephew, to have obtained these semi-concessions, than
to meet with a formal refusal. He immediately set to work in search of
his nephew, for this search the papers which Red Arm had handed him,
contained precious information. Without saying anything to his sister,
through fear of giving her false hopes, he immediately went about his
task. What more shall I tell you, my friends? His search was long, and
is Still going on; still the situation is beginning to grow clearer,
and has been so fortunate as to find his nephew again: since this
discovery, he has never let the young man out of sight, although the
latter is ignorant to this day of the sacred bonds which attach him to
the man who has brought him up, and whom he loves like a father, the
Count has kept this secret even from his sister, not wishing to reveal
it to her till he can announce at the same time that justice has at
length been done, and that the husband she has deplored for so many
years is avenged. Very frequently, since that period, the two enemies
have met, many opportunities have been offered the Count to kill his
foe, but he has never let himself be led astray by his hatred, or, to
speak more truly, his hatred has given him the strength to wait; the
Count wishes to kill his enemy, but he desires first that the latter
should dishonour himself and fall, not conquered in an honourable
contest, but justly struck, like a criminal, who at last receives the
chastisement of his misdeeds."

After uttering the last words the adventurer stopped. There was a
lengthened silence; night was coming to an end, white gleams were
beginning to filter through the half-open window; the light of the
candles was growing pale; indistinct noises announced that the city
was awaking, and the distant bells of monasteries and churches were
summoning the faithful to early mass. The adventurer left his chair
and began walking up and down the room, every now and then casting
searching glances at his two companions. Dominique, thrown back in his
butaca, with his eyes half closed, was mechanically smoking his Indian
pipe. Count de la Saulay was playing the devil's tattoo on the table,
while watching the adventurer's movements.

"Don Adolfo," he suddenly said to him, as he raised his head and looked
him full in the face, "your story has ended then?"

"Yes," the adventurer answered, laconically,

"You have nothing more to add?"

"Well, excuse me, my friend, but I fancy you are mistaken."

"I do not understand you, my dear Count."

"I will explain myself; but on one condition."

"What is it?"

"That you will not interrupt me."

"Very good, if you insist. Now I will listen to you."

"My friend," the Count said, "the first friendly face I met on
landing in America was yours; though we were placed in very different
situations, accident was pleased to bring us together with such
persistency, that what was at first but a passing acquaintance has
become, without either of us knowing how, a sincere and profound
affection. It is not possible to become so connected with a man without
studying his character a little, which I have done with you, and you
doubtless have done with me. Now, I believe that I know you intimately
enough, my friend, to feel convinced that you did not come suddenly
to our house tonight with the mere object of supping, or, forgive
the phrase, indulging in a debauch, which does not agree with your
character or morals, as you are the most sincerely sober man I ever
met. Moreover, I ask myself, why you, so chary of your words, and
especially of your secrets, have told us this story, very interesting,
I allow, but which, apparently, does not concern us in any way, and
can have but a very secondary interest for us. To this I answer that
if you thus came to ask of us a supper, which you could very well
have done without, you came expressly to tell us this narrative: that
it interests you more than us, and I conclude that you have still
something to tell us, or, to speak more clearly, to ask of us."

"That is evident," said Dominique.

"Well yes: all you have supposed is true--the supper was only a
pretext, and I really only came here tonight with the intention of
telling you the story you have just heard."

"Very good," said Dominique, joyously, "that, at any rate, is being
frank."

"Still I confess," the adventurer continued sadly, "that I now hesitate
because I am afraid."

"You afraid? And of what?" the two young men exclaimed in surprise.

"I am afraid, because this long history must shortly have its
conclusion; because this conclusion must be terrible and though when I
came here I intended to ask your assistance, I have since reflected,
and recoil from the idea of mixing you up, you who are so young, happy,
and careless, even indirectly, in this horrible history to which you
ought to remain strangers. Pray, my friends, forget all you have
heard--it is only a story told after drinking."

"No, on my honour, Don Adolfo," the Count exclaimed, energetically, "it
shall not be so, I swear, and I speak for myself and Dominique: you
want us and here we are. I know not what mysterious interest you have
in this affair. I do not even wish to discover the motives that lead
you to act, but I repeat to you, if you were to send us away when you
are going to incur a great danger, which we might, perhaps, protect
you from by sharing it with you, it would be a proof to us that you
entertain neither esteem nor friendship, and that you regard us rather
as thoughtless young people than men of courage."

"You go too far, my dear Count!" the adventurer warmly exclaimed. "I
never had such ideas, far from it. Still, I repeat, I tremble at the
thought of mixing you up in this affair, which does not concern you."

"Pardon me, my friend; from the moment it interests you, it concerns
us, and we have the right to mix ourselves up in it."

The adventurer hung his head and began walking up and down the room
again in great agitation.

"Well, be it so, my friends," he said at the end of a moment, "since
you insist, we will act in concert. You will aid me in what I have
undertaken, and I hope that we shall succeed."

"I feel convinced of it," said the Count.

"Let us go then," Dominique said, rising from the table.

"Not yet: but the moment is at hand. I swear to you that you will not
have long to wait. Now, one last toast, and good-bye. Ah! I forgot:
in the event of my not being able to come to you myself, this is the
signal--_one and two make three_. It is very simple and you will
remember it, I think?"

"Perfectly."

"In that case, good-bye."

Five minutes later he had left the house.



CHAPTER XXVI.

SUNNY HOURS.


The small suburban house in which Doña Dolores had found such a
secure shelter between Doña Maria and Doña Carmen, though simple and
comparatively unimportant, was a delightful abode, furnished very
plainly, but with perfect taste. In the rear, a rarity in Mexico, was
a small but well laid-out garden, full of shade and freshness, which
afforded a charming retreat from the heat of the sun at the burning
hour of noon. It was in these fragrant clumps that the young ladies hid
themselves, to prattle and gossip at liberty, responding, by the sweet
bursts of their laughter, to the joyous songs of the birds. Three
persons alone were admitted to the house: they were the adventurer,
the Count, and Dominique. The adventurer, incessantly absorbed by
his mysterious occupations, only made rare and short visits there.
It was not the same with the young men. During the first days they
had strictly conformed to their friend's recommendations, and paid
short, and, so to speak, stealthy visits, but gradually led on by the
invisible charms which unconsciously attracted them, the visits were
multiplied, became longer, and inventing all sorts of pretexts, they at
last came to spend nearly the whole day with the ladies.

One day, while the inhabitants of the small house had withdrawn to the
garden and were gaily conversing together, a frightful tumult was heard
outside. The old servant ran in great alarm to inform his mistress that
a band of ruffians, assembled before the house, insisted on having the
gate opened to them, threatening to break it down if they were not
obeyed. The Count re-assured Doña Maria, told her to fear nothing, and
after begging her and the young ladies not to leave the garden, he
and Dominique advanced to the outer door. Raimbaut had accidentally
come a few minutes previously to bring his master a letter, and his
presence, under the circumstances, became very valuable. The three men
took their double-barrelled guns and revolvers, and after making their
arrangements in a few words, the Count approached the gate, on which
furious blows were being dealt outside, and ordered the old servant to
open it. The gate was hardly opened ere there was an awful pushing,
and a dozen individuals rushed into the zaguán with furious shouts and
yells. But suddenly they stopped. Before them, at ten paces distance
at the most, three men were standing with shouldered guns, ready to
pull the trigger. The bandits, who were mostly unarmed, as they were
so fully convinced of meeting with no resistance, and who only had the
knives thrust through their belts, stood struck with stupor at the
sight of the guns levelled at them. The fierce looks of these three
men awed them; they hesitated, and finally stopped short, exchanging
glances of alarm. This was not what had been announced to them: this
house, apparently so tranquil, contained a formidable garrison. The
Count handed his gun to the old man servant, and drawing his revolver,
advanced resolutely toward the ruffians. The latter, by an opposite
movement, commenced to recoil step by step, so that they soon reached
the gate; then, turning round with a bound, they rushed out. The Count
quickly locked the gate after them. The young men laughed heartily at
their easy victory, and rejoined the ladies, who had hidden themselves,
all trembling, in the thickets. This lesson had been sufficient;
henceforth the quiet of the inhabitants of the small house was
undisturbed.

Still, Doña Maria, grateful for the service the young men had done her,
not only did not think that they paid too long visits, but even when
they proposed to retire, she invited them to remain. It is true that
the young ladies joined their entreaties to hers, so that the Count and
his friend easily allowed themselves to be induced to remain, and thus
passed the greater part of the day with them.

It was the day after the night Don Adolfo had spent in supping so
heartily with his friends; noon had long struck from all the city
churches, and the young men, who generally presented themselves at Doña
Maria's at eleven o'clock, had not yet made their appearance. The two
young ladies, who were in the dining room, pretended to be arranging
and dusting the furniture, so as not to go and join Doña Maria, who had
been for a long time expecting them in the garden. Though they did not
speak, the girls, while arranging, or rather deranging the furniture,
had their eyes incessantly fixed on the clock.

"Can you understand, Carmelita," Doña Dolores at length said with a
delicious pout, "why my cousin has not yet arrived?"

"It is inconceivable, querida," Doña Carmen at once answered. "I
confess that I feel very anxious, for the city is in a disturbed state
at this moment, I hear. I only hope nothing unpleasant has happened to
the two poor young gentlemen."

"Oh! It would be frightful if any accident were to happen to them!"

"What would become of us alone and unprotected in this house? Had it
not been for their assistance, we should have been assassinated before."

"The more so, because we cannot count on Don Jaime, who is always
absent."

The young ladies heaved a sigh, looked at each other silently for a
moment, and then fell into one another's arms with a burst of tears.
They understood each other. It was not for themselves they feared.

"You love him, then?" Doña Dolores at length whispered in her friend's
ear.

"Oh, yes," she replied softly. "And you?"

"I too."

The confession was made; they now understood one another, and had
nothing further to conceal.

"How long have you loved him?" Doña Carmen continued.

"I do not know, but I fancy that I have always loved him."

"It is the same with me."

Nothing is so sweet and pure as a girl's simple love. It is the soul
scarce awake to human sensations, which seeks its lovely angelic wings
to fly toward the unknown regions of the ideal.

"And does he love you?" Carmen asked softly.

"Yes, since I love him."

"That is true," she replied, quite convinced.

Love has this adorable thing about it, that it is essentially
illogical; were it not so, it would not be love. Suddenly the young
ladies rose, and laid their hands on their heart.

"Here he is," said Dolores.

"He is coming," Carmen remarked.

How did they know? The deepest silence prevailed outside. Then,
quitting the dining room, they fled to the garden like startled doves.
Almost immediately there was a knock at the door. The old servant
doubtless recognised the knock, for he at once opened. The Count and
his friend entered.

"The ladies?" the Count asked.

"In the huerta, Excellency," the servant answered, as he closed the
door after them.

The ladies were seated in an arbour; Doña Maria was embroidering, the
young ladies were attentively reading--so attentively, indeed, that,
though they suddenly blushed, they did not hear the sound of their
visitors' footsteps on the gravel walks, and were greatly surprised on
perceiving them.

The gentlemen took off their hats on entering the arbour, and bowed
respectfully to the ladies.

"Here you are at last, gentlemen," Doña Maria remarked with a smile;
"do you know that we felt very anxious?"

"Oh!" said Doña Carmen with a pout.

"Not so very," Doña Dolores murmured, "these gentlemen have doubtless
found an opportunity to amuse themselves elsewhere and took advantage
of it."

The Count and Dominique gazed at the young ladies in surprise, for they
did not understand.

"Come, come, little mad caps," Doña Maria said gently: "do not torment
the poor young men so, you render them quite confused: it is probable
that they did not come sooner because they were prevented."

"Oh! These gentlemen are perfectly at liberty to come when they
please:" Doña Dolores said disdainfully.

"We should be sorry to feel angry with them for such a trifle," Carmen
added with the same tone.

This was the death shot for the young men, and they completely lost
countenance. The teasing girls looked at them for a second, and then
burst into such a frank and sudden laugh, that the Count and Dominique
turned pale with annoyance.

"Viva Dios!" the vaquero exclaimed, stamping his foot angrily, "It is
too unkind to punish us thus for a fault we have not committed."

"Don Adolfo detained us against our will!" the Count said.

"You have seen Don Jaime?" Doña Maria asked.

"Yes, Madam, he paid us a visit at eleven o'clock last night."

The young men then took chairs, and a pleasant conversation was carried
on. Doña Carmen and Dolores continued to tease them: they were happy at
having made them so utterly disconcerted, though in their hearts they
felt a grudge because their lovers had not comprehended the feeling
that dictated their reproaches. As for the Count and Dominique, they
felt happy in being by the side of these lovely and simple girls,
they intoxicated themselves with the fire of their glances, listened
with ravishment to the sweet music of their voice, without thinking
of anything but enjoying as long as possible the easy happiness which
they thus procured. The entire afternoon passed in this way with the
rapidity of a dream. At nine o'clock they took leave and returned home
without exchanging a word.

"Do you feel inclined to sleep?" the Count asked his friend, as soon as
they reached their apartments.

"Really, no," the latter answered; "why?"

"Because I should like to talk with you."

"Well, that is capital, for I too want to talk to you."

"Ah," said the Count: "well, if you like, we will talk over a cigar and
a glass of punch."

"That will be excellent."

The young men sat down opposite each other and lit their cigars.

"What a charming day we have spent!" the Count said.

"How could it be otherwise," Dominique asked, "with such amiable
persons?"

And as if by common accord the young men sighed. The Count suddenly
seemed to form a determination.

"Come," he said to his friend, "will you be frank?"

"With you I shall always be so, as you are well aware," Dominique
answered.

"Well, listen to me: you are aware that I have only been a few months
in Mexico, but what you know only vaguely is the motive that brought
me to this country."

"I fancy I was told you had come here with the intention of marrying
your cousin, Doña Dolores de la Cruz."

"That is true: but what you do not know is the way in which this
marriage was arranged, and the motives that prevent me from breaking it
off."

"Ah!" said Dominique.

"I will be brief: know then that while still a child, by the conditions
of a family compact I was betrothed to my cousin Doña Dolores, of
whose existence even I was ignorant. When I became a man, my parents
called on me to fulfil this engagement, which they had made in my
name without consulting me. In spite of the very natural repugnance I
felt for this strange union with a woman whom I did not know, I was
compelled to obey. I quitted with regret the happy careless life I
was leading in Paris among my friends, and embarked for Mexico. Don
Andrés de la Cruz received me on my arrival with the liveliest joy,
overwhelmed me with the most delicate attentions, and introduced me to
his daughter, my betrothed. Doña Dolores received me coldly, even more
than coldly: evidently she was no more satisfied than myself with the
union she was forced to contract with a stranger, and felt hurt at the
right her father had thus arrogated of disposing of her hand without
consulting her, or even warning her; for Doña Dolores, as I learned
afterwards, was perfectly ignorant of the compact concluded between
the two branches of our family. As for myself, delighted at the cool
reception which I received from the woman. I was destined to marry, I
hoped that possibly this union might not be completed. Doña, Dolores is
very beautiful, as you are aware."

"Ah, yes," Dominique muttered.

"Her character is charming, her mind cultivated--in a word, she
combines all the graces and seductive attractions which make an
accomplished woman."

"Oh, yes," Dominique repeated; "all that you are saying is perfectly
true."

"Well, I cannot love her, the feeling is stronger than I am; and yet
duty--duty forces me to marry her, for Doña Dolores has suddenly become
an orphan. She is almost ruined, and surrendered defencelessly to her
brother's hatred: betrothed to her against my will, it is true, but
very really betrothed, honour orders me to carry out this union, the
last wish of her dying father; and yet I love--"

"What do you say?" Dominique exclaimed in a panting voice.

"Forgive me, Dominique; I love Doña Carmen."

"Oh, thanks, Great Heaven!"

"What do you mean?"

"I love too," said Dominique; "you render me very happy, for the woman
I love is Doña Dolores!"

The Count offered his hand to Dominique, but the latter threw himself
into his arms. They held each other closely embraced for some time, but
at last the Count gently liberated himself.

"Let us hope!" he said; and this one word contained the feelings which
were boiling in his heart.



CHAPTER XXVII.

AN HONEST MAN.


It was about two in the afternoon. There was not a breath of air, the
country seemed to have fallen asleep under the weight of a leaden sun,
whose burning beams fell from heaven with the colour of burnished
copper on the gaping earth, and made the pebbles flash like so many
diamonds on a wide and tortuous road which wound with infinite curves
across an arid plain covered with greyish white rocks, on whose sides
a blending light formed a cascade of fire. The perfectly transparent
atmosphere, such as always exists in countries deprived of humidity,
allowed the diversities of the country to be plainly distinguished as
far as the horizon, with a crudity of forms, and details which, owing
to the want of aërial perspective, gave them something harsh which
saddened the eye. At a spot where this road separated into several
branches, and formed a species of square, stood a small house with
white walls and Italian roof, whose door was ornamented by a portello
of coarsely planed tree trunks, supporting a balcony of trellis work
which enclosed it like a cage. This cottage was a venta. Several
horses tied by the bridle to the portello, with sadly hanging heads,
heaving sides, and running down with perspiration, seemed to be as much
exhausted by the heat as by fatigue. Here and there several men, rolled
up in their zarapés, with their heads in the shade and their feet in
the sun, were sleeping, according to the Spanish expression, _a picrua
sculta_.

These men were guerilleros: a sentry half asleep, leaning on his lance,
and with his back against the wall, was supposed to be watching the
arms of the cuadrilla, which was filed. Under the portello, a man
seated in a hammock, was desperately strumming a jarana, while singing
in a ropy voice the languishingly amorous words of a _triste_. A fat
little man, with grey eyes full of motion, and a mocking countenance,
came out of the venta and approached the hammock.

"Señor don Felipe," he said with a respectful bow to the improvised
musician; "will you not dine?"

"Señor ventero," the officer answered roughly "when you speak to me,
you might, I think, be more respectful toward me, and give me the title
to which I have a right--that is to say, call me Colonel."

"Excuse me, Excellency," the host replied with a deeper bow than the
first; "I am a ventero, and very little acquainted with military ranks."

"That will do--you are excused! I will not dine yet, for I am expecting
someone who has not yet arrived, but will be here shortly."

"That is certainly very unfortunate, Señor Colonel Don Felipe," the
ventero remarked; "a dinner that I have prepared with so much care,
will be entirely spoiled."

"That would be a misfortune; but what is to be done? Well, lay the
table, I have waited long enough, and have too formidable an appetite
to delay any longer."

The landlord bowed, and at once retired. In the meanwhile the
guerillero had made up his mind to leave his hammock, and lay aside his
jarana for the present. After rolling and lighting a husk cigarette, he
carelessly walked a few paces towards the end of the portello, and with
his arms crossed on his back, and cigarette in his mouth, surveyed the
country. A horseman, enfolded in a dense cloud of dust raised by his
rapid pace, was coming toward him. Don Felipe uttered a cry of joy, for
he was certain that the horseman coming toward him was the person he
had so long been expecting.

"Ouf!" the traveller said, stopping his horse short before the portello
and leaping off; "I could not stand it any longer, válgame Dios; what a
horrible heat!"

At a sign from the Colonel, a soldier took the horse and led it to the
corral.

"Ah, Señor Don Diego, you are welcome," said the Colonel, as he
offered his hand; "I have almost despaired of seeing you. Dinner is
waiting for us: after such a ride, you must be almost dead of hunger."

The ventero introduced them into a retired cuarto. The two guests
sat down to table and vigorously attacked the dishes placed before
them. During the first part of the dinner, being fully occupied with
satisfying the claims of an appetite sharpened by a long abstinence,
they only interchanged a few words; but ere long their ardour was
calmed, they threw themselves back on their butacas with an "ah" of
satisfaction, lit their cigarettes and began smoking them, while
sipping some excellent Catalaña refino which the host had brought as
the wind up of the dinner.

"There," Don Diego said, "now that we have fed well--thanks be to
Heaven and Saint Julian, the patron saint of travellers--suppose we
talk a little, my dear Colonel."

"I am quite ready," the other answered with a crafty smile.

"Well," Don Diego continued, "I will tell that I spoke yesterday to the
General about an affair which I intended to propose to you, and what
do you think his answer was? Do not do, my dear Don Diego; in spite of
his great talents, Don Felipe is an ass imbued with the most absurd
prejudices, he would not understand the great patriotic purpose of the
affair you proposed to him, he would only see the money and refuse with
a laugh in your face, although certainly twenty-five thousand piastres
are a very handsome sum; and he added in conclusion--well, since you
have made an appointment with him, go and see him; if only for the
singularity of the fact, you had better see. Now, if you think proper
to mention the affair to him, he will shut your mouth and send you and
your twenty-five thousand piastres to the deuce."

"Hum!" said the Colonel, to whom the amount caused serious reflection.

Don Diego examined him with a corner of his eye.

"Well," he continued, as he threw away his cigarette, "after due
consideration, I am of the General's opinion, and will not talk to you
about the matter."

"Ah!" the Colonel said again.

"It annoys me, I confess, but I must make up my mind to it; I will go
and find Cuellar, perhaps he will not be so difficult to deal with."

"Cuellar is a scoundrel," Don Felipe exclaimed violently.

"I am well aware of it," Don Diego replied gently; "but what do I care
for that? By giving him ten thousand piastres beforehand, I am certain
that he will accept my proposition, which has the additional advantage
of being very honourable."

The Colonel filled the glasses: he seemed absorbed in thought.
"Confound it," he said, "that is a tidy sum you offer."

"Well, you understand, my dear sir, that I am not the man to ask any
friend of mine to undertake such a job gratuitously."

"But Cuellar is no friend of yours."

"It is true, and that is why I feel sorry about applying to him."

"But what is the matter to be done?"

"It is a secret."

"Am I not your friend? Be assured that I will be as dumb as the grave."

Don Diego appeared to reflect.

"You promise me silence?"

"I swear it on my honour."

"Well, in that case, nothing prevents me from speaking. This is simply
the matter: I shall tell you nothing new, Colonel, when I mention
that numerous spies, seeing both causes at once, sell without scruple
to Miramón the secrets of our military operations, just as they make
us pay largely for the information they supply us about those of the
enemy. Now, the Government of his Excellency, Don Benito Juárez, has,
at this moment, his eyes open upon the machinations of two men, who are
strongly suspected of playing a double part; but the individuals in
question are gifted with such a remarkable talent, their measures are
so well taken, that, in spite of the moral certainty existing against
them, it has hitherto been impossible to obtain the slightest proof of
the truth. These two men must be unmasked by seizing their papers, on
the delivery of which fifteen thousand piastres will be immediately
paid, in addition to the ten thousand advanced. Once that the General
Governor has these proofs in his hands, he will not hesitate to bring
them before a court martial. You see that this affair is honourable to
the person who is willing to undertake it."

"Indeed, it is a meritorious act of patriotism to acquire this
certainty: and who are the two men, pray?"

"Did I not mention their names?"

"That is the only thing you have forgotten."

"Oh! These are no ordinary persons--quite the contrary: the first has
just been appointed private secretary to General Ortego, while the
second, I believe, has very recently raised a cuadrilla at his own
expense."

"But their names--their names?"

"You know them well, or, at least, I suppose so; the first is Don
Antonio Cacerbas, and the second--"

"Don Melchior de la Cruz!" Don Felipe interrupted, eagerly.

"You know it!" Don Diego exclaimed, with perfectly well-acted surprise.

"The sudden elevation of these two men, the almost unlimited credit
which they enjoy with the President, has also caused me to reflect, for
no one understands this so sudden favour."

"Hence, certain persons consider it necessary to elucidate the question
by assuring themselves in a positive manner about what these two men
are."

"Well," Don Felipe exclaimed, "I will know it! I promise you, and will
give you the proofs you require."

"You will do that?"

"Yes, I swear it! The more so because I consider it the duty of an
honest man to take these rogues with their hand in the bag; and," he
added, with a singular smile, "no one possesses the means to obtain the
result better than I."

"I trust you may not be mistaken, Colonel, for, if this were to happen,
I think I may assure you that the gratitude of the Government toward
you will not be limited to the sum of which I am going to hand you a
portion."

Don Felipe smiled proudly at this transparent allusion to the new rank
of which he was ambitious.

Don Diego, without appearing to remark the smile, took from a large
pocketbook a sheet of paper, and handed it to the guerillero, who
seized it with a gesture of delight, and an expression of satisfied
rapacity, which imparted something vile and contemptible to his
features, which were generally handsome and rather regular. This paper
was a draft for ten thousand piastres, payable at sight on a large
English banking house in Veracruz. Don Diego rose.

"Are you going?" the Colonel asked him.

"Yes; I am sorry to be compelled to leave you."

"We shall meet again soon, Señor Don Diego."

The young man remounted his horse, and went off at a rapid pace.

"Ah!" he muttered, while galloping, "I think that this time the
mousetrap is well set, and that the villains will be caught in it."

The Colonel had reseated himself in his hammock, and had begun to strum
the jarana again, with more power than accuracy.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

LOVE.


Dolores and Carmen were alone in the garden. Hidden like two timid
turtle doves, in an arbour of orange, lemon, and flowering pomegranate
trees, and were eagerly conversing. Doña Maria kept her room, through
a slight indisposition--such, at least, was the excuse she made to
the young ladies for not keeping them company in the garden, but, in
reality, she had shut herself up to read an important letter which Don
Jaime had sent her by a safe man.

The girls, free from all surveillance, were rejoicing their hearts by
confiding to each other their simple and sweet secrets; a few words
had sufficed to render any explanation between them unnecessary; hence
there were no concealments or subterfuges, but an entire and unbounded
confidence, a tacitly concluded union to help each other, and compel
their swains to break a too lengthened silence, and let them read in
their hearts the name of her whom each of them preferred. It is on
this serious and interesting subject that the conversation of the young
ladies turned at this moment. Although they had confessed to each other
their mutual love, by a feeling of delicacy inseparable from every real
passion, they hesitated and recoiled with a blush before the thought of
urging the young men to declare themselves.

Doña Carmen and Doña Dolores were really simple and innocent girls,
ignorant of all the coquettish tricks of which, among us, the so-called
civilized people, women make such cruel, and, at times, implacable
sport. By one of those strange accidents, which real life so frequently
creates, the conversation of the young ladies was, with but a few
slight differences, the same as the one that had previously taken place
between the Count and his friend on the same subject.

"Dolores," Doña Carmen said, in a caressing voice, "you are braver than
I. You know Don Ludovic better than I do; and, besides, he is your
relation; why this reserve with him?"

"Alas! My darling," Doña Dolores replied, "this reserve which surprises
you is forced upon me by my position. Count Ludovic is now my sole
relation, as I am deserted by all the others; for many years past we
have been betrothed to each other."

"How is it possible," the girl exclaimed, nobly, "that parents thus
dare to enchain their children without consulting, and condemn them
beforehand to a future of misery?"

"These arrangements are frequently made in Europe, dearest, I
understand; moreover, does not our natural weakness render us women
slaves of men, who have retained the supreme power in their hands? and
although this intolerable tyranny makes us groan, we must humbly bow
the head and obey."

"Yes, that is only too true; still, I fancy that if we were to resist--"

"We should be branded, pointed at, and ruin our reputation."

"Well, do you, in spite of your heart, conclude this odious marriage?"

"What shall I answer you, darling? The mere thought that this marriage
might be accomplished renders me wild with grief, and yet I can see no
way of escaping it: the Count left France and came here with the sole
object of marrying me; my father, on his dying bed, made him promise
not to leave me without a protector, and to conclude this marriage. You
see that there are several and very serious reasons why it seems to me
impossible to escape from the fate that menaces me."

"But, my darling," Doña Carmen exclaimed, warmly, "why do you not have
a clear explanation with the Count? Perhaps this explanation would
smooth all difficulties."

"That is possible; but this explanation cannot come from me; the Count
has rendered me immense services since my unfortunate father's death,
and it would be giving him a very bad reward to answer by a refusal to
a request which ought to honour me in every respect."

"Oh, you love him, Dolores!" she exclaimed, passionately.

"No, I do not love him," she answered, with dignity, "but perhaps he
loves me; nothing proves the contrary."

"I am certain that it is I whom he loves!" Carmen exclaimed.

"My angel," she said, with a smile, "a woman can never be certain of
such things, even when she holds the most solemn oaths, much less than
when he has not a word, or a gesture, or a look to certify that she
is not mistaken. I will go on then: one of two things is certain--the
Count either loves me, or does not love me, and supposes that I am in
love with him; in either case my conduct is laid down for me. I must
wait without provoking an explanation, which cannot fail to take place
between us, and which, I feel convinced, will not be long delayed. In
that case, Carmen, I swear to you to be to the Count just what I ought
to be, that is to say, frank and loyal; and if, after this explanation,
any doubts remain in the Count's mind, it will be because he was
determined to retain them, and nothing will be left me but to bow my
head sadly, and yield to my fate. That is all I can possibly promise
you, my love; anything else I could not dare do, for my dignity as
a woman, and the respect I owe myself, have traced for me a line of
conduct which I believe my honour commands me not to stray from."

"My dear Dolores, though I am greatly grieved by your resolution, still
I am forced to allow that it is the only one which, under present
circumstances, it is proper for you to adopt; hence, do not feel vexed
by my ill temper, for I am suffering so greatly."

"And I? Do you believe, darling, that I am happy? Oh! Undeceive
yourself if you have that thought; perhaps I am even more unhappy than
you."

At this moment footsteps were heard on the gravel walk.

"Here is somebody," said Doña Dolores.

"It is the Count," Carmen at once replied.

"How do you know, dear?"

The girl blushed.

"I guess it by the beating of my heart," she said gently.

"He is alone, I think?"

"Yes."

"Oh, Heaven! Can anything new have happened?"

"Oh! Pray do not think that."

The Count appeared at the entrance of the arbour. He was really alone.
He bowed to the young ladies, and waited for their permission to
join them. Doña Dolores offered him her hand with a smile, while her
companion bowed to hide her blushes.

"You are welcome, cousin," said Doña Dolores. "You arrive late today."

"I am pleased, cousin," he replied, "that you have noticed this
involuntary delay. My friend, Don Domingo, who was obliged to go
this morning early two leagues from the city, intrusted me with a
commission, which I was compelled to execute before I could have the
felicity of paying my respects to you."

"A very fair excuse, cousin, and Carmen and I absolve you. Now, sit
down between us and let us talk."

"With the greatest pleasure, cousin."

He entered the arbour, and sat down between the two young ladies.

"Permit me, Doña Carmen," he continued, as he bent down courteously to
the young lady, "to offer you my respectful homage, and inquire after
your health."

"I thank you for this attention, caballero," she answered. "Thank
Heaven, my health is very good; but I should wish that my mother's were
the same."

"Is Doña Maria ill?" he eagerly asked.

"I hope not; still she is so indisposed as to keep her room."

The Count made a movement to rise.

"Perhaps, my presence might appear improper under the circumstances,"
he said, "and I will--"

"Not at all. Stay, caballero, you are no stranger to us. Your title
of cousin, and betrothed of my dear Dolores," she said significantly,
"sufficiently authorises your presence."

"It is authorised much more, cousin, by the numerous services you have
rendered us, and which give you a claim to our gratitude."

"Hence, whatever may happen, you and your friend Don Domingo will
always be welcome to us, caballero," Doña Carmen said with a smile.

"You overwhelm me, señoritas."

"Shall we not have the pleasure of seeing your friend today?"

"Within an hour he will be here, señorita. But you are rising: do you
purpose leaving us, Doña Carmen?"

"I ask your permission to leave you for only a few minutes, caballero;
Doña Dolores will keep you company, while I go and see whether my
mother is better."

"Do so, señorita; and be kind enough to inform her of the lively
interest I feel in her, and my grief at finding her indisposed."

The young lady bowed and went away, light as a bird. The Count and
Doña Dolores remained alone. Their situation was singular and most
embarrassing, for they thus unexpectedly found themselves in a position
to have that explanation, from which they both hung back, while
recognising its urgent necessity. If it is difficult for a woman to
confess to a man who is wooing her that she does not love him, this
confession is far more difficult, and painful, too, when it must come
from the gentleman. Some minutes elapsed during which the two young
people did not utter a word, and contented themselves with taking shy
glances at each other. At length, as time was slipping away, and the
Count was afraid if he allowed this favourable opportunity to pass,
that it might not occur again for some time, he resolved to speak.

"Well, cousin," he said, with the easiest air he could affect, "are
you beginning to grow used to this secluded life, which the unhappy
circumstances in which you found yourself have brought upon you?"

"I am perfectly accustomed to this calm and tranquil existence,
cousin," she answered, "and if it were not for the sad recollections
which assail me every moment, I confess that I should be very happy."

"I congratulate you, cousin."

"In truth, what do I want for here? Doña Maria and her daughter love
me. They lavish kindness and attention, and I have a small circle of
devoted friends--can I desire anything else in this world, where real
happiness cannot exist?"

"I envy your philosophy, cousin. Still my duty as a relation--and a
friend," he added, hesitatingly, "oblige me to remind you that this
situation--happy though it is--can only be precarious. You cannot
hope to pass your life in the bosom of this charming family. A
thousand unforeseen events may happen at any moment to cause a violent
separation."

"That is true, cousin," she murmured in a low and trembling voice.

"You know," he continued, "how little it is permitted in this unhappy
country to reckon on the future. A young lady of your age, and
especially of your beauty, cousin, is fatally exposed to a thousand
dangers, from which it is almost impossible for her to escape. I am
your relative, if not your nearest, certainly the most devoted to you.
You do not doubt this, I hope?"

"Oh, Heaven forbid, cousin! Believe, on the contrary, that my heart
retains a profound gratitude for the numberless services you have
rendered me."

"Only gratitude?" he said significantly. "The word is rather vague,
cousin."

She raised her charming limpid eyes to him. "What other word would you
have me employ?" she asked.

"I am wrong, forgive me," he continued. "The fact is, the situation in
which we stand to each other at this moment is so singular, cousin,
that I really do not know how to express myself when addressing you. I
am afraid of displeasing you."

"No, cousin; you have nothing of the sort to fear," she answered, with
a smile. "You are my friend, and from that title you have the same
right to say anything to me, as I have to hear it."

"You give me the title of friend," he said gently. "Your father
desired--"

"Yes," she interrupted him with some degree of vivacity, "I know to
what you allude, cousin; my father had future plans for me, which death
prevented him from realising."

"Those projects, cousin, it depends on you alone to realise."

She seemed to hesitate for an instant or two, but then went on in a
trembling voice, and with a slight pallor. "My father's wishes are
commands to me, cousin. On the day when it pleases you to ask my hand,
I will give it to you."

"Cousin, cousin," he exclaimed hotly, "I do not mean that. I swore to
your father not only to watch over you, but to secure your happiness
by all the means in my power. The hand which you are ready to give me,
in obedience to your father, I will not accept unless it is at the
same time accompanied by the gift of your heart: whatever may be the
feelings I entertain toward you, I will never force you to contract
marriage which would render you unhappy."

"Thanks, cousin," she murmured, and cast her eyes down; "you are noble
and good."

The young man softly took her hand.

"Dolores," he said to her, "permit me to call you by that name, cousin,
for I am your friend."

"Oh yes," she replied, feebly.

"But," he added, with hesitation, "only your friend."

"Alas!" she sighed.

"That is enough," he said, "it is unnecessary to press you further:
cousin you are free."

"What do you mean?" she exclaimed, anxiously.

"I mean, Dolores, that I give you back your promise. I renounce the
honour of marrying you, though, with your permission, I still claim the
right of watching over your happiness."

"Cousin!"

"Dolores, you do not love me; your heart is given to another; a
marriage between us would cause the misery of both, poor girl. You
have already been sufficiently tried by adversity, at an age when life
should only be strewn with flowers, be happy with the man you love: it
will not be my fault if your fate is not, ere long, united with his. I
will justify the precious title of friend which you have given me by
overthrowing the obstacles which possibly prevent the accomplishment of
your dearest desires."

"Ah!" she exclaimed, with eyes bathed with tears, as she pressed the
hand that held hers, "Why is it not you I love? You so worthy to
inspire tender feelings."

"The heart has these anomalies, my cousin. Who knows, perhaps it is
better that it is so? Now dry your tears, my querida Dolores; only see
in me a devoted friend, a sure confidant to whom you could without
fear, intrust all your charming love secrets, if I did not know them
already."

"What?" she said, looking at him with surprise, "You know--"

"I know all, cousin, so reassure yourself; besides, he has not been so
discreet as you; he has confessed everything to me."

"He loves me!" she exclaimed, drawing herself up to her full height;
"Can it be possible?"

At this time the sound of hurried footsteps was heard outside.

"He is coming to tell you so himself," the Count remarked.

At the same instant Dominique entered the arbour.

"Ah!" she said, trembling and falling back on the bench she had left.

"Good God!" Dominique cried, turning pale, "What is going on here?"

"Nothing that need alarm you, my friend," the Count answered, with a
smile, "Doña Dolores permits you to offer her your homage."

"Can it be true?" he exclaimed, as he rushed towards her, and fell on
his knees.

"Oh, cousin!" the young lady said, in a tone of gentle reproach, "Why
have you taken this unfair advantage of a secret?"

"Which you did not confide to me, but I guessed," he answered.

"Traitor!" the young lady said, suddenly rising, and threatening her
cousin with her finger, "If you have read my secret, I have surprised
yours."

And she disappeared, flying light as a bird, and leaving the two men
face to face. Dominique, amazed at this unexpected flight, for which he
could not attribute a motive, made a movement to dart after her, but
the Count stopped him.

"Stay," he said to him, "the heart of a girl contains mysteries which
must not be unveiled. What more do you want, now you are sure of her
love?"

"Oh! My friend," he exclaimed, throwing himself into his arms, "I am
the happiest of men."

"Egotist!" the Count said gently to him, "You only think of yourself,
when my heart is perhaps hopelessly suffering."

Doña Dolores had only fled so fast from the arbour in order to restore
a little order to her thoughts, and to recover from the excessive
emotion she was suffering.

As she entered the house Carmen was leaving it. Dolores threw herself
into her arms, and burst into tears. Carmen, terrified at the state in
which she saw her friend, led her gently to her bedroom, and she obeyed
mechanically, without offering the slightest resistance. It took Doña
Dolores some time ere she was able to inform her friend of what had
taken place in the arbour, and how the unexpected arrival of Dominique
had forced from her, as it were, an avowal of love. Doña Carmen,
who was far from expecting so quick, and so happy a conclusion, was
overjoyed.

Henceforth no constraint, no misunderstanding; they could indulge in
their sweet dreams of the future without any cause of alarm. What had
they to fear, now they were sure of the love of the two young men? What
obstacle could prevent their speedy union?

Thus Doña Carmen reasoned, to reassure the modesty of her friend, which
had been rather startled by the confession which had involuntarily
escaped her and filled her with shame. Girls are so: they are willing
that the man whom they love should divine their love, but they consider
it an unpardonable weakness to confess it in his presence.

Carmen, who was some years older than Dolores, and consequently better
able to conquer her own emotions, gently teased her friend about her
weakness, and gradually led her to agree with her, that since the
confession of her love was made, she did not regret it.

They then quitted their room, and composing their faces to efface all
traces of emotion, proceeded to the garden. It was deserted.



CHAPTER XXIX.

THE BOLD STROKE.


Going back a little distance, we will relate what had occurred from
the day when Miramón so freely disposed of the money of the convention
bonds deposited in the English consulate, to that which our story has
reached; for the political events precipitated the termination of the
narrative we have undertaken to write.

As Don Jaime had predicted to him, the rather brutal manner in which
General Márquez executed his orders, and the most illegal act of
seizing the money, cast a fatal slur on the character of the young
President, which up to this time had been pure from any violence or
spoliation.

On learning this news, the members of the diplomatic body, among
others the ambassador of Spain, and the Chargé d'Affaires of France,
who were better disposed to Miramón than to Juárez, owing to the
nobility of his character, and the loftiness of his views, had from
this moment considered the cause of the moderate party represented by
Miramón as hopelessly lost, unless one of those miracles, so frequent
in revolutions, but of which no possibility could be seen, occurred.
Besides, the comparatively large sum of the convention bonds, joined to
that which Don Jaime remitted to the president, had not been sufficient
to cover the deficit, which was enormous, and had not even sensibly
diminished it.

The greater part of the money was employed in paying the soldiers, who
not having received a farthing for three months, were beginning to
raise seditious cries, and threatening to desert in a body.

The army paid, or nearly so, Miramón began recruiting for the purpose
of increasing it, so that he might, for the last time, try the fortune
of war, resolved to defend, inch by inch, the power which had been
freely entrusted to him by the representatives of the nation. Still, in
spite of the confidence he affected, the young and adventurous general
did not deceive himself as to the deplorable state of his position,
when opposed to the far more considerable, and really imposing forces
of the Puros, as the partisans of Juárez called themselves. Hence,
before playing the last stake, he determined to try the last resources
in his power, that is to say, a diplomatic mediation.

The Spanish ambassador, on arriving in Mexico, recognised Miramón's
government; it was therefore to this diplomatist that the president
in his desperate circumstances applied, with the object of obtaining
a mediation of the ministers residents, to try and effect the
re-establishment of peace by conciliation. He proposed to submit to
certain conditions of which the following were the most important:--

Firstly.--The delegates chosen by the two belligerent parties,
conferring with the European ministers and the representative of the
United States, would agree as to the way of re-establishing peace.
Secondly.--These delegates would nominate the person who was to hold
the government of the whole Republic, while a general assembly resolved
the questions that divided the Mexicans. Thirdly and lastly.--The
manner of convoking Congress would also be determined.

This despatch, addressed, on October 3rd, 1860, to the Minister of
Spain, terminated with these significant words, which fully displayed
Miramón's lassitude, and his desire for a settlement.

"Heaven grant that this convention, confidentially attempted, may
obtain a better result than those which have been proposed up to this
day."

As was generally supposed, this final attempt at reconciliation failed.
The motive was simple and easy to be understood, even by persons
the least versed in politics. Juárez, master of the larger portion
of the territory of the republic, felt himself in his government of
Veracruz too strong, through his adversary's exhaustion, not to prove
intractable, he would not share the position by reciprocal conditions,
but triumph fully.

Still Miramón, like a brave lion at bay before the hunters, had faith
in his valiant sword which had so often been victorious, he did not
despair yet, or perhaps would not despair. In order to keep together
the scattered strength of his last defenders, he addressed to them a
supreme appeal on November 17th, in which he strove to rekindle the
dying sparks of his ruined cause, by trying to impart to those who
still surrounded him, the courage which himself retained intact.
Unhappily, faith had fled, these words fell on ears closed by personal
interest and fear; no one would comprehend this supreme death cry of a
great and sincere patriot. Still, he must form some resolution, either
give up the struggle and lay down the power, or attempt again the fate
of arms, and resist to the last extremity. The latter resolution was
adopted by the General after ample reflection.

Night was drawing to its close; bluish gleams filtered through the
curtains and paled the candles burning in the cabinet, to which we have
once before led the reader to hear the conversation between the General
President, and the adventurer. This time again, the same couple were
face to face in the cabinet. The candles almost entirely burnt down,
proved that the conference had been long, the two men bending over an
immense map, seemed to be studying it with the most serious attention,
while conversing together with some degree of animation. All at once
the General rose with an angry movement, and fell back into an armchair.

"Bah!" he muttered between his teeth, "What is the use of obstinately
opposing ill fortune?"

"To conquer it, General," the adventurer answered.

"It is impossible."

"Do _you_ despair?" he asked significantly.

"I do not, far from that, I am resolved to fall if necessary, sooner
than yield to the law, which would be imposed on me by that villain
Juárez, a hateful and vindictive Indian, picked up through pity on the
side of a road by a Spaniard, and who only employs the learning he has
gained, and the education he has received by accident, to distract his
country, and plunge it into an abyss of misfortunes."

"What would you have, General?" the adventurer answered sarcastically.
"Who knows whether the Spaniard to whom you allude did not educate
this Indian for the purpose of accomplishing a vengeance, and with a
prevision of what is taking place today?"

"Everything would lead to the belief, on my soul! Never did man follow
with more cat-like patience, the darkest schemes, or accomplish more
odious actions, with such impudent cynicism."

"Is he not the chief of the Puros?" the adventurer said laughingly.

"Curses on the man!" the General exclaimed, with an outburst of
generous indignation, which he could not overcome. "He wishes the ruin
of our unhappy country."

"Why do you refuse to follow my advice?"

The General shrugged his shoulders impatiently.

"Good Heavens!" he said, "Because the plan you have submitted to me is
impracticable."

"Is that really the sole motive that prevents you from adopting it?" he
asked cleverly.

"And then again," the General said with a slight embarrassment, "since
you compel me to say it, I consider it unworthy of me."

"Oh, General, permit me to remark that you have not understood me."

"Monsieur, you are joking, my friend, I have so thoroughly understood
you, on the contrary, that if you wish it, I will repeat to you word
for word, the plan you have conceived, and," he added with a laugh,
"which, with an author's self love, you are so anxious to see me carry
out."

"Ah!" said the adventurer, with an air of doubt. "Well, the plan is as
follows: to quit the city suddenly, take no artillery with me, so as to
march more quickly across country roads, surprise the enemy, attack
him--"

"And beat him," the adventurer added meaningly.

"Oh, beat him," he said dubiously.

"It is infallible; consider, General, that your enemies rightly
consider you shut up in the city, engaged in fortifying yourself there
in the provision of the siege, with which they menace you; that since
the defeat of General Márquez, they know that none of your partisans
keep the field, and that consequently they have no attack to fear, and
march with the most perfect security."

"That is true," the General muttered. "Hence, nothing will be more easy
than to rout them; a guerilla war is not only the sole one you can
carry on at the present day, but it offers you almost certain chances
of success, by unnecessarily harassing your enemies, and beating them
in detail; you have the hope of seizing once more the fortune which is
abandoning you, and of delivering yourself from your odious rival. Only
gain the victory in three or four encounters with his troops, and your
partisans who are deserting you because they believe you ruined, will
return in crowds, and Juárez's formidable army will melt away like snow
before the sun."

"Yes, yes, I understand the boldness of this plan."

"Besides, it offers you a final chance."

"What?"

"This, if you are defeated, of ennobling your overthrow, by falling
weapons in hand upon a field of battle, instead of letting yourself be
smoked out like a fox from its earth, by an enemy whom you despise,
and of seeing yourself in a few days constrained to accept a shameful
capitulation, in order to spare the capital of the Republic the horrors
of a siege."

The General rose, and began walking up and down the cabinet with long
strides; presently he stopped in front of the adventurer.

"Thanks, Don Jaime," he said to him, in an affectionate voice; "your
rough frankness has done me good, it has proved to me that I have at
least one faithful friend left in misfortune; well, be it so, I accept
your plan, and will put it into execution this very day; what o'clock
is it?"

"Not quite four, General."

"At five, I shall have left Mexico."

The adventurer rose.

"Are you leaving me, my friend?" the General said to him.

"My presence is no longer necessary here, General, permit me to retire."

"We shall meet again."

"Yes, at the moment of action, General. Where do you intend to attack
the enemy?"

"There," said the General, placing his finger on a point of the map,
"at Toluca, where his vanguard will not arrive before two in the
afternoon: by making haste I can reach it before noon, and thus have
the necessary time to make all my preparations for the action."

"The spot is well chosen, and I predict you a victory, General."

"May heaven hear you! I do not believe in it."

"Again your discouragement."

"No, my friend, you are mistaken: it is not discouragement on my part,
but conviction."

And he affectionately offered his hand to the adventurer, who took
leave and withdrew. A few minutes later Don Jaime had left Mexico, and
bending over his horse's neck, was galloping madly across country.



CHAPTER XXX.

THE SORTIE.


As Miramón had stated to the adventurer, at five o'clock, a.m.
precisely, he left Mexico at the head of his troops. His forces were
not numerous, they only consisted of three thousand five hundred men,
infantry and cavalry, without artillery, on account of the execrable
roads along which he was obliged to march. Every cavalry man carried an
infantry soldier behind him, in order to render the march more rapid.
It was really a _coup de main_ that the President was about to attempt,
a most hazardous one, but for that very reason it had numerous chances
of success. General Miramón rode at the head of the army, in the midst
of his staff with whom he gaily conversed; on seeing him thus calm and
smiling it might have been fancied that no anxiety disturbed his mind;
he seemed on leaving Mexico to have resumed that happy carelessness of
manner which the anxieties of power had made him so rapidly forget. The
morning, though rather fresh, promised a beautiful day, a transparent
mist rose from the ground as the sunbeams became more ardent. A few
herds could be seen scattered over the plain; some recuas of mules led
by arrieros and proceeding to Mexico incessantly crossed the line of
march; the well cultivated ground offered no trace of war, and, the
country, on the contrary, seemed to enjoy a profound calm.

Some Indians were running along the roads, driving oxen to the city,
others were carrying their fruit and vegetables, all were in a hurry
and carelessly singing, in order to dispel the weariness and length
of the road. On passing the President, whom they knew well, they
stopped in amazement, took off their hats and bowed to him with an
affectionate respect. Ere long, by Miramón's orders, the troops entered
almost insurmountable paths, on which the horses only advanced with
great difficulty. The country became more abrupt and diversified: the
march became more rapid, and silence was re-established in the ranks of
the troops: they were approaching the enemy.

At about ten o'clock the President ordered a halt to rest the horses
and give the soldiers time to breakfast. Usually no sight is so
curious as a Mexican army. Every soldier is accompanied by his wife,
who carries the provisions and prepares his meals. These wretched
women, exposed to all the frightful consequences of war, camp at
some distance from the troops when they halt, which give the Mexican
armies the appearance of an emigration of barbarians. When a battle
is being fought, they remain impassive spectators of the contest,
knowing beforehand that they will become the prey of the victor, but
accepting, or rather yielding with philosophic indifference to this
hard necessity. This time it was not so; the President had expressly
prohibited any woman from following the army, the soldiers therefore
carried their provisions ready cooked in the alforjas hanging behind
the saddle; a precaution which, while avoiding a considerable loss of
time, had the additional advantage of rendering fires unnecessary.

At eleven boot and saddle was sounded, and the troops at once fell
into their ranks. They were approaching Toluca, the spot where the
President resolved to await the enemy. The road, cut up by deep
ravines, which could only be crossed with great difficulty, became
almost impracticable; still, the soldiers were not discouraged; they
were the _élite_ of Miramón's troops, his most faithful partizans, who
had accompanied him since the beginning of the war. They had redoubled
their ardour in the presence of obstacles which they surmounted
laughingly, encouraged by the example of their young general, who
marched bravely at their head, and thus gave them a sample of patience
and self-denial.

General Cobos had been detached to reconnoitre at the head of twenty
resolute men, in order to watch the enemy's march, and warn the General
as soon as he caught sight of them, by falling back unseen on the main
body. Suddenly Miramón perceived three horsemen galloping toward him,
supposing, correctly, that they were the bearers of important news. He
spurred his horse, and hastened to meet them. He soon joined them. Of
these three men, two were soldiers; the third, who was well mounted and
armed to the teeth, appeared to be a peasant.

"Who is this man?" the President asked of one of the soldiers.

"Excellency," he replied, "this man presented himself to the General,
asking to be led to you, for he says he is the bearer of a letter which
must be handed to you personally."

"Who sent you to me?" the President asked the stranger, who stood
motionless before him.

"I pray your Excellency first to read this letter," he answered, as he
drew a sealed note from his dolman, and respectfully handed it to the
General. Miramón opened it and rapidly read it.

"Ah! Ah!" he said, examining him attentively; "What is your name, my
good fellow?"

"Lopez, General."

"Good. So he is near here?"

"Yes, General; in ambush with three hundred horsemen."

"And he places you at my disposal?"

"Yes, General, for as long as you may want me."

"Tell me, Lopez, do you know this country?"

"I was born in it, Excellency."

"Then you are capable of guiding us?"

"Wherever you please."

"Do you know the enemy's position?"

"Perfectly, Excellency; the heads of Generals Bercozabal and
Digollados' columns are not more than a league from Toluca, where they
intend to make a long halt."

"At what distance are we from Toluca?"

"Following this road, about three leagues, Excellency."

"That is a long way: is there no shorter road?"

"There is one that shortens the distance by more than two-thirds."

"¡Caray!" the General exclaimed, "We must take it."

"Yes, but it is narrow, dangerous, and impracticable for artillery;
even cavalry will not pass it without great difficulty."

"I have no artillery."

"In that case the thing is possible, General."

"I ask no more."

"Still, with your Excellency's permission, I will offer a bit of advice
which I think good."

"Speak."

"The road is rough; it would be better to dismount the cavalry, send
the infantry on ahead, and let the cavalry follow, leading their horses
by the bridle."

"That will delay us a long time."

"On the contrary, General; we shall go faster on foot."

"Very well: how long before we reach Toluca?"

"Three-quarters of an hour. Is that too long, General?"

"No; if you keep your promise, I will give you ten ounces."

"Although it is not interest that directs me," Lopez said with a laugh,
"I am so certain of not making any mistake, that I regard the money as
gamed."

"Well, if that is the case, take it at once," the General said, giving
him his purse.

"Thanks, Excellency; now we will set out when you like: but order your
soldiers to maintain the deepest silence, so that we may come upon the
enemy unawares, and attack him before he has time to look about him."

Miramón sent a soldier to General Cobos with orders for him to fall
back as quickly as possible; then he made his soldiers dismount, placed
the infantry in front, four abreast, the greatest width possible,
and the dismounted cavalry formed the rearguard. General Cobos soon
returned, and Miramón told him in a few words what was going on. The
President placed himself at the head of the troops, having his own
horse and the guide's led behind him, in spite of the entreaties of his
friends.

"No," he replied to their solicitations, "I am your chief; as such, the
greater part of the danger falls on me. My place is here, and I remain."

They were compelled to let him act as he pleased.

"Shall we start?" Miramón asked Lopez.

"I am ready, General."

They set out: all their movements had been performed in the deepest
silence, with admirable rapidity and precision. Lopez had made no
mistake; the path along which he led the troops was so rocky and
difficult, that they advanced much more rapidly on foot.

"Does this path run any long distance?" the President asked the guide.

"Within half a gunshot of Toluca, General," he answered, "at that point
it ascends until it commands Toluca, and then it is easy for cavalry to
descend to the town at a gallop."

"Hum! There is both good and bad in what you say."

"I do not understand your Excellency."

"Hang it! It is clear enough, I fancy: suppose the Puros have placed a
line of sentries on the heights, our project will be thwarted, and our
expedition rendered fruitless. You did not reflect on what you were
doing when you led us here."

"Pardon me, Excellency; the Puros know that no corps keep the field;
they believe themselves certain of having no attack to apprehend, hence
they do not take precautions, which they consider useless; moreover,
the heights to which you refer are too remote from the spot where they
will camp, and much too high for them to dream of crowning them."

"Well," the General muttered; "I must place my trust in Heaven! Now
that I am here, I will not recoil."

They continued their advance with redoubled precautions. They had
been for about five and twenty minutes on the path, when Lopez, after
looking searchingly around, suddenly halted.

"What are you doing?" the General asked.

"As you see, Excellency, I am stopping. On the other side of that
bend before us the path begins to ascend, and we are not more than a
musket shot from Toluca. With your permission, I will go on ahead, to
make sure that the heights are not watched, and that you have a free
passage."

The General looked at him attentively. "Go," he at length said; "we
will await your return before we push on. I trust to you."

Lopez took off his weapons and hat, which were not only useless to him,
but might betray him; and lying down on the ground, he began crawling
in the Indian fashion, and soon disappeared among the bushes that
bordered the path. At a signal from the President, the word to halt ran
rapidly along the ranks, and the army stopped almost instantaneously.
Several minutes elapsed. The generals had drawn nearer, and surrounded
the General. The guide did not return, and the anxiety was great.

"That man is a traitor," General Cobos said.

"I do not believe it," Miramón at once replied:

"I am sure of the person who sent him to me."

At this moment the bushes were parted, and a man appeared. It was
Lopez, the guide. His face was calm, his eye bright, his step
confident. He approached the President, stopped at two paces from him,
saluted, and waited till he was spoken to.

"Well?" Miramón asked.

"I have advanced to the very crest of the heights, Excellency," he
replied. "I have distinctly seen the bivouac of the Puros. They do not
suspect your presence, and I believe that you can act."

"Then they have not posted a line of sentries on the heights?"

"No, General."

"Good! Lead me to the entrance of the path, for I must examine the
ground before I arrange my plan of attack."

Lopez picked up his gun and hat.

"I am ready," he said.

They advanced. Behind them, at a short distance, came the army.
Everything was deserted, as the guide had announced. Miramón examined
the ground with the most serious attention.

"Good!" he muttered; "I know now what remains for me to do:" and,
addressing the guide, he said, "So, your master is in ambush, to attack
the enemy in the rear?"

"Yes, Excellency."

"But, how to warn him, so that his attack may coincide with ours?"

"Nothing is easier, Excellency. You see that tree which stands alone on
the top of the heights?"

"Yes, I see it; what then?"

"I have orders to cut off the head of that tree at the precise moment
when you commence the attack. The disappearance of the crown of the
tree will be the signal for him to charge."

"By heavens!" he exclaimed; "That man was born a general: nothing
escapes him. Go to the tree, climb up it, and hold yourself in
readiness. When you see me raise my sword in the air, you will lop off
the crown with one blow of your machete. You have understood me?"

"Perfectly, Excellency; but after that, what shall I do?"

"Whatever you like."

"In that case, I shall rejoin my master."

He took his horse from the asistente who was holding it, and calmly
proceeded toward the tree. Miramón divided his infantry into three
corps, and placed his cavalry in reserve. All these arrangements
made, the troops began to ascend the heights. When they reached the
top--"Forward! Forward!" Miramón shouted, waving his sword, and rushing
down the slope. The whole army rolled after him like an avalanche. On
seeing the President raise his sword, Lopez deftly lopped off the crown
of the tree, on the top of which he was; then, when this exploit was
accomplished, he stepped down, leaped on his horse, and galloped after
the army. The sudden appearance of Miramón's troops caused a frightful
disorder in the bivouac of the Puros, who were far from expecting so
sharp and vigorous an attack, as their spies had assured them that no
corps kept the field. The soldiers ran to their arms, and the officers
tried to organise a resistance: but even before the ranks could be
formed, the President's troops were upon them, and charged them
furiously to the shouts of--

"Long live Mexico! Miramón! Miramón!"

The generals who commanded the Puros, brave and intelligent officers,
strove a tremendous resistance. At the head of those troops who had
succeeded in forming their ranks, they kept up a murderous fire,
while the guns placed in battery decimated the President's infantry.
The affair was becoming serious. The Juaristas had the advantage of
numbers. Having recovered from the panic they at first felt, there was
reason to fear that, if the combat was prolonged, they might assume the
offensive. At this moment loud shouts were heard in their rear, and
a large body of cavalry rushed upon them with couched lances. Taken
between two enemies, the Juaristas believed themselves betrayed. They
lost their heads, and began to disband. Miramón's cavalry appeared
at this moment, and vigorously charged the enemy. The combat then
degenerated into a massacre: it was no longer a fight, but a butchery.
The Juaristas, attacked in front, on the flank, and in the rear,
broke and fled. The retreat began, and was soon changed into a rout.
General Bercozabal, General Digollado, his sons, two Colonels, all
the officers composing their staff, fourteen guns, a large quantity
of ammunition and arms, and nearly two thousand prisoners, fell into
Miramón's hands. The President had seven men killed, and eleven
slightly wounded. The battle had only lasted twenty-five minutes. The
victory was complete. Capricious fortune granted a last smile to the
man whose ruin she had resolved on.



CHAPTER XXXI.

TRIUMPH.


This unforeseen victory, so brilliant and complete, gained by Miramón
over veteran troops commanded by renowned officers, restored courage
and hope to the terrified partizans of the President of the Republic.
The temper of the troops changed to such an extent, that they no
longer doubted the triumph of their cause, and in a few minutes grew
to regard it as definitively gained. Amid the general joy, Miramón
alone entertained no illusions as to the value of the victory he had
gained. For him this new lustre cast on his armies, which had so long
been victorious, was only the last and brilliant flicker of an expiring
torch. He was too thoroughly acquainted with the precarious position
to which he was reduced, to entertain for a single moment delusive
hopes. Still in his heart he thanked fortune for the last smile she
had deigned to grant him, and which would prevent him from falling
from power like a common man. When the cavalry sent in pursuit of
the fugitives, to prevent them from rallying, at length rejoined the
main body, which had remained on the field of battle, Miramón, after
granting his troops two hours' rest, gave orders to return to Mexico.

The return of the expeditionary force was not nearly so rapid as its
preceding march. The tired horses only advanced with difficulty. The
infantry had dismounted to escort the prisoners, and thus the cannon
and numerous baggage waggons, which had been captured and now followed
the army, could only pass along a wide and beaten road, which compelled
Miramón to follow the high road and occasioned him a delay of several
hours. It was about ten at night when the vanguard of the expeditionary
force reached the garitas of Mexico. It was quite dark, and yet the
city appeared in the darkness, flashing with an innumerable quantity of
lights.

Good news, like bad, is propagated with extraordinary rapidity. Let
anyone who can solve the almost insoluble problem, but it is certain
that the battle was scarce terminated at Toluca, ere its issue was
known in Mexico. The rumour of the brilliant success gained by the
President immediately ran from mouth to mouth, though no one could
tell whence he obtained it. At the news of this unhoped-for victory,
the joy was universal, enthusiasm raised to its utmost pitch, and at
nightfall the citizens spontaneously illuminated. The ayuntamiento
awaited the President at the entrance of the city to offer him their
congratulations. The troops marched between two compact lines of
people, uttering frenzied shouts, waving handkerchiefs and hats, and
letting off any quantity of squibs, in sign of rejoicing. The bells,
in spite of the late hour, rang a full peal, and the numerous shovel
hats of the clergy mingled with the crowd, proved that the priests and
monks, so cold on the previous day for the man who had ever supported
them, had suddenly felt their slumbering enthusiasm aroused at the news
of his victory.

Miramón passed through the crowds, cold and impassive, returning with
an imperceptible expression of irony the salutations incessantly made
to him on both sides of the road. He dismounted at the palace; a little
in front of the gate a man was standing motionless and smiling. This
man was the adventurer. On seeing him, Miramón could not restrain a
movement of joy.

"Ah, come, come, my friend," he exclaimed walking toward him.

And, to the general stupefaction, he passed his arm through his and
led him into the interior of the palace. When the President reached
the private cabinet, in which he usually worked, he threw himself
into an easy chair, and wiping with a handkerchief his damp face, he
exclaimed with an ill-tempered tone: "Ouf! I am half dead! This stupid
recantation, at which I was forced to be present against my will has,
on my honour, wearied me more than all the other events of this day,
futile though it was in extraordinary incidents."

"Good," the adventurer replied affectionately. "I am glad to hear you
speak thus, General. I was afraid lest you might be intoxicated by your
success." The General shrugged his shoulders disdainfully.

"What do you take me for, my friend?" he answered. "What a wretched
opinion you must have of me, if you suppose that I am a man to let
myself be thus blinded by a success which, brilliant though it may
appear, is in reality only one victory more to register, while its
results will be null for the welfare of the cause I support?"

"What you say is only too true, General."

"Do you fancy I am ignorant of it? My downfall is inevitable: this
battle will only retard it for a few days. I must fall, because, in
spite of the enthusiastic shouts of the mob--ever fickle and easy to
deceive--what has hitherto constituted my strength, and has sustained
me in the struggle I undertook, has abandoned me for ever. I feel that
the temper of the nation is no longer with me."

"Perhaps you go too far, General! Two battles more like this one, and
who knows if you will not have regained all you have lost?"

"My friend, the success of today's battle belongs to you. It was
owing to your brilliant charge in the enemy's rear, that they were
demoralised and consequently conquered."

"You insist on seeing everything in gloomy colours. I repeat again: two
battles like this one, and you are saved."

"These battles I shall fight, my friend, if they grant me the time, be
assured. Ah! If instead of being alone, blockaded in Mexico, I still
had faithful lieutenants holding the country, after today's victory,
all might be repaired."

At this moment the door of the cabinet was opened, and General Cobos
appeared.

"Ah! It is you, my dear General," the President said to him, holding
out his hand and suddenly reassuming a laughing air. "You are welcome.
What motive procures me the pleasure of seeing you?"

"I implore your Excellency to excuse me for venturing to appear thus,
without being announced; but I have to talk with you on serious
matters, which admit of no delay."

The adventurer made a movement to withdraw.

"Stay, I beg of you," the President said, checking him by a sign.
"Speak, my dear General."

"Excellency, the greatest disorder is prevailing on the Plaza among the
people and the troops; the majority are noisily demanding that the
officers taken prisoners today, may be immediately shot as traitors to
the country."

"What?" the President asked, drawing himself up and turning slightly
pale. "What is that you are saying, my dear General?"

"If your Excellency will deign to open the windows of this cabinet, you
will hear the cries of death which the army and the people are raising
in concert."

"Ah!" Miramón muttered. "Political assassinations committed in cold
blood after the victory: I will never consent to authorise such odious
crimes. No, a thousand times no! I at least will never have that said
of me. Where are the captured officers?"

"In the interior of the palace, under a guard in the courtyard."

"Give orders for them to be at once brought into my presence: go,
General."

"Ah, my friend," the President exclaimed with discouragement, as soon
as he found himself alone with the adventurer, "what can be hoped
from a nation so devoid of moral feeling as ours? Alas! What will the
European governments think of this apparent barbarity? What a contempt
they must feel for our unfortunate nation! And yet," he added, "this
people is not bad-hearted, it is its long slavery which has rendered it
cruel, and the interminable revolutions to which it has been constantly
a victim for forty years. Come, follow me; we must put an end to this."

He then left the cabinet accompanied by the adventurer, and entered an
immense saloon, in which his most devoted partizans were assembled.
The president dent seated himself in a chair raised on two steps,
prepared for him at the end of the room, and the officers who remained
faithful to his cause, grouped themselves on either side of him. At
an affectionate nod from Miramón the adventurer remained by his side,
apparently indifferent.

A noise of footsteps and the rattling of arms were heard outside, and
the captured officers, preceded by General Cobos, entered the hall.
Although they affected calmness, the prisoners were rather anxious as
to the fate reserved for them. They had heard the cries of death raised
against them, and were aware of the ill feeling of Miramón's partizans
towards them.

The one who walked first was General Bercozabal, a young man of thirty
at the most, with an expressive head, firm and delicate features, and
a noble and easy demeanour. After him came General Digollado between
his two sons; then two colonels and the officers composing General
Bercozabal's staff.

The prisoners advanced with a firm step toward the President, who on
their approach, hastened from his chair and walked a few steps toward
them, with a smile on his lips.

"Caballeros," he said to them with a graceful bow, "I regret that the
circumstances in which we are now unfortunately placed do not permit
me at once to restore you to liberty, but at any rate I will try, by
all the means in my power, to render you comfortable during a captivity
which, I hope, will not last long. Be good enough first to receive back
the swords which you wield so bravely, and of which I regret having
deprived you."

He made a sign to General Cobos, who hastened to restore to the
prisoners the arms which he had taken from them, and which they
received with a movement of joy.

"Now, Caballeros," the President continued, "deign to accept the
hospitality which I offer you in this palace, where you will be treated
with all the respect that your misfortune deserves. I only ask your
word as soldiers and caballeros not to leave it without my permission.
Not that I doubt your honour, but in order to protect you from the
attacks of people ill disposed toward you, and rendered savage by the
sufferings of a long war: you are, therefore, prisoners on parole,
caballeros, and at liberty to act as you please."

"General," Bercozabal answered in the name of all, "we thank you
sincerely for your courtesy, we could not expect less from your
well-known generosity. We give you our word, and will only employ the
liberty you grant us within the limits you may think proper, promising
you to make no attempt to regain our liberty, until you have freed us
from our parole."

After a few more compliments had been exchanged between the President
and the two generals, the prisoners withdrew to the apartments assigned
to them. At the moment when Miramón was preparing to return to his
cabinet, the adventurer quickly checked him, and pointed to a general
officer, who was apparently trying to escape notice.

"Do you know that man?" he said to him in a low and trembling voice.

"Of course I know him," the President answered, "he only joined me a
few days ago, and he has already rendered me eminent services: he is a
Spaniard, and his name is Don Antonio Cacerbas."

"Ah! I know his name," said the adventurer, "for I have known him a
long time unfortunately: General, that man is a traitor!"

"Nonsense, you are jesting."

"I repeat, General, that man is a traitor: I am sure of it," he said
forcibly.

"I beg you not to press the point, my friend," the General quickly
interrupted him; "it would be painful to me; good night, come tomorrow:
I wish to talk with you about important matters."

And after nodding kindly to him, the President returned to his cabinet,
the door of which was closed upon him. The adventurer stood for a
moment motionless, painfully affected by the President's incredulity.

"Oh!" he muttered sadly, "Those whom God wishes to destroy, he blinds!
Alas! All is now over, this man is hopelessly condemned, his cause is
lost."

He left the palace full of the most sinister anticipations.



CHAPTER XXXII.

EL PALO QUEMADO.


The adventurer as we said, left the palace, the Plaza Mayor was
deserted, the popular effervescence had calmed down as rapidly as it
had risen: by the entreaties of certain influential persons, the troops
had returned to their quarters: the leperos and other citizens equally
respectable, who formed the majority of the insurgent mob, seeing that
decidedly there was nothing to be done, and that the victims whom they
coveted were effectually escaping from them, after a few cries and
yells raised as a consolation, dispersed in their turn, and returned to
the more or less ill-famed dens, always open in the low quarters of the
city, and where they were sure of finding a shelter.

Lopez alone remained firm at his post. The adventurer had ordered him
to wait for him at the palace gate, and he did so. Still, as the night
was dark, and the most profound obscurity had succeeded the radiant
illumination of the evening, he waited with his hand on his weapons,
with ears and eyes on the watch, lest, in spite of the vicinity of the
palace, he might be surprised and robbed by some night prowler, who
would not have been sorry of the windfall if the peon had not thus kept
good guard. When Lopez saw the palace gate opened, he understood that
it could only be his master who thus came out alone, and he went up to
him.

"Anything new?" the adventurer asked, as he put his foot in the stirrup.

"Not much," he answered.

"Are you sure?"

"Pretty well; still, now that I reflect, I fancy I just now saw someone
I know leaving the palace."

"Ah! Was it long ago?"

"No, a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes at the most; but I am
afraid I was mistaken, for he wore a costume so different from that
in which I knew him, and then I had but such a slight opportunity of
looking at him."

"Well! Whom did you fancy you recognised?"

"You will not believe me if I tell you it was Don Antonio de Cacerbas,
my old patient."

"On the contrary, for I also saw him in the palace."

"¡Ah demonio! In that case I regret that I did not listen to his
conversation."

"What conversation--when, with whom? Speak or choke: come, will you
explain yourself?"

"I will do so, mi amo: when he left the palace there were still some
groups on the plaza; a man quitted one of these groups and approached
Don Antonio."

"Did you recognise the man?"

"Well, no, for he had a broad brimmed Vienna hat pulled down over his
eyes, was wrapped up to the nose in a large cloak, and moreover, it was
not much lighter than at this moment."

"Come to facts," the adventurer exclaimed impatiently.

"These two men began conversing in a low voice."

"And did you hear nothing?"

"No, only a few unconnected words, that was all."

"Repeat them, at any rate."

"Willingly: 'So he was there,' one of them said. I did not hear the
other's answer. 'Bah! He would not dare,' the first continued: then
they talked so low that I could not hear anything; the first said
presently, 'We must go:' 'It is very late,' the other objected. I
only heard the two words--Palo Quemado: then, after exchanging a
few whispered words, they separated; the first at once disappeared
under the portales: as for Don Antonio, he turned to the right as if
intending to go to the Paseo de Bucareli; but he will have stopped at
some house, for it is not probable that at such an hour he should dream
of walking alone at a place of that description."

"That we will very soon find out," the adventurer remarked as he
mounted; "give me my reins and follow me: the horses are not tired?"

"No, they are quite fresh," Lopez said, as he handed the adventurer a
double-barrelled gun, a brace of revolvers, and a machete; "by your
orders I went to the corral, where I left our tired horses, I saddled
Mono and Zopiloto, now here, and returned to wait for you."

"You have done well--let us be off."

They rode away, crossed the deserted square, and after a few turnings,
made doubtless with the intention of throwing out any spies who might
be watching their movements, they at length went in the direction of
Bucareli. In Mexico, after nightfall it is forbidden for anyone to ride
along the streets, unless he holds a special permission very difficult
to obtain; the adventurer, however, seemed to trouble himself very
slightly about this prohibition, and indeed his boldness was perfectly
justified by the apparent indifference of the celadores, a good number
of whom they met on their passage, and who allowed them to gallop as
they pleased, without venturing the slightest protest.

When the two riders found themselves sufficiently distant from the
palace no longer to fear pursuit, each drew a black half mask from
his pocket, and put it on his face; this precaution taken against any
idlers who might recognise them in spite of the darkness, they resumed
their ride. They soon reached the entrance of the Paseo de Bucareli;
the adventurer stopped, and after striving to sound the gloom with a
piercing glance, he gave a shrill and prolonged whistle. At once a
shadow emerged from a gateway, where it was perfectly concealed, and
advanced into the middle of the road; on reaching it, this shadow, or
this man halted, and waited without saying a word.

"Has anyone passed here during the last three-quarters of an hour?" the
adventurer said.

"Yes, and no," the stranger answered laconically.

"Explain yourself."

"A man came, stopped before the house there on your right, and rapped
his hands twice; at the end of a moment a door opened, a peon came out
leading a horse by the bridle, and holding a cloak lined with red under
his arm."

"How did you see that on this dark night?"

"The peon carried a lanthorn; the man to whom I allude reproached him
for his imprudence, smashed the lanthorn under his heel, and then threw
the cloak over his shoulders."

"What dress did this man wear?"

"That of a cavalry general officer."

"Well, what next?"

"He handed his plumed hat to the peon; the latter entered the house,
from which he came out a moment after with a Vienna hat, pistols, and a
gun; he put spurs on the officer, who seized the weapons, mounted his
horse, and departed."

"In what direction?"

"That of the Plaza Mayor."

"And the peon?"

"Re-entered the house."

"You are sure you were not seen by either?"

"Quite."

"That will do: watch--good bye."

"Adieu!" and he returned to his dark post.

The adventurer and his peon turned round; they soon found themselves
again on the Plaza Mayor, but crossed it without stopping. Don Jaime
seemed to know what directions he should follow, for he galloped
without hesitation through the streets; he soon reached the garita of
San Antonio, which he passed without stopping: some market gardeners
were already beginning to enter the city. On arriving about six hundred
paces from the garita, at a spot forming a square, the centre of
which is occupied by a stone cross, and from which six wide but badly
kept roads radiate, the adventurer halted again, and as on the first
occasion, gave a shrill whistle. At the same instant, a man lying at
the foot of the cross, rose and stood motionless before him.

"A man has passed here," Don Jaime said, "mounted on a skewbald horse,
and wearing a hat with a gold golilla?"

"The man has passed," the stranger answered.

"How long ago?"

"An hour."

"Was he alone?"

"Yes."

"Which direction did he take?"

"That," the stranger answered, stretching out his arm toward the second
road on the left.

"That will do."

"Shall I follow?"

"Where is your horse?"

"In a corral near the garita."

"It is too far, I have no time to wait; farewell, watch."

"I will watch."

And he lay down again at the foot of the cross.

The two horsemen resumed their journey.

"He is really going to the Palo Quemado," the adventurer muttered; "we
shall find him there."

"That is probable," Lopez said with the utmost coolness.

"It is strange that I did not guess that sooner, for it is easy enough."

They galloped for about an hour without exchanging a syllable;
at length they perceived a short distance from them a dark mass,
whose black outline stood out from the less dense obscurity of the
surrounding country.

"Here is the Palo Quemado," Don Jaime said.

"Yes," was all that Lopez answered.

They advanced a few paces, and then stopped. All at once a dog began
barking furiously.

"¡Demonio!" Don Jaime exclaimed; "We must pass, or that accursed animal
will betray us."

They spurred their horses, and darted past at full speed. At the end of
a few minutes the dog, whose barking had changed into hoarse growls,
was quite silent. The horsemen stopped, and Don Jaime dismounted.

"Hide the horses somewhere in the vicinity," he said, "and wait for me."

Lopez made no answer, the worthy man was not given to talking, and
did not care to lavish his words unnecessarily. The adventurer, after
inspecting his weapons with the great care so as to be sure, in the
probable event of his being obliged to use them, that they would not
fail him, lay down on the ground like an Indian of the Savannahs, and
by an undulating, slow, and almost insensible movement, approached the
rancho of the Palo Quemado.

When he was only a short distance from the rancho he saw what he had
not noticed before, that some ten or a dozen horses were tied up in
front of the house, and that several men were lying on the ground
asleep near them. An individual, armed with a long lance, was standing
motionless before the door, a sentinel, doubtless, posted there to
watch over the general safety.

The adventurer stopped, the situation was a difficult one; the
individuals, whoever they might be assembled in the rancho, had
neglected no precautions in the event of an attempt being made to
surprise them. Still, the greater the difficulties appeared, the more
did the adventurer comprehend the importance of the secret he wished
to surprise; hence, his hesitation was short, and he resolved, however
great the risks he might run, to learn to learn who were the members
of this clandestine meeting, and for what motive they were assembled.
The reader is sufficiently acquainted with the adventurer, whom we have
introduced to him under so many names, to guess that now his resolution
was formed to push on, he would not hesitate to do so.

This was really what happened: he merely redoubled his prudence and
precautions, advancing inch by inch as it were, and crawling along the
ground with the silent elasticity of a reptile. Instead of proceeding
directly to the rancho he went round it, in order to assure himself
that, with the exception of the sentry at the door, he had no fear of
being discovered by any watchman concealed at the rear of the building.
As the adventurer had foreseen, the rancho was only guarded in front.
He rose and examined the neighbourhood as far as the darkness permitted
it. A rather large corral, enclosed by a quickset hedge, joined the
house: this corral appeared deserted. Don Jaime sought an opening
through which he could step into the interior; after groping for a few
minutes he discovered one wide enough to admit his passing. He went in.

Now the difficulties were slighter to approach the house; by the hedge
he in a few instants almost reached the wall. What astonished him was
not having been scented and tracked by the dog which had previously
announced his approach so noisily.

This is what had happened: disturbed by the barking of the dog, and
fearing lest it should reveal by its noise their suspicious presence
to the Indians, who at this hour were proceeding to the city for the
purpose of selling their wares, the strangers collected in the rancho,
trusting in their sentinel to watch over their safety, ordered the
ranchero to call the animal into the house, and chain it sufficiently
far away that its barking might not be heard outside should it set off
again.

This excessive prudence on the part of the temporary guests of the
rancho permitted the adventurer to approach, not only without being
discovered, but also without arousing suspicions. Although he was
ignorant of this fact, Don Jaime profited by it, thanking Providence
in his heart for freeing him from so troublesome a watcher. While
attentively examining the wall along which he was moving, he came to
a door, which, by some inconceivable negligence, had been left ajar,
and yielded to the slight push he gave it. This door opened on a very
dark passage, but a slight ray of light which filtered through the
badly-joined crack of a door revealed to Don Jaime the spot where, in
all probability, the strangers were assembled.

The adventurer stealthily approached, placed his eye to the crevice,
and looked. Three men, folded in thick cloaks, were seated round a
table covered with bottles and glasses, in a rather large room, as far
as might be judged, and only lighted by one candle placed on a corner
of the table. An animated conversation was going on between the three
guests, who smoked, drank, and talked like men who feel sure of not
being overheard, and, consequently, of having nothing to fear. These
three men the adventurer at once recognized: the first was Don Felipe
Neri Irzabal, the guerillero colonel, the second, Don Melchior de la
Cruz, and the third, Don Antonio de Cacerbas.

"At last," the adventurer muttered, with a quiver of joy, "I am about
to know everything."

And he listened attentively. Don Felipe, who was speaking, seemed to
be in an advanced state of intoxication; still, though his speech was
thick, he did not wander as yet, but, like all half-drunken people,
he was beginning to stray into abstruse arguments, and seemed to be
supporting with indomitable doggedness a condition which he wished to
impose on his two hearers, and to which they would not consent.

"No," he repeated, incessantly, "it is useless to press me, señores,
I will not give you the letter you ask of me. I am an honest man, and
have only one word, _voto a licos!_" and at each sentence he struck the
table with his fist.

"But," Don Melchior remarked, "if you insist on keeping this letter,
though you have orders to deliver it to us, it will be impossible for
us to carry out the mission with which we are entrusted."

"What credit," Don Antonio added, "will be given us by the persons with
whom we wish to come to an understanding, if we have nothing to prove
to them that we are duly authorized to do so?"

"That does not concern me--each for himself in this world. I am an
honest man, and must guard my interests as you do yours."

"What you are saying is absurd," Don Antonio exclaimed, impatiently;
"we risk our heads in this affair."

"Possibly, my dear sir; everybody does as he pleases. I am an honest
man, I go straight before me. You will not have the letter unless you
give me what I ask; give and give, that is all I know. Why did you not
warn the General of today's affair, in accordance with your agreement
with him?"

"We have proved to you that it was impossible, as the sortie was
unexpectedly resolved on."

"Good, that! You will settle as you can with the General-in-Chief--I
wash my hands of it."

"Enough of this nonsense," Don Antonio said, drily; "will you, or will
you not, deliver to this caballero or myself the letter which the
President intrusted to you for us?"

"No," Don Felipe answered, bluntly, "unless you give me an order for
ten thousand piastres. It is really giving it away, but I am an honest
man."

"Hum!" the adventurer muttered to himself, "An autograph of Señor
Benito Juárez is really precious. I would not bargain if he offered it
to me."

"But," Don Melchior exclaimed, "you will commit a scandalous robbery in
acting thus."

"Well, what then?" Don Felipe said, cynically. "I rob, you betray, we
are well matched, that is all."

At this insult, so brutally hurled in their teeth, the two men rose.

"Let us go," said Don Melchior, "this man is a brute, who will listen
to nothing."

"The most simple plan is to go to the General-in-Chief," Don Antonio
added, "he will do us justice, and avenge us on this wretched drunkard."

"Go! Go, my dear sirs," the guerillero said, with a grin, "and luck go
with you! I keep the letter--perhaps I shall find a purchaser. I am an
honest man."

At this menace the two men exchanged a glance, while laying their hands
on their weapons, but after a hesitation, no longer than a lightning
flash, they disdainfully left the room. A few minutes after the rapid
gallop of several horses could be heard outside.

"They are gone," the guerillero muttered, as he poured out a tumbler
of mezcal, which he swallowed at a draught: "they are decamping, on my
word, as if the fiend were carrying them off! They are furious. Stuff!
I don't care, I have kept the letter."

While speaking thus to himself, the guerillero replaced his tumbler on
the table. Suddenly he started; a man wrapped up to the eyes in the
folds of a thick cloak was standing in front of him. This man held
in either hand a revolver, the barrels of which were pointed at the
guerillero's chest. The latter gave a sudden start of terror at this
sight, which he was far from expecting.

"Hilloah!" he exclaimed, in a voice which trembled from emotion and
terror, "Who is this demon, and what does he want? Why, hang it! I have
fallen into a wasp's nest."

Terror had sobered him; he tried to rise and fly.

"One word, one gesture," the stranger said, in a hollow, menacing
voice, "and I blow out your brains." The guerillero fell heavily back
on the stool he had been sitting on.



CHAPTER XXXIII.

SETTLEMENT OF ACCOUNTS.


Hidden behind the passage door, the adventurer had not lost a word
of what was said. When Don Melchior and Don Antonio rose, Don Jaime,
not knowing by what door they would go out, hastily left the passage,
glided into the corral, and waited in concealment behind the hedge.
But, a few minutes after, as nothing had stirred, and no noise was
heard, he ventured to leave his hiding place and enter the passage
again.

Then he approached the door, and applied his eye to the crack through
which he had been previously able to see all that went on in the room.
The two men bad just gone; Don Felipe was alone, still seated at the
table, and drinking. The adventurer's resolution was at once formed:
placing the blade of his knife between the crack against the bolt, he
noiselessly opened the door, silently approached the guerillero, and
revealed his presence to him in the somewhat startling way we described
at the end of the preceding chapter.

Though the guerillero was brave, the sudden appearance of the
adventurer, and the sight of the revolvers pointed at him alarmed
him. Don Jaime took advantage of this moment of prostration; without
uncocking his pistols, he walked straight to the door through which Don
Melchior and Don Antonio had retired, secured it inside to avoid any
surprise, then returned slowly to the table, sat down on a trunk, laid
his pistols before him, and letting his cloak fall, said--

"Let us have a talk."

Though these words were pronounced in a rather gentle voice, the effect
they produced on the guerillero was immense.

"El Rayo!" he exclaimed, with a shudder of terror on perceiving the
black mask which covered the face of his singular visitor.

"Ah! Ah!" the latter said with an ironical laugh, "So you recognise me,
my dear Don Felipe?"

"What do you want of me?" he stammered.

"Several things," the adventurer replied; "but let us proceed
regularly, as there is no hurry."

The guerillero poured out a tumbler of Catalaña refino, raised it to
his lips, and emptied it at a draught.

"Take care," the adventurer observed to him; "Spanish brandy is strong,
it easily rises to the head; it is better, considering what is going to
pass between us, for you to retain your coolness."

"That is true," the guerillero muttered; and seizing the bottle by the
neck, he hurled it against the wall.

The adventurer smiled, then continued while carelessly rolling a
cigarette between his fingers--

"I see that you have a good memory, and I am glad of it; I was afraid
you had forgotten me."

"No, no; I remember our last meeting at Las Cumbres."

"Exactly: do you remember how that interview terminated?"

The guerillero turned pale, but made no reply.

"Good: I see that your memory fails you, but I will come to its aid."

"It is unnecessary," Don Felipe replied, raising his head and appearing
to form a resolution; "as chance permitted me to see your features, you
told me--"

"I know--I know," the adventurer interrupted.

"Well, I am going to keep the promise I made you."

"All the better," he said resolutely. "After all, a man can only die
once; as well today as another day. I am ready to meet you."

"I am delighted to find you in such a warlike temper," the adventurer
coldly answered; "restrain your ardour a little, pray: everything shall
have its turn, I assure you, but that is not the point for the moment."

"What is it, then?" the guerillero asked with amazement.

"I am going to tell you."

The adventurer smiled again, rested his elbows on the table, and leant
over slightly to the guerillero.

"How much," he said, "did you ask your noble friends for the letter
which Señor Don Benito Juárez ordered you to deliver to them?"

Don Felipe fixed on him a look of terror, and mechanically made the
sign of the cross.

"This man is the fiend," he muttered with horror.

"No; re-assure yourself I am not the fiend, but I know a good many
things about you more especially, and the numerous businesses you carry
on. I know the bargain you made with a certain Don Diego: moreover,
if you desire it, I will repeat to you word for word the conversation
which you held scarce an hour ago in this very room with the Señores
Don Melchior de la Cruz and Don Antonio de Cacerbas. Now, let us come
to facts: I wish you to give me--you understand me, I suppose?--Give
me, and not sell me, the letter of Señor Juárez which you have in your
dolman, which you refused to the honourable caballeros whose names
I mentioned to you, and surrender to me at the same time the other
papers of which you are the bearer, and which I presume must be very
interesting."

The guerillero had had time to recover a portion of his coolness, hence
it was in rather a firm voice that he said--

"What do you intend doing with these papers?"

"That can be of very little importance to you when they are no longer
in your hands."

"And if I refuse to surrender them?"

"I shall be obliged to take them by force, that is all," he answered
calmly.

"Caballero," Don Felipe said with an accent of dignity at which the
adventurer was surprised, "it is not worthy of a brave man like
yourself thus to menace a defenceless man. My only weapon is my sabre,
while you, on the contrary, hold the lives of a dozen men at your
disposal."

"This time there is an appearance of reason in what you say," the
adventurer observed, "and your remark would be just were I about to use
my revolvers in forcing you to do what I demand of you; but re-assure
yourself you shall have a loyal combat, and my pistols will remain
on this table. I will merely cross my machete with your sabre, which
will not only re-establish the balance between us, but also give you a
signal advantage over me."

"Will you really act thus, caballero?"

"I pledge you my word of honour; I am accustomed always to settle
accounts honourably both with my enemies and my friends."

"Ah! You call that settling accounts?" he said ironically.

"Certainly; what other name can I employ?"

"But whence comes this hatred you bear me?"

"I do not hate you more than any other villain of your stamp," he said
savagely. "In a moment of braggadocio you wished to see my face, so
that you might recognise me hereafter. I warned you that the sight
would cost you your life: perhaps I should have forgotten you, but
today you again came across my track. You possess papers which are
indispensable to me, and these papers I have resolved on gaining at any
price. You refuse them to me; I can secure them by killing you, and I
shall kill you. Now I grant you five minutes to reflect, and to tell me
if you persist in your refusal."

"The five minutes you so generously grant me are unnecessary; my
resolution is unbending: you shall only have the papers with my life."

"Very good; you will die," he said as he rose.

He took his revolvers, uncocked them, and laid on the table at the
other end of the room; then returning to the guerillero and drawing his
machete, he asked--

"Are you ready?"

"One moment," Don Felipe answered, as he rose in his turn; "before
crossing swords with you, I have two requests to make."

"Go on."

"Is the duel we are going to fight mortal?"

"Here is the proof," the adventurer answered, as he unfastened his mask
and threw it from him.

"Good," he said; "the proof you give me is quite sufficient, and one of
us must die. Let us suppose it is I."

"Any supposition is unnecessary, the fact is certain."

"I admit it," the guerillero answered coldly; "in the case of it being
realized, do you promise me to do what I am about to ask of you?"

"Yes, on my honour, if it be possible."

"Thanks--it is possible; it is merely to be my residuary legatee."

"I will be so; go on."

"I have a mother and young sister, who live rather poorly in a small
house situated not far from the canal de Las Vigas, in Mexico; you will
find their exact address in my papers."

"Good."

"I desire them to be put in possession of my fortune after my death."

"It shall be done; but where is this fortune to be found?"

"At Mexico; all my funds are deposited with -- and Co., English bankers.
On the simple presentation of my voucher, the sum will be handed over
to you in full."

"Is that all?"

"Not quite. I have about me several bills, amounting altogether to
fifty thousand piastres, drawn on various foreign banks in Mexico. You
will have them cashed, add the amount to the sums you have previously
received, and the whole will be handed over to my mother and sister. Do
you swear to do this?"

"I pledge you my honour."

"Good; I have confidence in you. I have only one more request to make
of you."

"What is it?"

"This: we Mexicans are very clumsy hands with sabres and swords, whose
use we are ignorant of, as duels are prohibited by law. The only weapon
we can properly use is the knife: will you consent to our fighting with
knives? Of course it is understood that we fight with the whole blade."

"The strange duel you propose to me is better suited for leperos and
bandits than caballeros; but I accept."

"I am grateful to you for so much condescension, caballero, and now may
Heaven protect me. I will do my best."

"Amen!" the adventurer said, with a smile.

This calm conversation between two men on the point of cutting
each other's throats, this will, made so coolly, whose execution
is confided, in the case of the death of one of the adversaries to
the survivor, displays one of the strangest phases in the Mexican
character; for these details are most strictly true. Although very
brave naturally, the Mexican fears death, the feeling is innate in
him: but when the moment arrives to risk his life, or even to lose it,
no one accepts with greater philosophy, or, to speak more correctly,
with greater indifference, this harsh alternative, or accomplishes
with greater willingness a sacrifice which, among other nations, is
never regarded without a certain degree of terror, end an instinctive
nervous tremor.

As for duelling, the Mexican laws prohibit it even among officers.
Hence emanate the numerous assassinations and snares laid to wash out
insults received, which it is impossible otherwise to avenge. The
leperos and lower classes alone fight with the knife.

This combat, which is perfectly regulated, has its laws, which must not
be transgressed. The opponents make their conditions as to the length
of the blade, so as to settle beforehand the depths of the wounds to be
dealt. They fight with one inch, two inches, the half, or entire blade,
according to the gravity of the insult. The combatants place their
thumb on the blade at the agreed on length, and the thing is settled.

Don Felipe and Don Jaime had unhooked their swords, which were now
useless, and armed themselves with the long knife which every Mexican
carries in his right boot. After taking off their cloaks, they rolled
them round their left arms, carefully letting a small part hang down in
guise of a curtain: it is with this arm, thus protected, that blows are
parried. Then, the two men fell on guard, with their legs straddled and
slightly bent, the body forward, the left arm half extended, and the
blade of the knife concealed behind the cloak. The fight commenced with
equal fury on either side. The two men turned and bounded round one
another, advancing and falling back like two wild beasts. Eye to eye,
with clenched teeth, and panting chest.

It was really a combat to death they were fighting. Don Felipe had a
perfect knowledge of this dangerous weapon; several times his adversary
saw the bluish flash of the steel dazzle eyes, and felt the sharp
point of the knife slightly buried in his flesh; but, calmer than the
guerillero, he allowed the latter to exhaust himself in vain efforts,
waiting with the patience of a lurking tiger for the favourable moment
to finish by one stroke.

Several times, harassed by fatigue, they stopped by common accord,
and then rushed on each other with renewed fury. The blood flowed
from several slight wounds they had dealt each other, and dropped on
the floor of the room. All at once Don Felipe gathered himself up,
and leapt forward with the rapidity of a jaguar; but his foot slipped
in the blood, he tottered, and while he was striving to regain his
balance, the whole of Don Jaime's blade was buried in his chest.

The unhappy man heaved a stifled sigh, a flood of blood poured from his
mouth, and he fell like a dog on the ground. The adventurer bent over
him, he was dead--the blade had passed through his heart.

"Poor devil!" Don Jaime muttered, "He brought it on himself."

After this laconic, funeral discourse, he fell on the guerillero's
dolman and calconciras, and seized all the papers about him. Then he
took up his revolver, resumed his mask, and wrapping himself as well
as he could in his cloak, which was cut to pieces, he left the room,
reached the passage, went through the hole in the hedge unnoticed by
the sentry who was still standing in front of the door, and on arriving
at a certain distance from the Palo Quemado, he imitated the whoot of
the owl. Almost immediately Lopez appeared with the two horses.

"To Mexico," Don Jaime cried, as he bounded into the saddle; "this
time, I believe, I hold my vengeance."

The two riders started at full speed. The delight which the adventurer
experienced at the unhoped for success of his expedition, made him
forget the pain of the stabs, slight it is true, which he had received
in his duel.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

A SUPREME RESOLUTION.


The first beams of day were beginning to tinge the sky with opaline
tints at the moment when the two horsemen reached the garita of San
Antonio. For some time past they had checked the rapid pace of their
steeds, had taken off their masks, and re-established such order as
they could in their clothes, which had been dirtied and damaged by the
numerous incidents of their night's ride. At some paces from the garita
they mixed themselves up with the groups of Indians proceeding to
market, so that it was easy for them to enter the city unnoticed. Don
Jaime proceeded straight to the house he inhabited in the calle de San
Francisco, near the plaza Mayor.

On reaching home, he dismissed Lopez, who was literally falling asleep.
In spite of the copious draughts which he had taken while his master
was at the Palo Quemado, he gave him leave for the whole day, merely
appointing a meeting with him the same evening, and then withdrew to
his bedroom. This room was a real Spartan abode, the furniture, reduced
to its simplest expression, only consisted of a wooden frame, covered
with a cow hide, which served as a bed, an old saddle forming the
pillow, and a black bearskin the coverlet; a table loaded with papers,
and a few books, a stool, a trunk containing his clothes, and a rack
filled with weapons of every description, knives, pistols, sabres,
swords, daggers, machetes, guns, carbines, rifles, and revolves,
completed with the horse trappings suspended from the walls, this
singular furniture, to which we must add a washstand, placed behind a
zarapé hung up as a curtain in a corner of the room.

Don Jaime dressed his wounds, which he had carefully washed with
salt and water, according to the Indian custom, then sat down at his
table, and began inspecting the papers he had found such difficulty in
seizing, and whose possession had nearly cost him his life. He soon was
completely absorbed by the task, which seemed greatly to interest him.
At length, at about ten o'clock a.m., he left his seat, folded up the
papers, placed them in his portfolio, which he thrust into a pocket of
this dolman, threw a zarapé over his shoulders, put on a Vienna hat,
with a large gold golilla, and left the house in this garb, which was
as elegant as it was picturesque.

Don Jaime, it will be remembered, had given Don Felipe his word of
honour to be his residuary legatee. It was to fulfil this sacred
promise that he went out. About six o'clock he returned home. His word
was liberated. He had delivered to Don Felipe's mother and sister the
fortunes which a knife thrust had made them so promptly inherit. At the
door of his house the adventurer found Lopez, quite refreshed, who was
awaiting him. The peon had prepared a modest dinner for his master.

"What news is there?" Don Jaime asked him, as he sat down to talk, and
began eating with good appetite.

"Not much, mi amo," he answered. "A captain, aide-de-camp to his
Excellency the President, has called."

"Ah!" said Don Jaime.

"The President wishes you to go to the palace, at eight o'clock, as he
desires to see you."

"I will go. Well, what next? Have you heard nothing? Have you not been
out?"

"Pardon me, mi amo, I went as usual to the barber's."

"And did you hear nothing there?"

"Only two things."

"Let me hear the first."

"The Juarists, it is said, are advancing by forced marches on the
ciudad. They are only three days' journey distant--at least, so it is
reported."

"The news is rather probable. The enemy must at this moment be
concentrating his forces. What next?"

Lopez burst into a laugh.

"Why are you laughing, animal?" Don Jaime asked him.

"It is the second piece of news I heard that makes me laugh, mi amo."

"Is it very funny?"

"Well, you shall judge. It is said that one of the most formidable
guerillero chiefs of Benito Juárez was found this morning killed by a
knife in a room at the rancho of the Palo Quemado."

"Oh, oh!" said Don Jaime, smiling in his turn, "And do they say how
this unfortunate event occurred?"

"No one understands anything about it, mi amo. It would appear that
the colonel--for he was a colonel--had pushed on as far as the Palo
Quemado, while scouting, and resolved to spend the night there.
Sentries were posted round the house, to watch over the safety of this
chief, and no one entered the house, except two unknown horsemen. It
was after their departure, when they had finished a long conversation
with the colonel, that the latter was found dead in the room, from a
stab which had passed through his heart. Hence it is supposed that a
quarrel having broken out between the colonel and the two strangers,
the latter killed him, but it was done so quietly that the soldiers,
sleeping only a few yards off, heard nothing."

"This is, indeed, singular."

"It appears, mi amo, that this colonel, Don Filipe Irzabal--such was
his name--was a frightful tyrant, without faith or law, about whom
numberless atrocities are reported."

"If that is the case, my dear Lopez, everything is for the best, and we
need not trouble ourselves any further about the scoundrel," Don Jaime
said as he rose.

"Oh! He will go to the deuce without us."

"That is probable, if he is not there already. I am going to take a
walk about town till eight o'clock. At ten you will be at the palace
gate, with two horses and weapons, in the case of our being compelled
to take a ride by moonlight, like last night."

"Yes, mi amo, and I will wait till you come out, no matter at what
hour."

"You will await, unless I send you a warning that I no longer require
you."

"Good, mi amo, all right."

Don Jaime then went out as he had stated, took a short walk, but only
under the portales of the Plaza Mayor, so that he might reach the
palace exactly at the appointed hour. At eight o'clock precisely the
adventurer presented himself at the palace gates. An usher was waiting
to lead him to the President. General Miramón was walking, sad and
pensive, up and down a small saloon adjoining his private apartments;
on perceiving Don Jaime, his face became more cheerful.

"You are welcome, my friend," he said affectionately offering him
his hand; "I was impatient to see you, for you are the only man who
understands me, and with whom I can talk frankly; stay, set down by my
side, and let us talk, if you are willing."

"I find, you sorrowful, General; has anything annoying happened to you?"

"No, my friend, nothing; but you know that for a long time past I have
not had much cause for gaiety, I have just left Madame Miramón, the
poor woman is trembling, not for herself, dear and gentle creature, but
for her children. She sees everything in dark colours, and foresees
terrible disasters. She has been weeping, and that is why you find me
sad."

"But why not, General, send Madame Miramón away from this city, which
may be besieged any day?"

"I have proposed it to her several times, I have insisted by trying to
make her understand that the interests of her children, their safety,
imperiously demanded this separation, but she refused; you know how
dearly she loves me. She is divided between the love she bears me, and
her affections for her children, and she cannot make up her mind; as
for me, I dare not force her to leave me, and hence my perplexity is
extreme."

The General turned his head away, and subdued a sigh. There was
a silence. Don Jaime understood that it was for him to turn the
conversation to a subject less painful for the General.

"And your prisoners?" he asked him.

"Ah, that matter is all arranged, thank heaven; they have nothing now
to fear as regards their safety, now I have authorized them to leave
the city and visit their friends and relations."

"All the better, General, I confess to you that I was for a moment
frightened for them."

"On my word, my friend, I may now say frankly that I was even more
frightened than you, for in this affair it was my honour that was at
stake."

"That is true, but come, have you any new plan?"

Before answering, the General walked round the room, and opened all the
doors to make certain that nobody was listening.

"Yes," he at length said, returning to Don Jaime.

"Yes, my friend, I have a plan, for I wish to have an end to this once
for all, I shall either succumb, or my enemies will be crushed for
ever."

"Heaven grant you success, General."

"My victory of yesterday has given me back courage, if not hope; and I
mean to attempt a decisive stroke. I have nothing at present to take
into consideration; I mean to risk everything for everything, and
fortune may again smile on me."

They then approached a table, on which was stretched out an immense map
of the Mexican Confederation, with pins stuck into it at a great number
of points.

The President continued:--"Don Benito Juárez, from his capital of
Veracruz, has ordered the concentration of his troops, and their
immediate march on Mexico, where we are shut in, the only point of
the territory we still hold; alas! Here is General Ortega's corps
composed of 11,000 veteran troops, it is coming from the interior, that
is to say, from Guadalajara, picking up on its passage all the small
detachments scattered over the country. Amondea and Gazza are coming
from Jalapa, bringing with them nearly 6000 regulars, and flanked on
the right and left by the guerillas of Cuellar, Carbajal, and Don
Felipe Neri Irzabal."

"As for the last, General, you need not trouble yourself about him
further: he is dead."

"Granted, but his band still exists."

"That is true."

"Now, these bands arriving from different directions simultaneously,
will ere long, if we allow it, join and enclose us in a circle of
steel; they form an effective strength of nearly 20,000 men. What
forces have we to oppose to them?"

"Well--"

"I will tell you: by exhausting all our resources I could not bring
together more than 7000 men, or 8000 at the most by arming the leperos,
sir; a very weak army, you will allow."

"In the open country, yes, that is possible, General, but being in
Mexico, with the formidable artillery you have at your disposal, more
than 120 guns, it is easy for you to organise a serious resistance; if
the enemy resolve to lay siege to the capital, torrents of blood will
be shed ere they succeed in rendering themselves masters of it."

"Yes, my friend, what you say is true, but, as you know, I am a humane
and moderate man, the city is not disposed to defend itself, we have
neither the provisions nor means of obtaining them, since the country
no longer belongs to us, and everything is hostile to us, except for
a radius of about three leagues round the city. Do you understand,
my friend, what would be the horrors of a siege endured under such
disadvantageous conditions, the ravages to which the capital of Mexico,
the noblest and most beautiful city in the New World, would fall
victim? No, the mere thought of the extremities to which this hapless
population would be exposed, lacerates my heart, and I would never
consent to such a measure."

"Good, General, you speak like a man of honour, who really loves his
country, I wish that your enemies could hear you express yourself
thus."

"Why, my friend, those whom you call my enemies do not in reality
exist, as I am perfectly well aware; overtures have been made me
personally on several occasions, offering me very advantageous and
honourable conditions: when I have fallen, I shall offer the singular
peculiarity, rare in Mexico, of a President of the Republic, overthrown
by people who esteem him, and bearing with him in his fall the sympathy
of his enemies."

"Yes, yes, General, and not so long ago, had you consented to remove
certain persons, whom I will not name, all would have been arranged
amicably."

"I know it as well as you, my friend, but it would have been a
cowardice, and I was unwilling to commit it; the persons to whom you
allude, are devoted to me, they love me; we shall fall or triumph
together."

"The sentiments you express, General, are too noble for me to attempt
to discuss them."

"Thanks, let us quit this subject and return to what we were saying; I
do not wish by my fault to entail the destruction of the capital, and
expose it to the sanguinary horrors of pillage, which always follow
the capture of a besieged city. I know Juárez's guerillas, the bandits
who compose them would cause irreparable misfortunes if the city were
handed over to them, they would not leave one stone on the other, be
assured my friend."

"Unfortunately, that is only too probable, General, but what do you
propose doing? What is your plan? Of course you do not intend to
surrender to your enemies?"

"I had that thought for a moment, but gave it up: this is the plan
I have formed, it is simply--to leave the city with 6000 men, the
_élite_ of my troops, march straight on the enemy, surprise and beat
them in detail, ere the different corps have had time to effect their
junction."

"The plan is really very simple, General; and in my opinion offers
great chance of success."

"Everything will depend on the first battle. Gained--I am saved:
lost--everything is hopelessly lost."

"God is great, General; victory is not always with the heavy
battalions."

"Well, live and learn."

"When do you propose carrying out your plans?"

"In a few days; for I require time to prepare it. Before ten days I
shall be in a position to act, and will immediately quit the city. I
can reckon on you, I suppose?"

"Of course, General; am I not yours, body and soul?"

"I know it, my friend: but enough of politics at present. Pray
accompany me to the apartments of Madame Miramón; she eagerly desires
to see you."

"This gracious invitation fills me with joy, General; and yet I should
have liked to speak with you about a very important matter."

"Later, later, a truce, I implore you, to business. Perhaps it relates
to a new defection, or a traitor to punish? During the last few days
I have heard enough of such bad news to desire the enjoyment of a few
hours' respite, as the ancient said, 'tomorrow serious business.'"

"Yes," Don Jaime answered significantly, "and on the morrow it was too
late."

"Well, I trust to God. Let us enjoy the present. It is the only
blessing left us, as the future no longer belongs to us."

And taking Don Jaime by the arm, he gently led him to the apartments of
Madame Miramón, a charming, timid, and loving woman--the true guardian
angel of the General; who was terrified by her husband's greatness and
was only happy in private life, between her two children.



CHAPTER XXXV.

JOSÉ DOMINQUEZ.


At the end of an hour, Don Jaime left the palace followed by Lopez,
went to the house in the suburbs, where he found the Count and his
friend, who wholly occupied with their love, and indifferent to the
events that were going on around them, spent whole days with those whom
they loved, enjoying with, the happy carelessness of youth the present,
which seemed to them so sweet, without wishing to think of the future.

"Oh, here you are at last, brother!" Doña Maria exclaimed joyfully.
"What a stranger you have grown!"

"Business!" the adventurer answered with a smile.

The table was laid in the centre of the room. The Count's two
menservants were preparing to serve, and Leo Carral, with a napkin on
his arm, was waiting for the party to sit down.

"My faith, since supper is on the table," Don Jaime said gaily, "I will
not let you sup alone with these caballeros, if you will permit me to
bear you company."

"What happiness!" Doña Carmen exclaimed.

The gentlemen offered a hand to the ladies and led them to their seats,
after which they sat down by their side. The supper began. It was as it
should be among persons who had loved and known each other for a long
time--that is to say, cheerful and full of pleasant intimacy. Never had
the young ladies been so happy, for this unexpected pleasure charmed
them. The hours passed rapidly, but no one thought of calling attention
to the fact: all at once midnight struck on a clock standing on a
console in the dining room The twelve strokes fell one after the other
with a majestic slowness into the midst of the conversation, which
they suddenly chilled and stopped.

"Good gracious!" Doña Dolores exclaimed, with a slight start of terror,
"So late!"

"How time passes!" Don Jaime said carelessly. "We must now think of
going."

They left the table; and the three friends, after promising to visit
the three recluses as often and soon as possible, at length withdrew,
leaving the ladies at liberty to retire. Lopez was waiting for his
master under the zaguán.

"What do you want?" the latter asked him.

"We are spied," the peon answered. He led him to the gate and
noiselessly pulled back the bolt.

Don Jaime looked out. Exactly opposite the gate a man was standing,
almost confounded with the darkness that prevailed in a hollow formed
by the scaffolding of a house under repair. It would have escaped any
less piercing glance than that of the adventurer.

"I believe you are right," Don Jaime said to the peon. "In any case, it
is urgent to make sure, and I will undertake it," he added between his
teeth, with a terrible expression. "Change cloak and hat with me. You
will accompany these caballeros. The man saw three persons enter, and
he must see three depart. Now mount and be off."

"But," said Dominique, "I fancy it would be more simple to kill the
man."

"That may happen," Don Jaime answered; "but I wish to make certain
beforehand that he is a spy: I do not care to commit a mistake. Do not
be anxious about me, within half an hour I will join you again and
inform you of what has taken place between this man and myself."

"Good-bye for the present, then," the Count said, shaking his hand.

"Good-bye."

They then went out, followed by Leo Carral and the Count's two
servants. Doña Maria's old servant closed the gate with a bang, but was
careful to open it again noiselessly. Don Jaime placed himself at the
wicket, whence it was easy to watch all the movements of the supposed
spy. At the noise caused by the departure of the young men, the latter
eagerly bent forward, doubtless to remark the direction they followed,
and then returned to his dark corner, where he resumed his statuesque
immobility. Nearly a quarter of an hour passed ere the man made the
slightest movement. Don Jaime did not lose him out of sight. At length
he cautiously emerged from his hiding place, looked carefully around
him, and reassured by the solitude of the street, he ventured to take
a few steps forward; then, after a moment's hesitation, he boldly
advanced toward the house, crossing the street in a straight line.
Suddenly the gate opened and he found himself face to face with Don
Jaime. He made a sudden backward movement and tried to fly, but the
adventurer seized his arm which he held as in a vice, and dragging him
after him, in spite of the obstinate resistance he offered, he drew
him up to a statuette of the Virgin placed in a niche above a shop, in
front of which some tapers were burning, and then, with a backhander he
knocked off his prisoner's hat and curiously examined his features.

"Ah, Señor José Dominquez," he said an instant after, in an ironical
voice, "is it you? ¡Viva Dios! I did not expect to meet you here."

The poor wretch looked piteously at the man in whose power he was, but
made no answer. The adventurer waited a moment, then seeing that his
prisoner was decidedly determined, on not answering him, he said, as he
gave him a rough shake:--

"Come, scoundrel, are you going to answer or no?"

The prisoner gave a hollow groan.

"It is El Rayo or the Fiend!" he muttered in horror, as he looked
despairingly at the masked face of the man who held him so securely.

"It is certainly one or the other," the adventurer continued with a
laugh. "So you are in good hands and need not feel alarmed. Now be good
enough to tell me how it is that you, a guerillero and highway robber,
have become a spy and doubtless an assassin, if necessary, in this
capital."

"Misfortunes, Excellency. I was calumniated. I was too honest!"

"You? Hang me if I believe a word of it. I know you too thoroughly,
scoundrel, for you to try to deceive me. Hence decide to tell me the
truth, and that at once, without further subterfuge, or I will kill you
like the cowardly zopilote you are."

"Would you have any objection, Excellency, to hold my arm not quite so
tightly? You are twisting it so cruelly, that it must be broken."

"Very good," he said, loosing his hold; "but make no attempt to fly,
for you would suffer for it. Now speak."

José Dominquez, on feeling himself delivered from the adventurer's
rough grasp, gave a sigh of relief, shook his arm several times, in
order to re-establish the circulation, and then decided on speaking.

"I will tell you first, Excellency," he said, "that I am still a
guerillero, and have risen to the rank of lieutenant."

"All the better for you. But what are you doing here?"

"I am on an expedition,"

"On an expedition, alone, in Mexico? What! Are you laughing at me,
villain?"

"I swear, on the share I hope in Paradise, that I am telling you the
strict truth, Excellency. Besides, I am not here alone; my captain
accompanies me, and it was by his express orders I came."

"Ah, ah! And who is this captain?"

"Oh, you know him, Excellency,"

"That is probable. But he has a name, I suppose?"

"Certainly Excellency. He is Don Melchior de la Cruz."

"I suspected it. Now I can guess all. You are ordered to spy Doña
Dolores de la Cruz, I suppose?"

"Yes, Excellency."

"Good, what next?"

"Well, that is all, Excellency."

"Oh, no, it is not, my scamp; there is something more yet."

"But I assure you--"

"Ah, I see I must employ a grand method," he said, coldly, cocking a
pistol.

"Why, what are you doing, Excellency?" he exclaimed, in terror.

"I should think you can see that I am simply preparing to blow out your
brains. Hence, if you wish to try and commend your soul to Heaven, make
haste and do it, as you have only two minutes left to live."

"But that is not the way to make me speak," he said, with simplicity.

"No," the adventurer answered, coldly; "but it will make you hold your
tongue."

"Hum," he said, "you employ such excellent arguments, Excellency, that
it is impossible to resist you. I prefer telling you everything!"

"You will act wisely."

"Well, this is the matter in a few words. I was not only ordered to
watch Doña Dolores, but also the old and young ladies with whom she
resides, as well as all the persons who visit them."

"Hang it all! That was work enough for one man."

"Not too much, Excellency. They hardly receive any visits."

"And since when have you carried on this honourable trade, scoundrel?"

"About ten or twelve days, Excellency."

"So, then, you were one of the bandits who attempted to enter the house
by main force?"

"Yes, Excellency, but we did not succeed."

"I know it. Are you well paid by your employer?"

"He has not given me anything yet, I must allow; but he has promised me
fifty ounces."

"Oh! Promises cost Don Melchior nothing. It is easier to promise fifty
ounces than to give ten piastres."

"Do you think so, Excellency? Is he not rich?"

"He? He is poorer than yourself."

"In that case he must be badly off, for up to the present all my
savings consist of debts."

"I really think you are a precious ass, and that you deserve what has
happened to you."

"I! Excellency?"

"Hang it! Yes, who else? What, scoundrel! You attach yourself to a
villain who has not a farthing--who is hopelessly ruined, instead of
taking side with those who could pay you."

"Who are they, if you please, Excellency? I confess that I have very
long fingers, and would serve such persons enthusiastically."

"I do not doubt it. Do you fancy that I am going to amuse myself by
giving you advice?"

"Ah! if you would, Excellency, I should be delighted to serve you."

"You? Nonsense."

"Why not, Excellency?"

"Hang it! As you are the enemy of those whom I love, you must be my
enemy too."

"Oh! If I had only known it!"

"What would you have done?"

"I do not know, but certainly I should not have played the spy on them.
Employ me, Excellency, I implore you."

"You are fit for nothing."

"Try me, and you will see, Excellency; that is all I say."

The adventurer pretended to reflect. José Dominquez anxiously waited.

"No," he said at last; "you are a man who cannot be trusted."

"Oh, how badly you know me, Excellency, when I am so devoted to you!"

The adventurer burst into a laugh.

"That is a devotion which has sprung up very rapidly," he said. "Well,
I consent to make a trial: but suppose you deceive me?"

"It is enough, Excellency: I know you; you will be contented with me.
What do you want?"

"You will only have to turn your dolman, that is all."

"Good, I understand, that is easy: my master will not take a step
without your being warned of it."

"Good! Has not our dear Don Melchior an intimate friend?"

"Yes, Excellency, a certain Don Antonio Cacerbas. They are united like
the fingers of a hand."

"There will be no harm in your watching him, too."

"I am quite willing."

"And as all trouble deserves payment, I will give you half an ounce in
advance."

"Half an ounce?" he exclaimed, with a radiant look.

"And as you are in want of money, I will advance you twenty days' pay."

"Ten ounces! You will give me ten ounces, Excellency! To me! Oh! It is
impossible!"

"It is so possible that here they are," he continued, taking them from
his pocket, and placing them in José's hand.

The bandit clutched them with a movement of feverish joy.

"Oh!" he exclaimed; "Don Melchior and his friend had better look out."

"Be adroit, for they are clever."

"I know them; but they have to do with a cleverer fellow: trust to me
for that."

"That is your business. At the slightest mistake, I give you up."

"I do not fear that happiness."

"Did you not allude to the dexterity of your fingers?"

"Yes, I did, Excellency."

"Well, if by chance these gentlemen let any papers of importance fall,
you will do well to pick them up and bring them to me at once. I am of
a very curious nature."

"Enough. If I do not find any lying about, I will look for them."

"That is a good idea, which I approve of. Ah! Remember this: the papers
count separately. Each of them, if worth it, will fetch you three
ounces. If you make a mistake it will be all the worse for you, as you
will receive nothing."

"I will take my precautions, Excellency. Now will you be kind enough
to tell me where I can find you when I have communications to make, or
papers to deliver?"

"That is very easy. I walk every afternoon from three till five along
the canal de Las Vigas."

"I will be there."

"Pray be prudent."

"As an opossum, Excellency."

"Good-bye: watch attentively."

"Excellency. I have the honour to salute you."

They separated. Don Jaime, after ordering his sister's old servant
who, during the whole of this conversation had held the gate open to
go in and secure it on the inside, proceeded toward the residence of
the young man rubbing his hands. The Count and his friend, disturbed by
Don Jaime's long absence, were awaiting him with a feeling of lively
anxiety, they were already preparing to go in search of him, when he
entered: they received him with warm testimonies of joy, and then asked
him about his expedition. Don Jaime saw no reason for keeping them in
ignorance of what had taken place, and he repeated to them in detail
his conversation with José Dominquez, and how he had led him to betray
his master. This narrative greatly amused the young men. The three
remained together till daybreak: shortly before sunrise they separated,
Don Jaime's last remark on leaving them being the following:

"My friends, though my conduct may seem to you so extraordinary, do not
judge of it yet: in a few days at the most, I shall strike the great
blow which I have been preparing for so many years. Everything will
then be explained to you, whatever the result may be, and hence be
patient, for you are more interested than you suppose in the success
of this affair: remember what you promised me and hold yourselves in
readiness to act when I claim your assistance. Farewell."

He pressed their hands affectionately and withdrew, a whole week
passed away without any events worthy of record. Still a dull anxiety
prevailed in the city: numerous meetings in which all the new
political movements were discussed, were held in the squares and in
the streets. In the mercantile quarters of the city, the shops were
only opened for a few hours, and provisions became more and more
scarce, and consequently dearer, as only a few Indians came to the city
and brought very little with them. A vague agitation, without any known
or definite cause prevailed among the population: it was felt that the
critical moment was approaching and that the storm; so long suspended
over Mexico would soon burst with; a terrible fury.

Don Jaime, apparently at least, led the idle life of a man whom his
position places above all accidents, and for whom political events
possess no importance: he strolled about the squares and streets,
smoking his cigar, listening to everything that was said with the
simplicity of a believer, accepting as true all the monstrous
absurdities invented by the novelists of the street corners, and not
saying a word himself. Every day he took a walk on the canal de Las
Vigas, accident made him meet José Dominquez, they conversed for a long
time while walking side by side, and then separated apparently mutually
satisfied. For the last two or three days, however, Don Jaime had not
seemed so pleased with his spy, sharp words and covert threats were
exchanged between them.

"My friend José Dominquez;" Don Jaime said to his spy at the six or
seventh interview he had with him: "take care; I fancy I can perceive
that you have been trying to play a double game, I have a fine nose as
you are aware, and scent treachery."

"Oh, Excellency," José Dominquez exclaimed, "you are mistaken; I am on
the contrary most faithful, be assured of that, for men do not betray a
generous caballero like yourself."

"That is possible; at any rate you are warned, and act accordingly;
and mind not to forget to bring me tomorrow the papers you have
promised me for the last three days."

Upon this Don Jaime left the spy greatly abashed by this sharp
reprimand, and very anxious as to the turn matters might take if he
did not act prudently; for, it must be confessed, José Dominquez'
conscience was not very tranquil. Don Jaime's suspicions were not
totally devoid of foundation; if the spy had not yet betrayed his
generous protector, the idea had occurred to him of doing so, and for
a man like the guerillero, from thought to execution was only a step.
Hence he resolved to rehabilitate himself in Don Jaime's opinion by a
brilliant stroke in order to regain his confidence; for this purpose he
decided on taking the papers which Don Jaime asked of him, and handing
them to him on the morrow, with a determination of stealing them from
him again if he considered it worth the while. On the next day, at the
appointed hour, Don Jaime was at the place of meeting: José Dominquez
speedily arrived, and with a great display of devotedness according to
his wont, handed a rather large bundle of papers to the adventurer; the
latter took a rapid glance at them, concealed them under his cloak,
and after letting a heavy purse of gold drop into the guerillero's
hand, he brusquely turned his back on him, without listening to his
protestations.

"¡Diablos!" José Dominquez muttered. "He does not seem in a very sweet
temper today, so I must not leave him the time to take his precautions:
I have luckily discovered where he lives, and now I must act and
go and tell everything to Don Melchior. I shall be able to arrange
matters so that he will believe I have only manoeuvred to make his
enemy confident, and betray him the more easily; and as I intend to
betray him, Don Melchior will be enchanted, and congratulate me on my
skill. By Heavens! Sense is a fine thing. I am decidedly a man full of
intelligence."

While complimenting himself thus in an aside, José Dominquez, who
was walking with his head down as persons do who are reflecting, ran
full butt against two individuals who were walking arm in arm and
conversing. The two persons were probably quick tempered, for they
turned sharply, and addressed some rather harsh reproaches to the
guerillero. The latter, who felt himself in the wrong, and as he had
a considerable sum about him, did not feel anxious to get into an
ugly quarrel, attempted to apologise as well as he could. But the
strangers would listen to nothing, and continued to apply to him the
epithets of brute, ass, and other compliments of the sort. Though the
guerillero was on his guard, his patience at length deserted him, and
letting himself be overpowered by passion, he laid his hand on his
knife. This imprudent action was his ruin. The two strangers rushed
upon him, knocked him down, and both stabbed him repeatedly; then, as
the street in which this quarrel took place was entirely deserted, and
consequently no one had seen them, they assured themselves that the
poor fellow was really dead; after which they quietly went off, though
not till they had eased him of his money and everything that could
prove his identity.

Thus died Señor José Dominquez. The celadores picked up his body two
hours later, and as no one recognised it, it was unceremoniously cast
into a hole dug in the cemetery, without further enquiry. Don Melchior
was perhaps astonished at not seeing him again; but as he placed slight
confidence in his honesty, he supposed that he had committed some
roguery, which rendered his absence advisable, and thought no more of
him.



CHAPTER XXXVI.

THE BEGINNING OF THE END.


The few days which had elapsed since his interview with Don Jaime,
were not wasted by General Don Miguel Miramón. Decided on playing a
last stake, he had not been willing to risk it till he had as far as
possible equalised the advantages, even though he might not have all
the chances on his side, so as to render the struggle which, whatever
its result might be, must be decisive, more favourable to his projects.

Not only did the President actually employ himself in recruiting and
organising his army and placing it on a respectable footing; but in
addition, not heeding for himself how injurious the seizure of the
six hundred thousand piastres of the convention bonds in the house
of the consul of that nation was to him, he made energetic efforts
to repair the injury which this stroke had done him, and paved the
way for a negotiation, by which he pledged himself to refund in
London the money he had so unfortunately taken; while alleging as
excuse for this audacious act that it was only intended as reprisals
against Mr. Mathew, the Chargé d'Affaires of the British Government,
whose incessant machinations and hostile demonstrations against the
recognised government of Mexico had placed the President in the
critical position in which he now found himself. As a proof of this
statement, he declared, as was true, that after the battle of Toluca
there had been found among the baggage of General Degollado, who was
made prisoner in that affair, a plan for attacking Mexico, written by
Mr. Mathew himself--a fact that constituted an act of felony on the
part of the representative of a friendly government.

The President, in order to give greater force to this declaration,
showed the original of this plan to the foreign ministers residing
in Mexico, and then had it translated and published, in the official
journal. This publication had produced all the effect the President
anticipated from it, and, by increasing the instinctive hatred of the
population for the English nation, regained him the sympathies of a few.

Miramón then redoubled his efforts, and, at length succeeded in arming
eight thousand men--a very small number against the twenty-four
thousand who menaced him--for General Huerta, whose conduct had for
some time past been marked with hesitation, at length decided on
leaving Orelia at the head of four thousand men, who, joined to the
eleven thousand of Gonzalez Ortega, the five thousand of Gazza Amondea,
and the four thousand of Aureliana, Carbajal and Cuellar, formed an
effective strength of twenty-four thousand men, who were advanced by
forced marches on Mexico, and would speedily appear before the city.
The situation became more critical with every moment. The population,
ignorant of the President's plans, were agitated by the most lively
terror, expecting at any moment to see the heads of the Juarist columns
debouch, and to undergo all the horrors of a siege.

In the meanwhile, Miramón, who was anxious before all not to lose the
esteem of his countrymen, and to calm the exaggerated fears of the
population, resolved on convoking the ayuntamiento. He then strove,
by a speech full of courage, to make these representatives of the
population of the capital understand that it had never been his
intention to await the enemy behind the walls of the city--that, on the
contrary, he had determined to go and attack them in the open country,
and that, whatever might be the result of the battle he proposed to
fight, the city would have no cause to fear a siege. This assurance
slightly calmed the fears of the population, and stopped, as if by
enchantment, the tentatives at disorder, and the seditious cries which
the hidden partizans of Juárez secretly excited among the groups
assembled in the squares, which were constantly stationed there for the
last two or three days, and even bivouacked there at night.

When the President believed that he had taken all the prudential
measures which circumstances demanded to attack the enemy without too
marked a disadvantage, while leaving in the city the requisite forces
to keep it in subordination, he assembled a last council of war, to
discuss the most suitable plan for surprising and defeating the enemy.
This council of war lasted several hours. A number of projects was
proposed, some of which, as always happens under such circumstances,
were impracticable--and others which, had they been adopted, might
possibly have saved the government.

Unfortunately, on this day, General Miramón, usually so sensible and
prudent, allowed himself to be carried away by his personal resentment,
instead of considering the true interests of the nation.

Don Benito Juárez is a lawyer. We will mention, in passing, that, since
the proclamation of Mexican, independence, he is the sole President
of the Republic who has not emerged from the ranks of the army, or
belonged to the magistracy. Now, Juárez, not being a soldier, could
not place himself at the head of his army. Hence, he had temporarily
established his residence at Veracruz, which he had made his capital,
and appointed Don Gonzalez Ortega Commander-in-Chief, with the most
extensive powers as regarded questions of military strategy, trusting
entirely to special knowledge and experience for the conduct of the
war. But he had completely held back the diplomatic question in his
own hands, not wishing that General Ortega, a brave soldier but
very bad negotiator, should compromise, by misplaced generosity, the
success which he anticipated from his cautious And crafty policy. It
was General Ortega by whom Miramón had been defeated at Silao. The
resentment at this defeat had remained ever present in the President's
heart: and he felt the most lively desire to wash out the insult he had
received on that occasion. Hence, forgetting his habitual prudence, and
contrary to the advice of his wisest councillors, he insisted, in the
council, that the first attack should be directed against the corps, at
the head of which was Ortega.

The motives he alleged in order to have this resolution adopted, though
rather specious, were not absolutely deficient in logic. He declared
that if he succeeded in defeating Ortega, the Commander-in-Chief,
at the head of the largest corps, demoralization would break out in
the enemy's army, and they would have an easy victory over them. The
President sustained his opinion with so much eloquence and obstinacy,
that he overcame the opposition of the members of the council, and
caused the plan he had conceived to be definitively adopted; and once
this decision was formed, the General, not wishing to lose a moment in
putting it in execution appointed for the morrow a review of all the
troops, and fixed the departure for the same day, so as not to let the
enthusiasm of his soldiers grow cold.

When the council finally broke up, the President withdrew to his
apartments, in order to make his final arrangements, set his affairs
in order, and burn certain compromising papers which he did not wish
to leave behind him. The President had been shut up in his apartments
for some hours; the enemy was advanced when the usher on duty announced
Don Jaime. He at once ordered him to be shown in. The adventurer
entered.

"You will permit me to go on, will you not?" the President said with a
smile; "I have only a few more papers to arrange, and then I shall have
finished."

"Do so, pray, General," the adventurer said, seating himself in a
butaca.

Miramón resumed his momentarily interrupted occupation. Don Jaime gazed
at him for a moment with an expression of indescribable melancholy.

"So," he said, "your resolution is decidedly formed, General?"

"Oh, the die is cast. I have crossed my Rubicon, I would say, were it
not ridiculous for me to compare myself with Cæsar. I am going to offer
my enemies battle."

"I do not blame that resolution, for it is worthy of you, General. Will
you permit me to ask when you propose setting out?"

"Tomorrow, immediately after the review I have ordered."

"Good: in that case I have time to send out two or three intelligent
scouts, who will inform you of the enemy's exact position."

"Although several have already started, I gratefully accept your offer,
Don Jaime."

"Now, be kind enough to tell what direction you intend to follow, and
the corps you have resolved to attack."

"I intend to take the bull by the horns; that is to say, Gonzales
Ortega himself."

The adventurer shook his head, but did not venture the slightest
observation. He merely said, "Very good."

Miramón left his writing table and sat down by his side. "There that is
finished," he said; "now I am at your service. I guess that you wish to
make up some important communication; so speak, Don Jaime, I am ready
to hear you."

"You are not mistaken, General; I have, indeed, a matter of the utmost
importance to communicate to you. Be good enough to read this paper."

And he handed the President a folded document. The President took it,
read it without displaying the slightest sign of surprise, and then
returned it to the adventurer. "Have you read the signature?" he said.

"Yes," he replied coldly; "it is a letter of credit given by Don
Benito Juárez to Don Antonio Cacerbas, recommending the latter to his
adherents."

"It is really so, General; you have now no doubts left as to that man's
treachery?"

"None."

"Pardon me for asking, General, but what do you intend doing?"

"Nothing."

"What, nothing?" he exclaimed with unaffected surprise.

"No, I shall do nothing," he added.

The adventurer looked stupefied.

"I do not understand you, Excellency," he muttered.

"Listen to me, Don Jaime, and you will understand me," the President
answered in a gentle and penetrating voice: "Don Francisco Pacheco,
Ambassador Extraordinary of the Queen of Spain, has rendered me immense
services since his arrival in Mexico. After the defeat of Silao, when
my position was most precarious, he did not hesitate to recognise my
government. Since then he has offered me the best advice, and given the
greatest proof of sympathy; his conduct has been so kind toward me,
that he has compromised his diplomatic position, and so soon as Juárez
obtains the power, he will certainly hand him his passports. Don.
Pacheco is aware of all this, and yet, at this moment, when I am all
but ruined, his conduct remains the same. It is on him alone--I confess
it--I reckon to obtain from the enemy, in the probable event of a
defeat, good conditions, not for myself, but for the unhappy population
of this city, and the persons who, through friendship for me, have been
most compromised latterly. Now the man whose treachery you denounce to
me--treachery--I hasten to agree with you--so flagrant, that not the
slightest doubt can exist about it: this man is not only a Spaniard and
the bearer of a great name, but he was also personally recommended to
me by the ambassador himself, whose good faith, I feel convinced, has
been surprised, and who was the first person deceived in the matter.
The principal object of Don Pacheco's mission is, as you cannot be
ignorant, to demand satisfaction for the numerous insults offered his
countrymen, and reparation for the annoyances to which they have been
exposed for some years."

"Yes, General, I am aware of that."

"Good Now what would the ambassador think were I to arrest on a crime
of high treason not only a Spaniard of the highest rank, but also a
man whom he recommended to me? Do you suppose he would be pleased,
after the numerous services he has already rendered me, and those
which he may still be called on to render me, with such conduct on
my part? I could, you will say, perhaps, take the letter and discuss
the affair confidentially with the ambassador: but, my friend, the
insult would be no less grave in that way, as you shall judge. Don
Pacheco is the representative of a European government; he belongs to
the old school of diplomatists of the beginning of the century: for
these two reasons and others I pass over in silence; he holds us poor
American diplomatists and governors in but slight estimation, he is
so infatuated with his own merit and his superiority over us, that,
were I foolish enough to prove to him that he has been deceived by a
villain who has played with him with the most daring effrontery, Don
Pacheco would be furious, not at having been deceived, but because I
had unmasked the deceiver: his wounded self-esteem would never forgive
me the advantage which chance would gratuitously give me over him, and
instead of a useful friend, I should make myself an irreconcilable
enemy."

"The reasons you condescend to give me, General, are very good, I
allow; but for all that, the man is a traitor."

"That is true, but he is no fool, far from it. If I fight tomorrow and
gain the victory, he will remain attached to my fortunes, as he was at
Toluca."

"Yes, he will be faithful till he finds a favourable opportunity for
ruining you utterly."

"I do not say the contrary; but who knows?--perhaps we shall find,
between this and then, the means of getting rid of him without noise or
scandal."

The adventurer reflected for a moment.

"Stay, General," he said suddenly, "I believe I have found the means."

"First, allow me to ask you a question, and promise to answer it."

"I do promise."

"You know this man, he is your personal enemy."

"Yes, General," he answered frankly.

"I suspected it: the inveteracy you display in destroying him did not
seem to me natural. Now let me hear your plan."

"The sole motive that holds you back, you told me yourself, is the fear
of offending the ambassador of her Catholic Majesty."

"It is, indeed, the sole one, Don Jaime."

"Well, General, suppose Don Pacheco consented to abandon this man?"

"Could you succeed in obtaining that?"

"I will obtain more, if necessary; I will make him give me a letter, in
which he shall not only abandon Don Antonio Cacerbas, as he chooses to
call himself, but also authorize you to try him."

"Oh, oh! That seems a rather bold statement, Don Jaime," the President
remarked, dubiously.

"That is my business, General; the main point is, that you shall not be
in any way compromised, and remain neutral."

"That is my only desire, and you understand the serious reasons for it?"

"I understand them, General, and pledge you my word that your name
shall not be even mentioned."

"In my turn, I pledge you my word as a soldier that if you succeed in
obtaining this letter, the villain shall be shot in the back in the
centre of the Plaza Mayor, even though I had only an hour's authority
left me."

"I hold your pledge, General; besides, I have the blank signature you
were kind enough to give me; I will myself arrest the villain when the
moment arrives."

"Have you nothing more to say to me?"

"Pardon me, General, I have still a request to make."

"What is it?"

"General, I wish to accompany you on your expedition."

"I thank you, my friend, and gladly accept."

"I shall have the honour of joining you at the moment when the army
sets out."

"I attach you to my staff."

"It is, no doubt, a great favour," he answered, with a smile, "but,
unfortunately, it is impossible for me to accept it."

"Why not?"

"Because I shall not be alone, General--the three hundred horses who
followed me at Toluca will again come with me; but during the battle my
cuadrilla and myself will be at your side."

"I give up all idea of comprehending you, my friend; you have the
privilege of performing miracles."

"You shall have a proof of that. Now, General, permit me to take leave
of you."

"Go, then, my friend, I will keep you no longer."

After affectionately pressing the hand which the General offered him,
Don Jaime withdrew.

Lopez was waiting for him at the palace gate; he mounted his horse, and
at once returned home. After writing some letters, which he ordered
his peon to deliver at once, Don Jaime changed his dress, took certain
papers locked up in a bronze casket, assured himself that the hour was
not improper (it was hardly ten at night), then went out, and hurried
toward the Spanish Embassy, from which he was at no great distance. The
Ambassador's door was still open; servants in handsome liveries were
moving about the courtyard and vestibule; a porter was standing at the
entrance of the zaguán, halberd in hand.

Don Jaime addressed him. The porter called a footman, and made the
adventurer a sign to follow this man. On reaching an antechamber, an
usher wearing a silver chain round his neck, approached Don Jaime,
handed him a card, sealed up in an envelope.

"Deliver this card to his Excellency," he said.

At the expiration of a few minutes the usher returned, and throwing
open a door, said--

"His Excellency awaits your lordship."

Don Jaime followed him, passed through several rooms, and at length
reached the cabinet in which the Ambassador was. Don Pacheco advanced a
few steps toward him, and bowed graciously.

"To what happy chance may I attribute your visit, caballero?" he asked
him.

"I beg your Excellency to excuse me," Don Jaime replied, with a bow,
"but it was not in my power to select a more convenient hour."

"At whatever hour you may think proper to come, sir, I shall always be
delighted to receive you," the Ambassador made answer.

At a sign from his master the usher drew up a chair, and then retired.
The two gentlemen bowed again to each other, and sat down.

"Now I am ready to listen to you," the Ambassador said; "be kind enough
to speak, my Lord Count--"

"I implore your Excellency," Don Jaime eagerly interrupted, "to permit
me to maintain my incognito even toward yourself."

"Very good, sir, I will respect your wishes," the Ambassador remarked,
with a bow.

Don Jaime opened his pocketbook, and took from it a document, which he
handed to the Ambassador.

"Will your Excellency," he said, "deign to cast your eyes on this royal
order?"

The Ambassador took the order, and began reading it with the most
earnest attention; when he had finished he returned the paper to Don
Jaime, who folded it up and placed it again in his pocketbook.

"Do you demand the execution of this royal order, caballero?" the
Ambassador said.

Don Jaime bowed.

"Very good," Don Francisco Pacheco remarked.

He rose, went to his table, wrote a few words on a sheet of paper
bearing the arms of Spain and the Embassy stamp, signed it, sealed it,
and then handed it open to Don Jaime.

"Here," he said, "is a letter for his Excellency, General Miramón; will
you take charge of it, or do you prefer it being sent by the Embassy?"

"I will take charge of it, with your Excellency's permission," he
replied.

The ambassador folded the letter, put it in an envelope, and then
handed it to Don Jaime. "I regret, caballero," he said, "that I am
unable to give you any other proofs of my desire to be agreeable to
you."

"I have the honour to request your Excellency to accept the expression
of my lively gratitude," Don Jaime answered, with a respectful bow.

"Shall I not have the pleasure of seeing you again, caballero?"

"I shall do myself the honour of coming to pay my respects to your
Excellency."

The Ambassador rang a bell, and the usher made his appearance. The two
gentlemen bowed ceremoniously, and Don Jaime retired.



CHAPTER XXXVII.

THE LAST BLOW.


On the morrow the sun rose radiantly in floods of gold and purple.
Mexico was rejoicing. The city had resumed its festive air; it seemed
to have returned to the bright days of calmness and tranquillity: the
whole population were in the streets; the motley crowd were hastening
with shouts, songs, and laughter to the Paseo de Bucareli. Military
bands, drums and fifes, could be heard playing in different directions.
Staff officers, dressed in uniforms glistening with gold, and plumed
hats, were galloping about to deliver orders. The troops left their
barracks, and proceeded toward the Paseo, where they drew up on either
side of the great avenue.

The artillery took up position in front of the equestrian statue of
King Charles IV., whom the leperos insist on confounding with Fernando
Cortez, and the cavalry, only eleven hundred strong, were, drawn up
on the Alameda. The leperos and boys took advantage of the occasion
for rejoicing by discharging crackers and squibs between the legs
of the loungers. At about ten a.m. loud shouts were heard rapidly
drawing nearer the Paseo. The people were greeting the President of the
Republic.

General Miramón came up in the midst of a brilliant staff. The
expression on the President's face was a glad one, he seemed to be
pleased with these shouts of "Long live Miramón!" uttered as he
passed, and which proved to him that the people still loved him and
were displaying, after their fashion, their gratitude for the heroic
resolution he had formed of risking a final battle on the open field,
instead of awaiting the enemy within the city. The General bowed
smilingly to the right and left. When he reached the entrance of the
Paseo, twenty pieces of artillery thundered simultaneously, and thus
announced his presence to the troops massed on the promenade. Then,
rapid orders ran along the ranks, the soldiers fell in, the regimental
bands began playing, the bugles sounded, the drums beat, the General
passed slowly along the front, and the review began. The soldiers
seemed full of ardour, the crowd had communicated their enthusiasm to
them, and they shouted, "Long live Miramón!" heartily, as the President
passed.

The inspection held by the General was short and conscientious. It was
not one of those reviews which rulers now and then offer the people as
an amusement. On leaving the city these troops were going to march
straight into action, and the great object was to know whether they
were really in a condition to face the foe, whom they would attack a
few hours later. The General's orders had been scrupulously carried
out, the troops were well armed, and they had a martial air which it
was a pleasure to see. When the President had passed along the ranks,
now and then addressing soldiers whom he recognised, or pretended to
recognize,--an old method which always succeeds, as it flatters the
soldier's self-esteem--he stationed himself in the centre of the Paseo,
and ordered several manoeuvres in order to gain an idea of the training
of the troops. These manoeuvres, some of which were rather difficult,
were executed with very satisfactory precision. The President warmly
congratulated the commanding officers, and then the marching past
began; but, after passing in front of the President, the troops resumed
their former positions, and established a temporary bivouac.

Miramón, not wishing uselessly to fatigue his troops by compelling
them to march during the great heat, had resolved not to set out till
nightfall. Up to that moment the troops would bivouac on the Paseo.
Among the officers who composed the President's staff, and returned
with him to the palace, were Don Melchior de la Cruz, Don Antonio
Cacerbas, and Don Jaime. Don Melchior, though he was rather surprised
at seeing in military uniform a man whom he had hitherto only known
by the name of Don Adolfo, and whom he supposed to be engaged in
smuggling transactions, saluted him with an ironical smile. Don Jaime
duly returned his salute, and got away, as he was not at all desirous
of entering into conversation with him. As for Don Antonio, as he had
never seen Don Jaime with his face uncovered, he paid no attention to
him.

While the President was returning to the palace, Don Jaime, who had
stopped on the Plaza Mayor, dismounted, and was joined by the Count
and Dominique, with whom he had made an appointment, though they would
not have recognised him, had he not taken the precaution of walking
straight up to them.

"Are you going with the army?" they asked him.

"Yes, my friends, I am: but I shall be back here: unfortunately the
campaign will not be a long one. During my absence, redouble your
vigilance, I implore you: do not let my sister's house out of sight;
one of our enemies will remain in the city."

"Only one?" said Dominique.

"Yes; but he is the more formidable of the two; the one whose life you
so clumsily saved, Dominique."

"Good; I know him," the young man answered, "he had better look out."

"And Don Melchior?" the Count asked.

"He will not trouble us," Don Jaime answered, with a singular accent.
"So, my dear friends, watch attentively, and do not allow yourselves to
be surprised."

"If necessary we will make Leo Carral and our servants help us."

"That will be more prudent; and perhaps you would act wisely by lodging
them in the house."

"We will attend to that."

"Now let us part, I have business at the palace. Good-bye for the
present, my friends."

They separated. Don Jaime entered the palace and proceeded to the
President's cabinet. The usher knew him, and raised no difficulty about
letting him pass. Miramón was listening to the reports several scouts
made him touching the enemy's movements. Don Jaime sat down and waited
patiently till the President had finished his examination. At length
the last scout completed his report and withdrew.

"Well," the President said, with a laugh, "have you seen the
ambassador?"

"Certainly, General. Last night, after leaving you."

"And the famous letter?"

"Here it is," he said, handing it to him.

The General took the paper with a start of surprise, and rapidly
perused it.

"Well?" Don Jaime asked him.

"We have not only _carte blanche_?" he answered; "But I am even begged
to act severely against this man; it is wonderful, on my honour. You
have more than carried out my promises. How did you manage it?"

"I simply asked for the letter."

"You are the most mysterious man I know: it is now my turn to fulfil my
promise."

"There is no hurry."

"Do you no longer wish to have him arrested?"

"On the contrary: but not till our return."

"As you please: but what shall we do in the meanwhile?"

"We will leave him under the orders of the Town Commandant."

"By Jove, you are right."

The President wrote an order, sealed it, and called the usher. "Is
Colonel Cacerbas here?" he asked.

"Yes, Excellency."

"Let him carry this order to the Town Commandant."

The usher took the order and went away.

"That is done," said the President

Don Jaime remained with the General till the hour for departure. At
nightfall, the troops began defiling on the plaza, surrounded by
the people, who shouted lustily. When all the troops had passed, the
General left the palace, in his turn, with his staff. A large squadron
of cavalry was drawn up in the plaza.

"Whose are those horsemen?" the General asked.

"My cuadrilla," Don Jaime answered with a bow.

These horsemen, wrapped in long heavy cloaks, and wearing broad brimmed
hats, only allowed the end of their beard to be seen. It was in vain
that the President examined them, trying to distinguish their faces.

"You cannot recognise them," Don Jaime said to him, in a low voice,
"the beards are false, their dress is in itself a disguise; but,
believe me, they will not fight the less bravely in action."

"I am persuaded of that, and thank you."

They set out. Don Jaime raised his sword, the horsemen wheeled and
stationed themselves as a rear guard, they were three hundred in
number. Differing from the Mexican cavalry, whose favourite weapon is
the lance, they were armed with a carbine, the straight sabre of the
French chasseur d'Afrique, and pistols in their holsters. At midnight
the troops camped, orders were given not to light any bivouac fires. At
about three in the morning a scout arrived. He was at once conducted to
the President.

"Ah, ah! It is you, Lopez?" the General said, on recognising him.

"Yes, General," Lopez replied, with a smile to Don Jaime, who was
seating by the President's side negligently smoking a cigarette.

"What news? Have you heard anything about the enemy?" Miramón asked.

"Yes, General, and quite fresh."

"All the better: where is he?"

"Four leagues from here."

"Good, we shall soon be there then. Which corps is it?"

"That of General Don Gonzalez Ortega."

"Bravo," the President said joyously, "you are a precious lad: here is
something for you."

He placed several pieces of gold in his hand, "Give me the details," he
continued.

"General Ortega is at the head of eleven thousand men, of whom three
thousand are cavalry, and thirty-five guns."

"Have you seen them?"

"I marched with them for more than an hour."

"In what temper are they?"

"Well, General, they are furious against you."

"Good, rest yourself, you have an hour to sleep."

Lopez bowed and withdrew.

"At last then," said Miramón, "we are going to meet face to face."

"How many troops have you, General?" Don Jaime asked.

"Six thousand, of whom eleven hundred are cavalry and twenty guns."

"Hum," said Don Jaime, "against eleven thousand! It is not quite the
double my friend, courage will make up for the deficiency."

"May heaven grant it!"

At four o'clock the camp was raised: Lopez acted; as guide. The troops,
shivering with cold, were in a very unsatisfactory temper. At about
seven they; halted, the army was drawn up in battle array in a very
advantageous position and the guns placed in battery. Don Jaime drew
up his horse behind the regular cavalry. Then, all arrangements being
made, they breakfasted. At eight o'clock, what the Spaniards call a
_tiroteo_ began to be heard: the outposts were falling back before the
heads of Ortega's columns, which were debouching on the battlefield
selected by Miramón, and were exchanging shots with them.

Nothing would have been easier for the President than to avoid the
battle, but he did not wish it, as he longed for the end. Miramón was
surrounded by his surest lieutenants, Velez Cobos, Negrite, Ayestaran
and Márquez. On perceiving the enemy he mounted his horse, rode along
the ranks of his small army, gave his instructions in a loud sharp
voice, strove to communicate to all the valiant ardor that inflated
him, and raising his sword in the air, shouted-- "Forward!"

The battle at once commenced. The Juarist army forced to form under
the enemy's fire, had a marked disadvantage. Miramón's troops, excited
by the example of their young chief, who was only twenty-six years
of age, fought like lions and performed prodigies of valour. In vain
did the Juarists try to establish themselves in the position they had
chosen; they were driven back several times by the vigorous charges of
the enemy. In spite of their numerical superiority, the soldiers only
advanced inch by inch, and were constantly driven back and broken by
the President's troops.

Miramón's lieutenants, into whom his soul seemed to have passed, placed
themselves at the head of the troops, drew them after them, and dashed
into the thickest of the fight. One more effort, and the battle was
gained, and Ortega forced to retreat. Miramón hurried up. He judged
the position with an infallible glance. The moment had arrived to hurl
his cavalry on the centre of the Juarists, and break it by a decisive
charge. The President shouted: "charge!" The cavalry hesitated. Miramón
repeated the order. The cavalry set out, but, instead charging,
one-half went over to the enemy, and charged with couched lances,
the other half that still remained faithful. Demoralized by this
sudden desertion, the cavalry who remained faithful turned round, and
dispersed in all directions. The infantry, on seeing themselves thus
cowardly deserted, fought without energy.

Cries of "treachery, treachery!" ran along the ranks. In vain did the
officers try to lead the soldiers again against the enemy. They were
demoralized. Ere long the flight became general. Miramón's army no
longer existed. Ortega was once again the victor but through a shameful
treachery at the very moment when he had lost the battle.

We have said that Don Jaime took up a position with his cuadrilla in
the rear of Miramón's cavalry. Certainly, if three hundred men could
have changed the issue of the battle, these brave horsemen would
have accomplished the prodigy. Even when the rout was general, they
continued fighting with unparalleled obstinacy against the Juarist
cavalry, sent in pursuit of the fugitives. Don Jaime had an object in
prolonging this unequal combat. As a witness of the unworthy treachery
which had caused the loss of the battle, he had seen the officer who
was the first to pass over to the enemy with his soldiers. This officer
was Don Melchior. Don Jaime recognized him, and swore to capture him.
The adventurer's cuadrilla was not composed of common horsemen, as they
had already proved and would prove again. In a few hurried words, Don
Jaime explained his intention. The horsemen uttered a yell of fury, and
resolutely charged the enemy. There was a gigantic struggle of three
hundred men against three thousand. The cuadrilla entirely disappeared,
as if it had been suddenly buried beneath the formidable mass of its
adversaries. Then the Juarists began oscillating. Their ranks became
loosened. There a gap, and through this gap the cuadrilla passed,
carrying off Don Melchior in its centre--a prisoner.

"To the President! To the President!" Don Jaime shouted, as he dashed
with his whole band up to Miramón, who was vainly trying to rally a few
detachments.

Miramón's lieutenants, who were all his friends, had not abandoned
him. They had sworn to die with him. The cuadrilla made a last charge
for the purpose of disengaging the general. Then, after taking one
despairing glance at the battlefield, Miramón consented to listen to
his friends, and retreat. Of his whole army, scarce a thousand men
remained to him. The rest were dead, dispersed, or had gone over to the
enemy.

The first moments of the retreat were terrible. Miramón was suffering
from a fearful sorrow, caused not by his defeat, which he had foreseen,
but by the cowardly treachery of which he was the victim. When they no
longer feared being caught up by the enemy, the President ordered a
halt, to enable the horses to breathe. Miramón, leaning against a tree,
with folded arms and drooping head, maintained a stern silence, which
his generals, standing near him, did not venture to break.

Don Jaime advanced, and, stopping two paces from the President, said:
"General!"

At the sound of this friendly voice, Miramón raised his head, and
offered his hand to the adventurer.

"Is it you?" he said, "My friend? Oh! Why did I so obstinately refuse
to believe you?"

"What is done is done, General," the adventurer roughly answered. "We
cannot recall it. But, before leaving the spot where we now are, you
have a duty to fulfil--an exemplary act of justice to perform."

"What do you mean?" he asked with amazement.

The other generals drew nearer, no less surprised than he.

"You know why we were defeated?" the adventurer continued.

"Because we were betrayed."

"But do you know the traitor, General?"

"No, I do not," he said, passionately.

"Well, I do. I was there when he carried out his cowardly project, and
was watching him; for I had been suspecting him for some time past."

"What matter? The villain cannot be reached now."

"You are mistaken, General, for I have brought him to you. I went to
fetch him in the midst of his new comrades: and would have gone to the
infernal regions to seize him."

At these words a quiver of joy ran along the ranks.

"By Heaven!" Cobos exclaimed; "the villain deserves quartering."

"Bring the man here," Miramón said, sadly; for his heart was painfully
affected at being forced to act severely; "he shall be tried."

"That will not take long," said General Negrite; "he will meet with the
death of traitors--shot from behind."

"We have only to prove his identity, and have him executed," Cobos
added.

Don Jaime gave a signal, and Don Melchior was brought up by two. He was
pale and haggard; his torn clothes were stained with blood and mud:
his hands were fastened behind his back. The officers formed a court
martial under the presidency of General Cobos.

"Your name?" the latter asked.

"Don Melchior de la Cruz," he replied in a hollow voice.

"Do you acknowledge that you went over to the enemy, taking your
command with you?"

He made no answer, but his whole body was agitated by a convulsive
tremor.

"The court is certain of this man's treachery," Cobos continued; "what
punishment has he deserved?"

"That of traitors!" the officers unanimously replied.

"Let it be carried into effect," said Cobos.

The condemned was forced on his knees. Ten corporals formed a firing
party, and placed themselves six paces behind him.

General Cobos then approached the condemned man. "Coward and traitor,"
he said to him, "you are unworthy of the rank to which you were raised.
In the name of all our companions I declare you to be degraded and
rejected from our midst."

A soldier then removed the symbols of Don Melchior's rank, and gave
him a blow in the face. The young man uttered a tiger's yell at this
insult, looked around him in horror, and made a movement to rise.

"Fire!" General Cobos shouted.

A detonation was heard; the criminal uttered a fearful cry of agony,
and fell with his face on the ground, writhing in awful convulsions.

"Finish him!" Miramón said, pityingly.

"No!" Cobos cried, roughly; "Let him die like a dog. The more he
suffers, the more perfect our vengeance will be."

Miramón gave a look of disgust, and ordered the boot and saddle to be
sounded. The troops set out. Only two men remained with the wretched
man, watching him writhe at their feet in atrocious agony. These two
men were General Cobos and Don Jaime. Don Jaime bent down to him,
raised his head, and forcing him to fix his glassy eyes on him, said in
a hollow voice--

"Parricide! Traitor to your country and your brothers, the latter
avenge themselves today. Die, like the dog you are. Your soul will go
to the fiend who awaits it, and your body, deprived of sepulture, will
be the prey of wild beasts!"

"Mercy!" the wretch cried, as he fell back. "Mercy!"

A final convulsion agitated his body, his crisped features became
hideous; he uttered a horrible yell, and stirred no more. Don Jaime
kicked him. He was dead!

"One!" the adventurer said, hoarsely, as he remounted.

"What?" asked General Cobos.

"Nothing; it is an account I am going over," he replied, with a burst
of mocking laughter.



CHAPTER XXXVIII.

FACE TO FACE.


When General Miramón arrived in Mexico, the news of his defeat was
already public. Then a singular fact occurred. The clergy and the
aristocracy, whom President Miramón had always supported and defended,
and yet whose indifference and egotism had caused his ruin and entailed
his destruction, now deplored the way in which they had behaved to the
man who was alone able of saving them. If Miramón had wished in this
supreme hour to make an appeal to the people, they would immediately
have gathered round him, and it would have been easy for him to
organise a vigorous defence. The idea did not even occur to him. He was
disgusted with power, and only longed to give it up, and retire into
private life. His first care, immediately he arrived in Mexico, was; to
assemble the diplomatic body, and beg its members to interpose for the
sake of saving the city, by putting an end to a state of war which was
no longer necessary from the moment when Mexico was prepared to open
its gates to the Federal troops without a blow.

A deputation, composed of the ministers of France and Spain, General
Bercozabal, the prisoner of Toluca, and General Ayestaran, a particular
friend of Miramón, at once proceeded to General Ortega, in order to
obtain an honorable capitulation. Don Antonio de Cacerbas had tried to
join the deputation. He had heard of the deplorable end of his friend,
Don Melchior, and a gloomy presentiment warned him that a similar fate
impended over him. But the gates of the city were carefully guarded;
no one could leave without a pass signed by the Town Commandant: and
so, Don Antonio was forced to remain in Mexico. A letter he received
restored him a little hope, by allowing him a glimpse of a speedier
conclusion than he believed of plans, whose execution he had so long
been pursuing. Still, as Don Antonio Cacerbas was a very prudent
man, and as the gloomy machinations to which he had devoted his dark
existence had accustomed him to be constantly on his guard, while
remaining at home, as he was requested to do in the letter he had
received, he summoned a dozen distinguished cutthroats, and concealed
them behind the tapestry, in order to be ready for any event. It was
the day of Miramón's return to Mexico, and about nine o'clock at night.
Don Antonio had retired to his bedroom, and was reading, or rather,
trying to read; for his troubled conscience did not allow him the
necessary calmness of mind to take this innocent amusement, when he
heard someone talking rather loudly in his anteroom. He at once rose
and prepared to open his door, in order to enquire the cause of the
noise he had heard, when this door opened, and his confidential servant
appeared, acting as introducer of several persons. They were nine in
number; six masked men wrapped in zarapés and three ladies. On seeing
them, Don Antonio gave a nervous start, but immediately recovering
himself, he remained standing at the table, probably waiting till one
of the strangers resolved on speaking. This really happened.

"Señor Don Antonio," one of them said, advancing a step, "I bring you
Doña Maria, Duchess de Tobar, your sister-in-law, Doña Carmen de Tobar,
your niece, and Doña Dolores de la Cruz."

At these words, uttered with an accent of cutting irony, Don Antonio
fell back a step, and his face, was covered with an earthy paleness.

"I do not understand you," he said in a voice which he strove in vain
to render firm, but which trembled.

"Do you not recognise me, Don Horacio?" Doña Maria then said in a soft
voice; "Has grief so completely altered my features that it is possible
for you to deny that I am the unhappy wife of the brother whom you
assassinated?"

"What means this farce?" Don Antonio exclaimed violently. "This woman
is mad! And you, scoundrel, who dare to play with me, take care!"

The man to whom these words were addressed only replied by a laugh of
contempt, raising his voice.

"You wish for witnesses to what is going to take place here, caballero?
I presume you consider there are not enough of us to hear what is going
to be said. Well, I consent; come out of your hiding places, señores;
and you, caballeros, come."

At the same instant the tapestry was raised, the door opened, and some
twenty persons entered the room.

"Ah! you are calling witnesses!" Don Antonio said in a mocking voice.
"Well, then, your blood be on your own head!" And turning to his men
standing behind him, he shouted, "Upon these scoundrels; kill them
like dogs!" and he leaped on a brace of revolvers which were laid on a
table within reach.

But no one stirred.

"Down with their masks," the person who had alone spoken hitherto
said, "they are unnecessary now. We must speak to this gentleman with
uncovered faces."

With a gesture he removed the mask that covered his face: his
companions imitated him. The reader will have recognised them already.
They were Don Jaime, Domingo, Count Ludovic, Leo Carral, Don Diego, and
Loïck, the ranchero.

"Now, señor," Don Jaime continued, "put off your borrowed name, as we
have thrown away our masks. Do you recognise me? I am Don Jaime de
Birau, your sister-in-law's brother. For twenty-two years I have been
following you step by step, Señor Don Horacio de Tobar, watching all
your movements, and seeking the vengeance which Heaven at length grants
me, great and complete as I dreamed of it."

Don Horacio haughtily raised his head, and surveying Don Jaime with
a glance of sovereign contempt, he said to him--"Well, what next, my
noble brother-in-law, for, as you desire, I give up all feigning, and
consent to recognise you. What so grand and complete vengeance have
you gained at the end of twenty-two years, noble descendant of the cid
Campiada?--That of compelling me to kill myself--a fine profit. Is not
a man of my stamp always ready to die? What more can you do?--Nothing.
Suppose that I writhe bleeding at your feet, I shall bear with me to
the tomb the secret of this vengeance which you do not suspect, and all
whose profit remains with me, for I shall leave you on my death a more
profound despair than that which turned your sister's hair white in a
single night."

"Undeceive yourself, Don Horacio," Don Jaime answered; "I know all your
secrets: and, as for your killing yourself, that consideration only
takes the second place in my plan of vengeance. I, too, will kill you,
but by the hangman's hand. You shall die dishonoured, the death of the
infamous--by the garote, in a word."

"You lie, villain!" Don Horacio exclaimed, with a roar like a wild
beast; "I--I--the Duke de Tobar, noble as the king! I, who belong to
one of the oldest and most powerful families in Spain, die by the
garote! Hatred has turned your brain--you are mad. I tell you, there is
a Spanish ambassador in Mexico."

"Yes," Don Jaime answered, "but that ambassador leaves you to all the
rigour of the Mexican laws."

"He, my friend, my protector, who introduced me to President Miramón?
It is not so, it cannot be. Besides, what have I, a foreigner, to fear
from the laws of this country?"

"Yes, a foreigner who took service with the Mexican government, in
order to betray it to the profit of another. That letter, which you
demanded so earnestly from Colonel Don Felipe, and which he refused to
sell you, he gave me for nothing; and the compromising letters which
were taken from you at Puebla, thanks to Don Estevan, whom you do not
know, but who is your cousin, are at this moment in Juárez' hands.
Hence you are hopelessly lost in that quarter; for, as you are aware,
clemency is not one of Señor Don Benito Juárez' striking virtues.
Lastly, I also possess your most precious secret--that which you
believed so well guarded. I know of the existence of Doña Carmen's twin
brother; I know also where he is, and can, if I like, suddenly bring
him before you. See, here is the man to whom you sold your nephew," he
added, pointing to Loïck, who was standing motionless by his side.

"Oh!" he muttered, falling back into a chair, and folding his arms in
despair. "I am lost!"

"Yes, and most utterly lost, Don Horacio," he said, contemptuously,
"for not even death will be able to save you from dishonour."

"Speak, in Heaven's name!" Doña Maria exclaimed, approaching her
brother-in-law, "tell me that I am not mistaken, that Don Jaime really
spoke the truth; that I have a son, in short, and that this son is the
twin brother of my beloved Carmen?"

"Yes," he muttered, in a low voice.

"Oh, thanks be to God!" she cried, with an expression of ineffable joy,
"And you know where my son is? You will restore him to me, will you
not? I implore you, reflect that I have never seen him, that I long for
his caresses! Where is he? Tell me."

"Where he is?"

"Yes."

"I do not know," he answered, coldly.

The unhappy mother sank into a chair, and buried her face in her hands.
Don Jaime approached her.

"Courage, poor woman!" he said to her, gently. There was a moment of
mournful silence. In the room where so many persons were collected,
nothing was to be heard but the sound of oppressed breathing and the
stifled sobs of Doña Maria and the two young ladies. Don Horacio
advanced a step.

"My noble brother-in-law," he said in a firm voice, impressed with
a certain grandeur, "request these caballeros to retire into the
adjoining room; I wish to be alone with you and my sister-in-law for a
few minutes."

Don Jaime bowed, and addressing the Count, said, "My friend, be kind
enough to conduct these ladies into the adjoining saloon."

The Count offered his hand to the young lady, and went out without a
word, followed by all the company, who silently withdrew at a sign from
Don Jaime.

Dominique alone remained with a flashing eye fixed on Don Horacio. "As
for me," he said, in a sullen voice, "as I do not know what is going
to happen here, and fear a snare, I will not go except by the express
order of Don Jaime--it was he who brought me up; I am his adopted son,
and it is my duty to defend him."

"Remain then, señor," Don Horacio replied with a sorrowful smile,
"since you may belong to our family." Don Jaime stepped forward at this
moment. "Brother-in-law," he said to him, "that son, whom you carried
off from my sister, the heir of the Dukes de Tobar, whom you believe
lost, I saved! Dominique, embrace your mother. Maria! This is your son!"

"Mother!" the young man cried, bounding wildly towards her, "Mother!"

"My son!" Doña Maria murmured, in a dying voice, and fell fainting in
the arms of the child she had at length recovered.

Though resolute against grief, like all choice natures, joy had
overcome her. Dominique raised his mother in his vigorous arms, and
laid her on a sofa; then, with frowning brows, eyes full of fury, and
clenched teeth, he slowly advanced toward Don Horacio. The latter
watched him approach with a shudder of terror. Falling back step by
step before him until, at length, feeling the tapestry at his shoulder,
he was involuntarily forced to stop.

"Assassin of my father, torturer of my mother," the young man said in a
terrible voice, "coward and villain, my curses on you!"

Don Horacio bowed his head before this anathema, but drawing himself up
again immediately, he said,

"God is just! My punishment is beginning. I knew that this man was
alive. By great search I had succeeded in finding again, under the name
of Loïck, the wretch to whom I sold him at the house of his birth."

"Yes," said Don Jaime, "and this Loïck, whom want led into crime,
repenting of his fault, restored him to me."

"Yes, all this is true," Don Horacio said, in a low voice. "This
young man is really my nephew. He has the features and voice of my
unfortunate brother." He hid his face in his hands, but recovering
himself suddenly, he said, with firmness,--

"Brother, you possess nearly all the proofs of the horrible crimes
I have committed; and," approaching a table drawer, which he burst
open, "here are the ones you want," he added, handing him a bundle
of papers. "Unconsciously, perhaps, remorse had already entered my
heart, here is my will, take it, it appoints my nephew my sole heir,
while establishing his rights in an undeniable manner; but the name of
de Tobar must not be sullied. For your own sake, and of that of your
nephew, whose name is mine, do not carry out the cruel vengeance you
meditated against me. I swear to you on my word as a gentleman, on the
spotless honour of my ancestors, that you shall have full satisfaction
for the crimes I have committed, and for the sorrowful existence to
which I condemned my sister-in-law."

Don Jaime and Dominique remained gloomy and silent.

"Will you refuse me? Are you pitiless?" he anxiously exclaimed.

At this moment, Doña Maria left the sofa on which her son had laid her:
walking with a slow and mechanical step toward Don Horacio, she placed
herself between him, her brother and her son. Then, stretching out her
arm with supreme majesty, she said in a voice marked with ineffable
sweetness--

"Brother of my husband, vengeance belongs to God alone! In the name
of the man whom I loved so dearly, and whom your cruel hand tore from
me, I forgive you the frightful tortures you have inflicted on me, the
nameless sorrows to which you condemned me, a poor innocent woman, for
the last two and twenty years. I pardon you and may God be merciful to
you!"

Don Horacio fell prostrate on his knees. "You are a saint," he said, "I
am unworthy of forgiveness, I know it, but I will strive to expiate the
crimes of my life as far as depends on myself by my death."

He then rose and tried to kiss her hand, but she recoiled with a start
of horror.

"It is just," he said sadly, "I am unworthy to touch you."

"No," she replied, "since repentance has entered your heart."

And turning away her head, she offered him her hand. Don Horacio
respectfully pressed his lips to it, and then turned to his
brother-in-law and nephew, who had not moved.

"Will you alone," he asked sadly, "be pitiless?"

"We no longer have the right to punish," Don Jaime said in a hollow
voice.

Dominique hung his head and maintained a sullen silence, his mother
approached him and gently seized his arm: at this contact the young man
gave a start.

"What do you want, mother?" he asked.

"I have pardoned this man," she said imploringly, in a gentle voice.

"Mother," he replied with an accent of implacable hatred: "when I
cursed this man, it was my father who spoke by my lips, and dictated
the malediction from the bloody tomb in which this wretch laid him: the
indelible brand will cling to him, and God will ask of him as of the
first fratricide: Cain, what hast thou done with thy brother?"

At these words, uttered in an awful tone, Don Horacio sank senseless on
the floor.

Don Jaime and Doña Maria recoiled from him with horror. He remained
lying on the ground for some minutes, and the persons present did not
make a movement to succour him: at length Doña Maria leaned over him.

"Stay mother!" the young man exclaimed, "Do not touch that wretch! The
contact would sully you!"

"I have forgiven him!" she said feebly.

Don Horacio, however, gradually recovered his senses, he rose slowly
and his frightfully contracted features wore a strange expression of
resolution.

He turned to Dominique.

"You insist," he said; "be it so; the reparation shall be striking."

He felt in the carefully locked drawer of a table, which he opened by
means of a key hung round his neck by a gold chain, took something they
could not see out of it, closed the drawer again, then walking with a
firm step to the door, he threw it wide open.

"Come in caballeros, all of you!" he cried in a loud voice.

In a second the room was filled with people. The Count de la Saulay and
Don Estevan alone remained in the sitting room with the young ladies,
upon receiving a sign from Don Jaime. Don Jaime then walked up to his
sister and offered her his arm.

"Come," he said to her; "come, Maria, this scene is killing you. Your
place is no longer here, now that you have forgiven this man."

Doña Maria offered but a slight resistance, and followed her brother,
who led her into the sitting room, the door of which he closed after
them. The rolling of a carriage was heard, in which the three ladies
returned home under the Count's escort. At the same moment a clash of
arms was audible outside.

"What is that?" Don Horacio asked with a start of terror.

Numerous footsteps approached, the doors were noisily opened, and
soldiers appeared. At their head came the prefect of the city, the
Alcalde mayor, and several corchetes.

"In the name of the law," the prefect said in a stern voice, "Don
Antonio Cacerbas, you are my prisoner: corchetes, seize this man."

"Don Antonio Cacerbas no longer exists," Don Jaime said, as he threw
himself between his brother-in-law and the police agents.

"Thanks," the latter said, "thanks for having saved the honour of my
name. Señores," he said in a loud voice, pointing to Dominique, who
was standing by his side, "this is the Duke de Tobar. I am a great
criminal; pray to Heaven to pardon me."

"Forward, corchetes!" the prefect cried; "Seize that man, I tell you."

"Come on, then," Don Horacio answered, as he quickly raised his hand to
his mouth.

Suddenly he turned pale, tottered like a drunken man, and rolled on
the floor without even a sigh. He was dead. Don Horacio had poisoned
himself.

"Señores," Don Jaime then said to the prefect and the Alcalde mayor,
"your duty ceases with the death of the culprit; his corpse henceforth
belongs to his family. Have the goodness to withdraw."

"May God pardon the unhappy man this last crime!" the prefect said; "We
have nothing more to do here."

And after bowing ceremoniously, he withdrew with his followers.

"Gentlemen," Don Jaime said in a sad voice, addressing the spectators,
who were terrified at the strange and rapid close of this scene, "let
us pray for the soul of this great criminal."

All knelt with the exception of Dominique, who remained standing, with
his flashing eyes fixed on the corpse.

"Dominique," his uncle said to him gently, "does your hatred for him
exist beyond the tomb?"

"Yes," he exclaimed in a terrible voice, "may he be accursed to all
eternity!"

His hearers sprang up in horror: this awful curse had frozen the prayer
on their lips.



CHAPTER XXXIX.

EPILOGUE.--THE HATCHET.


In the meanwhile political events advanced with a fatal rapidity.
The deputation sent to General Ortega returned to Mexico without
obtaining any capitulation. The situation was becoming excessively
critical: under the circumstances, General Miramón displayed extreme
self denial; not wishing to compromise the city of Mexico further, he
resolved to abandon it on the same night. He therefore proceeded to
the ayuntamiento, to whom he proposed to appoint a temporary President
or Alcalde, who, through his previous relations with the triumphant
party, would be able to save the city, and maintain order in it. The
ayuntamiento unanimously applied to General Bercozabal, who generously
accepted this difficult office. His first care was to request the
foreign ministers to arm their countrymen, who would take the place of
the disorganised police, and watch over and guard the general safety.

During this time Miramón made all his preparations for departure. Not
being able to take his wife and children with him on a flight whose
incidents might be sanguinary, he resolved to entrust them to the
Spanish Ambassador, by whom they were received with all the respect
to which their unhappy situation gave them a claim. Had he wished it,
Miramón would have gone away without having any violence to apprehend
from Juárez' partisans. Naturally good-hearted, if he was regarded as a
political adversary, no one hated him as a personal enemy. Propositions
to escape alone had even been made him on several occasions, but with
that chivalrous delicacy which is one of the noblest traits of his
character, he refused, for he would not at the last moment abandon to
the implacable enmity of their opponents certain persons who had fought
for him and compromised themselves on his behalf. This feeling was
assuredly honourable, and his adversaries themselves were constrained
to admire this generous conduct.

Don Jaime de Birau had spent a portion of the day with the General,
consoling him as well as he could, and aiding him to gather together
the scattered fragments--we will not say of his army, as it no longer
existed--but of the different corps which were still hesitating which
side to join. Count de la Saulay and the Duke de Tobar--for we will
restore to Dominique the name that belongs to him--after keeping the
ladies company for the whole evening, and talking with them about the
strange events of the previous day, at length took their leave, feeling
somewhat alarmed about the protracted absence of Don Jaime, owing
to the confusion that prevailed at the moment in the city; they had
just reached home, and were preparing to retire for the night, when
Raimbaut, the Count's valet, announced Lopez. The peon was armed as if
for a dangerous expedition.

"Oh! Oh!" the Duke said to him, "What an arsenal you have about you,
Lopez."

"Have you a communication to make to us?" the Count asked.

"I have only this to say to your Excellency. Two and one make three."

"By Heaven!" the young man exclaimed, rising spontaneously, "What are
we to do? We are ready."

"Arm yourselves as well as your domestics. Hold your horses saddled,
and wait."

"Something is happening, then?"

"I do not know, Excellency. My master will tell you."

"Is he coming, then?"

"Before an hour he will be here. He gave me orders to remain with you."

"Good! Take advantage of that hour to rest yourself, Lopez, while we
get ready."

When Don Jaime arrived at about eleven o'clock, his friends were
dressed in travelling costume, had put on their spurs, and placed
revolvers in their belts, and were now smoking and waiting, with their
sabres and guns lying before them on a table.

"Bravo!" he said, "We are off."

"Wherever you like."

"Are we going far?" the duke asked.

"I do not think so, but there may be a fight."

"All the better," they said.

"We have nearly half an hour before us. It is more than sufficient for
me to tell you what I intend doing."

"Very good. Go on."

"You are aware that I am very intimate with General Miramón," he
continued.

The young men nodded an affirmative.

"This is what is happening. The General has collected about fifteen
hundred men, and hopes, with this escort, to be able to reach Veracruz,
where he will embark. He starts at one o'clock tomorrow morning."

"Have things reached this point already?" the Count asked.

"All is over. Mexico has surrendered to the Juarists."

"All the worse. Well, let them settle among themselves," the Count
said. "It does not concern us."

"I do not see in all this," said the Duke, "the part we have to play."

"It is this," Don Jaime continued, "Miramón believes he can reckon on
the fifteen hundred men who compose his escort. But I am persuaded of
the contrary. The soldiers are attached to him, it is true, but they
detest certain persons who are going with him. I fear lest they may
allow themselves to be seduced, and Miramón in this way made prisoner."

"That is what will probably happen," the Count remarked with a shake of
the head.

"Well, that is exactly what I wish to avoid," he said energetically;
"and for this I have reckoned on you."

"By Jove, you were right."

"You could not make a better choice."

"In that case, you two and myself, Leo Carral, and your two servants,
form, a body of resolute men, in whom it will be possible to trust,
in the case of matters taking a bad turn; moreover, your quality as
foreigners, the care you have taken to live retired, and not to attract
attention, will enable us to complete our task by concealing the
General among us."

"Where he will be in perfect safety."

"However, all that I am saying to you is very uncertain at present:
perhaps the escort will remain faithful to the General, and in that
case, our escort becoming unnecessary, we shall only have to retire
after accompanying him far enough from the city to place him in safety."

"Well, let us trust to Heaven," said the Count; "there is about this
young man something grand and chivalrous, which has attracted me, and I
should not be sorry if the opportunity offered to do him a service."

"Now that we are agreed as to facts, suppose we set out," said the
Duke. "I am anxious to find myself by the side of this brave General;
but I suppose, before all, you have provided for my mother's safety?"

"Be at your ease, nephew; the Spanish ambassador, at my request, has
placed a guard of merchants belonging to our nation, inside the house;
neither she, nor Carmen, nor Dolores, has anything to fear; besides,
Estevan is with her, and owing to the credit he enjoys with Juárez, he
alone would suffice to protect them efficaciously."

"In that case, off we go!" the young man exclaimed, jumping up merrily.

They wrapped themselves in their cloaks, and took their weapons.

"Let us be off," said Don Jaime.

The servants were waiting in readiness. The seven horsemen left the
house, and proceeded in the direction of the Plaza Mayor, where the
troops were assembled. The Plaza Mayor was extremely animated, the
soldiers were fraternizing with the people, talking and laughing
as if the affair going on this moment was the most ordinary matter
in the world. General Miramón--surrounded by a rather large group,
composed of officers who had remained faithful to his cause, or who,
too deeply compromised to hope to obtain favourable conditions from the
conquerors, preferred accompanying him on his flight to remaining in
the city--feigned a calmness and cordiality doubtless absent from his
heart. He talked with remarkable freedom of mind, defending without
bitterness the acts of his government, and taking leave without
reproaches or recriminations, who through selfishness had abandoned
him, and whose handiwork his downfall was.

"Ah!" he said, on perceiving Don Jaime, and making a movement toward
him; "You are really going with me? I had hoped that you would change
your mind."

"Ah, General," he replied gaily, "the remark is most kind."

"You are well aware that you ought not to take it in ill part."

"The proof is that I have brought two friends of mine, who absolutely
insist in following you, General."

"I beg them to accept my thanks. Happy is the man who, in falling from
such a height, has friends to render his fall less heavy."

"You have no reason to complain, General, for you do not want for
friends," the Count remarked, with a bow.

"It is true," he muttered, taking a sorrowful glance around him; "I am
not alone yet."

The conversation continued in this tone for some time. An hour after,
midnight struck at the Sagrario. Miramón drew himself up.

"Let us go, gentlemen," he said in a firm voice; "the hour has arrived
to abandon the city."

"Sound the boot and saddle!" an officer shouted.

The bugles sounded. A sudden movement began in the crowd, who were
driven back under the portales. The soldiers mounted and closed up.
Then calmness was re-established, as if by enchantment, and a silence
of death brooded over this immense square, which was covered with
people, and literally paved with heads. Miramón sat upright on his
horse in the midst of his troops. Don Jaime and his companions were
mixed up with the officers surrounding the General. After a moment's
hesitation, the General took a last sad glance at the dark, gloomy
palace, in which not a single light was burning.

"Forward!" he shouted.

The troops started. The march commenced. At the same instant shouts of
"Long live Miramón!" were raised on all sides.

"They regret me already," the General said in a low voice to Don Jaime;
"and yet I have not left them."

The troops slowly passed through the city followed by the crowd, who
seemed desirous, by paying this last respect to the fallen President,
to prove to him the esteem of which he was personally the object. At
length, at about two o'clock in the morning, they reached the city
gates, and found themselves in the open country. Ere long the city
appeared only as a luminous point in the horizon. The troops were
sorrowful and silent. Still the march continued. All at once a certain
hesitation seemed to be displayed, and a sullen agitation prevailed in
the ranks.

"Attention! There is something going to happen," Don Jaime muttered,
addressing his friends. Ere long this agitation increased, a few cries
were heard from the vanguard.

"What is going on there?" Miramón asked.

"Your soldiers are revolting," Don Jaime said, bluntly.

"Oh, it is not possible!" he exclaimed.

At the same instant there was a terrible explosion of cries, hootings
and hisses, in which prevailed the shout of--"Long live Juárez! The
hatchet! The hatchet!"

The hatchet is, in Mexico, the symbol of the federation. Shouting
for the hatchet is the same thing as revolting, or, to speak more in
accordance with classical phraseology, making a pronunciamiento. This
shout for the hatchet at once ran from one rank along the other, became
general, and ere long the confusion and the disorder were at their
height. Juárez' partizans mingled with the troops, raised cries of
death against the enemies whom they did not wish to let escape, sabres
were drawn, lances couched, and a conflict became imminent.

"General, you must fly!" Don Jaime said, hurriedly.

"Never," the President answered; "I will die with my friends."

"You will be massacred without succeeding in saving them; besides,
look! They are deserting you themselves."

It was true; the President's friends had disbanded, and attempting
flight in all directions.

"What is to be done?" the General exclaimed.

"Cut a way through," Don Jaime answered, and without giving Miramón
time for reflection, he shouted, in a thundering voice--"Forward!"

At the same instant the insurgents dashed with couched lances at the
small group, of which Miramón formed the centre. There was a frightful
medley for some minutes; Don Jaime and his friends, who were well
mounted, and more especially well armed, succeeded at length in cutting
a passage, through which they dragged the General in their midst.

Then they set off at a mad gallop.

"Where are we going?" the President asked.

"To Mexico; it is the only spot where they will not dream of looking
for you."

An hour later they passed through the gate again, and re-entered the
city, mixed up with the disbanded troops, who were raising deafening
cries of "Long live Juárez!" and themselves shouting more loudly than
those who surrounded them. Once inside the city they separated; Miramón
and Don Jaime remained alone; prudence demanded that the fugitives
should only return to their homes one by one. At about four in the
morning they were all together in safety. Juárez' troops entered
the city, preceding by only a few hours General Ortega. Thanks to
the measures taken by General Bercozabal, and the foreign residents
acting together, the change of Government was effected almost without
commotion. On the morrow the city appeared as tranquil as if nothing
extraordinary had occurred.

Don Jaime, however, was not tranquil; he was afraid that if Miramón
remained any length of time in the city his presence might eventually
become known; hence he sought an opportunity to get him away, and was
beginning to despair about finding one, when accident offered one, on
which he was certainly far from calculating. Several days had elapsed;
the revolution was finished, and matters had resumed their ordinary
course, when Juárez at length arrived from Veracruz, and made his
entry into the city. The first operation of the new President was, as
Miramón had truly foreseen, to intimate to the ambassador of Spain
his expulsion from the territory of the Mexican republic. Similar
notifications were made on the same day to the legate of the Holy
See, and to the representatives of Guatemala and Ecuador. This brutal
expulsion, made in the most offensive terms and so opposed to the
principles admitted between civilized nations, caused a general stupor.
Consternation prevailed in the city; what might not be expected from a
government which began with such unjustifiable acts?

The opportunity which Don Jaime had so long sought was at length
offered him. Miramón would depart not with the Spanish Ambassador, but
with the representative of Guatemala. This was what really happened.
The departure of the expelled ministers took place on the same day.
They were the Spanish ambassador, the legate of the Holy See, the
representative of Guatemala, and the minister of Ecuador. Moreover, the
Archbishop of Mexico and four Mexican bishops, comprising the entire
episcopate of the republic, had been exiled from the territory of the
republic, and took advantage of the escort of the ambassador to leave
the capital.

Miramón, whose wife and children had left several days previously,
followed the minister of Guatemala in a disguise which rendered him
unrecognisable. Count de la Saulay and the Duke de Tobar proceeded,
on their side, to Veracruz, escorting Doña Maria and the two young
ladies. Don Jaime, who was unwilling to abandon his friend, travelled
with the ambassador, attended by Lopez. Don Estevan alone remained in
Mexico. We will not relate the insults and annoyances to which the
expelled ministers and the bishops had to submit during the course of
their journey from Puebla, where they were kept prisoners, to Veracruz,
where they were menaced; stones were thrown at them, and the population
wished to proceed to the worst extremities against the legate, and the
unfortunate exiled bishops.

Matters attained such a pitch, that the French consul found himself
constrained to claim the assistance of a French brig of war, and a
Spanish vessel anchored off Sacrificios, and which at once sent parties
of marines ashore.

Miramón had been recognised, but owing to the energy of the French
consul, and of the commander of the brig, he succeeded in making his
escape from his enemies.

Two days later, the _Velasco_, a Spanish man-of-war, sailed for Havana,
with all our characters on board.

       *       *       *       *       *

On January 15th, 1863, a double marriage was celebrated at Havana.

That of the Count de la Saulay with Doña Carmen de Tobar, and that of
the Duke de Tobar with Doña Dolores de la Cruz.

The witnesses were, the Ambassador of Her Catholic Majesty to Mexico,
General Miramón, the Commander of the _Velasco_, and the ex-minister of
Guatemala.

It was the legate of the Holy See who gave the nuptial blessing to the
young couples.

Count de la Saulay, we understand, lately set out again for Mexico,
in order to claim by the aid of the French intervention, the immense
estates which his wife possesses in that country, and which the
government of Juárez thought proper to confiscate.

Don Jaime de Birau, accompanies his friend. Leo Carral is with them.

THE END.





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