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Title: The Queen of the Savannah - A Story of the Mexican War
Author: Aimard, Gustave, 1818-1883
Language: English
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THE QUEEN OF THE SAVANNAH

A Story of the Mexican War

by

GUSTAVE AIMARD

Author of
"Last of the Incas," "Red Track," "Prairie Flower," etc.



London:
Ward and Lock, 158, Fleet Street.
MDCCCLXII.



CONTENTS.


PROLOGUE.

         I. THE EXPEDITION.
        II. REDSKINS AND WHITESKINS.
       III. THE RED BUFFALOES.
        IV. THE CASCABEL.

         I. THE ADVENTURERS.
        II. A NIGHT IN THE WOODS.
       III. THE SUCCOUR.
        IV. INSIDE THE HACIENDA.
         V. THE COUNCIL.
        VI. GENERAL FRAY PELAGIO.
       VII. A CONVERSATION.
      VIII. THE ENVOY.
        IX. DON MELCHIOR DÍAZ.
         X. MOTHER AND DAUGHTER.
        XI. THE SORTIE.
       XII. ON THE ROAD.
      XIII. AN ALARM.
       XIV. THE REDSKINS.
        XV. COUNT DE MELGOSA.
       XVI. DIEGO LÓPEZ.
      XVII. LEONA VICARIO.
     XVIII. THE INTERVIEW.
       XIX. THE DUNGEON.
        XX. SOTAVENTO MAKES A MOVE.
       XXI. THE COUNCIL OF THE RED BUFFALOES.
      XXII. THE WAR TRAIL.
     XXIII. THE SNARE.
      XXIV. OLIVER CLARY.
       XXV. THE WOUNDED MAN.
      XXVI. DOÑA EMILIA.
     XXVII. THE CHIEF'S PROPOSAL.
    XXVIII. PREPARATIONS FOR A RESCUE.
      XXIX. THE REVOLUTION.
       XXX. ON THE TRAIL.
      XXXI. THE JACAL.
     XXXII. THE PRISONER.
    XXXIII. MOONSHINE.
     XXXIV. THE TEOCALI.
      XXXV. IN THE FIELD.
     XXXVI. A YOUNG HEART.
    XXXVII. THE AMBUSH.
   XXXVIII. THE PURSUIT.
     XXXIX. RUNNING WATER.



THE QUEEN OF THE SAVANNAH.



PROLOGUE



CHAPTER I.

THE EXPEDITION.


The story begins on May 5, 1805, in one of the wildest and most abrupt
portions of New Spain, which now forms the State of Coahuila, belonging
to the Mexican Confederation.

If the reader will have the kindness to take a glance at a numerous
cavalcade, which is debouching from a canyon and scaling at a gallop
the scarped side of a rather lofty hill, on the top of which stands an
_aldea_, or village of Indios mansos, he will at the same time form the
acquaintance of several of our principal characters, and the country in
which the events recorded in this narrative occurred.

This cavalcade was composed of fifteen individuals in all; ten of them
were lancers, attired in that yellow uniform which procured them the
nickname of _tamarindos_. These soldiers were execrated by the people,
in consequence of their cruelty. They advanced in good order, commanded
by a subaltern and an alférez--an old trooper who had grown gray in
harness, who had long white moustachios and a disagreeable face. As he
galloped on, he looked around him with the careless, wearied air of a
man for whom the future reserves no hopes either of ambition, love, or
fortune.

About twenty paces from this little band, and just so far ahead
that their remarks reached the soldiers' ears in a completely
incomprehensible fashion, three persons, two men and a woman, were
riding side by side.

The first was a gentleman of about thirty years of age, of commanding
stature; his harsh, haughty, and menacing features were rendered even
more gloomy by a deep scar of a livid hue which commenced on his right
temple and divided his face into two nearly equal parts.

This man, who was dressed in the sumptuous costume of the Mexican
_campesinos_, which he wore with far from common grace, was named Don
Aníbal de Saldibar, and was considered the richest hacendero in the
province.

His companion, who kept slightly in the rear, doubtless through
respect, was a civilized Indian, with a quick eye, aquiline nose, and a
wide mouth lined with two rows of dazzling white teeth. His countenance
indicated intelligence and bravery. He was short and robust, and the
almost disproportioned development of his muscles gave an enormous
width to his limbs. This individual must assuredly be endowed with
extraordinary strength. His attire, not nearly so rich as that of the
hacendero, displayed a certain pretension to elegance, which was an
extraordinary thing in an Indian.

This man's name was Pedro Sotavento, and he was majordomo to Don Aníbal.

As we have said, the third person was a female. Although it was easy to
see, through the juvenile grace of her movements and her taper waist,
that she was still very young, she was so discreetly hidden behind
gauze and muslin veils, in order to protect her from the burning heat
of the sun which was then at its zenith, that it was impossible to
distinguish her features. Long black locks escaped from beneath her
broad-brimmed vicuña hat, and fell in profusion on her pink and white
shoulders, which were scarcely veiled by a China crape _rebozo_.

At the moment when we approach these three persons they were conversing
together with considerable animation.

"No," Don Aníbal said, with a frown, as he smote the pommel of his
saddle, "it is not possible, I cannot believe in so much audacity
on the part of these Indian brutes. You must have been deceived,
Sotavento."

The majordomo grinned knowingly, and buried his head between his
shoulders with a motion which was habitual to him.

"You will see, _mi amo_," he replied, in a honeyed voice, "my
information is positive."

"What!" the hacendero continued with increased fury, "They would really
attempt resistance! Why, they must be mad!"

"Not so much as you suppose, mi amo; the aldea is large and contains at
least three thousand _callis_."

"What matter? Suppose there were twice as many, is not one Spaniard as
good as ten Indians?"

"In the open, perhaps so."

"What is that you say--perhaps?" Don Aníbal exclaimed, turning sharply
round, and giving his majordomo a glance of supreme contempt. "Really,
Sotavento, your Indian origin involuntarily abuses your judgment by
making you regard things differently from what they really are."

"No, mi amo. The Indian origin with which you reproach me, on the
contrary, makes me judge the situation healthily; and, believe me, it
is far more serious than you imagine."

These words were uttered in a serious tone, which caused the proud
Spaniard to reflect.

Pedro Sotavento had been in his service for a long time. He knew
that he was brave and incapable of being intimidated by threats or
rodomontade. Moreover, he had always been kind to him, and believed
himself sure of his devotion, hence he continued in a milder key--

"That is the reason, then, why you insisted so strongly on my taking an
escort when we passed the Fort of Agua Verde?"

"Yes, mi amo," he replied, giving the soldiers a glance of singular
expression. "I should have liked it to be more numerous."

"Nonsense, had it not been through consideration for the señora, whom
I am anxious not to terrify in her present condition, I would not
have accepted a single soldier. We alone are more than sufficient to
chastise these scoundrels, were there a thousand of them."

"Don Aníbal," the young lady here said in a soft and harmonious voice,
"the contempt you profess for these poor people is unjust. Though they
are of a different colour from us, and almost devoid of intellect,
they are men for all that, and as such have a claim on our pity."

"Very good, señora," the hacendero answered savagely; "take their part
against me, that will not fail to produce an excellent effect."

"I take no person's part, Don Aníbal," she continued, with a slight
tremor in her voice. "I merely offer an opinion which I consider
correct, that is all. But your outbursts of passion terrify me; perhaps
it would have been better to leave me at the hacienda, as I expressed a
desire."

"My family are never insulted with impunity, señora; I wished you to
witness the vengeance which I intend taking for the insult offered to
you."

"I made no complaint to you, Don Aníbal. The slight insult I received,
even admitting that it was an insult, does not deserve so terrible
a punishment as you purpose to inflict on these unhappy creatures.
Take care, Don Aníbal. These men whom, in your Castilian pride, you
obstinately insist on ranking with the brute beasts and treating as
such, will grow weary one day. They already feel a profound hatred for
you. The Indians are vindictive, and may wait perhaps for twenty years
the opportunity to repay you the evil you have done them; but then
their vengeance will be frightful."

"Enough, señora," the hacendero said roughly; "but while waiting for
this vengeance with which you menace me in their name, I mean to treat
them as they deserve."

The young lady bowed her head, and made no further remark.

"Oh!" the majordomo said, with a grin of mockery, "You can strike
without fear, mi amo. The Indians have been too long accustomed to
bend their necks for them ever to feel any desire to draw themselves up
and bite the hand which chastises them."

These words were uttered with an accent which would have caused Don
Aníbal to reflect seriously, had he not been so infatuated about his
real or supposed superiority over the unfortunate race that formed the
subject of the conversation we have just reported.

The opinion expressed by the hacendero was not so erroneous as it might
appear to a European. The Spanish name was at this period surrounded
by such a prestige; the hapless Indians were reduced to such a state
of degrading servitude and brutalization; they seemed to have so
thoroughly recognized the superiority of their oppressors, that the
latter did not even take the trouble to hide the contempt with which
these degenerate remains of the powerful races they had vanquished in
former times inspired them. They affected, under all circumstances, to
make them feel all the weight of the yoke under which they bowed them.

Still, under present circumstances, the proud Spaniard committed a
grave error. For this reason:

The Indians against whom he was marching at this moment were not
attached by any tie to those whom three centuries of slavery had
rendered submissive to the Spanish authority. They had only been
settled for about thirty years, through their own free will, at the
spot where they now were. This requires an explanation, which we will
proceed to give, begging the reader to pardon this digression, which
is indispensable for the comprehension of the facts which we have
undertaken to recount.

There are races which seem destined by fate to disappear from the
surface of the globe. The red race is of the number, for it has no
fiercer enemy than itself.

The Indians, in lieu of making common cause against their oppressors,
and trying to emancipate themselves from their tyranny, expend all
their courage and energy in fratricidal contests of nation against
nation, tribe against tribe, and thus help those who do all in their
power to keep them down. These contests are the more obstinate, because
they take place between men of the same blood and even of the same
family for originally frivolous causes, which, however, soon attain
considerable importance, owing to the number of warriors who succumb to
the rage and ferocity displayed on both sides.

Hence entire nations, formerly powerful, are gradually reduced to a few
families, and in a relatively short period become entirely extinct,
the few surviving warriors seeking their safety in flight, or going
to claim the protection of another nation with which they soon become
blended.

Hence we may account for the fact that the names of the tribes
flourishing at the period of the discovery of America are now scarcely
known, and it is impossible to recover any trace of them.

The first conquerors, impelled by religious fanaticism and an
unextinguishable thirst for gold were, we allow, pitiless to their
unhappy victims, and sacrificed immense numbers in working the mines.
Still, to be just, we must state that they never organized those
grand Indian hunts which the Anglo-Saxons initiated in North America;
they never offered a reward of fifty dollars for every Indian scalp;
and instead of driving back the Indian race before them, they, on
the contrary, blended the native blood with their own, so that the
number of Indians has been considerably augmented in the old Spanish
possessions, while they will ere long disappear in North America, where
they are hunted down like wild beasts.

According to a census made by the Washington Congress in 1858, the
Indians scattered over the territory of the United States amount to
800,000.

In Mexico, where the population is only seven million, there are five
million Indians and half-breeds; moreover, it is proved that in the
time of Motecuhzoma the population never attained this high figure.

It results then from our remarks that the Spaniards who, during three
centuries, incessantly massacred the Indians, succeeded in increasing
their numbers; while the North Americans who are so philosophical and
such philanthropists have attained a diametrically opposite result, and
during the sixty years since they proclaimed their independence, in
spite of all the efforts made to civilize the Indians, they have nearly
exterminated those tribes which dwell on their territory.

It must be confessed that this is a most unfortunate result! We will
stop here, for every thinking man will be enabled to draw the sole
logical conclusion from our remarks without our dilating on them.

About forty years before the period at which our story begins, two of
the most important tribes of the Comanche nation suddenly quarrelled
after an expedition they had made in common against the Apaches, the
irreconcilable enemies of the Comanches, with whom they alone dare to
dispute the supremacy on the great prairies of the Far West.

This expedition had been completely successful: a winter village of the
Apaches was surprised by night, the horses were carried off, and sixty
scalps raised.

The warriors returned to the gathering place of their nation, singing,
dancing, and celebrating their exploits, as they are accustomed to do
when, in an expedition of this nature, they have killed several of
their enemies without any loss on their own side. This had been the
case on the present occasion. The Apache warriors, aroused from deep
sleep, had fallen like ripe corn beneath the tomahawks of the Comanches
as they sought to escape from their burning lodges without thought of
arming themselves.

In spite of all the care taken in the division of the plunder that
each tribe might be equally favoured, the chiefs did not succeed in
satisfying everybody; the warriors who thought themselves defrauded
gave way to recriminations; tempers were heated, and, as always
happens with men who constantly go about armed, they proceeded almost
immediately from words to blows.

There was a battle; blood followed in streams, and then the two tribes
separated, swearing a deadly hatred, though it was impossible to
discover whence the quarrel originated, or which side was in the wrong.
These two tribes were the "White Horse" and the "Red Buffalo."

Then a war began between these old friends which threatened to be
indefinitely prolonged; but one day the Red Buffaloes, being surprised
by their enemies, were almost entirely exterminated, after a fight that
lasted two days, and in which even the squaws took part.

The vanquished, reduced to about fifty warriors and the same number of
women and children, sought safety in flight, but being hotly pursued,
they were compelled to cross the Indian border, and seek a refuge upon
Spanish territory.

Here they drew breath. The Spanish government allowed them to settle
in the neighbourhood of the Fort of Agua Verde, and granted them the
right of self-government, while recognizing the authority of the king
of Spain, and pledging themselves to be guilty of no exactions of any
sort.

The Red Buffaloes, pleased with the protection granted them,
religiously carried out the conditions of the treaty; they built a
village, became husbandmen, accepted the missionary sent to them,
turned Christians, ostensibly at least, and lived on good terms
with their white neighbours, among whom they speedily acquired the
reputation of being quiet and honest people.

Unhappily, perfect happiness is not possible in this world, and the
poor Indians soon learnt this fact at their own expense.

The ground on which their wretched village stood was surrounded by the
lands of the Hacienda del Barrio, which had belonged, ever since the
conquest, to the Saldibar family.

So long as Don José de Saldibar was alive, with the exception of a few
insignificant discussions, the Indians were tolerably at liberty; but
when Don Aníbal succeeded his father, matters at once altered.

Don Aníbal signified to the chief cacique of the Red Buffaloes, that he
must allow himself to be a vassal, and consequently pay to him not only
a tithe of his crops, and the capitation tax, but also supply a certain
number of his young men to work in the mines and guard the cattle.

The chief answered with a peremptory refusal, alleging that he was only
dependent on the Spanish government, and recognized no other sovereign.

Don Aníbal would not allow himself to be defeated; he organized against
the Indians a system of dull annoyance for the purpose of compelling
them to give way; he cut down their woods, sent his cattle to grass in
their fields, and so on.

The Indians suffered without complaining. They were attached to their
wretched huts and did not wish to quit them.

This patient resignation, this passive resistance, exasperated
Don Aníbal. The Indians let themselves be ruined without uttering
complaints or threats; several of their young men were carried off,
and they did not offer the slightest protest. The hacendero resolved
to come to an end with these men whom nothing could compel to obey his
will.

In spite of himself, he was terrified at the indifference of the
Indians, which he fancied too great not to be affected; he went over in
his mind all he had made the poor people suffer, and the injustice he
had done them, and came to the conclusion that they were preparing to
take some terrible vengeance on him.

He determined to be beforehand with them, but he needed a pretext, and
this Sotavento, his majordomo, undertook to provide him with.

This Sotavento, of whom we have already said a few words, was himself
of Indian race. One of Don Aníbal's friends had warmly recommended him,
and for twelve years he had been in the service of the hacendero, whose
good and bad passions he had contrived so cleverly to flatter, with
that suppleness of character natural to the redskins, that the latter
placed the most perfect confidence in him.

Sotavento, naturally, carried out his master's orders zealously, and
eagerly seized every opportunity to injure the Red Buffaloes, for whom
he appeared to entertain a profound hatred.

After consulting with his master, Sotavento managed matters so that
one day Doña Emilia, Don Aníbal's wife, who had hitherto defended
the poor people of the aldea under all circumstances, and had even
succeeded in saving them from several vexatious acts, was, while taking
a walk, insulted by an Indian, or at least a man wearing their costume,
and was so frightened that she was confined to her bed for several days.

The hacendero made the more noise about this insult, because, as his
wife was _enceinte_, the fright she had undergone might have had very
serious consequences for her.

He proceeded in all haste to the capital of the province, had a long
interview with the governor, and then returned home, certain this time
of gaining the end at which he had so long aimed.

He had been accompanied from the city by a juez de letras, an
insignificant person, to whom we have not yet alluded, and who appeared
but little pleased with the duty confided to him, for he trotted
timidly along upon a scrubby mule behind the soldiers.

Only stopping at the hacienda long enough to bid his wife mount
her horse and come and see what was going to happen, Don Aníbal at
once continued his journey, consenting with great difficulty, upon
the repeated entreaties of his majordomo, to accept the escort the
commandant of the Fort of Agua Verde offered him, for he was so eager
to revenge himself.

The country the travellers passed through was extremely picturesque;
from the elevation they had reached, they surveyed an admirable
landscape closed in on the horizon by lofty forest-clad mountains.
In the west spread out the immense sheet of water, known as the Agua
Verde, which the beams of the setting sun tinged with all the prismatic
hues. Besides this, they could see the Río Grande, which was lost in
infinite windings, the Fort of the Bahia, situated on a point of the
river, and the green prairies of the Indian border, which were agitated
by mysterious movements.

In the meanwhile the Mexicans continued to ascend, we dare not say the
road, for no roads of any sort existed at that period in this savage
country, and we doubt whether any exist now, but the track which led to
the aldea of the Red Buffaloes.

This track, cut by human hands on the sides of the hill round which it
wound, became more and more scarped, and at last resembled a staircase,
which would have mightily staggered a European traveller, but these
horsemen did not even seem to notice the fact.

All at once, Sotavento, who had pushed on slightly ahead during the
conversation between the hacendero and Doña Emilia, uttered a cry
of surprise as he stopped his horse so short, that the noble animal
trembled on its hind legs.

"What is the matter?" Don Aníbal asked as he spurred his horse.

"Look there!" the majordomo replied, stretching his hand.

"_¡Mil demonios!_" Don Aníbal shouted passionately, "What is the
meaning of this? Who has warned the scoundrels?"

"_¿Quién sabe?_" the majordomo said with a grin.

Several trees, to which the branches and roots were still attached, had
been thrown across the track, and formed a barricade about ten feet in
height, which completely stopped the way.

The travellers were compelled to halt before this impassable obstacle.

The hacendero was startled for a moment, but soon, shaking his head
like a lion at bay, he looked around defiantly, dismounted, and drawing
his machete, walked boldly up to the barricade, while Sotavento,
motionless and with folded arms, looked cunningly at him.

The lancers, whom this compulsory stoppage had enabled to catch up the
first party, cocked their carbines at an order from their commanding
officer, and held themselves in readiness to fire at the first signal.



CHAPTER II.

REDSKINS AND WHITESKINS.


Don Aníbal de Saldibar was gifted with a most energetic character and
iron will; obstacles, instead of checking, only impelled him to go on
at all risks, until he had carried out what he once resolved to do.
In no case could any interference, however powerful its nature, have
induced him to hesitate in accomplishing his plans, much less make him
give them up. Possessing great physical strength and unusual skill in
the management of weapons, he was courageous after the manner of wild
beasts, through an instinct for evil and to smell blood. Still he had
as much contempt for his own life as for that of his opponent, and
he never tried to avoid peril, but, on the contrary, felt a secret
pleasure in looking it in the face.

The soldiers who accompanied him had assuredly furnished proofs of
their courage long before. Still it was with a start of terror they saw
him advance calmly and carelessly toward this barricade of verdure,
which rose silent and menacing before them, and behind which they
expected at each moment to see spring up a band of enemies, exasperated
by long sufferings, and resolved to defend themselves to the last
extremity. In the probable event of a collision, the position of the
Mexicans was most disadvantageous.

The soldiers, grouped on a path only three feet in width, having on
their right a perpendicular granite wall, and on their left a deep
barranca, into which the slightest false step might precipitate them,
with no shelter of any description to fight men hidden behind a thick
barricade, were almost certain of being defeated, if a hand to hand
fight began with the Indians. Hence the old officer who commanded the
escort shook his head several times with a dissatisfied air, after he
had hastily examined the probable fighting ground.

The juez de letras and the two alguaciles who served him as a guard
of honour, evidently shared the lieutenant's opinion, for they had
stopped out of gunshot and dismounted, under a pretext of tightening
their mules' girths, but in reality to convert the carcases of the poor
brutes into a rampart.

As for Sotavento, sitting motionless on his horse about ten yards at
the most from the felled trees, he was carelessly rolling a cigarette
between his fingers, while pinching up his thin lips, and letting a
viper's glance pass through his half-closed eyelids.

He seemed, in short, to take but very slight interest in what was going
on around him, and was prepared to be a spectator rather than actor of
the events which would in all probability occur.

The hacendero had approached the barricade. His face was unmoved;
with his left hand resting on one of the branches, and his body bent
slightly forward, he was trying to peer through the intertwined
branches and leaves at some of the enemies whom he supposed to be
ambuscaded there.

Still, although this examination lasted for several minutes, and Don
Aníbal, through bravado, prolonged it far beyond what was necessary,
the deepest silence continued to prevail, and not a leaf stirred.

"Come," the hacendero said in a sarcastic voice, as he drew himself
up, "you are mistaken, Sotavento, there is no one here. I was a fool
to believe for a moment that these brutes would attempt to dispute our
passage."

"Well, well," the majordomo said with a grin, "¿quién sabe? mi amo,
¿quién sabe? These brutes, as you very correctly term them, have not
left their prairies so long as to have completely forgotten their
Indian tricks."

"I care little," the hacendero answered drily, "what their intentions
or the tricks they have prepared may be; dismount and help me to roll
over the precipice these trees which obstruct the path; at a later date
we will proceed to punish the persons who have thus dared to barricade
the king's road."

Sotavento hung his head without replying, and prepared to obey; but
before he had drawn his foot out of the stirrup the branches parted,
and in the space thus left free appeared a man wearing a gold-laced
hat with a military cock, and holding in his right hand a long
silver-knobbed cane.

As this individual is destined to play a certain part in this
narrative, we will draw his portrait in a few lines.

He was a man of lofty stature, with marked features and an intelligent
physiognomy. His black eyes, sparkling like carbuncles, and full of
cunning, had a strange fixity, which gave him, when any internal
emotion agitated him, an expression of cold ferocity impossible to
describe. His complexion, which was of the colour of new red copper,
allowed him to be recognized as an Indian at the first glance; although
he had passed midlife, it was impossible to decide his age, for he
seemed as vigorous and active as if only twenty years old; not a
wrinkle furrowed his brow, not a single gray hair was perceptible in
the thick black masses which fell in disorder on his shoulders.

Excepting his gold-laced hat, and his silver-mounted cane, which were
the emblems of his rank as cacique or alcade of the aldea, his dress
was very simple, and only consisted of worn velvet calzoneras, which
but half covered his bare legs, and a gaily coloured zarapé, which was
thrown over his shoulders.

Still, in spite of this miserable garb, this man had about him such an
air of haughty dignity and innate superiority, that, on seeing him, his
ridiculous attire was forgotten, and involuntary respect was felt for
him.

This person was, in fact, the chief of the Red Buffaloes, their
cacique, to whom the governor of the province had given the title of
alcade.

His name was Mah-mih-kou-ing-atl, not a very euphonious name; but, like
all Indian titles, it had a meaning, and signified literally "Running
Water."

The hacendero and the cacique examined each other for a moment
silently, like two duellists, who, before falling on their favourite
guard, try to discover their opponent's weak point, and thus render
their attack, if possible, decisive.

It was the first time they stood face to face, and hence the fixedness
of their glance had something strange and fatal about it. Still, Don
Aníbal's machete, raised against the barricade, fell without striking.
The cacique, satisfied with this triumph, turned his head away with a
gloomy smile. Each of these men had measured his foe, and found him a
worthy one. The spectators, dumb and motionless, anxiously awaited what
was about to take place. Don Aníbal was the first to break the silence.

"What is the meaning of this?" he asked, in a voice that betrayed dull
passion; "By what right do you obstruct the king's highway?"

"Who are you, first, who question me in so haughty a fashion, and who
authorizes you to do so?" the cacique answered drily.

"Who I am?" the Spaniard continued passionately, "Do you not know?"

"Whether I know or not is of no consequence; I wish to learn the fact
from you. I am not acquainted with you, and do not wish to have any
dispute with you."

"Do you think so, my master?" the hacendero retorted with a mocking
smile, "If unfortunately you are mistaken, as you will speedily
discover."

"Perhaps so," the Indian replied disdainfully; "but, in the meanwhile,
as you have no right to enter my village with soldiers, in my quality
of magistrate, I order you to withdraw, rendering you and yours
responsible for the consequences of your disobedience in the event of
your refusing to obey my orders."

While Don Aníbal listened to these words, with his arms crossed on his
chest, and head thrown back, a smile of imperceptible meaning played
around his lips.

"I fancy," he said ironically, "that you attach greater importance to
your dignity of alcade than it really possesses, my master; but I have
not come here to discuss with you. Will you, yes or no, let me pass?"

"Why do you not try to force a passage?" the cacique said.

"I am going to do so."

"Try it."

Without replying, Don Aníbal turned to the leader of the escort.

"Lieutenant," he said to him, "order your men to fire on that
scoundrel."

But the old officer shook his head.

"Hum!" he remarked, "What good would that do us? It would only cause us
to be killed like asses. Do you imagine that man to be alone?"

"Then you refuse to obey me?" the hacendero said with concentrated
passion.

"¡Canarios! I should think I do refuse. I was ordered to defend you
from attack; but not to sacrifice the men I command in satisfying a
whim. This individual, the deuce take him! Were he ten times the Indian
he is, has the law on his side, ¡Rayo de Dios! You waste your time in
arguing with him, instead of coming to an end at once."

Don Aníbal listened to this remonstrance with ill-restrained
impatience. When the lieutenant ceased speaking, he said with ironical
deference, as he bowed to him--

"Pray what would you have done in my place, Señor Lieutenant?"

"¡Canarios! I should have acted in a different way. It is evident that
we are not the stronger, and that if we attempt to pass as you propose,
those red devils will only have to give us a push to send us rolling
over the precipice, which, I suppose, would not exactly suit your
views."

"Well?" the hacendero interrupted with an impatient gesture.

"One moment, hang it all! Let us act legally since it is necessary. The
alcade's cane is at times stronger than the soldier's sword, and to
break it you require a stronger cane, that is all. Have you not brought
with you a sort of writer or juez de letras, flanked by two alguaciles?
The scoundrel must have some sort of authority in his pocket. But
what do I know? Well, let the two black birds settle matters between
themselves. Believe me, it is the only thing we can do in the present
posture of affairs; we will see if these pícaros dare to resist a
representative of his majesty, whom may Heaven preserve!"

"¡Viva Dios! you are right, Lieutenant; I perceive that I acted like an
ass, and we ought to have begun with that. Give those persons orders to
come up, if you please."

The cacique had listened to the conversation, leaning carelessly on
his cane in the trench behind the barricade; but, on hearing the
conclusion, which he doubtless had not anticipated, he frowned and
looked anxiously behind him.

At a sign from the lieutenant, several soldiers went in search of the
juez de letras and his two acolytes. But it was no easy task to bring
them to the front: officers of justice have this in common with the
crow, that they smell gunpowder a long distance off.

The poor devils, entrenched, as well as they could manage, behind
their mules, were trembling all over, while waiting for the action to
begin; when they saw the soldiers galloping toward them, they fancied
their last hour had arrived, and they began commending their souls to
Heaven, while repeating all the prayers they could call to mind, and
beating their chests powerfully, as they invoked all the saints of the
interminable Spanish calendar.

At the first moment the soldiers were greatly amused at their terror,
and laughed heartily at their pale faces and startled glances. On
hearing the lancers laugh, the juez de letras, who, apart from his
poltroonery, was a clever and sensible man, began reflecting, and
suspected that the danger was not so great as he had at first supposed
it.

He got up, carefully arranged his attire, and asked the soldiers for
news, which they gave him, laughing most heartily the while. The juez
then drew himself up in a dignified manner, mounted his mule, and
addressed his alguaciles, who were still hidden behind a bend in the
path--

"Well, scamps," he said to them, while attempting to reassume an
imposing air, as became a magistrate of his importance, "what is the
meaning of this? Heaven pardon me, but I believe you are afraid. Is
that the way in which you sustain the honour of the gown you wear?
Come, come, mount without further delay, and follow me smartly."

The alguaciles, abashed by this sharp reprimand, got on their mules,
offering the best excuses they could, and ranged themselves behind
their superior officer.

Still the worthy juez de letras was not so reassured as he wished to
appear, and we are forced to confess that the nearer he drew to the
barricade, the more formidable it seemed to him, and the less at ease
did he feel as to the results of the mission he had to carry out.

Still, hesitation was no longer possible, he must bravely go through
with the affair; and pluck up a heart. No one is so courageous as a
poltroon driven into a corner; fear in him takes the place of bravery,
and he becomes the more rash in proportion to his former terror.

The juez de letras gave a proof of this, for instead of halting a
reasonable distance from the barricade, he advanced till he could
almost touch it. Perhaps, though, this did not result entirely from his
own will, for the soldiers had maliciously given the poor mule several
vigorous blows with their chicotes, so that it pricked up its ears and
dashed madly onward. The fact is, that, whether voluntarily or not, the
juez found himself side by side with Don Aníbal.

The lieutenant's advice was, as he had said, the only mode of putting
an end to the cacique's resistance. At the period when this story takes
place, the liberal ideas which overturned and regenerated the old world
had not yet reached the Spanish colonies, or, if they had reached them,
had not penetrated to the lower classes, who, besides, would not have
understood them.

The King of Spain, owing to the system adopted by the Peninsular
government, was revered, feared, and respected like a god; the lowest
of his representatives, the mere flag hoisted over a conducta de plata,
were sufficient to protect the millions that traversed the entire
length of Mexico to be embarked on board the ships; in a word, it would
not have occurred to anyone in New Spain that it was possible to rebel
against the mother country or disobey the lowest or most insignificant
of the officers of the sovereign beyond the seas.

Still, in spite of the knowledge of their power, the Spaniards were
slightly alarmed by the coldly resolute attitude of the Indian cacique;
the more so, because this man belonged to that haughty Comanche race
which preferred to return to the desert sooner than bend beneath the
Spanish yoke. It is true that Running Water, on settling on this side
the border, had recognized the suzerainty of the King of Spain; but
it was so recently that this fact occurred, that there was reason to
fear lest the Red Buffaloes, driven to extremities by the countless
annoyances they had endured, might be resolved to take an exemplary
vengeance on their enemies, even though that vengeance entailed their
utter ruin.

Such instances as this had already occurred several times in the
colony. Another reason also heightened the apprehensions of Don Aníbal
and his companions; in spite of the secrecy in which his plans were
arranged and his rapidity of action, the Indians had been warned of
what was being prepared against them, which was superabundantly proved
by the measures they had taken to defend themselves against an attack
which nothing could have led them to suspect.

The hacendero had, then, been betrayed; but who was the traitor?

At a sign from Don Aníbal, the juez de letras prepared with
considerable assurance to exhibit his titles and quality. After
securing himself firmly in his saddle the magistrate drew a paper from
a portfolio one of the alguaciles handed him, the contents of which he
read in a loud, firm voice.

This document was to the effect that the Comanche Indians, called the
Red Buffaloes, who had sought shelter on the Spanish territory, and
to whom the government of his majesty had deigned to grant asylum
and protection, had rendered themselves unworthy this protection by
their misdeeds, a long list of which was quoted. The Viceroy of New
Spain, listening to the repeated complaints which were made from all
sides against them, recognizing them as ungrateful and incorrigible
felons, withdrew the hand he had hitherto extended to protect them,
and ordered, in consequence, that they should be compelled by all
legal means at once to abandon their place of residence, and repass
the border, after their village had been utterly destroyed in their
presence. Any disobedience would be punished with death, etc., etc.

This document was listened to in religious silence by the cacique, with
downcast head and frowning brow, but without the slightest mark of
impatience, anger, or sorrow. When the judge had finished he raised his
head, and looked at him like a man awakening from sleep.

"Have you ended?" he asked him in a gentle voice.

"Not yet," the magistrate answered, amazed and emboldened by this
mildness, which he had been far from anticipating.

"Do so," he said.

The judge continued:

"Consequently I, Don Ignacio Pavo y Cobardo, juez de letras of the town
of Mondovo, by virtue of the powers conceded to me by the most serene
Governor of the Intendancy, summon you, alcade of the aldea of the Red
Buffaloes, in the name of his Majesty, whom may Heaven preserve, to
obey this order at once without any resistance."

Running Water drew himself up, gave the spectators a glance of strange
meaning; then, without uttering a word, he took off his hat, which
he threw over the precipice, broke his cane across his knee, let the
pieces fall at his feet, and said to Don Aníbal--

"You wish for war, be it so! I accept. You can now pass, and no one
will oppose you."

He fell back a step, shouted in a thundering voice, "We shall meet
again," and then disappeared.



CHAPTER III.

THE RED BUFFALOES.


The startled Mexicans looked at each other with dumb terror; for
several minutes after the disappearance of the cacique they remained
thus gloomy and hesitating, fearing a trap, and not daring to put faith
in the words of an Indian.

At length the hacendero, ashamed of showing the terror he felt,
haughtily raised his head, and angrily stamped his foot.

"¡Viva Dios!" he shouted, "Are we timid women to let ourselves be
frightened by the threats of a maniac? I will go on, even if I should
be murdered."

And before anyone dreamed of preventing him, he forced his way with
great difficulty through the branches, machete in hand, and ready to
sell his life dearly. But Running Water had told the truth; the passage
was free far as eye could extend, and the path was entirely deserted.
Don Aníbal rejoined his comrades.

"There is nobody," he said, with an accent of regret. "Aid me to throw
these trees over the precipice, and let us continue our journey. Let
us make haste though, for, if I am not mistaken, we shall find the
resistance which is not offered us here at the village."

The path was soon cleared, and the trees hurled into the barranca, down
which they rolled with a sinister noise. They continued their march,
and at the end of an hour reached the plateau on which the village
stood. But they found the huts a pile of smoking ashes, while a long
line of flame was rapidly running along the side of the hill, and
devouring the crops. The Red Buffaloes had not waited for the arrival
of the king's people; they had themselves destroyed everything.

The Mexicans only found shapeless ruins; as for the Indians, they had
disappeared, and it was impossible to discover in what direction they
had fled. The old officer gazed for a moment pensively at this scene of
desolation, and then walked up to Don Aníbal.

"Señor de Saldibar," he said to him solemnly, "take care!"

"Take care! I?" he answered haughtily, "Nonsense, Lieutenant, you are
jesting."

"I am not jesting," the soldier answered sadly, "I have known the
Indians for a long time. They never forgive an insult. For them to
consent to consummate their ruin, and unresistingly abandon a spot
which must for so many reasons be dear to them, they must be meditating
a terrible revenge upon you; so, I repeat, take care."

In spite of his ferocious courage and indomitable pride the hacendero
was struck by the tone in which these words were pronounced by a
man whose courage could not be doubted; he felt a shudder pass over
his limbs and his blood run cold in his veins; for a moment remorse
entered his heart, and he regretted having driven to desperation these
peaceable men, who only asked for their share of air and sunshine.

But stiffening himself almost immediately against this emotion, of
which he had not been master, the haughty Spaniard smiled bitterly, and
answered the officer with a look of defiance--

"What can such wretches effect against me? It is not I who have to
fear; but they will have cause to tremble if ever they cross my path
again; but as we have nothing more to do here, let us be off, for it is
growing late."

The officer made no answer; he bowed, remounted his horse and ordered
the bugles to sound. At the base of the hill the band separated; the
escort returned to the fort of Agua Verde, and the hacendero, only
followed by his wife and his majordomo, started in the direction of the
Hacienda del Barrio. The juez de letras and the two alguaciles, who had
not quite recovered from their terror, preferred to follow the soldiers
in spite of the offer Don Aníbal made them of receiving them into his
house.

The journey was sad, for the hacendero was dissatisfied, though he did
not wish to show it. His plans had succeeded, it is true, but not in
the way he had intended; hence, his vengeance was not complete.

These people, whom he wanted to drive from their hearths, on whom he
wished to inflict chastisement for the insult offered his wife, had
destroyed their village with their own hands, and they robbed him thus
far of the pleasure of doing it.

Doña Emilia was sorrowful and thoughtful; this hatred, accumulated
on her husband's head, which would doubtless fall on her, though she
was innocent, terrified her. She did not dare express her feelings
aloud, but she gave full scope to her thoughts, and with the exquisite
sensibility, and prophetic intuition which loving women possess, she
foresaw a future big with misfortune and gloomy catastrophes.

The majordomo appeared as careless and indifferent on the return as
when he went to the village. Still, anyone who could have examined
him carefully, and seen the wicked flash of his eye when he took a
side-glance at his master, would have suspected that this man was
playing a part, that he had taken a greater share in recent events than
was supposed, that his indifference was feigned, and that he alone of
the three travellers had a glad heart, although his countenance was
sorrowful.

Anyone who had had this idea would perhaps not have been completely
mistaken, for we must not forget that Señor Sotavento was an Indian,
although he appeared a Christian, and almost civilized.

Nothing occurred to interrupt the monotony of the journey, no annoying
accident troubled the tranquillity of the travellers, who reached the
Hacienda del Barrio a little before sunset, at the moment when night
was beginning to hide the valleys in the transparent shadows of dusk,
while the tops of the mountains were still tinged with a pinkish light.

The hacienda was a substantial building of hewn stone, such as the
first conquerors liked to erect to prove to the conquered that they
would never abandon the soil of which fortune had rendered them
masters. This house seemed a fortress, so massive was it; and built
on the top of a rather lofty hill upon a rock hanging over the abyss,
it could only be reached by a narrow, rugged track cut in the rock,
on which two horsemen could not ride abreast. This track wound round
the side of the hill and led to the great gate of the hacienda, which
was defended by a drawbridge, usually down, but which it would have
been an easy task to raise. The walls, which were thirty feet high
and of proportionate thickness, were surmounted by those _almenas_
or battlements which were a sign of nobility, and which the old
Christians, that is to say, the true Castilians, never failed to place
above their houses; for the hacenderos must not be confounded with our
farmers, for that would be a great error.

The hacenderos of New Spain are great landowners, whose possessions
are often more extensive than one of our counties. In the time of the
Spaniards, they led the life of feudal lords in the midst of their
vassals, acting as they pleased, and only accountable to the Viceroy,
who, residing in Mexico, or a great distance off, had something else
to do than look after the way in which these feudatories managed their
estates. The latter cultivated their land, worked their mines, fattened
their flocks, and reared their horses, without anyone dreaming of
asking any account of them as to the means they employed to augment
their fortunes, or the manner in which they treated the Indians who
fell to their share upon the grand division of the Mexican population
among the conquistadors.

On this subject we will hazard a parenthesis. Since Mexico has
proclaimed her independence, slavery is abolished _de jure_ in the
country, but still exists _de facto_. In this way: The rich landowners
whom the philanthropic law utterly ruined, instead of crying out and
complaining as certain slaveholders do in North America, hit on a
clever and successful plan.

The hacenderos assembled their slaves and informed them that slavery
was abolished, and that consequently they were free, and could go
wherever they thought proper. The poor devils were, at the first
moment, stunned by the news, and did not at all know what would become
of them. In fact, while they were slaves, they lived without having
the trouble of thinking. They worked, it is true, but they were fairly
fed, clothed after a fashion, and taken care of when ill. Now they were
free, they would have to seek the food, clothing, and medicine which
they had hitherto ready to hand without the trouble of looking for it.
The question was a delicate one, for they had nothing at all.

The hacenderos appeared to take pity on their hapless fate; they were
moved with compassion, and told them that, as they would require peons
to do the Work the slaves had hitherto done, they would engage them at
the rate of three reals a day, but they would have to feed and clothe
themselves. "Moreover," the hacenderos added, "to facilitate your
getting a start in life, which is rather difficult, we will advance you
all you require, and stop it out of your wages. In this way you will be
free, and you can leave us whenever you think proper, after paying off
the advances we have made you."

The ex-slaves accepted with transports of joy and became peons. Then
it came about that they could never pay off the advances, and as they
still wanted food and clothing, the debt increased like the memorable
snowball, and the peons were forced to give up all thoughts of leaving
their masters, as they had no other than personal security to offer.
The result is, that at the present day they are greater slaves than
ever.

The only persons who gained by the transaction were the hacenderos.
The reason is very simple: it has been calculated that the cost of
maintaining a slave is six reals a day, and the peons cost them three.
Hence there is a clear profit of one half; moreover, the masters
supply the food and clothing, and heaven alone knows what price they
charge the peons.

This is the way in which the Indians, who were slaves in the
Spanish possessions, have become free, thanks to the declaration of
Independence. Is this progress? I do not think so. But to resume our
story.

Days, weeks elapsed, and not a word was heard of the Indians; they
seemed to have disappeared for ever. By autumn the recollection of the
expedition faded away, and then it was utterly forgotten, and nothing
was said about the Red Buffaloes or their threat of vengeance, which
was regarded as braggadocio.

A year passed away, and we reach the second half of 1808. The political
horizon was beginning to grow overcast; in spite of the care the
Spanish government took to isolate the colonies, and prevent European
newspapers entering them, the arrival of French troops in Spain was
vaguely discussed; minds fermented and attempts at revolt were made in
several provinces. Don Aníbal, who at this time was at Leona Vicario,
whither he had taken his wife a few months before for her confinement,
resolved to leave the town and return to his hacienda.

He was the more eager to carry out this resolution because the Indians
of the Presidio de Río Grande, only a few leagues from his estate,
had risen in revolt, and after burning the fort and massacring the
garrison, had spread over the country like a torrent which had burst
its dykes, and were plundering and destroying everything they came
across. An atrocious fact was stated in connection with the capture of
the Río Grande Fort, which heightened the hacendero's apprehensions, by
leading him to suppose that his old enemies, the Red Buffaloes, were
connected with this sudden insurrection.

Count Don Rodrigo de Melgosa, commander of the Presidio, and brother of
the governor of the Intendancy, was detested by the Indians, whom he
treated with the utmost rigour, and it was rumoured that he had several
times been guilty of unjustifiable acts of cruelty and barbarity. When,
after a desperate resistance, the Indians stormed the fort, they killed
Colonel de Melgosa by pouring molten gold into his mouth, saying that,
"Since he was so fond of gold they were determined to make him eat it,"
and the unhappy man died under horrible sufferings.

Then the Indians cut off his head, wrapped it up in a zarapé, and
sent this horrible trophy of their victory to the colonel's wife, who
happened to be staying with her father-in-law at Mondovo. At the sight
of this scalped and fearfully mutilated head, the unhappy woman all but
went mad.

It was in vain that the governor--whose only son, quite a lad at time,
was at the time in the fort with the colonel, and had disappeared,
carried off by the Indians, or, as was more probable, had been
sacrificed to their implacable vengeance--tried by all the means in his
power to discover the man who had undertaken to deliver this horrible
message; all his researches were fruitless, and the unhappy father, a
prey to impotent despair, remained in the most perfect ignorance as to
the fate of his child.

Strange to say, the murderers had designed on the victim's forehead a
buffalo with their scalping knives. Don Aníbal knew that the buffalo
was the totem, or emblem of the Indian tribe which he had so brutally
expelled from his domain a year previously, hence his anxiety was
great, for it was evident to him that the Red Buffaloes were the
authors of the death of the unfortunate Colonel de Melgosa, and of the
rape of his nephew.

He completed his preparations in all haste, said good-bye to Doña
Emilia, whom, in spite of her entreaties, he would not consent to take
with him, and started. Nine days later he reached his hacienda, where
bad news was awaiting him; all was in disorder. This was substantially
what he learned:

Most of his cattle had been carried off, as well as his manadas of
horses; several peons had been killed in trying to prevent the robbery
of his animals; his fields had been fired and his vines uprooted,
indeed the destruction was immense; and in order that the hacendero
might be thoroughly aware who the culprits were, a long pole was
found planted in the middle of a field, from which was suspended a
half-tanned elk skin, on which a buffalo was drawn. This time there
could be no mistake; it was really the totem of the hacendero's
enemies, for the buffalo was red.

The hacendero burst into a frightful passion, and swore to take
exemplary vengeance for this insult. He immediately wrote letters
to several neighbouring hacenderos exposed like himself to the
depredations of the marauders, and sent off couriers in all directions.
The hacenderos, who were as desirous as he was to be freed from these
demons, whose audacity, heightened by impunity, no longer knew any
limits, and threatened, if they were left alone, to ruin the entire
province, did not hesitate about joining Don Aníbal de Saldibar, and a
veritable manhunt was organized against the redskins.

The Count de Melgosa, burning to avenge his brother's death, and,
moreover, hoping to recover his son, placed two squadrons of dragoons
at the service of the confederates, whose numbers were thus
considerably augmented, and Don Aníbal, who took the command in chief
by general acclamation, found himself at the head of a real army.

The hostilities commenced immediately. The confederates divided into
three bodies and set out in search of the Indians. The preparations for
the expedition had been made with such secrecy, that the redskins, who
were far from suspecting what was going on, were surprised only a few
leagues from the Hacienda del Barrio, in a valley on the banks of the
Río del Norte, where they had established their camp.

Although suddenly attacked by an enemy superior in strength, the
redskins did not the less try to defend themselves, and bravely
opposed the white men. The combat was terrible, and lasted a whole
day; the Indians fought with that energy of desperation which doubles
the strength and equalizes chances; they knew they had no quarter to
expect, and hence preferred death to falling alive into the hands of
their implacable foes. The massacre was terrible, and nearly all the
redskins succumbed; some, but they were a small number, succeeded
in escaping by leaping into the Río del Norte. The Mexicans took no
prisoners; men, women, and children were pitilessly sacrificed.

After the battle, Sotavento, who had truly done his duty by his
master's side, brought him a boy of about five or six years of age,
who was crying bitterly, and who had been delivered to him during the
massacre by a Canadian wood ranger. He declared that he had not the
courage to kill the child, the more so because his pale skin might lead
to the supposition that he was the son of a European. The hacendero
shook his head angrily at the sight of the boy; still, not daring to
prove himself more cruel than his majordomo, he consented to the poor
little wretch being spared, and even carried his clemency so far as to
allow him to be taken to the hacienda.

This battle ended the campaign. The confederates separated, satisfied
with having exterminated their enemies and taken such a prompt revenge
for their outrages. The redskins, at least for a lengthened period,
would be unable to take their revenge, and the lesson had been perfect.



CHAPTER IV.

THE CASCABEL.


The French Revolution not only shook the old European thrones, which
it made quiver to their foundations, but the terrible blow it dealt
the world was so violent, that the counterstroke was felt even in the
indolent and voluptuous Spanish colonies.

In response to the echoing footsteps of those generals of the young
French Republic who marched from prodigy to prodigy, improvising
soldiers and organizing victory, a lengthened electric current ran
along all the coasts of the New World, and revealed to the inhabitants
that, like their brethren in North America, they too might someday
become free.

Like a deafening thunderclap, leaping across the Atlantic Ocean, the
echo of the battles of giants of that Sublime epic power called the
Empire, caused the hearts of Americans to beat, and inflamed them with
a noble ardour which the Spanish Viceroys were powerless to extinguish.

The occupation of the Peninsula by French armies, by forcing Spain to
defend her own territory, which had almost entirely fallen into the
enemy's power, obliged her to concentrate all her strength in order to
sustain the extraordinary struggle that was preparing, and compelled
her to abandon her possessions beyond the seas to their own resources,
while she could only form sterile vows that they might not slip from
her grasp.

The colonies, which had long been worn out by the yoke the mother
country implacably made them wear, considered the moment favourable;
generous hearts were affected, and in an instant Peru, Mexico, Chili,
Buenos Aires formed secret societies, whose common branches, passing
through all classes of society, ended by enveloping the colonial
governments in an inextricable net.

Then, when all preparations had been made, when the chiefs had
been elected, soldiers enrolled, and the headquarters of revolt
chosen, a long cry for liberty was raised to heaven on twenty sides
simultaneously; the insurgents rose, calling their brethren to arms,
and the systematic opposition of the conspirators was all at once
followed by an obstinate war without truce or mercy, of the conquered
against the conquerors, of the oppressed against the oppressors, whose
watchword was Liberty or Death!

A holy war, an extraordinary struggle, in which the Americans,
inexperienced, and having no acquaintance with arms, had but one
insatiable desire, to shake off the yoke, an energy which no reverse
could crush; and an unflinching resolution to oppose the old Spanish
bands, hardened by long fighting, and whom the habit of warfare
rendered almost invincible in the sight of these men, in whom they
inspired a species of instinctive and supernatural terror.

We will not describe here the history of this war, which was so grand,
so noble, and so full of heroic devotion, affecting incidents, and
traits of bravery, self-denial, and disinterestedness, worthy the most
glorious days of antiquity; our task is more modest, and certainly more
easy, for we will limit ourselves to penciling a few private details of
this grand drama, which have been neglected by the disdainful muse of
history, but which we believe will serve to complete the magnificent
tableau of the struggle of progress against barbarism in the first
years of the 19th century.

The Mexican revolution had this strange thing about it, that the clergy
gave the first signal of revolt. In the provinces the Curas preached
insurrection to their parishioners, and seizing a sword in one hand, a
cross in the other, led them to the field.

Don Aníbal de Saldibar, although a _cristiano viejo_, that is to say,
belonging to a family originally Spanish, and of which not a member had
become allied with the Indians during several ages, did not consider
himself obliged to join his fellow countrymen, but, on the contrary,
attached himself to the insurrectionary movement.

Father Sandoval, chaplain at the Hacienda del Barrio, was to a great
extent the cause of this determination. In Mexico, where the towns
are far distant from each other, each hacienda has a chapel served by
a priest, whose duty it is to baptize, marry, confess, and guide the
Indians, but, before all, keep them in order by the fear of future
punishment. Father Sandoval, about whom we shall have a good deal
to say during the course of this story, was a simple-hearted, kind,
intelligent man, gifted, with great energy of character, and his
education had not been so neglected as that of the majority of the
priests at this period.

In a word, he was an honest man and true priest before God; the Indians
adored him, and would have gone through fire and water for him. Still
young, belonging to a rich and respected family, possessing that severe
and calm beauty which attracts confidence and excites sympathy, this
man who, had he liked, could have attained the highest dignities of
the church, preferred this obscure position through his devotion to
that persecuted class which Las Casas loved so deeply, and for which he
himself felt immense pity.

As friend and fellow student of the Curé Hidalgo, who was destined to
become so celebrated, he professed liberal principles and hatred of
the Spanish yoke. Don Aníbal, like all weak-minded men, unconsciously
yielded to the influence of this chosen vessel, and had for him a
friendship mingled with respect and veneration. Protector of the
Indians, Father Sandoval defended them under all circumstances, and had
often succeeded, by the mere force of his eloquence, in saving them
from the severe punishments to which Don Aníbal had condemned them in a
moment of passion. He easily proved to the hacendero that it was to his
interest to embrace the revolutionary cause. The latter, dissatisfied
with the Spanish government, against which he had long been carrying on
a lawsuit, raised no serious objections; and as certain natures only
require a lash to make them go faster than is necessary, and pass the
goal for which they are started, so soon as Don Aníbal had consented
to what Father Sandoval asked of him, he wished to force the latter to
place himself by his side at the head of the hacienda peons capable
of bearing arms, and proceed to join the Curé Hidalgo, who had just
raised the standard of revolt, and was preparing, at the head of his
parishioners, armed with bows, arrows, and slings, to face the army of
the Viceroy.

As this project was excessively imprudent, the chaplain combated
it; but the hacendero, one of whose slightest faults was obstinacy,
declared that he must give a pledge to the revolution, and the best
way was to range himself beneath the insurrectionist banners. Still,
by force of reasoning, supported by the entreaties of Doña Emilia,
whom the fear of a separation and the prospect of remaining alone and
unprotected at the hacienda with her child, which was scarce fifteen
months old, filled with terror, Father Sandoval succeeded in modifying
Don Aníbal's resolution, if he did not completely alter it. He made
him understand that his hacienda, situated on the Indian border, close
to several important presidios, ought to serve as headquarters for the
insurgents of this portion of Mexico, who would rally round him and
hold the Spanish garrisons in check, so as to prevent them joining the
troops General Callega and Count de la Cadena were raising to offer
battle to the rebels commanded by Hidalgo, Allende, etc., and who were
preceded by the Virgen de Los Remedios, attired as a generalísimo. In
a country like Mexico, where religion is all in all, and at the head
of an army most of whose generals and officers were priests and monks,
this banner was not inappropriate.

Don Aníbal yielded with great difficulty to Father Sandoval's
objections; but, feeling flattered by the part he would be called on
to play, he at length consented to follow the advice given him by a
man who was wiser and more prudent than himself. The Hacienda del
Barrio was therefore converted into a fortress; Don Aníbal incited
the Indians to revolt, and organized on this frontier a partizan war
against the neighbouring garrisons, after having sent to join Hidalgo a
body of two hundred well-armed and mounted horsemen under the orders of
his majordomo. We see that Don Aníbal thus frankly threw away the mask
and boldly burnt his vessels.

The war soon assumed much larger proportions than had been thought
possible. The government had remained attached to the King of Spain,
and most of the rich landowners followed this example; so that the
insurrection, which was at first formidable, became to some extent
isolated, and reduced to act on the defensive. Don Aníbal was too
greatly compromised to hope for a pardon, which, indeed, he was not
at all inclined to solicit. On the contrary, he suddenly dashed from
his eagle's nest on the Spaniards who scoured the country, and though
not always the victor, he did them sufficient mischief to prevent them
going too far from the presidios or leaving the province. The governor,
at length wearied by the incessant attacks of his unseizable foe,
resolved to finish with him, and besiege him in his lurking place.

Don Aníbal, warned by his spies of what was preparing against him,
resolved on a vigorous resistance; but as he really loved his wife,
and did not wish to expose her to the hazards of a storm, and the
sight of those atrocities which are the inevitable consequence of it,
he arranged with Father Sandoval that he should remove her from the
hacienda as soon as possible, and place her and her child in safety.
When these arrangements were made, the two gentlemen proceeded in
search of the señora, to tell her of the plan they had formed.

Doña Emilia spent a very dull life at the Hacienda del Barrio. Her
husband, who was elsewhere engaged, often left her for days, only
seeing her for a moment at meals, and addressing a few unmeaning words
to her during the quarter of an hour they were together. Fortunately
for the poor lady, the hacienda possessed a magnificent garden. She
spent nearly the entire day in it under an arbour of orange and lemon
trees, reading pious books and watching her child, who was nursed by a
quadroon to whom Doña Emilia was sincerely attached, and had married to
a peon of the hacienda.

On the day to which we allude, at about two in the afternoon, the
warmest hour of the day, Doña Emilia, according to her wont, was
indulging in a siesta in a hammock suspended from two enormous orange
trees, whose tufted crests almost entirely overshadowed the entire
nook. A few paces from her, Rita, the quadroon, was carelessly rocking
in a _butaca_, and giving the breast to the child.

As we have said, the heat was stifling. The burning sunbeams made the
sand on the garden walks sparkle like diamonds; there was not a breath
of air; the atmosphere, impregnated with the sweet exhalations of the
flowers and fragrant woods, was intoxicating, and conduced to slumber.
The birds, hidden under the leaves, had ceased their song, and were
waiting till the evening breeze refreshed the soil; a solemn silence
brooded over nature, and the fall of a leaf would have been heard, so
profound was the calm. Rita, involuntarily yielding to the narcotic
influences that surrounded her, had fallen asleep with the child still
clinging to her breast.

All at once a strange, terrible, frightful thing occurred--a horrible
scene, which we feel a hesitation to describe, although we had the
fact from a credible witness.[1] The branches of a dahlia bush were
gently and noiselessly parted, and in the space thus left free appeared
the hideous and distorted face of Running Water. This man had, at the
moment, something fatal and satanic in his physiognomy, which would
have filled with terror anyone who saw it. After remaining motionless
for an instant, which he employed in looking around, through fear of
being surprised, he laughed cunningly in the Indian fashion, and began
crawling softly till his entire body had emerged from the bush. Then
he rose, carefully repaired the disorder his passage had caused in
the bush, advanced two paces, placed on the ground a rather large bag
he held in his right hand, folded his arms and gazed at Doña Emilia,
who was sleeping calmly and peacefully in her hammock, with a strange
fixedness, and an expression of hatred and joy impossible to describe.

How had this man contrived to penetrate into the hacienda, which was
so strongly guarded, and whose walls were almost insurmountable? Why
had he entered alone the garden of a man whom he knew to be his most
implacable foe? He doubtless meditated vengeance, but of what nature
was it? Running Water, whom the hacendero had strove so hard to injure,
and to whom he had done such hurt, was not the man to content himself
with ordinary revenge. The redskins have refinements of cruelty and
barbarity of which they alone possess the secret. What did he intend
doing? What was his object? The Indian chief alone could have answered
these questions; for the redskins are well acquainted with the proverb,
that "revenge is eaten cold."

I know not what gloomy thoughts agitated this man while he gazed at the
sleeping lady, but his countenance altered every second, and seemed to
grow more and more ferocious. He made a move as if about to seize the
bag on the ground in front of him, but suddenly reflected.

"No," he muttered to himself, "not that; he alone would suffer; the
hearts of both of them must bleed. Yes, yes, my first idea is the best."

Then, after taking a parting glance at the lovely, sleeping lady, he
stooped with a terrible smile, picked up the bag, which he placed under
his left arm, and went away with a step light and stealthy as that of a
tiger preparing to leap on its prey. Still, he only went a few paces.
Turning suddenly to his right, he found himself in front of the nurse.
The latter was still sleeping, intoxicated by the smell of the flowers
which appeared to bend over her, as if to shed sleep more easily upon
her. Rita was sleeping like a child, without dreams or fears. Rita was
young and lovely; anyone but a ferocious Indian, like the man who gazed
at her at this moment, and devoured her with his eyes, would have felt
affected by such confiding innocence.

With the upper part of her body indolently thrown back, with her eyes
half closed and veiled by her long black lashes, and her rosy lips
slightly parted so as to display her pearly teeth, the young quadroon
with her slightly coppery complexion was delicious. We repeat that
anyone but Running Water would have felt subdued and vanquished by the
sight of her. Her two hands, folded over the little girl, held her
against her bosom, and seemed trying to protect her even in sleep. The
infant was neither asleep nor awake. She was in that state of lethargic
somnolency which seizes on these frail creatures when they have sucked
for a long time. Clinging to the breast, on which she had laid her two
small, snow-white hands, the child, with her eyes already closed to
sleep, was imbibing a drop of milk at lengthened intervals.

The Indian regarded this group with a tiger's glance, and for some
two or three minutes, involuntarily fascinated by this picture, whose
innocence and candour no artist would be able to depict, he stood
gloomy and thoughtful, perhaps hesitating in the accomplishment of the
infernal work he had meditated so long, and to execute which he had
treacherously entered the hacienda. But Satan, conquered for a second,
regained his ascendancy in the redskin's heart.

"It is well," he muttered in a hollow voice. "The babe will die. The
death of the child kills doubly father and mother."

And he smiled once again that terrible and silent laugh which would
have caused anyone who saw it to shudder, and which was habitual to
him. He fell back a step, and with a look around him he explored the
neighbourhood in its most hidden corners. Assured at length that no
one could see him he fell back till he reached the hole in one of the
orange trees from which the hammock was hung, and which was exactly
opposite the nurse; then he carefully concealed himself behind a
tree, and laid his bag on the ground. This bag was of tapir hide, and
fastened up with the greatest care.

The Indian stood motionless for a second, then drawing his dagger he
did not take the trouble to cut the leather thongs that closed the bag;
on the contrary, throwing himself back as if afraid of the consequences
of the deed he was about to do, he ripped up the bag its entire length,
and at once disappeared behind the trunk of a tree. The body of a
cascabel, or rattlesnake; appeared in the gaping orifice of the bag.
Indian manners brand as infamous any man who, excepting in Combat,
strikes and kills a child at the breast. Hatred is intelligent, and
Running Water had found the means to satisfy his upon the poor little
creature without breaking the rules of his tribe. He had gone in search
of a snake, which was not difficult to find. He enclosed it in a bag of
tapir hide so that it could not escape, and kept it for several days
without food so as to restore to the animal, which he had surprised
while digesting a gorge, all its original ferocity. When the redskin
supposed that the snake was in proper condition, he entered the garden
as we have seen.

The snake, suddenly liberated from the dark and narrow prison in
which it had been so long confined, began unrolling on the ground its
monstrous coils. At first half asleep and dazed by the bright light of
day it remained for a moment in a state of stupor, balancing itself to
the right and left hesitatingly on its enormous tail, throwing its head
back and opening its hideous mouth till it displayed its awful fangs.
But gradually its eye grew brighter, and breathing a strangled hiss it
rushed with undulating bounds towards poor Rita.

The Indian, with his body bent forward, heaving chest, and eyes
enormously dilated, looked after it eagerly; at length he held his
vengeance in his grasp, and no human power could take it from him. But
a strange thing happened, which filled the Indian himself with horror.
Upon reaching the nurse the snake, after a moment's hesitation, gave
a soft melodious hiss, apparently indicating pleasure; and rising on
its tail with a movement full of grace and suppleness, enwrithed the
nurse's body in its huge folds, gently pushed the sleeping babe aside
without doing it the slightest injury, and seizing the nipple the
little creature had let go, glued its hideous mouth to it.

Running Water uttered a cry of rage, and stamped his foot in
desperation. He had forgotten the frenzied passion snakes have
for milk, especially that of women. This time again the Indian's
calculations were thrown out, and his vengeance slipped from him. What
should he do? To try and tear the snake from the prey it had seized
would be incurring certain death; and then, fascinated by the horrible
spectacle he had before him, the redskin felt incapable of collecting
his ideas. He looked on, suffering from a frightful nightmare, and
awaiting with the most lively anxiety the conclusion of this frightful
scene. Rita still slept on, and the child even had not noticed its
changed position, so gentle and measured had the snake's movements
been, and was still slumbering. The cascabel, however, drank with such
ardour the quadroon's milk that the blood poured down her breast, and
she was aroused by the pain from her deep sleep. She opened her eyes,
and perceived the horrible animal.

Rita endured a second of indescribable agony and despair, for she
felt that she was hopelessly lost. Then, wondrous to relate, this
half-sleeping woman, seeing herself through a mist of blood in the
power of the monster, suddenly formed an heroic resolution. She
recognized with remarkable lucidity her fearful situation, and
completely forgetting herself had but one thought, that of saving the
child.[2] A woman is a mother before all. God has placed in her heart a
flame Which nothing can extinguish.

With her features distorted by terror, her temples inundated with cold
perspiration, and her hair standing on end, she had the immense courage
not to tremble or stir, and held back in her parched throat the cry
of horror ready to burst from it: in a word, she remained in the same
position as if she were still asleep.

The Indian himself, struck with admiration at this sublime emotion,
felt his iron heart melt, and he almost regretted being the cause of
this fearful catastrophe. The snake still enjoyed its horrible repast,
and gorged itself with the milk mingled with blood which it drew from
the breast of its hapless victim. At length its coils relaxed, its eye
gradually lost its fascinating lustre, and with an almost insensible
undulation it left the prey to which it was clinging. Completely
gorged with milk, it rolled off to the ground, and crawled away in
the direction of the shrubs. The mulatto then seized the child in her
clenched hands, sat up straight as a statue, and uttered a fearful cry.

"Mother, mother!" she said with a sob that lacerated her throat, "Take
your child."

Doña Emilia, aroused by this cry, bounded like a lioness from her
hammock, and seized her babe. Rita then fell back, with her breast
bleeding, and her features distorted by pain, and writhed in frightful
convulsions. Doña Emilia leant over her.

"What is the matter, in Heaven's name?" she asked her in horror.

"The snake, see the snake, mother!" the quadroon exclaimed, as she
raised herself with a last, effort and pointed to the reptile which
was quietly gliding along the sand; then she uttered a fearful groan,
and fell back--dead. Don Aníbal and the priest, attracted by the
cries, rushed into the arbour, and at once comprehended the frightful
accident which must have occurred. The hacendero ran up to his wife,
while Father Sandoval bravely attacked the snake and killed it. The
Indian chief had disappeared with the bound of a wild beast, after
exchanging with Doña Emilia a glance of awful purport.

The lady, with calm brow and a smile on her lip, nursed her babe, which
was now awake, while singing one of those touching American tunes with
which these innocent creatures are lulled to sleep. She was mad!

Don Aníbal, crushed by this terrible catastrophe, tottered for a moment
like a drunken man, then raising his hands to his face with a cry of
despair, he fell unconscious on the ground. His rebellious nature had
at last been vanquished by grief.

"It is the finger of God!" the priest murmured, as he raised his
tear-laden eyes to heaven.

And kneeling by the body of the poor quadroon he prayed fervently. Doña
Emilia was still singing and lulling her child to sleep.

Two days later the hacienda was invested by the Spaniards. Don Aníbal
defended himself for a long time with heroic courage, but the Spaniards
at last stormed the fortress, and made a horrible massacre of its
defenders. Don Aníbal, bearing his wife across his horse's neck, and
the priest carrying in his arms the baby and the boy saved a short
time previously upon the defeat of the Indians, succeeded in escaping,
through the courage of some twenty peons who resolutely collected round
them and made a rampart of their bodies.

Hotly pursued by the _tamarindos_, the fugitives wandered for a long
time haphazard in the forests, tracked like wild beasts by their
implacable victors; but at last, after extraordinary privations and
innumerable dangers, they succeeded in reaching Santa Rosa, where the
miners offered them a shelter. The revolt having thus been drowned
in blood in this province by the Spaniards, they had a lengthened
breathing time; for the patriots were dead or so utterly demoralized
that a fresh insurrection need not be apprehended.

END OF THE PROLOGUE.


[1] The person to whom we allude is at this moment in Paris, and could,
if necessary, confirm our statement.

[2] However incredible this fact may appear, we repeat that it is
strictly true.



CHAPTER I.

THE ADVENTURERS.


The daring revolt of the Curé Hidalgo opened against the Spanish
government that era of sanguinary struggles and obstinate contests
which, thirteen years later, on February 24, 1821 was fated to end
in the proclamation of Independence by Iturbide at Iguala. This
proclamation compelled the Viceroy, Apodaca, to abdicate, and the
Spaniards finally to abandon these magnificent countries which they had
ruled with a hand of iron for more than three centuries. But during
these thirteen years what blood had been shed, what crimes committed!
All Mexico was covered with ruins. The unburied corpses became the prey
of wild beasts; towns taken by storm burned like lighthouses, and the
flames were extinguished in the blood of their massacred inhabitants.

The Mexicans, badly armed and disciplined, learning through their very
defeats the art of beating their conquerors, struggled with the energy
of despair; incessantly defeated by the old Spanish bands, but never
discouraged, deriving strength from their weakness and their firm
desire to be free, they ever stood upright before their implacable
foes, who might kill them, but were powerless to subjugate them.

In no country of the New World did the Spaniards offer so long and
desperate a resistance to revolution as in Mexico, for Spain was aware
that once this inexhaustible source of wealth was lost, her influence
and prestige in the Old World would be utterly destroyed. Hence it
happened that the Spaniards quitted Mexico as they entered it, on ruins
and piles of corpses. And their power, inaugurated by Hernando Cortés
by the light of arson, and amid the cries of the victims, slipped in
the blood of millions of murdered Indians, and was stifled by their
bodies. It was a hideous government, the offspring of violence and
treachery, and, after three centuries, violence and treachery overthrew
it. It was a grand and sublime lesson which Providence gave the despots
through the inflexible logic of history, and yet despots have ever
refused to understand it.

We shall resume our narrative on September 20, 1820, between five and
six in the afternoon, at a period when the struggle having been at
length equalized between the two parties, was growing more lively and
decisive. The scene is still laid in the same part of the viceroyalty
of New Spain in which the prologue was enacted, that is to say, the
Province of Coahuila; owing to its remoteness from the centre, and its
situation on the Indian border, this province had suffered less than
the others, though the traces of war could be seen at each step.

The rich and numerous haciendas which formerly studded the landscape
were nearly all devastated, the fields were uncultivated and deserted,
and the country offered an aspect of gloomy desolation painful to
contemplate. The revolution, violently compressed by the Spaniards,
was smouldering beneath the ashes; a hollow fermentation was visible on
the surface, and the Indian guerillas who had not ceased their partizan
warfare, were beginning to combine and organize, in order to deal the
Castilian colossus a decisive blow. The insurrection of the Spanish
liberals, by creating fresh embarrassments for the mother country,
restored Mexico, not its courage, for that had never faltered during
the long struggle, but the hope of success; on both sides preparations
were being made in the dark, and the explosion could not long be
delayed.



Five or six well-mounted and armed horsemen were following a narrow
track marked on the side of a hill in that wild and mountainous country
which separates the Fort of Agua Verde, of which the Spaniards were
still masters, from the little town of Nueva Bilbao. Of these six
travellers, five appeared to be peons, or servants, while the sixth
was a man of some forty years of age, of lofty stature and haughty
demeanour, who kept, as far as the road allowed, by the side of his
servants, and talked to them in a low voice, while looking at times at
the gloomy scenery that surrounded him, and which the encroaching gloom
rendered even more ominous.

All these men advanced rifle on hip, and ready to fire at the
slightest suspicious movement in the chaparral, which they attentively
investigated. This distrust was justified by the state in which this
wild country found itself, for the revolutionary opinions had made more
progress here than anywhere else.

The travellers had reached the highest point of the track they were
following, and were preparing to descend into the plain, but they
involuntarily stopped for a moment to admire the magnificent landscape
and grand panorama which were suddenly unrolled before their sight.
From the lofty spot which the travellers had reached, they embraced a
considerable extent of the loveliest country in the world, rendered
even more picturesque by the numerous diversities of the ground; an
uninterrupted series of small hills rising one above the other, and
covered with luxuriant verdure, were blended in the distant azure of
the horizon, with the lofty mountains of which they formed the spurs,
and supplied a splendid frame for the magnificent picture. An extensive
lake, studded with small plots resembling bouquets, occupied nearly the
entire centre of the plain to which the travellers were preparing to
descend.

A deep calm brooded over the landscape, which the first gleams of dusk
were beginning to tinge with varying hues. Nothing enlivened this
deserted country, and the travellers were on the point of starting
again, when one of the servants turned to his master, and pointed in
the direction of a track that ran along the bank of the lake.

"Stay, mi amo," he said, "I know not if I am mistaken, but I fancy I
can see down there, near that cactus clump, something resembling human
forms. Unluckily, the gloom gathering in the valley prevents me being
certain."

The master looked attentively for some minutes in the indicated
direction, and then shook his head several times, as if annoyed.

"You are right, Viscachu," he said; "they are men, and I can
distinguish their horses tied up a few yards from them; who can they
be?"

"Travellers, like ourselves," remarked the peon, whom his master had
called Viscachu.

"Hum!" the horseman said dubiously, "People do not travel in such times
as these, unless they have very important motives. Those two persons,
for there are two, as I can distinguish them perfectly now, are more
probably spies sent to meet us, and find out the reason of our presence
in these parts."

"With all the respect I owe you, mi amo," Viscachu, who seemed to be
on rather familiar terms with his master, objected, "that does not
seem very likely; if these strangers were spies, they would not expose
themselves so, but, on the contrary, would be careful to keep out of
sight. And then, again, they would not be ahead of us, but behind us."

"You are right, Viscachu; I did not reflect on all that; but we are
compelled to display such prudence, that I yielded involuntarily to my
first impulse."

"And it is often the right one," the peon observed, with a smile; "but
this time I believe the proverb is false, and that these persons are
simply travellers, whom business of some nature has brought across our
path. However, it is an easy matter to make sure; there are only two
of them, while we are six, well armed and resolute men. Let us push
on boldly towards them, because it is probable that they have already
perceived us, and our hesitation, which has no apparent cause, may seem
to them suspicious."

"Yes, we have stopped here too long as it is, so let us continue our
journey. Well, if they are enemies, they will have their work cut out,
that's all. Hang such foolish terror! We can face a larger party than
the one at present in front of us."

"Excellent, Don Aurelio, that is what I call talking," the peon said
gaily; "so let us start without further delay."

Don Aurelio bent down to his servant, after looking round him
anxiously--

"Be prudent!" he said, in a low voice.

"That is true," the peon replied, with a slight smile. "I let myself
be carried away involuntarily; but do not be alarmed, I will be more
careful in future."

Then, at a signal from the leader, the little party began descending
the hill, though not till the peons had assured themselves that their
muskets were in good state, and ready to do service if it came to a
fight. The path followed by the Mexicans, like all those found on the
side of a hill or mountain, formed a countless succession of turns, so
that, although from the height, where they halted for a moment, it was
easy for them to notice the strangers almost beneath them, owing to the
constant turnings they were obliged to take they required a lengthened
period to reach them, the more because the constantly increasing gloom
compelled them to redouble their precautions in order to prevent their
horses stumbling over pebbles, and rolling into the quebradas past
which the track ran.

In the desert, man, being obliged to keep constantly on guard against
the invisible enemies who incessantly watch him, grows accustomed not
only to watch the bushes, grass, and rocks that surround him, but also
to examine the air, water, and sky, as if he expected a foe to rise
before him at any moment. The result is, that the physical qualities
of the individual who is habituated to the normal life of the
savannahs, acquire such perfection, that, by a species of a prophetic
intuition, the wood rangers, who are so praised, and of whom so little
is generally known, foresee the dangers that threaten them even before
those dangers have become realized.

The strangers, perceived from the top of the hill by the Mexicans, had
guessed the presence of the latter before they appeared, and their
eyes had been eagerly fixed on the crest of the hill some moments
before the newcomers crowned it. These two men had set up their
night bivouac near a clump of cactuses, and they quietly continued
to prepare their supper, apparently troubling themselves very little
about the approaching travellers. Still, anyone able to examine them
closely would have perceived that they had made all preparations for an
obstinate defence, in the event of an attack. Hence their rifles lay
ready cocked within arm's length, and their horses were still saddled
and bridled, so that they could be mounted immediately, should it prove
necessary.

As for these two men--whose portraits we shall draw, as they play
a very important part in our story--although they were in no way
related, they bore an extraordinary likeness to each other, not so much
in features, but in general appearance, that is to say, both were tall,
thin, and powerfully built; they were light haired and had blue eyes,
in a word, they displayed all the characteristic traits of the northern
race,--we mean the true Norman, and not the Anglo-Saxon.

In truth, these men were Canadians. At the period of which we are
writing, the United States of America had not attained that degree of
factitious strength and daring confidence they eventually reached. The
King of Spain reigned as lord and master of the colonies as much as
of the Peninsula. No Anglo-American had up to this time dared to leap
across the frontier and hunt in New Spain. The laws were strict and
rigorously carried out; any foreigner surprised inside the frontier was
regarded as a spy, and treated as such, that is to say, mercilessly
shot. Several examples having been made, the Americans took the hint,
and did not attempt to force their way in.

But times had changed; the Mexican insurrection, by rendering the
inhabitants interested accomplices in infractions of the Spanish laws,
favoured this immigration, the more so because the Mexicans, who had
been kept by the Spaniards in utter ignorance of the use of firearms
and of military discipline, wanted to obtain men capable of leading
and teaching them how to conquer their oppressors. Hence the North
Americans, who had hitherto been held in check by the severity of the
Castilian laws, began to inundate the territory of New Spain from all
sides.

The two men to whom we refer at this moment were hardy comrades, real
wood rangers, who, reaching the Mexican border while hunting buffalo
and deer, crossed it in the hope of picking up an honest fortune in a
short time by fishing in the troubled waters of revolution. We must do
them the justice of saying that, in their hearts, they cared but little
for either of the parties quarrelling in Mexico, and were probably
ready to sell their assistance to the one which offered the highest
price and the most tangible hopes of a speedy fortune. Still they were
good fellows, bold and experienced, caring as little for their life as
for a leaf that fell from a tree, and resolved to risk it on a throw of
the dice, if it offered them the hope of advantageous gain.

The first of these two men was called Oliver Clary.

The redskins among whom he had resided for a long time had christened
him the Sumach, in consequence of his extraordinary strength and
boldness; while his comrade had forgotten the name he originally bore,
and only answered to that of Moonshine. These strange and significant
names will save us the trouble of dwelling on the character of their
bearers, the more so as the reader will be able to appreciate it in the
course of the story.

Carelessly reclining on the grass by the side of the fire lit to cook
their supper, they watched with one eye the leg of venison which,
with some batatas, was to constitute their meal, and with the other
attentively followed the march of the Mexicans. The latter, so soon as
they left the track and entered the plain, affected a certain military
air, which did not fail to appear formidable to the Canadians, the
more so as the newcomers were well armed, and moreover seemed resolute
and difficult to intimidate. The hunters waited till they came nearly
within pistol shot, then rose cautiously, and placed themselves with
shouldered rifles in the middle of the road.

Don Aurelio ordered his men to halt, while recommending them in a
low voice to keep on their guard for fear of treachery, and ready to
come to his assistance. Then, giving his horse a slight touch of the
spur, he proceeded a few yards nearer the hunters, who still remained
motionless in the middle of the road. Stopping his horse with one hand,
with the other he raised his hat, while crying in a clear and well
modulated voice, "Who goes there?"

"Men of peace," Moonshine answered in excellent Spanish, though it was
easy to recognize the foreigner from his accent.

"Which side do you belong to?" Don Aurelio continued.

Moonshine looked cunningly at his comrade.

"It is easy to ask, caballero," he said, "on which side we are. Tell us
first which side you are; we are only two against six, and the stronger
party ought to give the first explanation."

"Very good," Don Aurelio replied, "we are for God and independence; and
you?"

The two Canadians exchanged a second look as ironical as the first.

"By Jove, señor," Moonshine said presently, as he rested the butt of
his rifle on the ground, and crossed his hands confidently over the
muzzle, "you ask us a question which we find it rather difficult to
answer. My comrade and I are strangers, as you may easily recognize by
our accent, and hence have no settled opinion upon the subject which
divides your country. On the other hand, you can perceive from our garb
that we are wood rangers, that is to say, men with whom liberty is a
worship, almost an adoration; so that if we must have an opinion, we
should rather be on the side of independence than of royalty."

"And why do you not decide for one or the other?" said the horseman,
who had drawn nearer, though the Canadian did not appear alarmed by the
fact.

"For the reason I had the honour of giving you a moment ago," Moonshine
continued; "we are foreigners, that is to say, entirely disinterested
in the question; and in case we decided to join either side, it would
be the one which offered us the greatest advantages."

"Excellently argued, and like true Yankees," Don Aurelio remarked with
a laugh.

"Pardon me, señor," Moonshine objected seriously, "do not make any
mistake; my friend and I are not Yankees, but Canadians, which, I must
beg you to believe, is by no means the same thing."

"Forgive me, señor," Don Aurelio said civilly, "I did not at all intend
to insult you."

The hunter bowed, and the Mexican continued--

"My name is Don Aurelio Gutiérrez; it is late, and the spot where we
now are is by no means suited for a serious conversation; if you will
consent to accompany me to a hacienda about three leagues from here, I
will guarantee to modify your opinions, and bring you over to my way of
thinking."

"I do not say no, Señor Gutiérrez; but I will propose something better.
I suppose you are not in such a hurry that you could not delay your
arrival at the hacienda to which you allude for a few hours?"

Don Aurelio exchanged a look with Viscachu, who, during this
conversation, had drawn nearer, and was now standing by his side.

"No," he at last answered; "so long as I reach the place I am going to
by tomorrow morning, that will do."

"Well," the hunter continued, courteously, "as you remarked yourself,
the night is dark; accept the hospitality we offer you, and bivouac
with us; the supper is ready and we will eat together: a night in the
open air need have no terrors for you; we will sleep side by side, and
tomorrow when the sun appears on the horizon, my comrade and I will
accompany you wherever you please. What do you say to that?"

Don Aurelio exchanged a second look with Viscachu, who gave him a sign
of assent by nodding his head several times.

"On my honour," he replied with a laugh, as he held out his hand to the
hunter, "your proposition is too hearty for me to decline it. Done
with you then, on one condition, however, that my people add a few
provisions they carry with them to our meal."

"You can add what you please; we will pass the night as good comrades;
tomorrow it will be day, and we will see what is to be done. Of course
it is understood that if your proposals do not suit us, we are at
liberty to decline them."

"Oh, of course."

Don Aurelio ordered his men to come up, himself dismounted, and five
minutes later, all our party, merrily seated round the fire, were doing
justice to the hunters' meal, which was considerably augmented through
the provisions brought by Don Aurelio, and rendered almost sumptuous by
a goat skin filled with excellent _refino de Cataluña_, a sort of very
strong spirit, which put the guests in a thorough good humour.



CHAPTER II.

A NIGHT IN THE WOODS.


American forests, when night sets in, assume a character of grandeur
and majesty, of which our European forests cannot supply an idea. The
aged trees, which grow more than one hundred feet in height, and whose
tufted crests form splendid arches of foliage, the lianas which spread
in every direction with the strangest parabolas, the moss, called
Spaniard's beard, which hangs in long festoons from all the branches,
impart to these vast solitudes an aspect at once grand and mysterious,
which leads the mind to reverie and fills it with religious and
melancholy thoughts.

When the sun has disappeared and made way for darkness, when the night
breeze murmurs in the foliage, and the hollow sound of some unknown
rivulet coursing over the gravel, is blended with the myriad indistinct
noises of the insects hidden in the crevices of the trees and rocks;
when the wild beasts, awaking at nightfall, leave their secret dens
to proceed to their watering places, uttering at intervals hoarse
yells--the forests in the pale moonbeams, which filter timidly through
the branches, really become to the man who ventures into them the grand
laboratory in which nature likes to assay in gloom and mystery the most
powerful and strangest of her productions.

There are accumulated, beneath the detritus piled up by centuries, the
shapeless and yet imposing ruins of generations which have disappeared
and left no sign; remnants of walls, pyramids, and obelisks rise at
times before the startled eyes of the Indian or the hunter, as if to
reveal to them that in times perhaps contemporary with the deluge, a
powerful nation, now utterly effaced from the world, existed at this
spot. Those who obstinately call America the New World, and deny the
existence of the ruins with which this fertile soil is broadcast, have
traversed this country like blind men, and have neither visited the
splendid ruins of the Palenques, nor those which may be found at every
step in the desert, by means of which some travellers have succeeded
in settling the route followed by the migrations of the peoples that
succeeded each other. The province of Coahuila in Mexico possesses
several of these remains of great antiquity, which recall by their
shape, and the way in which they are constructed, the _dolmens_ and
_menhirs_ of old America.

The travellers had established their camp in a vast clearing, in the
centre of which was a gigantic monolith obelisk, so singularly placed
on a block of stone that the slightest touch sufficed to give it a
marked oscillating movement. This spot had a singular name, whose
origin no one could have accounted for; the people of the country
called it _Coatetl_, that is to say the home of the snake. This name,
by the way, is found very frequently in Mexico, whose aborigines had a
great respect for the snake, in consequence of their first legislator
Quetzaltcoatl, that is to say, the "serpent covered with feathers."

The clearing, which Indians and peons avoided with a respect mingled
with terror, was said to be haunted. An ancient tradition, greatly in
favour with the people, declared that at certain periods of the year,
at the new moon, and when any great event was about to be accomplished,
the stone, raised at its base by some mysterious power, afforded
passage to a monstrous snake, which, after sitting up there on its
tail with an angry hiss, suddenly assumed the appearance and form of a
female, dressed in a white winding sheet, who walked round the clearing
till daylight, uttering shrieks and writhing her arms with all the
marks of the most profound despair; then, as the moon became more deep
on the horizon, the apparition gradually became less distinct, and
entirely disappeared at daybreak. The stone then resumed its place,
and all returned to its natural state. At times, but very rarely, the
apparition spoke; but woe to the man whose ear the words reached; he
would certainly die within the year, and his end was almost always
miserable.

Probably the travellers bivouacked at this moment in the clearing were
ignorant of this legend, or, if acquainted with it, their education or
their strength of character protected them from such vulgar belief.
Had it not been so, they would not have ventured to spend the night
at a spot of such suspicious reputation. However this may be, the
travellers whom chance had so singularly brought together did honour to
the improvised repast, like men who, little accustomed to good dinners,
recognized all their merits. When they had finished eating they turned
their backs to the fire, so that the flames might not prevent their
watching the neighbourhood, and lighting their pipes and cigarettes
began smoking the Indian _moriche_, the only tobacco they had at their
service at the moment. There was a lengthened silence, during which
the guests enjoyed their smoke, and Don Aurelio was the first whose
cigarette was consumed. As he rolled another he said to the two wood
rangers--

"You are foreigners, I think you said?"

The Canadians nodded an affirmative, probably not considering that any
other answer was required.

"And have not been long in Mexico?" Don Aurelio continued.

"No," the Sumach answered, laconically.

"Ah!" the Mexican continued, not allowing himself to be discouraged by
the uninviting way in which the hunters answered him. "Ours is a famous
country at present for brave men; it is easy to make a fortune without
much outlay."

"Well," Moonshine answered with a crafty look, "not quite so easy as
you fancy. Here is my comrade, who is certainly a plucky fellow, and
who perhaps knows his trade better than most people, and yet he has not
found anything to suit him."

"He probably applied to persons who did not understand him."

"Perhaps so, perhaps not," the Sumach said, shaking his head
doubtfully; "or perhaps I asked too high a price."

"What! Too high a price?" Don Aurelio exclaimed; "I do not understand."

"What use is it wasting time in explaining it to you, as it is not
likely we shall have a deal together?"

"Who knows? Tell me, at any rate. We are going to a meeting of very
rich caballeros, and expect to join them in the morning. Let me know
your demands, which I will lay before them; and if they are not too
high, they may probably deal with you."

"Nonsense, why tell them to you?" the adventurer continued carelessly.
"It will be time enough tomorrow for us to have an explanation with the
gentlemen to whom you refer."

"As you please, I have no wish to force myself on your confidence."

"I intend to do so; but listen to me. Give me your word of honour that
if we do not come to terms I shall be at liberty to go wherever I
please, without any fear for my safety or my life."

"I pledge you my word of honour," Don Aurelio said quickly; "you can
trust to me."

"I do so with the more confidence," the adventurer remarked with a
laugh; "because if a hair of my head fell, it would cost you much more
dearly than you imagine."

"What do you mean?"

"Enough that I know it," the Sumach said with a crafty smile; "we have
no need to enter into further details."

"Why play fast and loose with this caballero?" Moonshine observed; "His
intentions are good. I see no harm in your being frank with him."

"Nonsense," the adventurer said, with a shrug of his shoulders. "Let me
alone, Moonshine; least said is soonest mended. In that way, we shall
see if we can have confidence in the word of a Spaniard."

"Of a Mexican you mean," Don Aurelio interrupted him with some vivacity.

"Well, a Mexican; it is of little consequence, though the difference
appears to me very slight."

"That is possible, but to me it is enormous."

"As you please," the adventurer answered carelessly. "I have not the
slightest wish to argue with you--the more so, that you must know more
about the matter than I do."

"In one word," Don Aurelio continued, "do you accept the proposition I
made you to accompany me tomorrow to the hacienda, where the leaders of
the revolutionary party are going to assemble, and may I rely on your
word?"

"Yes, if I may rely on yours."

"I gave it to you. Here is my hand, you can take it without fear; it is
that of a man of honour, and a friend."

The two Canadians cordially pressed the hand so frankly offered.

"That is settled," Moonshine said, as he shook the ashes of his pipe
out on his thumb nail, and then passed the stem through his belt.
"Now that is all arranged between us, if you will take my advice we
will have a sleep. The night is getting on, and we must be mounted by
sunrise."

No one opposed this proposition, which, on the contrary, was
unanimously accepted; for all of them being fatigued with riding for
the whole day along impracticable roads, had great need of rest. Each
wrapped himself carefully up in his zarapé, and lay down on the grass
with his feet to the fire. Moonshine threw a few handfuls of dry wood
into the flames, and resting his back against the base of the obelisk,
placed his rifle between his legs, and prepared to guard the slumbers
of his companions.

Don Aurelio had to oppose this, asserting that it was his duty to keep
the first guard; but the Canadian insisted so strongly that the Mexican
at length gave way, on the express condition of taking his place so
soon as he felt sleep weighing his eyelids down. Moonshine, therefore,
was soon the only person awake in the camp.

The night was calm and sultry; the atmosphere impregnated by the
fragrant emanations from the ground, and refreshed by a wayward breeze
which sported through the branches, and made them gently rustle, formed
a light haze through which the white moonbeams capriciously filtered.
The will-o'-the-wisps danced over the points of the grass, and a dull,
continuous murmur which resembled the breathing of nature, and seemed
to have no apparent cause, was mingled with the indistinct sounds of
the solitude. The dark blue sky, studded with a profusion of dazzling
stars, spread out like a diamond dome over this grand scenery, to which
it imparted a fairylike aspect.

The hunter, leaning against the base of the obelisk, with his arms
crossed on the barrel of his rifle which was resting between his legs,
yielded to the pleasure which this splendid night caused him. With his
eyes half closed, and assailed by a sleepiness which he only combated
with difficulty, his ideas were beginning to lose their lucidity, his
brain was growing confused, and the moment was at hand when sleep would
definitively close his eyelids, which he could only succeed in keeping
open by long and painful efforts.

How long he was plunged in this reverie, which has no name in any
language, but which causes an infinite pleasure, he could not have
said. All was confused before his half-closed eyes, and he could only
perceive surrounding objects through a prism which transformed the
landscape. Suddenly the hoarse croak of the owl was repeated several
times with a force which made the hunter give a mighty start. He opened
his eyes, shook off the lethargy that weighed upon him, and looked
anxiously around him. All at once he started, rubbed his eyes as if to
expel the last remains of sleep, and with a movement swift as thought,
raised his rifle.

"Who goes there?" he shouted in a sharp though slightly trembling
voice, owing to the inward emotion that agitated him.

The cry aroused the travellers from their sleep; they started up
sharply and laid their hands on their weapons; but they let them fall
again and remained motionless, with pallid cheeks and eyes fixed and
dilated by terror. At fifty paces from them, on the skirt of the
clearing, and fantastically illumined by a moonbeam which threw its
light full upon her, stood straight and upright the vague form of a
woman, whose proportions appeared gigantic to the terrified travellers.
Garments of a dazzling whiteness fell in folds round this undefinable
being, who held in her right hand a long sword whose flashing blade
emitted sinister reflections. Her beautiful and regular face was of
a cadaverous hue, which formed a contrast with the raven hue of her
hair, which fell in disorder on her shoulders, and descended lower
than her girdle, which was a golden circlet two burning eyes lit up
this face and gave it an expression rendered even more sinister by the
heart-rending and despairing smile which slightly parted her lips.

This strange apparition, whether man, woman, or demon, fixed on the
startled travellers a look in which sorrow and wrath were mingled.
These brave men, whom no human peril could have terrified, underwent a
moment of supreme hesitation--they were afraid!

The very horses, as if they understood what was going on, and
instinctively shared the fear which overpowered their masters, left off
eating their food. With ears laid back, legs apart, and head stretched
out in the direction of this terrible apparition, they neighed and
snorted violently. Moonshine, at length ashamed of the feeling of fear
he experienced, moved forward a step and boldly cocked his rifle.

"Who goes there?" he shouted for the second time, in a voice rendered
firmer by the assurance of being supported by his comrades, although
the latter, growing more and more alarmed, did not appear at all
disposed to help him. "Who's there? Speak, or, by Heaven, whether you
are an angel or demon, I will lodge a bullet in your head, and I warn
you that I never miss my mark."

Fear makes men talkers; the hunter only made so long a speech through
the terror with which the incomprehensible being he was addressing
inspired him, and whom his threats did not at all appear to disturb.
The apparition stretched out its left arm to the hunter, and said in a
loud though melodious voice--

"What use is it to threaten what you cannot perform? Have you such a
stock of ammunition that you are not afraid of wasting it?"

By an instinctive movement, which was independent of his will, the
Canadian lowered his weapon, and let the butt sink to the earth again.

"What are you doing here?" the fantastic being continued. "You are
sleeping like brute beasts, when you ought to be galloping. Your
enemies are on the watch to surprise you; if you remain any longer
here, on reaching the meeting place tomorrow you will only find the
corpses of your friends lying all bloody on the ruins of the hacienda,
where they are expecting you. You have not a moment to lose: to horse!
To horse! And you," she added, turning to the two Canadians, "do you
follow them; and, as you say that you are flying from despotism and
seeking liberty, fight for it!"

"Who are you? What faith can we place in your words?" asked Don
Aurelio, who had overcome his first terror.

"What matter who I am," the apparition replied, forcibly, "if the
advice I give you be good. I come, maybe from heaven, maybe from hell,
who can say?" she added with a sarcastic laugh. "Perhaps, I am the
spirit of this clearing. Obey the order I give you; then, when the task
you have undertaken is accomplished, you may try to find me out, if you
are still curious."

"¡Viva Dios! I will not be fobbed in this way!" the Mexican shouted. "I
will know what this means, and who is the being that thus counsels me."

And before his comrades could oppose the execution of the plan he had
formed, he rushed forward impetuously, with a pistol in each hand.

"Madman!" the apparition continued, "For wasting your time in trying
to pursue a chimera, when an imperious duty summons you. Catch me if
you can."

"Aye, if I perish," Don Aurelio shouted. But at the same instant his
feet were entangled in a liana, which he had not noticed in his hurry,
and he rolled full length on the ground, and both his pistols, whether
accidentally or purposely, were discharged in his fall. The Mexican
rose again with a savage imprecation, but the phantom had disappeared.

"Malediction!" he shouted, as he looked searchingly around him.

A long laugh responded to him, and then a voice, momentarily growing
weaker, said three distinct times--

"To horse, to horse, to horse!"

The travellers were startled; all had been witness of this strange
apparition, which had suddenly disappeared as if the earth had
swallowed it up, and there was no chance of guessing whither it had
gone; hence all these brave men trembled like leaves agitated by the
wind, and exchanged silent glances of terror, without daring to make a
movement.



CHAPTER III.

THE SUCCOUR.


The emotion caused by the strange apparition we described in the last
chapter was gradually dissipated; minds regained their equilibrium,
and ere long the travellers, reassured by each other's presence,
laughed and jested at the terror they had felt. Two of them, however,
more obstinate, or more affected than the rest, wished to detect
the meaning of this extraordinary adventure, and, as if by common
accord, though they did not communicate to each other the result of
their reflections, they fetched their horses, mounted, and rushed into
the forest from two opposite points. These two men were Don Aurelio
Gutiérrez and the Canadian adventurer, known as the Sumach.

Their absence was long, and their comrades impatiently awaited their
return for several hours. At length they reappeared, each coming in
a direction opposed to that in which he had set out. For a radius of
four leagues round the clearing, they had explored the forest, clump
by clump, bush by bush, but in vain; their researches had obtained no
result; they had discovered no trace, and found no sign which might
lead them to the truth. At one moment the adventurer fancied that he
heard the distant gallop of a horse; but the sound was so remote, so
indistinct, that it was impossible for him to form any opinion or
acquire a certainty. As for Don Aurelio, the forest had been as silent
to him as a tomb.

Both, therefore, rejoined their companions with hanging heads and
minds occupied with this apparition, which seemed to them the stranger
because their staunch hearts and straightforward minds could not accept
it as a divine intervention, and yet it could not be an hallucination.
At the moment when they re-entered the clearing the night was nearly
spent, the stars were growing pale, and expiring one after another.
Wide tinted bands were beginning to appear athwart the horizon, the
flowers and plants exhaled a sharper and more penetrating perfume, and
the birds nestled beneath the leaves were already preluding with timid
notes the melodious concert with which they each morning salute the
break of day. The sun would make its appearance ere long.

The horses were saddled, and the travellers had only been awaiting the
return of the two explorers to resume their journey. At the moment when
Don Aurelio was about to give the signal to start, the Sumach walked up
to him and laid his hand on the bridle of his horse.

"One moment," he said; "before we start I should wish to make a few
remarks to you."

The Mexican regarded the adventurer closely, and read on his thoughtful
face so serious an expression that he bowed to him deferentially.

"I am listening to you," he said.

The Sumach, as the surname he bore sufficiently proved, was a man
endowed with that ferocious and blunt courage to which every contest
is a holiday, and which overthrows any obstacles that rise before it,
however great they may be. Deeds done by this man were related which
displayed a boldness and temerity bordering on the prodigious. Fear
was as unknown to him as was weakness. But he was a Canadian; that is
to say, he belonged to that hardy Norman race, so superstitious and
credulous, which trembles at night at the dashing of an owl's wing
against a pane of glass, and for which apparitions and phantoms are
almost articles of belief. In a word, this man, who would have been
unmoved by the sight of twenty rifles pointed at his bosom, had an
inward tremor at the thought of the past night's apparition. And yet,
so peculiar is the human mind, the suspicious being who had so startled
him had scarce disappeared ere he rushed in pursuit. The truth was that
his indomitable courage had revolted at the thought of the involuntary
panic, his heart palpitated with shame, and he tried to discover the
truth or falsehood there might be in the occurrence.

The sterile hunt he had made in the forest had put the final touch on
his mental confusion, conviction was forced upon him, and now he felt
certain that a supernatural intervention had given them a warning which
they would do very wrong in neglecting. This was the reason which made
him oppose the immediate departure of the travellers and address Don
Aurelio.

"Listen, caballero," he said to him, in a firm voice, "I am only an
ignorant adventurer to whom books have hitherto been unknown things.
There are few things in the world I fear, but I am a Christian and a
Catholic; as such I cannot believe that God would disturb the order
of nature without some powerful reason. What is your opinion in the
matter?"

"I entirely share your opinion, my good fellow," Don Aurelio replied,
who, a good Catholic himself, and sincerely attached to his religion,
did not dream of disputing its dogmas and creeds.

"In that case," the adventurer continued, "trusting only to my own poor
judgment, the being who appeared to us a few hours ago does not belong
to this world. Yourself fired two pistol shots almost point-blank
without hitting, and though we started immediately in pursuit we found
no signs or trace. Is that so?"

"I must allow, señor, that all this is not only perfectly true but
strictly exact."

"Very good," the Sumach continued, evidently pleased with this answer.
"Now, neither of us can affirm with certainty whether this being comes
from heaven or the other place; but that is of but slight importance
to me. What I consider as far more serious is the advice offered to us.
Whether it be true or false we are unable to discover at this moment,
but it is our duty not to neglect it. If a serious danger menaces
your friends we are not numerous enough at this moment to offer them
effectual help."

"That is just; but what is to be done?" the Mexican remarked, struck by
the adventurer's logical reasoning.

"Patience," the latter said, with a smile full of meaning. "Did not
my comrade, Moonshine, tell you last night that if you broke your
engagement with me I should not fail of avengers."

"It is true," Don Aurelio exclaimed, eagerly.

"Well," the Canadian said, "what I did not care to tell you then I
will confess now. I have some twenty comrades a few leagues from here,
Canadians like myself, all resolute men and devoted to me. I was going
to rejoin them last night when we met. I will place them at your
orders, if you like, for this expedition, on the understanding that
when the danger has passed--should there be any--if the conditions we
offer do not please you, we shall be at liberty to withdraw in safety."

"Certainly," Viscachu exclaimed, yielding involuntarily to the joy
he probably experienced; but, recognizing at once the fault he had
committed, he humbly withdrew behind his master, muttering--

"Pardon me, Señor Caballero."

"I pledge you my word as a gentleman," Don Aurelio answered; "then you
have at your disposal twenty bold comrades?"

"Yes, or nearly so," the adventurer said; "and I offer them to you."

"Unfortunately we are in a hurry, and you will not have time to warn
them."

"Well, I did not think of that," the Canadian said, thoughtfully.

"Where are they at this moment?"

"I told you; about two leagues from here."

"But in what direction?" Don Aurelio pressed him.

"Hang it! As you belong to the country, you will know better than I;
they are encamped at a place called the Giant's Peak, on the road
running to the Hacienda del Barrio."

"What!" the Mexican exclaimed, in delight, "Why that is the very
hacienda we are going to!"

"Can it be possible?" the adventurer asked, in amazement.

"Nothing is truer; my friends are going to assemble there."

"If that be the case, it is useless to lose any further valuable time;
let us be off at once."

"Of course; I am most anxious to do so."

"By the way," said the Sumach, "I will go on ahead, so as to warn my
comrades, in that way you will not be obliged to make a circuit to
reach our camp, and when you arrive opposite the Giant's Peak, you will
find us on the road ready to follow you. Does that suit you?"

"¡Canarios! I should think so; you are a precious man, you think of
everything, so be off at once."

The Canadian dug his spurs into his horse's flanks and started at
full speed. The travellers followed him at once; their pace, though
rapid, was however much more moderate than that of the adventurer, who
appeared to devour space. Moonshine remained with the Mexicans, and
galloped by the side of Don Aurelio.

"Why did you not tell me about your cuadrilla?" the latter asked him.

"Pardon me, señor," the Canadian said, "but your memory fails you at
this moment; I was about to speak of it when my friend, the Sumach,
forced me to be silent."

"That is true; I remember."

"Now," he continued, "I will take the liberty of remarking, that in
speaking of my comrade's party you used the words _your_ cuadrilla."

"Well," Don Aurelio observed, "have I unwittingly offended you by that
qualification?"

"Not at all, señor; still I will inform you that I do not at all belong
to this cuadrilla, as you call it; I am simply a buffalo hunter and
beaver trapper. I do not say that when the opportunity offers to draw
a bead on a redskin I refuse to do so; far from it--it is, in fact, an
amusement in which I frequently indulge; but soldiering is not at all
in my line."

"I thought you an intimate friend of your countryman," the Mexican
remarked.

"You were not mistaken," the hunter answered, "we are indeed very old
friends, though our avocations are diametrically opposed."

"And on the present occasion, would you refuse the support of your arm
in defending the good cause?"

"I do not know what you call the good cause," the Canadian replied,
simply, "and, as a foreigner, I care very little to learn what it is.
Thanks to heaven your disputes do not concern me the least in the
world; but I should consider myself a coward if I abandoned a man with
whom I have eaten and drunk, and by whose side I have slept, when a
serious danger seems to threaten him. Hence you can safely reckon on
me."

"Thanks, caballero," the Mexican said, warmly; "you are a man whose
heart is in the right place."

"I believe it is; but I do not see why you should take the trouble to
thank me for so natural a thing as this."

Don Aurelio regarded him for a moment with repressed admiration.

"Let me shake your hand," he said to him.

"With pleasure," the hunter simply replied.

During the preceding conversation the sun had risen on the horizon,
and beneath the influence of its hot and enlivening beams, which made
the pebbles in the road glisten like diamonds, the scenery had lost
that stern appearance which the darkness had imparted to it. A warm
vapour rose from the ground and formed a species of; transparent fog,
that refreshed the atmosphere which was already rendered sultry by the
sun; the leaves damp with dew seemed greener, the birds twittered in
rivalry, and at times an elk or antelope, startled by the thundering
echo of the horses' hoofs, leaped from beneath a bush, and dashed madly
away with head thrown back and dilated eye; or the alligators raised
their heavy heads from the mud in which they were imbedded, and after
gazing at the travellers for a moment, plunged into the lake.

The Mexicans galloped on thus without the slightest incident for about
two hours, conversing together about indifferent topics, and apparently
as tranquil as if they were not going to meet a probable danger. They
had left for some time the banks of the lake which they had hitherto
been following, and, turning to the right, entered a narrow track,
the bed of a dried-up torrent, encased between two hills over which
mighty oaks formed a dense dome of verdure which the sunbeams could not
penetrate.

"The Giant's Peak is only a league and a half to our left," Don Aurelio
said to the Canadian.

"In that case," the latter quietly replied, "we shall soon come up with
our friends; they must be waiting for us at the end of that canyon."

In fact, when the travellers passed through the species of defile in
which they were, they saw, about fifty yards ahead of them, a party of
horsemen drawn up in good order, at whose head Don Aurelio recognized,
with a delight he did not attempt to conceal, the worthy adventurer.
The two bands were soon commingled.

"Thanks," the Mexican said with a smile to the Canadian; "you are a man
of your word."

"Did you doubt it?" the other remarked.

"Certainly not."

And they continued their journey at a gallop. They had at the most but
two leagues to go ere they reached the hacienda. Moonshine spurred his
horse, which soon carried him twenty yards ahead of the party.

"Where are you going?" Don Aurelio shouted to him.

"To scout," the hunter answered; "let me alone. We must not fall into a
wasps' nest."

"Go on, my friend," said the Mexican.

The hunter went off; but a quarter of an hour had scarce elapsed ere
his comrades saw him returning at full gallop, and making them signs to
halt, which they obeyed.

"Oh, oh!" Moonshine exclaimed, so soon as he had rejoined them, "the
warning was good: whether angel or demon, the person who gave it was
well informed."

"Explain, explain," his hearers shouted.

"Silence," the hunter replied. "Listen!"

All did so; and then the distant detonation of firearms could be
distinctly heard.

"What is happening?" Don Aurelio asked, a prey to the liveliest anxiety.

"A very simple thing," the hunter answered; "two or three hundred
Indians, or at least men dressed in their garb, are furiously attacking
the hacienda, the inhabitants of which are offering the most vigorous
resistance."

"¡Caray! Comrades, we must hasten to their assistance," Don Aurelio
exclaimed.

"That is also my opinion; but take my advice; let us not act rashly,
but take our precautions, for these Indians appear to me suspicious;
they manage their pieces too well, and take too good an aim to be real
redskins, and Indians would never venture to attack in open daylight a
fortress like the one before us."

"Then your opinion is--"

"That they are disguised Spaniards, viva Dios, and nought else."

"We cannot hesitate," said the Sumach. "Every minute is worth an age.
Let us approach softly, so as not to reveal our presence prematurely,
and when we are near enough to the demons, let us charge them
vigorously."

"Yes, we have nothing else to do. Forward!" Don Aurelio shouted.

"Forward!" the adventurers repeated.

The nearer they drew, the more distinct the sound became. With
the shots were mingled ferocious yells and howls uttered by the
assailants, and to which the defenders of the hacienda responded with
equally ferocious cries. They soon came in sight of the fortress, and
perceived the combatants. The engagement was of a serious nature. The
Indians, or men looking like them, fought with incredible energy and
contempt of death, trying, in spite of the fire of the besieged, to
escalade the walls of the hacienda, the top of which several of them
were on the point of reaching. In spite of the courage they evinced,
the defenders were unfortunately too few to carry on the contest much
longer with any prospect of victory.

All at once a formidable cry was raised, and the Indians, furiously
attacked in the rear, were obliged to wheel round. It was the charge
of the adventurers. At the same moment further succour arrived for the
besieged, for a second band of strangers rushed forward like a manada
of forest tigers, and taking the Indians on the flank, made a desperate
attack. The latter bravely supported this double assault, which they
resisted with the utmost bravery; but the defenders of the hacienda
finding they were at liberty through this providential help, which
they were far from anticipating, made a sortie, and proceeded to help
their defenders. There it became no longer a fight, but a butchery. The
Indians, after disputing the ground for some moments, recognized the
madness of a longer contest. They turned their backs, and sought safety
in flight.

The second band, which charged the Indians simultaneously with the
Canadians, had also disappeared. Still the Sumach, with a surprise
mingled with horror, fancied that he recognized at the head of this
band the fantastic being who had appeared in the forest; hence, in his
simple credulity, he was not far from supposing that these combatants
who vanished so suddenly were demons. When the few wounded white men
were picked up, the adventurers, and those who had given them such
effectual assistance, entered the hacienda. The plain, so noisy a few
moments previously, became silent and solitary once again; and the
birds of prey, left masters of the obstinately disputed battlefield,
began circling heavily above the corpses, with hoarse and sinister
croaks of joy.



CHAPTER IV.

INSIDE THE HACIENDA.


Although since the beginning of the civil war the Hacienda del Barrio
had frequently served as headquarters for the insurgents of New Spain,
and, for this reason, had sustained several regular sieges from the
government troops, who twice took it by storm, still, in the interior
at least, but slight changes had taken place since the time when we
first introduced the reader to it.

Still this house, which at that time was almost a country mansion,
had become a real fortress, a deep and wide fosse had been dug round
that side of the walls which might be accessible, and the threatening
muzzles of several heavy guns peeped out of the embrasures, to avoid a
surprise and defend the approaches to the hacienda. The trees had been
felled for a radius of nearly a mile all round, the scarped path which
ran round the hill and led to the gateway had been dug up in several
places so as to render the approach still more difficult, and the
drawbridge had been placed in working order.

On entering the hacienda the adventurers and travellers were received
by a caballero, who paid them the greatest attention. It was the
proprietor of the hacienda, Don Aníbal de Saldibar. The eleven years
which had elapsed since our prologue had produced but very slight
effect on his vigorous organization. A few wrinkles had formed on the
hacendero's wide forehead, here and there a few threads of silver were
mingled with his black hair, but that was all. He was still upright,
and his eye was bright as ever. He and Don Aurelio had been long
acquainted, and appeared to feel a sincere friendship for each other.

"You and the gentlemen who accompany you are welcome," Don Aníbal
exclaimed as he warmly pressed his friend's hand; "you could not have
arrived more opportunely. Had it not been for you, I know not how
matters would have ended."

"Well, I hope," Don Aurelio said, warmly returning the pressure; "are
we the first at the meeting?"

"On my word, nearly so, there are very few persons here as yet. You
know how difficult the communications are, and what a system of
espionage Señor Apodaca, his Excellency the Viceroy of New Spain, has
invented. It is a perfect inquisition. Every suspicious individual is
immediately arrested, so that our friends are obliged to act with the
greatest prudence."

"In fact, we have unhappily reached that point when one half the
population plays the spy on the other."

"Well, enough on this head for the present. You and your friends must
need rest. Allow me to conduct you myself to the cuartos which have
been prepared for you by my orders."

"On my word, I confess to you that I accept your offer with the same
frankness in which it is made."

Don Aníbal then led his guests to spacious and rather comfortable
furnished apartments, where he left them at liberty to behave as they
thought proper, informing them that refreshments would be brought them
directly; then he left them, in order to receive other persons who
arrived at the hacienda at the moment. In fact, scarce had Don Aníbal
left, ere the door opened to make way for several footmen, loaded with
trays covered with refreshments of every description. The Sumach, after
bivouacking his adventurers in a corral, rejoined Don Aurelio, with
whom remained only one of his servants, namely, Viscachu, in whom he
seemed to have the greatest confidence.

Our four friends, that is to say, Don Aurelio, Moonshine, the Sumach,
and Viscachu, sat down to the table, and did honour to the refreshments
sent by Don Aníbal, in a manner which would have assuredly pleased him,
had he seen it. Viscachu, doubtless through humility, was seated a
little away; he alone ate moderately, rather as a man who does not wish
to be guilty of want of courtesy, than as a man who had just ridden
ten leagues, and whose appetite must have been sharpened by recent
and vigorous exercise. When the travellers' hunger was appeased, the
conversation, which had, at, the outset, been languishing, became more
animated, and naturally turned on the master of the house in which the
guests were assembled. Moonshine, after lighting his pipe, addressed
Don Aurelio.

"Will you allow me," he said to him, "to ask you a few questions with
reference to our host?"

"I see no reason why you should not," the Mexican replied; "I shall be
even pleased to give you all the information you wish about him that I
am in a position to supply."

"These questions will be quite general," the Canadian continued. "My
friend and I are strangers, and as it is probable that circumstances
will oblige us to make a rather lengthened stay in this country, I
confess to you that we should be glad to have certain information about
persons with whom chance may bring us into contact, which will enable
us to act toward them in such a way as will not hurt either their
feelings or their interests."

"The fact is," Oliver Clary said in support, interrupting his words
with numerous puffs of smoke, "the country is so extraordinary, all
that goes on in it so far surpasses anything I have hitherto seen, that
I am quite of my countryman and friend's opinion."

"As you please. To begin, I presume that you would like to know
something about our host."

"You have hit it, caballero," both men said, with a polite bow.

"Nothing is easier, the more so because I am a distant relative of
Don Aníbal, and am better able than most persons to give you the
information you require."

"Excellent," the Sumach said, as he threw himself lazily back in his
chair.

"I think nothing equal to a good story after a jolly breakfast," said
Moonshine, as he rested his elbows on the table, and prepared to listen.

Don Aurelio delicately rolled a husk cigarette between his fingers, lit
it, and then went on as follows:--

"It is scarce midday," he said; "it is probable that we shall not be
disturbed till four o'clock, for Don Aníbal is at this moment occupied
in receiving the numerous visitors who are arriving from all parts of
the province. We have four hours before us, which we cannot employ
better; so listen to me."

After this sort of introduction, the Mexican summoned up his
recollections for a few minutes, and then went on like a man prepared
to tell a long story:--

"Don Aníbal Heredia Gómez de Alvarado y Saldibar is what we call in
this country a _Cristiano viejo_, that is to say, his blood has never
crossed, during ages, with that of the Indians; he is descended in
a straight line from that famous Don Pedro de Alvarado to whom Don
Hernando Cortés entrusted the government and command of the city of
Mexico, when he was compelled to proceed to Veracruz, to fight Don
Pamfilo de Narváez, whom Don Diego Velasquez, Governor of Cuba, sent
against him, and who passed with all his men under the flag of the
conqueror. You will see from this rapid sketch that Don Aníbal comes
from a good stock. When Hernando Cortés had completed the conquest
of Mexico, he divided the vast territory among all his lieutenants.
Don Pedro de Alvarado, owing to his fidelity to the Conquistador,
was naturally the best provided for, and he soon found himself in
possession of an enormous fortune. This fortune, being well managed,
augmented in the course of time, and thus at the present day Don Aníbal
is not only one of the richest landowners in New Spain, but in the
whole world. This colossal fortune was further increased, some sixteen
years back, by Don Aníbal's marriage with Doña Emilia de Aguilar, my
cousin, sixth removed. Doña Emilia was at that period seventeen years
of age, and one of the loveliest girls in the province."

Don Aurelio paused for a few seconds, and then continued--

"Here there is a grand gap, not in my recollection, but in the
information I have been able to collect. At the period to which I
allude some interesting business forced me to make a voyage to the
Havana, so that I only heard on my return that Don Aníbal had drawn
on himself the hatred of certain Indians established on his estates;
that these Indians, expelled by him, had sworn to avenge themselves,
which they tried several times, but unsuccessfully. While this was
going on, Hidalgo, the curé of Dolores, raised the standard of revolt,
and summoning the population under arms, began that long war of
independence which is not yet terminated. Although of Spanish origin,
Don Aníbal, whose whole fortune consists of land and mines, and whom
the triumph of the revolution would irremediably ruin if he obstinately
remained faithful to the Spanish government, either through interest or
conviction, or through these motives united, joined the insurrection,
and became one of its most devoted adherents. The house in which we
are at this moment, perfectly situated, as you can see, and tolerably
well fortified to resist a surprise, has several times served as
headquarters for the insurgents. Once was Don Aníbal surprised suddenly
by the Spaniards; the hacienda was so completely and rapidly invested
that Don Aníbal had not the time, as he had intended, to send Doña
Emilia and her child, who was then hardly eighteen months old, to Leona
Vicario. Both, therefore, remained with him, and then a frightful
affair, which has never been properly cleared up, took place. A snake
was conveyed into the garden of the hacienda by an Indian, as was found
by the trail discovered on the sand, and the bag of tapir hide he
left behind. How this Indian contrived to elude the vigilance of the
sentinels no one ever knew. Still it is a fact that this snake, without
doing the slightest hurt to the infant, attacked the nurse, whose
milk it sucked with a horrible frenzy. The wretched girl died almost
immediately after in fearful convulsions, and Doña Emilia, who was a
witness of the tragedy, not having the strength to endure it, went mad."

"Oh!" the hearers exclaimed, with a terror mingled with horror, "that
is fearful."

"Is it not?" Don Aurelio said sadly.

"And what became of the unhappy mother?" Moonshine asked with interest.

"Did she remain mad?" the adventurer added.

"No," the Mexican continued, "the unfortunate lady recovered her
reason, or, at least, after two years of assiduous care, she appeared
to do so, for, since the scene I have described to you, she has
constantly suffered from terrible crises, which succeed each other with
a strength and energy that continually grow greater."

"Poor woman!" Viscachu muttered.

"Oh, yes, poor woman!" Don Aurelio continued. "Don Aníbal, although
he would not let it be seen, adored his wife. The misfortune which
burst on him like a thunderclap, by revealing to him all the immensity
of his passion, deprived him of the strength any longer to conceal
it. All the time that Doña Emilia's madness lasted, the devotion and
self-denial he displayed were sublime. When she at length recovered her
senses, he ordered all his servants not to restrain her in any way, but
to let her act as she pleased, without even questioning or troubling
her. A strange change had taken place in Doña Emilia's character; this
woman or girl--for she was hardly eighteen years of age when the
misfortune happened--so kind, gentle, timid, and graceful, became a
lioness thirsting for carnage, only dreaming of combats, and having one
fixed idea, that of incessantly pursuing the redskins, and pitilessly
destroying them wherever she met them. Employing the liberty her
husband granted her, she frequently disappeared from the hacienda for
whole weeks, taking her daughter with her, from whom she never parts,
and whom she has trained in her own feelings of hatred and revenge; and
both remained absent all this time, and no one was able to discover
what became of them, or what they were doing; then the mother and
daughter would return with smiling faces and tranquil demeanour, as if
nothing extraordinary had occurred."

"And now?" Moonshine interrupted.

"I believe that the same thing goes on now," the Mexican continued,
"and that Doña Emilia has not given up her wanderings. Don Aníbal,
whom her absence terribly alarmed, has tried several times to prevent
them, but he found that the precautions he took to keep his wife at
home rendered her so unhappy that he preferred letting her act as she
thought. However, for some reason unknown to me, the Indians feel such
a superstitious terror of her that her mere appearance suffices to put
them to flight, however numerous they may be, as has been witnessed on
several occasions."

"It is extraordinary," Oliver Clary muttered.

"And the young lady?" Moonshine asked.

"She is now nearly fifteen years of age, and her name is Diana. She
is an exquisite creature, light and graceful, fair-haired, and her
eyes reflect the blue of heaven; but, beneath this delicate appearance
she conceals an indomitable energy, and an incredible firmness of
character. Educated by her mother, as I told you, she adores and only
obeys her, although she has a deep and sincere friendship for her
father, and evinces the greatest respect for him. Still, Don Aníbal,
I feel persuaded, however energetic he may be, would not venture to
contend with her, for he would be certain beforehand of defeat. The
young lady is, therefore, quite her own mistress, and hence never
leaves her mother; but the singular thing is that these two females,
who understand each other so thoroughly, have admitted a third person
to their friendship."

"A third," the Canadian said; "who is it?"

"That is the strangest thing of all; he is a tall, well-built, powerful
young fellow of about two and twenty, whom Don Aníbal brought back some
twelve or thirteen years ago from an expedition against the Indians,
and there is every reason for believing that he is a redskin himself.
This person's name, or rather the name given him, is Melchior Díaz.
Gifted with prodigious strength and unequalled activity and Excellency
in all manly exercises, this young man is the darling of Don Aníbal,
who sees with secret despair the approaching extinction of his name,
for he has no son, and is, consequently, the last of his race. Hence he
has bestowed on this young man, who, I must allow, is in every respect
worthy of it, through the goodness of his heart and the rectitude of
his mind, the affection he would feel for a real son; on the other
hand, being forced to consent to leave his wife and daughter their
liberty, he is glad to know they have such a devoted defender, for
Melchior accompanies them in all their expeditions. Several times Don
Aníbal has tried to obtain from the young man some information as
to their nature, but the latter has been impenetrable, intrenching
himself behind the oath he says he has taken never to reveal anything
that relates to Doña Emilia. Now, how is it that this lady, who
has such an inveterate hatred for the Indians, has taken into her
friendship this young man, who, I repeat, is assuredly a redskin, and
is so attached to him that she will not let him leave her for a moment?"

"And what does Doña Diana think of this young man?" the hunter asked.

"Diana is a child knowing nothing of life; she believes that Melchior
is her brother, for they were brought up together, and she feels a
frank friendship for him."

"But the young man," Moonshine said searchingly, "does he know that he
is not Doña Diana's brother?"

"I am not aware, but it is probable that Don Aníbal or Doña Emilia has
informed him of his origin."

"Is he at the hacienda at this moment?" the Sumach asked.

"I cannot tell you. I have not been here for several months, and so do
not know what is going on. But I hear a footstep in the corridor, and I
doubt not but that we are going to be interrupted."

In truth, a light footstep was audible on the outside, coming nearer
and nearer to the room in which the travellers were. At length the door
opened, and a peon appeared.

"Pardon, señores," he said, after bowing ceremoniously, "Don Aníbal de
Saldibar, my master, requests you to follow me to the grand hall, where
all the caballeros are assembled."

"We are at Don Aníbal's orders," Don Aurelio said, as he rose.

His companions imitated him, and all four went out after the servant.



CHAPTER V.

THE COUNCIL.


While the travellers were listening with ever growing interest to the
astonishing story told by Don Aurelio, other strangers, coming from all
parts of the compass, flocked into the hacienda. They were principally
rich landowners of the province, or persons compromised in previous
struggles through their ardent love of liberty, and who, justly objects
of suspicion to the Spaniards, could only find security in a general
uprising. Don Aníbal tried to offer all these visitors, the majority
of whom were followed by a numerous and well-armed escort, a large
and generous hospitality. Hence, the interior of the hacienda soon
resembled a barrack, and though the dependencies of the mansion were
large, they were crowded with men and horses, so that the latter were
obliged to be placed in the courtyards and the gardens.

At four in the evening the number of strangers assembled at the
hacienda amounted to upwards of four thousand, which formed an imposing
force. Unfortunately, with the exception of a few experienced men who
had fought during the first tentatives made by the Mexicans to regain
their liberty, the rest were only poor peons who had never smelt
powder, and were completely ignorant of war. Still, whatever their
intrinsic value might be from a military point of view, all these
men burned with an ardent desire for liberty. They were devoted to
their masters, and if well led, it was plain that a good deal might
be expected from them; and that when once trained and disciplined,
they would become not only formidable through their numbers, but also
through their courage and the revolutionary fanaticism that animated
them. In the meanwhile they offered a most miserable and pitiable
appearance; pale, haggard, thin, scarce covered by their dirty ragged
clothes, and mostly armed with pikes, bows and arrows, they could only
excite a pity blended with contempt in the well-fed, disciplined, and
thoroughly-armed Spaniards.

However this may be, Don Aníbal de Saldibar saw them enter the hacienda
with a joy which he did not attempt to conceal, and he augured
favourably for the success of the plans he had formed, through the
promptitude with which his friends replied to his summons. At length
the moment arrived when it was impossible for another soul to enter
the hacienda, and the last comers were obliged to establish themselves
in an entrenched camp on the ground where in the morning so obstinate
a fight had been waged with the Indians. At night the hacienda was
surrounded as it were by a glittering halo, produced by the bivouac
fires of the rebels who were encamped on the plain.

When all the persons Don Aníbal expected were assembled he gave orders
for the hacienda gates to be shut, doubled the sentries, advised the
utmost vigilance, and entered the reception hall, whither he had
ordered his servants to conduct visitors of high rank. This hall, which
was of large, almost grand proportions, was filled by some two hundred
persons, who were collected in groups and conversing together in a
low voice, but with great animation. The entrance of Don Aníbal was
greeted with a prolonged "Ah!" which testified to the impatience of the
visitors.

The hacendero, after gracefully inviting his guests to take the seats
prepared for them, made his way through the groups, and approached
a table covered with a green cloth, round which were already seated
several strangers, among them being Don Aurelio Gutiérrez, the two
Canadians, and Viscachu, who had contrived unnoticed to find his
way among the select company. Don Aníbal waited until silence was
established, then he bowed several times to the visitors, and asked to
say a few words. Permission, was at once granted, for the company were
pleased in their hearts at thus seeing him take the initiative, and
assume the responsibility of the events which were about to take place.

"Señores," he said, in a firm, distinct voice, "permit me in the first
place to thank you cordially, in the name of the country, for the
eagerness you have kindly shown in accepting my invitation, in spite
of the difficulties of every description that opposed, the journey
you were about to undertake, and the perils you must meet with on the
road. In spite of our continued defeats since the day when the generous
Hidalgo first called us to arms, in spite of the triumphs of our
haughty oppressors, the cause we have sworn to defend, instead of being
destroyed, has, on the contrary, prospered, because the cause is a holy
one, as we fight for liberty, that undoubted right of all nations.
Before approaching the immediate subject of our meeting, let me
describe in a few words the events accomplished during the last twelve
years, in order that we may be able to judge our position healthily,
perceive whether the insurrection we are preparing is opportune, and if
its success is so certain as is asserted."

"Pardon me, señor," said Moonshine, as he rose to interrupt him, "I
perceive that you are preparing to discuss matters which are perfectly
indifferent to myself and my companions, as we are foreigners; we,
therefore, ask your permission to withdraw before we have heard any of
your secrets."

At these words, uttered with that crafty carelessness characteristic of
the French Canadian, the company rose tumultuously, and remarks were
made violently from all parts of the hall. Some even shouted treachery.
In a word, the confusion was tremendous. Don Aníbal and Don Aurelio
exchanged anxious glances, and tried in vain to appease the agitation
of their friends, and establish some degree of order in the meeting. At
length, by exhortations and entreaties, they succeeded in producing a
semi-silence, of which they hastened to take advantage.

"What!" Don Aurelio exclaimed, addressing Moonshine, "Are we not to
reckon on you and your comrade?"

"For what reason should you do so?" the adventurer said, bluntly. "We
have made no bargain; to my knowledge, you have made me no proposition
I am able to accept. _¡Viva Dios!_ business is business. The honourable
gentlemen I command have a right to ask me of an account of the blood
they have sold me. I suppose that they do not fight for mere amusement."

"You are perfectly in the right," Don Aníbal said, prudently and
politely. "Still, your noble and devoted conduct this morning lead us
to suppose that you wished to defend our cause."

"A mistake," Moonshine replied, with a shake of his head. "My friend
and myself only wished to give you a specimen of what these men
can do--that was all. And then, again, could we honourably abandon
travellers who trusted to our loyalty, and whom we had promised to
defend?"

"Certainly not," said the hacendero; "and in the name of these
caballeros, as well as my own, I thank you for your brilliant conduct,
and the valiant assistance you rendered them."

The company were beginning to grow tired of this conversation which
seemed to have no object. Shouts and threats were beginning to be heard
again. Don Aníbal understood that he must come to an end as quickly as
possible.

"Tell me, señores," he said, "are you free from engagements?"

"Completely," the adventurer replied.

"Do you feel disposed to fight for us?"

"Yes, if your terms suit us."

"Very good. These are the terms. You, Caballero, are appointed colonel
of a regiment of cavalry, which you will undertake to organize, and of
which your men will form the nucleus. Your pay will begin from today;
your engagement is for three months; and you will receive a month and a
half in advance. Do these terms suit you?"

"I find them very fair," the adventurer replied; "but how much will you
give my comrades?"

"Two piastres a man. Is that enough?"

"Certainly, if you are not too exacting."

"What do you mean?"

"If you will shut your eyes to certain things which take place after a
battle or a siege."

"Colonel, as your regiment is a free corps, it cannot be subjected to
the strict discipline of regular troops."

"Very good, I understand," the Sumach said, with a wink of intense
significance.

"Is that settled?"

"Yes; whatever may happen, I belong to you for three months."

"Good. As for you, señor," Don Aníbal continued, addressing Moonshine,
"what are your wishes?"

"Although my rifle knows how to talk when there is an opportunity, I
repeat that I am no soldier; I only ask to serve you as scout during
the campaign at the rate of six ounces a month. You can take it or
leave it."

"I accept," the hacendero said, quickly.

"All right. You can count on me as on my friend."

Don Aníbal, pleased with having settled this affair to the general
satisfaction, and ensured the insurrection the assistance of men of
tried bravery and experience, received the congratulations of his
friends, and prepared to continue his address. During this, Don Aurelio
leant over to the adventurers.

"I was convinced that you would join us," he said to them, in a low
voice.

"What would you have?" they replied, in the same key; "We have no
prejudices, and came to this country to take service with one or other
of the two parties. You met us first, that is all."

Don Aurelio could not restrain a smile of contempt, but made no answer.
As for the Canadians, they were firmly convinced that their conduct was
most honourable, and, as they were in a foreign country, they had the
right of acting as they were doing; a reasoning which, by the way, was
neither incorrect nor illogical.

"Señores," the hacendero continued, "since the time of Hidalgo, who,
carried away by his enthusiasm, believed that it was sufficient to
wish to be free to become so, our enemies have taught us to conquer
them; the battles of Tres Palos, Palmar, Acatita de Bajan, Cuautlo,
Chilpancingo, and many others in which we defeated our ferocious
adversaries, have proved that we were able to gain our liberty.
Unhappily the death of Morelos, by delivering our enemies from their
most formidable adversary, has plunged the nation into discouragement,
and occasioned that discord which has glided into our ranks and once
again riveted our almost broken fetters. Three mournful dates are
marked in our revolutionary annals: that of July 30, 1811, on which
Hidalgo was shot; December 22, 1815, on which Morelos shared the same
fate; and lastly, December 18, 1817, which saw the brave and generous
Mina also fall beneath the murderous bullets of the Spaniards. Do not
all these glorious dead who lie in their bloodstained tombs excite you
to emulate them? Has their precious blood been uselessly shed? I do not
think so; the glorious spark which is supposed to be extinguished is
smouldering beneath the ashes, and one word, one cry from you will be
sufficient to rekindle it. Will you hesitate at this supreme hour to
rise and die, if need be, like those who so nobly preceded you in the
arena?"

"No," Don Aurelio exclaimed enthusiastically, as he rose; "no, we will
not hesitate, for at your summons, Don Aníbal, we flocked to you, ready
to recommence the struggle, no matter what may happen."

"Yes," observed a hacendero, whose white hair, lofty stature, and
imposing glances inspired respect, "we are ready to fight and die if
necessary for that liberty which is so dear to us; but courage is
nothing without discipline; who will command us, who is the chief
we can select? The revolutionary martyrology is already long in our
country, although the contest only began ten years ago. In addition to
the three heroes you have mentioned, Don Aníbal, and whom the Spaniards
cowardly assassinated, what has become of those heroes who are more
obscure but equally worthy of mention, such as Matamoros, Galeana,
Bravo, Mier y Terán, Victoria, and Guerrero? They are also dead or
in flight. We do not lack soldiers but chiefs. What can we effect
against the old Castilian generals, against that Viceroy Apodaca,
who obtained from King Ferdinand the title of Count del Venadito for
the assassination of Mina, and who, employing with diabolical skill
the faults we have not ceased to commit, has almost succeeded in
extinguishing that patriotic fire which emitted such dazzling flames
but a few months back?"

"What!" Don Aníbal remarked vehemently, "Would you despond? Do you
believe that chiefs will be wanting, and that Providence who has up to
the present done so much for you, will abandon you?"

"Heaven forbid my entertaining such a thought," the old man replied;
"for ten years I have furnished sufficient proof of my devotion to
the cause of Independence for my opinions not to be suspected. As you
said yourself, Don Aníbal, the struggle we are about to begin must be
decisive, and the last hour of liberty or slavery will strike for us!
I confess with sorrow that although I have looked carefully around,
I see no person capable of taking on himself the perilous honour of
commanding us, no one worthy of marching at our head, no one whose
military talent can cope with that of the Spanish generals."

"Are you sure you are not mistaken? Are you quite convinced that your
memory does not fail you at this moment, and that all the heroes who
formerly led us are dead?" Don Aurelio exclaimed, with a marked accent
of irony.

The old man started at being thus addressed, and his brow was
contracted as if by the weight of a sorrowful remembrance.

"Alas, Don Aurelio," he replied sadly, "one man alone has hitherto
escaped the death which all his comrades suffered in succession; but
his fate is only the more sorrowful. Confined in one of the dungeons
of the old Mexican Inquisition, he drags on in despair the rest of a
branded existence, which his torturers appear to have only left him
through derision. That man, were he free, might claim the honour of
commanding us, and we would gladly follow him. But, alas! What use is
it opening such cruel wounds? He will never be free, he will never be
allowed to see the sun again; he is compelled to die of misery in his
foetid dungeon."

"Are you quite sure of that?" Don Aurelio exclaimed. "Do you really
believe that heaven has so utterly abandoned us, and that the man to
whom you allude cannot recover his liberty?"

"Unhappily, I am but too certain of it. During the two years which have
elapsed since the Spaniards have treacherously seized him, no one knows
what has become of him. Shall I add that no one is certain that he is
still alive, and has not been strangled in his dungeon by the Viceroy's
orders?"

"Do you remember this person's name, señores?" Don Aurelio asked in a
loud voice.

"Don Pelagio," the company, shouted unanimously.

"No one has forgotten it; his name is inscribed on our hearts."

"If he were to reappear, what would you do?" Don Aníbal asked.

"It is impossible," the old man said, "he will not reappear; when the
Spanish lion holds a victim beneath its powerful paw, it does not let
him go, but rends him asunder."

"But tell me," Don Aníbal continued pressingly, "if Father Sandoval
reappeared, what would you do? Answer me!"

"Since you insist on an answer," the old man said with an accent of
supreme majesty, "I will give it you clearly and categorically, in
the name of all present, for I am persuaded that no one will dream of
contradicting me. If Father Pelagio were to appear suddenly in the
midst of us, we would immediately take an oath to conquer or die with
him."

"Do you swear it?" Don Aurelio asked again.

"Yes, we swear it!" all present exclaimed proudly.

Don Aníbal took a step forward, and approaching Viscachu, who had
hitherto remained modestly concealed behind Don Aurelio, he bowed
to him with marks of the deepest respect, and taking his hand, said
--"Father, your Excellency can throw off your incognito without fear;
there are none but true Mexicans here."



CHAPTER VI.

GENERAL FRAY PELAGIO.


It is impossible to describe the enthusiasm which broke out among the
patriots at this revelation which burst upon them like a thunderclap.
In truth, it was really Father Pelagio Sandoval. The result obtained
by this surprise, which was so thoroughly to the Mexican taste, was
immense. For a moment the worthy priest literally ran a risk of being
stifled, so lovingly did his partizans press round him; everyone wished
to get near him, clasp his hand; or kiss some part of his garments.
For more than a quarter of an hour there was an indescribable tumult
and disorder in the hall; everybody spoke at once; each exalted the
remarkable qualities of the chief who had been so long lost, and who
reappeared, as if by a miracle, at the moment when they least hoped to
see him.

The two Canadians were dumb with surprise; the effervescence, however,
gradually calmed, and silence was re-established. Before aught else,
Father Pelagio was obliged to explain to his followers in what way
he had succeeded, after two years of captivity, comparable with
the Neapolitan _carcere duro_, in leaving his dungeon by the aid
of a faithful friend, in spite of the vigilant watch and constant
espionage the Spaniards had established around him. So soon as he had
satisfied their curiosity to the best of his ability, Father Sandoval,
understanding the value of time well employed, and not wishing to let
the enthusiasm of his adherents cool, asked leave to speak.

A deep silence at once fell, as if by enchantment, upon the crowd a
moment previously so turbulent and disorderly; each with body bent
forward, and an attentive ear, prepared to listen to the words which
a mouth, they had fancied closed for ever, was about to utter. Father
Pelagio still retained the calm, benign, and intellectual appearance
which illumined his face the first time when we introduced him to the
reader; a few wrinkles more, furrowed by the terrible struggle he had
carried on for so many years, marked his pale forehead; his eyes had
acquired a greater magnetic force, and his face, pale and thinned by
suffering, had assumed that appearance of asceticism which Zurbaran has
so well depicted on immortal canvas.

In spite of his common dress, so soon as the priest had thrown far
from him the broad-brimmed hat which partly covered his features, and,
under the influence of the feelings that agitated him at the moment,
drew himself up to his full height, his face changed so thoroughly, his
demeanour all at once became so majestic, that all the spectators, when
gazing on him, felt themselves filled with a respect for which they did
not even attempt to account.

"Listen to me, brothers and friends," he said in that melodious and
sympathetic voice which gained him all hearts, "Don Aníbal said to you,
only a moment ago, the time is ripe for our beloved country, the hour
of liberty has struck for Mexico. If we really wish to break the yoke
which has so long weighed on us, the moment for the final struggle
has arrived; the salvation of our country depends on you, and all is
prepared for the grand act which it is our mission to accomplish. Pay
the greatest attention to my words, for the news you are about to hear
is serious. You are ignorant, I suppose, of the name of the man who
opened the door of the dungeon in which I was buried alive, without
hope of ever leaving it; this man is Don Agustín de Iturbide, the same
man who shot Matamoros, that stoical martyr of our liberty--Iturbide,
that ferocious colonel of militia, who has hitherto proved himself
the most obstinate enemy of the Mexican insurgents. Don Agustín de
Iturbide, that skilful, active, enterprising, and ambitious chief, who
learnt the art of war in the ranks of our enemies, has all at once left
the false path on which he has hitherto marched in order to become one
of our most zealous defenders. Great changes effected in the mother
country by Riego's pronunciamiento, have led to the establishment of
the Cortés, and the abolition of the Inquisition throughout the Spanish
possessions. As you see, the times are changed, the sun is beginning
to shine for us through the clouds, our most obstinate adversaries are
becoming our warmest partizans. Lastly, the Count del Venadito has been
recalled by the Spanish government and is no longer Viceroy, his place
being taken by O'Donojú. Let us take advantage of this interregnum, let
us make our last heroic effort, and if we like we shall be free; our
fate depends on ourselves, is in our hands. Shall we hesitate to rend
our fetters?"

At those words, warmly pronounced with a cheering accent and inspired
face, the audience felt electrified; an indescribable enthusiasm
seized on them, and, drawing their sabres and swords, which they
brandished over their heads, they shouted, in a voice of thunder,
"Liberty! Liberty!" The priest waited a few minutes, until the
generous effervescence caused by his speech had slightly calmed; then,
commanding silence by a gesture full of majesty, he continued--

"Iturbide is only waiting for our signal to declare himself for
independence, and overthrow the metropolitan government; the southern
provinces are already in a flame. Shall we remain behindhand? You are
all witnesses of what took place here this very morning; the Spaniards,
advised by their spies of the meeting which was to take place at this
hacienda, and having no plausible excuse to break it up, assumed the
Indian garb to attack us, in order to deceive us, and be able, in the
case of a check, to disavow all participation in this unjustifiable
act. Their ostensible motive, it is true, señores, was to break up our
meeting; but their real motive, the important object they had in view,
was to carry me off, and thus paralyze your attempts at insurrection.
Caballeros, brothers, and countrymen, one last word, which contains our
thought, and traces our duty for us--'To arms! Liberty or death!'"

The effect of these words, pronounced with feverish energy, was immense.

"To arms! Liberty or death!" all his hearers shouted.

At this moment the door opened, and a young man appeared; it was
Don Melchior, the lad saved by Don Aníbal some fourteen years back,
and brought up by him as his son. Don Aurelio had spoken the truth;
Melchior was really a charming cavalier, tall and gracefully built,
with regular, noble features, and soft black eyes. His dress, without
being rich, was extremely neat, and held a middle place between that of
the conspirators and of the desert hunters; a straight sabre, called
a machete, unsheathed, and passed through an iron ring, hung from his
left side, and the butts of two long pistols peered out of the _faja_,
or red China crape girdle, fastened round his hips. Don Melchior, after
looking curiously around him, glided through the groups and made his
way up to Father Pelagio, in whose ear he whispered a few words; the
priest started, and his face was slightly flushed, but, recovering
himself immediately, he said, raising his voice so as to command
attention--

"Señores, I have just heard something which neither you nor I
anticipated. Count de Melgosa has just arrived at the hacienda, and
insists on being shown in to you, as he says that he has matters of the
utmost importance to communicate to us."

This news produced all the effect which the chief of the insurgents
expected. All frowned angrily, and a menacing expression of dull
irritation appeared on every face.

"What do you propose doing?" Don Aurelio asked. "If our friends give
their consent," Fray Pelagio replied, "I will receive him at once.
What good is it any longer hiding ourselves? We have sufficient force
to hold head against an enemy more dangerous than the count can be.
Let us burn our vessels bravely, and make head against the storm. What
matter whether our enemies learn two hours sooner or later, that we are
recommencing the struggle?"

"Viva Dios, you are right," Don Aníbal exclaimed impetuously; "let us
confront the storm."

"Let us show," the old man supported him, who had already taken part in
the discussion several times; "let us show these haughty Spaniards that
we are not afraid of them."

"That is talking like a man of heart," Father Pelagio said with a
smile. "Melchior, my child," he added, as he turned to the young man,
"be kind enough to introduce El Señor Conde de Melgosa. So great a
person must not be kept waiting any longer in the anteroom of a poor
Creole."

The last words were uttered with an accent of pure raillery, which
brought a smile to the lips of several of the hearers. Don Melchior,
without replying, bowed to the priest and left the room. Father Pelagio
then drew Don Aníbal and Don Aurelio on one side, and began an earnest
conversation with them in a low voice. The door ere long again opened
and Melchior appeared preceding another person, whom he introduced as
Count de Melgosa. At the time when we bring him on the stage the count
was about fifty-five years of age, although he seemed scarce forty, so
greatly had his powerful constitution hitherto preserved him against
the assaults of old age.

He was a tall and well proportioned man, with a cold and ceremonious
manner. His angular features were stern and haughty, and the expression
of his face ironical. His eyes, deep set beneath his brows, flashed
a gloomy and concentrated fire. There was about his whole person
something stiff and constrained, which prevented sympathy. He was
dressed in a rich military uniform, and wore the insignia of a colonel
in the Spanish army.

A profound silence greeted his entrance into the hall. Not appearing at
all affected by this cold and significant reception he lightly raised
his hand to his hat without deigning to uncover, and walked with a firm
and deliberate step up to Don Aníbal de Saldibar, who, at a sign from
Father Pelagio, came to meet him, moving aside the persons in his way
so as to offer a free passage to a visitor who was so little desired.
When the two men were opposite each other they bowed ceremoniously, and
Don Aníbal, as master of the house, spoke first.

"What fortunate accident, my lord," he said, "procures me the honour of
the unexpected visit which you deign to pay me?"

The count smiled bitterly, and, looking ironically round the company,
whose eyes were fixed on him with an ill restrained expression of
hatred and anger, said--

"An unexpected visit, I can believe, caballero; and, doubtless, very
little desired."

"Why so?" Señor Conde, the hacendero continued with the most exquisite
politeness; "Be assured that I shall be always highly honoured when
you, the alcade mayor of the province, deign to visit my humble
residence."

"Are you speaking seriously, Señor Don Aníbal, and can I credit the
words which it pleases you to address to me at this moment?"

"Why should it not be so, Señor Conde?" the hacendero said, with an
almost imperceptible tinge of sarcasm.

"Why?" the count remarked with considerable vehemence; but at once
checking himself he continued in that cold and lightly mocking
tone natural to him, "A truce, if you please, to compliments and
protestations in which neither of us believes, and let us come to
facts."

"Be it so, Señor Conde," Don Aníbal replied, still obsequious. "Let us
come to facts, I desire nothing more."

There was a silence for two or three moments. At length the count
continued--

"Caballero, I have come to visit you, not as alcade mayor of the
province, a title I do not possess, and to which I have no claim, but
merely as alcade of the town of Leona Vicario, in the territory of
which your property is partly included, and from the jurisdiction of
which you naturally append."

"Naturally!" the hacendero repeated. "Ah! I depend from the
jurisdiction of Leona Vicario. I thank you for the information,
Señor Conde. I confess to you that I was completely ignorant of the
fact, having, whether rightly or wrongly, a habit of recognizing no
jurisdiction but my own in matters that occur on my estates."

"As you see, caballero, you are wrong."

"Be it so; but in my turn, Señor Conde, I will say, with your
permission, enough of this. For I suppose that it is not with the
purpose of giving me this most important information, for which I thank
you, that you have ridden such a distance, and taken the trouble to
come hither."

"You are right, caballero, I had another motive in coming here."

"And may I hope that you will deign to let me know it?"

"Without further delay, señor."

"I am waiting with the most lively impatience, Señor Conde."

"I have come, caballero," the alcade mayor continued with a tinge of
threatening hauteur, "to ask you by what right you have assembled at
your hacienda so large a number of individuals who have all been long
known as haters of the king's government?"

Don Aníbal was preparing to answer this question in a manner at least
quite as haughty as that in which it was asked, but Father Pelagio,
who had hitherto seemed to attach but slight importance to the
conversation, suddenly drew himself up, and seizing Don Aníbal by the
arm gently thrust him on one side, and coldly said to the count--

"It is my place to answer this, Señor Alcade."

At this interpellation, which he was far from expecting, the count
looked with surprise at the man who was addressing him, and noticing
his shabby clothes said disdainfully--

"Who are you, my good fellow, and by what right do you take the liberty
of addressing me?"

"Ah, ah, it appears that my disguise is good, Señor Conde," the priest
said mockingly, "since you, to whom my features are so familiar, do not
recognize me."

"Can it be possible?" the count exclaimed in surprise, after examining
the speaker more attentively. "What, you here! Oh, I am no longer
astonished at the ferments of revolt which are springing up again in
all parts of the province. It is you, unworthy minister of a God of
peace, who, forgetting your holy mission, are spreading discord and
preaching insurrection to the masses."

"You are mistaken, count," the priest answered, "I preach a holy war:
but, believe me, caballero, threats or insults are unadvisable between
us; it would be neither prudent nor courteous on your part to offer
them to me, and I warn you that I will not put up with them. You want
to know what we are doing here? I will tell you. We are conspiring
the overthrow of the government you serve, and at the moment when you
arrived we were taking an oath to conquer or die in regaining our
liberty. Is there anything else you desire to know? Speak, and I am
ready to satisfy you."

The count smiled sorrowfully.

"No," he answered, "poor madmen, I have nothing more to learn. What can
you tell me that I do not already know? Was not the long struggle you
have sustained up to this day sufficient to prove to you the inutility
of a mad resistance against a power too strongly established for your
obstinate efforts to succeed even in shaking it? Listen to what I am
instructed to say to you in the name of his Excellency the Viceroy."

"Speak," Fray Pelagio said, coldly, "and speak loud, Señor Conde, so
that we may clearly hear the propositions you have to make to us."

"Propositions?" he replied haughtily. "I have none to make to you. I
have orders to intimate, nothing else."

"Orders? That is very haughty language. Have you forgotten where you
are, and who are the men surrounding you?"

"I have forgotten nothing I ought to remember, caballero, believe me.
Renounce an impossible contest; withdraw peacefully, all of you, to
your houses; and possibly the government, taking pity on you, will
consent to close its eyes upon this insensate and purposeless attempt."

A frightful outburst of yells and threats greeted this contemptuous
summons. The count, with a smile on his lips, a calm brow, and head
aloft, remained unmoved by this general indignation.

"Silence," the Father shouted; "and you, Señor Conde," he added,
addressing the alcade mayor, "how many lives have you to risk when you
dare offer us such an insult? Do you think yourself in perfect safety?
In your turn listen to our reply--it will be brief."

"I am listening," he said.

"The weapons we take up today we shall not lay down till the last
Spaniard has quitted the soil of Mexico."

Frenzied applause and shouts of joy arose from all sides at these words.

"Be it so, señores," the count replied; "the blood shed will be
on your own heads. In the name of the king I declare you infamous
traitors, and, as such, outlaws. Farewell!"

And without condescending to bow to the company, the count, after
looking defiantly around him, turned and left the hall with the same
calm and measured step as when he entered it. Father Pelagio then bent
down to Don Aníbal's ear.

"Follow him," he said in a low voice, "and do not let him quit the
hacienda till you know his instructions and the repressive measures the
government intend to employ against us."

"That will be difficult," the hacendero observed.

"Not so much so as you suppose. The count is an old friend of
yours. Take advantage of the late hour to oblige him to accept your
hospitality, and remain here till tomorrow. In our present position,
twenty-four hours gained may ensure the success of our plans. I reckon
on your skill to decide him."

"I will try," Don Aníbal answered, shaking his head doubtfully; "but I
am afraid I shall fail in this delicate mission."

"Try impossibilities, my friend," Fray Pelagio pressed him.

Don Aníbal bowed and left the hall.



CHAPTER VII.

A CONVERSATION.


Among the persons present at the meeting, was one to whom we have
not alluded, although he is destined to play an important part in
this story, and who perhaps listened with more interest than anyone
else to what was said. This person, to whom we have now to turn our
attention, was Sotavento, the Indian majordomo, so liked by Don Aníbal
de Saldibar, and whose gloomy outline was described in our earlier
chapters.

Sotavento had not altered; nearly a dozen years had passed over his
head without leaving the slightest trace; his hair was still as
black, his face as cold, and his person as upright. Indians have this
peculiarity, that, whatever their age may be, they always seem young,
and do not really begin to display any signs of decrepitude until they
reach the last limits of old age.

We several times came across redskins who mentioned to us facts that
occurred sixty years back, and yet they did not themselves look more
than five and thirty. Moreover, it is impossible to fix with any
certainty an Indian's age, even when his features bear the stamp of
senility, for the simple reason that the savages do not try by any
ceremony to fix in their minds the precise date of their children's
birth, and limit themselves to recording, by the name they give
them, at what spot, in what season, and under what physical or moral
influence they are born; hence the names of plants, animals, rivers,
mountains, etc., which nearly all the redskins bear.

Sotavento, during the twelve years that had elapsed, had not left his
master. He had continued to serve him with such fidelity and devotion
that the latter, in spite of his indomitable Castilian pride, had
almost come to regard his majordomo more as a friend than a servant,
and to treat him accordingly. The conduct of this man, although still
stamped with a certain mystery, had constantly been loyal, apparently
at least, and under two critical circumstances he had bravely exposed
his life to save his master's.

Still, in spite of the proofs of devotion which could not be disputed,
this man inspired all those with whom chance brought him into contact
(always excepting Don Aníbal) with a repugnance and antipathy which
nothing could overcome; and, singular to say, the better he was known
and the longer, the less people liked him, and the more they tried to
avoid having anything to do with him. Still, his manners were gentle,
polite, even affable; he liked to do services, and eagerly seized
every opportunity to be agreeable, even to persons who must be quite
indifferent to him.

Whence came this general repulsion for this man? No one could have
said: it was instinctive; when people were near him they felt an
emotion like that caused by the sight of a reptile. Don Aníbal alone
shrugged his shoulders with a smile of contempt when any doubts or
fears were expressed in his presence about the character of the man
whom he had made his confidant. Was he wrong or right? The conclusion
will probably show.

The majordomo stepped unnoticed out of the hall after his master, and
leaving the latter to go in search of Count de Melgosa, who had already
reached the patio, and was about giving his servants the necessary
orders for departure, he quietly entered the inner apartments, went
through several rooms, and reached an octagonal parlour of small size,
whose windows looked out on the huerta, which at that moment was filled
with horses and armed men who had formed a temporary bivouac there. On
reaching it the Indian looked searchingly around him, then, going to
the door, bent his body forward, and seemed to be listening.

"They are coming," he said to himself, almost immediately after.

With one bound he reached the other end of the room, opened, with a
key that hung from his neck by a thin steel chain, a door carefully
concealed in the wall, took a final glance of singular meaning at the
door of the room, and then disappeared, closing the panel, which moved
noiselessly in a groove, at the very moment when Don Aníbal entered the
room, accompanied by the count.

"Here," the hacendero said, pointing to a butaca, "we can converse at
our ease, without fear of being disturbed by intruders."

"I assure you that I have nothing to say to you; still, if you desire
to exchange a few words with me while my servants are saddling the
horses, it will afford me great pleasure."

While saying this, the count seated himself.

"Oh, oh!" the hacendero remarked, with a smile, "Is that your tone? I
cannot believe that you really intend to go away so speedily; it cannot
be so, for the honour of my house. My dear count, old friends as we
are must separate with mutual satisfaction, and when all the duties of
hospitality have been strictly fulfilled."

"My dear Don Aníbal, at the present day," the count said with reserve,
"the duties of hospitality have become, I fear, very weak ties, and are
not strong enough to retain anybody."

"Do not believe that," Don Aníbal exclaimed warmly; "friendship has its
undeniable rights, and if fate has cast us into two opposite parties,
we ought only to esteem each other the more for having followed our
convictions."

"Unfortunately, Don Aníbal, but few friendships resist political
hatreds. However great the affection may be we feel for a man, however
powerful the sympathy we may have with him, when a community of
thought no longer exists, when everything separates you, indifference
inevitably succeeds friendship, and, as you know, from indifference to
hatred is only a step."

"Which, I trust, you have not yet taken, my dear count, for our
friendship is one of those which nothing can weaken, as it rests on too
solid a basis--an oath of vengeance which we took together--and which
we have as yet been unable to accomplish, in spite of all our efforts."

The count's brow was contracted by a painful thought.

"Yes," he murmured, "you are right, Don Aníbal; there is a vengeance we
have sworn to take. Oh, whatever may happen, I will keep my oath."

"Perhaps," the hacendero continued, "the hour is nearer at hand than
you suppose."

"Is that the truth, Don Aníbal?" he exclaimed, suddenly starting up.
"Shall we at length reach the object for which we have so long been
striving?"

"I hope so, Señor Conde; as I am more at liberty than you, and better
situated to obtain information, I believe that I am at last on the
track."

"Speak, speak! What do you know, my friend?"

"Speaking today would perhaps be imprudent. I do not wish to leave
anything to chance; give me a few more days, and then--"

"But," the count interrupted him passionately, "the insult I have to
avenge is more serious than yours; my murdered brother, my boy carried
off, perhaps killed, whose blood is incessantly crying out after their
cowardly and barbarous murderers."

"And I have my wife, my well-beloved wife, who was rendered mad by
terror, and my daughter, who escaped by a miracle from the frightful
sting of a snake. Oh, believe me, count, I suffer as much as you, for
all my happiness has been for ever destroyed."

There was a moment of painful silence. The two gentlemen, lying back in
their butacas, with their heads buried in their hands, remained plunged
in gloomy and sorrowful thoughts. At length the hacendero spoke.

"Still," he said, "on reflection, I think that it will be better both
for you and me to come to a thorough understanding about the steps we
mean to take, and arrange so that failure cannot be possible. But the
conversation will be a long one; I have much information to impart to
you, and so, my dear count, whether you like it or not, you must defer
your departure till tomorrow, and consent to pass the night beneath my
roof."

"I am in a very exceptional position here, Don Aníbal. The persons
assembled in the hacienda at this moment have a right to regard me as
an enemy, perhaps a spy. I should not like--"

"That concerns me, my dear count. Thank heaven, the well-known honour
of your character places you above all suspicion; and who knows,
perhaps your stay here, however short it may be, will not prove useless
to the cause you serve."

"What do you mean? Pray explain yourself, my friend, for I do not
understand you."

"You will soon do so; but for the present I shall feel obliged by your
not pressing the point."

"Very good; I will await a more propitious moment to obtain from you
the double explanation you promise me."

At this moment the door opened, and Don Melchior appeared. He bowed.

"Well, Don Melchior, what good wind has brought you here?" Don Aníbal
asked with a smile.

"The Señor Conde's horses are ready, father," he replied; "his people
are only awaiting his pleasure."

"Be good enough, my dear boy," the hacendero remarked, "to tell the
criados to take his Excellency's horses back to the stable, and to
unload the mules. The count does not start tonight, but deigns to spend
it under our humble roof."

"Still--" the count objected.

"You have promised me," Don Aníbal said quickly.

"Well, be it so," said the count, with his eyes fixed on the young man,
who was standing respectfully in the doorway.

At a sign from the hacendero, Melchior bowed, and left the room. The
count remained pensive for some moments, and then turned to his host.

"Have you not your old majordomo?" he asked him.

"Certainly. Why do you ask the question?"

"I fancied that young man had taken his place."

"Oh, no! That young man is not even one of my servants."

"Ah!"

"He is an orphan I have brought up."

"It is strange that I should have never seen him before."

"I presume you never noticed him before now."

"That is possible," the count said, suppressing a sigh, "still, it
seems to me, I know not why, that had I seen him before, his face would
not have passed out of my memory; there is something about it which
struck me. Have you had him long?"

"He was six years old, I believe, when Sotavento brought him to me.
Since that time he has constantly been with me; he is, I think, of
Indian origin, although his features are more marked than those of the
redskins, and his complexion whiter; but that means nothing on the
border, where crossings of breed are so frequent."

"That is true," the count murmured, as he passed his hand over his
forehead, as if to drive away a painful thought; "forgive me, my
friend, I do not know where my head was; the questions I asked you must
have appeared to you most indiscreet."

"Not at all; I am greatly attached to this young man, who deserves
in every respect all that I have done for him. Hence I can only feel
flattered when others beside myself take an interest in him, for it
proves that I was not deceived with respect to him. Now, that it is
arranged you will not start till tomorrow--"

"At sunrise," the count interrupted.

"Very good," the hacendero continued; "permit me to discharge a mission
I have undertaken toward you."

"A mission!" the count said with surprise.

"The word is perhaps very ambitious, but the matter is this--Father
Pelagio wishes you to give him an interview for a few minutes in this
room."

"Did I not see him just now, and did we not have a conversation?"

"That is true; but at the moment he was among too many persons to be
able to have an explanation with your Excellency, as he would have
probably desired."

"I do not know whether my instructions permit me to grant a
confidential interview to the person to whom you allude; still, not to
disoblige you, my dear Don Aníbal, and prove to you how anxious I am
to maintain the public tranquillity, I consent to the interview Father
Pelagio asks, on the condition, however, that you are present."

"Your Excellency anticipates my wish," the priest said as he entered
the room.

"You were listening to us, señor," the count remarked haughtily.

"Not at all, caballero; but, as I opened the door, I involuntary
overheard your last sentence, and I did not think that I committed any
indiscretion in proving to you that I heard it."

"Very good, I am ready to listen to you; but pray be brief."

"I have only a few words to say to you," Father Pelagio replied with a
bow.

"What is their nature?"

"I am about to have the honour of explaining. We regret, as much as
you do, caballero, the continued wretchedness which has weighed on our
unhappy country for so many years; far from wishing to recommence the
war, we desire, on the contrary, to obtain a durable peace, if it be
possible; but, in order to gain this result, which is the object we
desire, we must have the means of transmitting to his Excellency the
Viceroy our respectful entreaties."

"Respectful?" the count interrupted ironically.

The priest bowed, and continued without seeming to notice the accent in
which this word was uttered--

"We have, therefore, resolved on sending to the Viceroy one of our
friends intrusted with a humble petition, if you will consent,
Señor Conde, to pledge your honour that this petition shall reach
his Excellency, and that whatever the Viceroy's answer may be, our
ambassador will have nothing to fear, and be at liberty to go whither
he pleases, without being troubled, so soon as his mission is ended."

The count reflected for a moment.

"Listen," he said; "I know not whether rebels have the right to send
ambassadors to the chiefs of the government they are combating. Still,
as I sincerely desire peace, and as whatever may be the result of the
contest, Spanish blood will flow on both sides, and as I wish, as far
as depends on myself, to avoid a painful conflict, I pledge my honour,
not to lead your envoy to his Excellency the Viceroy, as that is
impossible, but to present him to the general commanding the province,
who, for my sake, will treat him respectfully, and who, if your
petition really contains quiet and respectful demands, will himself
place it before his Excellency the Viceroy; such is the only thing I
can undertake. If that suits you, very good; but it is impossible for
me to do more."

"Señor Conde, I expected no less from you, although what you offer does
not quite come up to our expectations. Still, we eagerly accept your
offer, as we desire to convince you of the frankness and loyalty of our
intentions. Tomorrow our envoy will follow you."

"That is settled, señor."

Father Pelagio bowed respectfully to the count, and withdrew. When Don
Aníbal found himself alone again with his friend, he begged him to
follow him to the room which had been prepared for him, and both went
out. The secret door gently opened, and Sotavento appeared, advancing
cautiously, and looking anxiously around him. When he was certain that
no one could surprise him, his eye flashed with a sinister gleam, and
making a menacing gesture, he said in a hollow voice--

"We shall see!"



CHAPTER VIII.

THE ENVOY.


After the count's somewhat precipitate retreat, and the mission
intrusted to Don Aníbal to detain him at the hacienda, if only for a
few hours, the Mexican insurgents continued discussing in the hall
the most fitting measures to obtain a speedy and good result for the
new uprising which was preparing. Father Pelagio then informed the
conspirators that this time the leaders of the revolutionary party
wished to deal a heavy blow, and finish, at all risks, with the Spanish
government. The secret societies spread over the country, and the
recently created Masonic lodges, had, in a general meeting, elected
as commander-in-chief of the national army Colonel Iturbide, whose
well-known military talents were a guarantee of success.

Colonel Iturbide, who was destined hereafter to proclaim himself
emperor, under the name of Agustín I., and fall beneath the bullets
of his own subjects, who condemned him and mercilessly shot him, when
he tried to regain the power he had allowed to slip from his grasp;
Iturbide, we say, is the sole truly skilful statesman Mexico has
produced since the revolution. He had served with distinction in the
Spanish army, and had on several occasions displayed a devotion to the
government which bordered on cruelty. Now that he was gained over to
the revolution, nothing would arrest him in attaining the object of his
secret ambition.

This time the Mexicans wished to avoid a serious fault into which they
had previously fallen, and which had not only fairly compromised their
cause but almost ruined it. This was the circumstance: When, in 1814,
the Spanish armies, beaten in every encounter, seemed on the point of
giving up the game, and yielding to the revolutionary turmoil, whose
triumphant principles seemed solidly established on the territory of
new Spain, General Morelos, at that time the most influential chief
of the liberal party, whose ideas secretly inclined to a republic,
established on the same basis as that of the United States, thought
that the hour had arrived to convene a national congress.

This congress, at first composed of only a dozen members, began its
session at Chilpancingo, where it promulgated decree upon decree; but
the discussing power had scarce been established by side of the armed
and acting power, ere, instead of combining their efforts for the
triumph of the cause they had sworn to defend, they began contending
together, each impeding the measures they should have taken in common,
and by deplorable conflict destroyed their means of action. The
congress tried to restrict the power of the general-in-chief, and
prevented on every occasion his operations, so that the latter found it
almost impossible to act.

These internal dissensions gave the Spaniards time to regain their
courage. The Mexican republic was dead ere it lived, and the insurgents
were obliged a second time to undergo the yoke from which they fancied
themselves forever free.

As Colonel Iturbide and the chief of the liberal party were not yet
quite ready to commence the insurrectionary movement, the great
point was to wait and, before all, gain time; for this Fray Pelagio
only saw one plan: to send to the general commanding the province
a messenger-order to make him certain proposals, and bearing a
respectful petition addressed to the Viceroy. During the absence of
this ambassador, resistance would be quietly organized, and they would
be ready to act when the signal for revolt was given by the chiefs.
The conspirators enthusiastically applauded this proposal, which
seemed to them fully to carry out the object proposed, namely cheating
the Spaniards. Still, when it came to select the ambassador, serious
difficulties arose.

Most of the persons present were rich hacenderos, long known to belong
to the liberal party, and whom the government carefully watched; many
of them had had to undergo numerous annoyances either in their estates
or their persons from the Spaniards, and they were not at all anxious
to surrender themselves to the mercy of enemies whose summary treatment
they were acquainted with. In fact, the Spanish generals made no
scruple about hanging or shooting the insurgents who fell into their
hands, and there was no plausible reason for supposing that they would
respect the person of an ambassador, sent by men whom they regarded
as rebels, and with whom the law of nations and of war need not be
followed. Consequently each found an excuse to escape the dangerous
honour of being sent to the general.

The question became difficult of solution. Father Pelagio only saw
around him long drawn faces, which foreboded no good for the execution
of his plan; he was, therefore, considerably embarrassed and did not
see how to escape the difficulty, when Don Aurelio suddenly came to his
help at the moment when he least expected it.

"¡Canarios!" the Mexican exclaimed, "It must be allowed, caballeros,
that we are pulling singular faces, and bear a strong likeness to the
rats in Yriarte's fable, that wished to bell the sleeping cat."

In spite of the gravity of the situation, this sally was so true that
it unwrinkled all the foreheads, and caused a general laugh.

"In truth," Don Pelagio observed, "_Dios me perdone_, we look as if we
did not know exactly what to resolve."

"Yet I fancy that nothing is easier than the choice we propose making."

"How so?" the priest asked.

"Whom do we want as ambassador? A true man; we are all so, I believe.
Still this man must be through his position sufficiently free and
independent to be able honourably to fulfil the important mission
intrusted to him. Is it not so?"

"Yes, you are right," Fray Pelagio answered, not knowing what the
hacendero wished to arrive at.

All the company, puzzled in the highest degree, looked anxiously at
Don Aurelio, unable to detect what the result would be. The latter
continued quietly, as he laid his hands on the Sumach's shoulder, who,
very indifferent to what was said, was carelessly listening to the
discussion as he leant on his rifle.

"Well, the man you seek is here," he said: "our excellent colonel--he
alone can worthily fulfil this great and glorious mission."

"What?" the adventurer exclaimed, starting as if a snake had stung him,
"No jokes, if you please. If it be a joke, I warn you that I consider
it a poor one."

"I am not joking at all, Colonel," the hacendero continued with a
gracious smile, "on the contrary, I am speaking very seriously."

"Nonsense, my dear sir. Your idea may seem to you a good one, but, for
my part, I consider it absurd and in every way impracticable. Hang it,"
he added, as he passed his hand round his neck, "I know the Spanish
gentry, and am not at all anxious to go and thrust my head down the
wolfs throat out of bravado."

Father Pelagio at once perceived what advantage this plan possessed
for everybody, hence he resolved to carry it out, and convince the
adventurer, who, in fact, was the only man who could risk, owing to his
very insignificance, going to the Spanish authorities.

"You are mistaken, Colonel," he said to the Canadian. "Don Aurelio's
idea is an excellent one, and I give you credit for such good sense
that you will agree with me in a moment."

"I doubt it hugely, caballero. I confess that I am curious to know how
you will set about proving to me that I must go and be hanged or shot
for the greater benefit of your cause," he answered with an ironical
smile.

"Oh, that is very easy, Colonel. Understand me thoroughly."

"Oh, I am all ears."

"You alone can carry out this difficult duty, for the following
reasons: in the first place you are a foreigner, citizen of a country
with which the Spanish government would think twice before seeking a
quarrel; and then you are a colonel in our army. You may be sure that
any insult offered to you will not be left unpunished, and that I, your
general, will take an exemplary vengeance."

"All that is very fine," the adventurer answered with a grin. "I allow
that the Spaniards will be unable to confiscate my property, for even
if I possess any, it is, thank heaven, out of their reach. But they can
imprison and even shoot me. That is of some importance, I suppose; and,
once I am dead, will you restore me the life taken from me? What shall
I care then for the more or less exemplary manner in which you avenge
my death? I shall not be the less securely buried."

"I repeat to you that the Spaniards will not dare touch a hair of your
head; moreover, you will not go alone; the noble count whom you saw
here just now will pledge himself to protect and defend you, for he
will introduce you to the person to whom I am about to send you."

"Hum!" the adventurer continued, "All this is not very clear; but how
do you know that the count will assume this responsibility? You have
not yet asked him the question."

"No; but while your colonel's commission is being made out, and two
months' advance are paid you for your outfit, I will go and speak to
the count, and obtain his word that you shall incur no danger from the
Spanish authorities, and that when your mission is completed, every
security will be granted for your safe return."

The adventurer scratched his head as if very far from convinced. It
was plain that, in spite of his general's explanations and the fine
promises, he did not particularly care for the mission confided to
him. Still, at the expiration of a moment, he drew himself up with a
determined air, shook his head several times as if to drive away a
troublesome idea, and said--

"Well, well, I see that madmen must always be madmen; so deuce take
fear. The Spaniards, I suppose, are not more formidable than tigers; I
shall not be sorry to have a nearer look at them, and so I accept your
offer. When am I to start?"

"Tomorrow, with the count; he will escort you to the general."

"That is settled."

"Now, give your name to Don Aurelio Gutiérrez, in order that your
commission may be filled up, and your letters of credit written."

"Good; my name is Oliver Clary, called the Sumach; this time I will not
deny my name, for I believe that I shall see death pretty closely. I
was born at Québec, and I am thirty-two years of age. Is that enough,
or do you want any further information?"

"No, Señor Don Oliver, that is more than sufficient; now I will leave
you for a few moments, and settle matters with the count."

"Do so, General, I trust to your promise."

"Depend on me."

And Father Pelagio left the room. The adventurer was at once surrounded
by the conspirators, who warmly thanked him for his devotion to their
cause, and the courage with which he was going to trace an imminent
and terrible danger in order to serve it. The Canadian shrugged
his shoulders, and quietly turned his back on them. So soon as his
commission and letters of credit were ready, and he had received his
money, he carefully placed all in his waist belt, and, making a sign to
Moonshine, left the room with him.

We have already described in what way Father Pelagio obtained the
count's assent; we will, therefore, not return to that subject, but
merely state that the priest hastened to inform the Canadian, whom he
met, of the success of his application, while warning him that he must
be ready to start at sunrise of the next day.

"You know," he added, in a low voice, and with a smile, "that an
ambassador must have eyes and ears; I trust to you to see and hear all
that it may be useful for us to know."

"Good, good, leave me alone, I will prove to the Gachupinos that the
Godos are not the only clever people, and that the Canadians are
descended from the Normans; they will not catch a weasel asleep in me."

Father Pelagio exchanged a few more remarks with him, and then left,
after wishing him success once again. The two Canadians then left the
house and proceeded to the garden, where they sought the most secluded
spot. On reaching one, where they did not fear being overheard, they
stopped and sat down side by side on the ground.

"Friend Moonshine," the adventurer said, "I have brought you here
because I wish to ask a service of you."

"I suspected it; speak, Oliver, you know that I am ready to do
everything you wish."

"I do not know how I let myself be humbugged into accepting this
confounded embassy, in which there are ninety chances in a hundred that
I shall lose my hide; but what is done cannot be undone. Listen to me:
during my absence you will take the command of my men, and I will give
them orders to obey you as myself."

Moonshine gave a nod of assent.

"Now," the adventurer continued, "take this belt; it contains not only
the gold I have just received, but also some savings of my own."

"What am I to do with it?"

"If I am killed by the Godos, I do not wish them to profit by my money.
You will keep as much as you like, and send the rest to my old mother,
you know where."

"I will send it all; I shall not need money, for if those brigands of
Spaniards assassinate you I must revenge your death, and money will be
useless to me."

"That is true; in that case you will send all. That is settled, thank
you."

"There is nothing to thank me for; what you ask of me is simple."

"Yes, yes," the other said, with a shake of his head; "but who knows
what turn matters will take?"

"Well, up to the present we have no cause to grumble, I fancy."

"It is true that we have succeeded in everything; my measures were so
well taken that, without exciting the slightest suspicion, we managed
to gain the very thing we aimed at; but we must wait for the end."

"Nonsense; we shall succeed; set your mind at rest about that, Sumach.
Besides, our project is most honourable, as we wish to render a service
to people to whom we do not owe the slightest obligation, and whom we
do not even know."

"That is true. Well, let us trust to heaven. One last word."

"Out with it."

"Distrust that cunning-looking majordomo. I know not why, but he
inspires me with an invincible repulsion."

"All right; I will watch him."

"Very good; now let us go to dinner."

The two men rose and went back to the house as quiet and careless as if
they had been conversing about indifferent matters. Immediately after
dinner, the adventurer assembled his comrades, made them recognize
Moonshine as their chief during his absence, and then all his affairs
being thus settled, he wrapped himself in his zarapé, lay down on the
ground, and almost immediately fell asleep.



CHAPTER IX.

DON MELCHIOR DÍAZ.


Don Melchior Díaz's name has several times already slipped from our
pen; the reader has been introduced to him, but up to the present
we have not yet positively explained who he is or in what way he
succeeded in gaining the position he occupies in the Saldibar family.
The moment has arrived to make this known, and acquaint the reader with
certain events most important for a proper understanding of coming
facts.

When Sotavento handed over to Don Aníbal de Saldibar the child saved
from the general massacre of the Indian tribe, there was a fact which
the majordomo passed over in silence. It was, that the lad whom he
declared to have recovered from the Indians, had been simply confided
to him by a white hunter, to whom he had scarce spoken, and who said
to him at the same time as he handed him a bag of gold dust, which the
majordomo did not think it necessary to mention either, as he doubtless
preferred to appear thoroughly disinterested in his master's eyes--

"This child is born of white parents; one day he will be reclaimed;
tell Don Aníbal to take the greatest care of him."

Sotavento scented a mystery under these hints, and in the prospect of
some profit to be made at a later date, kept to himself the hunter's
remarks, and told his master some sort of story, which the latter
believed, through the slight importance he attached to it. The lad had,
therefore, been unhesitatingly accepted by Don Aníbal, and brought up
in the family for the first five years. The hacendero paid but little
attention to him, amusing himself at times with his sallies, but taking
very slight interest in him, and regarding him rather as a servant than
as a member of the family destined to acquire considerable importance.

Don Aurelio, when he narrated to his companions the facts which caused
Doña Emilia's insanity and the events that followed, had been unable
to tell more than everybody knew, and comment on these events from his
own point of sight. But a secret was kept in the inner circle of the
family which Don Aníbal was more careful not to permit to transpire,
and which, consequently, Don Aurelio was ignorant of. The secret was
this: Doña Emilia was not cured; her madness still endured; still
this madness had become, so to speak, intermittent, and only made its
appearance at settled intervals; but then her attacks acquired such
strength that they became irresistible, and any constraint placed at
such a moment on the patient's volition would infallibly have caused
her death.

Don Aníbal, as we have said, adored his wife. Several times he tried
to calm her; he even went so far as to try and prevent her leaving the
hacienda. But then such frightful scenes occurred; Doña Emilia fell
into such horrible convulsions at the mere thought of not acting as she
liked, that Don Aníbal was obliged to restore her liberty. Doña Emilia
when these attacks came upon her became a lioness; she had but one
thought, one purpose, to rush in pursuit of the Indians, and pitilessly
massacre them. Singular anomaly of the human heart, especially in a
mild, kind, timid woman, whom the slightest pain caused to faint, and
who, in ordinary times, could not endure the sight of blood. Doña
Emilia, whom, by the physician's express orders, Don Aníbal had not
dared deprive of her daughter, had brought up her child in a hatred of
the redskins, and seizing on her young imagination with that ascendency
which mothers possess, had succeeded, if not in completely making her
share her ideas, at least in obtaining from her a passive and absolute
obedience.

Melchior, brought up, so to speak, haphazard at the hacienda, had,
through the instinct of protecting innate in man, attached himself
to Doña Diana, whom he saw sad, sickly, and suffering. Doña Diana,
for her part, felt pity for the poor orphan, and from this mutual
sympathy sprang a friendship which years had only consolidated by
rendering it warmer. Don Aníbal and Doña Emilia both saw with pleasure
this affection spring up between the children, though from different
motives. Don Aníbal, who would not for anything in the world have
thwarted his wife's ideas, saw with delight this boy grow up who, at
a given moment, might become her defender and safeguard in her mad
expeditions against the Indians; while Doña Emilia, reasoning from an
entirely different point of view, though she attained the same result,
saw in him a devoted and most useful ally in these same expeditions.

The result of this tacit understanding between husband and wife was
that the boy, at first abandoned to his instincts, was watched with
greater care, brought up as he deserved to be, and at last gradually
regarded as a member of the family. Let us hasten to add that Don
Melchior was in every respect deserving of the kindness shown him. He
was a thoughtful, earnest lad, with an honest heart and firm will, who
could thoroughly appreciate all that was done for his future well-being.

When the boy became a man, he was taken naturally into Doña Emilia's
intimacy, and associated in all her plans. Don Aníbal, delighted at
this result, and trusting in the young man, whose good sentiments he
had reason for believing he knew, felt relieved from a heavy burden;
and when his wife, attacked by one of her fits, attempted one of her
hazardous excursions, he saw her start with less terror, as he felt
convinced that she had a devoted defender by her side. But a thing
happened which neither husband nor wife had foreseen. The two young
people, brought up side by side, living constantly together, accustomed
to interchange their most secret thoughts and ideas, passed by an
imperceptible incline, without either perceiving or suspecting it,
from friendship to love. Love in these two young, ignorant hearts,
which were pure from any wrong sentiment, must necessarily be deep,
irresistible, and produce the effect of a thunderbolt.

This is what occurred: the two young people, instead of trying to
resist the new feeling which was germinating in their hearts and
growing so rapidly, yielded to it with that simple confidence which
ignorance alone can give, and which converts love into a divine
sentiment. Long before they had made a mutual avowal, they understood
each other by a glance, and knew that they were henceforth attached to
each other.

One day Doña Diana approached Melchior, who, with his shoulder leant
against a sumach, was listlessly watching a flight of wild pigeons
passing over his head. The young man was so absorbed in thought that he
did not hear the maiden's light step, as her dainty feet made the sand
of the walk she was following creak. It was only when her hand was laid
on his shoulder that, recalled to earth from heaven, he started as if
he had received an electric shock, turned suddenly, and fixed his eyes
on Doña Diana. The young lady smiled.

"Were you dreaming?" she asked.

"Yes," he replied with a sigh; "I was dreaming, Niña."

She mechanically raised her eyes to the sky.

"Of those birds, doubtless? Did they bring you a hope or a regret?"

Melchior shook his head.

"Neither one nor the other," he said sorrowfully. "I have no regrets,
and my sole hope is here."

The young lady looked down with a blush. There was a silence for some
minutes, filled with ineffable melody for these young hearts; the lad
was the first to speak.

"Alas!" he said, in a low and timid voice, "Regrets are hot made for
me; what am I, save a lost child, whose colour is not even decided? Can
I regret a family I do not know?"

"Yes, that is true," she answered, with a roguish smile; "but you have
a hope."

"A mad hope, an insensate dream, which the reawakening of reason will
utterly dispel," he said with feverish animation.

"You are deceived or wish to deceive me," she said, with some sternness
in her voice; "that is not right, Melchior."

"Señorita--" he stammered.

The maiden walked softly up to him. "We were brought up together," she
said to him in a gentle and penetrating voice, "we grew up together,
ever equally sharing our joys and sorrows; is that true, Melchior?"

"It is," he murmured faintly.

"Why, then," she continued, "have you become so taciturn during the
last few days? Why do you shun me? Why do you fly on my approach?"

"I?"

"You, brother, who ought to keep nothing hidden from me."

"Oh!"

"I repeat that you ought to keep nothing from me, for I am your oldest,
perhaps your only friend."

"It is true, oh! It is true, Diana," he exclaimed, as he clasped his
hands with passionate fervour, "you are my only friend."

"Why then keep a secret from me?"

"A secret!" he exclaimed, as he recoiled in horror.

"Yes, a secret; and I have discovered it, though you fancied you had
locked it up in your heart."

The young man turned pale.

"Oh! Take care, Niña," he exclaimed, "this secret I dare not confess to
myself."

"That is the very reason why I discovered it, Melchior," she answered,
with an adorable expression.

"Oh! It is impossible, Diana; you cannot know--"

"That you love me!" she interrupted him with an outburst. "Why not,
since I love you?"

And she gazed at him with the sublime confidence of a chaste and
true love--that divine and fugitive beam which God, in his ineffable
goodness, only allows to shine in innocent and candid hearts. The young
lover tottered like a drunken man; for a moment he thought he must be
dreaming, for so much happiness surpassed all that he had ever dared to
hope.

"You love me, Diana!" he at length exclaimed.

"You love me! Oh! An eternity of suffering for this second of
happiness!"

And he fell on his knees in front of the maiden. She looked at him for
a moment with an expression of indescribable passion, and then offered
him her hand, which he covered with burning kisses.

"Rise, Melchior," she said to him, with considerable emotion. "Rise, my
beloved. Let this holy love which binds us, and which we have mutually
confessed, remain a secret from everybody. A day will come, and soon, I
hope, when we shall be permitted to proclaim it openly; but till then
let us hide our happiness."

The young man rose.

"I love you, Diana," he said. "I am your slave; order me, and I will
obey."

"Alas, my beloved," she continued, with a sad shake of her head, "I can
give you no orders, entreaty alone is permitted me."

"Oh, speak, speak, Diana," he exclaimed.

The maiden passed her arm through his with a sanguine, childish
confidence.

"Come," she said, "accompany me a few paces, and we will talk about my
mother."

Melchior shook his head sorrowfully, but said nothing.

"Poor mother!" Diana murmured.

"Oh, yes, most unhappy," the young man remarked with a sigh.

"I think you love my mother, dearest?"

"Is it not to her that I am indebted for being what I am?"

"Listen to me, Melchior," she said resolutely; "we love each other,
and some day you will be my husband, for I swear to you that I will
never have another. As you see, I speak frankly and boldly, more so
perhaps than a girl of my age and position ought to do; but you are an
honourable man, and will never abuse the confession I have made you."

"Thanks," he said, simply. "Speak, Diana, speak. Your words are
engraved in letters of fire on my heart."

"It is well, my friend. You, my mother, and my father occupy all my
affections. It is a holy trinity, to which I will never break faith.
You know in what a horrible position my mother finds herself, and what
fearful hallucinations seize upon her."

"Alas!"

"Well! Swear to me that whatever may occur, you will never fail in the
mission I have taken on myself, and of which I confide to you one half
from this day; swear to me that, under all circumstances, you will
remain by her side to defend her, and die for her if it must be so. At
this price, I repeat to you, Melchior, at this price my love is yours
for ever; and no other man but yourself shall ever be my husband."

The young man tried to interrupt her; but she imposed silence on him by
a sudden and peremptory gesture, and continued--

"Oh! I know what a frightful sacrifice I impose on you, brother; but I,
who am but a girl, still a child I may say, endure without complaining
all the consequences of these ferocious acts of vengeance which I dare
not qualify as madness. Alas, Melchior, the fearful disease to which my
poor mother is condemned dates from the period of my birth. I am, so
to speak, the innocent cause of it; hence it is my duty to sacrifice
myself, whatever it may cost me, in order to try if possible to relieve
her frightful sufferings, which, in the paroxysm of a horrible crisis,
will perhaps entail my death and hers; for I do not conceal from
myself, brother, that the day must arrive when the redskins will take
their revenge for my mother's implacable expeditions. But then, if
I succumb, I shall at least fall with the incomparable satisfaction
of having done my duty by sacrificing myself for her to whom I owe my
life."

"Dismiss such gloomy thoughts, Diana. Your mother is growing calmer
with age. The expeditions, as you know, are more and more rare, the
attacks less frequent, and soon, perhaps, we shall have the happiness
of seeing them entirely disappear."

"I dare not flatter myself with that hope, my dear Melchior. No, no.
Unless a miracle occurs, my mother will fall a victim to her monomania
for vengeance on the redskins."

"My dear Diana, there are now two of us to devote ourselves to her. God
is too just and good to desire the ruin of two innocent children who
have never offended Him. You have my word, and my life belongs to you
and to your mother; employ it as a thing that is your own. On the day
when I lose it in serving you and saving you from sorrow, I shall be
the happiest of men."

"Thanks, Melchior; I knew that I could reckon on you. Your generous
words restore the courage which was fast deserting me. I will not break
down in the task I have imposed on myself; henceforth we belong to one
another, no matter what obstacles may arise."

From this day the compact was made between the young people--a sacred
compact, which neither broke, and which was fated to have terrible
consequences for them at a later date. But an invisible witness had
overheard their conversation. This witness, whom they had not seen
gliding like a snake through the shrubs, and listening to all their
remarks with the greatest attention, was Pedro Sotavento, majordomo
of the hacienda. What interest had this man in thus overhearing their
conversation? He alone knew; for beneath an affable and inoffensive
appearance, he concealed a deeply ulcerated heart, and evidently
followed a plan resolved on long before, the realization of which would
burst like a thunderclap upon those whose ruin he had so long meditated.

Sotavento kept to himself his knowledge of the love of the young
people, which he had so treacherously surprised. He never ventured,
in their presence, on the slightest allusion which might lead them to
suspect that he was aware of it. On the contrary, he increased his
politeness towards Melchior, and seemed trying, by overtures adroitly
made each time an opportunity offered, to gain his confidence. This,
however, let us hasten to add, he never succeeded in doing; for the
young man felt for the worthy steward an instinctive and invincible
aversion, which stopped in his throat a confession he was several times
on the point of making to him.



CHAPTER X.

MOTHER AND DAUGHTER.


We will now resume our story again at the point where we broke off. Don
Melchior, after his short appearance in the saloon, hastily proceeded
to a retired suite of rooms in the right wing of the hacienda. We will
precede him and go in a few minutes before him.

This suite only consisted of two rooms, furnished with that severe
luxury which the Spaniards so well understand, and which is appropriate
to their grave and melancholy character. The first room, serving as
withdrawing room, was hung with stamped Cordovan leather. Oak chairs,
which had grown black with time, and were also covered with leather,
were drawn up against the walls. In the centre of the room was a table,
over which a green cloth was thrown. A crucifix of yellow ivory, three
feet high, before which stood a curiously carved oak prie-dieu, faced
one of those enormous Louis XIII. clocks, whose case could easily have
contained a man, and, in a corner, was a species of oratory, surmounted
by a white marble statue of the Virgin of Suffering, whose brow was
girt with a crown of white roses, while before it burned a silver lamp,
shaped like a censer, and suspended from the ceiling by a chain.

In this room, which looked more like an oratory than a drawing room,
and which opened on a bedroom, the furniture of which was extremely
plain, two ladies were seated near a window, and conversing in a low
voice, at the moment when the exigencies of our narrative compel us
to join them. Of these two, one had passed the age of thirty--that
critical period for Spanish women; but although her face was pale as
marble, and her features were worn with sorrow, it was easy to perceive
that she must have been very lovely once. The person who kept her
company was a light-haired, graceful, pale, and delicate girl. She
was endowed with the ideal and dreamy beauty which renders painters
desperate and which German poets have alone been able to describe. In
her calm, pensive features were found again the dreamy, restless, and
chaste physiognomy of Goethe's Marguerite, and the intoxicating and
impassioned smile of Schiller's pale creations.

These two ladies were mother and daughter. Doña Emilia de Saldibar and
Doña Diana. Their dress, through its severe simplicity, harmonized
perfectly with the expression of sorrow and melancholy spread over
their whole persons. They wore long gowns of black velvet, without
embroidery or ornaments, fastened round the waist by girdles of the
same colour. A rebozo of black lace covered their neck and chest, and
could, if necessary, be thrown over their heads, and hide their faces.
They were conversing in a low voice, looking out now and then absently
into the courtyard, in which were assembled the numerous peons of the
hacenderos who had responded to Don Aníbal's summons.

"No," Doña Emilia said, "no, my child, it is better to remain silent,
for this information is anything but positive."

"Still, mother," the young lady answered, "the man seemed thoroughly
acquainted with the whole story; and it appears to me, on the
contrary--"

"You are wrong, Diana," her mother interrupted, with some sternness
in her voice. "I know better than you what should be done under the
circumstances. Be careful, Niña. You take the affair too much to heart,
and let yourself be carried away."

The girl blushed, and bit her lips.

"You know how I love you, my child," Doña Emilia continued directly;
"so do not try to thwart what I do, as you are well aware I have but
one object, your happiness, so let me act as I think proper."

"My dear mother!" the young lady said affectionately.

"Yes," Doña Emilia replied with a cold smile, "I am your dear mother
when I yield to your importunities."

"Oh, do not say that, mother! You know what deep love I have for you."

"Yes I know it, and I know too that I do not alone occupy your heart."

Doña Diana turned her head away to hide the blush that suffused her
face at this remark; but her mother did not notice this emotion,
and continued, as if speaking to herself, instead of addressing her
daughter--

"But why should I complain? Ought it not always to be so? Woman is born
to love, as the bird is to fly in the air. Love, my poor, dear child;
for love constitutes a woman's entire life, for it enables her to learn
joy and sorrow."

Her voice gradually grew weaker, and these words were spoken
indistinctly. There was a rather long silence, which the girl did not
venture to disturb by an indiscreet question. Respecting the sorrowful
reverie into which her mother had fallen, her eyes were fixed more
attentively on the courtyard. All at once she started.

"Ah!" she said, at once glad and troubled, "Here is Don Melchior."

"What did you say, Niña?" her mother asked, raising her head eagerly.
"I think you mentioned the name of Don Melchior?"

"Yes, I did, mother," she answered timidly.

"Well, what did you say about him?"

"Nothing, mother, except that I just saw him in the yard, and I think
he is coming here."

"He will be welcome, for I am anxiously expecting him. So soon as he
comes in, Niña, you will be good enough to retire to your bedroom, and
not come back till I call you. I have important matters to discuss with
this young man, which it is unnecessary for you to hear."

"You shall be obeyed, mother," the young lady said as she rose. "I hear
his footstep in the corridor, so I will withdraw, for he will be here
directly."

"Go, my child; I shall soon recall you."

The girl bent over her mother, whose forehead she kissed, and ran away,
light as a bird, at the moment when two raps on the door announced a
visitor. Doña Emilia waited till the door of her daughter's bedroom was
closed, and then cried, "Come in!" The door swung back slowly on its
hinges, and Melchior appeared. So soon as the young man entered the
room he doffed his hat, and walked respectfully toward Doña Emilia,
who, without leaving her seat by the window, half turned and made him a
sign to approach.

"You did me the honour of sending for me, madam," he said, as he
stopped three or four yards from Doña Emilia.

"Yes, caballero," she replied. "You know that I have been absent from
the hacienda for several days, and only returned a few hours ago;
consequently I am ignorant of all that is going on, and thought you
could give me the information I desire."

"You know, madam, that I am completely at your service for anything you
may please to order."

"I doubt neither your courtesy nor your devotion, Don Melchior, and I
think I have given you sufficient proof of that."

"Madam," the young man answered warmly, "your kindness to me has known
no bounds. I feel for you the veneration I should have for a mother,
for you have acted as such to me."

"I did what my religion commanded for an abandoned orphan. But enough
on this head: tell me what there is new at the hacienda."

"When you left the house without warning me, contrary to your habit,
madam, to get ready to accompany you, I was at first very sad, for I
was afraid that I had displeased you; then, on reflection, and after
seeking in my mind what the motive could be that urged you to exile me
from your presence, I supposed that I should be more useful to you here
than if I followed you."

"Quite right," she answered, with a smile. "Go on; but first sit down
here by my side," she added, affectionately.

The young man bowed respectfully, and took the chair pointed out to him.

"I need not tell you, madam," he continued, "what is the motive of this
day's meeting, or who the persons present are."

"No, pass over that."

"But among these persons there is one whose presence you are assuredly
far from suspecting."

"Who is it?"

"Father Sandoval."

"Father Sandoval!" she exclaimed, with a start. "Impossible! He is a
prisoner of the Spaniards."

"It is he, madam."

"That is strange. How is it that I have not been informed of his
presence?"

"He arrived at the hacienda with Don Aurelio Gutiérrez."

"But I was close to Don Aurelio: he only had with him Yankee or
Canadian wood rangers and two Mexican peons."

"Well, madam, one of those peons was no other than Father Sandoval.
The reverend father thought it wise to assume this disguise in order,
probably, more easily to escape the Spanish spies."

"Yes, that must have been the reason; prudence commanded him to act so.
Go on."

"Father Sandoval has made himself known to all our adherents, and has
been unanimously elected their chief."

"In truth, he alone possesses sufficient influence over the haughty
hacenderos to command them. And what measures have been adopted?"

"Pardon me, madam, but I must tell you of another person whose presence
was neither expected nor desired, and who arrived suddenly."

"The Count de Melgosa, I suppose. I was aware that he was coming. He
was doubtless the bearer of some tremendous message. Has he gone again?"

"Not yet, madam; he will not leave the hacienda till sunrise tomorrow,
accompanied by Colonel Don Oliver Clary, one of the Canadian
adventurers brought by Don Aurelio, whom Father Sandoval has entrusted
with his answer to the governor's manifesto."

"Very good, we have time before us; we will set out tonight. You will
accompany us, Melchior; so be careful that everything is prepared for
midnight, and our departure kept secret."

"You shall be obeyed, madam."

"And the majordomo?"

This question was asked in a tone which showed what importance Doña
Emilia attached to it.

"Still impenetrable, madam," he answered; "ever full of zeal and
devotion. His conduct does not offer the slightest pretext to suspect
him of treachery."

"Strange," she murmured; "still it is evident to me that this man is a
traitor, and playing a double part. How can I unmask him? Oh, a proof,
a proof, however slight it be. Still it cannot always be so; heaven
will not permit it. Patience, patience! I thank you, Don Melchior,
for the zeal you have displayed; continue to be faithful. Now you can
withdraw."

The young man rose.

"Madam," he ventured, timidly, "will you allow me to ask you one
question."

"Speak."

"I have not had the happiness," he continued, with hesitation, "to see
Doña Diana since her return. I trust that the fatigue she must have
felt has not made her ill, and that her precious health is still good."

Doña Emilia frowned, and a cloud of dissatisfaction spread over her
face; but at once recovering herself, she replied, gently--

"Doña Diana is well, Melchior."

"Oh, all the better, madam," he said, with an outburst of passionate
joy which he could not repress.

Then, bowing deeply to Doña Emilia, he fell back to leave the room.

"Poor boy!" Doña Emilia murmured, as she looked after him.

At the moment when he reached the door, she called him back.

"I forgot," she said; "be kind enough to tell Father Sandoval that,
if his occupations permit, I should like to speak with him for a few
moments after oración this evening."

"I will tell him, madam. Have you any further commands for me?"

"No, you can go."

The young man bowed for the last time, and went out. Doña Emilia was
hardly alone ere her daughter rushed from her bedroom, and ran up to
her.

"Well," she said, "what is the meaning of this, Niña? Why have you come
without being called?"

"Oh, mother," she answered, as she threw herself into her arms,
"forgive me, but I was suffering too greatly."

Doña Emilia recoiled, and looked her daughter in the face.

"What is the meaning of these words, señorita!" she said to her,
sternly. "To what are you alluding?"

The girl, ashamed of the confession she had allowed to escape her,
buried her head in her hands, and burst into tears.

"Diana, Diana!" her mother said, with ineffable sadness, as she drew
her daughter gently to her heart, "You are preparing great suffering
both for yourself and me."

"Mother!" she murmured, with a sob.

"Silence, Niña!" Doña Emilia quickly interrupted, "Do not add a word
which might, perhaps, cause, irreparable misfortunes. I know nothing,
and wish to know nothing. Dry those tears which burn my heart, and
take your place again by my side."

"Yes, mother," she answered, in a voice choked by sobs and trying to
obey.

"Diana!" Doña Emilia continued presently, in a firm voice, "Remember
that we have a mission of vengeance to accomplish against the Indians,
and that they are the cause of the terrible misfortunes which have
overwhelmed us."

These words were uttered in a tone which admitted of no reply. The
maiden shuddered and hung her head sadly with no strength to answer.
Her mother regarded her for a moment with an expression of pity, love,
and grief impossible to describe, and pointed to the statue of the
Virgin placed in a corner of the room.

"Pray to her who has drunk to the dregs the bitter cup of sorrow; she
will have pity on you and give you the necessary courage to endure the
grief which overwhelms you."

The maiden rose slowly; she went to the chapel, and kneeling down
piously before the statue, to which she raised her tear-laden eyes, she
prayed fervently; then, at a sign from her mother, she withdrew to her
bedroom. In the evening, Doña Emilia had a conversation with Father
Sandoval, which was carried on far into the night. This conversation,
doubtless, very important, but which we will not describe here, left
a sweet and consoling impression on the mind of Doña Emilia, for her
features grew calmer, and, before retiring to rest, she gave her
daughter's pale forehead a kiss full of maternal tenderness, as she
murmured in a low voice--

"Hope!"

The girl started in her sleep, and a faint smile played round her rosy
lips.



CHAPTER XI.

THE SORTIE.


In all the countries of Spanish America the heat is so stifling during
midday, that the wise plan has been adopted of only travelling in the
morning and evening; that is to say, from sunrise till about half
past eleven, and from five in the afternoon till midnight. In this
way travelling is rendered far more convenient and less fatiguing for
travellers as well as for animals.

About ten o'clock at night, with the exception of the bivouac fires
lighted by the peons congregated in the yards and gardens, all the
lights were extinguished in turn in the hacienda, and a deep silence
soon reigned in this house, which, however, contained a thousand
persons, while a much larger number were temporarily quartered round
it. All were asleep, or seemed to sleep, with the exception of a few
sentries standing motionless on the walls, and who stood out distinctly
in the bright moonlight. The night, which was calm and starlit, was
only disturbed by that indistinct murmur which is never extinct, either
in city or desert, and is the incessantly ascending flood of life. At
times a distant growl, or a half stifled bark, showed that the wild
beasts had left their hidden dens and were wandering about the forest
in search of prey.

All at once, on the side where the walls were the highest and rose
perpendicularly over the precipice, a door was cautiously opened.
Through its position over the precipice, this door could not be seen by
the sentries, and the three persons who stepped through it one after
the other, ran no risk of being perceived. These persons, who seemed
perfectly acquainted with the dangerous road they were entering on,
carefully closed the gate after them, and clinging to some projections
probably arranged to facilitate the descent, descended the cliff
without any hesitation, stopping at times to draw breath, or look
inquiringly around them. The descent was a long one, for it could not
be performed directly, and the bold adventurers were compelled to keep
to their left, and often to march parallel with the gulf; but at length
they reached the bottom without accident, and took a few minutes' rest
by the side of a stream which ran silently at their feet.

Nearly opposite the spot where the bold adventurers reached the bottom
of the abyss, was the yawning mouth of a natural cavern. After taking
a parting glance above their heads, as if to feel certain that no one
had noticed their departure, and that the same tranquillity continued
to prevail in the hacienda, they disappeared in the grotto. Then the
person who marched last took off his zarapé, which he held before the
opening, while one of his companions struck a light and lit a torch of
ocote wood, a considerable pile of which was collected in a hole of the
rock. By the glare of the torch, which suddenly cast a reddish tinge
over the interior of the grotto, a spy would have easily recognized in
these three persons, Doña Emilia, her daughter, and Don Melchior.

When Doña Emilia, who held the torch, had gone far enough to prevent
the light from being seen from the outside, Don Melchior pulled down
his zarapé, and went off in his turn. The grotto had such numerous
and sudden turns, that any stranger whom chance conducted to it would
have been infallibly lost, and Doña Emilia and her companions must
have known it for a long time when they ventured to enter it. After
walking for about ten minutes, our friends reached a species of hall,
on to which six passages opened, which ran in diametrically opposite
directions probably for a great distance. This hall formed a rather
large room, in which were several clumsily made equipales, a rickety
table, and a sort of rack fastened to the wall, and filled with weapons
of every description, lances, daggers, machetes, pistols, and muskets,
with bullet bags of tapir hide and buffalo horns full of powder.

Three horses with eyes full of fire were lying on thick litter, and
vigorously munching their stock of alfalfa. On seeing their owners,
they gave a neigh of pleasure, and got up as if impatient to leave
their dark stable. Don Melchior fetched the saddles, which were
carefully arranged on a bench, and after rubbing down the noble animals
he began saddling them without a moment's delay. Five minutes later,
each of them, holding their horse by the bridle, left the circular
hall, and after some turnings reached the mouth of the grotto. This
opening, perfectly concealed by shrubs, led to a rarely visited arm
of the Río del Norte; the water flowed up to the very entrance of the
cavern, which in the rainy season it penetrated, which rendered all
investigation impossible on this side at least, and insured the secrecy
of this hiding place.

After parting the branches, the horses were led through, and Don
Melchior again concealed the fissure by which they passed out. The
travellers mounted and entered the river, following the watercourse
till they reached a somewhat distant sandy point on which they landed.
They found themselves in the heart of a dense forest, and all signs of
cultivation had disappeared.

"Now," Doña Emilia said, with a peculiar smile, as she drew up her
reins and leant over her horse's neck, "forward, and in Heaven's name!"

These were the first words uttered since leaving the hacienda; the
horses started at a gallop and disappeared beneath the foliage. We will
leave Doña Emilia for a season and return to the Hacienda del Barrio.

The two Canadians, as we have already stated, lay down on the ground,
where they at once fell asleep. The Sumach could not have stated how
long he had been slumbering, when he felt his shoulder slightly tapped.
Adventurers and wood rangers, owing to the mode of life they lead, have
an excessively light sleep; the adventurer at once opened his eyes and
saw a man leaning over him with a finger laid on his lip as if urging
silence on him.

"Quick," this person whispered; "get up and follow me."

"Well," the Canadian said to himself, "I know that where there is a
mystery there are ounces to be gained; it is a fine time to assure
one's self of the truth of the statement."

Without displaying the slightest surprise, the Sumach or Oliver,
whichever the reader likes to call him, rose from his humble couch,
carefully wrapped himself in his zarapé to guard against the night
dew, and after making certain that his pistols were still in his
girdle, and that his knife moved easily in its sheath, he followed
his mysterious conductor without any hesitation. The latter, to whom
the hacienda appeared familiar, led him through several passages and
apartments feebly lighted by smoking candles fastened to the wall, into
a room of small dimensions, completely devoid of furniture, with the
exception of two equipales and a table. This stranger, who was wrapped
up in a large cloak that completely concealed his features, opened a
dark lantern, took a glance round the room, shut the door, placed the
light on the table, sat down, and made the Canadian a sign to imitate
him.

"Sit down and let us talk," he said.

The adventurer bowed; then, with the utmost coolness he laid his
pistols on the table within reach, seated himself and rested his head
on his hands, looking cunningly the while at the stranger.

"I am quite ready to talk."

"Why do you take this precaution?" the other said, pointing to the
pistols.

"Hang it," he said, "for a very simple reason; it is that I may have an
argument handy to convince you, should our conversation grow warm."

The stranger began laughing.

"You are prudent," he said.

"Prudence is the mother of safety," the Canadian answered,
sententiously.

"I do not blame you," the stranger continued, still laughing. "I am
free to confess, indeed, that I am delighted to see you behave thus."

"In that case, all is for the best."

"As for me, look," he said, as he opened his cloak. "I have not so
much as a pin about me."

"That is easy to comprehend," said the adventurer, "for you are at
home."

"What do you mean?" the stranger asked, in surprise. "What do you know
about it?"

"I mean that you are in your own country, while I am a foreigner; that
is all."

"Ah, very good; but in order to reassure you completely, and prove to
you that I wish to deal above-board with you, look at me," he said, as
he took off the broad-brimmed hat which concealed his face.

"Father Sandoval!" the Canadian exclaimed in surprise, recognizing the
priest.

"Silence!" the latter said quickly. "Not so loud. Have you forgotten
that our interview must be secret?"

The Canadian silently shook his head, and, uncocking his pistols,
returned them to his belt.

"Why do you frown so?" the priest asked him after examining him
attentively. "Are you vexed at recognizing me?"

"Oh no, it is not that," he answered.

"What is it, then?"

"On my word, I confess that I am trying in vain to discover what you, a
person I do not know, have so secret and important to say to me."

"Are you sure of that."

"How, sure of it?" he exclaimed, with surprise.

"Yes," the priest remarked with a smile.

"Hang it," he said, "unless I have seen you in a dream, I am ready to
swear that we meet today for the first time."

"Look at me closely, my friend," he said. "Will you really swear that
you never saw me before?"

The Canadian, more and more surprised at this pressing, leant over
to the singular speaker, and, taking up the lantern, made a careful
inspection of him, which Don Pelagio permitted with the best possible
grace. At the expiration of a moment, the adventurer deposited the
lantern on the table again, and scratched his head with an embarrassed
air.

"It is strange," he said. "I now fancy that you may be in the right.
Certain of your features, to which I did not at first pay attention,
are familiar to me, though it is perfectly impossible for me to
recollect how or when chance brought us together, if, as you insist on
assuring me, we have already met."

"I do not say that we were positively acquainted, but we have met, and
remained together for two hours."

"Listen to me. I do not doubt your word, for I do not see what motive
you could have in trying to make a fool of me. You appear to me too
sober-minded a man for such jokes. Explain yourself frankly, for that
will be the only way to settle the matter."

"I see that I must do so. I should have liked to avoid it, because I
shall now appear to be compelling you to carry out a promise, by asking
of you what I wished to obtain solely from your honour and good heart."

"My worthy father, you are becoming most mysterious, and I really do
not know how all this will end."

"One word will give you the clue."

"Say it, then, at once, for deuce take me if I am not as curious as an
old woman at this moment."

"Have you forgotten the Beaver pond and the sumach to which the Pawnee
Indians fastened you, after smearing you with honey?"

The adventurer smote his forehead violently, and, hurriedly rising,
seized the priest's hand.

"¡Viva Dios!" he exclaimed warmly. "Where could my brains be, that I
should forget the features of the Christian who so generously saved
me from a horrible death? My good father, forgive me; my eyes alone
were guilty, for I have ever remembered you from the moment when you
rendered me this immense service at the risk of your life."

Father Sandoval cordially returned the adventurer's squeeze, but he
remained silent for a moment, with his eyes obstinately fixed on him,
as if trying to read his most secret thoughts.

"What!" the Canadian said hotly, "Could you doubt me? I am only a poor
devil of an adventurer, it is true, but I consider myself a man. We
wood rangers, if we are rather quick at the use of the knife and in
shooting an enemy, know better than town folk, perhaps, how to retain
the recollection of an act of kindness. Speak, father, speak without
fear. Whatever you bid me I will do. I belong to you, body and soul.
I repeat that I am entirely yours; hence, do not be afraid about
explaining yourself frankly, for I shall catch your meaning at a word."

"Indeed!" the priest at length answered. "Why should I doubt you? You
have given me no cause to suspect your loyalty. Moreover, what I wish
to ask of you, Don Oliver, is only conditional. I merely desire to
make sure of your assistance in case of need, that is all."

"Speak, speak; have I not told you that you can count on me?"

"Well, so be it. This is what I expect of you. You are going to start
in the morning. The mission I have intrusted to you is a dangerous
one, though I have strong reasons for believing that you will get out
of it safe and sound; but that is not the point at the present moment.
You are about to start, I repeat; no one knows how long you may remain
absent. For my part, I shall probably be obliged to push forward. Give
me your word that, on whatever day or hour I need you, whatever you
may be doing, when you receive a message from me summoning you, give
me your word to abandon everything instantly, and run to my help, to
aid me to the utmost of your power in the accomplishment of what I have
resolved on, and without asking me for an explanation, however grave or
terrible the matter in which I ask your support may be. Do you promise
me this? Do not answer hastily; reflect before pledging your word,
for the engagement you are going to make is serious, and may entail
consequences which it is impossible to foresee."

The Canadian listened to these words with visible impatience. When
Father Sandoval ended, he shrugged his shoulders carelessly.

"Why so much beating about the bush?" he said. "I am yours. You ask for
my word, and I give it. Now, may heaven grant me the opportunity of
fulfilling my pledge."

"Thanks! I trust, I repeat, that I may not be constrained to have
recourse to you. Still, we are bound to take our precautions. In case
of my being forced to send a messenger to you, take half this ring.
The apparently most faithful man may, at a given moment, become a
traitor; and I have learned the truth of that by sad experience. You
will only follow the man who hands you the other half of this ring,
and says, 'The hour is come--the master waits.' You will ask this man
no questions, for he will be unable to answer you, as he will know
nothing. Have you thoroughly understood me? Is this arranged?"

"All right. I understand you," the Canadian replied, as he carefully
stowed away the half ring the priest gave him. "Have you any further
recommendations to give me?"

"No. We must part now. Follow me."

They rose and left the room. After some time the Canadian found himself
again at the spot where Moonshine was lying. Father Sandoval gave the
adventurer a parting sign to be discreet, and went away.

"Hum!" the Sumach said, as he examined the sky, "I have not much time
to lose, if I want a little rest before starting."

After this reflection, he lay down again by the side of his comrade,
who still slept, and almost directly fell himself into deep slumber.



CHAPTER XII.

ON THE ROAD.


The brilliant gleams of dawn were already colouring the crests of the
distant mountains; the warm beams of the rising sun, issuing from a
mass of golden and purple clouds, dissipated the fog; the vapour rose
like a curtain and revealed in all its majestic grandeur the splendid
landscape of which the Hacienda del Barrio formed the centre. On the
right extended the verdant valley through which the Río Grande del
Norte forced its capricious windings. On the left, in the midst of a
profusion of clumps of trees, rocks and hills, girt with a garland of
verdure, extended a great lake, whose surface, slightly ruffled by the
pure and refreshing morning breeze, sparkled in the sunbeams. Lofty
mountains, scarped rocks, and banks, on which grew sumachs, mahoganies,
and cork trees, framed in this magnificent sheet of water, and the
harmonious rustling of the dew-laden leaves seemed to impart a sort of
life to this calm scenery which the hand of man had not yet deformed,
and which rose radiant beneath the powerful breath of the Creator.

The coming dawn had scarce begun to disperse the gloom ere all was in
motion at the hacienda. The peons fetched the animals from the corrals
while the cavaliers led their horses to the watering place, or went
in search of dry wood to rekindle the bivouac fires and prepare the
morning repast. Don Aníbal's numerous visitors gave their followers
orders to load the mules and saddle the horses, so as to be ready to
start at the first signal.

The Count de Melgosa quitted the apartment in which he had passed the
night, and accompanied by the hacendero, who insisted on seeing him
off, he proceeded to the first patio, where his people were already
waiting, as was the Canadian adventurer, who, at the first beam of day,
left without much regret the hard bed on which he had slumbered for
only two or three hours.

"What!" Don Aníbal said with surprise, on seeing the count's small
escort, "Did you venture to come here so weakly escorted in this time
of trouble and disorder?"

"Why not?" the count said, carelessly; "The six men you see are devoted
to me; they are old soldiers, accustomed to fire. Moreover, what have I
to fear?" he added with an ironical smile. "Are we not at peace?"

"Yes, for the present at any rate; but the long wars we have had
to endure have, as you know, ruined and reduced many people to
desperation; the country is infested with marauders, and this frontier
especially, exposed to the continual incursions of the Indians, is
anything but safe. I repeat, Señor Conde, that you committed a serious
act of imprudence in bringing so few people with you, and, with your
permission, I will give you an escort to protect you from all danger."

"Do nothing of the sort, my friend," the count answered, quickly;
"although I sincerely thank you for the solicitude you display, I am
convinced that your fears are exaggerated."

"Still--" the hacendero continued.

"Not a word more on the subject, I beg; you would seriously annoy me by
pressing it further. Moreover," he said with a laugh, as he pointed to
the Canadian, "my escort is augmented by an ally who, in case of need,
I am persuaded, would not hesitate to come to my help. So, say no more
about it, and good-bye. Excuse my leaving you so suddenly, but we have
a long ride before us along roads which, you know as well as I do, are
very bad, and it is time for me to start."

"Since you insist, count, I can only wish you a prosperous journey, and
take my leave of you."

"Good-bye, my friend," he said, as he affectionately pressed Don
Aníbal's hand. "I trust that we shall soon meet again, under
circumstances more agreeable to you and me."

"Whatever may happen, or whatever fate destiny reserves for us, be
assured that nothing can alter the friendship I feel for you."

"I know it, and thank you," the count said, as he got into the saddle.
"Are you ready to accompany me, señor?" he asked the Canadian.

"I have been waiting some time for you, señor," the latter answered, in
his usual rough way.

The count examined him for a moment, smiled slightly, shrugged his
shoulders, but made no remark. After exchanging a few more affectionate
remarks with the hacendero, he slightly raised his hat, gave the order
to depart, and the little band left the hacienda at a sharp trot. The
horsemen, splendidly armed, and rifle on thigh, traversed in good order
the camp formed outside the hacienda, without replying to the sarcasms
or jests of the Mexicans, who collected as they passed, and showered on
them witticisms, which were at times offensive. The count rode gravely
at the head of the little party, looking neither to the right nor left,
apparently indifferent to the coarse jokes levelled upon him.

About a horse's length behind him, the Canadian, whose indifference
was not at all feigned, for all he heard concerned him very slightly,
was reflecting on the way in which he should perform the singular
commission so strangely entrusted to him, and though he was as yet only
at the outset of the expedition, he was already beginning to feel a
lively desire to be freed from the company in which he found himself,
and for which he felt no sympathy.

The other travellers, six in number, were, as the count had said to Don
Aníbal, old soldiers, regardless of danger, entirely devoted to their
master, and who, at a sign from him, would let themselves be bravely
killed, without taking the trouble to discover the motive for the order
given them. However, all these men, their master included, seemed to
possess a considerable amount of gravity and pride, which did not
conduce to confidence, and prevented any familiarity. The adventurer
had judged his companions at the first glance, and bravely put up with
the annoyance which they would cause him during the journey; hence he
resolved to imitate them, and be equally reserved.

After traversing the camp, the small party turned to the left, and
proceeded to the lake, whose umbrageous banks they intended to follow
for several miles. As we have stated, the morning was magnificent, all
nature was laughing, a multitude of birds of every description and
colour, hidden beneath the foliage, were singing merrily; squirrels
leapt from branch to branch, and splendid elks, terrified by the
approach of the travellers, bounded away a few yards from them, while
hideous alligators wallowed in the mud pell-mell with enormous frogs
which uttered frightful croaks.

Our travellers rode thus for some two hours, and not a word had been
spoken since the start, each seeming to be buried in thought, when
suddenly a great movement was heard beneath the trees and shrubs
around them. The birds suddenly became silent, and, leaving their
nests, went to the foot of the trees, where they timidly concealed
themselves in the grass, while the frogs croaking on the nymphæas
dashed into the water. At the same moment the shadow of two mighty
wings was visible on the sand; the Canadian mechanically raised his
eyes, and he perceived a white-headed eagle soaring in the blue sky.

The eagle, after hovering in wide circles for some minutes almost
over the head of the travellers, dropped with lightning speed into a
copse, whence it emerged almost immediately, holding in its powerful
claws a luckless parrot, which uttered pitiable cries of distress, and
struggled vainly to escape from the deadly grasp of its implacable
foe. The eagle rose with extraordinary rapidity, and soon attained an
enormous elevation. The Canadian had anxiously followed the incidents
of this drama, and perhaps instinctively cocked his rifle.

"All the worse," he muttered, at the moment when the eagle, which only
appeared like a black dot in the air, was about to become invisible. "I
will save it."

With a movement swift as thought he raised his rifle and pulled
the trigger. The Spaniards halted, and looked in amazement at the
adventurer; but the latter, whose eyes were obstinately fixed on the
sky, did not seem to notice the attention of which he was the object.
The eagle, suddenly arrested in its flight, fell with headlong speed,
turning in space. Suddenly its claws relaxed, and the delivered victim,
half wild with terror, though unwounded, fell perpendicularly for some
seconds with its enemy; but, suddenly opening its wings, the poor
parrot soared, and then resumed its flight with a long cry of delight,
while the eagle writhed in its death throe at the hunter's feet. The
Canadian's bullet had passed right through its body.

"Ah!" the wood ranger said, gladly; "Though a powder charge is precious
in the desert, I do not repent this one."

The Spaniards could not restrain a cry of admiration at this miraculous
display of skill. The Canadian dismounted, and seizing his rifle by the
barrel, advanced upon the eagle, which, with body thrown back and wings
extended, looked undauntedly at him. With one blow of the butt, dealt
with no ordinary strength, the adventurer settled the bird, which did
not make the slightest effort to avoid the blow.

"Will you sell me that bird?" the count said, at the moment when the
hunter stooped to pick up the royal bird.

"I will give it you if you like to accept it," the Canadian replied.

"Very good," the count said, making one of his men a sign to pick the
bird up and place it on his horse.

The Canadian remounted, and they continued their silent march. At the
end of an hour they reached the spot where the count proposed to stop
and breakfast, and allow the great heat to pass before he started
again. It was a rather large clearing, in the midst of which glistened
a pool of water so clear and limpid that the sky was reflected in it,
with all its lights and shadows. This pool discharged its overflow
into the lake by means of a shallow stream, which ran murmuring over a
bed of pebbles, half hidden by the numerous tufts of nymphæas which
bordered it. Singular to say, not a bird, not an insect, peopled this
solitude.

When the count had given orders to halt, all dismounted. Two men
stationed themselves as sentries at either end of the path which ran
through the clearing; two others took the horses by the bridle, and led
them to drink from the lake, which was only one hundred yards distant;
while the last two lit the fire and got breakfast ready, employing the
water they carried in their leathern bottles to boil the _frijoles_,
as they would sooner reduce their stock than take water from this
pool--which, however, was so inviting, especially for men wearied by
a long ride in the burning beams of a tropical sun, and whose throats
were parched by thirst.

The fact was that this pond, apparently so inoffensive and pure,
contained death in its waters--a frightful, inexorable, almost
instantaneous death. In a word, this water, though no one was able
to explain the cause, contained a violent poison, whose effects were
so terrible, that the very animals, whose admirable instinct never
deceives them, did not dare drink it, but shunned its vicinity as if it
were impregnated with the poison it contained. This was the cause of
the utter solitude which reigned in this clearing, which travellers,
however, brought to these parts by accident, sought for its delicious
coolness, and the security they enjoyed against the attacks of wild
beasts.

The adventurer, after carefully rubbing his horse down, hobbling it,
and giving it its ration of maize on his zarapé, lay down on the grass,
and fumbling in his _alforjas_, produced a ship biscuit and a piece of
goat's milk cheese, which he was preparing to eat with good appetite,
when the count, who had curiously watched the arrangements of this
frugal meal, walked up and bowed courteously to him.

"Caballero," he said, "will you do me the honour of sharing my
breakfast?"

The Canadian raised his head, and looked at the speaker in surprise.

"Why do you make me this offer, señor?" he asked.

"Because," the count answered frankly, "I wish to break the ice, and
remove the coolness prevailing between us. What I have seen you do
today," he added, pointing to the eagle's body, "proves to me that you
are a man of heart. People of your stamp are rare, and I wish to have
your esteem, if not your friendship."

"What I did to save a wretched bird, caballero, I would not hesitate,
under any circumstances, to do for a man; but permit me to remark that
I see nothing in it but what is perfectly natural."

"Perhaps so; but, unhappily, few men comprehend their duties in the
same way."

"I pity them, caballero, though I dare not blame them, for each man
acts according to the instincts which God has implanted in his heart."

"Do you accept the modest breakfast which I have had the honour of
offering you?"

"Although I am naturally very sober, and usually content myself with
the smallest thing, I should think I was offering you an insult by
declining, señor. Hence, I gratefully accept your invitation."

The two men sat down side by side, and a peon placed before them a few
dishes, which, though far from delicate, were of a quality superior
to the Canadian's repast. The count felt, perhaps unconsciously,
an interest in the Canadian, the cause of which he could not have
explained, and was attracted by this blunt but frank man, with his
short but always honest remarks. He divined beneath this rough husk a
good nature and a strong heart, which aroused his sympathy and were a
relief after the roguery and cowardly adulation of the men with whom
he usually came in contact. While eating (the adventurer heartily, and
the count scarce touching what was served up), they talked without the
slightest restraint. Oliver related, without any boasting or pride, the
incidents of his life as a wood ranger, his hunts and fights with the
Indians, his adventurous excursions at the head of his bold comrades,
who had unanimously elected him their chief, and the incessant joys
and sorrows of this varied existence. The count listened with ever
increasing interest. When the adventurer came to his enrolment among
the Mexican insurgents, his hearer interrupted him--

"This time," he said, "I think you have not acted consistently with
your principles."

"How so?" Oliver asked in surprise.

"Why," the count continued, "it appears to me that you let yourself be
led away by the pride of rank and hope of gain."

"You are mistaken, señor, nothing would have induced me to join the
Mexicans if I had not been convinced in my heart that their cause was a
good one. This reason alone decided me, and besides," he added in a low
voice, as he took a sly glance at the other, "I had a personal motive."

The count shook his head dubiously, but made no answer, and the
conversation stopped at this point.

Four hours later, the Spaniards started again in the hope of reaching
their journey's end at eight in the evening. But the count and the
adventurer now rode side by side conversing amicably together.



CHAPTER XIII.

AN ALARM.


The journey, begun under rather gloomy auspices, was continued more
gaily, in spite of the pride and taciturnity of the Spanish soldiers.
The latter, who took a pride in behaving exactly like their master, on
seeing the count talking in a friendly way with the adventurer, broke,
in their turn, the silence to which they had obstinately condemned
themselves since the morning, and interchanged a few remarks, though
extremely careful not to raise their voices above an indistinct murmur.

Several hours passed, and nothing interrupted the monotony of the
journey. The Spaniards had left the banks of the lake and entered a
country whose gloomy and desolate appearance was rendered even more
sad by the approach of night. There were no lofty trees, no smiling
savannahs. On all sides rose overthrown rocks, piled in a disorderly
manner on each other, some covered with a velvety moss, others scarce
allowing their black hue to be guessed beneath a cloak of brambles and
cherfoil. In some spots, the water forced its way through crevices in
the rock, and rolled through green strata, glistening with mica. A
nameless stream with difficulty found a passage through the midst of
this chaos, and occupied two-thirds of the canyon which the travellers
were constrained to follow; at rare intervals, stunted trees were
visible: still, as nature ever has her harmony, the breeze ever and
anon entered the canyon. Then, as if by enchantment, the mysterious
dialogues between the leaves and the wind, the nymphæas and the water,
filled this desolate solitude with ineffable choruses.

The travellers yielded involuntarily to the depressing influences of
the scenery they passed through, the conversation suddenly ceased, and
each rode with his hand on his weapon, looking anxiously around and
ready to fire at the slightest suspicious movement in the chaparral.
The Sumach halted, and thoughtfully examined the gloomy landscape
spread out in front of him.

"What is the matter?" the count asked him; "What are you thinking about
at this moment, caballero?"

"I am thinking, señor," the adventurer said, seriously, "that Don
Aníbal spoke most sensibly to you this morning, and that you acted very
wrong in neglecting his advice and refusing his offer."

"Oh, oh," the count replied with a forced smile; "this country has not
a very encouraging look, I allow, still I dare not believe that you are
afraid."

The adventurer looked at him.

"And even if I were afraid," he said a moment later, "do you think
I should do my duty worse on that account, in a case of need? Fear
is nothing but the instinct of self-preservation, a nervous movement
independent of our will, which causes us to forebode danger, and thus
helps us to conquer it by suggesting the means of avoiding it. Fear is
nothing dishonouring; every man has been afraid several times in his
life, and he who denies it is a brute. I never see a gun barrel pointed
at my chest without feeling a sensation of internal cold which is
simply fear."

"The man who speaks so frankly of a feeling which everybody tries
to hide must be brave," said the count; "but let us break off this
discussion for the present, which we will resume at a more favourable
moment, and pray explain your ideas to me."

"It will not take long, señor; my opinion is that no spot could be
better chosen than this for an ambuscade."

"Which means?"

"That, if we are to be attacked, it will be inevitably here."

"The spot, it is true, has a bad reputation; but it is long since any
attack of the sort has been heard of in the country, and nothing leads
to the supposition that we have one to apprehend."

The Canadian shook his head with a preoccupied air which alarmed the
count.

"Come," he said, "my friend, speak clearly; I am a man. Have we, yes or
no, anything to fear?"

"Yes," Oliver replied bluntly.

"Do you think so?"

"No; I am sure of it."

"Still, up to the present, we have perceived nothing."

"You, doubtless," the adventurer interrupted, "whose senses have been
blunted by a long residence in towns, have perceived nothing; but I,
accustomed to desert life, have during the last ten minutes picked up
proofs which do not permit me the least doubt on this head. I repeat
that we shall be attacked within an hour perhaps, but assuredly at
sunset."

"Tell me what signs you have discovered."

"What good will that do, señor? It is better to profit by the time left
us to prepare to resist the attack that threatens us."

"I wish to have the proof, not because I doubt your words or your
sagacity, but because there is in all this something extraordinary
which I wish to unravel."

"Be satisfied, then," the hunter said; "stoop down."

The adventurer removed a few leaves, and displayed a footstep perfectly
imprinted on the damp ground.

"What is this?" the count said, with a surprise mingled with terror.

"It is the mark of a war moccasin," the hunter answered calmly. "Now,
remain here without stirring, while I follow the track; within half
an hour we shall know who the enemies are who are upon our trail, and
their number."

Without awaiting the count's answer, the adventurer dismounted, slipped
into the bushes, and disappeared, ere the other had entirely recovered
from the amazement the discovery of this Indian sign caused him. As
always happens under such circumstances, in the hour of danger, the
Canadian adventurer, owing to his thorough acquaintance with Indian
habits, instantaneously became the most important man of the party. The
count and the soldiers composing his escort, though very brave in the
presence of civilized enemies, had an instinctive terror of savages,
which, in the probable event of a struggle, would inevitably entail
their ruin, had they not had with them a man in whose experience and
fidelity they placed entire confidence.

This confidence the adventurer, whom that same morning they had
regarded not only as a stranger, but almost as an enemy, had managed
to obtain in a few hours; as for his experience, he had just furnished
a proof, which removed any doubt. Hence the Spaniards were resolved to
follow his advice, and obey without discussion the orders he thought
proper to give them, as they were persuaded that their safety would
depend solely on their docility, and the rapidity of their movements.
The Canadian's absence was not longer than he had stated: he suddenly
reappeared among the travellers before they had seen or heard him
coming.

"Well," the count asked him eagerly, "what news? Were you mistaken?"

The adventurer burst into a mocking laugh.

"I mistaken! Hang me if that is possible," he said.

"Then, we are pursued by Indians?"

"Pursued and preceded; we are literally between two fires."

The Spaniards felt a shudder run over them on hearing this.

"Are they numerous?" the count continued.

"No, there are only a few warriors; the weakness of our party is known,
and a large display of strength was considered useless."

"In that case, then, you think we have a chance?"

"Men have one always, when they do not give in," the Canadian replied
sententiously.

"How many are there, at a guess?"

"I will give you their exact number, for I have counted them to the
last man. The first detachment, the one ambushed behind us, has only
twelve men."

"What," the count exclaimed, "do you not consider that large odds?"

"Hang it," the Canadian said simply, "you do not reflect that we are
seven palefaces."

The count shook his head, feeling but little convinced by such
reasoning.

"Go on," he said; "and the second detachment, the one ahead of us?"

"That is more numerous: it is composed of nineteen warriors, among whom
I recognized several picked braves, from the wolf tails they wore on
their heels."

"¡Caramba!" the count exclaimed with ill-disguised terror, "Thirty-one
warriors in all, and yet you do not consider them too many for seven
men!"

"I do not know whether thirty warriors are too many for seven men," the
Canadian answered dryly; "all I can say is, that my friend Moonshine
and myself have frequently fought a larger number of redskins in
positions worse than our present one. Ah! if Moonshine were here, I
promise you I should need nobody's help to free us from this vermin."

The Canadian's language produced an amazing effect on the minds of the
Spaniards.

"Listen to me," he continued; "make haste and form some resolution;
time presses, I warn you, and flight is impossible. As for me, do not
trouble yourselves, for I can always manage to get out of a scrape. You
have the choice of two things, defend yourselves bravely or surrender
without a blow; in the former case, you have a chance of escape, or,
at the most, of being killed; in the second, you will be inevitably
attached to the war stake, and you know with what diabolical art the
redskins torture white men who fall into their hands."

"Our choice is not doubtful," the count answered boldly; "we will
defend ourselves."

"Good," said the Canadian, "that is speaking like a man."

"The only thing is, we do not know what we ought to do in order to sell
our lives as dearly as possible."

The Canadian appeared to reflect.

"Well," he said, a moment later, "I must not conceal anything from
you, your salvation depends, not only on your resolution, but also on
the skill with which you fight your enemies. The redskins are cunning,
and it is by cunning alone that you will be able to conquer them. Now,
although your situation is critical, I do not consider it desperate;
but there must be no hesitation or false steps, which would prove your
ruin."

"We, and I the first, place ourselves under your orders, señor," said
the count; "from this moment you are our chief, and whatever you
command, we will do."

"Is that really the case?" he said, gladly; "Well then, set your minds
at rest. These red devils, clever as they are, have not got us yet,
and with God's help we will give them a tough job to get hold of our
scalps."

At no great distance from the spot where the travellers had halted,
the stream to which we have alluded formed a rather sharp curve, in
consequence of a mass of lofty rocks which almost completely barred
its course. These rocks, though belonging to the mainland, advanced
almost into the centre of the river bed, which they commanded for some
forty yards, piled up irregularly on one another, doubtless through
one of the earthquakes so frequent in this country. These rocks were
sufficiently wide for twenty men to shelter themselves, and from this
position command the narrow canyon. It was to this natural fortress
that the Canadian led his comrades, observing to the count that in this
position they had no fear of being surrounded, and could, to a certain
extent, make up for absent help.

When they reached the line of rocks, an apparently insurmountable
obstacle presented itself; this was to make the horses, which they
would not part from, cross the line of surf separating them from the
rocks. The Canadian dismounted and carefully examined the passage. Then
he returned, and taking his horse by the bridle, led it with extreme
care across this difficult passage. The animal laid back its ears,
resisted, and snorted wildly; but its master, while speaking to it and
patting it, managed to lead it to the centre of a small esplanade,
where it was protected on all sides against the Indian bullets and
arrows. The Spaniards imitated the hunter's movements; so soon as the
first horse had passed, the others, after some hesitation, followed it,
and soon found themselves by the side of the Canadian's.

"Good," said the adventurer, rubbing his hands; "let the redskins come
now and we will give them the reception they deserve."

Still he did not consider himself sufficiently safe yet behind these
natural defences, and, helped by his comrades, he actively began
raising a barricade with trees and lumps of rock, so as to form a sort
of parapeted wall behind which it was possible to fire without showing
themselves.

"Now," he said to the Spaniards, as he calculated the height of the
sun, "it is five o'clock. The Indians, who although invisible, have not
lost one of our movements, will not attack us before nightfall; that is
to say, we have two hours before us to rest and eat our supper. Do not
be afraid about lighting a fire; our enemies are perfectly acquainted
with our position. Hence, we have no need to hide ourselves. Still, two
of you will carefully watch the bank, while two others collect dry wood
and cut grass for the horses."

The order was immediately executed. The Canadian then sat down, quietly
lit his pipe, and made the count a sign to follow his example.

"Now, señor," he said to him, "you see that every precaution has been
made for a vigorous defence."

"Yes," the count kindly replied, "and with a skill and promptness which
I cannot sufficiently admire."

"Nonsense, it is only habit. I suppose your soldiers are brave?"

"As lions."

"Very good. Are they good shots?"

"They are far from equalling you, still they possess considerable
skill."

"In a word they will do their best, and we can expect no more from a
man. But I have another and more serious question to ask you. Have you
ammunition?"

"Hang it. That is the thing which annoys me. My men have only sixty
rounds apiece."

"Come, come, we are richer than I believed; I have about one hundred
charges."

"And I the same," the count interrupted.

"In that case, if we have provisions enough to hold out for two days,
we are saved."

"As for food, the two mules are loaded with it."

"Bravo, señor," the Canadian shouted joyously; "we have nothing more to
fear now, so banish all anxiety."

"I really do not know how to requite the devotion you display to a
person who is a stranger to you, and who can inspire you with but very
slight interest."

"Are you not a man?" the Canadian replied. "That is enough for me. On
the desert we are all brothers. You have a claim to my protection, as I
have to yours. And besides, must I not defend my scalp."

"Good, good," the count said with a smile, "the day may perhaps come
for me to prove my gratitude to you."

"Not a word about that, if you wish to cause me pleasure. And stay.
Supper is ready, let us eat, for we must recruit our strength for the
job which awaits us tonight."

They rose and joined the soldiers who were seated round the fire and
eating with good appetite. By this time the sun had descended behind
the lofty mountains, and night was at hand; the cloudless sky was
begemmed by an infinite number of stars which were reflected in the
silvery mirror of the stream; the coming breeze soughed softly through
the branches, bringing with it the penetrating odours of the plants and
flowers.

"Lie down, all of you," the Canadian said in a tone that admitted of
no reply, "and sleep, so that you may be fresh for work when the hour
arrives. I will keep watch for all, as your eyes would see nothing in
the gloom."

"I will watch with you," said the count, "I feel that it would be
impossible for me to sleep."

"Very good, señor."

Both then stationed themselves in a natural embrasure formed by two
rocks coming close together, and began their watch, during which the
Canadian carefully surveyed the river bank.



CHAPTER XIV.

THE REDSKINS.


In the meanwhile the night had become more and more gloomy; the wind
had risen in the north-east, driving before it heavy grey clouds, which
intercepted the moonbeams, and collected over the canyon. The count,
obliged to keep silent, and worn out by the fatigue of a long ride,
felt his eyelids involuntarily droop. At first he resisted the lethargy
that assailed him; but, as he could not change his position, he soon
found it impossible to carry on the struggle. His head fell on his
chest, his eyes closed, he let his rifle fall, and went fast asleep.
The adventurer gazed at him for a moment with an expression of pity
mingled with pride.

"A valiant soldier for all that," he muttered, "but incapable of
withstanding the fatigue of a lengthened watch in the presence of the
Indians; better for him to sleep in peace."

Then, with an anxiety which had something filial in its rough kindness,
he took off his thick zarapé, of Indian manufacture, and carefully
wrapped him up, the speaker saying in a whisper--

"The dew is heavy at this season of the year, and the nights are cold."

And he resumed his watch, looking around him carefully, in order to
assure himself that, during the few seconds he had employed in doing
this service to the count, no suspicious movement had occurred outside.
Suddenly he started, and his eyes, obstinately fixed on an adjacent
thicket, seemed trying to pierce the gloom. Gradually raising his
rifle, whose barrel was browned, in order that the moonbeams might not
be reflected from it, he cocked and raised it, but at the sound of the
hammer a shadow emerged from the centre of the clump, and holding out
its arms to the hunter, several times waved a buffalo robe.

At this signal of peace, which was familiar to him, the hunter, without
lowering his rifle, so that he might be able to resist any attempted
treachery, sharply asked the person standing motionless in front of
him, who he was and what he wanted.

"My brother the Sumach is a great paleface brave," the stranger
answered; "a chief wishes to sit at his fire, and smoke in council with
him."

The hunter, on hearing the name of the Sumach, by which the Indians
ordinarily designated him, understood that he was recognized; but
he cared very little about it, for he was perfectly aware that the
redskins knew the number of white men hidden by the rocks.

"You are drunk, redskin," he answered sharply. "Go and sleep off your
mezcal and firewater. This is not the hour to try and enter a war
encampment."

"The Sumach is wise," the Indian continued. "His medicine is powerful.
What does he fear from one man? The White Crow is a great chief in his
nation, and his tongue is not forked."

"If you are really White Crow," the hunter answered, "your words are
true; but what proof will you give me?"

"This," the Indian said.

And hurriedly stooping, he set fire to a pile of dry leaves and dead
wood, which he had probably collected for the purpose. In a second the
wood crackled, and a brilliant flame rose skywards, illumining all
surrounding objects, and especially the person of the Indian, who, with
his arms crossed on his chest, and head erect, had placed himself so
that not one of his features should escape the wood ranger's searching
glance.

"It is well, chief," the Canadian said, as he rested his rifle butt
on the ground, assured, apparently, at any rate, that the Indian was
alone. "You can come and take your place by my fire."

At the noise caused by this interview, the Spaniards had risen and
seized their weapons, in order to be ready for any event.

"What is the matter?" the count asked anxiously.

"Nothing out of the common in the rules of Indian tactics," the hunter
answered; "a redskin chief desires, before attacking us, to make us
probably unacceptable proposals."

"Why receive him, then?" the count continued.

"Refusing to do so would lead him and the demons hidden in the bushes
to suppose that we are afraid; it is better to let him come. The time
he loses here in useless words will be so much gained by us."

"That is true," the count said with a smile; "and what part do you
propose we should play in this farce?"

"None at all. Go to sleep again, or, if your anxiety renders that
impossible, pretend to sleep. This security on our part will produce
a greater effect on the chief's mind than a ridiculous display of
strength."

"But suppose this man only comes to us for the purpose of laying a
trap," the count said earnestly.

"There is no fear of that; although Indians are regarded by white men
as savages, they are civilized in their fashion, and have an honour of
their own. Once they have pledged their word it may be trusted to in
perfect security."

"Very well, my friend. You know better than I how you should behave to
men with whose habits you are conversant, and therefore in the best way
possible for our general safety."

"Trust to me for that, señor. I am as interested as yourself in the
matter."

The count and his comrades, upon this assurance of the hunter, resumed
their places, and when the chief appeared at the entrance of the
encampment, all led him to believe that they were asleep.

"My brother, White Crow, is welcome to my fire," the Canadian said to
him, "if he brings propositions of peace on behalf of his brothers."

"The intentions of the chief are good. It entirely depends on my
brother whether they remain so."

The two men then bowed to each other with all the gravity demanded by
Indian etiquette, and crouched down over the fire on which the Canadian
had thrown some handfuls of dry wood to revive the flame. The chief
then drew his pipe from his girdle, filled it with _moriche_, or sacred
tobacco, lit it by the help of a twig, for fear lest his fingers
should come in contact with the fire, and both men began smoking,
silently passing the calumet to each other, from which they only drew
three or four puffs at a time.

White Crow was a tall, well-built man, whose thin limbs, however,
seemed tolerably strong. As far as it is possible to recognize an
Indian's age, he did not seem to have passed middle life; his features
were noble and marked, and his glance intelligent; the expression of
his face was generally kindly. He was in full paint, and wore the war
moccasins, which showed that he was on an expedition; excepting his
scalping knife, which was passed through his belt of untanned deer
hide, he was unarmed, at least apparently so.

When all the tobacco was consumed, the chief shook out the ashes on his
thumbnail, passed the pipe again through his belt, and turned to the
hunter, who was waiting, cold and impassive, till he thought proper to
speak.

"The Comanches of the Lakes," he said, "are surprised at finding here a
great brave like my brother the Sumach. Can he have become a friend of
the Yoris, or have they taken him prisoner in some ambuscade, and made
him their slave?"

"Neither one nor the other, chief; accident alone brought me into their
company," the hunter sharply replied.

"The redskins have the eye of the eagle and the wisdom of the snake.
They saw the Sumach enter the stone calli, which the whites call the
Hacienda del Barrio, accompanied by white men, and leave it in the same
fashion."

"What does that prove, chief? Besides it concerns you but little, I
suppose, if I am a friend of the Yoris, as you call them."

"More than my brother the Sumach supposes. The Comanches of the Lakes
love the great heart of the east, they have met him on the war trail;
they know that the Sumach is a great brave, and do not wish to see him
enveloped in the ruin of their enemies."

"I thank you and yours, chief," the Canadian said, still perfectly
calm, "for the interest you are kind enough to show for me. I too love
your brothers; I have never fought your tribe except against the grain,
and I should be vexed to level my rifle at them."

"Wah! my brother speaks well; wisdom dwells in him. Let him follow the
chief to his camp; his place is marked out at the council fire."

"I should be glad to do so, chief," the hunter said, with a sad
shake of the head. "Heaven is my witness that I should like to avoid
bloodshed between us. Unhappily, what you propose is impossible; honour
forbids my acceptance. I have sworn to protect these men, and will die
or escape with them."

The Indian reflected for some minutes. "My brother's intention is mad,"
he at length continued; "these Yoris must die."

"Why should it be so? Can they not ransom themselves? Why shed blood
unnecessarily? The Yoris will pay a ransom, and the Comanches will
allow them to continue their journey in peace."

The Indian, in his turn, shook his head sadly several times.

"No," he said, "this is not the Mexican moon; the Comanches are not
seeking booty, but want revenge. My brother must not press me further,
but will abandon the Yoris. One of the great Comanche chiefs has been
insulted, and the avenger of blood is behind the palefaces; they will
die; I have spoken."

The Canadian rose.

"Though I refuse to accept my brother's offer," he said, "I am not the
less grateful for the step which he has uselessly taken, impelled by
the interest he feels for me. Let him return to his men and repeat my
words to them; they are those of a man whose heart is upright. Their
enemies are my brothers, and I will defend them, whatever may happen;
if they fall I shall fall with them; but, at any rate, I shall have the
satisfaction of having done my duty, instead of committing a cowardly
act unworthy of a warrior and a Christian."

"My brother's blood will fall on his own head," the chief said, with an
accent of sadness, which he was unable to conceal entirely.

Then after bowing ceremoniously to the hunter, who returned his salute,
he withdrew slowly, and soon disappeared in the darkness.

"Up, comrades," the Canadian said so soon as he was alone; "you will
now have to prove yourselves brave men, for I predict that we shall be
vigorously attacked within ten minutes."

In an instant the Spaniards were armed and ambushed behind the rocks.
The count walked up to the hunter and said, as he cordially pressed his
hand--

"Señor Olivero, I heard all; you could save yourself by abandoning us,
but refused to do so. I thank you."

"Nonsense," the adventurer replied laughingly; "did you not understand
that the Indian was setting a clumsy trap for me, into which I was not
so simple as to fall?"

"Why try to reduce the merit of your loyal conduct? I know perfectly
well, and you know as well as I do, that this man spoke the truth."

"That is possible. Would you not have done the same in my place?"

"That is a singular question. Do you imagine, pray, that everybody has
your heroism?"

The Canadian began laughing, and the conversation broke off here for
the present, for an immense belt of flame rose from the bank and
dispelled the gloom as if by enchantment; the Indians were beginning
their attack by firing the grass, so that they might see the enemy's
camp at their ease. At the same instant a cloud of arrows and a
hailstorm of bullets hailed over the camp, though it was impossible for
the Spaniards to distinguish a single enemy.

"Spare your ammunition," the Canadian recommended his companions; "do
not fire till you are certain; who knows how long this may last? Do not
expose yourselves unless you wish to be traversed by an arrow or hit by
a bullet; we are waging an Indian war, in which courage is most shown
in prudence."

The hunter, however, with his body bent forward, was attentively
seeking an opportunity to fire, following the direction of the shots;
but the redskins knew by experience the infallible precision of his
aim, and were not at all anxious to serve as his target; hence they
redoubled their precautions. Suddenly the Canadian fancied he saw a
slight movement behind some logs collected on the bank and fired. At
the same instant an Indian leapt up like a wounded buck, and then fell
back; several warriors dashed forward to pick up his body, and four
fresh shots produced four more corpses. The Indians thereupon fled,
abandoning their wounded, who writhed, in the last convulsions of
death, and all fell back into such deep silence that had it not been
for the sight of the corpses and the increasing conflagration, it might
have been supposed that all had been a dream.

"Well," the count said, as he reloaded his gun, "it was a sharp
skirmish, but the lesson was a good one, and I hope they will profit by
it."

"Do not fancy that they will so easily give up getting hold of you.
Have a little patience and you will see them return. Have we any
wounded?"

"Not a soul."

"Heaven be blessed! Let us redouble our vigilance, for it is probable
that they are at this moment inventing some diabolical stratagem to
deceive us."

Nearly two hours elapsed, and the redskins did not make the slightest
movement indicating their desire to attempt a fresh attack.

"I believe, my friend," the count said, "that you are mistaken, and
that these demons have definitively given up the contest."

The Canadian shook his head, as he sought to distinguish what was going
on upon the river bank by the expiring flames of the conflagration.
Suddenly he burst into a passionate cry, "¡Viva Dios!" he shouted;
"Look at those demons incarnate, they are rolling trunks of trees,
behind which they are sheltered like cunning opossums; if we do not
take care we shall have them upon us within a quarter of an hour."

The hunter had guessed correctly. The redskins, after cutting down a
considerable number of trees, had formed them into a sort of flying
barricade, behind which they advanced till they reached the river bank,
and had but a few yards to go in order to arrive at the rocks. Once
there, they would begin a hand to hand fight, in which their numerical
superiority would infallibly gain them the advantage. The situation
was growing critical for the besieged; each moment rendered it worse,
for they were compelled to keep up an incessant fire on invisible
enemies, who continued to advance without taking the trouble to reply,
being protected by the bullets and arrows of several of their party,
who remained behind, and skirmished with the Spaniards, whom they thus
obliged to display great caution to avoid being hit, and in consequence
could not fire with their usual skill. On reaching the spot where the
belt of rocks began, the Indians rose all together and bounded forward
like a pack of tigers, uttering horrible yells.

"We must die now," the Canadian exclaimed.

Seven guns were discharged together, and seven enemies fell. But
the others pressed on; they leapt over the bodies and rushed at the
Spaniards. Then began a struggle impossible to describe, of seven men
against thirty; a gigantic struggle, heroically though hopelessly
sustained by the white men, who, in spite of prodigious efforts, saw
the moment rapidly approaching when they must succumb.

The count especially fought with admirable energy against the Indians,
who pressed him closely and seemed anxious to seize his person. Several
times, had it not been for the Canadian's devotion, he would have been
carried off by the redskins. Several Spaniards lay dead or seriously
wounded, a few moments more, a few seconds perhaps, and all would be
over with the white men--when a strange event suddenly occurred. A
horrible clamour began among the Indians, who, for no apparent cause,
were attacked by a panic and fled in all directions, crying with an
accent of indescribable despair--

"Woe, woe! The Queen of the Savannah, the Queen of the Savannah!"

At the same instant three riders appeared in the canyon, driving
before them the redskins, who did not attempt to resist, but fled in
all directions. The Spaniards were saved at the very moment when they
fancied themselves lost. Indeed, it was time for this help to arrive,
for of eight, only three remained on their feet, the rest were dead!

The flight of the Indians gradually became converted into a thorough
rout; the strange riders, at the head of whom it was easy to
distinguish a female, passed the Spanish encampment like a tornado, and
disappeared in the darkness, still obstinately pursuing the fugitives.
The travellers, so miraculously saved, remained alone, suffering from
great perplexity, not knowing whether they were really delivered, or
had another attack to apprehend from their ferocious and implacable
foes.



CHAPTER XV.

COUNT DE MELGOSA.


The Spaniards remained on the defensive for some time longer; they
could not believe in their marvellous deliverance, and expected the
redskins to return at every moment and attack them again. The entire
night however passed without the deep silence of the desert being
disturbed otherwise than by the ferocious howling of the jaguars, and
the snapping bark of the coyotes, which were proceeding in packs to
the watering places. At sunrise they perceived that the canyon was
entirely deserted, and that their savage enemies had given up all
attempts to carry their encampment by storm. After returning thanks to
heaven for the unexpected help sent them in their distress, they busily
set to work burying the dead, in order that they might be able to start
as soon as possible.

Their loss during the obstinate fight with the Indians was serious.
Four of the count's brave soldiers had fallen, the two others were
wounded, and himself and the Canadian had only escaped by a miracle.
The hunter was forced to allow that for the fifteen years he had been
traversing the prairie, in all the engagements he had fought with the
redskins, he never saw them proceed with so much method, and display
such obstinacy in their attack. The Spaniards, certain of having
nothing more to fear, left their entrenchments and proceeded to the
mainland in order to bury their dead.

At length, when they had paid the last rites to their comrades, and
had rolled heavy stones upon the graves to prevent the bodies being
profaned by wild beasts, the hunters hastily took their morning meal,
saddled their horses, and set out again, saddened by the mournful
incident which had interrupted their journey so painfully. All smiled
around them. The day announced itself under magnificent auspices, the
birds saluted with their merry songs the apparition of the day star,
the leaves glistened with dew, a thick mist rose from the ground, a
perfumed breeze rustled the branches. In a word, all breathed calm joy
and pure happiness in this desert which, but a few hours previously,
had been witness of a horrid scene of carnage.

As on the previous day, the count and the adventurer rode side by
side, absorbed in gloomy thoughts, and looking round them absently and
carelessly. At length the Canadian drew himself up, shook his head
several times as if to dismiss a troublesome thought, and turning to
the count said, as if he were completing aloud an internal thought--

"Stuff, a little sooner or a little later, a man must die after all."

"Yes," the count said with a sad smile, "dying is indeed the common
law. But dying thus, far from one's friends, beneath the bullets of
unworthy foes, without benefit to humanity--that is truly frightful,
and what heaven ought not to permit."

"Do not murmur against Providence, señor. These men have fallen, it is
true; but their death was not so useless as you seem to think, because
it enabled you to await the help which delivered you."

"That is true, and I am wrong; still I cannot help pitying the fate of
devoted servants, whose death I indirectly caused."

"It was a glorious fight, vigorously carried on upon both sides. Still
it was time for our liberators to arrive. Had they not, it is more than
probable that we should now be also lying lifeless on the ground. But,"
he added, after a moment's reflection, "why did our saviours go off
in that way? I fancy they might have joined us, if not to receive our
congratulations and thanks, at least to inquire into our state."

"What good would that do? The Queen of the Savannah heard our muskets,
that was sufficient to prove to her that we were still alive and able
to fight."

"That is possible," the Canadian continued thoughtfully; "but however
great may be the obligation I have contracted towards the extraordinary
woman you call by that name, I shall not be satisfied till I shall have
been close to her."

"Why so? With what have you to reproach her? Why obstinately try to
disturb the secrets of a person who must be an object of indifference
to you?"

"You are mistaken on that head, señor. This woman, this strange being,
has already interfered twice in my affairs at a very short interval of
time. A man like myself, señor, does not contract serious obligations,
unless he knows that he will be able someday to repay to the person who
forces such protection upon him."

The count burst into a laugh.

"Caballero, caballero," he said, "you are punctilious, and difficult
to satisfy. Anyone in your place would readily put up with the
affront, and not be at all anxious to know to whom he owes so great an
obligation."

"Everybody, señor, looks at matters from his own point of sight; for my
part I repeat that the way in which the woman to whom we are alluding
has twice interfered in my affairs has excited in me, I will not say
a curiosity, but such a lively interest, that I swear to you I mean
to learn something about her at all risks so soon as I am at liberty
again."

"Take my advice, Don Oliver, do not try to discover the matter, for
there is a sad story beneath it."

"You know her, then?"

"Perhaps so. I can only form conjectures, for the persons directly
interested in that woman's actions insist on maintaining the deepest
silence."

"Why, wait a minute," the Canadian said, hitting his forehead like a
man who suddenly remembers something he had quite forgotten, "I believe
now that Don Aurelio Gutiérrez told us at the Hacienda del Barrio
certain facts connected with this person."

"To what are you alluding, señor?"

"Good gracious! I attached but slight importance to the narrative at
the time, so that what I heard is very confused in my head. Still I
think it referred to the extermination of an Indian tribe encamped on
Don Aníbal de Saldibar's estates, and atrocious revenge on the part
of the redskins, in consequence of which the hacendero's wife became
insane."

"Yes, all that you say is true. When Doña Emilia regained her reason
she vowed an implacable hatred against the Indians, and since that
period, if what is said be true, she has constantly pursued them
without truce or mercy, hunting them down, and massacring them like
wild beasts."

"That is indeed extraordinary."

"The redskins, tracked by this lady, whom they believe to be protected
by a charm, as she has constantly foiled their snares and escaped
unwounded from all their attacks, have conceived such a superstitious
fear for her that her name alone, as you saw last night, is sufficient
to cause them a wild terror and set them to flight, and as if rendering
homage to the terror with which she has continued to inspire them, they
have given her the name you heard repeated during the fight."

"The Queen of the Savannah?"

"Yes."

"I have often heard the Indians speak of this strange creature, whom
they imagine to be a species of malevolent genius, and about whom they
recount the most fantastic and improbable stories; but I confess I was
far from suspecting that the Queen of the Savannah and Doña Emilia de
Saldibar were one and the same person."

"I do not say that they are, and I affirm nothing; I merely repeat to
you what is said."

"How is it that you, a friend of Don Aníbal, are not better informed
about the affair?"

"Because, I repeat once again, Don Aníbal maintains an obstinate
silence on the subject; and if by any chance this mysterious being is
alluded to in his presence he at once turns the conversation, so that
no one exactly knows what to believe, and is forced to make conjectures
more or less probable."

"Very good," the hunter answered, "I thank you for your information,
caballero. But, _¡viva Dios!_ I swear to you that I will force Don
Aníbal to tell me how matters really are; or, if he will not, I shall
not hesitate to question his wife."

"I doubt greatly whether you will be able to obtain even the shortest
interview with her. She is constantly shut up in her apartments with
her daughter. No one sees her, and several of her domestics even do not
know her."

"You excite my curiosity the more, señor."

"All the worse for you, caballero," the count continued; "for admitting
that you succeeded in seeing Doña Emilia, I am convinced that she would
not consent to answer any of the questions you thought proper to ask
her."

"Oh, oh! That appears to me rather too strong; but no matter, I will
not recognize defeat, and I pledge you my word that so soon as I return
to the hacienda, I will try, by all the means in my power, to obtain
the clue of the enigma."

"As you please, caballero. I have warned you, and have no right to
check or encourage you in what you intend doing. Still, if I may be
allowed to offer my advice in so serious a matter, I would invite you
to refrain. It is not always prudent to try and interfere in people's
business against their will, especially when it does not concern you in
any way."

"I thank you for your advice, caballero, though it is not in my power
to follow it. But," he said, as he stopped his horse, and laid his hand
over his forehead to keep off the sunlight, "who is that coming down
there?"

"Where?" the count asked, imitating the hunter.

"There, in front of us; a horseman is coming up at full speed."

"It is true," the count said; "I can just distinguish him in the cloud
of dust raised by his horse's hoofs."

"Hum!" the Canadian said, as he cocked his rifle; "If he be alone, we
can easily settle him; but when a thing is doubtful, it is always as
well to take one's precautions."

"What are you about?"

"As you can see, I am preparing to receive the coming visitor."

In the meanwhile, the horseman rapidly approached the Spaniards, and
it was soon easy to see, by his dress and horse harness, that he was a
Mexican. While galloping, this man made signs as if wishing to attract
the attention of the travellers, and induce them to advance.

"I was not mistaken," the count said all at once; "uncock your rifle,
caballero; you have nothing to fear, for that individual is one of
my peons. What motive could have induced the countess to send off a
courier?"

"We are going to learn," the Canadian replied, as he laid his rifle
across the saddlebow again, "for he will have joined us in five
minutes."

In fact, the horseman shortly after accosted them. He was a sturdy
peon, with sun burnt face and powerful limbs; he was well armed, and
rode one of those prairie horses which European steeds can never
equal. On coming up to his master, he stopped his horse so short that
its four feet seemed to be suddenly welded to the ground, and, bowing
respectfully to the count, he took from the China crape faja, tightly
fastened around his hips, a bag of opossum skin, from which he drew a
letter, and handed it to his master. The count opened the letter, but
before reading it looked at the peon with ill-disguised anxiety, and
said to him--

"Has anything new occurred at the hacienda, Diego López?"

"Nothing, mi amo, that I know of at least."

"The señora is not indisposed?"

"No, Excellency; but on learning from the lancero, whom you sent to
Leona Vicario, that you would probably pass the hacienda on your return
without stopping, she gave me this letter, and bade me make all speed."

"Is that really all? You are telling the truth, Diego López?"

"By my share of Paradise, Excellency, I have told you all exactly as it
happened."

"Very good--wait."

And, turning to the Canadian, he said--

"Will you permit me?"

"A letter which has arrived in this way, señor, must be of importance,
so read it without further delay."

The count at once began reading, but he had only got through a few
lines ere his face was covered with a deadly pallor.

"What is the matter, señor?" the hunter asked anxiously; "Are you ill,
or has the letter really brought bad news?"

"Neither, caballero," the count answered, making a violent effort to
regain his coolness; "I thank you, but this letter reminds me of a date
which I had not forgotten, alas!" he said with a sigh, "For that is
impossible, but which I might have allowed to pass, owing to present
circumstances. Instead of conducting you straight to Leona Vicario, as
I originally intended, I am compelled to stop at my hacienda. Are you
disposed to accept the poor rustic hospitality I can offer you, or will
you continue your journey to the ciudad, under the guidance of Diego
López?"

"I am entirely at your disposal, señor, and will do what you think
proper, as I am in no hurry; you shall decide my movements."

"As you are so accommodating, we will proceed to the hacienda. Diego
López, ride on ahead, and inform your mistress of our speedy arrival."

The peon bowed, bent over his horse's neck, dug his spurs into its
sides, and started at a gallop.

"We need not hurry," the count said, "for we are only two leagues at
the most from the hacienda."

"I will ride at your pace," the hunter replied; "besides, the sun is
still high."

"The hospitality we have to offer will be sad, señor; family grief
has, unfortunately, banished joy for ever from my hearth. I ask you,
therefore, to excuse any formality which may be visible in the
countess's reception of you."

The Canadian bowed politely, and they went on. In about an hour, they
perceived the lofty and thick walls of a vast hacienda, built on the
top of a scarped rock.

"Oh, oh!" the hunter said, admiring the strength of this majestic
building, "That is an admirable fortress."

"It is the hacienda to which I am taking you, señor, and of which I am
the owner."

"¡Viva Dios! I regret that a citadel like that is not in the possession
of the party I have joined."

"Yes," the count said, with a sigh, "its position is well chosen."

"Admirably. With a good garrison, it would be possible to hold out for
a long time against an army."

"Alas! There was one ill-omened day on which these strong walls,
defended by a garrison of brave and devoted men, could not save it from
being taken by storm, and plundered by the Comanches."

The count heaved a deep sigh as he uttered these words. The hunter,
afraid of saddening his host by dwelling on a subject which seemed so
painful to him, tried to turn the conversation.

"Good gracious!" he said, "I did not notice before that the hacienda is
entirely surrounded by water."

"Yes, the river has been turned so as to form a belt round it. Our
ancestors, compelled continually to contend against the insurrections
of the natives, who only assumed the yoke with great reluctance, built
perfect citadels, and took their precautions against an attack. But
here we are on the river bank; you must dismount, and enter the boat;
it is the only way of passing to the other side."

"I suspect," the hunter said with a laugh, "that there is another--a
ford, for instance; but you do not care to show it to me."

"Perhaps so," the count answered, with a smile; "suppose there were,
would you think me wrong?"

"On my word, no," said the Canadian; "war is a game like any other, in
which the cleverer player has the best chance of winning."

While talking, they had dismounted, and handed their horses to the
soldiers. At this moment the boat, pulled by two sturdy peons, came up
to them; they got in, and in a few minutes found themselves on a sort
of small quay, ten yards wide at the most.

"Come," the count said.

The hunter followed his host, and entered a narrow rugged path which
ran round the hill, and which foot travellers could alone follow, as it
was kept up so badly, perhaps purposely. At length, after ascending in
this way for about a quarter of an hour--not without halting several
times to take breath, so rapid and abrupt was the incline--the two
men reached the top of the hill, and found themselves in front of the
hacienda, from which they were only separated by an abyss some twenty
feet wide. A drawbridge, formed of two narrow planks thrown across the
precipice, supplied them with a rather precarious passage, and they at
length found themselves inside the fortress.

"Well, well," the hunter muttered, as he looked searchingly around him;
"the persons inhabiting this house do not seem to me persuaded that
peace will be durable."



CHAPTER XVI.

DIEGO LÓPEZ.


The count did not give the hunter time to make many observations.

"Excuse me," he said, "if my behaviour does not appear exactly in
accordance with the claims of courtesy; but war may break out at any
moment between the Spanish government and the Mexican patriots, and an
ambassador, if he understands his profession, is always more or less a
spy."

"That is true," the hunter said with a smile.

"You understand, I suppose, that I am not desirous to let you examine
in detail fortifications which you may be ordered to attack within a
few days."

"Quite true, señor. I did not think of that; your prudence is
legitimate."

"However," the count continued, "be assured, señor, that, with the
exception of the care I am compelled to take in hiding from you our
resources and defensive measures, you will have no cause to complain of
the manner in which you will be treated here."

"I am convinced of that beforehand, señor."

"Be kind enough, then, to follow me. I wish to introduce you to the
countess."

"Do you consider that absolutely necessary?" the hunter asked, as he
looked at his shabby clothes which displayed marks of long and hard
wear.

The count looked at him in surprise. "What do you mean?"

"As you are aware, señor," the Canadian answered, good humouredly,
"I am only an ignorant hunter; of use perhaps to give a companion a
helping hand in a difficult situation, but quite out of my place in
a drawing room, especially in the presence of a great lady like the
countess."

"Nonsense, you are jesting, my friend. A man like you is nowhere out of
place. The countess, I am convinced, will be delighted to know you; and
I assure you that you will cause me great vexation by refusing to be
introduced to her."

"Very good; as you insist, I have no more to say."

He followed the count who, after crossing two spacious courtyards,
led him through a labyrinth of sumptuous apartments, at the end of
which he showed him into a large drawing room furnished with all the
luxurious comfort of old Europe. In this room, seated on a sofa near a
window whence a magnificent view was enjoyed, was a lady of a certain
age, with a gentle and pleasing face, which must have been very lovely
in youth. This lady, who was dressed in mourning, was the Countess de
Melgosa.

"My dear Doña Carmencita," the count said, "permit me to present to you
a friend of one day's standing who has saved my life."

"He is welcome to our sad abode," the lady said, as she rose with a
peaceful and calm smile. "We will try, since he deigns to accept our
hospitality, to render his stay in this isolated hacienda as little
wearisome as we can."

"Madam," the Canadian answered, as he bowed with that natural courtesy
which men in whom a false education has not destroyed nature possess to
so eminent a degree, "I am only a poor man, unworthy of the gracious
reception you deign to offer me. If accident furnished me with the
opportunity to do your husband a slight service, I am more than
rewarded by the kind remarks you have addressed to me. Unfortunately, I
shall not be able to enjoy your exquisite hospitality for long."

"You will surely remain a few days, señor; it would disoblige me if you
answered by a refusal."

"Alas! Madam, I am in despair. I should be delighted to forget here,
for some time, the fatigue and dangers of a desert life; unfortunately,
serious reasons independent of my will compel my presence at Leona
Vicario as early as possible. The Señor Conde knows that we must start
tomorrow at sunrise."

The countess displayed signs of great astonishment.

"Can it be true, Don Fadrique?" she said to the count, while looking
inquiringly at him.

"Indeed," he answered, "Señor Clary is in such haste to get to Leona,
that if we had not been found by your messenger a few leagues from
here, we should have continued our journey without calling at the
hacienda."

"It is impossible!" the countess exclaimed, her face suffused with a
hectic flush.

"Why so?" he continued.

The countess heaved a heavy sigh.

"Have you forgotten, then, Don Fadrique," she at length said, in a low
and trembling voice, "that tomorrow is the anniversary of the fatal
day?"

"Ah!" the count exclaimed, as he sorrowfully smote his brow, "Forgive
me, Doña Carmencita. In truth I cannot leave the hacienda tomorrow--oh
no! Not even if it were a question of life and death."

The hunter, who was greatly embarrassed, listened, without
understanding a word, to this conversation in which he did not dare
to take part, as he feared, if he spoke, he might make some mistake;
but the count freed him from his embarrassment by turning and saying to
him--

"I am sure you will excuse me, Señor Clary. Reasons of the deepest
gravity demand my presence tomorrow at the hacienda; hence it will be
impossible for me to accompany you to the governor and introduce you to
him. But, though I cannot go myself, I give you in my place a person in
whom you can place entire confidence, and I will join you at the ciudad
the day after tomorrow. It is in reality, therefore, only a trifling
delay of four and twenty hours, which will in no way injure you."

"You know better than I do, señor, what it is best to do, hence do
not put yourself out of the way for me; it will be all right if I am
permitted to continue my journey tomorrow."

"You can be sure of it."

"But," the countess said, ringing a bell, "after the fatigues to which
you have been exposed for two days, you must require a few hours' rest,
señor; forgive me for not having thought of it sooner. Be kind enough
to follow this peon, who will conduct you to the room prepared for you,
and we shall meet again at dinner."

The hunter comprehended that the countess desired to remain alone with
her husband. Although he did not feel the slightest need of rest, he
bowed respectfully to the lady, and followed the servant. The latter
led him in silence to a vast room, in which he invited him to enter,
saying that he had three hours before him, which he could pass either
in sleeping or smoking. In fact, a hammock of cocoa fibre was suspended
in the room, and a mountain of cigars and cigarettes placed on a
table. The servant merely told the hunter that he had better not leave
his room, as he might lose his way. This was clearly saying to the
Canadian that he was regarded as a prisoner, or something very like it;
at least he understood it so. He shrugged his shoulders disdainfully,
and made the peon a sign to leave him alone, which the other at once
obeyed.

"By Jove!" the hunter said, as he lay down in the hammock, and lit a
cigar, "It must be confessed that this Don Fadrique, this Count de
Melgosa, is a somewhat mysterious being, and guards himself with as
much care as if he had a kingdom to defend; but what do I care? Thank
heaven! I have not to stay here long, and have no intention of carrying
his wigwam by storm."

He looked round and saw that not only had cigars been brought for him,
but that refreshments had been added in the shape of several _botas_,
containing pulque, mezcal, and Catalonian refino.

"Come," he said, "I was prejudiced against my host. He is decidedly a
famous fellow."

After this consoling reflection the hunter rose and went to the table,
doubtless with the intention of tasting the liquors upon it, and
spending in the most agreeable way possible the hours at his disposal.

The dinner was rather gloomy. The countess was not present, but sent
her apologies to the hunter, who was not broken hearted at her absence;
for, in spite of the old lady's gracious manners, he felt constrained
in her presence. When the dinner was ended the count repeated that it
was impossible for him to accompany him on the morrow, but would give
him a sure guide. He handed him a letter of recommendation for the
governor, and, after renewing to the Canadian his promise of joining
him on the following day, he took leave of him for the night, and
retired.

The adventurer was not sorry to be alone. In spite of the count's
attention he retained in his manner toward him a certain aristocratic
hauteur, which hurt him, although it was impossible for him to display
the dissatisfaction he felt. The same silent domestic who had already
served him led Oliver to his room, and took leave of him after bidding
him good night. The hunter, wearied more by the inactivity to which he
was condemned for some hours than by his morning's ride, threw himself
on the leather-covered frame which serves as a bed in all Mexican
houses, shut his eyes, and speedily fell asleep.

At sunrise he woke. At the same moment the peon who seemed appointed to
wait on him entered his room and announced that if he were ready all
the preparations were made. Oliver asked to take leave of the master
and mistress of the house; but, on being told that they could not
receive anybody, he followed his guide without asking him any further
questions. The latter led him through several yards, took passages
different from those by which the hunter had entered the hacienda, and
took him out on the opposite side to the one by which he had come in.
After crossing the drawbridge the hunter turned as if to say good-bye
to the guide, but the latter told him that he had orders to accompany
him to the spot where the horses were, and they descended the hill by a
track quite as rough as the one by which the Canadian had ascended on
the previous day. On the opposite bank of the river, three horsemen,
armed with long lances, one of whom held the hunter's horse by the
bridle, were waiting motionless, ready to start at the first signal.
In the leader of this little party the Canadian recognized with some
degree of pleasure Diego López, who was relatively an old acquaintance.
When they had crossed the moat, López came to meet them.

"Here is the man," said the peon.

"Very good," Diego López answered laconically.

"You know what you have to do?"

"I do."

"In that case, good-bye."

And he then turned to the hunter, who had mounted by this time.

"A pleasant journey, Señor Forastero," he said, with a mocking accent
most offensive to the Canadian.

"Shall we start, señor?" Diego asked the hunter.

"Whenever you please," said the latter, as he drew up by the side of
his guide.

They started at a gallop, and remained silent for a long time.

"Are we very far from Leona Vicario?" the hunter at length asked,
feeling wearied of this silence and disposed to talk with his comrade.

"No!" the latter answered.

"Well, you are no great talker, my friend," the Canadian continued.

"What is the good of talking when you have nothing to say, especially
when in the company of a heretic?"

"A heretic!" the adventurer said, "Hang me if that is true."

"Are you not an Englishman?"

"I? Not a bit of it."

"All strangers are Englishmen," Diego López, said, sententiously.

"How famously you fellows are taught. It is curious enough."

"And all Englishmen are heretics," the peon continued, calmly.

"Be kind enough to tell me," the hunter said, with a grin, "who teaches
you all these pretty things?"

"Why should I tell you?"

"For two reasons. In the first place, for my personal satisfaction; and
next, for my instruction."

"It is our priests."

"Ah! Very good. I thank you. Why, my friend, if it cause you any
pleasure, learn first that I am not an Englishman but a Canadian, which
is not at all the same thing; next, not only that I am no heretic, but
at the least quite as good a Catholic as yourself, I flatter myself."

"Is what you are saying true?" Diego López asked, as he drew close to
the hunter.

"Why should I tell a falsehood?"

"Well! Why did you not tell that to El Señor Conde?"

"Tell him what?"

"That you are a Catholic."

"Hang it, for the very simple reason that he did not ask me."

"That is true; but no matter, it is a misfortune."

"Why so?"

"Because you would have been present at the anniversary service."

"What anniversary?"

"The one held every year at the hacienda in remembrance of the
assassination of the brother of the Señor Conde, who was treacherously
killed by the redskins."

"I am really vexed that I did not know that sooner, for I should have
made a point of attending that service. Stay, in order that you may not
have the slightest doubt about me," he added, as he took out of his
bosom a small silver cross, hanging round his neck by a steel chain,
"look at this. Is it a heretic plaything?"

"Good," the peon said, with evident satisfaction. "I see that you are a
worthy man, and not a dog of an Englishman. Do you love the English?"

"I cannot bear them."

"Our priests say that they will all be condemned."

"I hope so," the Canadian said, with a laugh.

"They deserve it, for they are _gringos_."

"So we are friends?"

"Yes; and to prove it, I will give you a piece of advice, if you like."

"Out with it; it is always worth having."

"Must you absolutely see the governor directly you arrive?"

"Yes."

"That is vexatious."

"Why so?"

"Well!" Diego López said, looking at him with some hesitation, "Do you
know the name the people give the governor?"

"No, I do not; but tell it to me; I shall be glad to learn it."

"Well! They call him the Shark."

"Ah! An ugly name, especially if deserved."

"Oh, yes, it is deserved," the peon said, with an involuntary shudder.

The hunter reflected for a moment.

"Hang it," he muttered, "what a wasps' nest I have got into!"

Then he said aloud--

"And, now, what is the advice you wish to give me?"

"You will be dumb?"

"As a fish; go on."

"Well, if you will believe me, in spite of the letter my master gave
you for the governor, you will wait to present it to him till the count
has rejoined you."

"Confusion! Then you suspect that I am incurring some danger?"

"A terrible one."

"Hang it, hang it, that is not reassuring."

"I will lead you to a cousin of mine who is an arriero. You will remain
concealed at his house till tomorrow, and so soon as my master arrives
I will warn you."

"My friend," the adventurer replied seriously, "I thank you for your
advice. I see that the interest you feel in me induces you to give it
me, but, unluckily, it is impossible for me to profit by it. I must
present myself without delay to the governor, in spite of all the peril
to which I may be exposed. But as a warned man is worth two, I shall
take my precautions accordingly. But I fancy that is the town we can
see."

"Yes," said the peon,

"I shall feel obliged by your leading me straight to the governor's
palace."

Diego López looked at him for a moment with an air of amazement, and
then shook his head several times.

"As you insist on it, I will lead you there," he said.



CHAPTER XVII.

LEONA VICARIO.


El Saltillo, also called Leona Vicario, is situated about 600 miles
to the north of Mexico, in a fine and well cultivated plain. This
town which is now rich, and has a population of about 20,000, was
considerable at the period of the Spanish authority, and enjoyed some
reputation through the salubrity of its climate. But we will say
nothing about the Saltillo of today, which does not concern us; we will
merely try to give a sketch of the town at the time when our story took
place.

Like all the towns founded by the Spaniards, it is crammed with
churches, several of which are very handsome and rich. The streets are
wide, clean, and bordered by houses built of stone, a very rare thing
in Mexico, where a continued apprehension of earthquakes is felt.
Owing to the numerous springs that burst out of the ground in most of
the streets, the ground, which without that would be dry and sterile,
enjoys a certain reputation for fertility. Saltillo was at that period
the general _entrepôt_ of the Spanish trade with the redskins, who
went there to make exchanges, and supply themselves with the various
articles they needed. The population was divided into two classes: the
Spaniards, or persons who called themselves such, though the majority
of them had not probably one-eighth of European blood in their veins;
and the Tzascaltec Indians, the sole really intelligent and industrious
inhabitants of the town.

On the day when accident led the adventurer to Saltillo, the town
festival was being celebrated. In the morning after mass the clergy had
fetched with great pomp the image of the Virgin from the cathedral,
carried it through all the streets with hymns and music, and then put
it to rest in a theatre built by the side of the _acho_, or circus in
which the bullfights are held. After the siesta, several bullfights
came off to the sound of bands stationed on either side the statue of
the Virgin, then the procession continued its promenade, and finally
restored the statue to the cathedral. Immediately afterwards, an open
fair for the sale of cakes, sugarplums, and for gambling began, which
was to last a week. The governor, who generally resided at Coahuila,
the capital of the Intendancy, had come to Saltillo expressly to
witness this festival, whose reputation was great throughout the land,
and which attracted a crowd of strangers.

Our travellers entered the town about two hours after the fair had
been opened, and suddenly found themselves in a crowd of promenaders
and idlers who encumbered the streets and at some points impeded the
circulation. The little party only advanced with great difficulty
through the mob, which pressed round them on all sides, laughing,
shouting, letting off fireworks, and throwing squibs in every
direction. Naturally the further the travellers got into the heart of
the city, the greater the difficulties became, and the less easy was
it for them to advance; at last the crowd grew so compact around the
travellers, that they found it utterly impossible to advance another
step.

"The deuce take the asses with their festival," the Canadian muttered,
as he looked angrily at the living wall that stood before him; "we
cannot remain here, though, till nightfall."

"There is a way of arriving at the governor's house, if you like."

"What is it?" the other asked.

"It is to turn, back, take a side street, leave our horses at a
_mesón_, and then return on foot to mingle with the crowd. What is
impossible for a horseman in such a throng is not so to a pedestrian,
who, if he is strong, can force a passage with his elbows and
shoulders. It is true that we shall run the risk of a knife thrust; but
omelettes cannot be made without breaking the eggs, and if you really
wish to arrive, I fancy you have no other method to employ."

"¡Viva Dios! You are right this time, gossip, even if you were the
greatest liar in the whole of New Spain," the Canadian exclaimed
joyously, "and I will immediately follow your advice."

But this was not so easy to perform as the adventurer imagined. The
forced stoppage they had been constrained to make had rendered the
crowd thicker around them, so that they were literally held in a vice
by the pedestrians. Still they must deliver themselves at all risks
from this pressure, which was momentarily becoming more tremendous.
At an order from Diego López, the two peons in the rear began gently
backing their horses--for it was impossible to turn them--a movement
immediately imitated by the Canadian and his comrade, whose steeds
wheeled to the right and left with an almost imperceptible movement,
which, however, gradually enlarged the circle round them. But then,
a frightful concert of yells, oaths, and threats, began around the
hapless travellers, who in vain apologized to the people whom they
struck or crushed against the walls.

The tumult gradually attained tremendous proportions. Already could
be seen flashing in the sun the bluish blades of the long knives which
Mexicans always carry in the right boot. As Diego López predicted,
knife thrusts would soon be liberally dispensed. The position of the
travellers was becoming difficult, when suddenly a lepero, one of those
scamps such as are always to be found in a crowd, for whom an accident
of any nature is a rejoicing, unsuspectingly and probably involuntarily
freed them from their dilemma. This worthy youth had about him a stock
of squibs and crackers, which he took a delight in letting off between
the legs of women, or in the pockets of men, whom their evil star
brought within his reach. At the moment when the popular fury attained
its paroxysm, the lepero thought it a famous joke to light a squib, and
let it phizz under the nostrils of the Canadian's horse.

The animal, already terrified by the shouts which deafened it, and the
blows craftily dealt it, and now rendered mad by the fire that burned
its nostrils, reared with a snort of pain, laid back its ears, and, in
spite of the desperate efforts its rider made to hold it in, dashed
into the very thickest of the crowd, throwing down everything in its
path, and opening with its chest a wide gap, through which the other
horsemen, who were not at all desirous of being made responsible for
broken heads and women and children injured, galloped at their hardest.

There was for a moment a fearful medley. We must do the lepero the
justice to say that the effort surpassed his expectations, and that he
literally writhed with laughter, so delighted was he with the success
of his invention. He would probably have laughed much longer, had not
the horse of one of the peons, in the midst of his delight, given him
a kick which hurled him to the ground, with cloven skull and chest
trampled in.

Still, Clary was too thorough a horseman to feel afraid of being
thrown; unable to master his horse entirely, and wishing to cause the
least possible misfortune, he contented himself with turning it down
a side street, the entrance to which was about a pistol shot off. He
was lucky enough to succeed, and soon, thanks to the headlong speed
of their horses, the four riders, after whom the mob had begun to run
with yells of fury, found themselves safe from pursuit in a completely
deserted street. So soon as the horses were no longer excited, they
checked their speed, and soon fell into a moderate pace.

"¡Sangre de Cristo!" the adventurer exclaimed, so soon as he found time
to breathe, "That was sharp work; I fancied we should not get out of
it."

"Well!" said Diego López, "Your body and mine were within an ace of
becoming knife sheaths. Oh!" he added, with a shudder of retrospective
terror, "I can still feel the goose flesh."

"In truth, our position was for a moment extremely critical. Confound
the incarnate demon who dared to burn my horse's nostrils. I only hope
we have not smashed twenty of those wretches; I shall never forgive
myself if we have."

"No," the peon answered, "thank heaven, they are more frightened than
hurt. Luckily the house doors were open, and they were able to find
shelter in them; two or three at the most were injured."

"Heaven grant that the mischief is no greater; but what are we to do
now?"

"Proceed to the nearest mesón to get rid of our horses."

"I ask for nothing better; lead me there directly."

"Where are we, in the first place?" the peon said, as he looked
round to discover his whereabouts. "¡Viva Dios!" he continued at the
expiration of a moment, "We are in luck; there is a mesón a few yards
from here; come on."

They started again, and soon reached the mesón Diego López had spoken
of. Mexican hostelries are all alike, and when you know one, you know
a thousand. Travellers who bring with them their beds, provisions, and
forage for their horses are alone certain of being well served, and
wanting for nothing; those who neglect these essential precautions
run a great risk of lying on the bare ground and dying of hunger. The
landlords only supply water and a roof, and it is useless to ask them
for anything beyond that: not even a cigarette could be obtained for
any money. It is true that Mexican landlords possess one precious
quality, or, to speak more logically, four. They are thievish,
insolent, obstinate as mules, and only lodge travellers who have the
good luck to please them.

Fortunate it was that Diego López had long been acquainted with the
landlord to whose house he led his comrades. Had it not been so, they
would have run a great risk of not finding a shelter for the night.
But, thanks to the peon's omnipotent intervention, the landlord
consented to receive the travellers, and allowed them to lead their
horses to the _corral_. When the horses had been unsaddled, and a good
stock of alfalfa and maize had been laid before them, the Canadian
wrapped himself up in his zarapé, and prepared to go out.

"Where are you going?" Diego asked him.

"You know very well," he answered; "I am going to the palace."

"You are quite determined, in spite of what I said to you?"

"More than ever."

"In that case wait for me."

"What to do?"

"¡Caray! To accompany you. How do you expect to find your way through a
town you have entered today for the first time in your life?"

"That is true, and thank you."

The peon, after giving his companions orders to await his return, and
bowing courteously to the landlord, who deigned to return his salute
with a protecting air, left the mesón, accompanied by the Canadian. To
do full justice to Oliver Clary, we will allow that he was anything
but reassured as to the probable results of the step he was about to
take, and the words of the peon buzzed in his ears. He did not make the
slightest mistake as to his position, and in spite of the assurances
the count had given him, he was perfectly well aware that he ran a risk
of being hung, if the man before whom he was about to appear were such
as he had been represented.

But the adventurer was one of those men who never play fast and loose
with what they consider a duty, and who, once they have formed a
resolution, push on to the end, careless of what the consequences
may be. Hence, when Diego López, who, since he had learned that his
companion was a Catholic, felt sincerely attached to him, tried to
return to what he had told him, and counsel himself once again to defer
his visit until his master's arrival, the hunter immediately bade
him be silent, while perfectly understanding the correctness of his
reasoning, and obliged him to talk about indifferent matters.

In spite of the ever increasing crowd in the street, the two men
had no serious difficulty in making their way. It is true that they
were men who created a certain amount of respect by their muscular
appearance. Although they were obliged to advance very slowly, still in
a comparatively short period they reached the Plaza Mayor, where, owing
to its vast dimensions, they were enabled to walk more freely.

We have said that Leona Vicario was a large town, that its squares were
spacious and its streets wide. The Plaza Mayor, the largest of all,
had really a grand aspect. Two sides were lined with portales in the
shape of cloisters, lined with shops where goods of every description
were sold; of the two other sides, one was occupied by the cathedral,
the other by the _Cabildo_, or Town Hall. In the centre of the square
rose a monumental fountain, from which burst a clear and limpid stream
of water. This fountain was surrounded by posts, fastened together by
bronze chains of rather curious workmanship. Attracted by the fair, a
multitude of peddlers had installed themselves in the square, vending
all sorts of rubbish to the mob which pressed around them.

The two men who entered the square by the Calle de la Merced, were
obliged to go to the further extremity in order to reach the cabildo,
which was the temporary residence of the governor general of the
intendancy. The cabildo was at this period (I do not know if it be
still in existence) a building in a heavy and paltry style, built of
stone, and having tall, straight, narrow windows, defended by heavy
iron bars. Two lancers were walking with a most weary air in front of
the principal gate, which was thrown wide open, and gave access to the
interior by a flight of five steps.

"We have arrived," said Diego López, as he stopped in front of the ugly
building we have just described.

"At last!" the adventurer answered, as he looked curiously about him.
"¡Caray! I was beginning to fancy that we should never reach our
journey's end."

"Here we are; as you insisted on my leading you hither, I have done so."

"And I thank you for doing it, gossip; now that you have honourably
performed the far from agreeable task entrusted to you, leave me to my
own business, and go and amuse yourself at the fair."

"Hang me if I do anything of the sort," the peon answered; "I am too
sorrowful."

"Nonsense! Why bother yourself so? All will finish, I feel convinced,
much better than you have supposed."

"That is possible, and I wish it may be so, but I confess that I do not
expect it; I will not attempt to dissuade you anymore; a fool cannot be
prevented from committing folly."

"Thank you," the adventurer said with a laugh. The other shook his head
mournfully.

"I am going to watch for my master," he continued; "he has great
influence over the governor, and, if you are not hanged, I hope he will
save you."

"I hope too that I shall not be hanged."

"_¿Quién sabe?_" the peon muttered.

The Canadian, who was not particularly pleased by these ill-omened
prognostics, hastened to take leave of his croaking companion.
The latter looked after him until he disappeared in the cabildo,
after exchanging a few words with the sentry; then he returned very
thoughtfully to the mesón, muttering--

"I don't care; I will not start till I know whether he is hung; it is
surely the least I can do for a good Catholic like him."



CHAPTER XVIII.

THE INTERVIEW.


Oliver Clary had entered the cabildo. From this moment he could not
recoil, but must push on. The brave and careless Canadian took a last
and sorrowful glance at the square in which a merry crowd, whose cries
reached his ears, was assembled; he gave a sigh of regret, and hung his
head on his chest for a moment; but almost immediately subduing this
sadness, which was unworthy of him, he effaced every trace of emotion
from his face, drew himself up proudly, and with a calm step entered
a hall in which were standing ushers, easily to be recognized by the
silver chain round their neck. So soon as he appeared, one of these
ushers left the group, and walked up to him with a slow and solemn step.

"Who are you? What do you want?" he asked, impudently.

"Who I am?" he answered drily, "That does not concern you, my master.
What I want? To speak to His Excellency Don Garcia López de Cárdenas,
General commanding the Intendancy."

"Oh, oh!" the usher said, as he looked impudently at the adventurer's
modest and more than careless dress; "You come like that, without the
slightest ceremony, to demand an audience of his Excellency! Come, my
good fellow, follow good advice and begone; the mezcal is disturbing
your head; go to sleep, keep your feet warm, and do not trouble
yourself any further with such nonsense."

Not letting himself be disconcerted the least in the world by this
tolerably coarse apostrophe, the adventurer looked for an instant at
the speaker with such an expression that the latter turned his head
away in embarrassment; then he seized him by a button of his coat.

"Listen to me, Señor Scamp," he said, in a low and menacing voice;
"in any other place but the one where we now are, the words you have
just uttered would cost you dearly; but I despise you too much to be
insulted by them. I pardon you, but only on one condition--that you
will immediately announce to his Excellency, Señor Don Olivero Clary,
and hand him at the same time this letter from his seigneury, the Count
de Melgosa. Begone!"

He let go the usher's button, and the latter, quite abashed, turned
round two or three times, and, without saying a word, quitted the hall.
The Canadian folded his arms on his chest, and waited for his return,
while looking disdainfully at the other servants, who bent on him
curious and almost startled glances. The usher's absence was short.
He appeared almost immediately, and throwing both doors wide open, he
said, as he bowed ironically to the Canadian--

"His Excellency General Don Garcia López de Cárdenas requests Señor Don
Olivero Clary to have the condescension to enter."

The adventurer understood that the critical moment had arrived. Without
displaying the slightest hesitation he entered the room, the doors of
which had so suddenly been opened to him. But, when he had crossed the
threshold, he felt that species of confusion and timidity which attacks
the bravest men when they are violently thrown out of the medium in
which they are accustomed to live. It is plain that the adventurer
would have preferred finding himself face to face with a whole tribe of
ferocious redskins, instead of entering this brilliantly gilded room,
and a crowd of smart officers, whose eyes he felt, instinctively, were
fixed upon him. A feverish flush covered his face, a cold perspiration
beaded on his temples, and his heart beat as if it would burst from
his chest. It was not fear he felt, it was not shame he experienced,
nor was it weakness; but it was a mixture of all those feelings which
filled his bosom, and made his temples beat.

Still, through a prodigious effort of his will, he succeeded not
only in almost entirely concealing this strange emotion, but also so
completely surmounted it that he was able to walk with a firm step
toward the general, whom he saw standing at the other end of the
saloon, in the midst of a group of field officers; and who, with his
hand on his sword belt, bent on him a glance such as rattlesnakes are
said to employ in fascinating their victims.

General de Cárdenas was a man not more than forty years of age, of
tall and imposing stature; his face was harsh, dark, and cruel; he had
a mocking lip and cynical glance; his low forehead, his eyes close
to his long hooked nose, and his prominent cheekbones, veined with
violet lines, gave him a certain resemblance to the feline race. He
was dressed in the splendid uniform of a general, glistening with gold
lace. At this moment he was biting his greyish moustache, and clanking
the wheels of his spurs on the ground--a sign by which his intimate
friends knew that he was suffering from intense passion.

Don López de Cárdenas belonged to the highest Spanish nobility, and was
a caballero cubierto; he had gone through, with some distinction, the
whole of the Peninsular war; but, in spite of his thorough bravery,
and his undeniable talent, he had let himself be led away by his evil
nature to behave so ferociously to the enemy during the retreat of the
French, that the King of Spain, who did not feel at all secure on a
throne which he owed rather to chance than his personal ability, was
constrained to dismiss him, as he did not dare to brave the public
protest against favours he might have granted such a person. Mexico,
which was then in full revolt, seemed to the king the only place to
which he could send General de Cárdenas, without appearing to exile him.

The general, aware of the hatred with which he was regarded, was not
sorry, temporarily, to quit the scene of his dark deeds. Another
reason made him accept, almost joyfully, the post confided to him: his
fortune, compromised during the long Peninsular war, was no longer
adapted to the demands of his pride and the position to which his
birth gave him the right of aspiring. He thought that it would be easy
for him, in a country distracted by revolutions, to fish in troubled
waters, and get together in a few years a fortune larger than the one
he had lost. His beginning in New Mexico did not contradict his past:
it was such as might be expected from a man like him, and gave the
Mexicans, whom, for their misfortune, he was chosen to govern, an
exact measure of the justice they had to expect from him. Hence, he
had resided scarce a year in Mexico ere the people, who are rarely
mistaken in their appreciation, branded him with the name of the
Shark--a characteristic name, were there ever one; for, like the shark,
he was rapacious and cruel. Only one person had a precarious and often
contested influence over this man: it was Count de Melgosa, to whom he
was attached by family ties.

It was face to face with this human-faced tiger that chance placed the
adventurer. The situation was not at all pleasant; still he did not let
himself be disconcerted. On coming within a few paces of the general he
stopped, bowed respectfully and waited till the other should address
him, in a posture which, without evidencing the slightest arrogance,
showed that he was not the man to let himself be domineered over,
and that he would bravely enter on the coming struggle. The general
looked at him fixedly for a few moments, and then said, in a hoarse and
menacing voice--

"Who are you, in the fiend's name?" he asked.

"The letter I had the honour of delivering to your Excellency must have
already informed you," the Canadian answered.

"Do you fancy, scoundrel," the general continued furiously, "that I
have nothing better to do than read the absurd letters sent me from all
sides?"

These few words, exchanged with the terrible officer, had given the
adventurer time to resume all his calm and reckless bravery. He
advanced a step, bowed profoundly, and said briefly, although his
accent was respectful--

"I have the honour of drawing your Excellency's attention to the fact
that I am no scoundrel, but a man of honour; that I have come here,
entrusted with an important mission; and that Count de Melgosa, whose
reputation for loyalty cannot be doubted, of his own accord became my
guarantee to your Excellency. These are two reasons why I have a right
to be treated with due consideration."

"You crow very loudly for a young cock; take care lest I should have
a fancy to cut that comb which you raise so daringly," the general
answered with a mocking smile.

"I do not know what your Excellency means. If you do not think proper
to hear what I have to say, I venture to hope that you will allow me to
retire."

After uttering these words in the same firm tone he had maintained
since the beginning of this singular interview, the adventurer made a
move to leave the hall.

"Stop, I order you," the general said suddenly; "you please me--so
speak without fear. Who are you? Now don't tell any lies, for, perhaps,
I know more about you than you suppose."

"I care very little what your Excellency may have learnt about me. I am
an honest wood ranger--a Canadian by birth, and at the present moment
colonel in the service of the Mexican patriots, commanded by Father Don
Pelagio Sandoval."

"Ah, ah," the general muttered in the same mocking way; "go on, my lad,
you have forgotten to tell me your name."

"I have several; my real one is Oliver Clary the redskins have
christened me the Sumach, and the white men of the prairie generally
call me 'Death in the face.'"

"Death in the face?" the general repeated with a grin, "Perhaps we
shall soon see whether you really deserve that name."

"No man should praise himself; still, I believe that there are few
dangers I am not capable of confronting," he answered resolutely.

"We shall see, we shall see, gossip. Now give me a report of the
mission with which you have been entrusted by the honourable scoundrels
of whom you have so foolishly made yourself the scapegoat."

The Canadian shrugged his shoulders.

"It is easy to threaten a defenceless man," he muttered in a voice loud
enough to be heard by the general.

"Make haste," the latter continued.

Clary, without any hurry, felt in a pocket of the coat he wore under
the zarapé, took out the despatches Father Sandoval had entrusted to
him, and presented them to the general with a bow.

"The Mexican patriots," he said, "hope that your Excellency will deign
to lay before the governor this humble petition, which contains the
enunciation of their grievances, and the concessions they wish to
obtain from his justice."

The general took the letter, crumpled it in his hand, and threw it on
a table, without reading. There was a moment of mournful silence; the
officers, who knew the general's violent and implacable character,
awaited a tragical finale, and were especially alarmed by the unusual
patience which their chief had displayed. The latter did not leave them
long in doubt.

"Now, scoundrel," he continued in a rough voice, "you have said all, I
think?"

"Yes, all, Excellency."

"And I have listened to the end without interruption?"

"Yes, Excellency."

"I am accustomed," he continued, "to be patient with people who are
about to die."

"What!" the Canadian exclaimed, as he hurriedly fell back a pace.

"Did you suppose that, had it been otherwise, I should so long have
listened to your impudent chatter; let him be strung up."

"Take care what you are going to do," the adventurer shouted, seizing
the brace of pistols hidden beneath his zarapé, "I will defend my life
to the last breath."

"It is your right," the general said with a laugh; "I will make use
of it, be assured. Tomorrow you will have to account for my death to
Count de Melgosa, whom you will have dishonoured by despising his safe
conduct."

These words, uttered somewhat haphazard by the Canadian, and rather in
the hope of gaining time than for any other reason, produced greater
effect than he had expected on his hearers. The latter, who, up to
this moment, had seemed to take very slight interest in the scene,
and had gone on talking together in a low voice, suddenly broke off;
several of them walked up to the general, to whom they appeared to make
representations, which he listened to with a haughty smile.

"I will remark to your Excellency," said an old gray-bearded officer,
"that Count de Melgosa is alcade mayor of the town, that his honour
is dear to us all, and that it will, perhaps, be as well to await his
arrival before hanging this poor man."

"Nonsense, caballero," the general answered ironically, "do you really
believe in this safe conduct? Do you suppose that if the count really
took an interest in this scoundrel he would not have accompanied him?"

"Your Excellency is doubtless in the right, but it is not long till
tomorrow, and, perhaps, it will be as well to wait till then."

"The more so," another added, "because the count will, in all
probability, arrive at an early hour."

"Well, as you insist," the general said, with visible repugnance, "be
it as you wish. Throw down your pistols, villain," he added, addressing
the adventurer, who still stood on the defensive, "no hurt will be done
you."

"That is possible," the latter said, shaking his head doubtfully;
"but what has happened up to the present gives me no security for the
future, and simple though I am, I am not quite so simple as to give up
my weapons before I am certain that no trap is being laid for me."

"You will remain in prison till the count's arrival. If you have lied
you will be hung; if not, you can go to the deuce. Are you satisfied?"

"Not excessively so. Still, I desire to prove to you of what an honest
man is capable. I do not value life, and care precious little about
supporting a good cause. There are my weapons," he added, throwing them
on the floor, "do you what you please with me; I am now defenceless,
and I leave the shame of my death to you."

The general himself seemed touched by this proof of confidence.

"¡Viva Dios!" he exclaimed, "you are really a brave fellow. We will
try and save you from the gallows, if it be possible. Lead him away,
but do him no harm."

Several officers, who probably would not have ventured to approach the
athletic Canadian while he still held his pistols, now stepped forward
to seize him.

"No one must lay hands on me," he said, "I have surrendered, and do not
intend to resist: go on. I will follow."

"He is right," the general said with a laugh; "do not collar him, but
leave him the use of his limbs. He is a thorough fighting cock; he has
pledged his word and will keep it."

"Thanks for that remark, Excellency," the adventurer said; "I see that
you are a connoisseur in the matter of men; go on, señores, I am ready
to follow you."

A party of officers at once surrounded him, and he quitted the room.
At the door he perceived the usher, who looked at him impertinently,
but he merely shrugged his shoulders in contempt. His escort, without
leaving the cabildo, led him through a labyrinth of passages, which
would have been puzzling to anyone unacquainted with the gloomy
building.

"Where the deuce are you leading me, my masters?" the prisoner asked;
"Does this palace also contain cells?"

"Cells and dungeons," one of the officers replied; "it communicates
with the Tribunal of the Holy Inquisition."

"Come," the Canadian said, with a laugh, "that is very convenient; in
that way his Excellency the General can lay hands on his prisoners
whenever he thinks proper."

This sally made the officers laugh. A moment after they informed the
prisoner that they had arrived. They halted, and one of them, who bore
a large bunch of keys, selected one, and opened a low and apparently
very substantial door; a puff of hot foetid air at once issued from the
opening. The Canadian gave an involuntary shudder, but his guardians
allowed him no time for reflection; they thrust him unceremoniously
into the dungeon, bolted the door upon him, and the prisoner suddenly
found himself in complete darkness.

"Well," he muttered, so soon as he was alone, "I believe that Diego
López was right, and that I acted like an ass in not following his
advice."

Unfortunately for him, this sensible reflection came too late.



CHAPTER XIX.

THE DUNGEON.


However brave a man may be it is not without a feeling of instinctive
terror that he finds himself suddenly cut off from society and shut
up far from the company of other men, deprived of light and almost of
the vital air necessary for the due play of the lungs. Darkness brings
with it sad and despairing thoughts; and however powerfully a man's
character may be tempered the first moments he passes in a dungeon,
whatever may be the cause that has led him there, are crushing; but,
fortunately, hope is the last feeling that breaks down in a man's
heart. His thoughts, constantly directed to the future, promptly recall
to his heart the courage which had deserted it, and in a few hours,
growing accustomed to his dungeon, he shakes off the prostration which
had seized upon him, regards the position calmly, and only dreams of
the means by which to regain the liberty he has lost, for that is the
sole object of his thoughts, desires, and efforts.

The adventurer experienced all the feelings we have attempted to
describe; but as he was an energetic man, accustomed for many years to
a life of struggle, mixed up with strange episodes, he did not allow
himself to be overcome by the horror of his situation, but, on the
contrary, regarded it with considerable calmness and philosophy. When
he had succeeded in restoring some order in his ideas, which had been
upset by such rapidly succeeding events, he prepared to inspect his
dungeon, which did not appear so dark as when he entered. In fact,
on leaving the daylight his eyes had been at first blinded by the
darkness, but they gradually grew accustomed to the obscurity, and now,
though he could not see clearly, he was able to distinguish objects
sufficiently to walk about without groping his way.

"Well," he said, talking to himself, after the fashion of men
accustomed to live alone, "thanks to my good idea of not letting
myself be touched, I have not been stripped of anything I possessed,
and, spite of throwing the pistols on the ground, I could in case of
need defend myself bravely with the weapons which I still possess. Let
me reflect a little on what I had better do; and in the first place,
according to the Indian fashion, I will smoke a pipe, for there is
nothing like tobacco to clear the brain."

The Canadian's position was far from being desperate, and he saw this
now that he was cool. In the matter of arms he still possessed a brace
of pistols, and a knife with a long, sharp blade, a powder flask, a
bullet bag, tobacco, and everything requisite for striking a light, if
he wanted it. These different articles, hidden beneath the wide folds
of his zarapé, which fell from his shoulders to his knees, had escaped
the notice of his guards, who, moreover, acting in conformity with the
orders the general had himself given, had not attempted to approach the
prisoner.

As he had resolved, the Canadian seated himself as comfortably as he
could, with his back against the wall, lit his pipe, and fell into a
deep reverie. He smoked thus for a few minutes with all the beatitude
of an Indian sachem, when he gave a start of surprise, almost of
terror, on hearing a sarcastic voice say, two paces from him--

"Ah, ah! The paleface escaped the redskins, but his own brothers have
seized him."

"Is there another prisoner in this dungeon?" the hunter asked.

"Yes," the stranger said, laconically.

"Who may you be, comrade; and why do you seem to rejoice so greatly at
my misfortune?"

"Running Water is a chief," the voice answered. "His heart is glad when
he sees a paleface suffer."

"Much good may it do you, chief; but I don't exactly see what profit
you can derive from my sufferings."

"Running Water is an enemy of the Yoris."

"In the first place, redskin, let us settle facts; I am not a Yori, but
a Canadian hunter, which I take some pride in informing you is by no
means the same thing."

"Does my brother speak truly? Is he really a great heart of the east?"

"I fancy that you can recognize that fact from my way of speaking
Spanish. But where the deuce are you stowed away, chief, for I cannot
see you?"

"I am close to my brother, seated on his right hand."

The hunter looked carefully in the direction which the strange speaker
indicated, and at length distinguished a human form crouched in a
corner of the wall.

"On my word," he continued, "I am not sorry to have someone to talk to,
for time passes more quickly. Tell me, chief, what have you done to be
here?"

"Are not the Indians hunted like wild beasts by the Yoris?" he
answered, bitterly. "Is a pretext wanted to kill a redskin?"

"That is true, chief. You are right. It is unhappily but too true. And
have you been a prisoner long?"

"Running Water fell into the trap he set for others. The sun was level
with the lowest branches at the moment when his enemies threw him into
this hole like an unclean beast."

"That is a sad thing for you, chief; the more so, as in all probability
you will only leave it to march to your death."

"It will be welcome," the Indian said in a hollow voice, "since Running
Water's vengeance has escaped him."

There was a silence, during which the two men reflected.--

"If you succeeded in getting out of this hole, as you term it so
correctly," the Canadian presently continued, "and your liberty were
restored you, would you be grateful to the man who did you so great a
service?"

"My life would belong to him," the Indian exclaimed eagerly; but
quickly recovering himself, he added, "Why should I believe such words?
All the palefaces have crooked tongues; moreover, is not my brother a
prisoner also?"

"That is true; but I may possibly find means to aid your escape. I
have my plan; although my detention ought to be short, I have but
very slight confidence in the word of a man who, contrary to the
law of nations, put me here; and, perhaps, instead of waiting for a
problematical tomorrow, I shall attempt to escape with you tonight. I
am not at all anxious to dance at the end of a rope."

The greater part of this explanation was thrown away on the redskin,
who did not understand it in spite of the great attention he paid to
the hunter.

"Hence," the latter continued, "if you will let me act in my own way,
we shall probably go away together, the more so because I have no
reason to owe you a grudge, as you never did me any harm."

"Running Water is a chief," the redskin replied emphatically; "he will
not lie to save his life."

"Good. I know the principles of you Indians, and that when you
believe yourself at death's door you seem to forget your system of
dissimulation, so explain yourself. I shall put faith in your words
whatever you may say."

"Let my brother listen. He was attacked two nights ago by the
redskins."

"True, chief. It would be droll had you been among the Indians who
attacked us."

"Running Water was there, but was ignorant of my brother's presence. He
only attacked the Yoris."

"What you say seems to me tolerably probable. Still, White Crow came to
my camp and I had a rather long interview with him."

"My brother's words are true, but at that time the attack was resolved
on."

"In that case, I have nothing more to say. It was all right, for war
has its laws. Still, listen to me, chief, your words have caused me to
reflect."

"Ah!" the Indian said bitterly, "Has the paleface changed his opinion
now?"

"Not positively, chief. Still, I confess frankly to you that, after the
avowal you have made, I feel a certain repulsion to joining my fortunes
to yours."

"What do the palefaces care for an Indian's life? He is not a man."

"You wrong me, chief; but I know that misfortune makes men unjust, and
I forgive you."

"My brother is generous," the chief remarked ironically.

"More so than you imagine; if you will be pleased to listen without
interruption you shall have a proof of it."

"My brother can speak, my ears are open."

"I repeat that for certain present reasons I prefer remaining here, and
running the risk of what may happen to trying to escape with you; but,
for all that, I will not desert you, and, on the contrary, give you the
means to attempt a flight."

"Good, what are the means?"

The Canadian drew his knife from the sheath.

"It is probable," he continued, "that a gaoler will soon come to bring
us food, for I do not suppose that they intend us to die of hunger.
Take this knife; notice, by the by, that it is a most valuable weapon
for a prisoner, and that I give up mine for your sake. When the man
to whom I refer appears, you will see what you have to do. Still,
avoid killing him if you can, for we must never kill even an enemy
unnecessarily."

The Indian seized the knife which the Canadian handed him, brandished
it round his head with a laugh of savage joy, and then passed it
through his belt.

"Thanks, paleface," he said with an accent of profound gratitude. "You
have done more for me than I ever could have expected from a man of
your colour. To you I shall owe my escape from death, liberty, and
the accomplishment of the vengeance I have so long been pursuing. My
life belongs to you, henceforth you are the master of it. Remember
that you have a brother among the Comanches; the redskins never forget
an insult, and always retain the memory of a kindness. Now, I am
certain that you are not a Yori. May the Wacondah protect and be ever
favourable to you. You have caused my heart a sensation of happiness
such as it has not felt for many years."

After uttering these words with all the emphasis natural to his race,
the Indian chief crouched down facing the door, and awaited with
feverish impatience the arrival of the gaoler. The Canadian laughed
inwardly at the trick he was about to play the general. In his opinion,
what he had done was quite fair; he had no consideration to maintain
for individuals who had disregarded the law of nations in their
treatment of him, and after threatening to hang him, cast him like a
dog into a filthy dungeon. Besides, he had for the Indians generally
that instinctive pity which strong men feel for those whom they
believe intellectually inferior to them. And then, was not the Indian
a prisoner like himself? He, therefore, regarded him as an ally, and
in favouring his flight, he secured himself a valuable friend for the
future in the event of his falling into the hands of the redskins.

The two men remained silent, for they had nothing more to say to each
other. Several hours elapsed in this way. The redskin, calm, cold,
and motionless, was watching for the arrival of the gaoler, as the
jaguar of his forests does the prey that nourishes it, and the hunter,
careless of what was going on around him, had wrapped himself in his
zarapé, and was leaning half asleep against the wall. Probably, in the
confusion of the festival, the man ordered to supply the prisoners with
food let the hour pass, for the sun had long set, although the denizens
of the dungeon could not perceive the fact, and nothing led to the
supposition that they would be fed.

"The deuce," the Canadian at length said, shaking himself
ill-temperedly, "do these gabachos of Spaniards intend to keep us
without supper? I am dying of hunger, caray! And you, chief, do you not
feel the want of some food, were it only a lump of hard bread?"

"The redskins are not greedy squaws. They can endure hunger without
complaining."

"All that is very fine, but I am not an Indian, and when I have nothing
to eat, deuce take me if I do not become ferocious."

"Silence," the Indian said as he listened attentively, "my brother will
soon eat. I hear footsteps approaching."

The adventurer held his tongue. For a moment he forgot his hunger to
witness the scene that was about to take place. A considerable period
of time elapsed ere the noise which had struck the practised ear of the
savage was perceptible to the hunter. At length he heard the sound of
footsteps, which grew louder and louder. A key turned in the lock, the
bolts were drawn, the door swung back on its rusty hinges, and a man
entered, holding a lantern in one hand and a basket in the other.

At the moment when this individual appeared in the doorway, the Indian
leapt on him with a tiger's bound, threw him down and seized him by the
throat; before the poor fellow so unexpectedly attacked had time to
utter a cry or make the slightest effort in his defence, he was bound
and gagged. The Comanche, leaping over his body, ran down the passage
and disappeared with extraordinary rapidity. All this took place so
hurriedly, that the hunter guessed rather than saw what had occurred.
The gaoler still lay motionless, with half his body inside, the other
half outside, the dungeon. When the Indian had disappeared, the hunter
rose and went up to the gaoler.

"What the deuce are you doing there?" he said, as he bent over him
and freed him with studied slowness from the bonds and the gag which
the chief had driven in so conscientiously that he almost choked his
man. When the gaoler was liberated, and put on his legs again by his
prisoner, he looked around him in alarm, breathed forcibly two or three
times, and then, uttering an exclamation of rage, he dashed down the
passage with shouts and oaths, forgetting in his hurry to lock the cell
door.

"Seek him," the hunter muttered with a cunning look, "you will be very
clever if you catch him. I know not what will come of all this; but the
general will be furious, and that is the main point."

And, without dreaming of imitating the chief's example, he picked up
the lantern, which by a singular chance had not been extinguished,
took the basket, returned to the cell, sat down on the ground with
the light in front of him, and began eating with philosophic ease,
growling from time to time at the parsimony of the Spaniards, who had
hardly given him enough to appease his outrageous hunger. The Canadian
was in the thick of this agreeable operation, when he suddenly heard
in the passage a tremendous tumult of shouts and hurried footsteps,
mingled with the clang of arms. A few minutes after, twenty officers
and soldiers dashed like a whirlwind into the dungeon, among them
being the gaoler, who alone gesticulated and shouted more than all the
rest. On seeing the hunter quietly engaged in eating, they stopped in
amazement, so convinced were they that he would have escaped too. When
the agitation and tumult were slightly appeased, and it became possible
to hear anything, one of the officers at length addressed the hunter.

"What," he asked him, "have you not gone?"

"I?" he replied, looking up stupidly, "Why should I do so, as I shall
be free tomorrow?"

"You helped your companion's flight," the gaoler said, shaking his fist
at him.

"You are an idiot, my friend; the man could not be my companion, as he
is an Indian," he said, with the greatest calmness.

This remark so agreed with the ideas of his hearers, who, in their
Castilian pride, did not admit that an Indian was a man like another,
that the conversation broke off abruptly here; the more so, because
nobody could suppose that a man who had favoured the flight of another,
would not have escaped himself. Hence, instead of reproaching the
hunter, the Spaniards apologized to him, and went away, astonished
at the philosophy of this man, who, when an opportunity for freedom
presented itself, preferred remaining a prisoner. When the door closed
on him again, the Canadian burst into an Homeric laugh, and made his
arrangements to pass the night in the least discomfort possible.



CHAPTER XX.

SOTAVENTO MAKES A MOVE.


We will now go back a little way, and return to one of our characters,
whose part has hitherto been secondary, but whom events suddenly place
almost in the first rank. In one of the preceding chapters we recounted
how Sotavento, concealed in a closet, overheard Count de Melgosa's
conversation with Don Aníbal, and then with Father Pelagio Sandoval.
When these three gentlemen had left the room, the worthy majordomo left
his hiding place, revolving in his brain projects whose result we shall
soon witness.

Sotavento enjoyed his master's entire confidence. His employment as
majordomo frequently compelled his absence from the house at all hours
of the day and night, hence, instead of hiding his departure, it was an
easy matter for him to leave the hacienda openly, and he often remained
absent for days, while nobody dreamed of asking him to account for his
conduct.

At the haciendas, the majordomo is generally entrusted with the
inspection of the _capatases_ and _caporales_, who govern the peons
guarding the horses and cattle on the vast dependencies of the estate;
we say vast, because they frequently extend for a radius of five
and twenty or thirty leagues round the hacienda. This surveillance
is the more necessary because the vaqueros, left almost entirely to
themselves, do not scruple to kill the oxen for the sake of selling
the hides, or allow travellers to carry off the best horses in the
manada for a trifling sum; all which, as may be supposed, is highly
prejudicial to the interests of the owner.

Sotavento, after leaving the closet, went to the corral, lassoed his
horse, saddled and led it into the patio. At the moment when he was
about leaving the hacienda, he found himself face to face with his
master, who, after leading his guest to the apartment prepared for him,
was returning to take part in the conference of the conspirators.

"Are you going out, Sotavento?"

"Yes, mi amo," the latter answered; "I was informed this morning that
several tigers have been seen in the Bajio de los Pinos, and that they
have already caused great ravages among the ganado. I am going myself
to see that the tigreros are about, and why they have not yet freed the
country from these ferocious brutes, which are the more formidable
because shearing time and the matanza del ganado are close at hand."

"That is true. I cannot understand the negligence of our tigreros, and
yet, I think, they are paid handsomely for each jaguar skin?"

"Fifteen piastres, Excellency."

"Pray, Sotavento, do not spare the rascals, but treat them as they
deserve. It is really scandalous that, being paid so well, they display
such negligence in the performance of their duty."

"Your Excellency can trust to me."

"I know, my friend," the hacendero answered kindly, "how thoroughly you
are devoted to me. When do you intend to return, for we shall want you
here?"

"I know that, Excellency, and hence I shall make haste. Still, as I
must pass by the Cerro Azul, on my homeward route, to have a look at
the large wood felling you have ordered, I cannot be back till tomorrow
night, or the next morning at the latest."

"Well, my friend, act for the best. I trust entirely to you."

Sotavento bowed to his master, who entered the house, and immediately
quitted the hacienda. The day was nearly spent, the declining sun only
emitted oblique rays, which were almost devoid of heat. The majordomo
followed for some time and at a moderate pace the route to the Bajio
de los Pinos, but when the hacienda had disappeared behind a thick
belt of trees, and the horseman no longer feared being watched by any
curious person who had remained on the walls to notice his movements,
he stopped, looked suspiciously around to make sure that he was really
alone, bent over his horse's neck to catch the slightest sound that
might strike his ear, and remained motionless for several minutes.

It is especially in the great American forests that our European
proverb, with a slight modification, is perfectly applicable. We may
say that the trees have ears, and the leaves eyes. The wood rangers
are well aware of this; hence, unless they are at an entirely open
spot, they generally speak low in monosyllables, or substitute signs
for language. As for the mode of travelling in the forests, we have
described it too often to require to dwell on it here.

This time Sotavento was alone. He saw nothing suspicious, and no
extraordinary sound reached his ear. We purposely employ the expression
"extraordinary sound," because, to a man accustomed to a forest life,
all sounds have a meaning which he thoroughly knows, and about which
he is never mistaken. Thus he can recognize the sighing of the wind
among the leaves, the motion of the branch touched by a bird, the
murmur of invisible water over pebbles, the rustling of a bush, or the
undulation of the tall grass owing to the passage of wild beast; the
buzzing of the mosquitoes over a pool, as well as many other sounds
too numerous to mention here, such as the rolling of a stone detached
from a mountain, or the footstep of a man on the dry leaves. This
science, which it is difficult to learn thoroughly, requires sustained
attention, lengthened experience, and, above all, well-tried patience,
qualities only possessed by the redskins and white men who have given
up civilized life to lead a desert existence.

The majordomo, certain that he had no espionage to dread, drew himself
up, settled down on his saddle, and whispered to his horse the one
word "Santiago," which, in the Spanish language, serves to excite a
steed. He started at full speed, holding slightly to his right and
insensibly approaching the river, whose yellow waters ran a short
distance off between two low and sandy banks. On reaching the bank,
the majordomo rode along it for two or three leagues, examining the
ground with the most scrupulous attention, and apparently seeking some
sign which he was unable to discover. At length he halted, and, after
a momentary hesitation, entered the river and crossed it obliquely,
having the water only up to his horse's chest in the deepest part.
What the majordomo so long sought, and at length found, was a ford.
Under other circumstances it is probable that Sotavento would not have
hesitated to make his horse swim the river, but this time he had a long
distance to go, and wished to save the animal's strength.

So soon as he reached the opposite bank, he started again at a gallop,
continuing to follow the river, and rapidly proceeding toward a forest
which stood out on the horizon. On crossing the river, Sotavento had
entered the territory of the independent Indians, which fact, however,
did not appear at all to trouble him; on the contrary, his demeanour
became bolder, and his eye was lit up with a savage gleam. The sun
disappeared in a gold and purple mist at the moment when Sotavento
reached the forest, which he entered without checking his horse's pace.

At length, after a ride which went on thus at a tremendous pace for
at least four hours, the majordomo reached the foot of a rock covered
with lichen and green moss, which stood alone in the centre of a
considerable clearing, probably made by the redskins during their
hunting excursions, in order to procure game more rapidly. This burning
must have been recent, for the earth retained a black hue, and traces
of fire were still visible all around.

Sotavento halted. Nothing checked the view for three or four leagues
round, but all was bare and gloomy. Still the majordomo had no
intention of stopping at this place, for, after allowing his horse
to breathe for ten minutes, he whistled to it and started again at a
gallop. This time he did not ride for more than three hours, but his
horse was worn out and stumbled at every step. It was covered with
perspiration, a thick steam escaped from its nostrils which dilated
convulsively, and it panted fearfully. The majordomo was as cool and
calm as when he left the hacienda. This man was of iron; neither
fatigue nor heat had any power over him. For about an hour he had been
riding in the darkness along scarcely traced paths, on which he guided
himself as easily as if walking about the streets of a town in broad
daylight. He at last reached a spacious clearing, where he halted and
dismounted. His horse was scarce able to stand on its trembling limbs.
The majordomo gave it a glance of pity.

"Poor Negro!" he muttered, as he patted it gently, "You are almost
foundered."

He took off the bridle and raised the stirrups, but, before he left the
horse at liberty to seek its forage, he carefully rubbed it down, and
then gave it a gentle blow, saying--

"Go and rest, my good beast."

The animal rubbed its intelligent head against its master's shoulder,
gave a glad neigh, and bounded off. The majordomo remained pensive for
a moment, then crossing the clearing, he entered the forest with a
rapid step, but at the same time so light that the most practised ear
could not have caught the sound he produced in treading the ground.
After walking in this way for a few minutes, the majordomo entered
a thicket, and raising two fingers of each hand to his mouth, he
thrice imitated the cry of the owl with such perfection, that the
birds perched above his head fled away in terror. Almost immediately
a similar cry answered him a short distance off. Sotavento, without
waiting any longer, quitted the thicket that sheltered him. A man rose
before him. This man, as far as was possible to distinguish in the
darkness, was an Indian. Sotavento was not at all surprised by this
sudden apparition, which he probably expected. The Indian stood gloomy,
and silent before him.

"Does not my brother bid me welcome?" Sotavento said to him in the
Comanche dialect.

"The Stag knows," the Indian answered, "that his brothers are delighted
to see him. Why, then say useless things?"

"Where is the tribe encamped at this moment?"

"Does not my brother see the yellow leaves falling? The Red Buffaloes
have withdrawn to their winter village."

"I thought so; that is why I pushed on here, instead of halting at the
burnt clearing."

"My brother acted wisely."

"Are not the chiefs upon an expedition?"

"No, all the warriors and braves are assembled at the village."

"Good."

"Will not my brother accompany me to the chiefs?"

"I will follow my brother."

"The Stag can come then."

Without waiting for the majordomo's answer, the Indian turned away, and
began walking at such a pace that any man but the one who accompanied
him would doubtless have had great difficulty in keeping up with
him. Sotavento soon saw the village watch fires gleaming through the
trees, and a few minutes later found himself with his guide among the
irregular rows of huts. On seeing him, the women and children flocked
up to him with cries of joy, and gave him unequivocal signs of sincere
friendship. The majordomo briefly returned the congratulations offered
him, and, followed by the crowd, proceeded to the council lodge, where
the chiefs were still assembled, in spite of the lateness of the hour.

On setting foot in the village, Sotavento, so to speak, underwent a
complete metamorphosis, all in him suddenly changed; and had it not
been for his clothing, nobody would have taken him for a Mexican.
He walked up to the entrance of the council lodge, where he stood
respectfully waiting till he was addressed. The chiefs were smoking,
gravely seated round a fire, whose flame played on their faces, and lit
them up with fantastic reflections. The Indian who had acted as guide
to the majordomo entered the lodge, and said a few words in a low voice.

"The Stag is the cherished son of the tribe," a grave voice replied;
"the omnipotent Wacondah protects him; his presence among us is always
hailed with joy. We heard the cries of the squaws and children who bade
him welcome. Let him take the seat reserved for him at the council
fire. What do my brothers, the sachems, say?"

The other chiefs bowed their heads in the affirmative, and Sotavento
walked in, sat down, crossed his arms on his chest, and waited silently
till his turn arrived to take part in the discussion.

"My brother White Crow will proceed," the chief who had already spoken
said.

"Yes," White Crow said, doubtless concluding a speech which had been
interrupted by Sotavento's arrival, "the information obtained by our
hunters is positive; the Pawnee Loups have made a great expedition,
and carried off many horses. We are in want of horses. The Pawnees are
encamped two suns' distance at the most from our village; why should we
not go and take from them the horses we require? I have spoken; let my
brothers reflect."

Another chief said--

"Our young men require to be trained; few warriors of our tribe are
reported good horse thieves. White Crow's medicine is good; his
expeditions always succeed. Let him choose among our young men those
whom he considers worthy to accompany him, and carry off the horses of
the Pawnees, which we shall soon need for our great buffalo hunts. I
have spoken."

"What is the opinion of the chiefs?" the sachem continued.

"Let Running Water give his first," White Crow said, "for he is the
oldest sachem of the tribe."

Running Water rose.

"Be it so," he said, "I will speak. The news brought by White Crow is
good; we really want horses for our great winter hunts. At any other
moment I should have said, go and seize the Pawnee horses; ten minutes
ago I should have expressed that opinion, but now I cannot possibly
do so. My brothers do not reflect that my son, the Stag, has just
arrived at the village; the distance is great from the stone lodge of
the white men to the villages of the Red Buffaloes; my son would not
undertake so long a journey without serious motives. Let us suspend our
discussion for a few moments; defer the decision as to the advisability
of the projected expedition; smoke the grand sacred calumet filled with
moriche, and listen to the words of my son. His tongue is not forked,
and, perhaps, he has important news to give us. I have spoken."

The chiefs bowed in silence, and White Crow, answering for all, said
that the sachem's advice was good, and that, before coming to a
decision about the expedition against the Pawnees, the council would
listen to the news which the Stag doubtless had to communicate. The
great sacred calumet was then, brought in with all the usual ceremonies
on such occasions; it was filled with sacred tobacco, and lit by the
help of a medicine rod. When it had gone the round, Running Water
turned to Sotavento--

"The ears of the chiefs of the tribe are open," he said to him; "the
Stag can speak."

The majordomo bowed respectfully to the sachem, and rose in the midst
of a general silence.



CHAPTER XXI.

THE COUNCIL OF THE RED BUFFALOES.


The night was dark; there was not a star in the heavens; at lengthened
intervals; however, the moon emerged from behind the clouds, and
shed for a few minutes a trembling and uncertain light, which, when
it disappeared, rendered the darkness more dense; the wind whistled
mournfully through the denuded trees, which clashed together with dull
moanings, mingling their sad harmony with the ill-omened roars of the
wild beasts, which prowled starving about the forest. The entrance of
the lodge in which the chiefs were assembled in council glistened in
the darkness like the mouth of the infernal regions. With the exception
of the sachems, everybody was asleep in the village; the very dogs had
ceased their sharp barking, and were lying by the half extinguished
fires, which, smouldering beneath the ashes, spread no light.

Sotavento, or the Stag, by whichever name the reader likes to call
him, had risen, and all the chiefs fixed on him eyes displaying the
liveliest curiosity; in fact, as Running Water had remarked, the
majordomo must have most important news to communicate to the chiefs of
his nation, to have thus suddenly undertaken so long and dangerous a
ride.

"Sachems and braves of the invincible tribe of Red Buffalo," he said,
"it is only when I am able to see you that the skin which covers my
heart is suddenly removed, and the words which issues from my chest are
really inspired by the Wacondah. To obey the orders of the sages of my
nation, I consented with regret to leave the callis of my fathers, and
pretend to adopt the customs of the cowardly palefaces whose ruin we
have sworn. Very often, this burthen, too heavy for my weak shoulders,
has nearly crushed me; very often I have felt my courage on the point
of abandoning me in this incessant struggle and the false existence
which has become mine. But you ordered, sachems, and I was obliged to
bow my head and obey; I had ever present before my mind the numberless
insults and horrible sufferings which our tyrants had made us endure.
This thought constantly burning in my heart like a sharp arrow, by
reviving my hatred, gave me the necessary strength to accomplish my
heavy task. I believe, fathers and sachems of my nation, that I have
never up to the present incurred reproaches from you on account of
lukewarmness or negligence."

The chiefs bowed in evidence of their satisfaction, and Running Water
replied--

"What does my son say? Why does he thus praise himself," he remarked
in a sonorous voice, "for having done his duty? Does he not know that
every man was placed in this world by the Wacondah to fulfil an often
rough and painful task? Happy those whose task is the most arduous!
The Wacondah loves them and regards them with a favourable eye, and
for them he reserves after death the most productive territory in the
happy hunting grounds. Of what does my son complain? In devoting him
to live among the palefaces, I made him the saviour of my people and
the avenger of their insults. All the braves, all the warriors of my
tribe envy his lot; he alone complains like a cowardly Yori. He finds
the task which has been allotted to him too heavy; be it so, let him
retire, let him give up the post of honour which the chiefs consented
to confide to him, for the sake of us; let him return to the desert,
but he must shun the calli of his fathers; he will not find brothers,
relatives, or friends in his country; all will reject him and compel
him to take refuge among the wild beasts that are less cruel and
cowardly than he."

The majordomo listened to this severe reprimand with drooping head,
but without daring to interrupt it. When the old chief ceased, he drew
himself up--

"My father," he replied in a humble voice, with an accent of the
greatest deference, "your words are severe; they fall upon my heart
like red-hot coals. I do not deserve these reproaches; the Wacondah
is my witness that my thoughts have ever been with my tribe, and that
avenging the insults offered you has been the sole object for which I
have striven. My abode among the palefaces has, perhaps, unconsciously,
given my words a strange turn that has led you into error. Be not
wroth with me, father, for I am worthy of your esteem, if not of your
praise. If I complained it was because my heart suffers at being absent
from you, and that I long for the moment when I shall be allowed to
throw far from me this borrowed garb, to resume the free, glorious,
independent life of the Comanches, that noble nation, without an equal
on the prairie, beloved by the Wacondah, respected by all the redskins,
and feared by the ferocious palefaces, who have never succeeded in
bowing them beneath the shameful yoke which they have imposed on all
the other Indians."

The old chief shook his head several times, while a smile of
undefinable meaning played round the corners of his thin lips.

"My son has learned much among the palefaces," he said; "his mind has
opened to thoughts strange to his countrymen; his horizon has expanded
and his tongue is gilded. May the Wacondah grant that it has not become
forked, and that his heart has remained firm. I believe his words, and
am glad to think that he does not deceive the fathers of his tribe. He
can forget any severity in my words; the friendship I bear him, and
the fear I have of seeing him break his word, could alone have made me
utter them. Now, let my son explain to us, without further delay, the
motive for his coming among us. The owl has already hooted twice, and
we must be in a position before sunrise to take those measures which
the news he brings us will doubtless necessitate."

The majordomo bowed respectfully, and at once continued--

"Thanks, father, for the justice you do me; your hopes shall not be
deceived. Now, without further preface, this is my news, which I think
will be agreeable to you, as it will give you the means to seize one of
your most obstinate foes. The man whom the Yoris call Count de Melgosa
is at this moment at the hacienda with an escort composed of but six
_tamarindos_. Tomorrow at sunrise he will set out to return to his
house; nothing will be easier than for you to seize him as he passes
through the canyon, if your arrangements are properly made."

"Ah!" said the sachem, "That is really excellent news, and we will be
careful to follow your advice, my son; but have you nothing else to
tell us?"

"Yes, this: the Yoris are preparing once again to dig up the hatchet
against their masters, the Gachupinos. A great meeting of all the Yori
chiefs has taken place at the Hacienda del Barrio, and war is resolved."

"Good," the chief answered; "perhaps, this time, the Wacondah will
deliver our enemies to us."

"I believe I hold the power of soon delivering them to you," the Stag
said in a hollow voice.

"Speak, son of my best beloved _Ciuatl!_" the chief exclaimed with a
vivacity unusual in an Indian; "Your words fall on my heart like a
refreshing dew; they rejoice me, and restore me the hope of vengeance."

"I cannot explain myself, father; my plan is one of those which only
the man who has conceived them can carry out by keeping in his heart
the secret of the means he intends to employ, but also the object he
purposes to attain. Who knows whether the bird flying over our head may
not go and reveal our secrets to the enemy? To you, but to you alone,
my father, I will reveal so much of my plans as I can; but the chiefs
of my nation must place the most entire confidence in me, and let me
act as I please; if not, it will be impossible for me to succeed. I say
that the chiefs of the nation must place full and entire confidence in
me, because I require their aid in carrying out the plan I have formed.
That is to say, I ask for the command of twenty of our most renowned
warriors, who will obey me solely, and that, perhaps, for a whole moon.
I have spoken, let my fathers reflect and take those measures with
which their wisdom inspires them."

After uttering these words, the majordomo sat down, folded his arms
on his chest, and fell into profound thought, remaining, apparently at
least, a complete stranger to what was said round him, although, after
the request he had made of the council, he was personally interested in
the discussion which took place. Like all Indian debates the present
one was calm and grave, each orator speaking in his turn and developing
his ideas, without fearing the interruption so common and so offensive
among ourselves. Nearly three hours were spent ere all had spoken, and
opinions seemed agreed.

"These are the resolutions of the council," Running Water said as he
rose; "let my brothers open their ears, for a chief is about to speak."

All eyes were immediately turned to the old Sachem; the Stag himself
seemed to wake up, for he raised his head and listened to the chief's
words with the deepest attention. Although the majordomo's face was
impassive, and all his features retained the rigidity of Florentine
bronze, a fearful storm was raging in his heart; for on what he was
about to hear depended the success of a plan he had formed for a long
time as the realization of his dearest hopes.

"The chiefs and sachems assembled round the council fire in the
medicine lodge, after hearing the important news brought by the Stag,
one of their most renowned chiefs, and after thoroughly deliberating
on this news, have formed the following resolutions, which will be
executed with the aid of the Wacondah, who alone is powerful, and
without whose protection nothing is possible."

"The chiefs thank the Stag for the tried devotion he has not ceased to
prove to the tribe in the dangerous post intrusted to him. In order to
testify to the Stag the unbounded confidence which they have in his
character, they grant his request under the sole stipulation that he
will reveal to his father, Running Water, all he possibly can without
injuring the success of the expedition he is undertaking. The Stag will
choose twenty braves of his tribe, and assume their command, to lead
them wherever he thinks proper, no one having the right to make any
observation to him. He will have over these braves all the prerogatives
of the most renowned chiefs of the tribe; this command, whose duration
is unlimited by the council, will only cease at the Stag's desire. The
sachems have thus decided, in order to give Running Water and his son a
proof of their sincere friendship and the gratitude they feel for all
the services which these two chiefs have rendered them."

"Running Water and White Crow will place themselves at the head of
detachments of warriors they consider numerous enough to seize the
Yori chief called Count de Melgosa, and so soon as that implacable
enemy of our tribe is in their hands, they will lead him to our winter
village, in order that the council of the nation may treat him as they
think proper for the general welfare. I have spoken: have I said well,
powerful men?"

All the chiefs bowed, merely uttering one word, _Aschest_ (it is well),
the formula which generally closes the councils of the sachems.

At this moment the darkness began to be dispelled, and though the sun
had not yet risen above the horizon, large bands of russet which tinged
the sky, and covered it with extreme rapidity, proved that day would
soon break. The Stag rose, bowed respectfully to the members of the
council, and left the lodge. Hastily crossing the village square, on
which some squaws were already to be seen, he entered the calli of his
father, Running Water, and let the frame of intertwined lianas, lined
with a buffalo hide, which served as a door, fall behind him. A few
moments after and the Stag reappeared.

Assuredly, in this Indian, armed and painted for war, no one would
have recognized Sotavento, the majordomo, the man in whom Don Aníbal
de Saldibar placed such unbounded confidence, and on whose devotion
he thought he had such reasons to count. The Stag had entirely doffed
his European clothing, and put on the grand war dress of the Comanche
chiefs. In his left hand he held a long, sharp pointed javelin, and his
gun in his right. He went up to the ark of the first man, a species of
enclosure of planks, of a conical shape, situated in the centre of the
square, before which stood a sumach, whose faded leaves were already
beginning to fall.

After walking thrice round the sumach the chief stopped, bowed twice
to the rising sun, and balancing his javelin, while he raised his gun
above his head, he commenced a characteristic dance round the tree,
accompanied by a song, of which he doubtless improvised the words,
and whose slow and monotonous rhythm marked the measure of the dance.
At the end of each strophe the Stag struck the tree with his javelin
without stopping.

Several Indians had left their callis and assembled round the chief,
who continued his song. In a moment an Indian started after him,
dancing and singing behind him. After him came another and then
another, so that, at the end of half an hour, twenty warriors were
dancing behind the Stag, and repeating after him the words he
continued to improvise. As each Indian faced the circle of dancers,
a woman left the group of spectators, and went to fetch his weapons
from the calli. In the meanwhile the dance, which had begun to a slow
and monotonous rhythm, had grown animated. The Indians, bathed in
perspiration, twirled round the tree, to which they dealt repeated
blows, while uttering hoarse, inarticulate cries, and brandishing
their weapons furiously. The squaws and children, collected round the
braves, mingled their cries and yells with theirs, and added by their
imprecations and disorderly gestures to the sinister horror of this
scene, to which was imparted all the savage majesty of the Indian war
dance.

The tree, struck by the axes, sagaies, knives, and lances of the
Indians, lost its branches, and was completely stripped of its bark,
which was piled on the ground; but the ardour of the warriors, far
from being checked, seemed, on the contrary, momentarily to increase.
Suddenly the Stag gave a signal. All halted, as if by magic, and a deep
silence instantaneously succeeded the deafening concert performed by
all these men who had reached a paroxysm of fury. The chief gazed with
satisfaction at the young, powerful, and haughty men who surrounded him.

"Will twenty warriors follow the Stag on the war trail?" he asked.

"Yes, they will follow him!" the redskins replied unanimously.

"Good; they are great braves! The Stag knows them. The warriors will
put on their war moccasins, take their weapons, and choose their best
horses. When the sun is level with the topmost branches of the trees,
the Stag will be at the foot of the ark of the first man, mounted and
waiting for his brothers. Now the Comanche squaws will proceed to cut
down the sumach; no trace of the enemies of the Red Buffaloes must
remain. The warriors kill their foes, but women torture them. I have
spoken."

The warriors dispersed. The squaws, following the permission granted
them, at once rushed yelling on the unhappy tree, the last fragments of
which disappeared within ten minutes beneath the blows of these savage
Megæras. The Stag returned to his father's lodge, where the latter
soon joined him. They had a confidential conversation together, which
lasted more than two hours, at the end of which Running Water retired,
apparently much satisfied with the explanation his son had given him.
At the hour appointed by the Stag to depart, all the warriors were
drawn up in front of the ark of the first man, impatient to set out and
begin their mysterious expedition.



CHAPTER XXII.

THE WAR TRAIL.


The principal sachems of the tribe, collected at the entrance of the
medicine lodge, were present at the departure of the warriors. Two
bands, each composed of twenty braves, were drawn up side by side. At
the head of the first stood the Stag, haughtily bestriding his horse,
which was painted and accoutred in the Comanche fashion, so that it was
quite as difficult to recognize as its rider. An ill-restrained delight
glistened in the chief's fierce eyes. At the head of the second troop,
composed of more aged and calm warriors, were Running Water and White
Crow.

The women, children, and warriors who were to remain at home crowded
the square. A deep silence, apparently caused by the expectation of an
important event, prevailed among them. At the end of an instant the
sachems assembled before the medicine lodge moved on one side, and made
way for a man dressed in garments of strange shape, in which the most
startling and discordant colours were brought together. This man was
the sorcerer, or medicine man, of the tribe.

His step was imposing and haughty; his expressive face displayed
enthusiasm and faith. In one hand he held a clumsy vessel, in which a
tuft of wormwood was soaking; in the other he brandished a scalping
knife. On reaching the centre of the square he stopped at an equal
distance from the two troops, in front of a fire lighted expressly for
the occasion. He stood for a moment motionless, with his head drooping
on his chest, murmuring a few words in a low and indistinct voice;
then he took out the wormwood, and sprinkled the four cardinal points,
exclaiming, as he did so--

"Wacondah! Thou seest these warriors; be favourable to them, blind
their enemies, and remove any snares from their path!"

After uttering these words, he deposited the vessel on the ground, felt
in the parchment bag that hung by his side, and drew out a handful of
moriche, which he dropped slowly into the fire, saying--

"Receive this offering, Wacondah! And let us know thy designs."

And, still continuing to drop the tobacco, he began dancing round
the fire, brandishing his knife, and making strange contortions and
grimaces. By degrees, his features altered, a white foam issued from
the corners of his mouth, his hair stood on end, his eyes seemed ready
to spring from their sockets, and he shouted in a hoarse and panting
voice--

"I see them! I see them!"

"What does my father see?" the Stag asked, with ill-disguised anxiety;
for, in spite of his Mexican education, or, perhaps, owing to it, he
was like all his countrymen, and, perhaps, more than they, accessible
to superstitious terrors.

"I see them," the sorcerer continued; "the combat is obstinate; the
women roll on the ground; they fall into the power of my sons; they
rise again. Why these signs? What mean these demonstrations? Oh, I hear
them!"

"What does my father hear?" the chief asked.

"I hear cries, but the Comanches are implacable. Kill, kill, kill,
I say. Why do you hesitate?" All at once he burst into a convulsive
laugh, "Ah, ah, ah! Yes, that is better," he said, with a shriek, "in
that way the vengeance will be more perfect."

In spite of themselves, the hearers felt terrified by this Satanic
laugh, which echoed in their ears like a funeral knell.

"Do not go," the sorcerer continued; "death is there. Leave that enemy
alone, for it is not he but you who will succumb. But no; go, for you
must; why, Wacondah, why?"

While uttering these words, the sorcerer suddenly stopped; his voice
grew low and unintelligible; he seemed to listen for a moment, uttered
a loud cry, turned round twice or thrice with headlong speed, and fell
all his length on the ground, where he writhed for several moments in
frightful convulsions. The Indians were struck with terror at this
strange scene; the sorcerer's gloomy prediction filled them with
horror, they did not dare communicate their thoughts to one another,
but remained uncertain and alarmed, while watching the man who writhed
before them. At length Running Water broke the charm which held all
these impressionable men enthralled, for he felt the discredit which
would attach to the two expeditions, if the warriors were allowed time
to think.

"Like all the predictions of the medicine man," he said, with a slight
tinge of irony, "this contains both good and bad; still I fancy I
noticed that good prevailed, and that, if we have the misfortune to
lose one or two of our comrades, we shall at least return loaded with
booty, and dragging prisoners after us."

"I believe I understood that too," White Crow said, to back him up;
"the warriors who fall in an expedition are fortunate. The happy
hunting grounds are opened to them, and they are led to them by the
Wacondah."

"Yes," said the Stag, "the prediction is a good one; it announces
success."

The versatile mind of the Indians immediately followed the impulse
the chiefs gave it, and soon all the redskins were persuaded that the
medicine man's predictions were really excellent, and that the two
expeditions started under the most favourable auspices. As for the poor
sorcerer, he lay on the ground in a state of perfect insensibility, and
none of the persons present dreamed of helping him. Then the two bands
started to leave the village, followed by the whole tribe, who made
vows for the success of the expedition, and urged them to show no mercy
to the enemies they were about to fight; the women were especially
distinguished by their ferocious cries and repulsive gestures.

For nearly an hour the two bands rode side by side, the three chiefs
conversing together in a low voice, and the warriors laughing and
smoking, for they were well aware that they had not yet reached the
spot where they would really enter on the war trail and that any
precautions they now took would be useless. At about two p.m., on a
sign from their chief, they halted in a narrow valley, by the side of
a stream, whose banks were overshadowed by small clumps of sumachs,
larches, and Peru trees. The riders dismounted and carelessly lay down
on the ground, leaving to the chiefs the trouble of watching over the
common safety, if they considered it necessary. The latter had lighted
their pipes, and were holding council. After a moment's silence,
Running Water said, in his grave and calm voice--

"We have reached the ford of the Antelope, and it is here that we shall
part. I will go down the river with my braves, while the Stag reenters
the forest with his warriors. Has my son anything further to say to
Running Water and White Crow? They are listening."

"I have nothing more to say to my father Running Water, or to my
brother White Crow, than what they now already know; the expedition
we are attempting is perilous, and must be carried out with prudence,
not so much, perhaps, on account of our enemies themselves, as of the
superstitious terrors with which they inspire our warriors."

"I understand the words of my son," the old chief replied; "they are
serious. Running Water is renowned for his courage among his brothers;
still he would not dare to attack the enemies whom the genius of evil
protects and renders invincible."

The Stag concealed with difficulty a contemptuous smile, which was
checked on his lips by the respect with which his father inspired him.

"Our own weakness partly forms the strength of our enemies," he
replied, shaking his head sorrowfully; "the redskins are brave, but
they are children who put faith in absurd things."

"My son," the old man said, sternly, "contact with the palefaces has
injured you more than you suppose; without suspecting it, you have
come to discuss the belief of your fathers, and turn it into ridicule.
Take care, I repeat, my son; the road you are entering on is a bad
one--it leads to a precipice; it is better to believe in an absurdity
than fall into the contrary excess, and deny all belief. I will not
lead my warriors against the persons whom you so obstinately insist on
attacking."

"I do not ask it of you, father," the Stag replied, biting his lips in
spite; "merely do what we agreed on, and that will be sufficient. I am
willing to assume all the risks and perils of this expedition."

"The Stag is right," White Crow observed; "what danger do we incur
in doing what he asks? Besides, even if we tried to prevent it, our
warriors would not stand before them, but fly. Leave your son to act,
Running Water; if on certain points contact with the whites has been
injurious to him, it is evident that it will prove very useful to him
for many others. He knows better than we do what is best to be done
under the circumstances, and since he consents to assume all the
responsibility, let him act as he pleases."

The old man shook his head several times, as if still far from being
convinced.

"Be it so," he at length said, "since he fancies he has more wisdom
beneath his black scalp than those whose hair has grown white at
the council fire; let him act as he thinks proper. His father will
henceforth be dumb, and will not cast the ice of his experience upon
the fire of his ardent youth. Alas! Old customs are dying out. The
Comanches are no longer worthy of their ancestors! The poison of the
palefaces has penetrated to their villages. May the Wacondah grant that
I have not lived too long, and that I may not see at an early day the
ruin of my nation, as I have witnessed the ruin of its old laws and
wise and simple customs."

While speaking thus, the old chief rose pensively, and walked slowly
toward his horse, which a warrior was holding by the bridle. White Crow
waited till the sachem was out of earshot, and then bent down to the
Stag's ear.

"Brother," he said to him, as he seized his arm, "do not be uneasy. I
only know your plans very imperfectly through the few hints you have
dropped in my presence; but, if I am not mistaken, they are of great
importance. Carry them out, therefore, without fear; if your father
hesitates to support you, I will oblige him not to break the promise he
has made you."

"Thanks, chief," he answered with emotion, "among all our brothers you
alone understand me. Oh, be assured that I shall succeed."

"Yes, I understand you," White Crow said sadly, "perhaps only too
well; but the Wacondah's will be done! He alone can read hearts and
distinguish good from evil. Still, before we part, let me give you one
counsel."

"I will receive it gladly, chief."

"Perhaps so; still I think it my duty to give it you, whether you like
it or not. Here it is, and you can act as you please. The man who
wishes to attain a high position among his people must be careful not
to substitute private or personal interests for the public interests
intrusted to him. You are too intelligent to fail to understand me.
Trust to me. Farewell for the present."

And after discharging this Parthian arrow, the chief went off,
apparently not noticing the Stag's confusion. The latter stood for a
moment as if stunned by this clear-sighted apostrophe.

"¡Voto a brios!" he muttered in Spanish, "Have I been so maladroit as
to let these crafty men read my secret thoughts? Oh, it is impossible!
Still--nonsense," he added, as he haughtily raised his head, and looked
defiantly around him, "what do I care after all? If I succeed, each
will acknowledge me to be right. Does not success justify the most
desperate enterprises, and this is far from being one."

These reflections seemed to restore him all the confidence and audacity
which his father's remarks and White Crow's malice had momentarily
shaken, and he walked with a calm look and careless demeanour toward
the two chiefs, who were mounting at the moment, as he wished to take
leave of them before starting. The compliments were short and cold on
both sides, for these three men were eager to separate. Brought up in
a different medium, and in ideas diametrically opposed, the Stag and
his two comrades could not understand each other, and the sachems even
involuntarily felt an antipathy for their young colleague.

Running Water was right in the remonstrance which he addressed to
his son. Paternal love on one side, on the other his hatred of the
Mexicans, rendered him clear-sighted. A man, however firm his character
may be, does not adopt with impunity the customs and habits of men
in a more advanced stage of civilization than himself, and pass his
childhood and youth in the midst of the comfort and luxury ignored in
savage life, which, while freeing man from physical apprehensions,
enlarge his ideas, by giving him the leisure to think and live, no
longer through the senses, but through the heart.

The Stag, destined by his father to serve as the instrument of the
revenge which he wished to take on Don Aníbal de Saldibar and his
family, had been so well trained by Running Water, that his entrance
to the hacienda met with no difficulty. The boy had begun by playing a
long studied part, then, by degrees, without knowing how or why it took
place, the fiction was converted into a reality, and the Comanche grew
to regard almost with terror the moment when he would be compelled to
return to the independent life of the prairies, and resume the nomadic
existence of his tribe. This repugnance for the customs of his fathers
emanated neither from any gratitude he felt for Don Aníbal's constant
kindness to him, nor from friendship he felt for those who brought him
up.

Sotavento was naturally ungrateful, moreover he cordially hated white
men generally, and his benefactor particularly; but he had quickly
grown accustomed to the life he led; it seemed to him a real paradise
in comparison with what awaited him in the desert. By degrees
the faith of his tribe was effaced in his heart, to make room for
another that was wider, and more in accordance with his instincts and
appetites; and he regarded the mission with which he had been intrusted
as a heavy burden from which he would be delighted to be delivered. No
man is perfect; however strong he may be, he cannot continually have
the same idea of pursuing the same object.

His father's implacable hatred of the white men, which was
comprehensible in the medium in which the chief lived, was not so for
his son; it was only at intervals, when he witnessed an insult dealt
to a man of colour, that his Indian blood was revealed in him, and
his hatred was re-kindled. Sotavento was vexed at this indifference;
he tried to overcome it by all means, and when he was among his own
people, his protestations were made in good faith, for he then believed
what he said, so much did he desire in his heart that it should be
true. Unfortunately for him, he had scarce returned to the hacienda,
ere his ideas completely changed, his resolutions evaporated, and he
felt himself beneath a far more powerful influence, an influence whose
strength was gradually revealed in him, and eventually overpowered
whatever efforts he might attempt to escape from it.

Under the pressure of the new feeling which mastered him, the Indian
felt all the ferocious instincts of the race to which he belonged
aroused in him; from this moment, forgetting all other interests, he
had but one thought--it was to employ, in carrying out successfully the
daring plan he had formed, the confidence he enjoyed among the chiefs
and the forces of which he could dispose at a given moment. The hour
which the Indian had selected for the realization of his project and
the execution of his bold plans had arrived, and he audaciously set
to work, without hesitation or without scruple, caring little about
marching over corpses, provided that these corpses were so many steps
of a ladder enabling him to attain the extraordinary result he desired.



CHAPTER XXIII.

THE SNARE.


Running Water and White Crow placed themselves at the head of their
warriors, who marched in Indian file, and forded the river. The
redskins who remained in the valley watched them cross and disappear in
the windings of the track they were following. The Stag remained for
nearly an hour at the spot where his band had halted, and it was not
until the sun had begun to descend on the horizon that he gave orders
to mount. The warriors at once quitted the protecting shade which had
sheltered them for several hours, and in a twinkling were ready to
start.

Among the warriors who accompanied the Stag were six with whom he
was very intimate; they several times entered the Mexican territory
under different disguises, and had even got as far as the Hacienda
del Barrio, where the majordomo received and sheltered them without
exciting the slightest suspicion, so cleverly did they play the part of
Indios mansos. Of these six warriors four had been employed for several
months as vaqueros to guard the ganado.

The Stag had stipulated that this should be so, because, as he remarked
at the council, a day might come when it would be well for him to have
men ready at hand who were sufficiently acquainted with the customs of
the redskins, to aid the tribe in carrying out the revenge which had so
long been preparing. The council assented to the proposition, and the
majordomo neglected nothing that his friends might make rapid progress
in their knowledge of Mexican customs.

Sotavento had an object, but it was very different from the one
which he suggested to the Comanches. Success had not only crowned
the Indian's efforts, but exceeded all his expectations, and his six
warriors assumed in a very short time the manners of Mexican peons.
Everybody knows the aptitude of redskins for doing or imitating what
they please when they suppose they can derive any eventual profit by
it, so what we state here will not arouse any surprise.

After recommencing his march, the Stag called up to him these six
warriors, and began giving them confidential instructions in so low
a voice that they had a difficulty in catching and understanding his
remarks. It appeared as if the revelations he made to these men were
serious, for, in spite of the mask of stoicism with which Indians
habitually cover their face, their features suddenly displayed a
surprise which soon assumed a distinct character of horror. But the
Stag did not give way; on the contrary, he redoubled his efforts,
heaped promise on promise, flattery on flattery; in short, he managed
so cleverly, that he ended by convincing them, or at least it seemed
so, for, after a lengthened hesitation, they gave a nod of assent. The
chief shook his head.

"Wah!" he said in a louder voice. "My brothers are men of loyal hearts
and iron arms. I believe in their word, but they have not sworn by the
sacred totem of the tribe, and as they have not promised by word of
mouth, it is possible that the Wacondah may not remember their promise."

The warriors began laughing.

"The opossum is very crafty," one of the Indians said, "but the Stag
joins to the cunning of the opossum that of the guanaco."

"Wah!" said another, "The palefaces have taught the Stag all the
cleverness of the Yoris."

"Well," he answered laughingly, "that of the Comanches is greater
still; for is not the Comanche nation the Queen of the Prairies? Who
would dare, without leave, to traverse our hunting grounds. Will my
brothers swear by the totem?"

"We will," said the one who spoke first, "because we love our brother,
and know that his intentions are good."

"Yes, that is true; we believe in you, chief."

At these words the seven men stopped, and let their comrades pass them.
When the latter had disappeared in the windings of the track, and were
so far that they could neither see nor hear what was taking place, the
Stag made a sign, and the six warriors formed a circle round him. Then
the chief drew his scalping knife from his belt, opened his hunting
shirt, and placing the point of the blade against his heart, on which
was drawn in red the totem, or emblem of his tribe, that is to say, a
buffalo, he raised his right hand to the setting sun, and uttered the
words of the oath, the only one, perhaps, sacred to the Indians, as
there is no instance known of it having been broken.

"I, a great man of the Comanche nation, a son of the Red Buffalo
tribe, swear, in the presence of the sun, the visible representative
of the invisible Wacondah, the powerful master of life, to accomplish
without hesitation everything which my master, the Stag, may demand of
me, consenting that the blade of my hunting knife, the point of which
is at this moment resting on the image of the totem of my tribe, may
be buried to the hilt in my heart, were I to break my oath which I
now voluntarily take. I also consent to submit to the most terrible
punishment the powerful Wacondah, the master of life, may deign to
inflict on me. Hence, may the Wacondah remember my oath, in order to
reward or punish me, according to my conduct."

The six warriors, following their chief's example, drew their scalping
knives, put the point on their heart, and repeated after him in a
solemn voice, and an accent of conviction, the words he pronounced.

"I thank my brothers," he said, "they are truly great braves; the tails
of red wolves which hang from their heels do not speak falsehood."

The Indians bowed, and he continued--

"My brothers will leave me here, and go straight to the Elk's cavern;
they have just time to get there, and prepare to carry out my orders:
have my brothers thoroughly understood?"

"We have understood," they answered.

"In that case, my brothers will make their mustangs feel the whip; the
sun is rapidly descending, it is nearly level with the grass, and it
will soon be night."

The warriors took leave of their chief, and turning to the right,
vigorously lashed their horses, and disappeared in a whirlwind of dust.
The Stag looked after them pensively; when he lost them out of sight,
he whistled to his horse, and rejoined at a gallop his warriors, who,
during the scene we have just described had continued their march, and
were some considerable distance ahead.

We will leave the Comanche warriors for a while, and let them glide
like snakes through the prairie grass, and cross the Río Grande del
Norte to enter Mexican territory. We will take up our narrative again a
few hours later, at the moment when Doña Emilia, her daughter, and Don
Melchior, attracted by the firing of Running Water's warriors, rushed
into the canyon, and by their mere presence caused the Indians that
inconceivable panic which made them fly in every direction, and abandon
their coveted prey when they were on the point of grasping it. After
pursuing for some time the fugitives, to whom terror seemed to give
wings, Doña Emilia prepared to return to the count and his comrades,
when all at once she fancied she heard desperate cries in a wood a
little distance off, which she had passed unnoticed in the heat of the
pursuit.

"What is the meaning of that?" Doña Emilia asked, as she checked her
steed. "Can there be any unhappy white men engaged with these demons on
this side?"

At the same moment the wind bore down to them the sound of several
shots.

"It appears like a serious action," Don Melchior answered. "Still I
cannot understand the cause, for, with the exception of the count,
there are not, to my knowledge, any white men travelling at present on
this border."

"You must be mistaken, my friend, and hark, the noise is increasing;
forward, forward; who knows whether we may not have the good fortune
to save the life of some poor wretch. Those red demons fled so rapidly
that we could not catch up a single one."

"Mother," Doña Diana timidly observed, "would it not be better, before
venturing again among the savages, to make certain with whom we have to
deal, and the number of foes we may have to confront?"

"What good will that do, daughter?" Doña Emilia answered drily; "Those
men are savages, I think that we do not require to know more."

"Permit me to insist, mother; I know not why, but for some days past,
sad forebodings involuntarily pursue me; I fear that we have traitors
about us, and that they are watching us. I am afraid! Alas! Is it
fitting for women," she murmured feebly, "to wage war thus?"

Doña Emilia gave the maiden an angry glance. "Pigeon heart," she said
with feverish energy, "who keeps you here? return to the hacienda; I
will be sufficient."

"I fear a snare, mother."

"A snare? Do you forget the terror with which my presence inspires
these Pagans? You have long had a proof of it," she continued with a
contemptuous smile; "but come, daughter, accompany me this time, and I
swear that I will not again force you to serve my hatred."

The young lady let her head drop but said nothing, and the three riders
started at full gallop in the direction of the shots, which became more
frequent the nearer they approached. They were soon close enough to
distinguish all the details of the drama which was being performed but
a few paces from them. At the top of a small mound, several Europeans,
who could be easily recognized by their dress, ambuscaded behind their
horses, whose throats they had cut to form them into a barricade, were
defending themselves like lions against twenty Indian warriors, who
surrounded and tried to capture them.

"Well?" Doña Emilia asked her daughter, as she pointed to this fight,
whose incidents were growing more and more striking, "Is that a snare?"

"I am wrong, mother, I see," the young lady murmured; "and yet, I
repeat, I am afraid."

"Forward!" Doña Emilia cried.

The three riders passed like a hurricane through the midst of the
redskins, throwing down and trampling on all who tried to oppose their
passage. But then a strange and terrible thing took place. Several
shots, doubtless badly aimed and fired from the top of the mound where
the Europeans were entrenched, struck in the head the horses of Doña
Emilia and her daughter, who rolled on the ground unable to rise; at
the same moment an Indian warrior dashed at Don Melchior, brandishing
his lasso over his head. All at once the young man felt a frightful
shock, was lifted from the saddle by an irresistible force, and
dragged along the ground. Don Melchior had been lassoed. In spite of
the horrible suffering he endured, though half strangled by the slip
knot which squeezed his throat, though wounded by roots and stones
over which his pitiless conqueror dragged him, the young man did not
lose his presence of mind; by an extraordinary and superhuman effort,
which only the certainty of a horrible death would give him the courage
to attempt, Don Melchior clutched the fatal lasso with one hand, and
with the other seizing the sharp knife which every Mexican carries in
his boot, as a last resource, he succeeded in drawing it out, and,
after two fruitless attempts, collecting all his strength for a final
effort, he managed to cut the lasso; then, without calculating the
consequences of his deed, but preferring to run the chances of an
immediate death, however terrible it might be, to falling alive into
the hands of his ferocious enemies, he recommended his soul to heaven
in a mental prayer, and rolled down the incline of a precipice which
yawned a couple of yards from him.

At the moment when the energetic and courageous young man, who risked
this desperate chance, probably in the hopes of escaping to save his
companions, disappeared down the abyss, the Indian warrior who had
dragged him from his horse, perceiving that he had contrived to cut
the lasso, galloped up at full speed in order to prevent his flight.
The Indian, who was no other than the Stag, fell into an indescribable
passion on seeing his foe escape him. He bent over the abyss, trying
to sound the darkness, and listening to the noises which rose from
the bottom of the precipice; then, after a moment's hesitation, he
resolutely dismounted, abandoned his horse, and clinging with feet and
hands to branches and roots, he descended the quebrada in his turn.

The Stag understood of what importance the capture of Don Melchior was
to him. The consequences of his flight might be immense, and make him
lose the fruits of the bold stroke he had attempted; hence, without
reflecting further, he rushed in pursuit of him. After a considerable
loss of time and unheard of efforts, he at length reached the bottom of
the precipice. He then began seeking for his enemy with the tenacity
and skill of a wild beast, not leaving a single bush uninspected.

But all was in vain; he found no trace of Don Melchior. The Indian had
one hope; it was that the Mexican, dragged down by the rapidity of
his descent, had rolled into the deep, though narrow stream, which
ran through the bottom of the quebrada, and had been drowned, ere he
sufficiently regained his senses and strength to avoid this mortal
fall. But if nothing contradicted this hope, nothing, on the other
hand, corroborated it, and the Comanche chief was constrained to quit
the spot, suffering from a doubt a thousand times more terrible than
the most frightful certainty. After exploring the canyon for some time
with that wild beast's instinct which redskins possess so thoroughly,
the chief succeeded in discovering a narrow path made by antelopes,
which wound round the sides of the precipice. He hastily ascended it,
feeling anxious about what had occurred among his warriors during his
absence.

Let us now return to Doña Emilia and her daughter, whom we left in an
extremely critical situation. The two ladies had been hurled to the
ground in such a way that it was impossible for them to rise without
assistance. Their horses had been scarce shot ere the fight, which
appeared so obstinate between the white men and redskins, suddenly
ceased as if by enchantment, and friends and foes on the best possible
terms approached the two prisoners, for they may be regarded as such.
The first Indians who arrived near enough to Doña Emilia to recognize
her features, stopped in horror and fell back a few paces, saying to
their comrades, "The Queen of the Savannah! It is the Queen of the
Savannah!"

A very decided retrograde movement then began among the Indians; they
stopped and formed a wide circle about twenty yards from the two
ladies; it was probable that not one of them was anxious to venture
within reach of a woman whom all regarded as the evil genius of their
nation. The white men, or at least those who wore that dress, were
alone bold enough to approach her, which they did not do, however,
without very marked hesitation.

At last, after exchanging a few words in a low voice, two of the
bravest of them ventured to assist the unhappy ladies, while the
others, who stopped a few yards off, kept their finger on the trigger,
ready to fire at the slightest suspicious movement on the part of the
prisoners. But they had nothing to fear from them; their fall had
crushed them; they were nearly fainting, and could scarce keep up.

"If you are Christians," Doña Emilia murmured, in a faint voice, "help
my daughter, my poor child; she is dying."

They made no reply, but after raising the two ladies with a species
of sorrowful pity, they transported them to the top of the hill, and
laid them on furs near a fire, which the Indians had lit while they
were being brought up. Doña Diana then noticed that the horses lying
on the ground, behind which the defenders of the mound had sheltered
themselves, were not killed, as her mother had supposed, but merely
bound so that they could not stir.

"Oh, my presentiments!" she murmured feebly, as she raised her eyes to
heaven.

And she fainted, succumbing as much to the grief that filled her heart,
as to the physical suffering she experienced.



CHAPTER XXIV.

OLIVER CLARY.


As we have seen, Running Water and his comrades attacked Count de
Melgosa after White Crow had summoned him to surrender. The unexpected
arrival of Doña Emilia had not only foiled the plans of the Comanche
chiefs, but also caused such a panic among their warriors that, in
spite of the efforts of the sachems to rally them, they were even
really themselves carried off and constrained to seek safety in a
hurried flight. In a retreat so precipitate as that effected by the
redskins, the feeling of terror so rules over all other feelings, that
the voice of the chiefs are despised, their orders are unlistened to,
and each man running off at a venture, seeks his own safety without
troubling himself about the rest. After a mad ride through bush and
briar, and not following any settled direction, Running Water, who was
involuntarily affected by the general terror, stopped, quite out of
breath, and fell at the foot of a Peru tree, which rose alone in the
centre of a spacious plain.

The night was still dark and a leaden silence brooded over the
desert. The chief, far as his eye could see, did not notice one of
his comrades; he was alone, and, as he conjectured from the perfect
tranquillity and calmness that reigned around him, in safety for the
present. Then he began reflecting; his thoughts were sad, for nothing
settled at the council had been carried out; the count had escaped, and
the warriors were dispersed, so that it was useless to attempt to rally
them in order to give the young chief, his son, the support which the
latter had asked for. The sachem was greatly embarrassed, not through
the position in which he found himself--alone, without support, and
almost unarmed--a position which to any other than an Indian accustomed
to desert life would have appeared extremely precarious, the more so
because the sachem had ridden far into the Mexican territory, and was
consequently a long way from his village; but Running Water did not
think of that. What tortured his mind was the insult offered to his
indomitable pride in the disgraceful flight of his comrades at the mere
sight of a woman, and the honour of himself and the tribe compromised
in an expedition which had cost the lives of several men without
producing any advantage.

The sachem had been plunged in these gloomy thoughts for a long
time, when he fancied that he could hear a slight sound near him.
The Indian raised his head, stifled a cry of surprise, and with one
bound was on his feet, knife in hand--this was the only weapon he had
retained. While he had been yielding to his bitter thoughts, several
Spanish lanceros, taking advantage of the darkness, had dismounted and
completely surrounded him; this surprise had been executed with such
skill and so silently, that the Indian did not perceive the presence of
his enemies till it was not possible for him to avoid them. Upon the
movement he made, the barrels of nearly fifty carbines were pointed at
the sachem.

"Come, surrender, demon!" a rough voice said to him, "Unless you prefer
being killed like the accursed dog you are."

Without replying, the sachem looked at the Spaniards who surrounded
him; perceiving that any resistance would be useless, he let his knife
drop at his feet, folded his arms on his chest, and waited.

"Bind him securely, but do not injure him," the voice already heard
said. "Put him on a horse, and let us start."

This order was carried out in less time than it has taken us to write
it. When the sachem was brought up, the Spanish officer examined him
attentively.

"Why!" he said, "Heaven pardon me my mistake, I believed that I had
only to do with a marauder; but the capture is more important than I
fancied. This dog is no less than an Indian brave, and a chief into the
bargain, as is clearly indicated by the feather he wears so proudly
over his right ear. Would these demons dare to cross our border?"

We must do the Spanish government the justice of stating that, at
the period of its domination, the Indian border was thoroughly
guarded by posts established at regular distances, by presidios with
strong garrisons composed of veteran troops, and by patrols which
traversed the country day and night, watching over the common safety,
and vigorously repulsing any attempt at plunder on the part of the
Indians. Hence those incursions and invasions of the redskins which now
devastate this unhappy country did not occur at that time. The Indians
instead of attacking, had quite enough to do in defending themselves,
for the Spanish policy tended continually to drive them back further
into their impenetrable deserts.

At the present day all this has changed. The Indians have become
conquerors in their turn, and, profiting by the intestine wars which
constantly rend the old Spanish colonies, they have leapt over the
border marked out for them, and have advanced so far into the interior
of the civilized country, that they are encamped before towns and
villages which were formerly prosperous but are now in ruins. Mines
worked long ago by the Spaniards have again become the property of
the Indians, and they have carried so far their contempt of the
Mexicans, whose cowardice, by the by, is proverbial among them, that
the Comanches and Apaches disdaining to take unnecessary precautions
in invading the territory of their foes, have fallen into the habit
of making their incursions at a regular period of the year, which
they call the "Mexican moon." Even more incredible than the impudent
boldness with which these expeditions are carried out, is the stupid
patience and cowardly resignation of the white men, whose houses are
burnt, crops destroyed, and cattle carried off annually, but who, so
soon as the Indians have retired, begin building and sowing again just
as if nothing had occurred, although they are perfectly well aware that
their labour will be lost, and that the Indians will return to destroy
it all at a given day and hour. It was one of the patrols to which we
have referred that surprised and seized the sachem.

"Who are you?" the officer asked. "To what tribe do you belong?"

Running Water gave him an ironical glance, shrugged his shoulders
contemptuously, but made no answer.

"Very well, as you please, my fine fellow," the officer, an old soldier
accustomed to Indian warfare, answered mockingly. "We know how to
loosen the tongues of men like you. Come, my men, mount, and let us be
off."

The patrol resumed its march, and shortly before sunrise reached Leona
Vicario. The sachem was immediately taken to prison, the general
putting off his interrogation till after the festivities, which at
this moment interrupted the course of justice. Accident, a few hours
later, led the brave Canadian hunter to the same dungeon, as we have
seen. We have described what took place between them above. After the
flight of his comrade, the adventurer coolly remained in prison, to
the great amazement of his keepers, who could not understand how a man
could remain a prisoner of his own choice, when he had a chance of
escaping.

The adventurer, without seeming to notice the sarcasms the Spaniards
levelled at him, settled as comfortably as he could in a corner of
his cell, and, placing his weapons within reach, in the event of any
attempt to do him an ill turn during his sleep, as he had heard say
sometimes occurred, slept as calmly as if reposing in the middle of
the desert. The Canadian's apprehensions were entirely unfounded, for
he was safe under the protection of Castilian honour; but he judged
the Spaniards with his American prejudices, and from the calumnies he
had heard repeated by the Yankees, who thus sought to revenge their
exclusion from the Spanish colonies. In the morning, when he awoke, the
Canadian was at first surprised to find himself in prison, but he soon
remembered, and waited immediately till some decision was arrived at
about him. It was long, however, before the gaoler appeared, bringing
his breakfast.

"Hilloh!" the adventurer said in surprise.

"Why bring me food, instead of opening the doors and letting me be off?"

"It is not a holiday every day," the gaoler answered mockingly. "The
door does not open so easily as that. Besides, what have you to
complain of? It seems as if you like being in prison, as you had an
opportunity to leave it, and did not take advantage of it."

Clary shrugged his shoulders, and turned away, thinking it beneath him
to argue with a scoundrel of this sort. The other grinned, placed the
provisions on the ground, went out, carefully locked the door, and the
Canadian found himself again alone.

"Hang it all," he muttered, "the affair is beginning to look ugly.
Well! We shall see; but now to eat, for it is bad arguing on an empty
stomach."

And after this consoling reflection, he began attacking the provisions,
deferring the formation of any resolution till after the meal. But time
was not allowed him for this. He had scarce finished the last mouthful
ere he heard the sound of footsteps and the clang of arms in the
passage. The door opened, and an officer entered.

"Follow me!" he said.

"Where are you taking me?" the Canadian asked.

"Come, come," the officer said sharply, "you will soon learn."

"Very good," he said, and walked out.

An escort consisting of ten soldiers was waiting for him at the door.

"Hang it," he said, "I appear to be treated like a man of importance."

And, without waiting for orders, he placed himself in the midst of
the soldiers, who at once closed up round him. He was led to the room
into which he had been introduced the previous day. The general was
there alone. The officer, after thrusting the Canadian into the room,
withdrew, and closed the door after him. The adventurer went two or
three paces forward, bowed respectfully to the general, and waited till
the latter addressed him. The general was in full dress; he had his hat
on his head; his arms were crossed on his back, and he was walking up
and down the room with hanging head and a dark frown.

"Hum! This worthy officer does not seem in a very sweet temper this
morning," the Canadian thought. "Rude though he was, I liked him better
yesterday afternoon."

After some moments of silence, the general walked up to the adventurer,
and stopped before him with a menacing look.

"Ah, ah," he said, "then you are here, Señor Pícaro?"

Instead of answering, the Canadian looked around him in surprise.

"What are you looking for?" the general asked him sharply.

"I am looking, Excellency," he replied placidly, "for the person to
whom you are addressing that language."

"Ah, ah," he replied, "you are facetious. We shall soon see how long
you keep up that part."

"Excellency," the adventurer said seriously, "I am playing no part. I
will have the honour of observing to you that the man who, holding the
power in his hands, amuses himself like a cat with a mouse, as you are
doing with me, commits, no matter who he is, a bad action, for he knows
that he is addressing a man who is unable to answer him."

The general resumed his hurried walk up and down the room, but almost
immediately returned to the Canadian.

"Listen," he said to him sharply. "You produced a good impression on
me when I first saw you. Your refusal to escape, when you had no other
prospect but the gallows, proves to me that you are brave. I want men
of your sort. Are you willing to serve me? You will have no cause to
repent it."

The Canadian drew himself up.

"Is your Excellency," he asked, "really doing me the honour of speaking
seriously to me?"

"Yes, and I am waiting for your answer."

"Well, Excellency, the answer is this: I did not escape yesterday,
because only guilty persons do that, and I am not guilty. Placed
arbitrarily and in a manner contrary to the law of nations in prison
by you, during a moment of ill temper, I expect that justice will be
done me, and that those who put me in a dungeon will take me out of
it again. I enabled my comrade to escape, as I wished to prove to you
that, had I liked, nothing would have been more easy than for me to go
with him. You have told me that I am brave; it is true, and the reason
is simple. I have nothing to lose, and consequently to regret; and,
in my opinion, life is not so very jolly that we should be afraid of
giving it up. You have offered to take me into your service. I refuse."

"Ah!" the general said, biting his lips.

"Yes, and for two reasons."

"Let me have them."

"You shall. The first is, that I have engaged myself for a certain time
to your enemies, and when an honest man has once pledged his word, he
cannot recall it. The second reason is perhaps more serious; still, I
am bound to say that, were I free, I would not serve you, not through
any personal dislike to your Excellency, but because the cause you
defend is that of absolutism, and I am naturally a fanatic partizan of
liberty."

"Very good, you are a philosopher. Do you know what the moral of all
this is?"

"No, Excellency, I do not."

"That you will be hung directly."

"Do you think so?" the Canadian replied, taking a step forward.

"You will soon have the proof," the general said, with a grin.

And he walked up to a table to ring a hand bell, but before he could
accomplish his design, the Canadian leapt on him like a tiger, hurled
him to the ground, and ere the general, so suddenly attacked, had time
to regain his coolness to call out or attempt to defend himself, he was
securely bound and carefully gagged. With a presence of mind which he
could only have obtained through the adventurous life he had hitherto
led, the Canadian, so soon as he had secured his prisoner, ran to the
door and bolted it, to avoid a surprise. Thus certain that he would not
be disturbed for some time, the Canadian collected several bundles of
papers scattered over the table, put them in his pocket, seized a brace
of richly embossed pistols, carefully examined them, to see whether
they were loaded, and thrust them in his belt. Then he returned to the
general, who had anxiously watched all his movements.

"Now for us two, Excellency," he said, as he drew his knife and tried
the point on his thumbnail, "pledge me your word of honour as a
gentleman that you will not cry out, and I will at once remove your
gag. Moreover, I may remind you that the door is locked, and before
your soldiers or servants could break it open, I should have killed
you. Well, what do you say to my proposition?"

The general nodded his compliance of the terms and, in accordance with
his promise, the Canadian at once removed the gag. He did even more;
raising him in his arms, he carried him to an easy chair, in which he
seated him comfortably.

"There," he said, "now we can talk. You see, Excellency, that you were
not mistaken about me, and that I am, to employ your own expression, a
bold scoundrel."

"Yes," the general answered, with concentrated passion, "I let myself
be caught like a fool. What do you demand of me, now that you have me
in your power?"

"I demand nothing, Excellency. I merely desire my liberty."

The general reflected for a moment.

"No," he at length said, with a start of passion, "I will not give it
you. Kill me, if you like, villain!"

"Very good. You are a brave fellow. No, Excellency, I will not kill
you. I am no assassin. I merely wished to give you a simple lesson and
teach you not to violate the law of nations. Now, I am going to cut
your bonds."

"You will not dare do so," the general said bluntly.

"Why not?" the Canadian asked.

"Because you know very well that once I am free--"

"When you are free, Excellency, you will do what you think proper. I
care little what, for did I not tell you that I did not cling to life?"

The general looked at him.

"Carry out your promise," he then said.

"Directly, Excellency."

With the utmost coolness the Canadian removed the bonds which he had so
carefully rolled round the general's body.

"Ah!" said the latter, springing up like a tiger, "Now we shall see."

"Wait a moment, Excellency," the Canadian said tranquilly, "the door is
not yet unbolted."

This mad and reckless rashness confounded the general; for the first
time in his life, perhaps, this man felt his heart softened by a
feeling which had hitherto been strange to him.

"Very good," he said, "open it."

The adventurer did not let the order be repeated, but drew the bolts
with the same tranquil air which he had retained during the whole
scene. The general rang.

"Have a horse saddled at once," he said to the usher who entered; then
he added, turning to Clary, "Begone, without looking behind you. Make
haste, before I recall the order I have given; for I shall probably
soon repent my clemency."

"I think so, Excellency," the Canadian answered with a singular smile.

And, after bowing respectfully, he left the room. The general remained
pensive for a moment.

"What a strange character," he muttered, and he fell back into an easy
chair, in order to restore a little regularity in his ideas, which had
been upset by these extraordinary events. All at once his eyes turned
accidentally to the table.

"Oh," he exclaimed, rising furiously, "my papers."

But it was in vain that he gave orders to pursue the adventurer. The
latter had followed the general's advice exactly, and, burying his
spurs in his horse's flanks, had started at a gallop.



CHAPTER XXV.

THE WOUNDED MAN.


However eccentric the means employed by the Canadian to regain his
liberty may appear to the reader at the first blush, they had been
carefully meditated. The adventurer had judged the man with whom he had
to deal; he felt convinced that if he allowed him to give the order
for hanging, it would not be revoked. The game he played in attacking
the general was a bold one; but there are in the world many perverse
beings with whom any reasoning is impossible, and with whom knockdown
arguments must be employed. The adventurer calculated on the surprise,
fear, and perhaps admiration of his enemy to secure his own escape. He
was not deceived in his calculations, for a good deal of these three
feelings was mixed up with the general's extraordinary clemency: and
then too, possibly, after the specimen which Don López had had of the
Canadian's resolution and reckless daring, he was not anxious to put
him to a fresh trial, as he knew that he was armed, and convinced
that he would blow out his brains without hesitation. For our part, we
believe that the general was for an instant completely dominated by the
ascendency which the Canadian's character exerted over him, and that he
had acted solely under the influence of this feeling.

However this may be, Oliver Clary did not deceive himself for a moment,
and spurred his horse, which galloped at headlong speed. After about
an hour's ride, he thought that he had placed a sufficient distance
between himself and any person who might feel tempted to pursue him,
and he checked the pace of his steed, which was beginning to display
signs of fatigue, and he did not wish to kill it unnecessarily. It was
about ten a.m., and the day was magnificent. The Canadian, who had been
imprisoned for nearly four and twenty hours, inhaled the fresh air and
looked around him in delight, so happy did he feel at being free and
seeing once again water and trees.

He rode along thus, careless and satisfied, laughing at the capital
trick he had played the general, and glad to have got out of the scrape
so well, when he suddenly perceived a small party of horsemen coming
toward him at full speed. In the first moment, the Canadian felt a
lively anxiety; but, upon reflection, he reassured himself by the fact
that it was impossible these horsemen had been sent in pursuit of him,
from the direction in which they were coming. He, therefore, continued
to push on without checking or hurrying his steed, for fear of arousing
in the minds of the newcomers suspicions which might be unfavourable
to him, and, owing to their number, cause him an embarrassment which
he desired to avoid at any price. But, after riding thus for some
ten minutes, he uttered a cry of pleasure and galloped toward the
newcomers. He had recognized in the two persons heading the party,
Count de Melgosa and Diego López.

"Thank heaven!" the count exclaimed on seeing him, "I was afraid I
should arrive too late."

"That would probably have been the case," the Canadian replied, "had I
not managed to get out of the hobble by myself. But how is it that I
meet you here?"

"Did I not promise to join you today at Leona?"

"Ah, now I understand,"

"No, you do not, for I had not intended to start till this evening, so
as to avoid the great heat, had not Diego López arrived this morning
at sunrise like a madman at the hacienda, telling everybody who could
hear it that General Cárdenas put you in prison yesterday, with orders
that you should be hung today. I now see that this ass of a Diego has
let himself be taken in by falsehoods spread through the town for some
motive I am ignorant of, and I am delighted at it, for I should never
have consoled myself had you died."

"Señor Conde," the Canadian replied, as he affectionately pressed the
peon's hand, "Diego López was not deceived by false reports. All he
told you was most strictly true."

"Ah!" the count exclaimed, with a start of passion, "That man must
really be a wild beast."

"Morally, I am prepared to swear he is," the Canadian replied, with an
air of conviction.

"It surpasses all belief. Never was such contempt of the law of nations
known. But how is it that I now find you at liberty, and, apparently at
least, without the slightest wound?"

"That is another story," the adventurer said, with a meaning smile,
"and one which is somewhat interesting, I assure you, count."

"Who delivered you?"

"Myself."

"Alone?"

"Indeed, yes. When I saw that no one came to my assistance, I tried to
manage it by myself, and you see how I succeeded."

"Oh!" the count said, with an accent of painful conviction. "A cause
defended by such men is a lost cause. Pray, caballero, tell me in their
fullest details all the events that have occurred. I want to know them
in order to see whether my honour permits me still to give the aid of
my sword to a government which employs such savage measures."

"Señor Conde," the Canadian said frankly, "since you insist, I will
tell you all, though I know that the story will grieve you. Still,
before I begin, must say that, during all the time I have been ranging
the desert, and the annals of an adventurous career have brought me
into relations with the most ferocious Indian nations, I never found
with one of them such a profound contempt for what all men respect. For
that I had to become acquainted with a Spanish general."

"Señor," the count said sorrowfully, "do not render a whole nation
responsible for the fault of an individual. Do not judge us incapable
of generous feelings and recognizing virtue when it presents itself to
us. Thank heaven! The Spanish people have established their reputation
for honour and loyalty for centuries. There are, believe me, among
other nations as well as ours, coldly ferocious beings insensible
of all feeling of honour. These men belong to no nation. They are
monsters whom humanity brands and rejects with horror from its bosom."

"I will not discuss so grave a matter with you, señor. I am but a poor
man, ignorant of the laws of the world, and I do not at all intend to
pass judgment on things which exceed the range of the weak intellect
with which it has pleased nature to endow me. It is evident that men
are all born with different instincts. Whether civilization modifies
these instincts for better or worse I cannot say, any more than I would
venture to assert that all the men of your nation are as thoroughly
bad as the general, the more so as you are an evident proof of the
contrary."

"A compliment is not an answer, señor. But do not let us dwell any
longer on this painful subject, and return to the story you promised to
tell me."

"I ask nothing better than to do so, caballero; but the narrative will
occupy some time, and, for reasons you will speedily learn, I am not
particularly anxious to remain so short a distance from Leona Vicario."

"Very good, señor," the count answered. "Tell me where you wish to go,
and I will accompany you for some leagues with the greater pleasure
at the thought that, in the event of your being pursued--which, I
presume, is the cause of your anxiety--my escort and presence would
prove of some use to you."

"Certainly, caballero, and I accept your gracious offer with the
greatest pleasure. I am returning to the Hacienda del Barrio, to give a
report of the mission confided to me, and which nearly cost me so dear.
I suppose that no serious reason prevents your accompanying me on that
road?"

"None; especially as I shall only go so far as I can with safety."

"As that is the case, let us start, for I am anxious to get away."

The count ordered his troopers to wheel, and the little party started
again at a gallop.

"Why," the count said suddenly, as he looked at the adventurer's steed,
"if I am not greatly mistaken, that horse comes out of the stables of
General de Cárdenas."

"Quite right; it does."

"How do you happen to be riding it?"

"That is part of the story."

"Begin it, then, in heaven's name, for I am dying of impatience to hear
it."

"In that case, listen to me, Señor Conde. But be kind enough to let my
comrade Diego López remain near us. He behaved too well to me, during
the short time we were together, for me to begrudge him this slight
satisfaction."

The count granted the Canadian's request with pleasure, and made a sign
to Diego, who eagerly ranged his horse by the side of Oliver Clary's.
The Canadian then began his narrative, relating with the utmost
frankness events as they occurred, from the moment when he quitted the
count at the hacienda up to that when he found him galloping again on
the road to Leona. The count listened to the Canadian's lengthy story
with the most earnest attention, at times letting the feelings be seen
on his stern face which the facts the adventurer related aroused in
him. When the latter ceased speaking, he shook his head several times.

"You were more lucky than clever," he said, "and the way in which you
gained your liberty almost trenches on the marvellous. The general
deserved worse treatment than that for the way in which he behaved to
you, and the contempt he displayed for the safe conduct I had given
you. Alas! We live in hapless times, when honour and good faith are
mere words devoid of meaning."

"Not to everybody," the Canadian exclaimed, quickly.

"Certainly not, and I am pleased to allow it; of all the things you
have related to me, there is only one of which I do not approve."

"Which is that, Señor Conde?"

"The help you gave the redskin imprisoned with you. These Indians are
a real scourge to us dwellers on the border; letting one escape when
caught is like setting a ferocious brute at liberty."

"That is true, señor; but what would you have? I have lived for many
years among the redskins; I have frequently fought them, and at times
killed them without the slightest scruple; but I cannot allow that they
should be deprived of their sole property--liberty. Besides, he was an
old acquaintance, in this sense, that the tribe to which he belongs has
done me great services on several occasions. As I had a chance to repay
them, I did so."

"Yes, you are right, and you are bound to reason thus after the life
you have led. I will not dwell on this subject further, therefore;
but what you have said has produced a powerful impression on me. I
require a few moments' reflection, in order to regulate my thoughts; so
kindly excuse me if I am silent for a few minutes; after which we will
converse again. I intend to ride two or three leagues further with
you."

The adventurer bowed, and turning to Diego López, he thanked him warmly
for what he had tried to do for him, and assured him that, although
he had not profited by his advice, he was not the less grateful for
it. While talking and galloping, they passed through the canyon where
they had been attacked a few days previously by the Indians, and were
about to enter a rather large chaparral, which they were obliged to
cross to reach the banks of the lake, when the Canadian's piercing eye
perceived, some distance ahead, the body of a man lying at the foot of
an enormous sumach, beneath which he seemed to be seeking a shelter
from the sun.

"There is a man," said the adventurer, "who knows but little about the
desert."

"What man are you talking of?" Diego López asked, who had not yet
looked in that direction.

"Look there," the adventurer said, stretching out his arm, "that
individual has placed himself by the roadside, within reach of the
first passerby who may feel inclined to kill him in order to seize the
little he possesses. I know countries in Apacheria where he would not
lie in that way, without being really scalped by some Indian prowler."

"It is singular," Diego López continued, "he has no horse, and that is
extraordinary in a country where the poorest peon has one."

"That is true," the Canadian said, and added a moment later, "I am very
much afraid that our fancied sleeper is simply a dead man."

"Do you think so?" the peon said.

"Hang it, I do not know exactly, but he has not made the slightest
movement since we first perceived him. If he be not dead, as I expect,
he must be a very sound sleeper not to have heard the sound of our
horses."

"I will inform the Señor Conde," the peon replied, as he turned back
and rejoined his master.

The latter listened to his servant's report with, some surprise, for
no assassination had occurred for a long time on this road, which was
greatly frequented by travellers of every description. He spurred his
horse, and joined the adventurer, who had pulled up to wait for him.

"What do you think about it?" he asked him.

"Nothing good," the latter replied; "still I think that we had better
make sure. With your permission I will push on, and find out what it
all means."

"We will all go," the count answered; "if the pretended corpse
concealed a trap, there would be enough of us to foil it."

"Let us push on then," the Canadian said, as he slacked his rein, and
his horse started with the speed of lightning.

The others followed him, and they soon reached the sumach; the man had
not stirred. The count and the adventurer dismounted, and walked up to
the body, which still lay motionless, and bent over it.

"It is a white man," said the Canadian.

"Yes," the count added, after a moment of attentive examination; "I
know him. His name is Don Melchior. I saw him at the Hacienda del
Barrio during my last visit. Don Aníbal de Saldibar is sincerely
attached to him. How is it that he is here, and in such a hapless
condition?"

"That is a question which himself alone could answer, and for the
moment I fear that it is impossible for him to do so. Let us first make
sure whether he be dead or alive."

Like all the wood rangers, who, through the chances of their
adventurous life, run a risk of being wounded at any moment, the
Canadian, though no great doctor, possessed some practical knowledge
of medicine, or, to speak more correctly, of surgery. He bent over
the young man, raised him with one hand, and held him up in a sitting
position, while he held to his mouth the bright blade of his knife. A
moment later he looked at it; it was slightly tarnished.

"Thank heaven!" he said, "He is not dead, though not much better off;
he has fainted."

"The poor boy appears to me very ill," the count remarked, sorrowfully.

"That is true; but he is young and strong, and so long as the soul
clings to the body there is a chance."

"How can we help him? We must not leave him in this pitiable state."

"Of course not, for that would be certain death. Diego López, give me
your flask if there is any liquor in it."

"It is quite full," the peon said, handing it to him.

The Canadian mixed a little mezcal with water in a leaf he bent up, and
then rubbed the temples, wrists, and stomach of the wounded man with
it; after which, thrusting the knife blade between his teeth, he opened
his mouth by main force, and made him swallow a few drops, while Diego
López continued the friction, and the count, kneeling behind the young
man, kept him in a sitting posture. For nearly a quarter of an hour
their efforts seemed to produce no effect on the wounded man; still the
Canadian, far from giving in, redoubled his exertions, and ere long had
cause to congratulate himself on his perseverance when he saw the young
man make a slight movement.

"Heaven be thanked!" the count said, joyfully, "He is regaining his
senses."

"Indeed is he," said the Canadian, "look at him waking up."

In fact, Don Melchior, after making a few convulsive efforts, feebly
opened his eyes, but, blinded by the sunbeams, closed them again.

"Courage," the Canadian said to him, "courage, comrade, you have
friends near you."

The young man, at the sound of this voice, seemed to return to his
senses completely, his pale cheeks were tinged with a hectic flush; he
opened his eyes, looked round him in amazement, and, making an effort
to speak, he murmured in a weak, almost indistinct voice--

"The Indians--the Indians--save Doña Diana--save--save--Doña Emilia!"

And, worn by the effort he had made, he fell back inanimate in the
count's arms; the latter laid him gently on the ground, and rose
eagerly.

"Diego López," he said, "make a litter as speedily as possible, this
young man must be conveyed to my house."

"Why not to the Hacienda del Barrio?" the Canadian remarked.

"No," the count answered, with a shake of his head, "there is a
mystery in this affair. Let us not act inconsiderately, and perhaps
cause great pain to a man who has already suffered severely. You will
accompany us, I suppose, señor?"

"Certainly, if you desire it."

"I ask it as a favour, caballero."



CHAPTER XXVI.

DOÑA EMILIA.


As we have said, the Stag, after diligent search, discovered a path
traced by the antelopes which ran from the foot of the precipice in a
zigzag to the top. The Indian chief ascended this path the more hastily
because, now that he was cool, and reflected on what had happened,
he in his heart cursed the madness which had led him to descend the
abyss in search of a foe he could not find, instead of remaining with
his warriors, in order to support and encourage them, and combat the
superstitious terrors they felt on the subject of the two prisoners,
and especially of Doña Emilia, whom they imagined to belong to a race
different from their own, and to be an omnipotent being whose wrath was
extremely formidable for them.

As he approached the spot where his warriors were, he heard, more and
more distinctly, cries which increased his anxiety, and made him hurry
on, at the risk of making a false step and rolling to the foot of the
precipice. In fact, he had scarce reached the prairie when two of his
confidants who were seeking him, rushed toward him with shouts of
delight.

"Come, come," they said to him; "if not, all is lost." The Stag,
without losing any time in questioning them, followed them to the
top of the hill. This is what had occurred during his absence. The
two ladies had been carried up the hill, and carefully laid on mats
in front of the fire. Doña Emilia, though greatly shaken by the fall,
speedily regained entire consciousness. Owing to the exaltation of her
mind, instead of being crushed, she had derived fresh courage from the
misfortunes which had suddenly burst over her. Her first care was to
look round her and attentively examine the persons who surrounded her,
in order to discover, were it possible, into what hands she had fallen.

At the first moment, deceived by the European dress of some of her
assailants, she imagined she had to deal with a party of those ruffians
who come to the surface in revolutionary times--the scum of the
population--who regard political questions entirely as a matter of
plunder, and who had for some years infested Mexico, recognizing no
other flag but their own, and waging war on their own account, serving
both parties indifferently, or rather injuring both by their cowardice,
barbarity, and instinct of rapine. At times, the villains, not being
numerous enough to attempt a bold stroke, allied themselves with the
Indians, and ravaged the country with them. The patriots and Spaniards
had both tried to put a stop to the depredations of these bandits by
mercilessly shooting and hanging all they caught, but it was of no
avail. Instead of diminishing their number seemed to increase, and
latterly they had grown really formidable, and their audacity knew no
bounds.

But a second and quieter glance made Doña Emilia understand that she
was in error, and that the persons she at first took for Europeans
were Indians in disguise. This discovery augmented her courage. She
believed herself certain of the influence she exerted over these men,
and she thought she would be able to terrify them sufficiently not to
have anything to fear from them. Moreover, the conduct of the Indians
towards her justified her expectations. It was only with a tremor that
they dared to approach her. A glance was sufficient to keep them back.
Even those who had associated with white men, and whom the Stag had
ordered to assume European attire, kept at a respectful distance from
the two ladies, and were apparently not desirous to be on more intimate
terms with them.

Doña Emilia rose, no one making any attempt to prevent her. She went up
to her daughter, sat down by her side, and raising her beautiful head,
laid it gently on her knees. She gazed at her tenderly for a moment,
then, after removing the long curls of light hair which veiled her
face, she covered it with kisses, murmuring in a soft voice, but with
an accent of ineffable tenderness--

"Poor, dear soul, her heart did not deceive her, her presentiments
were true. Alas! Why did I not put faith in her words? Oh, my adored
daughter! I alone am the cause of this frightful misfortune. Forgive
me, forgive me!"

And two burning tears, which the feeling of her position had been
unable to draw from her, fell on the girl's forehead. The latter feebly
opened her eyes.

"Mother," she murmured, in her childish voice. "Oh, mother, how I am
suffering!"

"Alas, poor darling!" Doña Emilia replied, "I am suffering too; but
what should I care for pain if I knew you were in safety? I am
accustomed to suffer, while you, alas!--"

She ceased, and a sigh burst from her bosom. The maiden continued--

"Courage, mother; perhaps all is not lost yet, and one hope is left us."

"A hope, poor child! Yes," she replied, bitterly, "that the men who
hold us prisoners may take pity on us, and kill us at once, instead of
torturing us."

"But," Doña Diana said, whose strength was gradually returning, and who
felt her courage coming back, "Don Melchior is not a prisoner. He has
escaped."

"I saw Don Melchior fall by our side, beneath the blows of one of the
ferocious men who captured us."

"He is dead!" she exclaimed, with a shriek of terror and despair.

"No, no," her mother objected eagerly, terrified by this grief, "I hope
not. Perhaps he has succeeded in escaping."

"Oh, no, I do not believe you, mother. He must be dead, since he is not
by our side. Don Melchior would never have consented to fly and abandon
us."

"It is probable, my child, that he has fled, in order to fetch
assistance. What could he have done, alone, against these men? Nothing.
He would have fallen without any advantage for us or himself. His
flight, on the contrary--and I really believe that he has succeeded in
escaping--leaves us a hope."

The girl shook her head doubtfully.

"You wish to restore my courage, thank you, mother," she answered, "but
it is not necessary. I am strong, and shall be able to endure without a
murmur the sufferings which fate has in store for me."

"Very good, daughter. I am pleased to hear you speak in that way. Rise,
my child, these men only respect the stoical courage of the condemned
wretch who laughs amid his tortures; so we will not give them the
spectacle of our weakness. By haughty behaviour we may succeed in
inspiring these men with respect, if not with commiseration."

The girl rose with passive obedience.

"Alas!" she murmured, "I am not like you, mother; I feel that my
strength is not equal to my courage."

"Let me speak to these ferocious men; the fear with which I have so
long inspired them is not yet extinct; perhaps the step I am about to
take will prove successful."

"Heaven grant it!" the maiden murmured, as she clasped her hands
fervently, and raised her eyes to heaven.

Doña Emilia walked towards the Indians, who, collected at a respectful
distance, watched her movements with ill-disguised anxiety. A singular
scene then took place. In proportion as Doña Emilia advanced towards
them, the Indians fell back, though without breaking the circle they
formed; at length one of them, bolder than the rest, stopped, and
placing the butt of his gun on the ground, said, in bad Spanish, to the
lady who was still advancing--

"What does the paleface squaw want? Why does she not remain by the
fire? The night is cold; it will be better for the stranger to remain
where the warriors placed her."

"Who are you, dressed in the garb of civilized men, although your
features are those of a ferocious redskin?" she answered haughtily. "By
what right do you address me before I spoke to you? If you have any
influence over the men who surround, us, order them to retire and let
me pass, before my patience is exhausted."

"The warriors must not let the paleface squaw pass until the return of
the chief."

Doña Emilia smiled disdainfully.

"Do you not know who I am?" she said. "The Wacondah is with me; he
inspires the words I utter. Tremble, lest you arouse my anger."

"The Wacondah loves the Indians," the redskin replied timidly; "he
would not wish to do them harm."

The warriors listened to this conversation with interest, although they
did not dare to take part in it. Doña Emilia made her daughter a signal
to join her; the latter obeyed, and tottered up to her mother's side.

"Courage!" the latter said.

Then she drew herself up, her features assumed an expression of
indescribable haughtiness, and her eyes seemed to flash fire, as she
said--

"I order you to let me pass; you must obey me."

She moved a few steps forward. The Indians fell back without breaking
line.

"Do you refuse?" she asked, as she looked imperiously at them.

No one answered.

"Good," she said, with a strange expression. "Recognize the power of
the Queen of the Savannah."

With a movement rapid as thought, she drew a vial from her bosom,
and threw a portion of the contents upon the Indian who was standing
motionless a couple of yards from her. The redskin uttered a terrible
yell, raised his hands to his face, and, falling to the ground, writhed
in fearful agony. The Comanches were alarmed. Although they had seen
Doña Emilia's motion, the vial she held in her hand was too small for
them to notice it. Not knowing to what they should attribute their
comrade's fall, all their superstitious terrors returned to them. They
rushed towards the wounded man; his face was horribly burnt. They
uttered a cry of horror, and fled in all directions, having but one
thought, that of escaping as rapidly as possible from the glances of
this strange creature, who by a mere gesture could produce death.

"Come, come, my daughter," Doña Emilia said; and dragging Doña Diana,
who mechanically followed her, she ran off to the spot where the horses
of the Indians were hobbled. The miracle performed by Doña Emilia
was very simple. Being incessantly exposed to fall into the hands
of the redskins, she always carried about her a vial of sulphuric
acid--probably intended to destroy her own life, in the event of the
Indians resolving to torture her, after their wont, if she fell into
their power. The desire of saving her daughter suggested to her this
way of displaying her power, and inspiring these stupid men with a
terror of which she would take advantage. The experiment was perfectly
successful.

The two ladies hurried down the hill, leaving behind them the unhappy
man, who was uttering atrocious yells, and reached the spot where the
horses were tied up. With a decision which could only be expected from
an exalted character like that of Doña Emilia, she cut the thongs of
two horses, lifted her daughter on one, and herself leapt on the back
of the other.

"Thank heaven," she exclaimed, with an outburst of delight, "we are
saved!"

"Not yet," a voice, gloomy as a death-knell, replied.

Several men dashed out of the chaparral, caught the horses' bridles,
and stopped them dead, at the moment when Doña Emilia was about to
start. These men, who appeared so suddenly, and so unfortunately for
the two fugitives, were the Stag and the warriors who had set out in
search of him. Falling at once from a paroxysm of joy into the last
stage of despair, Doña Emilia and her daughter endured frightful
suffering, and in a second passed through all the agonies of despair.

But the haughty Spanish woman, struggling against her grief, overcame
by a stoical effort the suffering which seared her heart like a red-hot
iron; comprehending that she was overcome, that any attempt at flight
had become futile, if not impossible, she disdained to continue the
struggle, and giving her foes a glance filled with all the hatred
boiling in her breast, she resolutely dismounted, and going up to her
daughter, who lay motionless before her, she raised her in her arms,
and went up the hill again with a slow and measured step. What we
have related had passed so rapidly, Doña Emilia had acted with such
resolution, that the Indians stood stupefied, still holding in their
hands the bridles, and unable to utter a word or make a noise. At
length the Stag regained his coolness and presence of mind. Leaving
the horses to be taken care of by his comrades, he ran towards the two
ladies, who were already some ten yards distant.

"Stop!" he shouted to them, "Stop!"

They obeyed without a word.

"It is useless for you to ascend the hill again," he said, "for we are
going to set out."

"I do not ask you for any explanation," Doña Emilia said drily; "you
are the stronger, so act as you please."

"That is what I intend doing," the Stag replied, with an expression of
dark fury.

"Oh, mother," the girl whispered in Doña Emilia's ear, "do not irritate
this man, for we are in his power."

"He is a dog!" Doña Emilia replied contemptuously; "I despise his anger
and brave his hatred; he can do nothing to me."

The Indian broke into an ill-omened screech, without replying otherwise
to this dire insult. He pointed to the foot of a tree, intimating to
his captives that they were to sit down there; then he went away,
followed by his two comrades, and the ladies remained alone. Doña
Emilia was too conversant with Indian habits to commit the fault which
any less experienced person would doubtless have done. Sitting by her
daughter's side, whose head rested on her shoulder, and whose hands she
held firmly clasped in hers, she made no second attempt at flight, as
she was well aware that the Indians never watch a prisoner so carefully
as when they pretend to leave him alone. The Spanish lady looked
sorrowfully around her, let her head fall on her bosom, and fell into
gloomy and despairing thoughts.

The cause of the Stag's sudden departure was simple. Informed by the
warriors who met him of the events which had occurred during his
absence, his first care was to go to the Indian whom Doña Emilia had
disfigured. The unhappy man was in a pitiable state; he was writhing in
fearful agony, and uttering heart-rending cries.

"Is my brother suffering greatly?" the chief asked him.

"Yes," the injured man howled. "I am suffering horrible pain. That
woman is most certainly the evil genius of our nation."

"Yes, but her hour has arrived; her punishment will soon begin."

"Oh, I should like torture resembling mine to be inflicted on her."

"She shall suffer a hundredfold more. My brother's tortures are as
nothing compared with those I reserve for her. Is my brother satisfied?"

"Yes, I am glad to know that I shall be avenged."

"Is my brother still suffering greatly?"

"More than ever. If honour did not forbid a warrior killing himself, I
should have already buried my knife in my heart."

"Good! What my brother cannot do I can, to render him a service."

"Will the chief consent to do me that service?" the Indian asked
doubtfully.

"Yes, to be agreeable to my brother, whom I love, I would consent."

"Oh! In that case the chief must not delay, for my agony is becoming
more and more unendurable."

"Be it so; let my brother prepare."

"Stay," the Indian remarked, "help me to rise. A Comanche warrior must
die standing."

"That is true," the chief answered.

He bent over the warrior, seized his arm, and helped him to get on
his feet. By an extraordinary effort of will the Indian succeeded in
overcoming his pain. He drew himself up proudly, and turned to the
chief.

"Strike," he said in a firm voice, "and may the Wacondah protect you
for the service you are doing me at this moment."

The Stag drew his knife, and plunged it into the warrior's heart. The
blow was dealt with such certainty and skill that the redskin fell dead
at his chief's feet without a sigh.

"Poor wretch!" the latter muttered sadly, as he wiped his knife blade
on a tuft of grass, and returned it to his belt. "I could not refuse
him this service." After this melancholy funeral speech the Stag began
digging a hole, in which to lay his comrade's body, as he did not
wish to leave it exposed to the insults of wild beasts. The last duty
accomplished, he went down the hill to rejoin his captives.

In the meanwhile the Indians had fled in all directions, suffering
from a panic produced by Doña Emilia's energetic action, but the two
warriors sent by the Stag in pursuit of them soon caught them up. It
took considerable time, however, before they succeeded in making them
consent to turn back, and enter again the presence of a woman whom they
regarded as an evil genius. It required all the diplomatic skill of
the chief's emissaries to convince them, combined with the influence
which the son of Running Water, the most revered sachem of the tribe,
had over them. When the young chief joined the captives, the warriors
were already mounted, and drawn up a short distance off, only awaiting
his return. The latter saluted them with a wave of the hand, and then
ordered the bridles of the two horses to be removed, after which he
went up to Doña Emilia, and pointed to the animals.

"Mount," was all he said.

This order must be obeyed.

"My daughter and I will ride the same horse," she remarked. "My
daughter is weak, and I will support her."

"Be it so," said the chief.

Doña Emilia mounted, placed her daughter in front of her, and holding
her tightly to her bosom, made her horse start without awaiting
the chief's signal. The Comanche smiled, and followed her with his
detachment. Doña Emilia, though a captive, seemed still to command
these men, who regarded her with superstitious terror.



CHAPTER XXVII.

THE CHIEF'S PROPOSAL.


Ordinarily Indians do not travel by night, and it required
circumstances imperious as the present for the chief to resolve thus to
infringe the customs of the redskins. In truth, Don Melchior's flight
caused him great anxiety about the success of his expedition, and he
was anxious to cross the Indian border, as he felt persuaded that
once he had passed the river which served as the limit of the Spanish
possessions, and trod his native heath in a country all whose hiding
places were familiar to him, he would be comparatively safe from the
pursuit which would not fail to be begun so soon as the abduction of
the two ladies was known, and that would not be long first if, as he
feared, Don Melchior had succeeded in escaping.

The Indians galloped the whole night through in the direction of the
river, whose yellow waters at length became visible at sunrise. Without
even stopping to breathe the horses, tired by so long a gallop along
difficult and scarcely marked tracks, the chief ordered his warriors to
ford the river immediately.

During the whole of the sad night, which seemed as if it would never
end, Doña Emilia held to her bosom the head of her daughter, who was
crushed by so much emotion and terror. Not for an instant did the
courage of this extraordinary woman and true mother fail her. Not for a
second did her noble character break down. She remained ever calm and
impassive, not uttering a word of complaint, or showing the fatigue
that overpowered her. The very Indians, who are such connoisseurs of
courage, could not refrain from secretly admiring this firmness of mind
and perfect self-denial.

Although the river was very wide at the spot where the redskins forded
it, it was crossed without accident, and the Comanches at length found
themselves on Indian territory. The detachment, however, did not halt;
for the distance that separated them from the white men was not yet
sufficiently great for the Stag. He led his warriors to a forest about
four or five leagues off, whose tall trees formed a belt of foliage on
the horizon. During the whole journey the chief constantly galloped at
the head of the detachment, not appearing to trouble himself in any
way about his prisoners, though the deep wrinkles that furrowed his
brow and his constant frown might have led to the supposition that this
indifference was feigned, and that he was thinking out some bold plan.

At about two in the afternoon the little band reached the outskirts of
the forest, and boldly rode beneath its covert. The journey then became
more difficult, and, before all, more fatiguing, through the roots,
shrubs, and lianas which at each instant barred the passage, and which
the horses could only clear with the utmost difficulty.

The Stag, however, without neglecting entirely the precautions
employed by the Indians when they are on the war trail, in order to
throw out their enemies, felt so certain, however, that the white men
would not venture into the formidable solitudes of Apacheria, owing to
the innumerable obstacles which would rise at each step before them,
and, above all, through their ignorance of the topography of this
country, the last lurking place of the Indian braves, that he wasted
but little time in masking his trail, and continued to advance almost
in a straight line.

After marching thus for about two hours, crossing ravines and scaling
hills, they reached a completely unwooded spot, over which were
scattered shapeless ruins, proving that at a doubtless extremely remote
period the place had been inhabited. These ruins, spread over a very
considerable space, preserved a certain degree of symmetry; the walls,
still standing, showed by their thickness and the care with which they
were built, as well as materials employed, that an important town must
have stood here once on a time. In the centre stood a _teocali_ which
time had respected, on the top of which were the ruins of a temple,
whose vast and massive proportions testified to its ancient splendour,
which was now eternally fled. There was something at once gloomy and
majestic in the sight of these ruins suddenly rising in the midst of a
virgin forest. They were the last traces of a forgotten world, whose
memory the present inhabitants of the country have lost, and trample on
their dust with a careless foot.

The Stag had selected these ruins to camp in. The warriors therefore
established themselves in this city, probably founded by the Chichimecs
at the period when, compelled by the hand of God, they performed
their great migration, building in the course of their mysterious
halts those formidable cities whose imposing ruins are still visible
in different parts of New Spain. The Comanches during their vagabond
rambles about the desert had many times camped at this solitary spot,
whose strong position offered them a shelter against the attacks of
their numerous enemies, men and wild beasts, that incessantly prowl
about in search of a facile prey. It was at the summit of the teocali,
in the ruins of the temple, which had heard the death cries of many
victims offered as a holocaust to the implacable and sanguinary
Hiutzilopochtli, the god of war, that the chief resolved to establish
his camp.

When the horses had been hobbled in an excavation at the foot of the
teocali, the warriors placed the prisoners in their midst, scaled the
bramble and cactus covered steps that led to the top of the artificial
hill, and on reaching the temple, after lighting several fires to
prepare their meal, they cut down a quantity of branches, which they
intertwined so as to form a species of roof over one of the halls of
the temple. There, at a signal from the chief, the two ladies were
installed, who, however precarious this shelter might be, were glad
to take refuge in it, and escape for awhile from the stern glances of
their ferocious conquerors, and recover from the terrible shock they
had endured.

Doña Emilia's first care so soon as she was alone with her daughter,
whose weakness was extreme, was to lay her on a pile of furs which
the chief, doubtless through a feeling of compassion, had ordered to
be placed by the fire. The state in which the young lady was, was
really alarming. The prostration which had fallen on her after the
snare to which she had fallen victim, was succeeded by a violent fever
mingled with delirious and nervous attacks, which not only threatened
her reason, but caused apprehensions for her life; at any rate there
was reason to fear that her health would never entirely recover from
the shock given to her system by the terror she had felt, and the
extraordinary fatigue she had endured during nearly twenty hours; in
spite of the sort of brutal gallantry with which the chief had tried to
come to her help by ordering his men not to hurry, and by trying not
only to pay the captives the attentions of which his rough character
was capable, but by giving them all the relief he was able to offer
them under the circumstances.

Doña Emilia did not know what means she should employ to calm her
daughter's terrifying nervous excitement. Alone among savages, whom she
justly regarded as implacable foes, wanting the remedies which were
necessary for her poor child, she could only groan and hold her to her
heart to prevent her dashing her head against the wall in one of these
nervous attacks. Doña Emilia passed the whole night without sleep,
constantly watching over the girl whose madness had assumed a startling
character, and who no longer recognizing her mother, and unconscious
of the place where she was, made the strangest remarks to her, and
asked her the most singular questions with that volubility which fever
produces.

Toward the close of night, at the moment when the stars began to
disappear, the girl's frenzy gradually diminished; she closed her
eyes and fell into a sleep which restored her poor mother a little
hope and courage. At sunrise an Indian came in, placed provisions
on the ground, laid a packet of simples by Doña Emilia's side, and
withdrew without uttering a word. Several hours elapsed in this way;
the redskins, while attentively watching their captives, left them
constantly alone, supplying them all they required with a species
of affectionate eagerness, but not troubling them with indiscreet
questions or disagreeable intrusions into the refuge given them. Since
their arrival at the teocali the chief had not presented himself to
them, but seemed, on the contrary, desirous to remain invisible, while
paying them attentions which revealed an assiduous care on his part.

Doña Diana's condition had visibly improved, nature, youth, and
her powerful constitution had, after a trying struggle, eventually
triumphed over the disease. Nursed by her mother with attentive
tenderness, she at length became convalescent; but with health sorrow
re-entered her mind, and the frightful position in which fatality had
placed her appeared in all its horrible reality. She did not dare
reflect on the future, for, alas, that was perhaps a terrible death
amid torture, or dishonour a hundredfold worse than death. Hence a
gloomy sorrow took possession of the maiden. She spent her days leaning
over the wall, and with her eyes fixed on the imposing landscape that
surrounded her looked despairingly around her, while burning tears,
which she did not even think of drying, coursed slowly down her pale,
thinned cheeks.

Mother and daughter remained thus side by side, not daring to
confide to each other their terrible thoughts, awaiting the coming
catastrophe which it was impossible for them to foresee or avoid. Days
thus succeeded days without producing any change in their position;
nothing had revealed to them the fate which the Comanches reserved
for them, when on the morning of the tenth day after their arrival at
the teocali, the Indian who seemed specially told off to watch them
and supply them with food, informed them that the chief had arrived
on the previous evening at the teocali, on his return from a distant
expedition he had been obliged to make, and asked permission to speak
to them after breakfast. On hearing this request, which was, however,
made very politely, Doña Diana turned pale and shuddered with horror;
she understood that her fate would depend on this interview, and spite
of herself she trembled. Doña Emilia smiled ironically.

"Why pretend such great courtesy to captives?" she replied bitterly.
"Is not your chief our master? As far as I am aware a master does not
require to announce his coming to his slaves."

"The sachem ordered his warrior to speak as he has done," the Indian
made answer. "The warrior has obeyed; my mother must not be angry with
him."

"I am not angry with you, Indian," she said, less rudely, desiring not
to alienate this man, who, ever since he served them, had displayed a
species of rough pity. "I do not at all think of making you responsible
for orders which you must neither discuss nor hesitate to carry out;
still I will remark to you that as we are the prisoners of your sachem,
as you term him, we have no means to avoid the interview he requests,
and that, consequently, it is unnecessary for him to ask a permission
which he can very well do without."

"Good! My mother speaks well; hence the sachem may come after
breakfast?"

"He can come when he thinks proper. We will receive him, as he desires
it."

The Indian went out, and the two ladies were left alone. "We are
going to know our fate at last," Doña Emilia said, with a feigned
indifference she was far from feeling.

"Yes," her daughter replied sorrowfully. "Heaven grant that a feeling
of pity may still reside in the heart of this savage, and that the
propositions he makes us may not be of such a nature that we must
decline them."

"Heaven grant it, indeed, my daughter! Alas, who knows what fate
reserves for us! Perhaps you will regret that you did not die during
your illness." The girl remained silent for a moment, and then a gloomy
smile played round her pale lips.

"Mother," she asked, "have you kept your vial?"

"Yes," Doña Emilia answered; "it still contains enough to kill us both."

"In that case rejoice, mother," the maiden answered, almost gaily, "we
have nothing more to fear! Whatever proposition this crafty chief may
make to us, we are always certain of getting out of his clutches, and
finding refuge in death."

"It is well, daughter!" Doña Emilia replied, as she took Diana in her
arms, and pressed her passionately to her heart.

So great is the effect that a powerful resolution always produces,
that the two ladies awaited the chief's coming more calmly than they
had hoped. They had scarce finished breakfast ere he appeared. The
majordomo had, for this interview, doffed his Indian dress, and resumed
that of the Mexican campesinos. This change denoted a resolution formed
that he would allow no consideration to stop him. On recognizing him
the two ladies uttered a cry, of surprise on the part of Diana, but
of terror on that of her mother. She had discovered what she long
suspected, that is to say, that her husband's majordomo was a traitor.
On entering, he bowed to the ladies with ironical politeness; his face
was smiling, his manner firm, and his voice coaxing.

"I venture to hope, señoras," he said, "that you will pardon a poor
Indian."

"Oh," Doña Emilia said bitterly, "what a viper we have cherished!"

"Alas! Madam," he answered lightly, "why employ such ugly epithets?
Everybody in this world is obliged to bow before necessity. It was not,
be assured, of my own accord that I have so long remained a stranger to
you."

"You are, then, really the chief of the men who carried us off, and it
was you probably who prepared the odious snare into which we fell?"

"I will not attempt to deny it, madam," he said.

"What harm have I done you, who have been, living for more than twenty
years beneath my roof, where you were taken in through charity; you
whom my husband loves and places entire confidence in?"

"A confidence which I still possess, madam. But why lose our time in
vain discussions? The open step I have taken must prove to you that my
mind is irrevocably made up, and that I shall not hesitate or recoil in
the execution of the plan I have formed."

"What you are doing is horrible; you requite with the blackest
ingratitude the kindness with which my family has overwhelmed you."

"That is the very word, madam," he said, with a bitter smile; "but in
order to cut short useless recriminations, and lay down the question
distinctly, let me make a confession which will establish our position
to each other."

"Speak, speak! What frightful revelation have you to make to me?"

"I, madam," he replied, drawing himself up majestically, and fixing on
her a fiendish glance, "am the son of Running Water, the Chief of the
tribe of Red Buffaloes, whom your family so cowardly and obstinately
hunted down. Do you now understand why I hate you, and why you are
here?"

"Oh!" she shrieked, clasping her hands in despair, "We are lost."

Doña Diana was annihilated; she fancied it was all a fearful dream.

"No, madam," he replied in his calm and metallic voice, "your safety is
in your own hands."

"My safety?" she asked ironically.

"Yes, madam, your safety. You are really conscious of the situation in
which you are, I assume? You are thoroughly convinced that you are in
my power, and that no human help can save you?"

"Yes, but God remains--God, who sees, and will save us," she exclaimed
fervently, "God who will foil your odious machinations!"

"God!" he said, with a hoarse laugh. "You forget, madam, that I am
a Comanche, and that your God is not mine. Bow your head before the
fatality that crushes you. Your God, if He exist, is powerless against
me. I deride his power!"

"Silence, blasphemer! The God you dare to defy can, if He pleases,
crush you in a moment."

"Let Him do so then, and I will believe in Him." And he raised his head
and looked up defiantly at the heavens. "But, no," he added a moment
after, "all these things are falsehoods invented by the priests to hold
men in awe. You are here in my power, I repeat, and no power, human or
divine, will liberate you; but, as I said, it is easy for you to leave
this place in freedom within an hour, if you please."

"After insult, mockery, that is the right way," she said contemptuously.

"I am no more mocking you now than I insulted you before; I am speaking
frankly, and offering you an honourable bargain, which you can accept
or refuse as you please."

"A bargain," she murmured in a hollow voice.

"Yes," he continued, "a bargain; and why not? Listen to me. I hate your
family, madam, with all the hatred that a human heart can hold; but you
personally never offended me, and I have, therefore, no reason to wish
you harm. Then, there is another thing which pleads in your favour; why
should I conceal it any longer? I love your daughter."

"Villain!" Doña Emilia exclaimed, as she rose and walked toward him.

Doña Diana threw herself wildly into her mother's arms, and buried her
face in her hands, crying desperately.

"Mother, mother, save me!"

"Fear nothing, daughter," she replied; "this man can insult us, but he
will never succeed in humiliating us to his own level."

The Indian listened to these words without a muscle of his face
quivering.

"I expected this outburst," he said calmly; "but you will reflect; I
repeat that I love your daughter, and intend her to be mine."

"Never," the two ladies exclaimed desperately.

"At that price alone," he continued stoically, "you will be free; if
not, prepare for death."

"Yes, yes," Doña Emilia burst forth passionately, "yes, we will die,
but both by our own will. Ah! You feel very certain of the success of
your odious plot, but you have calculated badly, villain; the death
with which you threaten us, we invoke as the supreme refuge left us.
You are masters of our life, but not of our death. We defy you."

The Indian burst into a laugh.

"Look at your vial," he said, in his calm, cutting tone, "it no longer
contains any acid. Yesterday some harmless soporifics were mixed with
your food, and, during your sleep, you were robbed of the formidable
weapon in which you had trusted rather too prematurely. Believe me,
madam, you had better yield. I give you eight days to reflect; it would
be easy for me to carry off your daughter, but I prefer receiving her
voluntarily from you."

He accompanied these remarks with a mocking laugh, and left the room,
without waiting for an answer, which the two unhappy women could not
have given him, so annihilated were they by the frightful revelation
which had just been made to them.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

PREPARATIONS FOR A RESCUE.


We will now leave the Comanche camp for a season, and return to the
Hacienda del Río, belonging to Count de Melgosa, whither we have before
taken the reader, and to which the count ordered the wounded man to
be conveyed. When they approached the hacienda, the Canadian remarked
to the count that perhaps Don Melchior, owing to his weakness, could
not be able to stand crossing the stream, and the ascent of the hill,
which was rendered more fatiguing by the steepness of the path that led
to the front gate. The count began laughing.

"What is it that amuses your Excellency?" the Canadian asked.

"Well," the count answered, "I am laughing at your simplicity, my
friend."

"My simplicity!"

"Yes; I fancied you better acquainted with strategics."

"What do you mean?"

"Hang it all! You ought to know that a good general never lets himself
be besieged without having the means to break the blockade when he
thinks proper."

"Ah, ah!" the hunter said with a smile, "I suspected it; but no matter.
Go on, Excellency."

"Does it interest you?"

"Enormously."

"Ah!" he said, giving him an inquiring glance.

"Oh, simply from an artistic point of view."

"Very good; well, I wish to prove to you what value I set on you, and
what faith I have in your honour."

"You were wrong to doubt it, Excellency."

"I believe so. Then I will show you what no living being has ever yet
seen."

"By Jove, Excellency, permit me to remark to you that what you are
doing is most imprudent."

"With anyone else it would certainly be so; but are you not my friend?"

"I hope so, Excellency."

"In that case, it is no longer imprudent, but merely a mark of
confidence. Diego López," he added, turning to the peon, "go to the
right."

"Excellency," the latter said respectfully, "if we go to the right
after passing that clump of larches, sumachs, and floripondios, we
shall come to an impassable belt of rocks which border the river on
that side."

"Nonsense," the count continued with a smile; "never mind; go on."

Diego López bowed, and at once went in the direction ordered. The road
had to be cut with the axe, and they only advanced step by step. After
about an hour of extremely fatiguing toil, the band reached, as Diego
López had predicted, the foot of an enormous and irregular mass of
rocks heaped on each other to a great height. They were forced to halt,
owing to the material impossibility of going any further.

"You see, Excellency," Diego López said, with the satisfaction of a
servant who believes he has got the best of his master.

"Yes, yes, I see," the count replied, as he attentively examined the
rocks; "be kind enough, Señor Clary, to hold my horse for a moment."

He dismounted, threw the bridle to the Canadian, and said to the peon--

"Come hither, Diego."

The latter followed him without a word, vainly torturing his brain to
guess what his master intended to do. The count walked straight up to
the rocks; on reaching a certain spot he stooped, and after a moment's
reflection, said--

"Thrust your gun barrel into that crack, and press."

The peon obeyed with the passive resignation of a good servant, and
after a few efforts a rather large block started and fell to the ground.

"Very good," the count said; "go on; now this one." A second stone,
larger than the first, fell, and revealed the entrance of a cave.

"Now," the count continued, "enlarge the passage."

"By heavens!" the Canadian exclaimed, "That is prodigious, and we can
pass through, horses and all."

"Of course. Do you not know that all the haciendas of any size in this
country were built by the first conquistadors of the country, who,
being daily exposed to the attacks of the Indians, were obliged to dig
passages of this nature, which allowed them, in the event of a siege,
to procure provisions, or call in the aid of their friends and allies?"

"And you are not afraid to show this passage to _me?_" the Canadian
said, in wonderment.

"Why should I be afraid? I repeat, that you are a friend, and that I
have faith in you."

"That is true," the Canadian replied; "but, no matter," he added, with
a shake of his head, "you have run a tremendous risk."

"Nonsense," the count continued, with a careless shrug of the shoulder.
"With you?"

While they were conversing, Diego López and his comrades had worked so
well that the entrance was now wide enough for the little band to pass.

"Come," said the count.

They went in, and when the last peon had passed through, the count
continued--

"Now, Diego López, put the stones back in their place as well as you
can, for it is useless to show other people the road we have taken."

The peons set to work, and in less than half an hour the entrance was
once more hermetically closed, and so skilfully, that no one could
have detected it from the outside. The passage in which the Spaniards
found themselves was probably lighted by a multitude of imperceptible
fissures, which at the same time renewed the stock of air; for
although the entrance had been stopped up, it was not dark, and it was
perfectly easy to breathe. Cut in the rock, the roof of this passage
was lofty enough for a man to pass through comfortably on horseback--it
was arched; the ground was dry and covered with a fine sand of a
golden-yellow.

The count placed himself at the head of the little party and gave a
signal to start. At first the passage descended rather abruptly, and
from the noise the travellers heard over their heads, they understood
that they were passing beneath the bed of the river; but gradually the
ground rose gently, and the passage ascended with innumerable windings,
opening out every now and then into long galleries, which showed that
the first owners of this hacienda, as prudent people, retained several
issues. At regular distances, they came to massive iron doors, which
the count opened by touching a hidden spring, and which closed again
after the travellers.

At length, after marching for about three-quarters of an hour in this
inextricable labyrinth, the count stopped before a massive oak door,
entirely covered with thick plates of iron.

"We have arrived," he said.

"What do you mean?" the Canadian remarked, "Not at the hacienda, I
suppose?"

"Yes, we are at the hacienda; and, more than that, we are at the
entrance of the court leading to the corral."

"That is impossible," said the Canadian.

The count smiled and touched a spring. The door opened, and the
Canadian repressed a cry of surprise as the count informed him they
were really in an inner court of the hacienda, which was at this
moment empty. The travellers entered, and then the gate was closed so
hermetically, and so thoroughly formed a part of the wall through the
stones with which it was covered, that in spite of the attention with
which the adventurer examined it, it was impossible for him to discover
its exact position.

"It is prodigious!" he muttered.

"Not at all," the count replied, gently; "it is, on the contrary, a
very ordinary affair, only due to the skill of the workman who was
intrusted with the job. But let us lose no more time here; Diego López,
convey the wounded man to the green room. Do not trouble yourself about
your horse, Señor Clary, it will be taken care of; come."

"Hang it, the beast is valuable; and were it only for the sake of the
person from whom I obtained it, I should not like any accident to
happen to it."

"As for that, be at your ease; your horse will be as well taken care of
as if it belonged to me."

Completely reassured by this promise, the Canadian dismounted and
accompanied his host into the house. The count's unexpected arrival
and the mysterious way in which he entered the hacienda caused some
surprise to his people, who did not understand how he could have got in
unseen by any of the sentries in a so carefully guarded fortress. The
reception the countess gave the adventurer was not merely polite, but
even affectionate, and very different from the somewhat dry manner in
which she greeted him on the first occasion. Don Melchior was put to
bed; and when the count and the Canadian entered the green room, the
doctor of the hacienda was attending to him. The young man was asleep.

"Well," the count asked, presently, "what do you think about your
patient, doctor?"

The doctor, or, to speak more correctly, the barber, who undertook that
duty, drew himself up, pursed his eyebrows, and replied gravely--

"This young man is as well as his state allows him to be. I have bled
him copiously, which, I believe, will produce a favourable result; in
two days, if no serious accident occur, I can promise you that he will
feel but little of the numerous contusions he has received."

"Thanks, doctor, for your good prognostics; attend to this young man as
you would to myself; I have the greatest wish to hear him talk as soon
as possible, even if he cannot get about."

"I will give you that satisfaction this very evening, Excellency,"
the doctor answered. "When the patient awakes, his strength will have
returned sufficiently to allow him to answer any questions you may
think proper to ask him."

The count and the adventurer exchanged a glance of satisfaction on
hearing this. The doctor's prediction was realized, for shortly
before sunset Don Melchior opened his eyes. At first he was somewhat
astonished to find himself lying in bed and attended by a doctor; but
when the latter had told him in a few words how, on being found half
dead, he was transported to the spot where he now was, his memory at
once returned, and he earnestly begged the doctor to inform the count
that as he was refreshed by the bleeding and rested by the sleep which
had resulted from it, he earnestly requested to see his saviour in
order to thank him for the service he had done him, and to ask him to
let him return as soon as possible to the Hacienda del Barrio, where
matters of the greatest importance summoned him. The count and the
Canadian proceeded straight to the young man, and after congratulating
him on the fortunate change which had taken place in him in so short a
time, pressed him to tell them all that had happened.

Don Melchior, on recognizing the count, who during his visit to
the hacienda had displayed much interest in him, had no difficulty
in recounting what had happened in the fullest detail, the more so
because knowing the count to be on very intimate terms with Don Aníbal
Saldibar, he hoped that the Spanish gentleman might help him in the
plan he meditated. The count was overwhelmed with grief on hearing
the misfortune which had happened to Doña Emilia, and immediately
suspected that the daring abduction to which she had been a victim was
the revenge of the Red Buffaloes, those constant foes of Don Aníbal.
But there was some mystery about this skilfully arranged and boldly
executed expedition. He suspected treachery, though it was impossible
to rest those suspicions on one person more than another. His anxiety
was the greater because it was probable that the ravishers, after their
snare was successful, had returned to the impenetrable deserts which
served them as refuge, and where it was impossible to pursue them,
especially owing to the state of confusion into which the country was
thrown by the decisive pronunciamiento of which Don Aníbal was one of
the principal chiefs, and was stripped of any hope of cooperation from
the Spaniards. The situation was serious, and the count did not know
how to escape from it.

"Listen to me," said the Canadian, who during the young man's recital
had not made the slightest remark. "The affair of which you are
talking, is beyond the pale of the common law. Spanish troops will be
of no more use to you than Mexican. You have to deal with redskins, do
not overlook that fact."

"We know it perfectly well," the count interrupted; "but how does that
advance us?"

"Pardon me, Excellency, but I am acquainted with Indian habits. During
the fifteen years I have been traversing the desert in all directions
I have had time to study them, hence I believe myself in a position to
give you good advice."

"Speak, my friend, speak," the count exclaimed.

"Explain yourself, caballero," the young man said imploringly.

"One of two things will happen," the Canadian continued. "Either the
redskins have seized Doña Emilia and her daughter in order to massacre
them, or they have carried them off for the purpose of obtaining a
ransom. In the first place they will not kill them for a week, because
if it be a revenge, as you say, they desire to take on their enemies,
they will sacrifice their victims in the presence of the whole nation
assembled for a species of holiday, which will necessitate a great loss
of time in convening the scattered tribes. In the second case, you have
nothing to fear for the life of the ladies; and tomorrow, possibly
today, they will send to the hacienda a messenger to settle the amount
of ransom."

"Hum! What you do us the honour of telling us is doubtless very
sensible," the count remarked; "but I do not yet see the nature of the
advice you wish to give us."

"Patience," the Canadian continued with a shake of his head, "my
advice is this. Tomorrow, at sunrise, I will start for the Hacienda
del Barrio. If no Indian has appeared, after reporting the result of
my embassy, and warning Don Aníbal of what has happened, I will have a
talk with my friend Moonshine. He knows the Indians as well as I do,
perhaps better. Well, if he shares my opinion, we will both start on
the trail of the redskins, and they will be very cunning, I swear, if
we do not discover them. That is my advice."

"Yes," the count answered, "your reasoning is excellent, and the plan
you propose is the only one feasible; but what can two men do alone
against several hundreds? You will be killed without any advantage."

"Well, if you can hit on a better scheme, I shall not oppose it."

"I do not say that I can. I merely believe that your idea, good in
principle, is bad in its mode of execution; that is to say, where two
men would perish, ten or fifteen would infallibly succeed."

"But where will you find that number of men to volunteer running such
risks?"

"I will be the first," Don Melchior said warmly.

"And I the second," the count said more calmly.

"You?" the Canadian remarked, with surprise.

"Yes, I, my friend," he continued. "I have an old account to settle
with the redskins generally, and the Red Buffaloes particularly. They
are my enemies also. The marks of their claws have been for a long time
imprinted on my flesh. Who knows whether I shall not avenge myself,
while fancying that I am only avenging a friend?"

"Hence," said Don Melchior, "we will start tomorrow at sunrise."

"I alone," the Canadian answered; "your presence at the hacienda would
be more injurious than useful. Allow Don Aníbal's grief time to calm
before presenting yourself to him."

The young man felt the force of the adventurer's reasoning, and hung
his head sadly, though without offering any objection.

"I will accompany you, señor," said the count. "I trust that my
intervention with Don Aníbal will not prove in vain."

"What are you thinking of, Excellency? In the present state of affairs,
do you not fear being regarded as an enemy?"

"Politics have nothing to do with the step I propose taking in your
company, señor. Moreover, do you not remember that I have sworn never
more to serve the Spanish government? I am, therefore, free to act as I
please."

"I have no remarks to make to you on that subject, Excellency; perhaps
it is better that it should be so; besides, you know better than I do
what line of conduct you ought to hold."

"Believe me, my friend, that the one I am adopting is the best."

"Then," Don Melchior remarked, sadly, "you condemn me to remain here?"

"Yes, till you receive fresh orders, my friend," the Canadian said
good-humouredly; "but do not feel vexed, young gentleman; get well
again as quickly as you can, and you shall enter on the campaign
against the redskins in our company."

"Do you promise me that?" the young man asked, with a start of joy.

"I swear it, on the faith of Oliver Clary. You are too brave to be left
behind."

The young man thanked him warmly, and feeling easier in his mind,
he fell back on his bed, and was soon fast asleep. On the morrow at
sunrise the count and the Canadian entered the chamber of the wounded
man to take leave of him, but they found him dressed and ready to start.

"You know very well that you are not to accompany us."

"It is not my intention either," he answered.

"Still you are preparing to leave the hacienda."

"Yes, and probably at the same time as yourself."

"Hum!" said the Canadian, as he took a side glance at the young man,
whose handsome masculine face, pale with suffering, had an expression
of energetic will. "You seem quite resolved," he said.

"Whatever may happen, yes."

There was a silence.

"Very good," the Canadian continued; "wait for me here for six hours."

"What are you going to do?" Don Melchior exclaimed.

"On my return I will tell you: do you pledge me your word?"

"I do."

"Very good."

Without adding a word, Oliver went out, making the count a sign to
follow him.



CHAPTER XXIX.

THE REVOLUTION.


We will now return to the Hacienda del Barrio, in order to explain to
the reader certain important events which had occurred, the knowledge
of which is indispensable to understand coming facts. The conspirators,
after the departure of Count de Melgosa, whose unexpected visit had so
disagreeably surprised them, had immediately separated, not through any
fear of the consequences which this visit might have for them, but, on
the contrary, to arm their peons and adherents, and put themselves as
quickly as possible in a position to resist any attempted aggression on
the part of the Spanish government.

The Mexicans, instructed and hardened to war by ten years' fighting
and their numerous defeats, were no longer the half-savage men who
marched without order or discipline, impelled solely by religious
fanaticism or the ardent love of liberty, and let themselves be bravely
slaughtered by the old Spanish bands on the plains of Calderón. Hidalgo
and Morelos, those sublime champions of liberty, had lost their lives
in their generous attempts at emancipation; but their blood had not in
vain bedewed that Mexican soil which the Spaniards fancied enslaved
forever. Other chiefs, electrified by the heroic devotion of their
predecessors, had risen in their turn, and, profiting by past errors,
organized the revolt, and gradually, by their skilful and incessant
guidance, the insurrection, at first timid and retired, extended, and
eventually became a revolution.

The knell of Spain had rung: her power, ruined on all sides, crumbled
away in hands too feeble to hold it. The Viceroys of New Spain,
incessantly pressed, were involuntarily forced to try concessions--a
fatal resolve for tyranny, which it is impossible to check, for
no sooner is one difficulty smoothed than another larger and more
formidable rises up. The supreme struggle began. The proclamation of
Iguala, published by General Iturbide--that is to say, the independence
of New Spain, union between the Spanish and Mexican races, and the
exclusive maintenance of the Catholic religion--gave the signal for
revolt. It was general; insurgent bands were organized on all sides.

Don Pelagio Sandoval summoned all the hacenderos of the province,
and two days after the conference we have described, the insurgent
forces, amounting to more than ten thousand well-armed men, infantry
and cavalry, and having a battery of six mountain guns, quitted the
Hacienda del Barrio, where their chief only left a weak garrison to
hold the Indians in check, and advanced by forced marches on Coahuila.
This capital of the province was a town of nine or ten thousand souls,
built on an affluent of the Río Sabina, surrounded by walls, and;
owing to the arrangements made long before by General Cárdenas, it was
perfectly defended from a surprise. The progress of the insurrectionary
army was truly a triumphant march. At each step reinforcements
reached it, and the Mexicans everywhere took up arms. Leona Vicario,
Castanuello, Parras, Nueva Bilbao, and Santa Rosa expelled the
Spaniards, and proclaimed their independence by hoisting the green,
white, and red flag, the emblem of the three guarantees of the treaty
of Iguala, independence, union, and religion.

Don Pelagio Sandoval, not wishing to leave any enemy in his rear,
suddenly attacked the Presidio of the Río Grande as well as the forts
of the Agua Verde and Bahia, built on the Río del Norte, in order
to protect the border against Indian forays, and after a vigorous
resistance, carried them by storm. The insurgent general, in order not
to embarrass his army with prisoners, contented himself with disarming
the Spanish garrisons, and left them free to retire wherever they
pleased. This merciful policy formed too great a contrast with the
rigorous system hitherto adopted by the government, not to produce
a good result, whose effect was immediately felt; many officers
and soldiers, natives of New Spain, offered their swords to the
insurrection, and passed into the ranks of the Mexican army. One town
alone still resisted the general movement and remained faithful to
Spain; this town was Coahuila.

General Don López de Cárdenas, at the first insurrectionary movement,
called in all the Spanish garrisons scattered through the other towns,
which he despaired of defending effectually against the formidable
forces of the insurgents, and shut himself up in Coahuila, resolved
to bury himself beneath the smoking ashes sooner than open the gates
to men whom he regarded as miserable rebels, deceived and seduced by
a fanatic priest. After proclaiming independence in all the towns of
the province, and establishing the national government, Don Pelagio
led on Coahuila the forces at his disposal, which, as we said, had
been largely augmented by the contingents constantly supplied by the
liberals, and now rose to the really formidable number of 25,000 men.

The Mexicans reached the town after meeting with no further obstacle
than a considerable cavalry corps, probably sent to reconnoitre,
and which, after exchanging a few carbine shots with the vanguard,
declined a contest and fell back. The town was immediately invested.
General Cárdenas was not only an old soldier, but also a skilful
strategist; in the prevision of a revolt, he had abundance of arms and
ammunition at Coahuila, and so soon as he was shut up in the town, he
had earth breastworks thrown up, and wide ditches dug. Hence a regular
siege was about to begin against an enemy who was too well aware of the
hatred he had aroused not to offer a vigorous resistance. The priest's
first care was to trace a parallel, and throw up entrenchments. The
flag of independence was haughtily hoisted on the jacal, which served
as headquarters, and Don Pelagio summoned the town to surrender. On
hearing the Mexican bugles, General Cárdenas appeared on the ramparts,
surrounded by a large party of Spanish officers, smart as gold lace
could make them.

"Who are you and what do you want?" he said in a haughty voice,
addressing the officer who commanded the Spanish detachment.

This officer was Don Aníbal de Saldibar, whom General Sandoval had made
his first aide-de-camp and major-general. Don Aníbal held in his hand
his drawn sword, to the blade of which a white scarf was fastened.

"Who are you?" he answered; "I have orders only to address Don López de
Cárdenas, commanding the town."

"And governor of the province," the general interrupted sarcastically.

"The province no longer recognizes the power of the Spanish government."

"Indeed," he said; "and pray what do you want with General Cárdenas?"

"I can only tell that to himself."

"Well, speak without further delay, for he is listening to you."

Don Aníbal bowed.

"I have orders," he said, "to summon you to surrender the town
immediately to General Don Pelagio Sandoval, commander-in-chief of the
Mexican forces of the province of Coahuila."

"Ah, ah!" said the general, biting his moustache.

"General Sandoval," Don Aníbal continued, "invites you to arrange an
interview with him in order to discuss the terms of the capitulation."

General Cárdenas could not stand this any longer; the demands of the
insurgents seemed to him so absurd, that he burst into a laugh, in
which his officers joined. Don Aníbal was not at all affected by this
unseasonable hilarity; he stood coldly with folded arms, waiting till
the general thought proper to become serious again.

"Well, my good fellow," the latter said presently; "are you still
there?"

"Certainly, General, and shall remain till you are pleased to answer
me."

"Diablos, your pretensions are too exaggerated. Learn that I know
no other army in New Spain but the Spanish. As for the cuadrilla
of bandits surrounding the town at this moment, and the cabecilla
who commands it, to whom you dare give the title of general, listen
carefully to this: I do not treat with rebels, wretched slaves who have
revolted against their masters. I consented to listen to you to the
end, and not have you shot at once, but do not try my patience too far.
Retire and be careful not to be the bearer of such messages in future,
for a misfortune would happen to you; that is the only answer I can
and will give you. Now, make haste to be off, if you do not wish me to
give the order to treat you as you deserve."

"Take care, General," Don Aníbal answered intrepidly, "the struggle you
are hurrying on is an impious one, the cause you defend is a lost one.
Through humanity, if not through conviction, spare the useless shedding
of innocent blood, which will fall on your head."

"Send a couple of bullets at that chatterer," the general said with
a shrug of his shoulders, as he turned to the troops present at this
interview.

The soldiers obeyed, and several bullets, badly aimed, perhaps
purposely so, whistled portentously past the ears of the brave
hacendero. The latter, who had fully heard the order given by the
general, did not attempt to avoid them, but merely removed the white
scarf from his sword and threw it from him.

"Of what use is a flag of truce," he said, "when you have to deal with
hangmen who despise the law of nations. Farewell, General Cárdenas;
I had forgotten the name which the inhabitants of this province have
branded you with; you have just reminded me of it." After bowing
ironically to the Spaniards, he made a sign to his escort to follow
him, and retired with a slow, calm step, as if he had nothing to fear
from the man whom he thus outraged. The general had raised his head
and opened his mouth, probably to give some terrible order; but he
succeeded in restraining himself. He smiled cunningly as he looked
after the flag of truce who had so audaciously braved him, and, as he
left the ramparts, said--

"Come, caballeros, we will return to the cabildo. The bark of those
scoundrels is worse than their bite. I trust before long to prove to
them that they were right to christen me 'the Shark.'"

Don Aníbal returned to the jacal, where Father Sandoval was waiting
for him, surrounded by his staff. The general of the insurgents
knew perfectly well that the summons he sent his enemy would remain
unanswered, or, if he deigned to give one, that it would be of an
insulting nature; but he thought himself bound to take this step, in
order to have right entirely on his side, by forcing General Cárdenas,
with whose character he was thoroughly acquainted, to commit one of
those bloodthirsty acts to which he was accustomed. Such a deed would
permit him to make every effort to carry the town and capture the
general, of whom he purposed to make an example. Father Sandoval's
calculations were perfectly correct. General Cárdenas had not hesitated
to give orders to fire on a flag of truce. He had done even more, as
the Mexican officers soon learned from the formidable clamour that ran
along the whole army.

During the skirmish which took place a short distance from the town,
the Spaniards took six or seven prisoners--poor peons, not so well
mounted as their comrades, and who had not been able to rejoin the army
so speedily as they might have liked. These prisoners were taken into
the town, and as ill luck would have it the general perceived them
as he entered the cabildo. On seeing them he could not restrain his
fury, but ordered that they should at once be led to the ramparts, and
hung in the sight of the Mexican army. In vain did the officers try to
dissuade him. The general was inexorable, and the poor fellows were
hung without any trial. They heaved their last sigh at the very moment
when Don Aníbal de Saldibar entered the jacal, and the army burst into
a fearful clamour, which caused the Mexican general and his officers to
shudder with horror and passion.

The siege consequently began under mournful auspices. Every insurgent
who fell into the hands of the Spaniards was hung on the ramparts.
General Cárdenas had sworn to make a wall of corpses round the town. On
their side, the Mexicans mercilessly massacred the hapless Spaniards
whom the chances of war delivered into their hands. It was in vain
that Padre Sandoval implored his comrades to spare their enemies. The
exasperation of the Mexicans was at its height, and they remained deaf
to the prayers and orders of their chief. At the same time the Spanish
general defended himself like a lion. Every patch of ground gained by
the insurgents was disputed inch by inch, and cost streams of blood.

The town had been invested for seven days, and as yet there was no
prospect that it would be soon captured. On the eighth day, Father
Sandoval received a copy of the treaty signed by General Iturbide and
the Viceroy O'Donojú. This treaty stated substantially that Mexico was
declared independent, on the condition of establishing a constitutional
and representative monarchy, of which a member of the family of the
Spanish Bourbons should be nominated King. The Viceroy understood the
critical position in which the interests of the home country were
placed, and despairing completely to preserve to Spain the possession
of this rich colony, he skilfully turned the question, so as to save as
much as he could.

This treaty terminated the war; but Father Sandoval did not know how
to communicate the fact to General Cárdenas. After the menaces made by
that general, and the summary executions that followed them, no one
cared to go to him. Don Aníbal, ever ready to sacrifice himself for the
common welfare, offered to proceed to the general. The latter, contrary
to expectation, let the flag of truce enter the town, and even received
him with a certain amount of courtesy, which surprised Don Aníbal
himself, especially after the manner in which the first interview he
had with him ended.

The hacendero handed the general a copy of the treaty, adding that he
hoped this document would put a stop to the bloodshed. The general took
the paper, which he read attentively twice, as if weighing all its
clauses. While he was perusing it, Don Aníbal tried in vain to follow
on his face the effect it produced; but the general's features seemed
carved in marble, and no emotion was visible on them.

"My answer will be brief, caballero," he said, in a dry voice, but with
an accent of gloomy resolution. "In my opinion, the Viceroy O'Donojú
has no power to settle so serious a question as the independence of
New Spain. The king, my master and his, delegated him, not to throw
away this colony, but to keep it for him at all risks. This deed is
therefore null, so long as the King of Spain and the Indies has not
ratified it. As for me, caballero, I shall not resign the authority
entrusted to me. A royal order alone will make me return my sword to
the scabbard from which I have drawn it. Whatever the consequences of
this resolution may be to me, I shall wait for that order. Good day."

The general bowed slightly to the flag of truce, and turned away as if
to make him understand that his audience was over. Don Aníbal withdrew,
and was conducted to the advanced posts with bandaged eyes, although
treated with the utmost respect by the soldiers told off as his escort.
The chief of the Liberals was most anxiously awaiting the return of his
emissary, as he feared, with some show of reason, that the general,
despising, as usual, the law of nations, had made him undergo unworthy
treatment. Hence it was with extreme pleasure that he saw Don Aníbal
return. Unhappily, the reply brought by the hacendero did not leave the
slightest hope of peace. Father Sandoval, though recognizing in his
heart the wisdom of his enemy's conduct, resolved with a sigh of regret
to deal a heavy blow, and made his preparations accordingly.



CHAPTER XXX.

ON THE TRAIL.


Oliver Clary left Don Melchior's room in a very thoughtful state; the
count followed him, not venturing to address him, as he seemed so
preoccupied. On reaching the patio, where peons were holding two horses
for them, the adventurer stopped, struck his forehead, and then turning
to the count, said--

"You cannot come with me."

"Why not?" the count asked; "Where are you going?"

"How do I know? That young man's calm and resigned grief crushes my
heart, and I am going to seek some consolation for him at all hazards."

"You are kind."

"No, I have suffered. I know grief, and pity the unhappy; that is all.
Remain here; you will not be of the slightest use to me in what I am
about to attempt; your presence, on the contrary, might be injurious to
me and to yourself. You had better wait for me here. Watch that young
man carefully and show him the greatest kindness. Perhaps, on my return
I shall tell you more; I have a doubt on my mind which I am anxious to
clear up. Heaven grant that I may meet the man in search of whom I am
going. One word more: if I do not return at the hour settled, use your
influence over Don Melchior to keep him patient. Farewell, I am about
to attempt impossibilities."

And leaving the count amazed, and not at all understanding these
mysterious and apparently unconnected remarks, the adventurer leapt on
his horse, and galloped down the steep hill at the risk of breaking
his neck twenty times. So soon as he had crossed the stream and found
himself in the open country, the Canadian checked his horse's pace,
turned its head in the direction of the Río Grande del Norte, and put
on his considering cap.

The worthy Canadian, with the reckless temerity characteristic of
the wood rangers, had formed the plan of setting out in search of a
village or encampment of Indios bravos, as he felt convinced, after
what had occurred a few days previously, that there must be one in the
neighbourhood. By joining the redskins he would have no difficulty,
thanks to his thorough knowledge of Indian manners, in obtaining
information about the fate of the ladies, which would enable him
afterwards to attempt one of those daring strokes to which he was
accustomed, and which had so often proved successful.

The idea was good, but the execution offered extraordinary
difficulties. A trail is a very awkward thing to follow in a desert or
in a savage country, where there are no other tracks but those made by
wild beasts. Still, a good wood ranger, when he has once discovered
the beginning of a trail, however confused it may be, always succeeds
in reaching the other end. But the trail must exist, that is to say,
some sign, however fugitive or slight, must warn the hunter in what
direction the people he is pursuing have gone. But, under the present
circumstances, that was not the Canadian's situation; the trail he
proposed to follow he must, to a certain extent, invent, as he was
entering the desert without any settled purpose, and entirely trusting
to chance, that great performer of miracles.

The adventurer did not conceal from himself the difficulties of his
enterprise, hence, he tried, as far as possible, to get chance over
to his side. When he had forded the river and found himself on Indian
territory, the hunter carefully inspected his weapons, in the probable
event of his being obliged to use them; then, after riding for about a
mile straight ahead, he threw the bridle on his horse's neck and let
it follow its own impulses, and that infallible instinct which animals
possess, and which puts human reason to shame. After a few moments'
hesitation, the noble animal shook its head several times, stretched
out its neck, and suddenly seeming to form a determination, started
in a direction exactly opposite to that which its master had hitherto
compelled it to follow.

"Good," the Canadian said, "I'll bet two jaguar skins to a muskrat's
that we shall soon have some news."

And he let his horse go on, contenting himself with carefully
examining the thick scrub he passed and the tall grass through which
he rode with great difficulty, in order not to let himself be attacked
unawares by an invisible foe. It was about nine in the morning, the
hour most pleasant for travelling in these torrid latitudes. For about
an hour the Canadian thus advanced haphazard, when suddenly a bullet
whizzed past his ear.

"Who is the clumsy scoundrel turning me into a target?" the hunter
said, coolly, as he halted and looked around; "Devil take the animal
for missing me so stupidly."

A slight smoke, which rose a short distance off, from the grass,
soon indicated to him the spot whence the shot was fired; without
hesitation, he dug his spurs into his horse's flanks, and dashed in
that direction, resolved to take a prompt revenge for this unfair
attack. But almost immediately a hurried motion commenced in the tall
grass; it parted under the pressure of a vigorous hand, and an Indian
appeared. It was Running Water, holding in his hand the gun he had just
used, the barrel of which was still smoking.

"Hang it, chief," the Canadian said gaily, "it must be confessed that
you have a strange way of putting your question."

"My brother must pardon me; it is not my fault," the Indian answered.

"That you missed me," the Canadian interrupted him laughingly. "By
Jove, I am convinced of that, for the bullet almost passed through my
hair."

"My brother will not understand me. I did not recognize him. Had I done
so, I should not have fired on the man to whom I owe my life."

"Nonsense! On the prairie that is of no consequence, chief; but,
excepting the rather rough way in which you bade me welcome, I am
delighted at having met you."

"My brother is now the friend of a chief; he is in safety on our
hunting grounds."

"So it seems," the adventurer replied mockingly.

Running Water's face assumed an expression of sorrow.

"My brother, then, will not pardon an unhappy mistake, at which he sees
his friend broken-hearted."

"Come, come, chief, let us say no more about it; there was more noise
than hurt. I am glad to see you at liberty again, and, according to
appearances, in good case. You have not taken long to procure weapons."

"The chief is on his own territory," the Indian answered, with a flash
of pride.

"Very good, I admit that, although I fancy you venture rather close to
the Spanish border."

"I am not alone."

"That is probable. I do not wish to know the motives that bring you to
these parts; that is your business, although I suspect a hearty Indian
revenge behind it."

An evil smile played round the chief's thin lips.

"Vengeance is the virtue of the red men," he answered in a hollow
voice; "they never forget kindness and never pardon wrong."

"I am aware of that, chief, and I cannot blame you, for every man acts
according to his instincts."

"Is my brother on the hunting trail?"

"I am on no trail, chief, I am rambling about for amusement."

Running Water gave a distrustful look, for Indians never allow that
anyone does anything without a motive.

"Then my brother is not going anywhere?" he continued.

"Indeed no, I am letting my horse guide me."

"Wah! My brother is very merry."

"It is the case, I assure you; and the proof is that so soon as I leave
you I shall turn back."

The Indian reflected for a moment.

"Will my brother consent to smoke the calumet at the fire of a chief?"

"I do not see any obstacle. Indian hospitality is great; and my ride
has given me an appetite which I shall not be sorry to appease."

"Good; my brother will have no cause to complain of his friend. Let him
follow, and he will soon be able to satisfy his hunger."

"Go on then, chief, and I will walk in your footsteps."

The Indian turned away, and re-entered the tall grass, where the hunter
followed him without hesitation. Their march lasted but a few minutes,
and they reached the camp of the Comanches, which was so well concealed
among trees and bushes, that the Canadian might have passed close by
and not noticed it. The Indians display extraordinary skill in the
choice of their temporary encampments on the prairie; the most skilful
hunter cannot compete with them in the cleverness with which they hide
their presence, however large their numbers may be. Hence the camp
which the Canadian now reached was composed of upwards of two hundred
Indians, and yet nothing led him to suspect that he was so near them.

A thing that greatly surprised the hunter was, that he noticed a
considerable number of women and children in camp. The redskins rarely
travel with their families, unless they are going to change their
abode. The periods of these migrations is indicated beforehand, and the
year was not sufficiently advanced for the Comanches to leave their
winter village, or dare to venture so near the Spanish border. Still,
as a good diplomatist, the Canadian, in spite of the suspicions that
began to spring up in his mind, seemed to attach no importance to this
unusual circumstance, and did not make the slightest allusion to a
subject which would doubtless arouse the distrust of his suspicious
hosts.

The reception which the Comanches gave him was most cordial; Running
Water especially, by all sorts of attentions, sought to make Clary
forget the rather rough manner in which he had accosted him. The
latter met the chief's advances halfway, and the most frank cordiality
continued to preside over their chance meeting. When the breakfast,
simple, like all Indian meals, and entirely composed of venison,
was ended, the guests lit their pipes, and each began talking upon
indifferent matters.

Still the Canadian did not let out of sight the motive which had urged
him to enter the prairie; and while smoking, he thought over the means
of quietly veering the conversation round to the point he desired,
although he did not dare ask the chief any direct question, for he was
aware of his craft. The pretext which the hunter vainly sought, Running
Water very naturally supplied, in the following way. As usually happens
between men accustomed to a desert life, the conversation gradually
settled upon hunting, an always interesting and inexhaustible subject
between Indians and wood rangers.

"My brother knows that the moon of the wild oats will soon begin," said
the chief, "and that it is the period when the buffalo chase is most
productive."

"I do," the Canadian replied.

"Will my brother hunt the buffalo?"

"I should like to do so, but unluckily I am very slightly acquainted
with this country. The buffalo is an animal only found in herds, and a
single man could not hunt it advantageously. My companions have left
me, and I am alone, hence I shall be obliged to set traps during the
coming season."

"A poor trade for a brave man," the chief remarked.

"You are right, but what can I do? No man can be expected to perform
impossibilities. I regret more than I can tell you the loss of this
season; but I am compelled to put up with it."

"The Comanches are the first hunters of the prairie," the chief said
with emphasis; "the tribe of the Red Buffaloes is renowned; their totem
is a buffalo."

"I have heard the skill and courage of the warriors of your tribe
highly spoken of, chief."

The sachem smiled proudly.

"The buffaloes are our cousins," he said; "when we hunt them they know
that it is because we have need of their meat and skins, and they allow
us to capture them in order to do us a service."

The Canadian gave a silent nod of assent. He was aware of the redskin
superstition, which makes them believe that each of their tribes is
descended from some animal, and he considered it unnecessary to open a
discussion, which could have no satisfactory result, on the point.

The chief continued--

"Why will not my brother the Sumach hunt in company with the Red
Buffaloes?"

The Canadian shook his head, although he felt great pleasure at this
unexpected overture, for the Indians are very jealous of their hunting
grounds, and the greatest proof of friendship they can give a man is to
make him such an offer.

"For several reasons, chief," he answered; "my ammunition is nearly
exhausted, I must procure more, and the road is long to the first town
where I can obtain good powder. Moreover, you seem to be travelling
at this moment. Who knows whether I shall be able to find you on my
return?"

"Wah, my brother is a skilful paleface hunter; it is easy for him to
follow a friend's trail."

"Yes, if it is not old, and a fresh one has not crossed it."

Running Water reflected for a moment, during which the Canadian
anxiously awaited the result of his meditation.

"Let my brother listen," the sachem at last went on, "the hunt will not
begin till the ninth sun from this; that is more time than he requires
to fetch his powder and return."

"I grant it."

"Good! The Red Buffaloes are not travelling; they are going to a grand
assembly of their nations to witness a sacrifice of prisoners."

"Ah!" the hunter said with capitally feigned surprise, "I did not know
that the Comanches had made an expedition against the Apache dogs?"

"The Apaches are cowardly knaves," the chief answered; "they have
buried the hatchet so deep that they would be unable to find it, and
lift it against the Comanches. The prisoners are palefaces."

While uttering these words, the sachem fixed a searching glance on the
hunter, but the latter did not blench.

"That is of no concern of mine, chief," he replied carelessly,
"especially if the prisoners are Spaniards."

"My brother does not love the Spaniards?"

"I should think not, the chief must remember the place where he met me
a short time back."

"That is true; my brother has not a deceitful tongue, he is the friend
of the redskins."

"I think I have proved that to you."

"Good! Running Water is one of the first sachems of his nation, his
word is good; let my brother go and fetch his ammunition, he will find
the chief at the gathering place appointed for the tribe."

"Very good, but where is it?"

"All the hunters know it; it is the teocali of Zoltepec; will my
brother come?"

"I will try, chief; but, as you know, men are subject to the will of
the master of life. If I missed the appointment you so graciously make
with me, you must not be angry."

"The chase will not begin before the eighth sun of the coming moon. The
chief will wait for his brother the Sumach until the second sun before
the hunt."

"Oh, in that case," the hunter answered, not wishing to press the point
further for fear of offending the chief, "you can count on me, I have
more time than I require to settle my affairs, and be punctual at the
meeting."

Matters thus arranged, the conversation took another turn. The Canadian
remained for nearly an hour longer at the Comanche encampment, and
then took his leave; the sachem repeated his invitation, and the two
men separated, after many protestations of friendship, really well
satisfied with each other. Running Water was delighted at having found
an opportunity to pay the debt of gratitude he had contracted with the
man who saved his life. As for the hunter, he was still better pleased,
for he believed that he had obtained positive information as to the
spot where the two unhappy captives were and the fate reserved for
them. After leaving the Comanches, the Canadian started at a gallop for
the hacienda, which he reached an hour before the time he had himself
considered as the probable duration of his absence. The count, and
especially Don Melchior, were awaiting his return impatiently. Clary,
without loss of time, informed them of what he had done, and told them
in the fullest details all he had picked up from Running Water.

"Now," he said, in conclusion, "I believe we have no other alternative
than to return to our old plan; it is the wisest, and only one that
offers a chance of success. Moonshine, with a dozen of his comrades,
will get on the trail of the Indians, and--"

"But you?" the count interrupted.

"I have contracted obligations to the chief of the Red Buffaloes, which
prevent my doing anything against them."

"That is true," the count remarked.

"So," the hunter added, "remain here, Don Melchior; within two days
you will have a reinforcement enabling you to attempt the deliverance
of the two most unhappy ladies; by acting otherwise you will only ruin
yourself and them."

"Thanks," the young man replied, in a hollow voice, and burying his
head in his hands, he took no further part in the conversation. An hour
later the count and the hunter mounted, and started in the direction of
the Hacienda del Barrio.

"The poor boy is very sad," the count remarked.

"I am afraid he will commit some folly," the hunter replied, with a
shake of the head.



CHAPTER XXXI.

THE JACAL.


The night was dark; the rain, driven by the wind lashed furiously;
the Río Sabina, swollen by the storm, rolled along its yellow, muddy
waters, which were filled with trunks of trees and fragments of every
description, with a lugubrious murmur. The town and camp were plunged
in gloomy silence, only interrupted at long intervals by the mournful
cry, "_Sentinela, alerta_," with which the sentries on the ramparts
and in the intrenchments called to each other. At times a vivid flash,
immediately followed by a deafening peal of thunder, lit up the horizon
with a fantastic and transient gleam; then all fell again into deeper
silence and more complete obscurity.

In a miserable jacal, built in the centre of the camp, which every gust
threatened to blow away, two men, seated in equipales, in front of a
table covered with maps and plans, were conversing by the light of a
smoking candle. The jacal was the headquarters of the Mexican army,
while the men were Padre Sandoval and Don Aníbal de Saldibar. Outside,
two sentries, wrapped up in their zarapés, were walking up and down
in front of the door, cursing the wind and rain in a low voice, while
several horses, saddled and fastened to pickets, were champing their
feet and pawing up the ground impatiently.

"You see, my friend," Don Pelagio was saying at the moment we introduce
the reader into the jacal, "everything favours us. Heaven is with us."

"Yes," the hacendero answered; "but, General Cárdenas is an old
soldier, accustomed to European warfare. I doubt whether he will let
himself be caught in this trap."

"You are a perfect St. Thomas, my friend," Don Pelagio continued, "and
doubt is your essence. The ruse I have invented is too simple for the
general not to be caught in it. For the last two days my spies have
prepared him by clever reports to fall into the trap we are setting for
him; and, moreover, I count upon an omnipotent ally."

"An ally?" Don Aníbal asked, curiously. "Who is he?"

"The general's immense pride," the priest replied with a smile. "You
cannot imagine how this haughty man suffers at being held at bay like a
wild beast in its den by enemies whom he despises; be certain that he
will eagerly seize the opportunity to chastise us."

"Hum!" the hacendero said, but slightly convinced.

"Come," the other continued gaily; "there you are again with your
monstrous doubt. If pride fails us, my friend, we have ambition."

"What do you mean?"

"The general only came to America to regain his ruined fortunes and
compromised reputation. The treaty signed between General Iturbide and
the Viceroy--a treaty which, between ourselves, will not be ratified
by the cabinet of the Escurial--offers him a splendid chance. A battle
would restore hope to the Spaniards; momentarily re-establish the
affairs of Ferdinand VII.; will make the king regard General Cárdenas
as an indispensable man; will permit him to aspire to the highest
dignities, and perhaps succeed O'Donojú. Do you now understand me?"

"Yes, yes. You have thoroughly studied human passions, and nothing
escapes your infallible glance; but, perhaps, you have let yourself be
carried too far."

"¿Quién sabe?" Don Pelagio said gently; then he suddenly changed the
conversation. "You have received no news from Barrio?"

"None; which leads me to hope that all is well; were it otherwise, Don
Melchior or Sotavento would have come to warn me."

"You know, my friend, that I have several times remarked to you that
you place too great confidence in that man."

"I have ever found him faithful and devoted."

"You think so; but take care. You know that I am rarely deceived in my
appreciations. Now, I am convinced this man deceives, and is playing a
long studied part."

"My dear friend, several persons have said to me what you are now
stating. I have watched the man with the greatest care, and never
has anything suspicious in his conduct justified the unjust doubts
entertained about him."

"Heaven grant that he may always be so, my friend; and that you may not
be aroused, at the moment when you least expect it, from your imprudent
slumber by a thunderclap."

At the same instant a dazzling flash shot athwart the sky, and the
thunder burst forth furiously. The two men, involuntarily struck by
this strange coincidence, remained for a moment dumb and amazed,
listening to the alarm cries of the sentries as they challenged each
other in the darkness, and feeling their hearts contracted by an
undefinable sadness.

"It is, perchance, a warning from heaven," Don Pelagio muttered in a
low voice.

"Oh! I cannot believe it," the hacendero replied, as he passed his hand
over his damp forehead.

The general rose.

"Come," he said, as he looked out, "that thunderclap is the last effort
of the tempest, and the sky seems growing clearer. We shall have a
splendid day tomorrow."

"At what hour do you intend starting, General?" the hacendero asked him.

Don Pelagio looked at his watch.

"It is half past ten," he said; "the camp will not be completely
evacuated till midnight. We will set out at two o'clock, with the few
men I have selected."

"In that case, with your permission, I will retire and sleep till the
hour for departure."

"Do so, my friend; but mind and be here again at half past one."

"That is settled, General."

The two gentlemen shook hands affectionately, and Don Aníbal walked
towards the door of the jacal. Just as he was going, the noise of
several horses could be heard.

"_¿Quién vive?_" the sentry challenged.

"_Méjico e independencia,_" a voice replied, which Don Aníbal fancied
he recognized.

"_¿Qué gente?_" the soldier continued.

"El Coronel Don Aurelio Gutiérrez."

"Let him come in, let him come in," the general shouted.

"_Pase Vd: adelante,_" the sentry said.

"Stay here," Don Pelagio said to the hacendero. "This unexpected
visitor doubtless brings us valuable news."

The horsemen dismounted; their heavy spurs could be heard clanking on
the saturated ground, and five men entered the jacal. Four remained at
the door, half hidden by the darkness, and the fifth alone walked up to
the general. It was Don Aurelio.

"How comes it, Colonel," the general asked him quickly, without leaving
him time to speak, "that you are here, instead of remaining at the post
I assigned you?"

Don Aurelio bowed respectfully to his chief.

"General," he replied, "I have strictly obeyed the orders you were
pleased to give me. The division you placed under my command is at
its post; but I thought it my duty myself to lead to you these four
persons, who came to my main guard, and requested to be immediately
brought into your presence."

"Ah!" the general continued, taking an inquiring glance at the
strangers, whom the darkness prevented him from recognizing. "Who are
they?"

"They will tell you themselves, General. Now that my task is
accomplished, permit me to retire and return to my post."

"Go, señor. Perhaps it would have been better had you not left it."

The colonel made no reply, but bowed and went out. Almost immediately
after he could be heard riding away at a gallop. There was a momentary
silence, during which Don Pelagio carefully examined the four persons
still standing motionless. At length he decided on addressing them.

"Come hither, señores," he said, "and be good enough to tell me who you
are."

Only two advanced. When they reached the lighted portion of the jacal,
they dropped the corner of the zarapé which covered the lower part of
their faces, and at the same moment doffed their vicuña hats, the broad
brims of which fell over their eyes.

"The Canadian!" Don Aníbal exclaimed, with a start of surprise.

"Count de Melgosa?" Don Pelagio said, no less astonished.

The newcomers were really Oliver Clary and the count.

"It seems as if you did not expect us, General," the Canadian said
gaily.

"On my word I did not," Don Pelagio replied, as he held out his hand
to both. "I did not expect either of you; but you are not the less
welcome."

"Thanks," said the count.

"Why, I thought you were dead, Señor Clary," the priest continued.

"Well," the Canadian said, "it was touch and go. You simply sent me to
a wild beast. But, no matter; I managed to get out of his clutches."

"All the better. But you must require rest. Who are the persons
accompanying you?"

"One is a confidential peon of mine; the other a prisoner whom Señor
Don Olivero took," the count answered.

"Yes, yes," said the hunter; "we will talk about that scamp presently."

"To what fortunate accident may I attribute your presence here, Señor
Conde?"

"A wish to see you, caballero."

"Ah, ah!" the general said, with a piercing glance, "Has grace fallen
on you at last?--will you at length consent to join us? It would be a
great pleasure to us, Señor Conde."

"You are nearer the truth than you suppose, Señor Padre," the count
replied with a smile. "I am not on your side, as you pretend to
suppose; but, on the other hand, I am no longer opposed to you; I have
sent in my resignation, and, in one word, am neutral for the present."

"That is a bad position, Conde."

"Perhaps so, señor; but, for the present, I wish to keep it. Moreover,
to be frank, I will confess that I have come more especially to see Don
Aníbal."

"Me?" the hacendero exclaimed, as he stepped forward.

"Yes, my friend; but before I explain to you the cause of my coming,
allow Señor Don Olivero to report to your chief the way in which he
carried out the mission confided to him."

"Very good," the hacendero answered, as he fell back a step.

"Come, speak, Colonel," Father Sandoval said.

"Am I still a colonel?" the hunter asked.

"Hang it, as you are not dead, I see no reason why you should not be,
especially as I am extremely pleased with your lieutenant, Moonshine,
and your cuadrilla has done me eminent services."

"In that case, all is well," the hunter said joyfully, as he snapped
his fingers, and coquettishly twisted his light moustache.

After this outburst of joy, the hunter began his narrative, to which
the general listened with the deepest attention. When he came to the
carrying off the papers, Don Pelagio interrupted him.

"Have you those papers with you?" he asked eagerly.

"Here they are," the hunter answered, as he drew them from the pocket
into which he had stuffed them, and laid them on the table.

The general seized them, and going up to the candle, carefully perused
them.

"Oh!" he exclaimed, with a sudden outburst, "I was not mistaken; all
is really as I foresaw; now I have him, and he will not escape me.
Colonel, you performed your mission as a man of heart and intellect. I
shall remember it at the first opportunity. Now go on," he added, as he
carefully placed the papers in his bosom.

"Well," the hunter gaily remarked, "it seems that I made a better haul
than I supposed."

"You could not be more lucky."

"All the better then. What you say to me, General, causes me the
greater pleasure, because I shall probably have to ask a favour of you
ere long."

"It is granted beforehand, if it depends on me."

"On you absolutely, General; moreover, it is a service I wish to render
Don Aníbal de Saldibar, your friend."

"Render me?" the hacendero exclaimed, in surprise.

"Yes, you, señor."

The count laid a finger on his lip, to recommend silence to Don Aníbal.
The latter, surprised at his friend's gesture, was silent, as if
involuntarily; but he suffered from a secret anxiety caused by this
mystery, an explanation of which he racked his brains in vain to find.
The hunter continued his narrative.

"As I had the honour of telling you, General, we left the Hacienda del
Río in the morning. Our horses, fatigued by a long ride, only advanced
with difficulty, and we were ourselves exhausted by the heat; moreover,
it was already late, and the hour for the halt had arrived. At this
moment I noticed a cave close by, and proposed to the count that we
should rest in it, to which he assented. I entered this grotto, and
after exploring it thoroughly, made my comrades a sign to join me.
This cave, which was very large, formed several galleries. Forgive
me, General, for entering into these details, which may appear to you
prolix, but they are indispensable."

"Go on, Colonel; I am listening with the most lively interest," the
general answered, though in his heart he wished the Canadian at the
deuce.

"We consequently established ourselves as best we could, with our
horses, in one of the most retired galleries. My comrades and the
Señor Conde himself yielded to sleep, and I confess that I was about
to follow their example, when suddenly the sound of footsteps very
near the spot where we were cachéed, made me prick up my ears, and
drove away my sleep. I lay down on the ground, and crawled cautiously
in the direction of the noise I had heard. I was not mistaken; we were
no longer alone in the cavern; a man had entered it, and that man was
an Indian. I recognized this fact by his dress, for he had his back
turned to me. After placing on the ground a rather large bundle, this
Indian looked cautiously around him. I held my breath for fear of being
discovered, so greatly did this man puzzle me. At length, feeling
convinced that he was quite alone, and no one could see him, he took
all his clothes off, and darted out of the cavern like a startled deer.
I could not comprehend it at all, and was not far from taking the man
for a lunatic; but, when I saw him return, his paint had disappeared;
he had merely plunged into the river to wash himself. When he was dry,
he dressed himself again, but not in the same clothes, but in others he
took out of the bundle he had laid on the ground when he came in. But
then a singular thing occurred--my Indian of just now was metamorphosed
into a Mexican!"

"What?" the general and the hacendero exclaimed in surprise, "A
Mexican?"

"A Mexican," the hunter continued calmly; "and more extraordinary
still, this Mexican I recognized so well that I could not restrain a
cry of surprise. He heard me, and turned round with a start. Doubt was
no longer possible. This Indian was Señor Don Aníbal's majordomo."

"Sotavento!" the hacendero exclaimed.

"Ah, ah!" said the general, "Go on, my friend. What did you do then?"

"On my word, General, seeing that I was discovered, I bounded upon
him. I am free to confess that he did not seem at all anxious to be
taken, for he offered a desperate resistance; but, thank goodness, I
am tolerably strong, and in spite of all his efforts, I succeeded in
mastering him, and brought him here, because his conduct appeared to me
extremely suspicious, and the Señor Conde and myself wished to clear up
certain suspicions which had occurred to us with reference to him. That
is all I have to say to you, General."

The hunter ceased, apparently very pleased at having got so well
through so long and difficult a narrative.



CHAPTER XXXII.

THE PRISONER.


When the hunter finished his narrative a gloomy silence prevailed for
some minutes in the jacal. Outside the wind blew fiercely, and the
rain fell in torrents. The smoky flame of the candle, flickering in
the gusts, only spread an uncertain gleam over the pale faces of these
men, who felt their hearts contracted by a sinister presentiment. The
hacendero was the first to overcome the emotion he felt. With head
erect, frowning brows, and features contracted by a supreme resolution,
he walked rapidly up to the prisoner, and, pulling down roughly the
zarapé that covered the lower part of his face, he gazed at him for a
moment with an expression of grief and passion impossible to render.

"It is true, then," he at length muttered, in a dull voice, "this
man I believed so devoted to me is a traitor. I alone was blind when
everybody around me accused him. Speak, villain, what have you done?"

"It is my place to answer that question," the count said, as he walked
forward and laid his hand on Don Aníbal's arm.

The hacendero looked at him in amazement.

"You, Señor Conde?" he said.

"Yes, I, Don Aníbal. I, who have only come here to tell you a frightful
secret, and am compelled to bring a terrible accusation against this
man."

Don Aníbal felt as if his heart would break.

"Oh!" he exclaimed, "What are you going to tell me, great God?"

Don Pelagio, who had hitherto leant his elbow on the table, and
remained motionless and thoughtful, placed himself between the two
gentlemen, and looked at them, in turn, with an expression of sorrowful
compassion.

"Stay," he said, in a loud voice. "In the name of heaven--in the name
of our country--I command it! However terrible the revelation you
have to make, Señor Conde, may be; however great your impatience, Don
Aníbal, to know the full extent of your misfortunes, this is neither
the place nor the hour for such an explanation; honour bids you both
defer it for some hours. We must start immediately, for the hour has
arrived. If we delayed for a few moments the fruit of all our labour
and efforts would be lost. What do you apprehend? This man is in your
power, and will not escape. You will soon be able to inflict on him the
punishment which he doubtless deserves."

"Oh!" the hacendero exclaimed, sorrowfully, "Suppose this villain
escaped our vengeance, my friend; I feel a foreboding of some frightful
misfortune."

The count and the hunter looked down sadly. Father Sandoval gently
laid his hand on the shoulder of the hacendero, who had fallen into an
equipal, and buried his face in his hands.

"Courage, friend," he said to him, softly. "God is watching. His
justice never sleeps. Remember the precept written on the heart of
every man of honour, 'Do your duty, no matter what may happen.'"

The hacendero replied with a choking sob.

"You no longer belong to yourself," the priest continued, more warmly;
"your head and your arm are claimed by your country. Be a man, however
great the sorrow that awaits you; draw yourself up, and become strong
for the coming contest. Every man in the world has his cup which he
drains to the dregs. Go, my friend, go where duty calls you; tomorrow
you can think of yourself, but today belongs to your country."

The hacendero, overpowered by this manly appeal, rose mechanically,
pulled his hat over his eyes, and went off without uttering a word. The
priest looked after him, tenderly.

"Oh!" he muttered, "How that man of iron must suffer to be thus
crushed!"

Then he turned to the count.

"Señor Conde," he added, laughingly, "you are my prisoner for four and
twenty hours."

"I shall not leave you till the business for which I have come is
ended," the count replied with a polite bow.

"Hilloh, my worthy lad," the priest continued, addressing Diego López,
who throughout the interview had remained motionless in his corner,
with his eyes constantly fixed on the prisoner, "my provost marshal
will save you the trouble of guarding that man."

"That will be a great relief for me, Excellency."

"Good. Go and tell him to come here immediately. The prisoner is
securely bound, I presume?"

"Señor Clary himself made the knot, Excellency."

"In that case, my mind is at rest. Go."

"The more so, because I undertake to watch the villain in the
meanwhile," Oliver said, as he cocked a pistol.

"Good," Diego López remarked, and went out.

"Are your horses fit for a long ride, caballeros?"

"Well, hardly," the Canadian answered.

"Very well; you will choose among mine. Colonel Clary, your regiment,
which you will find complete, is on escort tonight."

"Are we going away?" the count asked.

"This very instant."

The Mexican general clapped his hands, and an officer came in.

"Order your men to mount noiselessly, Captain. Are the horses shod with
felt, as I ordered?"

"Yes, Excellency."

"Good; we shall start in ten minutes. You can go."

"Are we bound on an expedition?" the Canadian asked.

"Yes," the general replied, laconically.

"¡Caray!" the hunter exclaimed, as he rubbed his hands merrily, "That
is what I call being in luck's way, arriving just in time for an
expedition."

"Which will probably be serious," the general resumed.

"All the better; there will be something to gain in that case."

At this moment the provost marshal appeared at the door of the jacal,
accompanied by a dozen soldiers.

"Caballero," the general said to him, "I confide this prisoner to you,
for whom I hold you responsible. Do you understand?"

"Perfectly, General," the provost answered respectfully. "Come, my men,
seize the fellow."

The majordomo was led away by the soldiers. During the whole time
the Indian had remained in the jacal, he had been cold and stoical,
as if what was going on around him did not affect him in the least.
As he went out he gave a sarcastic glance at the company and smiled
contemptuously.

"I must watch that villain," the hunter said to himself, "he is surely
meditating some Indian devilry."

A noise of men and horses, followed by the clang of arms, informed the
general that his orders had been carried out.

"Let us be off, señores," he said.

They left the jacal. When the general and his escort had mounted,
Father Sandoval placed himself at the head of the column.

"Forward, caballeros," he said, in a loud, firm voice, "and may heaven
be gracious to us!"

The horsemen started a gallop, passing silently and rapidly through the
darkness, like the wild horseman in the German ballad. While they were
crossing the camp, one thing greatly surprised the hunter, though he
did not dare ask for an explanation. On all sides burnt bivouac fires,
sending myriads of sparks up into the air, but he could not notice a
single sentry. The most perfect silence reigned; men, horses, guns and
baggage had become invisible; the camp was or seemed to be entirely
deserted. The entrenchments were abandoned; no sentry shouted, "Who
goes there?" no vidette arrested the detachment. In a word, the entire
Mexican army seemed to have faded away in smoke.

The escort left the camp, and then the pace, already rapid, increased
in velocity. They proceeded toward the mountains which rose gloomy
and frowning on the horizon in the first gleams of daylight. A little
in the rear of the regiment of lancers, of which it formed as it were
a second rearguard, came a detachment of fifty soldiers. They were
the provost marshal's guard. In the midst of them was the majordomo,
fastened with a strap upon a horse behind its rider. Sotavento, or the
Stag, whichever the reader likes to call him, appeared to have lost
none of his assurance or courage; his face was calm, and his eyes alone
flashed at intervals, like those of a wild beast. On his right and left
two troopers, carbine on thigh, carefully watched him.

They galloped on thus for nearly three hours; the sky grew less gloomy,
and the outlines of the hills began to stand out upon the horizon. The
detachment halted for a short time, on reaching one of those countless
streams which intersect the desert, and which it was necessary to ford.
On the other bank could be seen the last squadrons of lancers, entering
at a gallop a canyon whose scarped and almost perpendicular sides
were only covered with a stunted and sparse vegetation. With his arms
fastened down on his chest, and his body attached by a strap, it seemed
an impossibility for Sotavento to escape; hence his guardians who, as
we said, did not let him out of sight, considered it unnecessary to tie
his legs under the horse's belly.

The majordomo, however, far from yielding to a despair unworthy of
him, seriously thought of escaping, and coolly calculated in his mind
all the chances of success left him. We must confess that they were
very small. Still, the Indian was determined to fly at all risks; he
knew very well that the grave suspicions would soon be converted into
a certainty, and that when this certainty was once acquired, his death
would immediately ensue. Death did not terrify the Indian; he had seen
it too often and under too many shapes to fear it; but, if he died,
what would become of his vengeance, which he had followed up for so
many years with feline patience, and which he was now on the point of
seeing satiated?

Hence, ever since the moment he was led into the jacal, all his
thoughts were directed to one object--flight. Crouched up like a tiger
on the watch, his eyes incessantly sounded the darkness, seeking the
opportunity which did not offer itself, and which he did not mean
to lose when it presented itself. This long expected opportunity he
believed had at length arrived, and he made all his preparations to
take advantage of it.

Although night was passing away and the first gleams of dawn were
already beginning to spread across the horizon large pearly bands,
which gradually assumed all the colours of the rainbow, the darkness
was still so great that it was difficult to make objects out
distinctly, even at a short distance. During the whole of the journey
Sotavento had remained gloomy and silent, with his head hanging over
his chest, and careful not to give the soldiers who watched him the
slightest pretext to redouble their vigilance; but for all that he was
not idle, and his pretended immobility had an incessant and obstinate
labour. The Indian was quietly nibbling with his teeth, which were as
sharp as those of a wild beast, the leathern straps which bound his
hands. When the detachment reached the riverbank the thongs were bitten
through, although his hands were still secured.

The provost, after sending a trooper to examine the ford, went across
with one half of his men. Excepting at the spot where the soldiers
traversed the stream, the banks were scarped and abrupt, and consisted
of rocks piled irregularly on each other, and rising to a considerable
height above the water. The order was given to bring the prisoner
across, and the soldier, behind whom he was fastened, trotted up to the
riverbank. The ford was too narrow for three riders to pass abreast,
and hence only one of the guards accompanied the prisoner. The latter
prepared for action. He understood that, if he did not profit by the
opportunity chance now afforded him, he would not find another.

The horses entered the river, and were soon up to their girths in
water. The soldier behind whom Sotavento was fastened, had quite enough
to do in keeping his horse in the line of the ford, and, at the same
time, raising his weapons, so that they should not be wetted; hence he
paid but slight attention to his prisoner. All at once, at the moment
he reached the middle of the stream, the soldier received a terrible
shock, and was unsaddled and hurled into the river before he had
time even to utter a cry. Sotavento had boldly leapt into the water,
dragging the trooper after him. A terrible struggle went on for a few
seconds between the two men; but the soldier, feeling himself lost,
and clinging eagerly to life, undid the strap that attached him to the
prisoner, and rose to the surface in order to breathe.

"Look out! Look out!" the other trooper exclaimed as he halted; "The
prisoner is escaping."

This shout produced disorder among the party, who at once galloped
in all directions with their eyes fixed on the stream in the hope of
pursuing the prisoner. But then a terrible thing occurred. The soldier
who had been the first to give the alarm, felt himself suddenly dragged
off his horse into the water, struggling vainly in the furious clutch
of the majordomo, who had seized him by the throat and was pitilessly
strangling him. With the rapidity of a wild beast, the Indian seized
the knife which the soldier wore in his boot, brandished it over his
enemy's head and scalped him; then, casting the dying man from him, he
bestrode his horse, waved the scalp with a triumphant cry, and making
the animal quit the ford, in which the couple had struggled up to their
waist in water, he went down the current amid a shower of bullets which
dashed up the spray all around him.

The horse, held by a firm hand, swam vigorously down with the current,
still keeping to the centre of the stream. On both banks horsemen were
galloping, shouting to each other, and trying in vain to approach the
river, which was defended by impassable masses of rock. Still, if
the scarped banks offered an obstacle to his pursuers, they equally
prevented the majordomo from reaching land. His horse was beginning to
pant, its strength was nearly exhausted, and it swam feebly. The Indian
looked round him anxiously, caring little for the soldiers, but seeing
with terror that the further he went the more difficult it became to
land on either side.

In spite of the provost's repeated orders, the soldiers, despairing to
catch up the fugitive, and perceiving the futility of their efforts,
gave up the pursuit. The Indian was consequently alone; still, in
spite of the certainty of having thrown out his foes, he feared that
he had but changed his manner of death. At the moment when his horse
was beginning to sink and beat the water with its forelegs, the chief
uttered a shout of joy. In the very centre of the river was an islet
easy of approach, and not more than sixty yards from him.

The Indian did not hesitate; removing his horse's bit, which was
troublesome to it, he dived and swam vigorously toward the islet.
The animal, freed from its rider's weight, seemed to regain its old
strength, and, impelled by instinct, also proceeded in the same
direction. A quarter of an hour after, man and horse walked together up
the sandy bank of the island. They were saved!



CHAPTER XXXIII.

MOONSHINE.


It was about four in the morning; the night storm had completely swept
the sky, which was of a deep azure; day would speedily appear. General
Cárdenas, leaning sadly over the battlements of the town wall, was
reflecting, while his eye wandered over the plain and the camp of the
Mexicans, whose bivouac fires were beginning to die out. A little
distance behind him, aides-de-camp and orderly officers carelessly
leaning on their sabres were waiting with ill-disguised impatience till
their chief thought proper to leave the ramparts and return to the
cabildo.

The general, we said, was reflecting. His thoughts were sad and gloomy.
Provisions and ammunition, squandered by the officers ordered to serve
them out, were running short; the garrison, tired of being shut up
within the walls, were beginning to mutter, and would ere long complain
loudly. Coahuila had been so completely invested by the Mexican army
that, from the day the siege began, no one had been able to enter or
leave the town. The general, consequently, was as much deprived of news
as if he were five hundred leagues away from Mexico. The soldiers,
accustomed since the beginning of the insurrection to live at the
expense of the country people, plunder, and ill-treat them, did not
like the confined diet to which they were constrained. Unpleasant
rumours circulated among them, although it was impossible to trace them
to their source. The officers themselves were discouraged, and desired
the end of this state of things, which every day that passed rendered
worse. The general, therefore, saw with terror the moment at hand when
all would fail him at once, and he would be forced to throw himself on
the mercy of enemies whom he had supposed so contemptible, and whom
he had taken a delight in exasperating by unlooked-for and objectless
cruelty. Hurled thus from his high estate into a bottomless abyss, the
general was suffering from one of those cold and concentrated attacks
of fury which are the more terrible because they can find no outlet.

All at once the general fancied he could distinguished the shadowy
outline of a man, who was approaching the ramparts with the utmost
caution. Still this man appeared to care very little about being seen
from the town, and only tried to conceal himself from the sentries, who
might have noticed him in the camp. Some considerable time elapsed ere
this man, who advanced looking back anxiously every moment, arrived
within pistol shot of the ramparts. The general rose, and, making an
officer a sign to approach, whispered a few words in his ear. The
officer went off, and the general returned to his post of observation.

The stranger still advanced, apparently growing bolder the nearer he
drew to the ramparts. All at once several men dashed out of a postern
gate, and ere the stranger had time to attempt a useless resistance, he
was thrown down, bound, and carried into the town by the men who had so
cleverly seized him. Still, we are bound to mention that the soldiers
experienced no difficulty in dragging their prisoner along; on the
contrary, he affected to follow them with the most perfect readiness.
The general, while waiting for the prisoner, walked up and down the
ramparts; when he was brought up to him, he looked at him for a moment
in silence. The stranger was a young man, with an intelligent and
sarcastic face, tall and powerfully built.

"Who are you, scamp?" the general asked him roughly, "And how is it
that you dare to prowl so near the walls of a besieged town?"

"Hang it all," the stranger replied, in excellent Spanish, though with
a marked foreign accent, "I was not prowling round the walls."

"What were you doing, then?"

"I was merely trying to get into the town."

"This is an impudent scoundrel," the general said to himself, "but at
least he is frank. And, why, pray, did you want to enter Coahuila?"

"If you do not mind, General, giving orders that I should be freed from
these cords, which annoy me, I shall answer you with greater ease."

"Very good; but I warn you that, at the slightest suspicious movement,
I shall have your brains blown out."

"That is your business, General," the stranger replied carelessly.

At a signal from the general the stranger was unfastened; he gave a
sigh of relief on feeling himself at liberty.

"There," he said, "now a man can talk."

"Are you disposed to answer me?"

"Ask me a question."

"What is your name?"

"Moonshine."

"A capital name for a night bird."

"It is mine."

"What are you?"

"Canadian, and wood ranger; but, look ye, General, if we go on this way
we shall never come to an end. I prefer coming straight to facts. I
have come to offer you a bargain."

"What is it?"

"Oh, oh, General, do not go on too fast; in the first place how much
will you give me?"

"Why in the first place I must know--"

"The amount, that is true; well, I will tell you,--four hundred
ounces."[1]

"What! Four hundred ounces!" the general exclaimed, "You seem to me to
be an amusing scoundrel; but take care I do not hang you, in order to
teach you not to play the mountebank with me."

"That is the reward for doing people a service," the Canadian said with
a philosophic shrug of his shoulders.

"But, animal," the general continued impatiently, "what service are you
doing me?"

"An immense one, General."

"Come, explain yourself."

"I am most anxious to do so, but you will not let me speak."

The general had a knowledge, or fancied he had, of his fellow men; he
remembered his interview with Oliver, and understood that if this man,
knowing his reputation, ventured to speak in this way to him, he must
have very powerful incentives, and feel very sure of impunity; besides,
his own serious position made it a bounden duty for him to obtain
information by all possible means. He therefore restrained himself,
resolved if the Canadian was really laughing at him to have him hung at
once.

"Well, speak, and the plague smother you!" he said to him.

"In that case, General, the matter is this. But pledge me first your
word of honour that if what I am going to tell you is really as
important to you as I fancy, you will at once pay me the sum I ask."

"Very good; but if you deceive me you will be hung or shot--the choice
being left you."

"Very good; it is a bargain. Where is the money?"

"Do you suppose that I carry four hundred ounces about me?"

"Hang it, what is to be done?" the Canadian said, scratching his head.

"Stay," the general said, as he showed him two diamond rings, "these
are worth nearly double the sum you ask. Are you satisfied?"

"On your word, now? Well, I will risk it. Well, listen. This night I
had sheltered myself as well as I could about three or four leagues
from here, for the purpose of camping. Unfortunately for me, the storm
came on, and compelled me to seek a safer shelter."

"Cut it short."

"I will, General. The night was so dark that, not knowing the country,
I lost my way, and got into the very centre of the Mexican camp."

"Ah, ah! And I suppose they gave you a warm reception?"

"They gave me no reception at all, General."

"What? Did they turn you out?"

"Who turn me out?"

"Hang it, how do I know? The sentries, perhaps."

"Why, General, that is the very point; the camp is deserted; the
Mexican army has disappeared."

The general gave a bound of surprise.

"Are you mocking me, scoundrel?" he shouted violently; "Are you aware
whom you are speaking to when you come to tell me such falsehoods?"

"Hang it, General, it is easy to assure yourself whether I speak the
truth, by going to see. However, it appears that the Mexicans were in a
hurry to be off, for they left behind them cannon, forage--everything,
in a word."

"That is strange," the general muttered, as he fixed on the Canadian
a glance that seemed trying to read his very heart's secrets, which
the hunter sustained without evincing the slightest confusion, "that
is strange," he repeated; "and do you not know the cause of this
precipitate departure?"

"How should I know it? I am a stranger. Perhaps, though--but no, they
cannot know it yet, as I expected to obtain a good reception from them
by telling them of it."

The hunter spoke with such simple frankness, his face displayed such
candour, that the general had not for a moment a thought of suspecting
him; on the contrary, he listened to him with the most earnest
attention.

"What more?" he asked eagerly.

"What, do you not know it?"

"It seems not."

"And yet it has caused a regular disturbance. It is reported that
General Iturbide has been surprised by the Viceroy's troops and taken
prisoner, after an obstinate resistance, so that the insurrection is
once again subdued."

At this moment an officer, who had gone off with several others to
obtain information about the Canadian's statement, ran up breathless.

"General," he said, "what this man has told you is true; the Mexican
army has abandoned its camp with such haste that hardly anything has
been removed."

"Then," said the hunter, "I have earned my money, General?"

"Yes," he answered, as he handed the Canadian the rings, which he
carefully placed in his bosom. "But," he added, as he looked at him
fixedly, and laid a stress on every word, "as you might, after all,
be a traitor and clever spy, you will remain here till we obtain more
thorough information. You appear to me to be much sharper than you
pretend, and your head shall answer for your sincerity."

"I shall be very glad to remain here," the hunter replied carelessly;
"here or elsewhere makes little difference to me. Still I do not quite
understand how I can be a traitor, since you recognize the truth of
what I have told you."

Moonshine allowed himself to be led away without the slightest emotion,
and the general mounted his horse, in order to assure himself of the
certainty of the facts announced to him. The camp was most thoroughly
deserted, not a man or horse remained in it. Everything testified
to the precipitation with which the Mexicans had retired. They had
attempted to carry off a few guns and baggage waggons; but, doubtless
discouraged by the difficulties they had to overcome, and probably
demoralized by some crushing news, they had left guns and train
scattered in all directions. Tumbrils filled with ammunition, arms,
stores, even provisions, were thrown about in disorder, as if they had
at first intended to remove them, but, pressed by time, had been forced
to leave them behind.

The road followed by the Mexican army was perfectly visible, not only
by the deep marks on the saturated ground, but also by the utensils of
every description, uniforms, and arms scattered on the road. It was no
longer a retreat, but a flight. The general tried in vain to seek the
clue to this insoluble enigma. The chief of the Mexican army could not
have had the idea of laying a trap for him. Everything contradicted
this supposition; it was not admissible that an experienced soldier,
for the purpose of deceiving his enemy, would consent to abandon to him
his guns, ammunition, and even provisions; such a trick would have been
most clumsy, since it would provide the Spaniards with all they wanted,
as the Mexicans must be perfectly aware.

It was more simple to believe that what the hunter said was true; that
General Iturbide has been defeated and made a prisoner by the Spanish
troops, and that the Mexicans, terrified by this disastrous news, had
been assailed by a panic and disbanded, seeking their safety in flight,
as had happened several times already during the course of the war.
Still, the general in chief, as a prudent and experienced man, would
not risk anything till he had heard the opinions of his officers. After
giving the requisite orders for a guard to be placed in the camp, he
galloped back to the town and summoned a council of war. Moonshine was
summoned before the council, and was heard again. The hunter repeated,
without the variation of a syllable, what he had already told the
general.

This deposition produced a marked effect on the members of the council.
Each was of opinion that they must at once start in pursuit of the
fugitives, in order not to allow them time to recover from their terror
and reassemble. This was the general's opinion too; still, under
circumstances of such gravity, he had desired to avoid responsibility,
and appear constrained to yield to the wishes of his officers. As
generally happens in such cases, the Spaniards passed from a state of
the utmost dejection to the greatest braggadocio. The Mexicans, who
had so long caused them to tremble, were only scoundrels, unworthy to
contend with brave men, and they could be brought to order with the
flat of the sabre.

The general, considering it useless to leave a strong garrison in the
town, as the enemy had retired, and not wishing, in the case of the
Mexicans making a stand, to advance without an imposing force, ordered
two regiments of cavalry to mount, each trooper having an infantry
man on his crupper, and took two field guns with him. This small army
amounted to about five thousand men, more than sufficient to pursue and
destroy demoralized bands, who would probably attempt no defence and be
easily cut up. When all was ready for the start, General Cárdenas gave
orders to bring up the Canadian, who had first brought him the happy
news of the enemy's flight. The latter arrived, accompanied by the
officer to whom he had been given in charge. The general smiled on the
hunter.

"Listen to me," he said to him, "you appear a man of sense. You will
come with us."

"What to do, General?" the hunter answered coldly; "I suppose you do
not want me anymore?"

"I should like to have you near me."

"In order to blow out my brains, if you think proper to do so, eh?"

"That is possible; but come, notwithstanding."

"That would not be fair, General; I have honestly kept to my bargain.
It is not my fault if, instead of quietly remaining here, you think
proper to roam about the country at the risk of something happening."

"Then your advice would be that I should remain here?" the general said
to him, with a searching glance.

"I have no advice to give you, General; I am neither a soldier nor an
officer, and your affairs do not concern me. I tell you my opinion,
that is all."

"But you are a wood ranger?" he continued, after a moment's reflection.

"Yes, General, and nothing else."

"In that case, you will make a famous scout."

"You want to make a second bargain with me, I think."

"Perhaps so. Do you refuse?"

"I am not at liberty either to accept or decline. You have the power on
your side, and I am forced to obey."

"I like to hear you talk in that way. Perhaps you can find the enemy
for me?"

The hunter detected the snare.

"Hang it!" he said simply, "As a wood ranger I can easily follow a
trail. Put me on the traces of the Mexicans, and if they have not run
to earth like prairie dogs, or flown away like eagles, there are heavy
odds in favour of my bringing you up with them."

The general reflected.

"Listen to me," he said directly after, "I trust to you. If you serve
me faithfully, you shall be nobly rewarded; if you deceive me, you will
die."

"I do not understand you; I will try to bring you up with the people
you are looking for; but I cannot pledge myself to more, as the rest
concerns you."

"That is all I ask."

"On those conditions I am your man."

"Come along, then," the general continued; "but," he added, looking
fixedly at him, "remember that you risk your head; at the slightest
suspicion I will have you strung up without the least hesitation."

The Canadian merely shrugged his shoulders in answer to this threat,
smiled craftily, mounted a horse that was brought him, coolly placed
himself on the general's right hand, and at the word of command the
small corps left the town in good order. So soon as it reached the
plain, it proceeded towards the Mexican camp, curiously watched by all
the inhabitants of Coahuila, who had flocked to the ramparts to witness
the departure of the Spaniards, and who, in all probability, formed
internal vows never to see them again.


[1] About £1600 of our currency.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

THE TEOCALI.


Sotavento was completely exhausted by the efforts he had been compelled
to make in reaching the islet on which he had so luckily found a
refuge. For nearly an hour he lay with his eyes closed and in a half
fainting state. When his strength had gradually returned, when his
blood began to circulate more freely and his ideas regained their
equilibrium, he thought of the horse, which, in his present situation,
became the more precious to him, as the animal alone could save him.

The poor brute had halted a few paces from its master with hanging
head and piteous look. The Indian rose, picked up a pebble, went to
the horse coaxingly, and began vigorously rubbing all parts of its
body, after which operation he dried it with a wisp of grass. The
horse perceiving the comfort this produced, whinnied with pleasure
as it rubbed its intelligent head against the Indian's shoulder, and
then began eagerly browsing the grass which grew profusely in this
sequestered spot.

"Come," Sotavento muttered with visible satisfaction, "this poor brute
has had a luckier escape than I expected; it has bottom, and will be
all right after a few hours' rest."

Certain of finding his steed again when he wanted it, he let it browse
in peace, and went off to examine the islet and find out the exact
nature of his position, whether good or bad. He could not think of
eating, for he was utterly without provisions, but that troubled him
very slightly. The Indians, like all nomadic races, are accustomed to
endure without complaint, and almost without noticing them, privations
which would render a European desperate and incapable of getting out of
the scrape. The only weapon the Stag possessed was the knife he took
from the soldier whom he had scalped; and hence he must display the
greatest prudence, and carefully avoid a meeting with either men or
wild beasts.

The islet on which he found himself was rather large and completely
covered with wood. The Indian walked its entire length; but on reaching
the end he uttered a cry of disappointment, for he noticed a _portage_,
that is to say, a line of rocks crossed the whole width of the river,
and formed an impassable crest of breakers; hence he could not dream
of gaining the mainland on that side. Had he been alone he would
have probably tried, and by his skill and strength have succeeded in
reaching land by leaping from one rock to another; but he would not
abandon his horse.

On the American savannahs a man unarmed and without a horse is
hopelessly lost. Sotavento was aware of this, hence the thought did
not occur to him of going away alone. He had crossed the whole length
of the isle, and now resolved to go round it. It was a rough job to
be undertaken by a man who had not taken any food for twenty-four
hours, and whose strength was exhausted by long moral and physical
fatigue; still his salvation depended on his resolution, and he did not
hesitate. His search was protracted, and for a lengthy period sterile;
he walked slowly along the sand with his eyes fixed on the opposite
bank, seeking, without desponding, a spot where his horse could stand
and climb the scarp with no excessive difficulty. At last he noticed
at about the centre of the isle a place where the water was much
clearer than elsewhere; it was a shallow ford, for the sand forming the
riverbed was visible. He boldly entered the water and walked forward;
he was not mistaken; he had really found a wide ford whose depth did
not exceed two feet.

This discovery was most lucky; but this was not enough; he must assure
himself whether the slope of the opposite bank was not too steep for
his horse's hoofs. The Indian continued his march and crossed the
river. Then he saw what he had been unable to discover from the isle--a
mass of rock projected some distance into the stream and formed an
elbow, behind which opened a species of haven, ascending to the top of
the cliff by an almost insensible incline. The deeply formed marks in
the sand indicated that this was a watering place to which wild beasts
proceeded to drink at night. People say that a slice of luck never
comes alone; Sotavento had a proof of this on the present occasion,
for the ford and road were on the side of the stream to which he would
have to cross in order to join his tribe. Henceforth at his ease, and
certain of rejoining his friends, the Stag returned to the isle.

The sun had risen a long time, and the heat was beginning to grow
intolerable. The Indian, who was in no hurry, resolved to let the great
heat pass and not start till toward evening; moreover, the violent
exercise he had taken in seeking a passage had greatly fatigued him,
and he needed rest. When he rubbed down his horse, he had unbuckled
the girths and removed the saddle, which he threw on the grass without
looking at it. On his return, at the moment when he sought a convenient
spot for sleeping, his eyes fell accidentally on this saddle, and he
noticed an _alforja_, or a species of double canvas pocket, which every
Mexican carries with him when travelling, which he had not observed,
for the simple reason that these bags, fastened behind the saddle, were
concealed by a blanket and sheepskin, which almost entirely covered
them.

The poor soldier whom the Indian had killed carried in these alforjas
all his wretched property, flint and steel, and tobacco, precious
things for the fugitive; but what caused him greater pleasure still,
there was nearly a yard of _tasajo_, meat dried in the sun, as well as
a dozen biscuits, and a large lump of goat's cheese. All this was wet
though, it is true; but what did the Indian care for this, when he was
half dead of hunger.

Instead of sleeping, as he had originally intended, Sotavento spread
out all the provisions on the ground to let them dry in the sun, which
was effected in less than ten minutes, collected dry leaves, lit a
fire, roasted his tasajo, and began eating as Indians eat when they
have long gone without food, that is to say, with no thought of the
morrow. He devoured all his provisions at one meal; then, his hunger
appeased, he filled his pipe, and began smoking with the beatitude and
satisfaction of a man whose life has hung by a thread, and who has only
been saved by a miracle.

Sotavento thus spent the greater part of the day in a gentle _far
niente_, smoking, sleeping, and ruminating plans of vengeance, for he
constantly thought of the two hapless prisoners he had left at the
teocali, whom he was most anxious to rejoin now that he had escaped
such imminent danger. When the sun began to elongate enormously the
shadows of the trees, and its oblique beams had lost nearly all their
heat, the Indian considered it time to start; horse and rider, well
fed and rested, were in a condition to ride a long distance. Sotavento
got up, saddled his horse, and leading it by the bridle to save it
unnecessary fatigue, waded through the ford; when he reached the other
bank, he took a parting glance of gratitude at this isle, which had
offered him such pleasant shelter. Then he mounted, and whispering to
his horse the word "Santiago," he set out, as if borne on the wings of
the wind, in the direction of the desert.

It was not till nine o'clock of the next evening that he reached the
ford of the Río del Norte. He crossed, let his horse breathe for a
while, and henceforth certain that the enemy could not catch him up,
he continued his desperate ride across the savannah. Still, in spite
of his diligence, the Indian did not reach the teocali until the third
evening after his flight. During his absence the number of his comrades
had greatly increased. The messenger he had sent to the village after
the capture of Doña Emilia had returned, bringing with him all the male
and female members of the tribe whom pressing business did not detain
at the atepetl. The Indians were curious to witness the punishment of
the prisoners. With them it was an act of justice they were about to
perform, for the vengeance they had pursued for so many years was on
the point of being consummated.

Sotavento's first care, on reaching the teocali, was to inquire after
his prisoners; they were still calm and resigned. The chief, in his
heart, was vexed at seeing so many warriors assembled; he, however,
concealed his dissatisfaction, and, on the contrary, feigned great joy,
intending, if circumstances demanded it, to act vigorously; but wishing
temporarily to remain neutral, lest he should arouse the suspicious
susceptibility of his comrades, and make them distrustful about the
plans he was meditating. The Stag knew that, in case of necessity, he
could claim the support and assistance of the young warriors of the
tribe, and that he would only have to contend with the old sachems, in
whose hearts no feeling but that of revenge any longer existed.

The council of the chiefs was assembled at the moment when he arrived,
and he at once proceeded to it. The sachems received him with great
marks of distinction, and congratulated him on the fortunate result
of his expedition; then they informed him of the measures decided on
with respect to the prisoners. These were simple and terrible; the
two ladies would be fastened to the stake on the next day, tortured
for four hours, and then flayed alive and burnt. The Stag did not
wince, he listened to these fearful details without manifesting the
slightest emotion; but when the president of the council, who was no
other than his father, had imparted to him these resolutions, he asked
leave to speak, which was granted him. Then, in an artful harangue,
perfectly suited to the intellect of the men who surrounded him, the
chief adroitly went over, all the services he had rendered the tribe;
the long exile to which he had been condemned in order to insure the
success of his plans; the countless difficulties he had had to overcome
not to arouse the suspicion of those whom he was betraying; what
trouble and care he had been obliged to take in at length securing
the captives. He insinuated that no reward had been offered him,
although he had a right to claim one; that, according to the Indian
fashion, women become the property of those who carry them off; that,
consequently, the prisoners belonged to him, and that he alone had
the right to decide their fate; but that, if he claimed this right at
the moment, it was not for the sake of thwarting the decision of the
council, but, on the contrary, to ensure the general vengeance, and
render it more exemplary.

The chiefs, who at first listened to this address with marked
dissatisfaction, applauded the unexpected finale, and urged the Stag
to explain himself. The latter, inwardly satisfied with the effect his
remarks produced, only allowed himself to be pressed just long enough
to excite the general curiosity more.

"What good is it torturing these two squaws in such a way? Is that the
manner in which you would take your revenge? It would be ridiculous,
and last but a few hours; and I propose something better. These women
are white, rich, and accustomed to all the refinements of luxury which
civilization procures; deprive them of all this, not by killing them,
but by letting them live in a condition a thousandfold worse than
death. However cruel the palefaces may be, they love their children as
we love ours. This woman, whom the people of her own colour call Doña
Emilia, whom we call the Queen of the Savannah, on account of all the
wrongs she has dealt to us, adores her daughter. Order this girl to
marry a chief of the tribe, and force her mother to consent to this
union. Once the wife of a chief, this haughty Spaniard will suffer
tortures a hundred times more terrible than those she would endure if
fastened to the stake. The mother, witness of her daughter's suffering
and unable to calm or mitigate it, will suffer unusual and incessant
grief, which will be the more cruel as she can have no hope. Do you not
think that such vengeance is preferable to what you proposed?"

The chiefs applauded enthusiastically; Running Water alone shook his
head dubiously.

"That race is intractable," he said, "and nothing can tame it; these
women will not consent, they will not accept a proposition which must
appear to them dishonouring; they will prefer death."

"In that case they shall die!" the Stag shouted, with a ferocious
accent.

Running Water rose.

"Yes," he said, "my son the Stag has spoken well; these palefaces,
these Spaniards, whom the genius of evil sent in his wrath upon our
land, hunt us like wild beasts; I myself, a few days ago, only escaped
from their clutches through the protection of the Wacondah! Let the
mother die, while the daughter becomes the squaw of the man who
captured her; in that way our vengeance will be complete."

"Let it be so," White Crow remarked. "The Stag will communicate to the
prisoners the decision of the council."

"I will do so," the chief said. "Give orders to prepare everything for
the torture, for, I repeat, they shall die tomorrow if they meet me
with a refusal."

The council broke up; the chiefs retired to the tents erected for
them by their squaws, and soon fell asleep. The majordomo alone did
not think of rest; he proceeded at a rapid pace to the spot where the
prisoners were. On reaching the wickerwork which formed the door, the
Indian hesitated for a moment, but, surmounting the emotion which
contracted his brow, he violently opened the door, and walked in. The
two ladies were sadly seated by a smouldering fire, with their heads
bowed on their chests; at the noise produced by the chief's entrance,
they quickly raised their heads, stifling a cry of surprise and terror.
The Indian looked at them for a moment with an undefinable expression.

"I frighten you," he said, in a low guttural voice, as he smiled.

"No," Doña Emilia answered, "your presence does not terrify us, it
merely excites disgust."

The chief frowned angrily, but checked himself.

"It is dangerous," he said, "to rouse the lion when you are in his
power."

"The lion?" she continued, disdainfully; "You mean the coyote. The lion
is brave, his character is noble, and he only attacks enemies worthy of
his fury."

"Very good, I am a coyote," he continued with perfect calmness,
"insult is permissible to persons who are about to die."

"Die?" Doña Diana exclaimed, with an outburst of joy that confounded
the Indian. "Oh, thanks, señor; this is the first time you have brought
me good news. When are we to die?"

"Tomorrow," he replied, in a hollow voice. There was a mournful
silence, and then the majordomo continued--

"You seem very weary of life?"

"Yes, of such a life as you have made it; I prefer death to remaining
longer exposed to the sufferings of every description to which I have
been subjected during my captivity."

"You can both live if you like," he said significantly. They shook
their heads in denial, but said nothing.

"At liberty," he continued.

"At liberty?" the young lady repeated, her eyes suddenly lighting up
with a flash of hope.

Doña Emilia gently laid her hand on her shoulder, and addressed the
chief--

"Come," she said, "explain yourself frankly; your words must conceal
some terrible trap; on what condition are we to live and be free? We
must be told these conditions in order to know whether we are able to
accept them."

"Can life be bargained for in this way?"

"Yes, where life is to be purchased with dishonour."

"Tomorrow you will be fastened to the stake, and tortured for four
hours without respite or mercy."

"What next?" Doña Emilia asked haughtily.

"After that," he continued with an ill-omened smile, "you will be
flayed alive, and burnt while still quivering."

While uttering these cruel words, the chief fixed a viper glance on his
captives. Doña Emilia shrugged her shoulders contemptuously.

"I am waiting for you to tell us the conditions on which you will
allow us to live," she went on with a bitter smile. "They must be very
horrible, since you, whom nothing checks, hesitate in revealing them to
us."

"You know the condition already," he said slowly.

"Repeat it, I have forgotten it," Doña Emilia remarked.

The chief made an effort over himself, and said in a choking voice--

"That your daughter consents to become my wife."

Doña Emilia broke into a loud harsh laugh, and looked at her daughter.
The latter drew herself up proudly, walked toward the chief, who was
apparently calm, although a terrible tempest raged in his breast and
fixed on him a glance of sovereign contempt.

"Invent the most atrocious tortures," she said to him, "I prefer death
to such fearful degradation."

"Well said, my child!" Doña Emilia exclaimed, as she passionately
pressed her to her heart.

The chief stamped his foot passionately; he gave the two ladies a
glance of implacable hatred and went away, after saying one word of
frightful meaning, "Tomorrow." So soon as the ladies were alone, they
joined hands, knelt and prayed fervently to Him who alone had the power
to save them.



CHAPTER XXXV.

IN THE FIELD.


The duty confided to Moonshine by General Cárdenas was not difficult to
carry out. The track of the Mexicans was clearly marked on the ground,
and the hunter suspected that the bargain the general had proposed
to him was merely a pretext, and that in reality he wished to keep
him by his side, in order to punish him if he had laid a trap for the
Spaniards. Still the couple continued to gallop side by side, talking
pleasantly and apparently well satisfied with each other. The day was
splendid, the sky blue, and the sun dazzling; the leaves, washed by the
rain, were greener and dew laden; the night storm had refreshed the
atmosphere, and the hot sunbeams incessantly drawing out the moisture,
made the earth smoke like the mouth of a crater; the birds twittered
beneath the foliage, the squirrels leapt from branch to branch, and at
times elks and antelopes, awakened by the sound of the horses, rose
amid the lofty grass, looked around them timidly, and then bounded off
in all directions. Men and horses unconsciously underwent the influence
of the scene; they eagerly inhaled the air impregnated with the sharp
scent of flowers and plants, and felt happy at living.

"On my honour," said the general, "give me the country. It is pleasant
to breathe the fresh air, when you have been confined within stone
walls for several days."

"Yes, you are right, General," the Canadian answered, joyously; "life
is splendid in the desert; existence in town is ridiculous. Men were
great asses for inventing them, and restricting their horizon,
when they had space and liberty before them. Deuce take towns. The
handsomest house is not worth the blade of grass that shelters the
grasshopper we can hear singing so merrily."

"You seem to love the desert, Señor Moonshine?"

"I, General? Why I was born in it. My father was in the service of the
Hudson's Bay Company as trapper. My mother brought me into the world
on the shore of one of our magnificent Canadian lakes. My eyes first
opened beneath the majestic verdant arcades of a virgin forest. The
first horizon I gazed at was surrounded by chains of mountains whose
haughty crest no human foot has yet trodden. Oh! General, how glorious
it is to live in the desert without ties of any sort, to feel your
heart beat freely in your bosom, to aspire through every pore the
fragrant exhalations of the savannah. Alone with your horse, with no
regrets for the past or care for the future, you feel that you live,
and you unconsciously become a better man, because you are nearer to
GOD whose sublime book ever lies open before you. Such an existence
is the only true one, the only possible for a stout-hearted man; the
other is only a continual slavery, an incessant restraint which withers
ideas, dulls the intellect, and converts man such as GOD created him
into a badly organized machine, a quarrelsome and wicked creature, who
goes to his grave pale, sickly, and discontented."

"By Jove! That is what I call enthusiasm, my boy," the general said,
laughing. "Unfortunately, all this is only good in theory. What would
become of civilization if everybody followed your example?"

"Oh, yes," the hunter exclaimed, with a disdainful smile, "that's the
great word, 'civilization'--that is to say, slavery; brutalization of
the masses for the advantage of ambitious and insatiable minorities;
an association of bandits decorated with pompous titles and sounding
names, among whom strength represents the law, and who answer
arguments by gaols, prisons, and bullets; where everything is paid
for, life as well as death, and even the very vitiated atmosphere,
breathed in muddy, narrow streets, and low, stifling houses. Deuce
take civilization and the rogues who invented it for their own profit!
Civilization is the plague and cause of all the diseases that afflict
humanity. I'll have none of it."

The general listened to the hunter with increasing surprise. The
nervous blunt language involuntarily seduced him. It was the first time
he found himself in the presence of one of those wood rangers who,
impatient of control, have resolutely broken with the life of society.
He could not understand this strange nature, so contrary to those he
had hitherto elbowed in life.

While conversing thus the general and the Canadian reached the ford
where Sotavento had escaped that morning. The column halted for a
moment; for about two leagues on the other side of the river ran a
chain of lofty, wooded mountains, while an enormous barranca yawned
in the centre of this range, and formed a narrow defile--the only
place by which the Spanish troops could pass to continue their march.
The general examined with growing anxiety the gloomy landscape spread
out before him. All around was silent and desolate. In vain did the
general survey the plain through his telescope; he could see nothing
but trees growing very close together, through which it seemed almost
impossible to force a passage. The canyon or barranca began just
opposite the ford, and there was no doubt but that the Mexican army
had followed this, the sole practicable road, for the traces of its
passage were deeply marked in the ground. The general frowned, and
looked suspiciously at the hunter; the latter, who had fallen behind to
tighten his girths, went up to him.

"I understand--" he said to him.

"What do you understand?"

"Why, that you suspect me, General."

"And suppose I did, what then?"

"You would be wrong."

"Why so?"

"For a hundred reasons."

"Tell me one of them."

"For what purpose should I have led you into a trap?"

"To betray me, ¡viva Cristo! If, as I suppose, you belong to the
Mexican army."

"I do belong to that army," the hunter replied coolly; "but what does
that prove?"

"What it proves?" the general exclaimed furiously, "That you are a spy,
and that I shall have you shot."

"That is not answering, General, but knocking a man down."

"Be it so; recommend your soul to God."

"A man like myself is ever ready to appear before Him. Could you say
the same?"

The general stamped his foot furiously.

"But give me a reason, at least," he said.

"I did give you one; but you would not accept it."

"Seek another."

"Well, if you wish to argue the matter, I am quite agreeable," the
hunter, who still quiet, calm, and straightforward, continued.

"What has occurred between us? I informed you that the Mexicans had
abandoned their camp, leaving their train behind. Was that false? No;
it was true, and I told you nothing else. You resolved to set out in
pursuit of the insurgents, and instead of urging you on to do so, I
recommended you to remain at Coahuila. Is that like a traitor? I do
not think so. You insisted on my following you, and I obeyed. My part
was entirely restricted to that, I think you will allow, General? Now
that you find yourself in front of a defile in which you are afraid of
being attacked, you turn upon me. Is that fair? I fancy that if you
are really afraid of falling into an ambuscade, there is one very easy
thing to do."

"What is it?"

"Why, turn back and reach Coahuila again as quickly as possible; if
the Mexicans wished to lay a trap for you, they will be caught in it
themselves, as they leave their guns and ammunition in your hands."

The general reflected.

"What would you do in my place?" he asked.

"Well, I will be frank with you, General. We men of the desert regard
courage in a manner diametrically opposite to yours. As we generally
fight only to save our life or our plunder, we never venture on an
action unless we have almost a certainty of success."

"Hence, under the present circumstances?"

"I should turn back without shame, and be off to Coahuila at the same
pace at which I started, that is, a gallop; that is what I should do. I
can understand that you would act differently."

"Ah!" the general said, giving him a piercing glance, "For what reason?"

"Nonsense, General, you are making fun of me; for you know as well as
I do. Come, have me shot, and let us have an end of it."

"I shall not have you shot," he answered; "for, traitor or no, you have
spoken to me like an honest man. Go where you please; you are free."

The Canadian felt involuntarily affected by this remark.

"Thanks, General. Now take my advice, and do not push on."

"Does danger really exist?"

"I cannot tell you; still, I confess that I have a bad opinion of that
black large hole I see over there; it seems to me to contain a storm."

"Yes, I feel that I ought to follow your advice, but unhappily I cannot
do so. The troops of the king, my master, must not appear to recoil
before such miserable foes; for it would be giving these scoundrels an
importance which they do not possess."

"You know better than I how you should act; but, I repeat, take care."

"Oh, be sure of that. Well, good-bye; get away before the action
begins."

"Well, then, thank you, and good-bye, General--I dare not wish you
good luck."

The Canadian turned his horse and started at a gallop in the direction
of Coahuila. The general looked after him till he was hidden by a turn
in the road.

"What a singular man!" he muttered; "If he is a spy I never saw one
like him."

It was high time, however, to come to some resolution, and so the
general summoned his officers around him.

"Caballeros," he said bluntly, when they were assembled, "I am afraid
that we acted very imprudently in venturing to pursue the enemy with
so small a force as we have at our disposal. Although I do not wish
to throw any of my responsibility as chief upon you, still I deem it
urgent to take your advice before crossing this stream, beyond which,
as you can see from here, is a canyon, which, if I am not mistaken,
contains a formidable ambuscade. Answer me frankly, which shall we do?
Push boldly on, at the risk of what may happen; or quietly turn back
and regain our entrenchments?"

The officers were mostly of opinion that they must march forward at
all risks. The effect of a retreat made almost in the presence of the
enemy might have as disastrous an influence upon the prestige that
surrounded the Spanish army as a battle lost. All these brave soldiers
were ashamed at appearing to fly before an invisible enemy; for as yet
only vague suspicions were entertained, which might be false, more
especially as the plain continued to be deserted, and nothing of a
dubious nature had been perceived.

"Very well, caballeros," the general said with a bow to his officers,
"we will march on; if fate betrays our courage we will fall like brave
men. Long live Spain!"

"Long live Spain!" the officers repeated enthusiastically.

"Captain Don Luis Obregozo, take two hundred horse, and make a
reconnoissance in the canyon; be very prudent, and do not venture too
far. Don Pedro Castilla will hold himself in readiness to support you
with five hundred cavalry, should it be necessary; the rest of the army
will not cross the stream till your return. Go at once."

The two officers selected by the general immediately prepared to
obey; the troopers, leaving the infantry they carried with the main
body, crossed the ford, and galloped into the plain. The general gave
orders for the troops to be drawn up in a column, in order to lose as
little time as possible in passing, and, opening his telescope, he
attentively followed the movements of the two detachments he had sent
on ahead. The second body, commanded by Captain Castilla, halted about
halfway between the stream and the canyon, ready to act on the first
alarm, Captain Obregozo boldly pushed on, sending a few troopers ahead
as scouts, while others scattered on either side the main body, and
examined the thickets. The detachment advanced thus almost into the
entrance of the defile, and nothing suspicious occurred. On reaching
this point the captain ordered a halt.

"My lads," he said to his soldiers, "if the enemy is really in there,
it is unnecessary for us all foolishly to enter the wolf's throat; a
few men of good will are enough. Who will follow me?"

The soldiers remained motionless and silent.

"What?" the captain exclaimed with a frown, "Does not a man offer to
follow me?"

"It is not that, Captain," an old sergeant replied roughly; "you know
very well that we are all of good will and ready to follow you to
purgatory; choose yourself the men you will take with you."

"Very good," the captain said gaily, as he pointed out five or six
troopers. They at once quitted the ranks, and placed themselves behind
the captain; The latter, after temporarily entrusting the command of
the detachment to his lieutenant, with strict orders not to enter the
defile, whatever might happen, but, on the contrary, to fall back on
the reserve if he did not return, boldly entered the canyon, followed
by his weak escort. Several minutes elapsed, and then a discharge was
suddenly heard, and two riderless horses galloped back into the plain.

"The captain! Let us save the captain!" the dragoons shouted, as they
waved their sabres frantically.

And without listening to the remonstrances of their lieutenant, who
tried in vain to hold them back, they dashed irregularly into the
defile. The officer, finding his efforts useless, bravely placed
himself at their head. Then the sound of a regular combat and a well
sustained musketry fire was audible.

"Let us support our brothers!" Captain Castilla exclaimed, drawing his
sword.

"Forward, forward!" the soldiers yelled.

The second detachment, starting at a gallop, in its turn was engulfed
in this accursed defile, which, like the mouth of the infernal regions,
swallowed up everything but gave nothing back. The general, as we said,
was attentively watching the movements of his scouts.

"The unhappy men!" he exclaimed, on seeing what was going on, "The
maniacs! They will be killed to the last man. Come back, come back, I
command you," he shouted, without reflecting that the troops he thus
addressed were too far off to hear or obey him, and that had they by
chance heard, they would not have obeyed him, owing to the frenzy which
seemed to have suddenly assailed them.

The soldiers remaining on the river bank also saw, not what was going
on in the defile, but on the plain; they began muttering at the
inactivity to which their chief condemned them, and brandished their
weapons with a fury which only required an excuse to break out.

"Shall we let our brothers be butchered?" an old officer asked, biting
his moustache passionately.

"Silence, caballero," the general answered savagely; "had they obeyed
my orders, this would not have occurred."

"But the misfortune is done at present, General; we must not desert
seven hundred men in that way."

"Look, look," the soldiers exclaimed, on perceiving several horsemen
issue from the defile vigorously pursued by others, who speedily caught
them up and sabred them.

This last episode raised the exasperation of the troops to the highest
pitch, a species of vertigo seized on them, and refusing to listen to
anything, many of them forced their horses into the river.

"Stop, stop!" the general shouted in a voice of thunder, "Since you
absolutely insist on marching to an inevitable butchery, let me at
least guide you."

The soldiers recognizing, in spite of their excitement, the voice they
had so long been accustomed to obey, halted instinctively. Then the
general restored order among them as far as was possible, and the ford
was crossed rapidly and in a manner that did not endanger the position
of the army. On reaching the plain the infantry dismounted and formed;
the general arranged them so that they should support the cavalry, and
drew his sword, whose blade flashed in the sun.

"I throw away the scabbard," he shouted in a voice heard by all;
"forward! For the king and for Spain!"

"Long live Spain!" the soldiers shouted.

The Spanish army then rushed like an avalanche into the defile, whence
the noise of the invisible combat could still be heard.



CHAPTER XXXVI.

A YOUNG HEART.


Oliver Clary, when he left the Hacienda del Río, was not mistaken
in saying to Count de Melgosa that he was afraid Don Melchior would
commit some folly; the hunter's foreboding was destined to be realized
even sooner than he thought. The young man, whose mind was made up
beforehand, did not wish to argue with his two friends; but, satisfied
with the information the hunter had given him, impatiently awaited the
moment when he should be alone, in order to carry out the plan he had
formed. This plan, of an audacity that trenched almost on insanity, he
had been careful not to let the count or the Canadian suspect, as he
felt sure they would oppose it with all their might.

Don Melchior, brought up on the Indian border, accustomed from his
earliest youth to scour the woods in all directions in the pursuit of
Indians or wild beasts, was habituated to desert life and thoroughly
conversant with redskin habits; hence, he had no doubt he would be
able to get to the prisoners. Hence, so soon as the count and Oliver
had left the hacienda, the young man made his preparations; that is
to say, he carefully inspected his firearms, placed provisions in his
alforjas, and mounted his horse. It was about four in the afternoon.
The great gate of the hacienda was open; hence he went out the more
easily, because being merely regarded as a guest of the count, no one
had received orders to impede his movements or prevent him doing what
he thought proper. The young man slowly descended the mountain; at the
moment when he reached the plain, the sound of a galloping horse made
him turn round. Diego López was coming toward him at full speed, and
Don Melchior waited for him.

"¡Viva Dios!" the worthy man exclaimed, "Where on earth are you going,
Don Melchior?"

The young man looked at him haughtily.

"Am I your master's prisoner?" he replied, drily.

"Not at all, señor," the peon said, with the greatest politeness.

"In that case, by what right do you ask me such a question? Am I not at
liberty to do what I please?"

"I do not say the contrary."

"If that is the case, what do you want with me?"

"Caballero, I beg you not to take in ill part what I am so free as to
say to you. The Señor Conde feels a very lively interest in you; before
leaving the hacienda, he ordered me to pay the greatest attention to
you."

"Admitted."

"On seeing you mount your horse at so advanced an hour, and take
provisions with you, I assumed that it was your intention to leave the
hacienda."

"Your assumption was correct, I am really leaving the hacienda. What
then?"

"Very good. You are at liberty to do so. I have no right to control
your actions; but be kind enough to inform me where you are going, in
order that I may tell my master."

"For what object?"

"I am merely obeying the orders I received, señor. I am but a servant;"
and he added, with a marked stress on the words, "perhaps it is as well
for your own sake that my master should know where you are going."

The young gentleman reflected for a moment.

"Forgive me, Diego López," he said, presently, "the rather rough way
in which I received you. I did wrong to act thus, for you are a worthy
man. Tell your master that I am resolved to try and save Doña Emilia
and her daughter, and that is why I quitted his hospitable roof."

The peon shook his head sadly.

"Alone, señor?" he said; "take care."

"Heaven will aid me, my friend."

"I have no right to prevent you, I have no wish to do so, but if I may
be permitted to make a remark?"

"Speak!"

"I would tell you that this plan is insane, that you are rushing to
your destruction, and that you are attempting an expedition in which
you will perish, perhaps without seeing the persons for whom you devote
yourself."

"Yes, that is true," the young man answered sadly. "What you say to
me I have said to myself, but my destiny carries me away. I must
accomplish this sacrifice, while knowing that I am committing an act of
madness; I will carry it through to the end."

"I have neither the strength nor the courage to blame you, señor, I
can only pity you; put your trust in heaven. As for me, I shall go to
my master and tell him what you are doing at this moment. If we do
not succeed in saving you, at least we will avenge you, and if I may
believe my foreboding, the vengeance will be terrible."

"Go, my friend; go, and thank you. Tell your master how truly grateful
I am to him for all that he has done for me, but that fatality carries
me away; and that I would sooner die than suffer from the grief which
is devouring me. I wish to know the fate of the two unhappy prisoners,
and, no matter what may happen, I will know it."

"May heaven protect you, señor! You are well acquainted with the
redskins; perhaps by acting prudently you may foil their vigilance,
although it is almost impossible. But," he added with a species of
forced resolution, "what is the use of arguing longer. Perhaps your
plan will succeed, through the very fact of its insanity. Children and
lovers are privileged."

The young man blushed, and dug his spurs into the flanks of his horse,
which started at a gallop. The peon looked after him, sorrowfully
shaking his head several times.

"Well, good-bye, Don Melchior," he said, "I repeat, may God protect
you, for He alone can save you."

The young man scarce heard him. The peon's voice struck his ear, but
he did not understand the sense of his words. He waved his hand in
farewell and disappeared in the tall grass that overgrew the banks of
the stream. Diego López remained motionless for an instant.

"Poor boy!" he murmured, "He has a noble heart; a soul full of
devotion; but what can he do? He is lost; death clutches him already,
its hand is spread out over him. Let me go and warn the Señor Conde,"
he added, repressing a sympathetic sigh.

And loosening his bridle he galloped off in the direction of the
Hacienda del Barrio.

Don Melchior, through the frequent excursions he had made in carrying
out Doña Emilia's monomania for vengeance, had a thorough knowledge of
the country for thirty or forty leagues round; several times accident
had led him to the vicinity of the teocali, where the ladies were now
held in captivity, and hence he was well aware of the exact position of
this strange monument, the sole vestige of the ancient, civilization of
the Indians.

While himself thoroughly convinced of the madness of his attempt in
favour of the prisoners, he had drawn up his plans with the greatest
prudence, ready to sacrifice his life, but not wishing to leave
anything to chance, while unconsciously retaining in his heart a
last glance of hope, that divine spark which is never completely
extinguished in the human heart, and allows him a glimpse of success
even in the most senseless undertakings.

So soon as Diego López parted from him, Don Melchior checked the speed
of his horse in order not to reach the ford of the Río Grande del Norte
till sunset. He was obliged to travel by night, for as the Indians are
in their encampments at that period, the young man would have nothing
to fear from their vigilance, and incurred no risk but that of meeting
wild beasts, a trifling danger for an experienced hunter. Besides, so
far as it was possible to calculate distances, Don Melchior believed
himself only seven or eight leagues distant from the teocali. By
galloping in a straight line, he would therefore only have a two hours'
ride to make in a country which he had frequently traversed, and which
was perfectly familiar to him.

We have already stated, on several occasions, that in hot countries
there is no twilight, and that when the sun has set night arrives
almost without transition. The young man had so well calculated, that
he was a gunshot from the ford at the moment when the sun disappeared
on the horizon in a glory of purple and gold. In spite of the complete
absence of twilight, there is, however, a charming moment in American
evenings. It is the one when, after night has quite set in, you witness
the sudden awakening of the denizens of the darkness; when the night
breeze agitates the majestic tops of the trees, and the wild beasts,
leaving their lairs, bay the moon with their guttural notes, which are
repeated in every way by the echoes of the ravines. The traveller,
involuntarily affected by a vague respect at the sight of this
immensity which he cannot comprehend, feels himself weak and paltry.

Don Melchior crossed the ford without obstacle, and then dashed at full
speed into the desert, cutting through the tall grass in a straight
line. For two hours he galloped in the pale light of the stars, with
his hand on his weapons, and ready for any event. On coming within
about two musket shots of the teocali he stopped, dismounted, and
taking his horse by the bridle, led it into a thicket, where, after
hobbling it, he fastened up its nostrils to prevent it neighing. Then
thrusting his pistols in his belt, he seized his rifle, and proceeded
toward the teocali, muttering in a suppressed voice one sentence, which
completely represented the thought that impelled him to act as he was
doing--

"Heaven be gracious to me!"

The night was calm and serene; the stars sparkled in a deep blue
sky, and spread a gentle light, which allowed him to distinguish the
diversities of the landscape for a long distance. A veiled silence,
if we may employ the expression, reigned over the prairie, where no
other sound was audible save that produced by the incessant murmurs
of the infinitely little creatures buzzing beneath every blade of
grass, and carrying on their laborious task under the ever open eye of
the Creator. At times the distant echo bore down on the breeze the
snapping bark of the coyotes, or the hoarse roar of the jaguars at the
watering place.

Don Melchior advanced firmly and resolutely, having sacrificed his
life beforehand, but determined only to succumb in an unequal struggle
of one against a host. We fancy that we said in one of our previous
chapters that the teocali in which the prisoners were detained stood
in the middle of a plain, for a great distance round which the trees
had been cut down. At the moment when the young man was preparing to
emerge from the covert, and asked himself how he should manage to reach
the mountain unseen, he perceived an Indian sentry leaning motionless
against a sumach and on the watch.

Don Melchior stopped, for the situation was a critical one. The moon
profusely shed its pale pallid beams upon this man, whose appearance
had at a certain distance something gloomy and threatening about it.
A cry uttered by this sentry would ruin Don Melchior. After a few
seconds' hesitation his resolution was formed. Uncocking his gun, which
might go off without his will, he lay down on the ground, and began
crawling on his hands and knees in the direction of the sentry, before
whom he must infallibly pass.

Anyone who has not been in the situation of our hero could not form an
idea of it. Don Melchior was at this moment playing a terrible game.
It was to him a question of life and death; the fall of a leaf, the
breaking of a branch was sufficient to settle it. The hurried beating
of his heart terrified him, and he took half an hour in proceeding a
distance of twenty paces. At length, on coming close to the sentry,
he suddenly rose behind him, and plunged his dagger straight into his
neck, at the very spot where the head is attached to the spine. The
redskin fell like a log, without uttering a cry or even giving a sigh.

The young man at once understanding the importance to himself of a
disguise, in order to cross the clearing round the teocali, stripped
the Indian of his clothes, put them on himself, and after dragging the
corpse a few paces, in order that it might not be found immediately, he
hid it under a pile of dry leaves. Then, assuming the calm and grave
step of Indian warriors, the young man boldly quitted the shelter of
the covert, and advanced slowly toward the teocali, now ready for all
events, and keeping his finger on the trigger of his gun, which he laid
carelessly on his shoulder.

Numerous watch fires burnt round the teocali; the Indians, wrapped, up
in their buffalo hides, blankets, or zarapés, were sleeping peacefully,
trusting to the vigilance of the sentry. Don Melchior walked right
through the camp, unmolested. At times, as he passed, an Indian turned
towards him, half opened his eyes, and then fell back on the ground
again, muttering a few unintelligible words. The young man's heart beat
as if going to burst his breast; the emotion he felt was so powerful
that, on reaching the first steps of the teocali, he was involuntarily
constrained to stop. Still, sustained by the feeling of the sacred
mission he had taken on himself, he succeeded, by a supreme effort, in
overcoming his emotion, and continued his walk.

No one opposed his passage. The Indians guard themselves badly. Under
present circumstances, they could not suppose that a single man would
enter their camp, and succeed in deceiving their sentries. This
confidence caused the security of the bold young man, and once he
reached the teocali, almost entirely insured his security.

I forgot who said that mad enterprises are those which succeed the beet
owing to their extravagance, and this paradoxical remark is far truer
than a person might be disposed to believe it. Don Melchior's plan of
thus introducing himself alone into the presence of the prisoners, a
project of wild boldness, would succeed entirely on account of its
impossibility.

When the young man reached the top of the teocali he stopped, for he
must discover the place where the prisoners were confined. He looked
searchingly around him. The moon allowed him to distinguish clearly
the smallest objects. Several Indians were lying round a smouldering
fire, but Don Melchior's eyes did not dwell on them, he was examining
the most obscure corner of the buildings that stood on the platform.
His eye was caught by a man lying across a door, closed by a wickerwork
frame; he gave a violent start, for the prisoners were behind that
door. Stepping boldly over the sleeper, he Went up to it. At the moment
he reached the Indian the latter rose before him, and set the sharp
point of his lance against his chest.

"What does my brother want?" he asked in a guttural voice.

Don Melchior was not troubled. In spite of his interned emotion, his
face remained calm and stoical.

"Good," he said in Comanche, a language which he spoke perfectly. "My
brother was asleep. Is that the way in which he watches his prisoners?"

"The Opossum is not asleep," the Indian said haughtily. "He knows the
importance of the duty entrusted to him."

"If he is not asleep, how is it that he is ignorant the hour has
arrived when I am to take his place?" the young man continued.

"Is it so late? I have not heard the hoot of the owl."

"Yet it has been sounded twice. Good, my brother is tired; let him go
and sleep, while I watch in his stead."

The Indian had no reason to doubt what Don Melchior said to him.
Besides, he was really desirous of sleep, and was not sorry to catch up
a few hours' rest. Hence he made no remark, but quietly surrendered his
post, and five minutes later was lying by the side of his comrades fast
asleep.

This last alarm had been serious, although Don Melchior had bravely
gone through with it. Still his agitation was so great, partly to
regain his coolness, he remained quiet for nearly a quarter of an hour
before he ventured to enter the prisoners' room. At length he did so.
Doña Emilia, seated in a corner, was holding her daughter's head on her
lap.

"Who's there?" she asked, with a sudden start.

"A friend," the young man answered in a low voice. Doña Diana sprang up.

"Don Melchior!" she cried.

"Silence," he said, "silence, in heaven's name."

"Oh! I was certain he would come," the young lady continued, as she
walked towards him.

"Thanks, Melchior," Doña Emilia said, as she offered him her hand.
"Thank you for coming; however terrible my situation may be, your
presence here is an immense consolation."

"Have you come to deliver us, Melchior?" the maiden continued.

"Yes," he answered simply, "such is my object; and believe me,
señorita, all that a man can do, I will."

"What," Doña Emilia asked, "are you alone?"

"Alas, yes; but what matter?" Doña Diana fell back on her bed.

"Flight is impossible," she murmured with despair.

"Why so?" the young man continued boldly, "Have I not contrived to get
in here alone?"

She shook her head sadly.

"Yes," she said; "but you were alone."

Don Melchior sighed, for he understood the meaning of the remark.

"Why despair?" Doña Emilia exclaimed, starting up impetuously. "We are
three now. The Indians tremble at the sight of me, and we shall succeed
in escaping."

"Mother, mother," the girl said entreatingly, "dismiss that thought.
Alas! Flight is impossible, as you know well. Melchior is as well aware
of it as we are."

The young man hung his head.

"If I cannot save you, señorita," he answered, "I can die with you."

"Die with us!" she exclaimed impetuously. "Oh no, that must not be, I
insist."

"It was my hope in coming here," he said.

"Very good, Melchior," Doña Emilia said; "but cease to fear for us. The
Indians will not dare, I feel firmly convinced, to make an attack on
our lives, in spite of their frightful threats."

"Mother, undeceive yourself, our death is resolved. It is close at
hand, for the conditions offered us compel us to die."

"That is true," Doña Emilia murmured despondingly. "Great God, what is
to be done?"

"Fly," Don Melchior exclaimed boldly.

"No," the young lady continued, "the plan is impracticable, and it
would be madness to dwell on it. If you have reached us by a miracle,
it is impossible for you to convey us through the Indian camp and pass
the sentries unseen. It would be precipitating our death instead of
checking it."

"It is well, señorita," Don Melchior said, leaning his shoulder against
the wall. "Since you refuse to attempt to fly, I shall come back to my
first resolution."

"What is it?"

"To die with you."

The young lady took a step forward, and turned to Doña Emilia.

"Do you hear, mother?" she exclaimed in agony. "Do you hear what Don
Melchior says? I will not have him die. Order him to go away."

"Why should I order him?" Doña Emilia coldly replied. "Don Melchior has
ever been devoted to us. He has come to die with us, and neither you
nor I have the right to prevent him."

"I must, I tell you, I must."

"And why so, my child?"

"Why?" she repeated, wild with grief. "Because, mother, I love him, and
will not have him die!"

Doña Emilia stood for a moment as if annihilated by the sudden
revelation of this love, which she suspected, though unwilling to
believe in it. A reaction took place in her, and she laid her hand on
the young man's arm.

"Go, Don Melchior," she said in a gentle voice, half choked by sobs.
"My daughter loves you, and will not have you die."

"Thanks, thanks, mother!" the maiden exclaimed, as she fell into her
arms, and hid her face in her bosom.

"Oh, let me, let me die with you!" Don Melchior said, clasping his
hands imploringly.

"No," Doña Emilia repeated, "you must leave us."

"The night is getting on; I implore you, Melchior to be gone!" the
maiden exclaimed.

The young man hesitated, and a violent combat took place in his heart.

"It is your wish," he muttered, with hesitation.

"In the name of our love, I command you!"

"Your will be done. Bless me, madam, for I shall return, and for your
sake attempt impossibilities."

Doña Emilia wiped away the tears that ran down her cheeks against her
will.

"Bless you, my son!" she said, in a voice choked by sobs. "God alone
knows the future, Melchior. I thank you for not having deserted us.
Embrace your betrothed; perhaps this first kiss will be the last."

The two young people fell into each other's arms.

"And now, farewell," Doña Emilia continued. "Begone, you must begone!"

Don Melchior tore himself with difficulty from the maiden's clasp.

"Oh, not farewell!" he exclaimed, his eyes sparkling with hope. "We
shall meet again," and he tottered out of the room.

"Mother, mother," Doña Diana said, throwing herself wildly into Doña
Emilia's arms, "oh, now I wish to die!"

"Poor child!" her mother murmured, as she covered her with kisses.
"Take patience; we have but a few hours longer to suffer."



CHAPTER XXXVII.

THE AMBUSH.


THE provost marshal recognized the inutility of further search, and,
despairing of recapturing the fugitive, whom he supposed to be hidden
in the irregular masses of rock that bordered the stream, collected
his men, and gave them orders to close up, after bidding them keep
the prisoner's escape temporarily a secret, as he himself intended to
tell the general what had occurred when the latter asked at his hands
the prisoner confided to him. An hour later he entered the canyon, and
rejoined the main body of the army.

General Sandoval, although he had nearly twenty thousand men under his
orders, perceived, almost immediately after he invested Coahuila, that
with soldiers like his, badly armed, worse disciplined, and completely
deficient in the necessary articles for a regular siege, he would never
succeed in storming a town defended by a garrison of veteran troops,
and commanded by one of the best generals of the Spanish army. He
therefore converted the siege into a blockade, contenting himself with
cutting off the enemy's communications with the interior, and hoping
finally to reduce him by famine.

But about this time he received a despatch from General Iturbide.
After informing him fully of the events that had occurred, which had,
in a few days, changed the state of affairs, and destroyed the power
of Spain throughout the entire viceroyalty, the general told him that
the Spaniards now held but two points on the Mexican territory--the
fortress of San Juan de Ulúa, near Veracruz, and the town of Coahuila.
Ulúa but slightly troubled the new chief of the Mexican government.

The Spaniards, shut up in the fortress, and completely cut off from
the seaboard, even supposing that they held out for a long time, could
not by any possibility exert any influence over the affairs of the
country; but the case was not the same with Coahuila. The intendancy of
which this town was the capital was one of the richest in Mexico. Being
mountainous and well wooded, a clever leader of partizans could collect
the malcontents, whose number was large, organize guerillas, and carry
on the war, till the Spanish government recovered from its stupor and
tried to seize again the rich colonies which had only just slipped from
its grasp.

Now, such a skilful chief was invested at Coahuila at this very moment.
He had a numerous and well-disciplined garrison, sufficient to form
the nucleus of an army which would soon become formidable if time were
allowed for its organization. Hence it was absolutely necessary to
finish with this general by capturing him, and cutting up his troops.

On perusing this explicit and positive despatch, General Don Pelagio
Sandoval found himself no little embarrassed. General Iturbide gave him
to understand that he trusted entirely to him, that he had accomplished
things far more important than this, and the provisional government
felt assured he would carry it through honourably. For two days the
general remained plunged in deep thought, forming a dozen plans, and
rejecting them in turn. He could not dream of attempting an assault,
and carrying the town by storm when opposed by adversaries like the
Spaniards. Don Pelagio only saw one way of success: it was to compel
General Cárdenas to leave the town, lay a trap for him, and force him
into a surrender.

The idea was certainly good; but what stratagem should he employ to
cheat General Cárdenas, and draw him out? The general was not the
man to let himself be caught in a clumsy snare. He would immediately
scent it, and the Mexicans would have to begin over again, under
greater difficulties than at first, as the enemy would be on his
guard. At last, after long hesitation, Don Pelagio decided on a plan
of unexampled temerity, and which must infallibly succeed through its
sheer audacity, if matters were carried out with prudence.

Taking advantage of a frightful storm that raged over his camp and
the town, and rendered the darkness of night denser still, he ordered
his troops to leave the encampment in small detachments, giving each
leader of a corps detailed instructions about the movements he must
make and the spot he was to go to, and remained himself to the last,
to make sure of the due execution of his orders. As it was necessary
that the Spaniards should believe in a precipitate flight, rather than
a retreat, he was obliged to leave behind him the larger portion of his
guns and ammunition, certain, were he the victor, of finding it all
intact, but resolved, like the gambler who risks his whole fortune on
a card, to blow out his brains if he were conquered, for he knew that
Iturbide would not forgive him a defeat.

Moonshine, the Canadian, thoroughly instructed by the general, and who,
in his careless gaiety, only thought of playing the Spaniards a famous
trick, was left behind to induce the enemy to nibble. We have seen in
what manner the Canadian performed the delicate task.

The spot where Don Pelagio proposed waiting for the Spaniard was
excellently adapted for a surprise. It was a canyon, or defile,
about three leagues in length, and so narrow that two horsemen could
scarce ride side by side. This canyon, like most of those found in
these latitudes, was merely a dried up watercourse, produced by an
earthquake. It formed countless angles and turns, so close to each
other that it was impossible to see anything ahead save the wood
covered sides of the canyon, which rose precipitously to an enormous
height It was evident that if the Spaniards were so mad as to enter
this defile, they might perish to the last man, without a chance of
resistance.

The Mexicans, on reaching the canyon a little before sunrise, had
plenty of time to prepare for action. General Pelagio had all the
heights crowned and established his troops in unassailable positions.
These measures were taken with such skill and prudence, that this
spot where, at the moment, more than four and twenty thousand men
were assembled, seemed completely deserted, and it would have been
impossible, within a pistol shot, to see the barrel of a single gun
glisten. If the Spaniards, from the spot where they had halted on
the riverbank, could perceive nothing, it was not the same with the
Mexicans. Not one of the enemy's movements escaped Don Pelagio. When
he saw the long columns of the Spanish army arrive on the riverbank
the Mexican chief quivered with joy. His stratagem had succeeded, his
calculations were just, and, as he had expected, his enemy, deceived by
the feigned retreat, was about to deliver himself into his hands.

A man must have himself experienced the feelings of a lucky player, who
gains a decisive game, in order to understand the full extent of the
delight which filled the Mexican general's heart. Still, he felt a
moment of indescribable anxiety and agony when he saw the enemy halt on
the bank of the stream, and remain there so long quiescent. He feared
for a moment lest the Spaniards, guessing the trap laid for them, would
turn back. All in that case would be left to the chances of a battle
in the open with an experienced enemy accustomed to conquer, and who
would, doubtless, contest the field warmly. But this apprehension soon
faded away when the scouts crossed the ford. The decisive moment was at
hand, and the Mexicans prepared seriously for action.

"My friends," the general said to the persons who surrounded him, "here
are the last relics of the troops of those who have oppressed us for
three centuries. God has reserved for us the glory of fighting the last
battle which will sully the sacred soil of our country with bloodshed.
All our brothers have their eyes on us; they ask victory at our hands;
shall we disappoint them?"

"No!" the soldiers, electrified by these generous words answered as one
man.

"Swear to conquer!" the general continued.

"We swear it!" they exclaimed enthusiastically.

"It is well! I hold your promise, and God has heard it. _¡Méjico e
independencia!_ Each to his post now, for blood is about to flow!"

The officers hastily returned to the positions assigned to them, the
soldiers lay down on the grass with their finger on the trigger, and
all awaited with palpitating hearts the signal for action. At this
moment the two detachments sent forward as scouts separated. Captain
Castilla halted while Captain Obregozo formed his columns of attack,
and continued his forward march.

When the captain, resolved to carry out his duty thoroughly, entered
the defile, a few well-aimed musket shots sufficed to destroy his weak
escort, and the officer himself fell with a bullet through his chest.
This brave officer was the first victim of this day, so fatal to the
Spanish army. Unhappily, many others were fated to follow him. When the
second detachment, which hurried up to the aid of the first, followed
into the defile, the combat assumed the proportions of a battle.

Unhappily, the Spaniards having no infantry, and covered by invisible
foes, fell one after the other with cries of impotent rage. On all
sides bullets hailed on them, against which they had no protection, and
were unable to reply. At times, a bullet, aimed haphazard, or guided
by destiny, reached an object it was not aimed at. The shrubs parted,
and a corpse rolling down the precipice fell crushed at the feet of the
horses.

But for one man the Mexicans lost the Spaniards lost fifty. The fight
was too unequal; it was no longer a combat, but a butchery. Suddenly,
a tremendous shout was heard; the earth trembled beneath the hoofs of
nearly two thousand horses, and General Cárdenas appeared, his face
inflamed with noble ardour, his hair in disorder, leaning over his
saddle, with his right arm extended, and his sword hanging from his
wrist by a steel chain. Behind him came the whole Spanish army--the
real battle was about to begin. The infantry arrived at the double
on the flanks of the column, firing into the bushes and shrubs where
they saw shots fired. The Spanish general, as an experienced leader,
had made the best of a bad position. He had scarce entered the canyon
with the cavalry, ere a large infantry corps, facing front and rear,
occupied the gorge with two guns levelled on the plain. The general
rightly conjectured that his enemies might try to catch him between two
fires, which was really the plan of the Mexicans; for, no sooner had
the infantry occupied the allotted post than Don Aurelio Gutiérrez, at
the head of a considerable body of troops, infantry and cavalry, darted
suddenly from the forest which had hitherto concealed him, and dashed
furiously on the Spaniards, in order to dislodge them and drive them
into the interior of the defile.

An obstinate hand to hand fight at once began. Here, at least, the
combat was equal; for the Spaniards could see their enemies. Unhappily,
the sharpshooters, concealed behind bushes, covered and decimated them,
being most desperate against the artillerymen, whom they mercilessly
shot down each time when they went up to reload their guns.

General Cárdenas, in spite of all obstacles--the bullets, lumps of
rock, and whole trees showered down on his troops--crossed the whole
defile with the rapidity of an arrow. He then perceived, some distance
ahead, a barricade erected by the Mexicans to intercept his passage.

"There is the road, boys," the general shouted;

"Forward, forward!"

All dashed on to clear the barricade, but suddenly a battery was
unmasked, and death passed along the Spanish ranks. Four howitzers,
loaded with canister, thundered simultaneously, sweeping down whole
lines of horsemen, and making a bloody gap through the entire column.
Two-thirds of this magnificent Spanish cavalry were laid low. The
general, lifting his horse with a prodigious effort, had forced the
noble animal to mount the face of the barricade.

"Forward!" the general shouted, brandishing his sword over his head and
digging his spurs into his horse's belly.

The animal made a last generous effort, and rolled dying in the centre
of the Mexicans. General Cárdenas was already on his feet, sword in
hand.

"Surrender, surrender!" a numbers of soldiers shouted, as they rushed
toward him.

"Nonsense! Does a Spanish general ever surrender?" he said, with a
gloomy smile of contempt.

And, whirling his formidable sabre round his head, he drove back the
men who had ventured too near him.

"Stop, stop!" Oliver Clary shouted, as he dashed forward. "By heaven,
he is a noble soldier; let us grant him the death of a brave man.
Defend, yourself, General."

"Thank you, señor," the general replied with a smile; "I expected
nothing less from your courtesy."

"A fair fight. Back, señores," the hunter said.

"No, no," a man suddenly shouted, as he hurried to the front. "You are
a foreigner, Señor Don Oliver; allow me to settle this quarrel."

The Canadian turned and recognized Don Aníbal de Saldibar.

"Very good," he said, lowering his point with a gesture of respectful
deference.

"Do you accept me as an adversary, General?" the hacendero asked.

"I care little whom I fight, señor," the general replied haughtily.

"On guard, then!"

The two blades crossed with a portentous clang. There was something
grand and chivalrous in this singular duel in the midst of a battle.
The two adversaries, however, had no fear of being separated. The
Mexicans had suddenly stopped. As for the Spaniards, decimated by the
canister, and discouraged by the loss of their chief, they fought
without any order, more for the purpose of selling their lives dearly
than in the hope of conquering.

Don Aníbal and General Cárdenas carried on the duel they had so
bravely commenced, while the Canadian and other officers kept back the
spectators. The general was a very skilful swordsman, but, wearied by
the violent exercise he had been taking, and rendered desperate by
the probable defeat of his troops, he was not sufficiently master of
himself to contend advantageously against an adversary of the strength
of Don Aníbal. In a very short time he fell, run through the body. They
rushed forward to help him; the general attempted to rise. For the
last time, he waved his sword defiantly, and raised to heaven his eyes
already glazed with death.

"Long live Spain!" he shouted in a powerful voice, and he fell back. He
was dead, like a soldier should die, sword in hand. The battle was won.
Of five thousand men that composed the Spanish army, hardly fifteen
hundred survived. The Mexicans had conquered, more through the strength
of their position and the madness of their enemy, than through their
skill and courage. Perhaps, though, it was the will of God, who, in His
omniscience, had marked this day as the last of the Spanish rule in
Mexico.



CHAPTER XXXVIII.

THE PURSUIT.


It was about two p.m. on the day after the battle. Twenty men were
encamped in a clearing some ten or twelve miles at the most from the
Río Grande del Norte; with the exception of three or four of them, who
were attired like Mexican campesinos, the rest appeared to be hunters
or wood rangers. The majority were lying asleep on the grass at the
foot of the trees, with their heads in the shade and their feet in the
sun. Their horses, hobbled and ready to be mounted, were eating their
ration of Indian corn spread on woollen blankets, laid on the ground in
front of them. Several sentries, leaning on their rifles, watched over
the common safety.

A little apart was a group composed of four or five persons, seated
on buffalo skins. These persons, whom our readers are well acquainted
with, were the Count de Melgosa, Don Aníbal de Saldibar, Don Aurelio
Gutiérrez, and Moonshine. Don Aníbal, with his elbows on his knees
and his head in his hands, seemed suffering from profound sorrow.
The count was looking at him sadly. The Canadian was philosophically
smoking his Indian pipe, while at times taking a commiserating look at
the hacendero. As for Don Aurelio, he was yawning as if going to put
his jaw out, with his back carelessly resting against a tree, his arms
folded, and his legs stretched out.

We will now explain to the reader why these persons were collected at
this spot. To do so we will go back a little way, and return to the
canyon in which the fate of Mexico was decided. The first moments
following a victory are always devoted by the victors to joy and
delirium, order and discipline no longer exist. Men congratulate each
other and run backwards and forwards, singing, laughing, and forgetting
all the perils and agony of the struggle. But when minds began to calm,
and reason regains its sway, reflection comes, and the sanguinary
details of the battle appear in all their horror.

General Don Pelagio Sandoval after giving quarter to the conquered
immediately disarmed them, and employed them in removing the wounded
and burying the dead. Of all the Spanish soldiers who entered the
defile, not a single man had succeeded in escaping to bear to Coahuila
the news of this awful defeat. The Mexicans had comparatively lost very
few men, although their loss for all that was considerable. The Mexican
general resolved to encamp on the battlefield, and his troops were
encamped on the plain in front of the mouth of the canyon.

It was about nine in the evening. The bivouac fires formed a brilliant
circle round the camp, the soldiers were singing and laughing while
narrating to each other the exciting incidents of the battle. The
general, who had retired to a jacal of branches built for him, which
his troops had lined inside with the flags captured from the enemy, was
conversing with Oliver Clary. The Canadian had just finished a story
which must have powerfully affected his hearer, for his face was pale,
and a burning tear trembled at the end of his lashes.

"Poor Don Aníbal," he said, passing his hand over his eyes, "what a
frightful misfortune. This last blow is the most terrible of all. He
will not get over it."

"Immediately after the battle," the hunter continued, "Count de
Melgosa, who as you know took no part in the action, but constantly
remained with the rearguard, came to join the hacendero at the
barricade which you ordered him to defend, and at which he fought so
bravely."

"I know it, he killed General Cárdenas with his own hand. It is better
that it should be so. That man had excited such hatred against himself,
that had he lived I should probably have been powerless to protect him
in spite of my eager desire to do so."

"The moment was well selected for a confession of the nature which
the count had to make to Don Aníbal. The latter, overexcited by the
fighting, and intoxicated by the smell of powder, endured this new
misfortune with more strength than we had ventured to expect. Still the
blow was terrible, and fears were entertained for his life during a
moment. He rolled on the ground like an oak uprooted by the hurricane,
and for some minutes was a prey to frightful convulsions and a delirium
which threatened to change into insanity. Fortunately, the very
intensity of the crisis saved him. He recovered, thanked the count and
myself for the sympathy we had shown him, sat down on a gun carriage,
and after a few nervous spasms managed to weep. Now he is calmer, and
you will see him soon, for he means at once to start in pursuit of the
Indians."

"Alas, I fear that his search will be unsuccessful. The villain who
betrayed him has escaped. Does he know it?"

"Not yet."

"What is to be done? Unluckily, I can only offer him sterile
consolation. But I have it," he said, striking his forehead, "that is
the very thing. ¡Viva Cristo! if Don Aníbal does not succeed in saving
his hapless wife and daughter, he will at any rate be able to catch the
scoundrels who carried them off, and sacrifice them to his righteous
wrath."

"Ah," said the Canadian, "in what way? I do not know, General,
especially as I fear lest the misfortune is greater than you imagine."

"How so; what do you mean, Don Oliver?"

The Canadian reflected for a moment. A strange emotion agitated this
brave man, and an expression of vexation, repentance, and timidity
appeared on his frank and manly face. The general examined him with
surprise.

"Come," he said to him, "speak. I know not why, but I fancy I have
still the most frightful part of this frightful story to hear."

"You may be right, General," the Canadian said in a low and almost
unintelligible voice.

"Speak; in heaven's name tell me all."

"Nonsense," the adventurer said, "my repentance has been quite enough
for me to open my heart to you. General, I have committed one bad
action in my life."

"You, my friend?" Don Pelagio exclaimed quickly, "That is impossible."

"Thanks for that remark, General. The opinion you have of me, restores
me the courage to complete my confession. Yes, I repeat, I have
committed one bad action, the memory of which has incessantly pursued
me and filled me with remorse. One day I was a coward."

"Go on," the general interrupted him, with a shake of his head.

"You know," the adventurer continued, with a certain degree of
hesitation, and looking down to the ground, "that nearly my whole
life has been spent, in traversing the woods, either alone, or in the
company of the Indians."

"I know it; go on."

"You lived on this border for a long time; you will doubtless remember
the frightful catastrophe in which the Count de Melgosa's brother was
assassinated?"

"Wretch! Were you mixed up in that frightful affair?" the general
exclaimed.

"No," the Canadian answered with a start of horror, "and yet I was
guilty. The count's son was carried off: do you remember it?"

"Alas! The count has never recovered from the effects of that
abduction."

"When the redskins returned from that sanguinary expedition, bringing
the poor lad with them, there was a grand discussion among them to
decide the fate of the weak creature. The majority wished him to be
killed, while others asserted, on the other hand, that the child ought
to be preserved, in order to be converted into a hostage at a later
date. I was present at this discussion; the poor boy cried; I felt an
involuntary interest in him, and implored the Indians to give him to
me. I succeeded in convincing them by my intreaties, and they granted
my request."

"Well?" the general asked anxiously.

"A few weeks later," the Canadian continued, "the Mexican hacenderos
took a brilliant revenge. The redskins, surprised in their turn, were
massacred without pity. Nothing would have been easier for me at the
time than to restore to the heart-broken father the boy who had been
so treacherously carried off; but I had sworn not to do so; it was on
that condition he was intrusted to me. I did not dare break my promise;
still, taking advantage of the confusion, I tried to evade it. I placed
the boy in the hands of a servant of Don Aníbal, begging him to deliver
him to his master, as I felt convinced that he would be taken care of,
and that at a later date I might perhaps be able to restore him alive
to the parent who bewailed his death. Years passed, and various events
kept me away from these parts, to which I had only accidentally come.
Still the memory of this boy incessantly pursued me; my conscience
cried to me that I had acted badly. In a word, my remorse became so
great that I resolved to return to this country in order to discover
the fate of the poor boy I had abandoned, and repair, were it in my
power, the evil I had done."

"Good, my friend--good," the general exclaimed, warmly, "now I
recognize you. Still, has your search been successful, and have you
found the count's son again?"

"Yes," he answered, in a hollow voice; "yes, General, I have a moral
certainty that the boy is no other than Don Melchior Díaz."

"Melchior! Thank heaven! Who would not be proud and happy of such a
son?"

"As the rapidity of events has not yet allowed me to confirm my
suspicions, and convert them into a certainty, I have preserved the
greatest silence to everybody, and the count before all."

"You acted prudently."

"Yes," he continued, sorrowfully; "but unhappily Diego López has told
me that Don Melchior has left the Hacienda del Río, where he was, in
order to start on the track of the redskins."

"Alone?" the general said, with a start of terror. "That is the very
thing that terrifies me, General. The poor young man burns with a
desire to save Doña Emilia and her daughter; he is ignorant of Indian
habits, and I feel convinced that he will allow his ardour to carry him
away, and become a victim to his devotion."

"That is only too probable."

"The more so, because the redskins are implacable, and will not
hesitate to sacrifice him to their hatred of the Mexicans. Fortunately
the count is still ignorant that this young man is his son, as the news
would have infallibly killed him."

The general let his head fall on his chest, and sighed. At this moment
the door of the jacal was opened, and the count and Don Aníbal entered.
In a few hours the hacendero had aged ten years; his pale, worn
features, his eyes hollowed by fever, and his wild looks were pitiable
to behold.

"General," he said in a faint voice, "Sotavento has escaped; did you
know it?"

"I did, my friend," the general said, taking his hand affectionately;
"I know it, and am glad of it." His hearers gave a start of surprise.

"This man," the general continued gently, "is a villain of the worst
species. The horrible crime of which he has been guilty he must have
long been meditating; all his measures were taken so as to throw out
your pursuit, the confidence you placed in him only favoured him too
thoroughly in the execution of his odious plots."

The hacendero sighed.

"This man would have died sooner than reveal anything to you. You know
the Indians. You are aware to what a point they carry their obstinacy;
his living and his flight are of more use to you now than his presence
or his death would be. Clary, my friend, has the provost marshal told
you at what spot the villain escaped?"

"He has, Excellency."

"It is well. This man, however crafty he may be, cannot have
disappeared without leaving a trail, and that trail must be lifted:
Be assured that it will lead you to the den where this monster has
concealed his victims."

"Yes," Don Aníbal observed; "but who will find this trail?"

"Here is the man," the general said, stretching out his arm to the
Canadian. "Did you never hear tell of the skill of the Canadians in
following a trail?"

"This time, General, my skill would be thrown out," the hunter replied.
"Water does not retain a trail."

"Clary," the general said to him, sternly, "why this hesitation? Would
you refuse to do what I ask of you?"

"I do not refuse, General," he said sharply, "I only call attention to
an impossibility."

"Nothing is impossible when a man has a firm will. Moreover, any
discussion is useless," he added, laying a marked stress on his words,
"_the hour has arrived, and the master awaits_ for you to answer
distinctly."

The hunter started at these words, and said, with a respectful bow--

"Very good, I will obey, since you insist, Excellency. You know that
you can do anything with me; but on one condition."

"I will have no conditions."

"Pray listen to one remark."

"Be brief, for time presses."

"I claim the right to choose my companions. We are going to undertake a
campaign in which we shall leave our scalps, if not our carcases; and
as I am greatly attached to mine, I must be sure of the men I take with
me."

"What you ask is quite fair, my friend, and if you have no other
condition to make--"

"No other, General."

"Then I grant it."

"Very good; with your leave, I will set to work at once. Two words,
however, before I leave you."

"Speak, my friend."

"The desert has its laws, which no one cares to infringe. Personally I
have no animosity against the Indians; on the contrary, I have always
lived on good terms with them, and only a few days ago a Comanche chief
welcomed me to his camp as a friend."

"What conclusion do you draw from that?"

"None at all; still, as I must break these pleasant relations, I
request, once again, that the whole management of this affair may be
left in my hands. Before mounting, I will come to an understanding with
my friend, Moonshine."

"Very good."

"Don Aníbal, you will let yourself be guided by me; for I presume that
you intend to accompany us?"

"Can you doubt it, señor?"

"Well, it would, perhaps, be better for you to remain with the general."

"No, no, I will go on this expedition; for no one is more interested
than myself in its success."

"That is true. Well, as you please."

"I, too, will accompany you, Don Oliver," said the count.

"Very well, caballero."

"But there is another person who would not forgive you for leaving him
behind. Don Melchior Díaz; you will not forget to warn him, I trust,
señor, for you know that we promised it to him."

The general and the hunter exchanged a meaning glance.

"That is my business," the former remarked, "so do not trouble
yourself, Señor Conde."

"Now, I will be off," the Canadian continued; "however long my absence
may be, do not feel anxious about it. When I rejoin you, I shall be
perfectly sure of the road we have to follow."

"Can you not tell us, at least, who the people are you mean to take
with you?"

"Nothing is easier; they are men like myself, hunters and adventurers
belonging to my cuadrilla, accustomed to a desert life and Indian
tricks. Soldiers would do us more harm than good. In this expedition,
courage takes the second place; skill and craftiness alone can ensure
our success. Good-bye, good-bye, all is arranged; I shall be back soon."

"Go, my friend, and luck be with you," the general said, affectionately.

"All that it is possible to attempt, General, I will do. Good-bye."

The hunter went out.

"That is all the assistance I can offer you, Don Aníbal; I wish that I
could do more. Place the most perfect confidence in this adventurer; he
is a man of heart, thoroughly devoted and intelligent."

"I have been able to appreciate him under critical circumstances," the
count said, "and I have the best opinion of him."

"Heaven grant that his help may prove effectual," Don Aníbal murmured,
with a sigh.

"Hope, my friend, hope. God will not abandon you."

Don Aníbal only answered with a sigh more profound than the first, and,
after taking leave of the general, he and the count proceeded to the
spot where the cuadrilla of the adventurers was encamped.

"Poor man!" the general muttered, as he saw the hacendero retire. "Will
he succeed in saving the two unhappy captives? Alas!"

He shook his head doubtfully, and fell back into his meditations.

"Are you ready to start?" Moonshine asked the two gentlemen on seeing
them.

"At once?" the count asked.

"Well, that will be better for what we have to do."

"Have we the time to go and fetch our horses?"

"Your peon has brought them."

Fifteen adventurers, already mounted, were waiting, motionless and
silent. They were men with bold features and a resolute air, whose
bronzed faces testified to the fatigue they had endured in their rough
profession. A few minutes later the little band quitted the camp at a
gallop, and went out into the plain under the guidance of Moonshine.
It was a cold night, as most American nights are. The men wrapped
themselves carefully in their cloaks, to escape being saturated by
the chilling dew, which fell upon them in an abundance unknown in our
climate; and they rode sharply till sunrise without exchanging a word.
At about four in the morning they halted to give their horses a rest.

"Are we going to stop?" Don Aníbal asked. These were the first words he
had spoken since they started.

"Only for two hours," the hunter said.

"Very well."

And he fell back into his silence, from which the count did not deem
it necessary to draw him. As Moonshine had said, within two hours the
horses were resaddled, and they set out again, after eating a biscuit
and a strip of tasajo, and drinking a draught of spirits. The count
could only succeed in making his friend swallow a few mouthfuls, by
representing to him that he must keep up his strength. His grief was
intensely gloomy. This time they rode a long distance, and only halted
at one o'clock p.m. in a clearing.

"We will wait for Oliver here," the hunter said, as he dismounted.

Don Aníbal raised his head.

"Will he come soon?" he asked, with considerable eagerness.

"I do not know. That will depend on the information he may have picked
up."

"Nonsense," said Don Aurelio Gutiérrez, who had joined the party
through his warm affection for the hacendero, "he will not be long."

"My hacienda is not very far from here, señor," the count said. "There
would be time to send someone to fetch Don Melchior."

Moonshine made a sign to Diego López, gave him an order in a low voice,
and the latter at once went off.

"Where are we?" Don Aurelio asked. "I do not know at all. What is that
river running down there between the cottonwood trees?"

"We are on the Indian border, señor, and that river you can see from
here is the Río Bravo del Norte, which serves as a limit between Mexico
and the great Indian prairies."

"May I ask," the count then said, joining in the conversation, "why you
have made us take this road sooner than another?"

"For a very simple reason, señor. The man who carried off the two
ladies whom we wish to deliver is an Indian--not a civilized Indian,
but one of those to whom you give the name of Bravos, or untameable, is
he not?"

"You are quite correct."

"Very well. That being so, there are heavy odds that this man, after
carrying off the ladies, tried to rejoin his tribe and shelter himself
from pursuit by entering the desert. On the other hand, Oliver and
you, count, were attacked a little time ago by a party of Comanche
marauders. It was on the same night that Doña Emilia and her daughter,
after saving you by their unforeseen presence, disappeared--in all
probability captured by the same men who attacked you, or another
detachment of the tribe. You see, then, everything leads to the belief
that the ravishers must have retired into the desert, where they are
certain of meeting friends, instead of remaining in a hostile country,
where it would be impossible for them to remain any length of time
without running a risk of discovery."

"Yes, you are right. We were attacked by Comanches, and most assuredly
should have been massacred, had it not been for the providential
intervention of Doña Emilia," he added, in a low voice, not to be heard
by Don Aníbal.

Time slipped away; the hacendero now and then raised his head, looked
anxiously around him, and then fell back into his gloomy reverie. At
length, at about five in the evening, the noise of horses could be
heard, and the sentries signalled two riders coming up at a gallop.
They were Don Melchior Díaz and Diego López. Moonshine was greatly
puzzled by the young gentleman's arrival, for, having been warned by
Oliver of the occurrences at the Hacienda del Río, he had told Diego
López to remain absent for a time, and then return, saying that General
Sandoval had told Don Melchior to come to him alone, and that the
latter had at once left the hacienda in obedience to this order.

Diego López, consequently, rode about haphazard, and resolved to employ
the time granted him in making a reconnoissance of the banks of the Río
del Norte. Great was his surprise on recognizing in a horseman fording
the river, the man he was supposed to have gone to fetch. In two words,
Don Melchior explained what he had attempted on behalf of the captives.
On his side, the peon informed him of the expedition organized to
proceed to their assistance. The young man's heart bounded with delight
on hearing this, and, after agreeing with Diego that they should be
silent, they proceeded to the encampment in all haste.

By extraordinary good fortune. Don Melchior had succeeded in foiling
the ever active vigilance of the Indians, and, after his interview with
the ladies, left the teocali undisturbed; he had found his clothes and
horse again at the spot where he stopped to disguise himself, after
killing the sentinel; and then, mad with despair and grief, he dashed
across the prairie for the purpose of joining Oliver and persuading
him to fly with him to the rescue of the prisoners. At this moment it
was that he met the peon.

So soon as he entered the bivouac, the young gentleman leapt from his
horse, pressed the counts hand, and then rushed toward Don Aníbal,
while Diego López told Moonshine, in a low voice, all about this chance
interview. The hacendero had risen on perceiving Don Melchior; they
fell into each other's arms, and remained embraced for a long time,
mingling their tears but not speaking, for great sorrows are dumb.

"Courage!" Don Melchior at length murmured, "Courage, we shall find
them again."

"Do you think so?" Don Aníbal exclaimed eagerly. "Oh! could I but
believe it. Oh, heaven! Have I not suffered enough?"

He let his head droop on his chest again, and burst into tears. There
was something affecting in the sight of this strong man, who was so
utterly crushed by grief and cried like a child. His friends regarded
him with the most earnest compassion; they did not dare offer him
consolations whose inutility they recognized; but the sadness displayed
on their features sufficiently proved the sympathy they felt with him.

The sun had set a long time but the hunter did not appear, and the
anxiety became general. No one spoke, but each mentally calculated the
hours that had elapsed, and began to think that the Canadian's absence
threatened to become indefinitely prolonged. Moonshine alone did not
seem to feel any anxiety or surprise, because he alone of the persons
who surrounded him knew what difficulties the hunter would have to
surmount in procuring positive information, and discovering on the sand
or in the grass the flying traces of a man who, with the diabolical
prudence of his race, had doubtless tried to efface every mark of his
passage.

At about ten o'clock, at the moment when the moon, disappearing
between two clouds, plunged the clearing into complete darkness for a
few minutes, Moonshine, who, as an attentive sentry, had undertaken
to watch over the safety of all his comrades, suddenly heard the
cry of the whippoorwill rise softly and plaintively in the silence.
The Canadian listened; the same cry was repeated thrice at regular
intervals.

"It is he," the Canadian muttered, as he returned the same signal.

Almost immediately a man entered the clearing, leading his horse by the
bridle--it was Oliver Clary. He walked to the hacendero, and laid his
hand on his shoulder.

"Up, Don Aníbal," he said to him, "within twenty-four hours we shall
have recovered those whom you thought lost."

"At last!" the hacendero shouted wildly as he leapt to his feet.



CHAPTER XXXIX.

RUNNING WATER.


Although the Indians, if judged by the standard of our advanced
civilization, are still plunged in the deepest barbarism, they are
far from being so ferocious at the present day as they were fifty or
sixty years ago. In spite of themselves, their continued contact with
the white men has gradually modified their manners, and their native
cruelty is beginning to yield to gentler feelings and less cruel
customs. The usage of torturing the enemies whom fate has thrown into
their hands is beginning to die out, and it is only under exceptional
circumstances that prisoners are still attached to the stake.

The honour of this progress is entirely due to the missionaries, those
sublime pioneers of civilization who, at the peril of their life,
disdaining fatigue and danger to win over a soul to our holy religion,
constantly traverse the desert in all directions, preaching to the
Indians and gradually initiating them in the comforts of civilization.
The Comanches especially, that indomitable and haughty race, the
undegenerated descendants of the first owners of the soil, no longer
torture their prisoners, save under extraordinary circumstances.

The tribe of the Red Buffaloes had, at a certain period, tried to
enter the great family of civilized nations; and certainly, if it fell
back into barbarism, the blame cannot be fairly laid on the redskins.
The sachems and aged men remembered, with sighs of regret, the long
and quiet years they had passed on the Mexican territory, tilling the
soil, breeding cattle, and protected from insults and depredations.
Hence they kept up an implacable hatred of the man who had ruined their
lodges, burnt their crops, killed their horses, and forced them to
resume their nomadic life by driving them back like wild beasts into
the desert. The most persistent feeling in the heart of the Indians is
hatred; they only live in the hope of vengeance.

After long years of expectation the Red Buffaloes at length saw their
desires satisfied. The wife and daughter of the man who was the cause
of all their woes had fallen into their hands, and frightful reprisals
were preparing, the more so, because one of these ladies was that
terrible Queen of the Savannah before whom they had so long trembled.
On the morning of the day appointed for the holiday--for such the death
of the captives was to the Indians--the sun rose radiantly in a golden
mist. The whole tribe had been assembled to witness the punishment of
the Queen of the Savannah. On the plain, about a musket shot from the
teocali, and in a spacious forest clearing, two stakes had been planted
in the ground, and round them was piled up the wood destined to burn
mother and daughter alive. The wood had been chosen in a green state in
order that it might burn with difficulty and produce a dense smoke. It
was an ingenious mode of making the torture last longer by rendering it
more atrocious.

The women and children, more ferocious than the warriors, had been busy
since daybreak in cutting small pointed splints of larch wood, which
were to be thrust under the nails of the victims. Scalping knives were
ground, and the points of the lances sharpened. Warriors were preparing
sulphur matches, while others were heating iron nails, to be thrust
into the bleeding wounds inflicted by their comrades. In a word, all,
men, women, and children, were expending their ingenuity in inventing
instruments of torture, and rendering the frightful punishment more
cruel still.

The two ladies had spent the night in prayer. They only hoped now in
God, in whom they placed entire confidence. Calm and resigned they
awaited their executioners. The glad shouts of the Indians and the
noise of their horrible preparations reached their ears. At times
they shuddered; but mother and daughter then exchanged a look full
of tenderness, and their clasped hands were furtively pressed. The
captives passed the whole morning in a state of moral agony impossible
to describe. Their torture had already begun. The Indians, with a
refinement of cruelty perfectly in accordance with their manners, took
a delight in thus heightening their suffering by a continued succession
of fears and apprehensions.

The chiefs had decided that the punishment should not begin till the
great heat of the day had passed. At length, about one o'clock, a
sound of footsteps was heard, and the majordomo entered the prison of
his captives. His manner was rough and abrupt, and his hollow eyes
seemed to flash fire. He tried in vain to hide a terrible emotion which
overpowered him.

"I have come for your answer," he said in a metallic voice.

"We are ready to die," they replied impetuously; and they rose and
walked towards him.

"You are mad," he exclaimed with a bitter laugh. "Who says anything
about death, you weak creatures? Impelled by a nervous excitement which
will soon abandon you, you try in vain to deceive me by deceiving
yourselves. Death is nothing, but suffering is everything."

"Heaven will give us the necessary strength to support it," Doña Emilia
answered.

"Unhappy woman! Even supposing you can endure a slow death of several
hours, will you expose your daughter to it?"

The Indian had hit the mark. Doña Emilia felt all her courage abandon
her. She hid her face in her hands, and burst into tears.

"Villain!" the young lady exclaimed passionately, "Even if my mother,
blinded by her tenderness for me, were so weak as to consent to the
odious compact which you proposed to us, I would prefer death, and
would kill myself with my own hand, sooner than belong to you."

The Indian burst into the yell of a wild beast. "It is too much, proud
Spanish girl!" he shouted furiously. "Your fate is decided. Follow me!"

"Show me the way," the noble maiden said proudly. "The hangman should
go before his victims. Come, mother, lean on my arm. I am strong, for I
already feel as if I no longer belonged to this world. Dry your tears
and raise your head, mother. Do not let these monsters suppose that
your courage fails you."

"Alas!" Doña Emilia answered, as she mechanically passed her arm
through her daughter's, "Poor child, I am the cause of your death. Oh
forgive me! Forgive me!"

"Forgive you, mother? What? That I am about to die with you? Oh, could
I ever hope for greater happiness!"

"I implore you, daughter, not to let your filial affection deceive you.
I see it now. I was mad, and did wrong in exhorting you to die. Death
is horrible at your age, my child, when you have scarce entered upon
life and all still appears smiling."

"All the better, mother," the maiden answered, kissing her forehead.
"I have only known the sweets of life; does not that make me the
happier?"

"Oh, oh, woe is me!" Doña Emilia exclaimed, as she twined her arms
desperately; "I have killed my daughter."

The Indian listened gloomy and pensive; a poignant remorse was silently
gnawing his heart.

"Mother," Doña Diana said, kneeling piously before her, as she was
wont to do each night in happier times; "mother, you are a holy woman;
mother, bless your child."

"Oh, bless you, bless you; may God hear the prayer I offer up, and
withdraw from you this frightful cup, to offer it to me alone."

The maiden rose. Her face shone with a pure and holy joy; never had her
features reflected such a sublime expression; she was lovely, with the
beauty of Virgin and Martyr.

"Let us go," she said, in a tone of authority which overpowered her
mother's grief, "we should not keep our murderers waiting."

And with a sovereign gesture she showed the Indian chief the door.
The latter, involuntarily overcome by this omnipotent will, went out
with hanging head, and the two ladies followed him. They walked down
the staircase of the teocali with a firm step, followed and preceded
by a number of old squaws and children, who overwhelmed with insults
and hurled mud in their faces. Doña Diana smiled; for a moment she
felt her mother's arm tremble upon hers; fancying that the latter was
giving way, she leant gently over to her and said with an ineffable
expression--

"Courage, my kind mother, each step brings us nearer to heaven."

They at length reached the plain; on the last step they looked round
instinctively to take a farewell glance at the wretched spot in
which they had suffered so greatly. The Indian warriors, squaws, and
children greeted the arrival of the captives on the plain with a yell
of ferocious joy. The Stag had called up several braves, who, by his
orders, ranged themselves round the prisoners, in order to protect them
from the insults of the hideous women, who, at each step, rushed toward
them as if to tear them with their long nails, which were bent like the
claws of a panther.

"The paleface women must not be wounded before they are fastened to
the stake," the chief said; "they would not have the strength left to
endure the torture."

This reason appeared just, and the squaws restricted themselves to
hurling at them the most disgusting insults they could imagine,
resolved soon to take their revenge for the constraint imposed on them
at this moment. Perhaps, in speaking as he had done, the majordomo
disguised his thoughts, and this cruel insinuation was, in reality,
hidden protection.

The distance to the place of torture was rather long; the two ladies,
but little accustomed to walk through brambles and thorns, advanced
slowly to their Calvary; still, they approached, and at length entered
the clearing. The sachems of the tribe, gravely seated in a semicircle
in front of the stakes of torture, were stoically smoking their
calumets. The sinister procession stopped before them, and the Stag
advanced.

"Here are the two white captives!" he said in a a voice which, despite
all his efforts, trembled slightly.

Running Water raised his head and fixed his dull glance on the
prisoners, while a cruel smile curled his thin lips, and displayed his
teeth, white as those of a jaguar.

"Well," he asked, "what do they resolve? Do they accept the conditions
the council offered them, or do they prefer death?"

The Stag turned to the captives with an expression of indescribable
agony. They looked away from him disdainfully.

"They prefer death," he said.

"Wah!" the chief remarked, "the paleface squaws are like the red wolves
of the prairie; they had a deal of boasting and little courage. Let
them die, as they wish it; their cries of pain will rejoice the hearts
of the Red Buffaloes."

A yell of joy greeted this finale, and the two ladies were led to the
posts.

"There is still time," the Stag whispered in a hollow voice in the
maiden's ear; "save yourself; save your mother! One word, but one, and
you will escape the horrible punishment that threatens you."

"No," she answered in a firm voice, "I will not save myself by a
cowardly deed; my fate is in the hands of God, and He can deliver me if
He wills it."

"Summon thy God to thy help, then, proud fool, but make haste, for in a
second it will be too late."

Suddenly, as if God wished to confound the blasphemer, a discharge of
musketry burst forth like a thunderclap, and thirty horsemen dashed
into the clearing, uttering cries of defiance and felling all who
opposed their passage with sabre cuts and blows with their gun stocks.
The Indians, who fancied themselves safe in their den, were terrified
by this sudden attack, for which they were the less prepared, because
the majority of them, supposing that they were going to celebrate
a festival, had thrown their weapons pell-mell in a corner of the
clearing. At the first moment the medley was frightful; the Indians
fell like ripe corn beneath the strokes of the hunters. The women, half
mad with terror, escaped in all directions, uttering fearful shrieks.
Some warriors, however, had succeeded in recovering their lances, and
prepared for a regular resistance.

"Ah!" the majordomo shouted, as he seized Doña Diana in his arms, "Dead
or alive, you shall not escape me."

And lifting the maiden as if she were an infant, he started for the
teocali.

"Mother; help, help!" the maiden shrieked in terror.

Doña Emilia leapt on the Indian and clung to him like a lioness; it
was in vain that the latter tried to free himself; maternal love had
increased her strength a hundredfold.

"Hold on, hold on!" Oliver shouted, as he made his horse leap over the
corpses.

The Stag heard him, and he understood that his victim would escape him.

"Ah!" he shouted wildly, "Die then!"

And raising his scalping knife, he tried to stab her to the heart; but,
with a movement swift as thought, Doña Emilia threw herself before the
knife which completely disappeared in her throat.

"Thank you, my God!" she exclaimed, as she clung to the arm of the
Comanche with a last supreme effort.

At the same moment Clary's sabre descended on the head of the chief,
who rolled on the ground with cloven skull, dragging down with him
the two females, one of whom was in the death agony, while the other
had fainted, but was saved by her mother's heroic devotion. With the
assistance of some of his comrades, Oliver raised the captives from the
ground.

The battle was at an end; the Comanches had fled, leaving the clearing
encumbered with corpses and a number of wounded, whom the implacable
warriors set to work dispatching with the cold cruelty of men
accustomed to such a task.

"Stay," said Oliver, noticing Running Water lying a few paces from him
covered with wounds, "do not kill that man, he is an old acquaintance
of mine."

The hunter had placed Doña Diana in her father's arms. Don Aníbal,
delighted at seeing his daughter saved, but rendered desperate by the
death of his wife, whose agony had already begun, was striving, by all
the means in his power, to recall her to life.

"Good-bye," Doña Emilia murmured in a dying voice, as she gently
pressed the hands of her daughter and her husband; "our daughter will
console you for the loss of me. I die happy, because I died in saving
her."

And gently laying her head on her husband's shoulder, she gave back her
soul, still trying to smile on those whom she was leaving for ever.

It was after confiding Doña Diana to her father that Clary noticed
Running Water. Count de Melgosa was lying by the side of the old
sachem, with a lance thrust through his thigh. The hunters were
preparing to remove the count to a more convenient spot, but the
sachem, who had hitherto remained motionless, with his eyes closed as
if he were already dead, gave a sudden start, and raised his head.

"One moment," he said, rising on his elbow with a great effort, "let me
say a couple of words to this man."

The count ordered the hunters to withdraw.

"Chief, I am grieved to see you in this state," the Canadian said
compassionately, for he remembered the sachem's kind reception; "let me
bind up your wounds, and then you can speak at your ease."

"What good!" the chief answered bitterly; "I feel death approaching;
its black wings are already spread out over my eyes; do not torment me."

"Let him speak," the count interrupted, "perhaps what he has to say to
me may be more important than we suspect."

"Yes, yes," the chief continued with a groan, "much more than you
believe."

And with a supreme effort he placed his face close to the count's,
exclaiming with an expression of deadly hatred--

"Do you recognize me?"

"No," the count answered, after gazing fixedly at him.

The features of the old chief, already nearly decomposed by the advent
of death, assumed a sinister expression.

"You do not recognize me," he said in a hollow voice, "and yet you
are my enemy. My hand has fallen heavily upon you. You remember your
brother's horrible death? Well, it was I who killed him. Oh! A portion
of my vengeance has escaped me today, it is true, but my soul will not
fly away alone to our happy hunting grounds. This woman, the Queen of
the Savannah, and her daughter are dead. I have, therefore, gained my
object."

"You are mistaken, chief," honest Clary interrupted him, scandalized
by the Indian's language at such a moment; "although the Queen of the
Savannah, as you call Doña Emilia, is dead, I was so fortunate as to
save her daughter."

A convulsive quivering ran over the Indian's body; he gave the hunter
an angry look, but almost immediately resumed, with a triumphant look--

"I have also sacrificed another victim to my hatred, the boy I carried
off and entrusted to the Sumach."

"Well?" the Canadian said, with a cunning look, with the evident
intention of drawing the redskin into a thorough confession.

"Yes, yes," the chief continued bitterly, "I know that all the
palefaces are cowards, and that this one betrayed me."

The adventurer gave a start of passion, which was at once checked.

"That boy," the sachem exclaimed with cruel delight, "Don Aníbal
educated as if he were his own son. Ah, ah! That handsome Don Melchior
Díaz!"

"Well?" the count said, with feverish impatience.

"He was your son; but he is dead--crushed at the foot of a precipice."

Oliver leant over the chief, and gently touched his shoulder.

"Look, scoundrel!" he said, pointing to the young man who was running
up to help the count, "Look, and die in despair, for there is the man
whom you believe dead."

Running Water raised himself as if sustained by unknown strength; his
eyes, dilated by horror and disappointed rage, were fixed on the young
man with a terrible expression.

"Oh!" he exclaimed in a thundering voice, "All, all saved! the God of
the palefaces has conquered!"

And he fell back without an effort to prevent it; ere he touched the
ground he was dead.

       *       *       *       *       *

Don Melchior Díaz was recognized without any difficulty as the count's
son, and a year after the events we have narrated married Doña Diana.
Don Aníbal de Saldibar, inconsolable at his wife's death, withdrew to
a monastery in Mexico; after giving all property to his son-in-law and
daughter, he took the vows, but grief had destroyed all his energy.
Don Aníbal survived but a short time the death of the woman he had so
dearly loved, and, in accordance with his request, was buried by her
side.

Oliver Clary and his friend Moonshine, in spite of the young Count de
Melgosa's earnest entreaties that they would remain with him, made
but a short stay at the hacienda. Carried away by the irresistible
attractions of a desert life, they resumed their adventurous
excursions in the savannah, at the head of their bold cuadrilla,
joyously recommencing the happy existence of wood rangers, and carrying
with them Diego López, who had always a sneaking affection for the
prairie.





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